Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Reality intrudes

So much to blog, so little time to do so.

I met Mother and Brother in College Station on Sunday for lunch, Nephew's Aggie band concert, and the return drive to Orange County (Mother evacuated from Ike to Fort Worth and hasn't been back home since). Yesterday I got busy cleaning up her yard -- a few limbs and a couple of significant-size treetops down, nothing too large or serious -- and the neighbors pitched in with me, wheelbarrows and chainsaws and tractors large and small. I took a break at 11, cleaned up, went to lunch and the grocer's, and then finally got back in touch with the world about 2 p.m. yesterday afternoon to find it falling apart.

As I worked the phones the rest of the day and into the evening, calling to reassure clients and get reassurance myself from my vendors, mostly insurance companies, I found myself craving a return to the morning's manual labor.

(I should also note here that while we were in Aggieland and with a couple of hours to spare we went through the GHWB library. Vigorously exercising both gag reflex and self-restraint on Sunday turned out to be good preparation for Monday.)

I was thinking the bailout would pass, but I underestimated both the outcry from "Main Street" and the attention paid to said outcry by nervous Congresscritters in both parties. We're in for a few more bumpy days ahead as we ride this financial roller coaster through the High Holy Days.

As for Casa Diddie, well, my agency business looks cooked and the wife was quickly laid off, so I suppose we'll pop a little corn and watch the Blame Game, or maybe Dancing with The Stooges. Meanwhile there's some really good posts on what's going on from Tom Kirkendall here, the Socratic Gadfly here, and this analysis in the Chronic from the McClatchy team is spot on.

The Black Monday afternoon teevee coverage was remarkable in reporting the farce, from John Boehner attributing the bill's failure to the pussification of House Republicans, to David Gregory interviewing John Culberson and Sheila Jackson-Lee side side by side (both voted 'no'), to Keith Olbermann's and Rachel Maddow's careful and calm-inducing explanations. Suze Orman told viewers to stop going out to dinner every night, paying with a credit card and then paying the monthly minimum on that card. I don't think that's what Ma and Pa Mainstreet want to hear or heed.

And if anyone you know happens to be hiring financial experts, I know two people in the job market. Contact me care of this blog.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Weekly Wrangle

The Texas Progressive Alliance had another great week discussing the politics of Texas and the nation. Here are some of the best of those posts:

The Texas Cloverleaf has the new Palin plan for foreign experience: sitting pretty with puppets.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme says welcome to the United States of Corporate Greed.

Dembones at Eye On Williamson posts on the Texas Association of Realtors (TAR) and their status quo endorsements for the November election, TAR needs to be tarred and feathered.

The past week has been one filled with brilliant people trying desperately to accomplish what is extremely difficult (namely, keeping the US out of a depression) and some exceptionally (some might say BREATHTAKINGLY) stupid people who are narrowly focused on the last shreds of a failed ideology. And their own egos. We at McBlogger have done our best to keep up with all the ups. And downs. First up are the always cretinous folks from the American Enterprise Institute who decided to blame the wrong people for the failures of their own plans. Then there was Congressman Jeb Hensarling (R-unfortunately from Texas) who decided his supercharged ego and underpowered little rat-brain had something useful to add. He found out pretty quickly that wasn't the case.

Off the Kuff projects what the Houston Chronicle endorsements for November will look like.

A majority of voters thought Obama won the first debate, but all the media pundits could talk about was what a great job McCain did. jobsanger wonders what debate the "Talking Heads" were watching.

NorthTexas Liberal led an interesting discussion on John McCain's brief campaign suspension.

Vince at Capitol Annex notes that Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has refused to answer whether or not the Texas Association of Appraisal Districts should be subject to the Texas Public Information Act and discusses why that was a really stupid move.

Neil at Texas Liberal did not allow the dent in his car to be fixed by the guy who solicited him for the work in a parking lot. That's just the type of post-hurricane scam people are being warned about.

Gary at Easter Lemming Liberal News does not like Bush and McCain's response to the Wall Street crisis. He has some items he wants included in a bailout bill and not bags of money thrown at the problem.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

EV 9/27: Momentum shifts back to Obama

Colorado, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania are back to blue. Missouri, Virginia and North Carolina are no longer red. All of this polling was completed prior to Friday night's debate.

<p><strong>><a href='http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/interactives/campaign08/electoral-college/'>Electoral College Prediction Map</a></strong> - Predict the winner of the general election. Use the map to experiment with winning combinations of states. Save your prediction and send it to friends.</p>

Sunday Funnies

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Paul Newman 1925 - 2008

With his strong, classically handsome face and piercing blue eyes, Newman was a heartthrob just as likely to play against his looks, becoming a favorite with critics for his convincing portrayals of rebels, tough guys and losers. "I was always a character actor," he once said. "I just looked like Little Red Riding Hood."

They had a famously durable marriage. Newman spoke about their relationship by noting how they decided to act in the comedy "A New Kind of Love" (1963).

He told Time magazine: "Joanne read it and said, 'Hey this could be fun to do together. Read it.' And I read it and said, 'Joanne, it's just a bunch of one-liners.'

"And she said, 'You [expletive], I've been carting your children around, taking care of them, taking care of you and your house.' And I said, 'That is what I said. It's a terrific script. I can't think of anything else I'd rather do.' This is what is known as a reciprocal trade agreement."

Newman had a soft spot for underdogs in real life, giving tens of millions to charities through his food company and setting up camps for severely ill children. Passionately opposed to the Vietnam War, and in favor of civil rights, he was so famously liberal that he ended up on President Nixon's "enemies list," one of the actor's proudest achievements, he liked to say.

Belligerent and condescending

Which didn't win over many independent voters. Nor many others.

The party was a blast -- SRO inside the Cotton Exchange, and our little group included Councilman Peter Brown, Rep. Al Edwards, Jim Sharp, and Alexandra Smoots-Hogan, among many others. Had that fabulous piece of fish at Cabo in the late night afterwards (the plantain crusted mahi-mahi).

