Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas Nina Totenberg

NPR’s Nina Totenberg’s recent offensive remark about Christmas (“forgive the expression”) would have had her fired had the network followed the same rules that saw Juan Williams’ contract revoked. But that is liberalism. Juan committed the unpardonable sin of appearing on Fox News, Totenberg did not. So she gets a pass.

The vicious attacks on Christianity by liberals usually peak at Christmas, one of the two most important celebrations for Christianity. Christmas is an easy target because it has devolved from a primarily a religious holiday, to a more commercial one. But even in its current form, it is a time of cheer, forgiveness and joy. It is when we enjoy happiness even in a time of war. It is when we wish peace to our enemies. It is when we sing carols and share our happiness.

I am not a particularly religious person. Only recently did I start regularly attending services, after a 50 year gap. I did it as much to please my wife as anything – but I also feel better for having done so. Last evening I attended a Catholic service, the religion of one of my daughters and her husband and their children. I felt as comfortable there as I do in my Episcopal church and as I do when I attend services at Congregational and Lutheran churches. As I sat through the service I thought about the recent attacks on Christianity and how trivial they are compared to past history. In Roman times, Christians defied lions in the Coliseum. They lived and practiced their religion in the catacombs out of fear of Roman reprisals.

Despite all of this, Christianity thrived and spread. It also survived in Soviet Russia, where the government refused the ordination of new priests and it survives in Communist China where it was banned and practiced underground until recently. Still it operates under restraints of the government. So a silly remark by Ms. Totenberg, or a suit to remove a crèche scene from a place used for dozens of years is insignificant. It reflects more on the perpetrator than on its target, Christianity.

In the spirit of the times, we all should turn the other cheek and wish these folks too can find the joy of the Christmas season. And with that in mind and in all sincerity, I wish Nina Totenberg a Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Is the Washington Post about to spoil the NY Times’ big payday?

Last week Washington Post CEO Donald Graham, addressing a financial analysts conference in New York, said the Post has no current intentions of erecting a paywall to charge for his newspaper’s online content, making it one of the few papers not planning to do so. This comment was only lightly reported in the media, but it is earth shattering in the newspaper industry and especially for the NY Times which had announced it would begin charging for content in 2011.

For the past three years, newspapers have struggled with declining advertising and circulation with ad sales down on the order of 10 to 25% each year. Losses like this render their business model unsustainable. They have rued the day they decided to give away their internet content for free, and yearned to put Humpty Dumpty back together with a fee based system. But it’s not that easy. Should any direct competitor continue to provide free content, the one charging is committing suicide.

In December 2008, shortly after the election, Stanford journalism professor Joel Brinkley got the ball rolling by penning this gem:

Now, here's my idea: The newspaper industry should ask the Justice Department for an antitrust exemption that would allow publishers to collaborate on a decision to begin charging for their Web sites. No paper would have to charge, and each paper could determine its own price. But if most papers in a region - San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose, for example - began charging for Web access at more or less the same time, many readers would likely subscribe.

An unsympathetic Tim Burden on his journalism blog Printed Matters comments on Brinkley’s proposal and puts it more succinctly (emphasis added):

Brinkley implicitly understands that unless all news sources start charging at the same time, everyone will just go to the free sources, killing the paid ones quick-fast. So he proposes a government-sanctioned cartel.

It didn’t take the administration long embrace the concept. In mid-March 2009 Attorney General Eric Holder told Reuters he was willing to consider loosening antitrust enforcement of the newspaper industry. While couched in terms of production and distribution cooperation between newspapers, those familiar with the industry know these are back burner items. The only issue that counts is getting unanimity on the online paid content issue. But coordinating between competitors is an anti-trust violation that can land publishers in jail. Did newspaper publishers take Holder up on his pass? It appears so.

In late May 2009,’s James Warren broke the story that the NY Times and major newspaper chains were attending a secretive and unannounced meeting, entitled: Shhhh. Newspaper Publishers Are Quietly Holding a Very, Very Important Conclave Today. Will You Soon Be Paying for Online Content?

He goes on: Here's a story the newspaper industry's upper echelon apparently kept from its anxious newsrooms: A discreet Thursday meeting in Chicago about their future."Models to Monetize Content" is the subject of a gathering at a hotel which is actually located in drab and sterile suburban Rosemont, Illinois; slabs of concrete, exhibition halls and mostly chain restaurants, whose prime reason for being is O'Hare International Airport. It's perfect for quickie, in-and-out conclaves.There's no mention on its website but the Newspaper Association of America, the industry trade group, has assembled top executives of the New York Times, Gannett, E. W. Scripps, Advance Publications, McClatchy, Hearst Newspapers, MediaNews Group, the Associated Press, Philadelphia Media Holdings, Lee Enterprises and Freedom Communication Inc., among more than two dozen in all. A longtime industry chum, consultant Barbara Cohen, "will facilitate the meeting."One hopes it displays the same sense of purpose as, say, troubled world leaders did at Yalta in 1945 or, in a rather less respectable sector of the economy, beleaguered mob bosses did at a legendary Apalachin, New York, confab in 1957. Read it all. It will curl your hair.

