Posts Tagged ‘Commentary’
While the gulls arrived some days ago, the shorebirds have arrived more recently. And there’s a problem. Their habitat is still frozen. It’s been interesting to see how the birds coped – or failed to cope – with the adverse conditions.
Bonaparte’s Gulls, the black-headed gull of Interior Alaska, are surface feeders, bobbing on the surface of the water and delicately dabbing at emerging insects. But there’s a problem. Ponds are still frozen. This Bonaparte’s coped with the problem this way:
If you look carefully, you can see that he has punched a series of holes in the ice, using his feet and his bill, to get at prey under the ice. You can see the series of four fishing holes behind him. It helped that the ice was only a quarter inch thick or so. An interesting and apparently successful strategy.
Long-billed Dowitchers under ordinary conditions look a bit like sewing machines, their heads rapidly going up and down, probing with their long bills in the soft mud of the shore for prey. The problem for the Dowitchers is that ground is still frozen about half an inch down. This fellow coped with the challenge by adopting a strategy used by sandpipers: pond scum sucking.
Readers may recall that pond scum is surprisingly nutritious. It’s a primary food source for Sandpipers. The much larger Dowitcher can apparently make do with the alternate food, too. Actually, Dowitchers are much too handsome to make do with this rather plain view. Here’s a better shot of one of Alaska’s prettiest shorebirds.
The Whimbrel, a slightly larger shorebird with an even longer, more specialized bill, probes even deeper into the shoreline mud than the Dowitcher. Whether because its bill won’t let it, or because there isn’t enough energy to make it worthwhile, the Wimbrels weren’t sucking scum. Most, as this fellow, were wandering somewhat disconsolately across the solid ice, probing occasionally, and somewhat half-heartedly, at stuff blown out onto the surface.
The Whimbrels were being surprisingly territorial over their chosen ice areas, so perhaps there was some kind of food out there. But it can’t have been their usual diet.
WC has no idea whether the late spring will affect shorebird survival, reproduction success or populations. We may not know for a couple of years. It’s not like we get any of these species on Christmas Bird Counts. But it’s unlikely to be good news.
(All photos May 19 and 20, 2013)
WC offers a guest blog today, full of Bird Nerd jokes and sarcasm from The Birdist. Used with permission (thanks, Nick Lund).
- – - – - – - – - -
I drove over a bridge from Maryland into Virginia today and on the big “Welcome to Virginia” sign was an image of their state bird, the Northern Cardinal – with a yellow bill. I should have scoffed – another Birds at Large on tap! – but it hardly registered. Everyone knows that state birds are a big damn joke. There are a million Cardinals, a scattering a Robins, and just a general lack of thought being put into the whole thing.
States should have to put more thought into their state bird than I put into picking my socks in the morning. “Ugh, state bird? I dunno, what’re the guys next to us doing? Cardinal? OK, let’s do that too. Yeah put it on all the signs. Nah no time to research the bill color let’s just go.” It’s the official state bird! Well, since all these jackanape states are too busy passing laws requiring everyone to own guns or whatever to consider what their state bird should be, I guess I’ll have to do it.
1. Alabama. Official state bird: Yellowhammer.
Right out of the gate with this thing. Yellowhammer? C’mon. I Asked Jeeves and it told me that Yellowhammer is some backwoods name for a Yellow-shafted Flicker. Sorry, but that’s dumb. If you want a woodpecker, go for something with a little more cache, something that’s at least a full species.
What it should be: Red-cockaded Woodpecker
2. Alaska. Official state bird: Willow Ptarmigan
Willow Ptarmigans are the dumbest sounding birds on earth, sorry. They sound like rejected Star Wars aliens, angrily standing outside the Mos Eisley cantina because their ID’s were rejected. Why go with these dopes, Alaska, when you’re the best state to see the most awesome falcon on earth?
What it should be: Gyrfalcon
3. Arizona. Official state bird: Cactus Wren
Cactus Wren is like the only boring bird in the entire state. I can’t believe it.
What it should be: Red-faced Warbler
4. Arkansas. Official state bird: Northern Mockingbird
Christ. What makes this even less funny is that there are like 8 other states with Mockingbird as their official bird. I’m convinced that the guy whose job it was to report to the state’s legislature on what the official bird should be forgot until the day it was due and he was in line for a breakfast sandwich at Burger King. In a panic he walked outside and selected the first bird he could find, a dirty Mockingbird singing its stupid head off on top of a dumpster.
What it should be: Painted Bunting
5. California. Official state bird: California Quail
…Or the largest most radical bird on the continent?
What it should be: California Condor
6. Colorado. Official state bird: Lark Bunting
I’m actually OK with this. A nice choice. But why not go with the only bird that is (or is pretty much) endemic in your state?