Why didn't McNasty make eye contact with Obama one single time during the entire evening? And did you hear him mutter "horseshit"? Twice?!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Rockin' the debate tonight

Leaving shortly for the party, which means you'll have to look elsewhere for a live-blog. We're going to be drinking every time McLame says "bailout", "crisis", and since it's supposed to be a debate about foreign policy, "9/11", "mushroom cloud", and "Ackmabinehandjob" or something that sounds similar.

Which means we'll all be unconscious before 9:30.

WaMu gets Chased into history


JPMorgan Chase became the biggest U.S. bank by deposits, acquiring Washington Mutual's branch network for $1.9 billion after the thrift was seized in the largest U.S. bank failure in history.

Customers of WaMu withdrew $16.7 billion from accounts since Sept. 16, leaving the Seattle-based bank "unsound," the Office of Thrift Supervision said late Thursday. WaMu's branches will open today and depositors will have full access to all their accounts, Sheila Bair, chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., said on a conference call.

Well, there go WaMu's socially liberal policies. I had what some may consider a lot of money (and some would think a mere pittance) in WaMu, but never worried about it, even when I learned that the FDIC itself was undercapitalized. I knew the feds would never let them go belly-up, and I knew that before they began rescuing mortgage companies and insurance companies.

WaMu turned down offers of $8 a share earlier this year and $4 a share just a few weeks ago. Today...

... WaMu, down 95 percent in the past year, dropped to 45 cents in extended trading following the announcement, which came after the close of regular trading.

David Bonderman's TPG Inc., which led a $7 billion capital infusion for WaMu earlier this year, lost most of its initial $2 billion investment. TPG, based in Forth Worth, Texas, said in a statement Thursday it was "dissatisfied with the loss" and that the WaMu investment was a "small part of assets."

New York-based JPMorgan, which separately announced plans to raise $8 billion by selling common stock, had its outlook lowered to negative by Moody's Investors Service. Moody's left its Aa2 rating on JPMorgan unchanged.

JPMorgan won't acquire WaMu's liabilities, including claims by shareholders and subordinated and senior debt holders, the FDIC said. JPMorgan paid $10 a share for Bear Stearns in March as the New York-based securities firm teetered on the brink of bankruptcy.

"This is one of the reasons I own JPMorgan: They're going to win from all this," said Anton Schutz, president of Mendon Capital Advisors Corp. in Rochester, New York. "They're taking on credit risk, but they're not taking on any debt obligations."

JPMChase has bought Bear Stearns and WaMu in the past two months; Bank of America owns Countrywide and Merrill Lynch. The last remaining independent brokerage houses in the US, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs (Henry Paulson's former employer), have been OK'd to become banks themselves. But the Chinese are turning off the spigot, so who knows where it goes from here, especially if John McInsane and the House Republicans succeed in derailing Bush's bailout.

And in other news, the stock market is rocketing downward again this morning. Update (at market closing): A nice finish to a wild day.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Putin rears his head and comes into the air space

I'll bet he can see Sarah's house from there ...

Every single time that poor ditz opens her mouth it's a field day.

Harris County election details

Kuffner beat me to it, but I have some information he doesn't (it comes from time spent at the logic and accuracy testing for Hart InterCivic's e-Slates, which took place last week at Beverly Kaufman's office) ...

-- There will be 874 voting precincts in the nation's third-largest county. Some precincts will be combined in polling places, being determined by your respective county commissioner even now.

-- There are 263 ballot versions in the general election, and more than a hundred others for "limited" voting (for example, someone from out-of-state voting just a presidential and/or federal candidate ballot).

-- There are thirteen different election entities, which split precincts in some cases (such as school districts and MUDs).

-- The special election for SD-17 (79 precincts in Harris, but also on ballots in Jefferson, Brazoria, Fort Bend, and Galveston counties) will be at the very top of the ballot, above the presidential candidates and even the straight-party button. Alan Berstein explains:

The contest will appear before the "straight ticket" option that allows voters, with a single physical motion, to vote for all candidates of a particular party, from president to justice of the peace. But, since there are multiple Democrats and Republicans in the SD 17 race, the straight ticket vote would not apply to it anyway. Voters in the district can mark their choice in that race and then get on with the businesses of voting "straight ticket" or cherrypicking their way down the ballot.

Chris Bell will appear first on the ballot in Fort Bend, Galveston and Jefferson counties, in the third position in Brazoria County, and in Harris County Bell's name appears as the last one listed in the SD-17 contest. As I have previously noted -- and despite what you may have read elsewhere, like in Al's post above -- he is the one true Democrat in the race.

-- Here's a sample ballot, listing all of the races. You will obviously get to vote for a single Congressional and statehouse candidate to represent your area, but all of the judicial candidates and all of the Harris County executive races will appear on your ballot (if you're voting in Harris, of course).

-- The deadline for voter registration is October 6. Register, verify your registration, or learn which candidates represent you through the various links listed here. Early voting begins October 20. Here are the EV locations, hours, and more useful information.

-- Harris County election officials project that 1.2 million votes will be cast here. If that holds historically accurate it would represent about 20% of the statewide tally, which works out to six million Texas votes.

-- Finally, Harris County will be parallel-testing its voting machines for the first time ...

Parallel testing, also known as election-day testing, involves selecting voting machines at random and testing them as realistically as possible during the period that votes are being cast. The fundamental question addressed by such tests arise from the fact that pre-election testing is almost always done using a special test mode in the voting system, and corrupt software could potentially arrange to perform honestly while in test mode while performing dishonestly during a real election.

And I will be present as they do.

Update: Kuff points out in the comments that I have significantly understimated the statewide turnout.

So do we have a deal or not?!?

At 1 p.m today we had "fundamental agreement on a set of principles". At 5 p.m today John Boehner spoke on behalf of House Republicans declaring no deal.