Enter the Washington Post, which, it appears, was not a participant in the Chicago meeting. It has pretty much avoided the paywall issue in the past other than to say it has no plans for paid online content, similar to last week’s statement. It has become the spoiler, especially for the Times. Both have significant national and international coverage and following. If the Times goes the pay route and the Post doesn’t, online Times readers will gravitate to the Post, jeopardizing the Times’ reputation as the “newspaper of record.”

With the Post a holdout, something concerns me. It is the possiblity the administration is pressuring the Post to conform. The Post owns a substantial interest in Kaplan, a for-profit college operation. It is a highly profitable enterprise that contributes heavily to the Washington Post Co’s bottom line. Since this summer Kaplan and other for-profit colleges have been viciously attacked the in same way as the health insurance companies and bankers. And in at least one case it has led to a downgrading of Post stock. Coincidence? Maybe.

My guess is the Post is not being an opportunist. I think it has more to do with the legal aspects. While Holder may signal an easing of anti-trust enforcement, the law is the law. Another administration might not be so tolerant, and two years is not that far away. And there still remains the potential for civil suits that Justice can’t control.

Note: The last two paragraphs have been edited (12/15/2010 3:00pm).

Monday, December 6, 2010

Why is Lady Gaga’s music better protected than our state secrets?

Good question. Unauthorized publishing of Lady Gaga’s copyrighted music on the internet would most likely result in a takedown notice under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. If that failed, then the offending website could be taken down. No such protection applies to classified material from our military or government agencies, except for the original leaker who will, no doubt, pay the price. Republishing leaked classified material carries no penalty.

Solution: Hillary, don’t stamp your cables SECRET. Stamp them COPYRIGHT.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Why the $250,000 tax threshold is so dangerous … It’s not indexed for inflation

Prior to 1981’s Kemp Roth Tax Act, which indexed tax brackets for inflation for the first time, Democrats were happy to watch inflation force taxpayers into higher and higher tax brackets. Bracket creep was the easy way to raise tax rates without putting themselves on record.

The experience of the Carter years, with inflation (CPI) rates rising to over 13.5% made indexing a high priority for the incoming Reagan administration. And indexing has worked well. But there are reminders of disastrous consequences of unindexed tax legislation, most notably the Alternative Minimum Tax. The AMT was intended to rectify the problem where several hundred millionaires were able to avoid all Federal income taxes through legal deductions. Now it ensnares millions and, because of its complexity, is becoming known as the tax accountants’ welfare act.

Lest you think Obama’s $250,000 threshold could not affect you, think again. During the Carter years, inflation rates rose from 6.50% in 1977 to 13.58% in his last year in office, 1980. It took Fed Chairman Paul Volker over three years, 20% interest rates and a recession to get inflation under control. It was bitter medicine, but necessary to stabilize the dollar. Yet the Fed now is throwing the 2-3% inflation rate limits to the winds with QE2, preferring to inflate our way out of the recession.

Nothing could be worse. Should Carter’s 13.5% inflation become the norm, $100,000 today will become the equivalent of $250,000 in about 7 years. A tax on the rich, as Obama describes it, will have the same result as the AMT, reaching deep into the middle class.

But this is the intent of Democrats. They are happy with inflation. They want stealth tax increases.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Mysterious missile launch most likely US Air Flight 808

Updated Network news and the internet were abuzz with the report and video by Los Angeles CBS affiliate KCBS of a reported missile launch late Monday afternoon -- around 5 PM. Both the Air Force and the Navy denied they had any missiles launches at the time. According to CBS News the Defense Department remains baffled.

"Nobody within the Department of Defense that we've reached out to has been able to explain what this contrail is, where it came from," Pentagon spokesman Col. Dave Lapan said. "So far, we've come up empty with any explanation." And they go on: The FAA told CBS News that they ran radar replays of a large area west of Los Angeles based on media reports of the location of a possible missile launch, but they did not reveal any fast moving unidentified targets in that area. The FAA also did not receive any reports of any unusual sightings from pilots in the area. The North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, issued a statement jointly with the U.S. Northern Command, or NORTHCOM, saying that the contrail was not the result of a foreign military launching a missile. It provided no further details.