What it should be: Brown-capped Rosy-finch or Gunnison Sage-grouse
7. Connecticut. Official state bird: American Robin
Look, this isn’t even that hard. American Robin is American, not special to Connecticut at all. Is there perhaps another choice? One that inspires some more local pride?
What it should be: Connecticut Warbler
8. Delaware. Official state bird: Blue Hen chicken
You know what? I’m not so mad about this. Whatever, it seems to have some connection to you, even though “blue chicken” plugged into a thesaurus means “sad wuss.”
What it should be: Red Knot
9. Florida. Official state bird: Northern Mockingbird
I am finishing this post the next day because I had to go buy a new computer after I threw my last one out the window when I read that Florida’s state bird was the Northern Mockingbird. I cannot think of a lamer choice. What’s their state beverage, A Half Glass of Warm Tapwater?
What it should be: American Flamingo
10. Georgia. Official state bird: Brown Thrasher
I’ve always liked this. Way to go, Georgia.
What it should be: Brown Thrasher
11. Hawaii. Official state bird: Nene
What it should be: Nene (the goose)
12. Idaho. Official state bird: Mountain Bluebird
What it should be: Mountain Bluebird
13. Illinois. Official state bird: Northern Cardinal
You know how parents say that thing, “if everybody can’t have it, then NOBODY can have it”? Well, I’m doing that for cardinal. No one gets the cardinal. Screw cardinals.
What it should be: Greater Prairie-chicken
14. Indiana. Official state bird: Northern Cardinal
What it should be: Bobolink
15. Iowa. Official state bird: Eastern Goldfinch
Eastern Goldfinch? That’s not even a thing.
What it should be: Dickcissel
16. Kansas. Official state bird: Western Meadowlark
OK, but I’m only allowing one.
What it should be: Western Meadowlark
17. Kentucky. Official state bird: Northern Cardinal
[urge to kill: rising]
What it should be: Kentucky Warbler
18. Louisiana. Official state bird: Brown Pelican
Yes. The best fit of all. If I had beads I’d throw them to you, Louisiana. Note: I could go Louisiana Waterthrush here, but no one thinks of Louisiana when they think of Louisiana Waterthrush, so, whatever.
What it should be: Brown Pelican
19. Maine. Official state bird: Black-capped Chickadee
Ah, my beloved home state. I couldn’t imagine it any other bird.
What it should be: Black-capped Chickadee
20. Maryland. Official state bird: Baltimore Oriole
What it should be: Baltimore Oriole
21. Massachusetts. Official state bird: Black-capped Chickadee
Screw you, Taxachusetts. Maine wins.
What it should be: Piping Plover
22. Michigan. Official state bird: American Robin
The most endangered bird in the nation lives ONLY (pretty much) in your state! Don’t you want tourists and pride and crap? Uggghhhh.
What it should be: Kirtland’s Warbler
23. Minnesota. Official state bird: Common Loon
Alright that works.
What it should be: Common Loon.
24. Mississippi. Official state bird: Northern Mockingbird
Oh for God’s sake. There’s an awesome bird named after you! NAMED AFTER YOU!
What it should be: Mississippi Kite
25. Missouri. Official state bird: Eastern Bluebird
Lame, but I don’t know what else would be better.
What it should be: Eastern Bluebird
26. Montana. Official state bird: Western Meadowlark
What it should be: McCown’s Longspur
27. Nebraska. Official state bird: Western Meadowlark
What it should be: Sandhill Crane
28. Nevada. Official state bird: Mountain Bluebird
Look, Nevada, you’re insane. You should have a bird that also represents what a zany, mixed-up world this is.
What it should be: Himalayan Snowcock
29. New Hampshire. Official state bird: Purple Finch
OK just go with it.
What it should be: Purple Finch
30. New Jersey. Official state bird: Eastern Goldfinch
Are you serious? Another outdated name? Come on, Jersey. You’ve got a fine birding reputation, and you’re better than this.
What it should be: Seaside Sparrow
31. New Mexico. Official state bird: Greater Roadrunner
What it should be: Greater Roadrunner
32. New York. Official state bird: Eastern Bluebird
What it should be: Cerulean Warbler
33. North Carolina. Official state bird: Northern Cardinal
More like Bore-thern Cardinal.
What it should be: Carolina Chickadee
34. North Dakota. Official state bird: Western Meadowlark
Was Western Meadowlark the official state bird of the entire Louisiana Purchase and they just kept if after becoming states?
What it should be: Chestnut-collared Longspur
35. Ohio. Official state bird: Northern Cardinal
Uuggghhhhhhh the wooorrrssssttt
What it should be: Indigo Bunting
36. Oklahoma. Official state bird: Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
Hell yeah! Nailed it!
