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August 31, 2005

New Orleans -- we gambled and lost

The scale is different, of course, but building a city where New Orleans sits is akin to building a fine new house exactly at the point where the Rock and Mississippi run together -- when the rivers are low.

Actually, it's worse. Most of New Orleans is below sea level, and the sea is very close. So is Lake Pontchartrain, 40 miles long and 24 miles wide. The Mississippi, carrying half a continent worth of water, runs through the middle of a town so low that it stores its dead above ground.

Other than that, it's a fine place to build a great city, one to control the mouth of a river that would carry half a continent's worth of goods to market.

So, being the optimistic, can-do bunch that we humans are, the city was built.

A French company headed by Scotsman John Law launched the effort in 1717. Though much of the work had to be re-done a couple of times because of hurricanes (fair warning), New Orleans was a fact within five or six years.

But Law and his investors were ahead of their time. Losing money, they ceded the area back to the King of France, who -- playing European politics -- gave it to Spain in 1763, which gave it back to Napoleon-ruled France in 1802. Napoleon, needing war money, sold it and much of its drainage to the United States for a song in 1803.

The British tried to take it from the U.S. in 1814, but were beaten off by Andrew Jackson, who rode the ensuing wave of fame into the White House. The city became a part of the Confederate States of America in 1861, but Abraham Lincoln, apparently more aware of its strategic value than was Jefferson Davis, dispatched a huge fleet against the lightly defended city and it was back in Union hands within a year.

Through it all -- wars, economic ups and downs, the floods, the hurricanes and the waves of swamp-fed disease -- the city grew and grew, into one of the world's great ports and most cosmoplitan places.

But it's always been a gamble, and New Orleans just shot craps for about six times in a row.

First Katrina, the direct damage of which would have been, relatively speaking, not that big a deal. But the levee system, reflecting 285 years worth of knowledge and effort, failed. The surrounding water is pouring into the city as though it were a bathtub. The water system is out of commission, as are the sewers and the electricity. Looters roam the streets, hauling off their prizes through chest-deep water contaminated by God knows what. Total evacuation looms.

It will prove to be the greatest disaster ever to befall any large American city. Grievous as was the wound inflicted on New York by 9/11, it left a functioning city in its wake. New Orleans no longer functions and won't for a good long time.

One can only be thankful that the Rev. Pat Robertson, having recently gotten creamed for talking stupid, will probably spare us his views on why God decided to destroy the city.

It wasn't God, of course. It was us. We gambled, and we lost.

But we'll be back at the table soon enough, optimistic, piling up more chips. It is, after all, a fine place to build a great city.

Posted by jcb at 01:23 PM | Comments (6)

August 29, 2005

Why not?

Discovered that, while .html cade can be added to text in comments, image code works only in entries, not in comments. So following is in response to a request for an editorial (see first comment in "On Cindy Sheehan, honor and dishonor" below).

So why can't the troops come home?

Posted by jcb at 09:49 AM | Comments (3)

August 26, 2005

On Cindy Sheehan, honor and dishonor...

The world has gone nuts over Cindy Sheehan, who wants to ask President Bush, "Why did my son die?' in Iraq.

How nuts? Here's one measure: Searching on the phrase "Cindy Sheehan" on Google gets "about 4,360,000" results. Yup, four million three hundred and sixty thousand. That's as of 4 p.m. Aug. 26. Number will probably be bigger by the time you read this addition to the hurricane of news and commentary. Amongst all that she is praised, damned and everything in between. Overall, more heat than light, I'd say.

Still, it's a good question, one that's being asked by nearly 2,000 other American mothers and by tens of thousands of Iraqi moms. However each individual answers, it is time -- past time -- to ask it.

My answer is "no good reason." That's what I thought about going to war in Iraq in 2003 and that's what I thought when I urged people to vote against Mr. Bush in 2004. Revelations and events since then have only reinforced my belief that we were lied into an unnecessary and ultimately self-defeating war.