A search for flights that could have left a contrail led me to US Air’s flight 808 from Honolulu to Phoenix. The flight took off from Honolulu at 10:06 AM HST, passed over Catalina Island at 5:03 PM PST and landed in Phoenix at 6:42 MST (5:42 PST). The flight entered the US just north of Camp Pendleton. It was at 37,000 ft and traveling at 582 mph.

The flight track is shown above (From FlightAware). Tracking data here (also from FlightAware) covers the time around 5:00 PM as the plane approached the California coast.

Time PST Lat. Long. -------Direction -KTS MPH -ALT

04:56PM- 33.04-119.1863° Northeast 487 560 37,000 Los Angeles Center
04:57PM- 33.10-119.0362° Northeast 487 560 37,000 Los Angeles Center
04:59PM- 33.17-118.8962° Northeast 487 560 37,000 Los Angeles Center
04:59PM- 33.23-118.7463° Northeast 487 560 37,000 Los Angeles Center
05:01PM- 33.30-118.5963° Northeast 487 560 37,000 Los Angeles Center
05:01PM- 33.36-118.4479° East ------487 560 37,000 Los Angeles Center
05:02PM- 33.39-118.2680° East ----- 500 575 37,000 Los Angeles Center
05:03PM- 33.41-118.0882° East ----- 506 582 37,000 Los Angeles Center
05:04PM- 33.43-117.9181° East ------511 588 37,000 Los Angeles Center
05:06PM- 33.45-117.7482° East ------516 594 37,000 Los Angeles Center

It is extremely doubtful either NASA or the services would launch without a NOTAM closing the airspace. They didn't. If a missile were launched, NORAD would have satellite tracking of the boost phase. They don’t. It is highly doubtful a foreign country would be able to position itself and launch without detection. The only reasonable conclusion it was an aircraft contrail, most likely from Flight 808.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Death Panels for Democrats … The DNC’s new tactic to hold the House

The story that has the political establishment all abuzz today is the plan for Democrats to concentrate party resources on those with the best chances of winning so Nancy Pelosi can still wield the gavel. The sacrificial lambs and potential survivors will be chosen by party leaders in the next week or so. Not a great consolation for those from highly contested districts who were told they were better off voting for Obamacare than not.

From today’s NY Times:

[Democratic] party leaders are preparing a brutal triage of their own members in hopes of saving enough seats to keep a slim grip on the majority. In the next two weeks, Democratic leaders will review new polls and other data that show whether vulnerable incumbents have a path to victory. If not, the party is poised to redirect money to concentrate on trying to protect up to two dozen lawmakers who appear to be in the strongest position to fend off their challengers.

This is a disaster of their own making. Instead of governing from the center and including Republicans in the writing of highly controversial legislation, they sought to use their supermajority in the Senate and 40 odd majority in the House to cram through bill after bill drafted in secret and not made known until the last moment. The tone deafness of Democrats reached a peak this summer when many refused to even appear at townhalls after experiencing voter outrage during earlier recesses. While many freshmen House Democrats expressed their uneasiness, they were reassured by Speaker Pelosi the mood of the country would change once voters knew the content of the bills. This despite polling data for Democrats in general and Obama in particular showed impending disaster.

Those who went along with Pelosi’s charade are now being given the ultimate insult. They are being rewarded with the proverbial pain killer, or more likely Kool-Aid for their loyalty, especially on Obamacare. It is fitting medicine for a bill that will do the same thing to patients who in the view of bureaucrats are not worth saving.

When the dust settles after the November elections, the finger pointing will begin. Ultimately the responsibility for the impending disaster must point to the White House, where a truly clueless President has risked the political health of his party for a highly unpopular medical bill. At least Bill Clinton knew the health of the party was important.

This President does not.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Unusually good video of Restore Honor rally … from the Washington Post

I was pleasantly surprised by one aspect of yesterday’s Restore Honor rally on the Mall. It came from a surprising source, the Washington Post. It is Anna Uhls superb video coverage of the event. She covers it from the perspective of David Meister, a 40 something father and his 12 year old son Adam who took a ten hour “red eye” bus from New Richmond, Ohio to participate.

David expresses his concern that President Obama is taking us down the wrong path and to turn things around he would have to change his policies 180 degrees. He adds that as America’s first African American President, he has the opportunity to become one of the greatest. But thinks he won’t and will be a one term president.

The video is interspersed with clips of the rally and speeches of the event’s organizer, Glen Beck, and from Sarah Palin. It finishes with bagpipe strains of Amazing Grace which will bring tears to your eyes. The Post’s treatment here is in stark contrast to the scant coverage of last September’s Tea Party rally in Washington. There is no snarkiness and no mention of Al Sharpton’s counter rally. It simply treats the sincerity of David Meister and his son with the dignity it deserves.