What it should be: Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
37. Oregon. Official state bird: Western Meadowlark
STOP IT WITH THE MEADOWLARKS. I’m resisting the temptation for Oregon Junco here, in favor of something that would never happen.
What it should be: Northern Spotted Owl.
38. Pennsylvania. Official state bird: Ruffed Grouse
I like it.
What it should be: Ruffed Grouse
39. Rhode Island. Official state bird: Rhode Island Red Chicken
Hahaha Rhode Island you so crazy
What it should be: Bee Hummingbird haha j/k! Rhode Island Red Chicken
40. South Carolina. Official state bird: Carolina Wren
Okay. Thank you.
What it should be: Carolina Wren
41. South Dakota. Official state bird: Ring-necked Pheasant
An exotic. You’re kidding me. Is your state meal General Tso’s chicken? Is your state hat the sombrero? Is your state anthem the DAMN CANADIAN NATIONAL ANTHEM?
What it should be: Sharp-tailed Grouse
42. Tennessee. Official state bird: Northern Mockingbird
What is it with Mockingbirds? I DO NOT understand. They are garbage birds that eat dumpster trash! Is that what you want to identify with, Tennessee?
What it should be: Tennessee Warbler
43. Texas. Official state bird: Northern Mockingbird
Sometimes – after a nice full day, perhaps spent in the company of loved ones – one can forget that the world is a cold, uncaring place full of death and sadness. Thanks, Texas, the birdiest state in the entire country, for reminding me that this civilization we’ve built and work our fingers to the bone trying to perfect is as meaningless as a sand castle in the tide.
What it should be: any other fucking bird in the country other than Northern Mockingbird. Roseate Spoonbill? Golden-cheeked Warbler? Swainson’s Hawk? Aplomado Falcon? Anything.
44. Utah. Official state bird: California Gull
You named your official state bird after a bird named for a DIFFERENT state? That is the most pathetic thing I have ever heard.
What it should be: Burrowing Owl
45. Vermont. Official state bird: Hermit Thrush
Fine. Thank you for restoring sanity, Vermont.
What it should be. Hermit Thrush
46. Virginia. Official state bird: Northern Cardinal
Just when I think I’m out they suck me right back in. Shut up, Virginia.
What it should be: Barred Owl
47. Washington. Official state bird: Willow Goldfinch
What is going onnnnnnnn???? Nobody can get the damn goldfinch right!
What it should be: Glaucous-winged Gull
48. West Virginia. Official state bird: Northern Cardinal
West Virginia I am so mad at your right now I could explode.
What it should be: Swainson’s Warbler
49. Wisconsin. Official state bird: American Robin
I’m too tired to be mad.
What it should be: Golden-winged Warbler
50. Wyoming. Official state bird: Western Meadowlark
I hate you.
What it should be: Greater Sage-grouse
Final Thoughts: This has been the most depressing post I have ever put together. Three robins but no Blue Jay? Seven cardinals but no owls or hawks? Five goddamn mockingbirds? This is what we pay taxes for, folks.
- – - – - – - – - -
WC has mentioned before his disdain for patent trolls, and his whole-hearted admiration for NewEgg, the little David that keeps knocking down these Goliath trolls. Well, NewEgg has done it again, and this time it wasn’t even close.
Alcatel-Lucent, the French corporation that is the heir to some of the Bell Labs patents, tried to assert its patents. To “monetize” – extort money for – those patents. Alcatel sued eight of the biggest retailers and Intuit, claiming their e-commerce websites infringed on Alcatel’s patents. One by one, the big outfits folded. Kmart, QVC, Lands’ End, and Intuit paid up at various pretrial stages of the litigation. Just before trial, Zappos, Sears, and Amazon settled. That left two companies in the case as trial started. Overstock.com and Newegg.
NewEgg never settles with patent trolls. Lee Cheng, NewEgg’s chief legal officer,has made it corporate policy. And it has consistently paid off. It did this time, too. A jury in the Eastern District of Texas found NewEgg hadn’t infringed on Alcatel’s patents. And in the case of the key patent, US Patent No. 5,649,131, a claim involving communication protocols? The jury invalidated Alcatel’s patent claim.
Alcatel appealed, of course. It hired high-powered lawyers. Filed big briefs. Agued passionately and forcefully to the appeals court.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal circuit summarily affirmed the jury verdict. Three days after argument. That’s a bitch slap. That the Federal Circuit – the part of the federal appeals courts that hears intellectual property disputes – telling Alcatel to stop wasting the court’s time. That has to hurt.