Even before the 2004 election, Mr. Bush had admitted that, ``Much of the accumulated body of our intelligence (about weaons of mass destruction) was wrong and we must find out why.'' The "why" was pretty clear even then to anyone with eyes open enough to see the straws in the wind. In fact, the straws were pretty obvious before the invasion, but the allegedly liberal mass media, led by the New York Times and Washington Post, were so busy cheerleading the drive to war they missed them all.

The intelligence was wrong, as Mr. Bush surely knew, because he and the coterie of neo-cons he raised to power were determined to invade Iraq and "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy," to quote the Downing Street memo in which British diplomats reported to Tony Blair what was going on in Washington in 2002, eight months in advance of the invasion of Iraq.

The memo surfaced May 1 of this year without creating the stir it should have -- though it probably has played at least some role in the growing disenchantment with the war here.

Now, faced with an anti-war movement energized by Ms. Sheehan and her question, Mr. Bush explained this week that to call off the war now would be to dishonor her son and the others who have died so far.

No, Mr. President. It is impossible to dishonor the men and women, like Casey Sheehan, who answered the call.

The only dishonor possible would be for a free people to continue to send them into harm's way without questioning leaders who "fix" the facts to justify a war for which there is no justification.

Posted by jcb at 04:53 PM | Comments (1)

August 24, 2005

On gas prices, Robertson and Fitzgerald

This 'n that...

Gas was $2.49 a gallon this morning at the place where I usually fill up. Probably be $3.49 by the time this hits print, given the news.

There's a tropical depression forming in the South Atlantic; might turn into a hurricane; hurricane might hit the Gulf of Mexico; oil production there might be affected; gas prices going up for sure.

The possibility of a storm might seem a pretty weak reason to hike prices, but it sure doesn't take much these days. Crude oil futures went soaring a few weeks ago when the king of Saudi Arabia died -- oh, woe and uncertainty, cried the oil crowd as they hiked prices. Course, the guy had been in a coma for 10 years and had nothing to do with anything. But nothing to do with anything seems reason enough to jack prices another dime, or quarter, per gallon.

Dead kings, storms and other such drivel aside, I'd say the real reason gas prices are soaring is that the oil companies are gouging us. Second quarter financial reports have rolled in:

-- Exxon Mobil reports profits of $7.69 billion, up 32 percent from the second quarter of 2004.

-- BP reports profits of $5.59 billion, up 24 percent from the second quarter of 2004.

-- Royal Dutch Shell reports profits of $5.24 billion, up 34 percent from the second quarter of 2004.

That's the bottom line, in more ways than one.


Maybe we should steal a page from Tony Blair's playbook and lock up or deport radical clerics who advocate violence. Talking here about Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson, who told a television audience this week the U.S. should "take out" Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

OK, we can't deport Robertson since he's a U. S. citizen, and yeah, there is that First Amendment thing. And various U.S. officials did rush to say we'd never do such a thing to the democratically elected leader of a neighboring nation, even a guy who's the pain-in-the-butt that Chavez has turned out to be.

Some high official, recalling other Robertson-isms -- a hurricane hit Orlando because it hosted a conventions of gays, let's nuke the State Department, feminism is witchcraft, etc. -- should go further and proclaim the blunt truth: The guy's a nut case; ignore him.

At the least, we should give him a bib so that he doesn't get his shirt wet when he drools.


The number of people indicted in Chicago's Hired Truck program scandal has soared past the 30 mark (23 people have already been convicted), and the minions of U. S. District Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald are zeroing in he most fascinating question in the whole mess: How did John "Quarters" Boyle end up in a position that allowed him to play a central role in it all.

Mr. Boyle, you'll recall, got his nickname because he stole millions in nickels, dimes and quarters from the Illinois Tollway Authority. Sent to prison in 1992, he was out of the slammer and on the city payroll by 1997 and was soon orchestrating the bribes-for-contracts operation of the Hired Truck program.