Cleared and queered in a matter of hours.

(Please, no one take offense at my use of the phrase "queering the deal". Except for you queers in the Congressional Republican delegation.)

This crisis is tailor-made for the free marketeers: if the deal passes, every one of them can point and scream "Socialist!" at their Democratic opponents. If it fails they can declare that they fought the good fight to the voters (since public opinion is running overwhelmingly against the bailout).

So to recap -- Bush insists the Democratic Congress bail out all of his Wall Street buddies, so that the Republicans in the Senate and House can both vote against it and continue taking the campaign contributions from their Wall Street buddies. It's really a perfect scenario; that is, if you're the prototypical conservative hypocrite.

And of course, we all continue to wait while McCain stalls on showing up for tomorrow night's debate.

Get more yard signs here.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

McLame needs a timeout

While he figures out how to walk and chew gum at the same time.

Maybe he should send his running mate to stand in for him. No time like the present to see if she would be ready on Day One.

Post-Ike traffic snarls make Houston's roads even worse

Last Thursday evening I left my house -- ten minutes before the electricity was restored -- and drove from West U to Copperfield, near 290 and 6 on the northwest side, a distance of about 40 miles that takes normally an hour at posted speeds with some traffic.

It took two hours and fifteen minutes. I regularly travel to Beaumont, a hundred miles away, in an hour less than that.

Over the weekend we ventured out for food a couple of times and instantly regretted it: four-way stops at nearly every intersection, with gridlocked cars clogging the lanes at each crossing that had a functioning traffic signal.

Yesterday the Chronic reported
that the traffic jams on Monday, with many employees and school children returning for the first time in a week, were among the worst ever across the city:

Metro officials on Tuesday agreed to open high-occupancy vehicle lanes on U.S. 59 and U.S. 290 after traffic on many freeways came to a complete halt during the rush hour Monday, the first day many Houstonians went back to work after the storm.

Today we learn that our county judge -- "recognized worldwide as a transportation expert" -- won't have all the traffic lights restored before oh, maybe Election Day:

With darkened intersections leading to traffic snarls on freeways and city streets, officials are searching for at least some relief by putting more officers on traffic-directing duty and reopening high-occupancy vehicle lanes.

Traffic signals at about 1,200 Houston area intersections were not yet working Tuesday but should all have at least a flashing red light by the end of next week, said Mike Marcotte, the city's director of public works and engineering. ...

Getting all the city's traffic lights functioning at pre-Hurricane Ike levels could take until November, Marcotte said.

That article is sprinkled liberally with the same feel-good BS that last week's all-GOP press avails were similarly full of. Go read it. You'll get diabetes from the candy-coated smarm:

"I've been amazed with the courtesy our drivers have been showing," Marcotte said.

"More and more signals are being put in working condition every day, hour by hour almost," said Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, who convened a meeting of transportation officials Tuesday afternoon to seek solutions to the problems. "The flow in the community is getting better."

"For the most part, Houston is behaving extremely well," said Art Neely, who has driven a cab for 25 years.

A cab driver complimenting Houston drivers. That's wow-worthy all by itself. (Have you seen how those crazy cabbies cut through traffic? They're worse than the wrecker drivers. But I digress.)

Ed Emmett led the parade of Republican officials running for re-election across every local teevee channel last week: Rick Perry (yes, he's running for re-election), Bill White (yes, he's a Republican and he's running for governor in 2010 too), John Cornyn, Michael McCaul, John Culberson (who at least publicly bitched a little when his command center ran out of pizza) and even that Michelin Man Tuffy Hamilton from washed-out Orange County managed to get some face time with the cameras. They cried out in unison "All is Well!" even as two million people had no electricity and the PODs couldn't get any ice.

I say we elect a few Democrats to county offices so that they can at least share some of the blame come the next hurricane, eh?

Floating bodies roundup

"After the water started going down the next day, I spent two or three hours clearing debris from the floor inside of the house to where I could get my wife down out of the attic," he remembered. "Then I climbed down a pole into the water and the mud and scavenged around and found a ladder where she could come down eventually. Then I walked the roads up there until I found enough water and stuff for us to survive." ... (Bolivar Peninsula survivor Frank) Sherman believes several close friends died in the storm, but officials have not confirmed any deaths on Crystal Beach.

Post-storm rescuers in Galveston and the peninsula removed about 3,500 people, but 6,000 refused to leave.

Nobody is suggesting that tens of thousands died, but determining what happened to those unaccounted for is a painstaking task that could leave survivors wondering for years to come.

Authorities concede that at least some of those who haven’t turned up could have been washed out to sea, as at least one woman on the peninsula apparently was, and that other bodies might still be found.

“I’m not Pollyanna. I think we will find some,” said Galveston County Judge Jim Yarbrough, the county’s highest-ranking elected official.

Pustilniks’ office brought in two refrigerated tractor-trailers to store bodies until autopsies are performed. One sat in front of the medical examiner’s office Wednesday morning with a sign on the side: “Jesus Christ is Lord not a cuss word.”

By the afternoon, five deaths had been reported in Galveston County: one man who drowned in his pickup, another found inside a motel, two dialysis patients who could not get to their treatment, and a woman with cancer whose oxygen machine shut down.

Many of you have probably seen the photo of Gilchrist, Texas showing complete destruction of the town of 750 people, save for one lone home. High-resolution satellite imagery made available by NOAA's National Geodetic Survey (Figure 1) confirm that of the approximately 1000 structures existing in the town before Hurricane Ike, only about five survived the hurricane. Approximately 200 of these buildings were homes, and it is thought that some of the residents attempted to ride out the storm in their homes. According to media reports, about 34 survivors from Gilchrist and the neighboring communities of Crystal Beach and Port Bolivar have been fished out of Galveston Bay in the past few days. Rescuers who have reached Gilchrist have not been able to find any victims in the debris because there is no debris. Ike's storm surge knocked 99.5% of the 1,000 buildings in Gilchrist off their foundations and either demolished them or washed them miles inland into the swamplands behind Gilchrist. Until search teams can locate the debris of what once was Gilchrist, we will not know the fate of those who may have stayed behind to ride out the storm.