Two thumbs up for Anna Uhls.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Pelosi wants investigation of mosque opponents. Time for the House Un-American Activities Committee?

Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a KCBS interview has called for an investigation of who is funding the opposition to the Ground Zero Mosque. From the Washington Times:

"There is no question that there is a concerted effort to make this a political issue by some. And I join those who have called for looking into how ... this opposition to the mosque is being funded,"

Now I’m not sure which House committee would handle this. Perhaps she can resurrect the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). The name has an interesting ring to it. Comments like this show the utter disarray Democrats find themselves in. First Obama, in front of a Muslim dinner audience at the White House last Friday, praised the concept of the mosque and then waffled in less than 24 hours when the reaction set in.

Then Harry Reid broke ranks with the President and now Pelosi in an attempt to support the President begins to sound a bit like Joe McCarthy. The hallmark party discipline of Democrats is coming unraveled as panic over elections sets in. It’s not only Pelosi, Reid and Obama. Barney Frank has called for the elimination of Freddy Mac and Fannie May. Now that sounds almost Republican.

But you have to understand Republican Scott Brown nearly carried Frank’s district when he won in January. We will see more of this. Democrats rationalized their gubernatorial losses in the blue states of New Jersey and Virginia as flukes. Now they are reading the poll numbers and they are not reassuring.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Would Harry Truman have been impeached if he hadn’t used the Bomb?

As we approach the anniversary (August 6) of the employment of an atomic weapon against a wartime enemy, many will want to apologize for our first use without the knowledge of the bloodiness of the war or the consequences of not using it.

There was entirely a different mindset by Americans in that war than there has been since. Every family was involved in some way with the war, either having a relative in the service or in some way working or volunteering in the war effort. Food (especially meat and sugar), gasoline, tires were strictly rationed.

The news media covered the incredible brutality of the Japanese who had attacked us at Pearl Harbor without warning. The Bataan death march, a photo in Life Magazine of an Australian prisoner about to be beheaded and press reports and newsreels of the enormous casualties at Iwo Jima and Okinawa, did not leave Americans with a warm and fuzzy feeling about the Japanese.

Wars are won by swift, decisive action. The comparison of WWI with its drawn out trench warfare and the German blitzkrieg in 1940 is an example. Despite millions of deaths in WWI, Germans never got within 70 miles of Paris. In 1940 with surprise and overwhelming force, France fell in 38 days with minimal casualties on both sides.

President Truman in 1945 was faced with the same realities. He could use a dramatic new weapon that could end the war quickly, or he could order the invasion of Japan. With the experience of Iwo Jima (6,822 KIA, 19,217 WIA in 33 days) and Okinawa (12,513 KIA, 38,916 WIA in 82 days), projections of US casualties varied from about 100,000 to 250,000 killed depending on the duration of the campaign.

So he did what was necessary, and the Japanese announced their surrender 9 days after the first bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. What would have happened had we not used the bomb? Would there have been a political reaction from the hundreds thousands of families whose children or brothers had been killed or wounded? You betcha!

The secret of the bomb would not have remained secret. And the wanton waste of life would have become a major political issue. At best Truman would not have survived the election in 1948. But there is a distinct possibility he would have faced far worse, impeachment.

Obama Disapproval hits 50.0%

Real Clear Politics’ Presidential Job Approval polling data shows Obama’s disapproval at 50.0% and the spread at minus 5.3%, both records.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Insult by non invitation

It seems Democrats these days are expressing their anger by not inviting those one would normally expect to attend. What caught my attention was a piece on Jamie Dimon, the highly competent CEO and Chairman of JP Morgan Chase, and a former supporter of Obama. But he has become a major critic starting with the after-the-fact pay and dividend restrictions for accepting TARP funds, calling them a Scarlet Letter. For this and objecting to provisions of the financial reform bill, he was rewarded with a non invitation to Obama’s bill signing ceremony.

To show insults can work both ways, Obama was not invited to Chelsea’s wedding. It’s not about having too many Presidents present as Obama implied. It is simply that Bill Clinton hates Obama’s guts. It goes back to Obama’s campaign aides accusing Hillary of racism more than once, an unpardonable sin in blue on blue confrontations. But the insult doesn’t stop there. The invitation list is loaded with Clinton supporters who can be more than helpful should Hillary decide to challenge Obama for the nomination in 2012.