Already sentenced to seven years in prison for his new offenses, he's about to get hauled in front of a federal grand jury, given immunity from further prosecution and asked blunt questions about who hired him and how he ended up as the go-to man in the Hired Truck program. Mr. Fitzgerald will not be amused if "Quarters" doesn't cooperate. A lot of City Hall types won't be amused if he does.


Speaking of Mr. Fitzgerald ... another of his grand juries, this one in Washington, D.C., has just more than 30 days, until Oct. 1, to report on its investigation into who leaked CIA agent Valerie Plame's named to the press.

The nervousness Mr. Fitzgerald arouses in Chicago's City Hall is nothing compared to that he's created in D.C. If the Plame report is even the tiniest part of the bombshell that's widely anticipated, it'll blow Chicago's scandals off the front page, even in Chicago.

Posted by jcb at 01:22 PM | Comments (6)

August 19, 2005

Helping out the drug lords

Here's a headline you knew was coming: Stopping meth makers hasn't stopped Oklahoma's meth trade.

Oklahoma was the state that led the way in putting cold and allergy medicines containing pseudoephedrine, used by meth makers, behind the counter in pharmacies and otherwise restricting access. That cut down on the locally made meth but Mexican cartels have quickly picked up the slack, the cops say.

Same is happening in Iowa, where meth lab seizures have dropped dramatically since access to cold medicines were limited. But there's also "anecdotal" evidence that Mexican meth is filling the supply gap, Iowa law enforcement people say.

So it always goes in the 40-year plus "war on drugs." The principal impacts have been to 1) restrict supply just enough to keep prices high and 2) keep supply in the hands of foreign cartels.

Wouldn't work out any better for the "drug lords" if it'd been planned that way.

Posted by jcb at 02:21 PM | Comments (1)

August 17, 2005

A better thing...

'nough work. 'nough blogging. I'm goin' canoeing, in the back waters up near the Wapsi's junction with the Mississippi. Time to spend a day watching life teeming in the swamp.

Posted by jcb at 09:47 AM | Comments (1)

August 16, 2005

Just whining...

Back in April, when I was setting up this blog, I decided to 1) allow anonymous posts and 2) allow posts to appear without my preview and approval.

It's worked out fine, for the most part. Some people post anonynmously (just leave the name and email boxes in the comment section blank), some use a nom de plume and some use their real names. Whatever the case, I've not had a post so out-of-bounds that I felt the need to take it down.

However, the &*$#@(&#) blog spammers are driving me nuts. These cretins apparently are using spydering software to go through the content of blogs; when they find certain words, they send a comment with a link to their website.

The biggest offenders are online casinos. "Casino" appeared in a lot of my posts during the Isle of Capri controversy in Davenport, and those posts are constantly drawing comments like "Great site, mate" and a link to some online casino. An old post about insurance gets similar posts with links to insurance sites. And on and on.

I can slow the traffic some by blocking comments from the IP numbers at which the comments originate, but that's always a temporary fix. So I end spending some time every day deleting the crap. I can but hope there's a 10th circle in hell, reserved especially for these a-holes.

No real point here, I guess. Just whining. I'll shut up.

Posted by jcb at 03:35 PM | Comments (5)

August 15, 2005

New names, new buildings...

That danged work keeps getting in the way of important things, like blogging.


I see that we've sold off the name of The Mark. That's OK. When they pick a new one, I'll ignore it, just like I have the new ones for the River Bandits and 23rd Avenue and the Lady Luck -- and so many others that sometimes only friends-for-years have any clue what I'm talking about.

'bout 99 percent of the other people will keep right on calling it The Mark, too. Only Press agents and media types will use the new name, and they'll only do it on paper. Talking, it'll be The Mark for most of them for a good long time.

Allen McCaulley, whose steadfastness as a Moline alderman and mayor was important as The Mark's foundation was put down, said he thinks taking the $4.25 million from i-Wireless for naming rights "cheapens" the arena, and the contributions civic-minded citizens put into it circa 1990. They didn't ask for naming rights, he said.