Hurricane Toons (financial and otherwise)

Monday, September 22, 2008

Still-recovering-from-Ike Wrangle

Seven hundred and sixty-seven thousand Houstonians (34% of CenterPoint Energy's customers) are still without power today, ten days after the hurricane. That's 100,000 more people than Sarah Palin governs in Alaska, and more than the entire populations of the cities of San Francisco, CA, Columbus OH, and both Austin and Fort Worth.

At least I no longer have a big wad of state and local Republicans running for re-election on my teevee declaring "All is Well". Here's this week's edition of the Texas Progressive Alliance’s weekly roundup, compiled by Vince from Capitol Annex.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme notices cronies are number #1 in Texas from insurance companies to power companies.

jobsanger points out the blatant racism at the “Values Voters Summit” sponsored by the Family Research Council, and wonders if John McCain’s “senior moments” are indicative of a more serious psychological problem.

The Texas Cloverleaf spots state Senator Kim Brimer at a union hall. Unfortunately, as they say, you can’t put lipstick on a pig.

Off the Kuff takes a look at the lawsuit filed by Libertarian presidential candidate Bob Barr to force John McCain and Barack Obama off the ballot in Texas.

WCNews at Eye On Williamson posts on the real-world effects of the TRCC: Builder protection agency “hits home” in Williamson County.

Neither the authorities nor the media have found any bodies hanging from the trees in Galveston or on Bolivar Peninsula — mostly because there aren’t any trees high enough to catch one — but that didn’t stop PDiddie from posting the rumors at Brains and Eggs.

Mike Thomas at Rhetoric and Rhthym notes that Lyle Larson would fight for San Antonio’s share of federal funding based on his latest ad blasting all Congressional earmarks as wasteful “pork”.

McBlogger takes a moment to demystify what’s going on in financial markets. And calls some people really bad names.

North Texas Liberal unveils the second installment of their Sarah Palin series.

nytexan at BlueBloggin wonders how John McCain cleans up Washington and Wall Street of the lobbyists when 177 of them work for him.

Gary at Easter Lemming Liberal News urges all to contact your Congress people now about this bad, very bad $700 billion taxpayer funded bailout of the financial industry. Otherwise, for the next three months and then an additional six months after that, the Treasury Secretary can do anything “appropriate” with your money without anybody anywhere looking it over.

WhosPlayin took a moment to pin that pesky “redistribution of wealth” meme back on the Republicans, where it originated and operates today.

BossKitty at TruthHugger still expects the Bush administration to pull a fast one, because the Pakistan Meltdown Offers Bush More Opportunities To Create Crisis, and the dogs of war are still salivating …

Vince at Capitol Annex tells us that state rep. John Davis is up to his old tricks down in HD-129. This time he’s holding a fundraiser in Austin while his district is without power, and his constituents are without water. He’s clearly addicted to campaign cash. Someone throw this guy a roll of quarters before he has a stroke.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Debate Watch Party this Friday

Blog Action Day, October 15, 2008: Poverty

More Funnies (which ones are the socialists, again?)

EV 9/21: Lots of tossups

The McPalin bounce is officially over. Look at all the states that moved within a polling margin of error this past week: NV, CO, WI, OH, PA, NH, and FL. New Mexico flipped red to blue.

There is no clear favorite now, 45 or so days from Election Day, and 5 days before the first presidential debate.

<p><strong>><a href='http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/interactives/campaign08/electoral-college/'>Electoral College Prediction Map</a></strong> - Predict the winner of the general election. Use the map to experiment with winning combinations of states. Save your prediction and send it to friends.</p>

Sunday Funnies (The Old Man and the C edition)

Hey, blame Ernest Hemingway...

Saturday, September 20, 2008

A McPalin pork sandwich, with a side of lipstick and fries

I wonder if I can get one to go:

ANCHORAGE, Alaska-- A local restaurant is incorporating politics into its menu.

Lion's Den restaurant in midtown Anchorage has created its own specialty called the McPalin grilled pig sandwich.

Lion's Den owner Dale Keefe says normally he keeps politics out of work conversation. But when he was making sandwiches with his crew last week, the big top news story was Barack Obama's comment, "You know, you can put lipstick on a pig, it's still a pig."

Obama's comment began Keefe's political food creation.

"I just kept thinking about that news story when I was making sandwiches and I just kind of had an epiphany," Keefe said.

The McPalin sandwich has grilled pork tenderloin on it with caramelized apples, red onions, melted cheddar cheese, and crisp bacon.

Most food creators add some type of garnish such as parsley or fruit to top off their dish, but Keefe decided to do something a little more personal.

The sandwich is served with a side of lipstick and fries.

The McPalin grilled pig sandwich runs for about $13, and has been selling out.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Cleaning up (after the hurricane, and after the markets)

Off shortly to the second day of Harris County's logic and accuracy testing of the Hart InterCivic e-Slates for November's election. More on that this weekend. Two excerpts from stories highlighting the twin messes that need mopping up; first Ike, Houston, and the immigration paradox, from Reuters:

The men gather early on street corners here in storm-battered Houston, ready for the jobs they know will come their way, sweeping up broken glass and clearing downed trees and debris from city streets.

They speak mostly Spanish, while looking warily at strangers. And these undocumented, also called illegal, immigrants worry that instead of a job and a day's wages, they might instead find themselves arrested and deported.

Indeed, in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike, which left a trail of destruction across southeast Texas, America's ongoing debate over U.S. immigration policy is again aflame.

On the one hand, the undocumented in the United States -- an estimated 12 million mostly Hispanic individuals -- are seen by some as a needed labor source, particularly after disasters like Ike turn communities to ruin. But many see the group as a drag on government resources who take jobs from Americans and deserve no assistance.