While rumors of the list are rife they are quite unreliable, most sources mention Barbara Streisand, Ted Turner, Harold Ickes, Terry McAuliffe, close friend Denise Rich, former British PM John Major and historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, Clinton loyalists all. Notably absent is Al Gore, Bill’s VP.

Over on Big Government Paul Rahe pens a somewhat tongue in cheek article comparing the upcoming Clinton wedding to the opening scene of the Godfather, where Don Corleone holds a private audience with wedding guests who seek his help. For those who remember the Godfather, Corleone after helping his loyalists, expects and gets their help. The implication is Bill will be asking them to side with him (and Hillary) when he goes “to the mattresses” in a Democratic civil war, the 2012 presidential election cycle.

It’s interesting to see the battle lines forming. My advice: In a mud slinging contest, never bet against the Clintons.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Was the “Russian Spy Scandal” roll up just another White House screw up?

The whole escapade makes no sense. With the exception of the “money man” Christopher Metzos who escaped, none represented a threat. It would have been far better to keep the remaining 10 under observation, as they had been for years. So the question is why did the FBI roll the operation up at this time?

We tend to think operations like this are well thought out and run according to plan. But it is more likely this was an enormous screw up between the FBI and the White House. First, no FBI director in his right mind would conduct such an operation without first notifying the White House. It just doesn’t happen.

There was a sense of urgency however. Metzos was planning to leave the country and he was the one person who had some value. He knew the purpose of this group and he probably had contact or knowledge of other groups in the US. My guess is the FBI’s request for action languished on somebody’s desk at the WH or even made it to the President’s reading folder without action. When it became apparent Metzos was actually leaving the country, likely there was a flurry of activity but with a decision that came too late capture him before he boarded his flight.

The rest is history. At our request he was detained in Cyprus, granted bail and slipped away. The whole spy swap charade appears to be an afterthought. None of the four swapees are US operatives. It’s just an after the fact cover to give some rationality to all of this.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Al Sharpton surprised at the support from the black community for the Supreme Court gun case

On his radio show yesterday, Al Sharpton surprisingly reveals an overwhelming support for Supreme Court Second Amendment decision in the black community.

Sharpton: I would say 90% of the calls I received yesterday were in support of the Supreme Court and people say they want to bear guns. They’re tired of the violence and it’s very very interesting. I have had a few on both sides today, but yesterday was overwhelming, it was stunning to me.

Political correctness has masked the true intent of big city Democrat mayors for their support of gun control. Quite frankly it is and has been an effort to disarm blacks. And Justice Clarence Thomas’s remarkable revelation that after the Civil War, freed blacks only achieved freedom by protecting themselves with their own arms.

This apparently has resonated in the black community. In Detroit in the early 1980s, a group of black ministers organized a bus tour to Windsor, Canada, just across the river from Detroit. The bus driver warned the group of the very strict laws in Canada, especially for side arms, and told them to leave any behind. None did. When they reached Customs and Immigration, Canadian officials inspected them and found many were carrying weapons. The bus was forced to return to the US and the incident made headlines in Detroit. It made headlines because it revealed decent law abiding blacks felt it necessary to arm themselves for self protection.

Whites by that time had largely fled Detroit. But blacks either for economic necessity, the desire for affinity or in the case of the ministers, worked in the community. And were afraid. At some point we can hope the black community will see the duplicity of the big city Democrat politicians. That they are being used, not valued.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Obama under water in RCP’s Presidential approval ratings

The latest Real Clear Politics Presidential Job Approval data shows President Obama with greater disapproval numbers than approval. The numbers are 47.7% approve of his performance, 48.0 % disapprove, for a net minus of 0.3%.

Only media affiliated polling groups (with the exception of Fox) continue to show Obama with significant positives: CNN/Opinion Research 50 – 48; Ipsos/McClatchy 50 – 45; AP/GFK 50 – 49; and ABC/Wash Post 52 – 45.

With the exception of a single day on April 11, this is the first time Obama has been under water in the polling.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

What’s behind the secrecy of the X-37B? Probably cover for another satellite launched with it

On April 22 the Air Force launched the X-37B, an unmanned miniature space shuttle look-alike that was cloaked in secrecy and described in official gobbledygook that still defies the best decryption efforts of NSA. Here’s a sample: Gary E. Payton, under secretary of the Air Force for space programs [said], “The program supports technology risk reduction, experimentation and operational concept development.”

Nothing about this mission makes sense. What aroused my curiosity was an article in the NY Times that Harvard astronomer Jonathan Mc Dowell had reported the upper stage was sent into an unknown orbit around the sun. Now the upper stage of any launch vehicle shoves the main payload into its final orbit and stays there having expended its fuel, in this case 255 miles high.