He's right, in the idealistic way that made politics a tough go for him. And it is a shame to dump a name that, as intended, has come to reflect a "mark of excellence" in civic arenas -- pretty routine for The Mark to be named venue-of-the-year in the industry mags.

But turning down $4.25 mil...? That's $425,000 a year for 10 years. Goes a long way toward keeping The Mark a spiffy class act without the need to call in markers from Moline and its taxpayers.

Hope for something innocuous. "i-Mark" is short enough and similar enough that people might actually use it. Am guessing, though, that the i-Wireless people don't like that option.


Meanwhile, across the river, another new name joins the Q-C cultural scene. The Figge Art Museum, incarnation of the Davenport Museum of Art, created waves in the greater cultural scene.

Vanity Fair magazine, in its "31 things to do in August" calendar, recommended visiting Davenport for the Aug. 6 opening of the Figge. Among out-of-town papers, the New York Times did two stories, a preview and an after-the-opening review.

I missed the grand opening (helping herd a bunch of 14-year-olds through Wisconsin Dells), but did visit a couple of days later. Nice place. "Functional" is the word that kept popping to mind, and not in any kind of back-handed, put-down sense.

It's a simple square building, with a two-story tower in the middle, glass-faced, pleasant enough to the eye. Interior design and lighting emphasize the Figge's nice collection, as is right. There's also space for an ambitious education program.

Even Sol Lewitt's "Tower" seems a nice thing in the Figge plaza, rather than the joke it was when tucked into the corner of the Rivercenter entrance. Yup, "functional" is the word.

Posted by jcb at 02:14 PM | Comments (3)

August 11, 2005

Headed for warzone; leave a will

Outrageous. Ridiculous. Bizarre. Stupid.

The father of a Rock Island national guardswoman killed in Iraq is getting half of a $270,000 death benefit though his entire contact with his 24-year-old daughter was an hour so on the telephone. That's lifetime -- an hour, on the phone.

Oh, yeah, when he got the news about his windfall he was locked up over in Iowa on a third-offense DUI.

He managed grace enough to say that, since he hadn't reared Jessica Housby and had never met her, "maybe I don't deserve the money." But, he "just can't turn it down."

Probably not much point in trying to reverse this injustice, or even in trying the fix the law to cover future cases. Illinois lawmakers, in passing the death-benefit bill, provided that the money would first go to the designee in a will, or to the spouse or to surviving children or, in the absence of all those, to surviving parents.

The longterm fix then, is for people headed to a warzone to be sure they've left a will. Saying that, though, doesn't do anything to lessen the bitter taste of injustice in this case.

Full story

Posted by jcb at 02:01 PM | Comments (5)

August 10, 2005

Intelligent design, Iowa style

Thank god for Iowa. It's so intelligently designed that it selected a chief executive of sufficient vision and courage to declare it's time to quit tinkering with the paint job on the school house and make fundamental changes.

Most dramatically, Gov. Tom Vilsack wants to lengthen the school year . That's the right idea, though the 14-year-olds who hang out at my house might turn into a teenie-bopper lynch mob if I said so in their presence.

But the grown-ups know best, at least in Iowa.

While the governor steers the debate in the state toward the educational base-building required to bolster the state's ambitious drive to nurture industries rooted in the biological and biochemical sciences, base-builders of another sort are work around the nation, trying to saddle the schools with a theological approach to science.

That brings me to George W. Bush and intelligent design : The "education president" last week added his voice to those who say the teaching of evolution in the schools should be buttressed by offering intelligent design as an alternate explanation for life as we know it.

The new creationists use the language of science but their centuries-old agenda is clear enough to even those of us who don't know a molecule from a protein. Their case is that the structure of life is so complex that it had to be intelligently designed -- somebody, or something, done it. Let us pray, rather than explore and experiment.