"They don't have resources and they don't have legal status, and we are concerned that they might not ... have water or electricity," said Fernando Garcia, the director of the Border Network for Human Rights, a nonprofit advocacy group.

"People are afraid to reach out for help as they don't know if immigration (police) will detain them or not," he said.

There are more than one million undocumented workers in Texas, with many living in Houston and surrounding areas hit by the hurricane, according to the Border Network.

With drivers' licenses and Social Security numbers as the keys to unlocking government aid, assistance such as emergency food stamps and help with temporary housing are largely unavailable for this population.

"If you are an undocumented worker you are barred from these resources," said Texas Health and Human Services spokeswoman Stephanie Goodman.

What?!? But what about all that pissing and moaning I hear from conservatives all the time? It's not just more BS from the Republick elitists, is it?

Armed with shovels and rakes, undocumented workers have played a role in clearing away the rubble of many of America's natural disasters, including Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the wildfires that ravaged southern California in 2007.

That factor, combined with evidence that many in the Hispanic population have trouble tapping post-disaster aid, needs reform, advocates said.

"The question of benefits and who can apply after a disaster is a big issue," said The National Council of La Raza spokeswoman Sara Benitez. "That has been a really big issue in the Gulf Coast."

Go to the link to get more about the "both sides of the story".

Amid the debate, with thousands of flooded and wind-battered homes and businesses in need of clean-up and repair across southeast Texas and Louisiana, manual laborers, including undocumented workers, are in high demand.

Laborers are needed everywhere from Houston, the fourth-largest U.S. city, to Galveston Island, a seaside community that once housed 60,000 but now is a deemed so storm-damaged that everyone has been asked to evacuate.

"Everyone went to work yesterday," said Mark Zwick, founder of Casa Juan Diego, an assistance organization that houses, feeds and provides medical care for undocumented immigrants in Houston. "Work had been down, but now there is plenty for them."

And this, on the bailout of the money markets accounts inside mutual funds:

The U.S. Treasury Department on Friday announced it will use $50 billion to back money market mutual funds whose asset values fall below $1 in another step to contain raging financial turmoil.

"For the next year, the U.S. Treasury will insure the holdings of any publicly offered eligible money market mutual fund -- both retail and institutional -- that pays a fee to participate in the program," the Treasury said in a statement.

A reaction from analyst David Kotok of New Jersey-based Cumberland Advisors: "Like it or not, we're going to get it. Massive government intervention is re-writing the financial markets playbook."

Update: What's going on locally that is affecting the oil markets post-Ike:

ExxonMobil said in a storm update late Thursday that its 349,000 barrel per day oil refinery in Beaumont, Texas, sustained "some water damage" from Hurricane Ike. The company also said it continued to make progress restarting its 567,000 bpd Baytown refinery and chemical plants.
And the Statesman, via Capitol Annex:

At least 49 offshore oil platforms, all with production of fewer than 1,000 barrels a day, were destroyed by Hurricane Ike as it crossed the Gulf of Mexico, and some may not be rebuilt, the Interior Department said Thursday.

The agency said in its latest hurricane damage assessment that the platforms accounted for 13,000 barrels of oil and 84 million cubic feet of natural gas a day.

There are more than 3,800 production platforms in the Gulf producing 1.3 million barrels of oil and 7 billion cubic feet of gas each day.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Financial markets still melting down

Congratulations, taxpayers: you now own 80% of the nation's largest insurance company. Krugman: "(they) have made determination that risk -- an inherent tenet to the reward of capitalism -- is to be socialized." I prefer "Privatize the profits and socialize the losses". Seems to fit better with the fascism or corporatism or whatever they are refusing to call it that prevails today.

From here, let's just go with a few headlines and maybe an emphasized excerpt:

U.S. regulators try to find WaMu buyer

Federal bank insurance fund dwindling

"We've got a ... retail bank run forming in this country," said Christopher Whalen, senior vice president and managing director of Institutional Risk Analytics.

Bush suddenly scraps comments on financial markets

Stocks plunge over AIG bailout and financial system fears

White House defends AIG rescue and signals possibility of more

The White House gave a newly nuanced description Wednesday of the U.S. economy, calling it a mixed picture and saying it ultimately will weather the current turmoil. Press secretary Dana Perino, President Bush's chief spokeswoman, also defended the extraordinary federal takeover of sinking insurance giant American International Group Inc., while not ruling out further private-sector bailouts by Washington.

A bit more, just to highlight the differences:

Among those pleading for Washington's help, for instance, is the struggling U.S. auto industry, which has suffered massive losses but remains a backbone of the economy. A bill before Congress would give the companies $25 billion in federal loans, a program established but not funded under an energy bill passed last year. Perino said the White House would not comment on that prospect until Congress decides whether to go ahead with approving the money. ...

Perino refused to repeat the White House's standard line about the U.S. economy, often used by Bush, who has said that its "fundamentals are strong." Republican presidential candidates John McCain used that phrase Monday, earning him ridicule from Democratic opponent Barack Obama as being out of touch. McCain later clarified that he meant that the fundamental strength of the American worker remained strong.

With those accusations and counter-accusations swirling in an election campaign environment, Perino suggested Wednesday that this assessment no longer stands.

"It's not clear-cut," she said, because of a proliferation of both positive and negative economic indicators, sometimes coming on the same day.

"We are in a position of strength to be able to deal with this crisis," Perino said. "It will take us awhile."

As recently as July 31, Bush said: "I believe the foundations of this economy are strong." In an Aug. 2 radio address, Bush prodded Congress to expand the energy supply so that "our economy remains the strongest, most vibrant and most hopeful in the world."