That’s the third time NewEgg has made a patent troll look stupid. So here’s <clink> to NewEgg. Soon enough, no one is likely to sue them; the trolls will go after the outfits that would rather settle. But in the meantime, let’s hear it for the good guys.
The migratory songbirds, the Passerines, have arrived. And they are dying by the thousands, a victim of Interior Alaska’s non-spring. If you’re a birder, it’s a real bummer.
If you are like WC, you have complained about the weather. Snow – a blizzard, really – on Friday night. And Saturday afternoon it might have been 30 degrees. But if you are a songbird, it’s a lot more than depressing. It’s death.
Imagine being a Hammond’s Flycatcher, an early-arriving, bug-eating bird.
But because of the late spring, there are no bugs. It’s tough times for flycatchers. WC saw 20 or more grubbing for food along a neighborhood road.
Why should you care? Even if you don’t care very much about birds, WC doubts you are fond of mosquitoes. Fewer fly catching bugs means more mosquitoes. And mosquitoes around longer. This weekend’s blizzard and our glacial spring will have consequences all summer and, depending upon how badly reproduction is impaired, perhaps for more than one summer.
The birds who are generalists are doing better. Thrushes, the family of birds that includes the American Robin, are omnivores.
A Swainson’s Thrush can eat last fall’s berries and rose hips, seeds and even spring buds, as well as do some clumsy fly catching. Despite its generalist strategy, Swainson’s Thrushes seem to be in decline throughout the boreal forest, including Alaska. Birds of North America (pay wall) reports, “Swainson’s Thrush populations declined in North America at a small annual rate (0.8%/yr) during 1980–1996. In some regions, trends for last 17 yr have reversed from increases in earlier decades.” It may be caused by habitat loss in the migration corridor.
As WC writes this post, there are reports from across the Interior of thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of dead migratory songbirds. Swallows, another insect-eating family of birds, and sparrows, that rely upon snow-free ground to forage for food, seem to be especially hard hit.
So as we whine about the late spring, and being short-sheeted on summer, have a thought for our feathered friends.
You had to be pretty infamous to have both Phil Ochs and the Chad Mitchell Trio write songs about you. Of course, you also had to have been pretty infamous a pretty long time ago. We’re talking Billie Sol here. WC will add some notes to the Chad Mitchell Trio classic, “The Ides of Texas.”
You’ve heard how us folks down in Texas
Boast of our home in the West
You’ve heard us a-sayin’ in Texas
That things are the biggest and best
Well a few months ago in the papers
A fabulous story come out
Which proves that us folks down in Texas
Know what we’re talking about
Here’s to a guy with a big Texas smile
Who knows what it means to have real Texas style
Here’s to a fella who couldn’t think small
Here’s to the biggest embezzler of all!
Con man, embezzler, political hack and swindler, Billie Sol was nearly unstoppable in the late 1950s and early 1960s. A multi-millionaire, he had his finger in most of the crooked pies across Texas and Oklahoma.
Billie Sol Estes, we’re proud of you son
(Hey Billie Billie, hey Billie Billie Billie!)
You had to be Texan to do what you done
(Hey Billie Billie, hey Billie Billie Sol!)
While other kids saved up their nickels and dimes
For jellybeans, liq’rice, and fudge,
Well Billie saved too
And when he had enough
He bought him a federal judge!
While still in his teens he was very perplexed
as to what field his fortune was hid
His uncle suggested he go into steel
And that’s just what Billie boy did!
Billie Sol was a Church of Christ preacher. He also left a trail of bodies, bankruptcies and bribes across America. He was a tar baby to President Lyndon Johnson, claiming at various times to have given him millions in bribes. Or was it political contributions. In Billie Sol’s mind, there wasn’t much of a difference.
Billie Sol Estes, that boy really cooks
(Hey Billie Billie, hey Billie Billie Billie!)
He had one shining purpose
And two sets of books
(Hey Billie Billie, hey Billie Billie Sol!)
There once was a senator Bill tried to bribe
So Bill had a wonderful notion
Oh, what a friend we have in Billie!
He sent him a yacht but that wasn’t enough
So Billie boy threw in an ocean!
It all came apart in 1962. In 1963, Billie Sol was convicted on federal charges and sentenced to 15 years. A related state conviction was overturned on grounds of prejudicial pretrial publicity. After serving six years, Billie Sol was paroled in 1971. But in 1979 he was convicted of tax fraud and served four more years. And while Billie Sol tried to portray himself as a Good Ol’ Boy, there was an appalling trail of bodies left in his wake. Including a key investigator in Billie Sol’s case, Henry Marshall. Marshall was found dead in Texas. He’d been bludgeoned on the head, he had nearly fatal amounts of carbon monoxide in his bloodstream and he had five chest wounds, all from a single-shot bolt-action rifle. Local officials ruled it suicide. Marshall’s body was later exhumed and the cause of death determined to be homicide. But no one was ever charged.