Even better, let us ignore the facts. The state board of education in Kansas, a hotbed of new creationists, went so far as deciding to excise references to the age of the Earth from textbooks. A new board backed out of that dark room but still seems certain to saddle teachers with a requirement to present "intelligent design" as an acceptable alternative to evolution in explaining the development of life.

Several other states are on, or considering getting on, the same bandwagon.

In the meantime, science -- theorizing, exploring, testing, experimenting -- marches on. In Asia, in particular, it marches to a quickened beat . My son, a senior at the University of Iowa double-majoring in biology and chemistry, has wondered aloud whether he should add languages, maybe Korean or Chinese, to his study load.

The distant drum he hears is a warning, as Vilsack and many other governors recognize in pushing changes intended to make schools more competitive globally. Actually doing so, of course, poses problems that may seem "irreducibly complex" -- to borrow a term from the new creationists. Inertia, tradition, the expense, powerful teacher unions and self-serving education bureaucracies seem always to slow or stop school improvement efforts.

In tossing out his proposal for longer school years,Vilsack said "I don't have all the answers. The point of this was to put it on the table, to say this is an issue that requires discussion and it's an issue whose time has come."

Indeed. Let us search for intelligent design.

Posted by jcb at 04:14 PM | Comments (3)

August 04, 2005

Shirley, may your tribe prosper

Got an email today from Shirley, who said ... "I for one will pay more attention now that I have the (campaign disclosure ) website. The old saying `money corrupts' should say that money gives the POWER to corrupt."

You go, girl.

Better understanding the money flow is 'bout the best defense ordinary folk can muster against it. Understanding requires facts and, yup, those disclosure websites put the facts ready at hand for anyone who wants to look.

In the Big Picture, I'd say, it's important to grasp that, although the system is shot through with corruption, many --maybe most -- of the individual transactions are not. Stands taken by candidates attract like-minded money.That's natural and right.

The issues arise when the money determines the stands. Admittedly, deciding which is which often gets to be a chicken-and-egg question. But there are guideposts.

Let's use the Illinois-side congressman, Lane Evans, for an example; which probably requires a bit of history for those many voters who weren't even born when he was first elected back in 1982.

He grew up in Rock Island, in a union household --his father was a firefighter. He did his time in the military and his undergrad studies before getting a law degree at Georgetown University in Washington, D. C.. Passing by the doors that degree opens to a young man, he came home and went to work for the local legal aid society, helping poor people and taking up causes like bettering conditions at an ancient Rock Island County jail.

So he was pretty easy to peg when he made his first Quixotic run for Congress: young, idealistic, pro-labor, willing to stand up for unpopular people and causes that tend to be lumped, rightly or not, as "liberal." There was no pretense about him; never has been. No surprise, then, that unions and cause groups tending leftward have poured a lot of money into his campaigns over the years, or that the big manufacturers have tended to put their money behind his opponents.

IF, however, he suddenly started taking gobs of money from power companies and voting against sound alternate-energy bills, it'd be time to say, "Hmmm, wonder what's going on here?"

Also, in the Big Picture, those people and groups that put money behind multiple candidates in the same race are always worthy of a raised eyebrow. Various spokesmen for such committees have said they're merely supporting the process (which leads me to say their process" is pretty lousy -- looks like influence-buying to me).

Information is power; this is the information age. Go get some:

Federal Election Commission
Illinois Board of Elections campaign disclosure.
Iowa Ethics & Campaign Disclosure Board

Explore generally, or become a specialist in some race that interests you. If you find something interesting, or a mystery, share it with me, or The Inside Dope, or the Fly over at Daily Davenport Politics. The more people looking and talking, the better off we all are.

Shirley, may your tribe prosper.

Posted by jcb at 09:41 PM | Comments (2)

August 03, 2005

Feeding the politicians

"Here chickie chick chick, here chickie chick chick..."