And one more, echoing Mr. Whalen above:

FDIC's insurance fund: $45 billion. The assets of Washington Mutual, which is teetering on the brink of insolvency: $309 billion. A WaMu collapse would make it 10 times the size of the greatest bank failure in US history. The FDIC may have to borrow money from the Treasury to cover insured losses (remember that deposits are only insured up to $100,000, which limits taxpayer risk).

John Herbert W. McHoover

Few presidential candidates can lay claim to comparison to history's worst presidents. The 2008 Republican nominee has hit the trifecta:

"The fun-fun-fundamentals of our economy are sound."

John McAlzeimers can now proudly stand alongside GWB ("Iraq for 100 years", bombbombbomb Iran"), GHWB (by virtue of the lamest possible VP selection) and now Herbert ("Prosperity is just around the corner") Hoover.

But in fairness, McSame has displaced Al Gore in urban legend: despite not being able to read his own e-mail or operate a computer, his senior aide claims he invented the Blackberry.

And there's another comparison I am compelled to note by virtue of its withering irony: the SNL skit in 1988 featuring Dana Carvey as Poppy Bush and Jon Lovitz as a height-challenged Michael Dukakis, muttering: "I can't believe I'm losing to this guy."

How can Barack Obama be losing to this guy?

(I have quite a few notions about this, but I'll wait a little longer to see if the American electorate wises up on its own.)

Monday, September 15, 2008

Media lockout in hardest-hit areas?

Burnt Orange has the initial report -- with links to both Think Progress and Capitol Annex -- regarding Houston media's virtual lockout of certain areas of Galveston's west end and the Bolivar Peninsula, areas where the most severe devastation have been seen in some overhead aerials and video but little on-the-ground. Because there are less than ten deaths announced from Galveston -- fewer than in the Midwest -- there are some speculative and mostly unattributed sources trickling in, in absence of eyeball verification.

Today I got the infamous text-message-from-a-friend's-brother, someone who was allegedly part of the helicopter crew and emergency management team that ferried Gov. Perry from Beaumont to Galveston and then across to Bolivar, and then on to Port Arthur, Orange, and Bridge City, Texas. Perry viewed Galveston from the air, he reports, then peeled off while the rest of the helicopter convoy proceeded. The crew aboard the copters saw many bodies floating in the waters on both sides of the peninsula; they stopped counting them at 160. The sheriff on BP -- it is unclear to me whether this would be Galveston or Chambers County -- who lost his home at Gilchrist Beach wants state and local media to come in and view the calamity but state and federal officials are continuing to enforce the media blackout of the area.

I really have no idea whether this account could be accurate. Since there is no nearby morgue, medical examiner's office or even decent funeral home left standing to process so much as a fourth of this number of corpses, it seems implausible that some staging area could have been rapidly constructed to do. The logistics of transporting a hundred or more bodies off the peninsula without anyone knowing are exceptionally problematic as well: vehicles could only traverse west back to Galveston via a fifteen-minute ferry ride, or east up the peninsula and then north through High Island to Winnie, a trip of thirty minutes in the best of conditions. Those areas suffered severe hurricane destruction themselves, of course.

In addition there is some video at KFDM.com (I am unable to effectively access it) as well as the BeaumontEnterprise.com site. That's as local as media gets if it's not from Houston or Galveston, and if they saw any bodies floating, they didn't include it in their reports.

Still, we have a nonsensical number of deaths reported in Galveston so far, and I cannot find a report of even one fatality in Houston directly attributable to Ike:

The Galveston death toll brings the local total from Hurricane Ike to at least 11, including three unrelated deaths from apparent carbon monoxide poisoning from generator use, officials said.

The Harris County Medical Examiner's office said today that three people - a 4-year-old boy and two men, ages 18 and 34 - died when generators were being used without proper ventilation. The three are unrelated and their identities are not being released.

The storm and its fallout are also believed responsible for several other deaths in Montgomery, Chambers and Walker counties from fires and fallen trees.

I suppose "generator asphyxiation" is Ike-related, but the story confuses Galveston with Harris County unless that is two separate trios of dead people in both places. Ike has fried my reading comprehension a little.

HPD pulls a body out of Braes Bayou near my house once a week, and the same for Buffalo Bayou and others around town when there is barely a decent rainfall. Concealing a large number of deaths would demonstrate extraordinary coordination and secrecy in the best of times, and that's not an accurate description of what's going on here right now.

Any evidence of bodies being "hidden" from the media, and thus the public, is a story far too large for this little blog to break anyway.

So what's the story? Anyone?

Update (9/16): Burnt Orange has another eyewitness report of many bodies, and Houston media reported from Bolivar Peninsula today (specifically Art Rascon of KTRK). He didn't see any bodies. One "official" pronouncement claimed the "floaters" were from cemeteries, but there aren't too many cemeteries on BP and besides, it's caskets that pop out of the ground during severe flooding, not bodies.

Wrangling Ike

I can't find any gas for my chainsaw to remove these damned tree limbs, but I can post a Texas Progressive Alliance weekly roundup.

Please consider making a donation to the Red Cross to help relief efforts.

Why does Sarah Palin hate wolves? The Texas Cloverleaf clues us in.

Everybody knows that this year's wedge'em and hate'em issue is Hispanics immigration. CouldBeTrue at South Texas Chisme says Texas leads the way with banning rents in Farmers Branch, denying passports to citizens in the Valley and threatening document checks during an evacuation.

During the preparations for Hurricane Ike, Off the Kuff noted yet another lawsuit filed against Farmers Branch for its ongoing war against immigrants and apartment renters.

Sen. John Cornyn claims to be voting "Texas values" when he consistently rubber-stamps Bush in the U. S. Senate. Eye On Williamson asks: since when have torture, spying on Americans and misleading the country on matters of war and peace been Texas values?

PDiddie survived Ike almost exactly as he predicted.

BossKitty at TruthHugger wonders if disaster lessons recently learned, will be used as we watch Hurricane Ike Recovery, Texas Style.