Billie Sol Estes, we’re proud of you mate
(Hey Billie Billie, hey Billie Billie Billie!)
It’s hombres like you that make Texas so great
(Hey Billie Billie, hey Billie Billie Sol!)
B is for the billions he’s been bilkin’
Good ole billion bilkin’ Billie!
I is to indemnify his loss
They use a lot of ammonia up there, Billie —
That’s why they call it the White House.
L is for the loans from Uncle Sammy
Why, thank ye, Freeman Cousin Orville!
Then double L just like in double cross
I is for the interest he’s accruin’
Praise the Lord and pass the fertilizer, Billie!
E is for the eggheads he outsmarts
Put them all together, you’ve got Billie Sol
Whose initials are emblazed on our hearts:
After his release from federal prison on the tax fraud charges in 1983, Billie Sol pursued a part-time career in scandal-mongering and conspiracy theories. He demanded a pardon and immunity from prosecution, and in return he promised to detail eight killings arranged by President Johnson, including the Kennedy assassination. He said that Johnson aide Malcolm Wallace had not only persuaded Jack Ruby to recruit Lee Harvey Oswald, but that Mr. Wallace had also fired a shot in Dallas that hit the president.
Billie Sol Estes, we’re proud of you boy
(Hey Billie Billie, hey Billie Billie Billie!)
Next to you Jimmy Hoffa is Lord Fauntleroy
(Hey Billie Billie, hey Billie Billie Sol!)
Now they’re gonna take Billie away to the clink
And the way things look now it appears
For all of the wheelin’ and dealin’ he’s done
He’ll get three thousand four hundred years
And the day they lead old Billie away
Why, each Texan will take off his hat
For who but a Texan
In all this wide world
Could pull down a sentence like that?
History pretty much forgot Billie Sol. Time, bigger scandals and the diminishing public tolerance of the charming con man all played a part. Billie Sol, named one of America’s 10 outstanding young men of 1953 by the United States Junior Chamber of Commerce, died a convicted con man, a felon and an obscure footnote to the era.
Billie Sol Estes, you’re really a doll
(Hey Billie Billie, hey Billie Billie Billie!)
There’s Houston Houston — and Crockett Crockett —
And now Billie Sol!
And remember, Billie boy,
We’re behind you all the way —
Me and Ladybird —
Hey Billie Billie, hey Billie Sol Estes!
We are gathered today to bury the economic theory known as Austerity. In its short life as a guide post for economic policy, it worked great harm. But it is dead now, and those of us who have survived need to understand its brief life to make certain that it stays dead. And work to repair the damage Austerity has done.
First, we must remember what austerity was. Austerity as an economic policy was a political response to economic downturns that slashed public spending, trying to reduce government deficits, all as a means of triggering or encouraging economic recovery. In the words of Jim Wright over at Stonekettle Station, this has the same logic as burning the lifeboats when the ship is sinking. But Austerity had an impressive academic pedigree.
Austerity was born out of a 2010 academic paper by Harvard economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff. They claimed that a nation’s economic growth stopped when its ratio of public debt to gross domestic product passed a threshold of 90 percent. Their claim gave birth to Austerity as an economic policy, as a plan for regulating the economy of nations.
As Jeff Weintraub points out, Reinhart and Rogoff’s claims have since been thoroughly refuted by new analyses finding calculation errors, data omissions, questionable methods and inconclusive evidence of causality. There’s more than a hint of purposiveness in Reinhardt and Rogoff; that they set out to prove Austerity should live, and then twisted the facts and logic to prove their assumption. Other, later high-profile arguments for austerity including recent papers by Alberto Alesina and Silvia Ardagna, and by David Greenlaw have also been criticized.
But the main problem with the late, unlamented Austerity, and the reason for this funeral, is that it didn’t work. It was attempted. It was imposed. Austerity, in all its human misery, had its way with Greece, Spain, Portugal and other Eurozone countries. And it has failed in its avowed purpose. Austerity made the economies of those countries sicker, not better. Austerity slowed recovery, rather than speeding it. The friends and allies of Austerity denied it at first. But the data were just too clear. When Scott Barber at Reuters published this chart, Austerity went into a coma:
The United States, where the Neocons and their hangers-on embraced Austerity but were unable to have it work its will, benefited instead from a mild, if inadequate, dose of Keynesian policy. The results speak for themselves. The United States is in far better economic condition than our sister countries in Europe, where Austerity had its brief, if crippling, way. Or compare Iceland’s experience, where the voters rejected Austerity, with Greece’s experience where it was embraced. Iceland’s economy has largely recovered. Greece continues to sicken.