For some reason, that childhood refrain -- chanted while throwing cracked corn to the farmyard chickens -- came to mind this week as I browsed through the latest money reports filed by the Illinois political crowd.

Maybe it's the indiscriminate nature of the giving: Many of the committees spreading money around don't seem to have any party or even philosophical allegiances. They're just tossing it out there: "Here politician politician politician..."

A few examples, from the many you'll find if you spend a little time looking through the reports, available online at www.elections.state.il.us/CampaignDisclosure.

In the six months ended June 30, the Manufacturers PAC put a total of $3,000 into the campaigns of three prospective Republican gubernatorial candidates, but was even more generous with Democratic legislative leaders: $5,000 for Senate president Emil Jones and $500 for House Speaker Mike Madigan.

The Illinois Cable PAC gave Democrat Gov. Rod Blagojevich $40,000, but also tossed $1,500 to prospective GOP candidate Steve Rauschenberger. The cable guys further hedged their bets by giving a total of $10,000 to GOP legislative committees and an additional $10,000 to House Republican leader Tom Cross. By the way, your cable bill gone up lately?

The Illinois Federation of Teachers covered Gov. Blagojevich ($1,000) and prospective GOP guy Rauschenberger ($500), but put bigger bucks into legislators' pockets -- $3,000 each for House D leader Madigan and R leader Cross.

The docs, through the Illinois State Medical Society PAC, passed out $206,650. Among the gifts there were $25,000 for the governor, $5,000 for prospective challenger Judy Topinka and $2,000 each for Rauschenberger and Brady. There was also $10,000 each for Senate leaders Jones (D) and Frank Watson (R). The docs' PAC, incidentally was sitting on well more than a half million bucks as of June 30.

The Illinois Hospital Association PAC also was generous. It tossed $50,000 to Blagojevich, while supporting prospective GOP candidates Rauschenberger ($12,000) and Topinka ($25,000). The hospitals also had more than a half mil on hand as of June 30.

I'm sure, though, none of this has anything to do with the ever growing cost of health care.

The bankers, through Illinois Bankpac, gave the gov $5,000 and also supported three prospective GOP challengers -- $1,000 for Brady, $1,500 for Rauschenberger and $1,000 for Topinka.

"Here, chickie chick chick..."

Course, what's getting tossed around here isn't exactly chicken feed.

Posted by jcb at 01:38 PM | Comments (1)

August 01, 2005

Please, lawmakers, spare us the Do Good bills

Still true: Illogic reigns when a legislature sets out to Do Good.

The Oregon Senate has approved a bill that would require anyone wanting to buy common cold and allergy medicines to have a doctor's prescription. Aimed at curbing the production of methamphetamine, a key ingredient in which is the pseudoephedrine found in many over-the-counter cold pills, the bill -- if it becomes law -- would create great inconvenience and expense for the overwhelming majority of the state's citizens.

Adding the cost of a visit to the doctor's office, or even the cost of a telephone consultation, to the few bucks the medicine costs will make it impossible for a lot of lower-income people to afford the relief. Those with insurance may not have to worry much about the bucks, until insurance rates to go to cover the cost of getting a doc to say, hundreds of thousands of times a year, sure, get some Sudafed, or whatever. That'll be $45 please.

There's a better way, of course. Lots of states, most recently Iowa, have passed laws requiring pseudoephedrine-containing medicines to be kept locked up behind a counter, and requiring purchasers to provide identification and sign a registry. That's an inconvenience but at least its not an expensive inconvenience.

Apparently it's effective, too. Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack said today that in the barely two months since the law went into effect, the number of meth labs found by police has dropped 75 percent from the same period a year ago. Other states with put-it-behind-the-counter laws report similarly dramatic drops in meth lab finds.

The Oregon House also has passed the prescription only bill, but there are some differences between it and the Senate bill. Maybe common sense will be one of the ingredients worked into the bill in conference committee.

Posted by jcb at 02:38 PM | Comments (1)