Colloquialisms are a wonderful rhetorical device to create an instant sense of commonality within the minds of the voting public. However they can be misconstrued at ties (right, Governor Swift?) which is why McBlogger took some time to offer Sen. Obama (The BEST!) a phrase he could use that can't possibly be interpreted as anything other than an attack on John McCain and his worthless ideas, proposals and suggestions.

North Texas Liberal examines in depth the Palin pick, comparing and contrasting her with Obama's VP pick of Joe Biden, and dissecting the media's coverage of her.

jobsanger writes about how United States interference into Bolivia's internal affairs have gotten American ambassadors kicked out of two countries in South America, and how some politicians can't refuse even a bad photo op.

Vince at Capitol Annex notes that state rep. Phil King (R-Waxahachie), chair of the House Regulated Industries Committee, is having a fund-raiser at the home of a lobbyist for telecom giant AT&T. King's committee just happens to regulate telecommunications in Texas.

Blackouts in Cincy, Black Monday for the banks

America's stockbrokers are folding:

In one of the most dramatic days in Wall Street’s history, Merrill Lynch agreed to sell itself on Sunday to Bank of America for roughly $50 billion to avert a deepening financial crisis, while another prominent securities firm, Lehman Brothers, filed for bankruptcy protection and hurtled toward liquidation after it failed to find a buyer.

The humbling moves, which reshape the landscape of American finance, mark the latest chapter in a tumultuous year in which once-proud financial institutions have been brought to their knees as a result of hundreds of billions of dollars in losses because of bad mortgage finance and real estate investments.

The crisis is still rippling out, and may swallow AIG and Washington Mutual this week. Meanwhile there's good news about the price of oil:

Oil plunged $7 on Monday as investors fled to safer havens, due to turmoil in the U.S. financial system, and on early signs Hurricane Ike had spared key U.S. energy infrastructure. ...

U.S. crude dropped $7 to $94.18 barrel at 1135 GMT, the lowest level in seven months. U.S. oil dropped below $100 briefly on Friday for the first time since early April, and trade was open for a special session on Sunday due to Hurricane Ike.

... but the gasoline retailers in Tennessee haven't heard about it yet:

Gas has already shot up over $4 in a lot of places, even close to home. In Gatlinburg, one gas station is currently selling a gallon of regular for $4.15, though surrounding stations are charging 20 cents less.

Price-gouging like that was rampant across the country as it was feared that the US would lose 20% of its refining capacity -- that's our part down here -- from Ike's wrath. Not the case. Cars were lined up ten deep to pay $3.59 a gallon at the Chevron on Hwy. 6 and 290 in northwest Houston yesterday afternoon.

They probably wanted to leave because they didn't have a/c:

As night fell only one in four Houston-area electric customers had power.

Mercifully, temperatures forecast to dip into the upper 60s overnight helped with the heat, but did nothing for those with dwindling cell phone batteries, melting ice, spoiling food and restless children. As of 8 p.m. CenterPoint Energy had restored power to 380,000 customers, but 1.72 million were still without power.

And from the Buckeye State, as well as other Midwest locales, Ike is still beating US up:

Power outages darkened more than a million homes and businesses in Ohio and Kentucky.

More than 680,000 Duke Energy customers were without power Sunday night in southwest Ohio and northern Kentucky in the biggest outage in the company's history, said Duke Energy spokeswoman Kathy Meinke.

"It's going to be quite extensive," Meinke said. "Over 90 percent of our customers are without service."

Neil is still hoping to post something when he can make it out to the library, so I'll defer the belated Ohio report to him.

I'll find out later today what my place smells like.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

EV 9/14: McPain at 270

Let's flip NV, NM, ND, FL and Montana to red, and Minnesota to grey. Only NH goes from grey to blue. Sing Hail to the Chief to President POW.

<p><strong>><a href='http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/interactives/campaign08/electoral-college/'>Electoral College Prediction Map</a></strong> - Predict the winner of the general election. Use the map to experiment with winning combinations of states. Save your prediction and send it to friends.</p>

Sunday Funnies (Oink Oink Baby edition)

Domestic battery jokes aside ...

... that Ike has been a real bastard. Especially coming on the heels of Rita three years ago.

Mom's still stuck in her house in Orange County, uncomfortable without air conditioning and a little scared from the storm's fury, but safe otherwise. My brother in Fort Worth is headed to get her -- he's the only one with a cell phone that can reach hers.

I'm posting from the NW Houston-area home of my brother-in-law and sister-in-law, where power has been mostly on. Saved all the meat from the freezer. We lost neither a shingle nor a window screen, but Reliant Stadium -- which I can see clearly to the south from my own bedroom window, when I'm there to look out of it, that is -- did not fare as well. Eric Berger the Sci Guy explains that and a few more reasons why we skated through relatively safely in Houston. Damaged windows in downtown skyscrapers are reminiscent of Alicia 25 years ago.

Wife's first hurricane terrified her, but she's sound asleep and her puppy is likewise, beside her. May not have electricity at my house for a few more days. May not have it in poor SE TX for a month.

Among the more significant property losses: the Balinese Room, which was washed away. RIP.

Sunday Funnies, the electoral vote projection from statewide polls during the past week, and more regular posting resuming in short order.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Chillin' with Ike

Until the power goes out. Maybe late this evening.

Doing some laundry. Surfing the Toobs. Not watching the hysteria on the teevee. (That shit'll drive ya nuts.)

Wind forecast here 81 mph. That's not too bad, unless a tree branch or piece of gravel breaks a window. We're on the fifth story, but with large windows facing both south and east, so waking up tomorrow morning without a/c and a broken window likely is a worst-case scenario for us. Unless a tornado gets spawned and does worse.

By noon tomorrow we may go ahead and leave for Austin if necessary, as Ike will have blown on through. And by Monday my guess is we should have power restored -- since I live near the Texas Medical Center and and in a part of town (West U) where a few wealthy, influential types live, I doubt we will be without electricity for very long.