Why did the upper stage continue into a sun orbit after positioning the X-37B in low earth orbit? The second oddity is the launch vehicle is an Atlas V with a Centaur upper stage. The version used (501) is designed and optimized for launching geosynchronous satellites to an altitude of about 22,000 miles high, not low earth orbit. The similar 502 version can lift 22,700 pounds into low earth orbit, more than double the 11,000 pounds of the space plane. Normally a smaller, less expensive launch vehicle would be used in such circumstances.

With half of the Atlas V’s capacity unused, one wonders what else went into orbit. Likely it was some sort of covert satellite, either to inspect what other nations might have put up there, but our own as well. Geosynchronous satellites are all in a very narrow band in both altitude and inclination. They are very hard to detect from earth if they are designed with stealth characteristics. But positioning an imaging satellite in an orbit slightly higher, it can detect their silhouettes against the bright earth. Also, we can inspect our own satellites to make sure nothing potentially destructive has been placed on or near them.

Our assets in space, both civilian and military, are essential. Aircraft and shipping are dependent on GPS. Our worldwide communications systems are heavily reliant on satellites and our intelligence collection efforts rely on them. While we have treaties on weaponizing space, satellites remain vulnerable, as we found out when the Chinese used lasers against one of our satellites in an apparent effort to blind it.

My best guess is the X-37B is simply a cover for another satellite (covert) launched with it.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Follow the BP oil leak progress live

The US Coast Guard has approved the use of the top kill method of capping BP’s well. There has been no time set to begin the procedure, but you can follow the video feed live from the ROV camera here. Note the moving wormlike object close to the pipe. No idea what it is, could be debris. Hopefully this try will be successful. Update: It appears BP's link is getting overloaded at times, with the screen going black. Be patient, you will be able to see it. Update 2: Coverage now includes positioning of eqiupment to prepare the top kill procedure. Update 3 (5:45pm edt): Evidently BP doesn't want the public to see the results of the top kill procedure. The video feed is of a static piece of equipment, probably the blowout preventer. The view does not show the work being performed, nor the plume. I guess they don't want anyone looking over their shoulder. Update 4 (6:45pm edt): BP is now showing a video feed of multiple plumes. The video quality of the feed makes it difficult to read the description of what is being shown.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The BP oil spill is not our worst offshore environmental disaster

I don’t want to diminish the problems with the oil spill, but we have lived through far worse and our waters and shoreline recovered. During World War II, Nazi U-boats sank scores of oil tankers off the Atlantic Coast and the Gulf of Mexico.

The Gulf of Mexico campaign began precisely 68 years ago today, May 4, 1942. In a little over a month they had sunk oil cargoes of over 600,000 barrels (one barrel equals 42 gallons), and by December 1943 when they sank their last ship in the Gulf, nearly 900,000 barrels of oil and oil products had been left in Gulf waters. For comparison, if it takes BP 3 months to get the well under control, at the current estimated leakage rate of 5,000 barrels a day, 450,000 will have seeped into the Gulf. While a lot, it is just half of what was spilled during the war.

The difference between then and now is we were focused not on the environment, but on fighting a war that had reached our shores. For those of us who lived on the coast, we did step in “tar” on the beach. But it was more of a nuisance and nothing compared to the agony of those with silver or gold star flags on the front of their homes.

The tar releases continued after the war, no doubt from seepage from the sunken ships and from the collapse of tank walls that had rusted out. Yet as we look back on the late 1940s and early 50s, we consider them the pristine years. They really weren’t. We recovered without a lot of fuss, as we will from the BP mess.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Wildlife photos from Sanibel’s Ding Darling Wildlife Preserve

These photos were taken about two weeks ago shortly after the cold spell that took temperatures to near freezing. The bird count was down because of it, but it's now improving.

The last two photos are of two egrets in a courtship ritual. Thought you folks who are now snowbound in the northeast might enjoy them. Ding Darling National Wildlife Preserve is one of the treasures of Sanibel, representing a third of the acreage of Sanibel Island. It is a must stop for folks visiting our truly unique Florida Gulf Coast barrier island. Winter is the peak season for bird watching as birds, like humans, fly here for the warm weather and abundant good food.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

What’s going on in the Middle East? Is all hell about to break loose?

Two major clues came to light over this past weekend. The first was the unusual secret meeting of CIA Director Leon Panetta last Thursday (Jan. 28) with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and later Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The second was an administration leak to the press that we are beefing up missile defenses in the Gulf.

After months of Iran’s stalling, nuclear negotiations have gone nowhere. It was obvious from the start they would go nowhere. The self imposed deadline we made to keep Israel from unilaterally striking Iran came and went at the end of the year.