Austerity’s condition worsened as economists, especially Paul Krugman, noted that none of the predictions Austerity had made were coming true. Austerity predicted runaway inflation if it wasn’t imposed; that didn’t happen. Austerity predicted soaring interest rates if it wasn’t imposed; that didn’t happen either.
Even the International Monetary Fund repudiated austerity, contributing somewhat to Austerity’s demise.
And so Austerity lingered a while, but finally died. There are those who are in denial of Austerity’s demise. Like Paul Ryan. But as a credible economic policy, Austerity is pushing daisies.
However, as we all know, the consequences of our deeds outlive us. Charts and numbers hold the human tragedy of Austerity at a distance. A graph doesn’t show the misery that Austerity created and will continue to inflict. Austerity, partially imposed here in the United States, and full embraced by much of the European Union, has given us a higher suicide rate. Prescriptions for antidepressants have soared. In the U.S., three-quarters of a million people (particularly out-of-work young men) have turned to binge drinking. Over five million Americans have lost access to health care because they lost their jobs (and either could not afford to extend their insurance under COBRA law or exhausted their eligibility). Preventive medical visits dropped as people delayed medical care and ended up in emergency rooms. That’s the legacy of Austerity. It will be with us for decades.
Perhaps that’s the real lesson of Austerity and the message of this funeral oration. Nations are composed of people. And the consequences of bad ideas and policies fall on people, not on some abstract notion of a Gross Domestic Product. Bad policies, including policies chosen for political expediency, can result in bitter, terrible, inexcusable harm.
Austerity will be buried along side Trickle Down Economics and Supply Side Economics in the Republican Graveyard of Failed Economic Policies. In lieu of flowers, WC requests donations be made to your local Food Bank.
One of the striking changes in the United States over the last 50 years is the astonishing change in the ratio between employee pay and management pay in America’s big corporations.
The ratio is derived by dividing the CEO’s pay by the average employee’s pay. For example, in the case of J.C. Penney, CEO Ron Johnson made $53.3 million a year; the average worker made something like $29,688. The CEO made 1,795 times the average worker. So the ratio for the fired CEO of J.C. Penneys was 1,795 to 1. The Board of Directors thought the CEO was worth eighteen hundred times as the average guy who actually generates revenue out there on the sales floor. Of course, in the case of J. C. Penney, the CEO, Ron Johnson, nearly killed the company. But that’s a separate issue.
How did we get ourselves in this position? Why are the ratios of CEO to staff salaries at an all-time, record high?
Derek Thompson, writing in The Atlantic, has some theories. He points to the decline in workers’ wages over the last twenty years as one factor. The numerator in the calculation of the fraction isn’t increasing and, in some cases, is actually shrinking, as benefits like health care and defined benefits pensions have vanished. In the meantime stock options, a very substantial part of executive compensation, have ballooned through a series of bull markets, increasing the divisor in the ratio.
The second factor Thompson identifies is the unwillingness of stakeholders in big corporations to rock the boat. If the CEO is making you rich with big stock price increases or chunky dividends, the amount paid to the CEO doesn’t matter very much. It’s only when the CEO seriously screws the pooch, like Ron Johnson at Penney’s, that the issue is even on shareholders’ radar.
But WC thinks there are two other factors, not discussed by Thompson, that bear on the issue. First, Congress passed the Dodd-Frank Bill in 2010. It directed the Securities and Exchange Commission, the SEC, to develop guidelines for reporting executive compensation to employee ratios as part of publicly traded corporations’ annual filings. Some three years along, the SEC still hasn’t issued final rules. That silence, that inaction, sends its own signal: full speed ahead on executive compensation.
Finally, executive compensation is hugely influenced by a small group of executive compensation consultants. And those consultants have very serious conflicts of interest. To use WC’s grandfather’s phrase, there’s stuff going on that mink breeders wouldn’t tolerate. As an example, suppose the executive compensation consultant is a Big Four accounting firm. And suppose the corporate audit contract is ready be awarded. The CEO determines who gets the audit contract. Do you think the compensation consulting division is going to short sheet the CEO? It’s a big problem: a 2006 Congressional study found that conflicts of interest existed in 113 of the Fortune 250 CEO compensation consultants. The SEC has issued final rules on this issue, but they don’t take effect until June 27, 2013. In the meantime, there’s a risk that the folks who are supposed to be providing executive compensation advice are instead pre-purchasing the support of the executives whose pay they are supposed to be setting.