Did you see the Pig's interview with Charlie Gibson last night? She didn't know what the Bush Doctrine was. She dared him to point out where she had said that global warming wasn't made-made. She still blames Iraq for 9/11 (even Bush doesn't say that any more).

And this after two weeks of cramming for the interview.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Does McCain owe America an Alzeimer's test?

When Bob Fertik broke this off last week, even I -- in my snarkiest self-indulgent moment -- thought it was a little harsh on the old POW. But I don't think that any more:

... McCain's age is no joke. He (turned) 72 (last) Friday and would be halfway to 73 if elected and sworn in on January 20. That would make him the oldest first-term President ever, two years older than Ronald Reagan. He has survived four skin cancers (melanomas), including one in 2000 that was classified as Stage IIa.

McCain is two years older than his father was when he died suddenly of a heart attack at 70. He is 11 years older than his grandfather was when he died suddenly of a heart attack at age 61.

The United States cannot afford the risk that McCain would die suddenly in the middle of an international crisis.

Nor can we afford the risk of dementia. 22% of Americans over 70 are affected by mild cognitive impairment, while 13% of Americans over 65 have Alzheimer's. Ronald Reagan was diagnosed with Alzheimer's at age 83, but early signs were evident during his first term. Britain's "Iron Lady" Margaret Thatcher developed dementia at age 75.

Prescriptions can also adversely affect mental function. McCain takes Simvastatin, a cholestoral drug that can cause memory loss. McCain also takes Ambien to sleep, which can cause amnesia and "fugue states" like the one that caused Rep. Patrick Kennedy's late-night car crash. If the phone rang at 3 a.m., would McCain even wake up?

McCain's medical records are not available to physicians. He did not "release" them for the campaign; he only allowed hand-picked reporters to examine them quickly without making copies. And there were no results of an Alzheimer's test, because McCain has never had one -- even though he has 6 of the 10 warning signs, including his inability to remember facts like the number of homes he owns or the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The question has been gently raised a few times before:

But I'm hardly the first McCain critic to raise this question. Frank Rich and Josh Marshall have previously written about how the media is ignoring McCain's frequent "senior moments," signs of possible impairment that look awfully familiar to many who have seen a family member or loved one in the early stages of senility. Back in April, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann aired a commentary on "McCain's Memory" featuring similarly disturbing video. Last Friday, Paul Begala wrote an op-ed for CNN ("Is John McCain Out of His Mind?") that questioned his "shockingly irresponsible" judgment over the Sarah Palin pick.)

How is a timid media -- already cowed by an aggressive McCain campaign determined to attack like snarling pit bulls any reporter or question they don't like -- going to do their job and try to get an answer on this?

Answer: They aren't. As with any senile person who gradually starts to lose it, there are deniers, enablers, and co-dependents all the way to the point that the condition is painfully obvious to everyone.

If McCain can manage to keep his drooling to a minimum in the debates, then the issues will be the same ones they are today: the vast differences in policy, the value of the politics of "values", and the lies.

A Pig to Nowhere

Seven years ago this morning

Today, a show of unity among rivals:

The two candidates, who were on their way to work in Chicago and Washington when the first plane hit the north tower of the World Trade Center seven years ago, will meet for the first time as the presidential nominees of their parties as they lay a wreath together at Ground Zero.

This evening, Obama and McCain will meet at Columbia University, where they will speak separately at a nationally televised forum, laying out their personal visions on civic engagement and service.

"All of us came together on 9/11 - not as Democrats or Republicans - but as Americans," the candidates said in a joint statement. "... On Thursday, we will put aside politics and come together to renew that unity, to honor the memory of each and every American who died, and to grieve with families and friends who lost loved ones."

That's nice and all, but John McCain and Sarah Palin are still two lying POS, and there's just no taking a break from that.

Ike, old boy ...

...you're givin' me a headache. Or maybe that pain is a little lower:

The official forecast for Hurricane Ike maintains a landfall centered upon Brazoria County, near Freeport.

What's been surprising overnight is that the storm's maximum winds have not increased, remaining at 100 mph this morning. The central pressure, after falling Wednesday evening, has settled at 945 millibars. The official forecast now brings a strong category 3 hurricane to Texas. There is considerable uncertainty in both the track and intensity forecast, even less than two days before landfall.

We have a hotel reservation in Austin, but only for Saturday night. Don't think it does us much good to wake up in the middle of a storm and then get in the car and follow it inland. Looks like we're riding this one out.

I'm going to hope -- and not for all of my family, friends, and clients' sake in the Golden Triangle -- that Ike continues doing what Rita did three years ago, which is bend a little more to the east.

Bad for them but good for us.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

EV 9/10: There's that Palin bounce

Put OH and VA into McCain's column and sure enough, now we got ourselves a horse race:

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There's been lots of squealing by Republican stuck pigs already this week, and polling being done as this posts will reveal if the trend is for real or just the same short-lived convention bounce that Obama enjoyed for a few days.

In barely-related news, you have to love Harvey Kronberg, both for his occasional scoops and his Drudge-like screaming:


If Paul, a former Libertarian presidential candidate, accepts the offer, it could have electoral implications in Texas and several other states.

Libertarian Party presidential nominee Bob Barr is asking Texas GOP Congressman and former presidential candidate Ron Paul to join his ticket as his running mate.

Barr, a former Congressman from suburban Atlanta, said in a press release that Paul is one of the "few American patriots" and asked that Paul "seriously consider this final offer as an opportunity to show true, lasting leadership beyond party politics."

Should Paul take Barr up on his offer, it's safe to say that the electoral calculations in Texas and in several other states could be upset.

Is that really your final offer, Bob? It probably won't happen, but just a couple of days ago I didn't think Ike was coming to Houston, either.

Put it with the news that Paul made the ballot in Montana as a member of the Constitution Party, and the conservatives' squealing may start sounding like the whimpering from a four-year-old under the bed.