Someone now has to step to the plate, either the US or Israel. Likely it will be us. And the next move along with our allies (UK, the Gulf States and possibly France) will probably be to declare an embargo/blockade on gasoline and refined products into Iran. This job is made simpler because virtually all gasoline imported from outside the Gulf, funnels through a single port/pipeline terminal, Bandar Abbas, located just outside of the Strait of Hormuz.

Iran, despite having gobs of oil, has very little refining capacity – a critical mistake by the ruling mullahs. Most of the imported gasoline comes from a transshipment port in the Emirates, Fujairah, a short 120 mile run to Bandar Abbas. This source will of course dry up, as the Emirates will be on board with us.

To handle the inevitable blockade runners, we must either intercept them or take the lower risk approach and mine the port. Mining is relatively simple to accomplish and most likely would be done with carrier aircraft operating from the Gulf of Oman. Mining has the advantage that you don’t have to actively sink a blockade runner. With mines, nothing goes bang unless the offending ship decides to challenge the minefield. The onus is on the ship owner and its captain. Unless a country has an effective mine sweeping capability, and the Iranians don’t, the port stays closed as happened to Haiphong in 1972.

Most air delivered mines are inexpensive “dumb” bombs with pressure, acoustic or magnetic “triggers.” They can be easily and quickly replenished as needed. There are even more sophisticated mines that are battery powered torpedoes that lay in wait and become active when it hears a ship approaching several miles away. The stand-off distance makes sweeping very difficult. What happens after we declare the embargo/blockade? Well, that’s when all hell breaks loose.

For starters Iran must make a choice whether or not to close the Straits of Hormuz. For them, the positive is they will cut off the 17 million barrels a day that keeps industry in the West humming. The negative is they will cut off all of their own oil exports. Likely they will mine the Straits anyway. The Middle East just works that way.

In Israel you will probably see Iran’s surrogates Hezbollah in Lebanon as well as Hamas in Gaza try and make as much trouble as they can. The meeting of Panetta and Mubarak was to coordinate the isolation of Gaza and to share intelligence on smuggling efforts to resupply Hamas. Egypt recently built a fence on its side of the Gaza border which now means longer tunnels and more digging for the smugglers. In the North expect the same rocket attacks from Hezbollah in Lebanon you saw in 2006.

This time Israel will have a plan in place and retaliation will be in seconds rather than in minutes. In the US we will see oil shortages and likely some form of rationing, probably similar to what we saw in 1973-4. Maybe worse. And you wondered why Obama reversed course and called for more drilling in the State of the Union address. Now you know.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Was the White House planning to use McCain-Feingold to silence Fox News?

The White House war on Fox News heated up in early October. It culminated, after almost 3 weeks of harassment, in an unsuccessful effort to exclude Fox, a member of the White House press pool, from an interview with pay czar Kenneth Feinberg. In a successful pushback, members of the press pool unanimously refused to conduct any interview, unless Fox was included. The White House backed down.

The language used to marginalize Fox was primarily “Fox is not a legitimate news organization” used by Gibbs on many occasions, and then Communications Director Anita Dunn’s “[T]he way we view it is that it really is more a wing of the Republican Party” followed by “But let's not pretend they're a news network….” It was Dunn’s comments on CNN’s Reliable Sources that started the drumbeat that ostensibly ended in late October. But it hasn’t. Last Monday (Jan. 18), just two days prior to the to the Citizens United decision that wisely gutted the censorship provisions of McCain-Feingold, current Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer (and Anita Dunn’s husband) picked up the drumbeat again. We don't feel an obligation to treat [Fox News] like we would treat a CNN or an ABC or an NBC or a traditional news organization. But there are times when it would make sense to communicate with them and appear on the network.

 The cause for worry is the precise language used by the White House to demean Fox. It has been: “not a legitimate/traditional news organization/network,” and “a wing of the Republican Party.” McCain-Feingold bans electioneering communications by corporations and unions that mention federal candidates by name 30 days prior to primaries and 60 days prior to the general election. It carves out an exemption for the “institutional press” but disallows the exemption when a broadcast station is “owned or controlled by any political party, political committee, or candidate.”

Does Dunn’s contention that Fox is “a wing of the Republican Party” constitute “control” under McCain-Feingold? Would Gibbs’ “not a legitimate news organization” disqualify Fox News from the “institutional press” exemption? Would the FEC go along with these assertions and apply a gag order on Fox deep into the election cycle, making a stay impossible before Election Day? Fortunately the Supreme Court resolved the problem, so we will never know.