All of the salaries set for CEOs using the current sloppy standards – the technical term here is “boogered data” – will be the basis will be used for determining future CEO compensation, even if the data is tainted by conflicts of interest and generated by consultants who are rewarded for increasing, not decreasing pay.
In the meantime, even before the SEC can issue final rules, U.S. House Rep. Bill Huizenga (R, MI) has introduced a bill to repeal the pay-ratio disclosure requirement. It ”doesn’t do anything other than play politics,” he said in an interview. “It doesn’t lend any useful, helpful, analytical type of information.”
Or at least the lobbyists who contribute to Rep. Huizenga’s reelection campaign don’t think so. In America today, apparently that’s the more important consideration.
Pity the poor Neocons for just a few seconds.
The much-excoriated bailout of General Motors has resulted in another hefty gain for the United States Treasury. The U.S. sold some of its shares in GM, netting $1.6 billion in the first quarter. Altogether, the U.S. has recovered about $30.7 billion of the $49.5-billion GM bailout, a stock purchase that helped the company navigate Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2009 and return to profitability. It’s true that the remaining shares will likely be sold at a net loss to the Treasury, absent a surge in stock value. But the Neocons hate that the bailout, you know, worked. And remember the loan, as opposed to the shares purchased by the U.S., has already been repaid, with interest, in full. The deal, which was initially approved by President Bush, was finalized and implemented under President Obama. It saved 60,000 jobs at General Motors, and tens of thousands of more jobs in GM’s suppliers, dealers and vendors. The federal bailout of GM worked. Neocons hate that.
The case that really frosts the Neocon’s doughnut, though, is the bailout of the Federal National Mortgage Association, a/k/a Fannie Mae. Fannie Mae, for Teabaggers and Neocons, is Exhibit A in the Big List of Government Dreadfuls. But even Fannie Mae is paying off its loan, including a $59.4 billion dollar payment earlier this month. Fannie Mae is what makes the U.S. housing industry possible. It buys mortgages from private banks, allowing the banks to make loans to ordinary folks who otherwise would pay a lot more, if they could get loans at all or even afford to own their own homes. The Neocons hate that, too.
According to the Bailout Scorecard, about 80% of all rescue funds have now been repaid and recovered:
The Treasury has been earning a return on most of the money invested or loaned. So far, it has earned $116B. When those revenues are taken into account, $126B is the net still outstanding as of May 3, 2013.
Next, The Heritage Fund, the Neocons’s prize
propaganda machine think tank stepped on itself with a bogus report on the economic impact of the proposed immigration reform. And got caught with its racist agenda showing. Reportedly, THF has hired an outside consultant to do damage control. Some folks would suggest it’s just long-overdue karma. After all, THF is where former Senator Jim DeMint went after departing the U.S. Senate.
And then, worst of all, the Federal government went and had a surplus in April. That’s right, the U.S. brought in more than it spent. A $113 billion surplus. At least for the month of April. Maybe it is kind of a fluke, but at a time when Neocons and Teabaggers have worked themselves into a full, foamy froth over the size of the deficit and the size of the national debt, it has to be ashes in their mouths.
It won’t shut them up. Facts and reality don’t distract Neocons or their followers. They’ll continue to spew their economic nonsense, fear-mongering and hate. Their true believers will repeat the words just as if they understood them.
The thing about Keynsian economics is that it works. Unlike austerity. Unlike “trickle down.” And it has worked in spite of the unrelenting efforts of Neocons, for purely selfish reasons, to block Keynsian remedies to the Great Recession. The result has been a slower recovery than need have been, and countless millions of man-hours of needless suffering. But slowly, surely, despite everything the Neocons do the economy is slowly healing.
As WC says, a difficult month for eocons. A pretty good month for everyone else.
It’s been a particularly fine spring migration for raptors, with all of the resident and regular transients present in substantial numbers.
As WC has noted before, Rough-legged Hawks don’t breed in Interior Alaska, but pass through the Interior en route to the foothills of the North Slope. The numbers of Rough-leggeds moving through the Interior this spring were the highest in WC’s memory.
By contrast, Red-tailed Hawks do breed in the Interior. Their densities are low, but a nest or two can usually be found around Fairbanks. Red-tails are variable colored. The most common is the dark phase, called a Harlan’s Hawk (they were originally thought to be a separate species). UPDATE: This, however, is a rarity, a Swainson’s Hawk.
There are four species of Falcons in Interior Alaska. One of them is the Merlin. This bird has prey, specifically a Lesser Yellowlegs. It’s hidden in this shot.
There were a lot of Northern Harriers around, and this guy was very worried one of those big birds would take his prize away, so he flew off, with the long yellow legs of his prey dangling below.