But the explosive response by Senator Schumer D-NY to the decision may give a clue to Democrat intentions. We must recognize the Obama administration has an “enemies list.” And unlike the Nixon administration, it makes no secret of who is on it. Fox News and Rush Limbaugh are in their crosshairs.

The First Amendment has protected free and vibrant political speech for over 200 years, and will continue to do so if we are vigilant.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The rise of the Lilliputians … the decline of America

China just completed the world’s fastest high speed rail line, a 664 mile stretch between Wuhan in central China to Guangzhou, north of Hong Kong. The significant fact is not that it is the fastest rail link (217 mph average), but that it was built in less than four years.

If we were to commit the resources to a similar effort, we wouldn’t have completed the environmental impact statement much less resolved the innumerable lawsuits in the same amount of time. The Lilliputians have simply immobilized us. Lest anyone think such an effort was ever beyond our capabilities, in 1869 less than four years after construction began, we completed the 1,775 mile long transcontinental railroad, a great deal of it through mountains and hostile territory. Ironically much of the work done then was by Chinese laborers. Maybe there is a lesson to be learned there.

The ability of obstructionists to delay and simply add indefinitely to costs makes large projects in the US like this, almost impossible. Private corporations that must operate at a profit simply cannot afford the delay. Stretching out a project for ten or fifteen years means interest incurred at the beginning just piles up before a revenue stream can hope to pay it off. In many cases it becomes an insurmountable burden.

Such was the case in the granddaddy of all obstructionist targets, the Shoreham nuclear plant on the north shore of Long Island. Twenty-two years after it was ordered, LILCO its owner threw in the towel and admitted defeat. The state of New York and Suffolk County had dragged their feet and saddled it with so many restrictions the debt burden made the project impossible. The final straw was Governor Cuomo’s refusal to allow the emergency evacuation drill, required by the NRC. They couldn’t pass the test because they weren’t allowed to take it.

By 1989, when LILCO gave up, the cost of the plant had balooned to $5.3 billion. By comparison, across Long Island Sound in Connecticut, Millstone II a similar size nuclear plant ordered in the same year as Shoreham (1967) cost $424 million and was producing full commercial power in 1975.

On the railroad side a “high speed” (115 mph) rail link between Washington DC and Charlotte NC has been “under study” since 1992 with little or no movement. It has received some funding under the stimulus program, but no plans to build the link have been proposed.

If we are to be competitive in the world economy, we don’t have the luxury of taking twenty years to complete a four year project. History will pass us by.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Is Maureen Dowd turning conservative?

In her op-ed piece today, entitled Captain Obvious Learns the Limits of Cool, Maureen Dowd simply eviscerates President Obama for his cluelessness in handling the panty bomber fiasco.

Here’s how it starts: Our president came down from the mountaintop.
He had applied the freshness of his independent thought to the critical matters at hand. He had convened his seminar, reviewed the reviews, analyzed the intelligence every which way, thought anew about everything, and lo and behold, he finally emerged to tell us some stuff we already knew. We are under attack. There is evil in the world. Yemen is a dangerous place that breeds people who want to kill us. Al Qaeda is determined to attack inside the United States. Al Qaeda is casting a wide recruiting net for vulnerable young men. Aspirational terrorists eventually become operational terrorists. Our airports are not safe. Metal detectors can’t detect nonmetal explosives sewn into underwear. Our incomplete no-fly lists are more like “Welcome aboard” lists. We still can’t connect the dots, even when the dots are flying at us like 3-D asteroids. The sun rises in the east. Two plus two equals four.

 Is this an epiphany on the order of St. Paul on the road to Damascus? Let’s take a look at the past two weeks. On December 27 she wrote of her Christmas Eve with her conservative brother. His thoughts were the dominant theme of her article. Were they perhaps hers also? Then three days later she let loose on Obama in a piece entitled: As the Nation’s Pulse Races, Obama Can’t Seem to Find His.

Or could it be the she started following the candidacy of Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts’ special election? Perhaps she caught a glimpse of his photo in the centerfold of Cosmo magazine. Perhaps she is tired of whiney liberal beta males, and wants a shot at this alpha male.

Whatever the reason Maureen, we welcome your newfound perspective.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Why folks question temperature data … Iced over sea areas running 6 to 7F degrees over freezing

Starting in early December the sea surface temperatures between Iceland and Greenland were reported significantly higher than normal. This pattern is a repetition of last year. Yet there is significant sea ice (95 to 100% coverage) where the sea surface temperatures are running 3.5 to 4C (6 to 7F) above normal, which means above freezing. And the sea ice extent is at or above norm for the area, implying colder than normal temperatures. Even my rum and Coke with just 50% ice cubes stays within a degree or two of freezing. Makes you scratch your head.