To give you some idea of the strength of this little Falcon, the Yellowlegs weighs about half the weight of the Merlin, 2.8 ounces against 6.0 ounces.
In addition to the species shown here, on Thursday night, May 9, we also saw American Kestrels, Peregrine Falcons, Bald Eagles, Short-eared Owls and Northern Harriers. And more than ten thousand Sandhill Cranes. It’s enough to leave even a non-birder rapt.
You’d think that a former governor who presided over the most corrupt government in Alaska since statehood would stay home and write his memoirs or something. You’d think a former Governor whose own Chief of Staff served a prison sentence for illegal campaign contributions would thank his lucky stars that Chief of Staff didn’t tell the Feds everything he knew and would keep discretely quiet. You’d think a failed candidate who helped give us Sarah Palin would have the simple decency to maintain an embarrassed silence. You’d think the man who single-handedly killed a national bank and seriously wounded a regional Native corporation would just shut up. But we’re talking about Frank “the Bank” Murkowski. You remember. Murky.
Which explains why Murky was in front of the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce recently. Not to apologize for being a disaster as Governor. Not to apologize for stuff that happened on his watch. Not even to make excuses. No, he was in front of the Chamber to blame everything on “extreme environmentalists.”
WC supposes that on Murky’s scale of environmentalists WC counts as one of those extremists. WC thinks that before you dig up the millions of tons of coal on the North Slope, maybe you need to think about the consequences for the planet of pumping all that CO2 and dirty-coal pollution into the atmosphere. WC thinks that before you cut more old growth forest in the Tongass National Forest you have a care for the future of the forest, the impact on fisheries and the impact on tourism. WC thinks before you dig the world’s largest gold and copper mine and create the world’s largest sulfide-laced, heavy metal-contaminated lake and spoil heap, you think about whether that’s a smart idea in the world’s most productive salmon habitat. WC thinks that before you drill for oil near Teshekpuk Lake, you consider whether that can be done without jeopardizing tens of millions of migratory birds.
Let me put this in terms Murky is certain to understand. If considering those things before proceeding with development makes you an extreme environmentalist, WC pleads guilty as charged.
More than that, though, WC thinks that among all but the most rabid drillers and diggers, even in Alaska, the days of jobs at any price are behind us. A majority of Alaskans were shocked and appalled at the Keystone Cops act of Shell Oil and its attempts to drill in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. The days of “Drill, Baby, drill” are an embarrassing memory.
But not to Murky.
Nor is he any more honest now than he was as governor. The claim that no oil has been produced from federal lands? He implies that’s because of extreme environmentalists. But, of course, all the oil has been produced from federal lands. Some of it – the stuff with the very highest potential for oil and gas – was selected by the State of Alaska under the Statehood Act. We’ve got the good stuff. The Feds have leased land for development; remember Shell Oil’s Keystone Cops act? All of that was on off-shore federal land. It just hasn’t produced any oil or gas. Millions of federal acres are available for development. Most recently, the overwhelming majority of National Petroleum Reserve Alaska has been made available for lease. Under a Democratic President. Something that didn’t happen during Murky’s tenure as U.S. Senator. The oil companies just haven’t found marketable quantities of oil. Blaming “extreme environmentalists” is fundamentally dishonest. It’s Murky.
But ignore the straw man arguments. Ignore the dishonest arguments. Murky’s view is that development is so overwhelmingly important that nothing else matters. It’s a minority view. Even in Alaska. Maybe even at the Chamber of Commerce. We’ve moved on.
Nothing to see here. Just another old geezer stuck in the 1970s. Move along.
As long-time readers know, WC is a fan of the Order of the Stick, Rich Burlew’s stick figure web comic. WC isn’t alone in his admiration for Burlew’s work; Burlew’s Kickstarter campaign to raise money to publish second editions of some of the books is among the most successful in Kickstarter history. The forums that discuss the comics have thousands of comments on each new episode.
Burlew was injured and the web comic was on hold from September 13 – December 31, 2012. There was a lot of Jonesing in the OOTS community. But he’s back to drawing regularly now. The plot twists and writing is as good as ever. The amounts of emotion that Burlew can wring out of stick figure cartoons remains astonishing.
There’s just one problem. The story is moving along very, v e r y s l o w l y. We’re about ten years into the story, with 883 episodes to date.
Burlew has told us there is a long ways to go.
Some people are all “he’s gonna plan to end it at strip 1000.” Absolutely not. It will go way past strip 1000 because we’re already at 833 and we’re not done with this book yet, and there’s at least two more books left. So yeah. It’s to go. If you’re not a reader, there’s still plenty of time to jump on.
Over recent months, Burlew has averaged about a comic a week. He did do nine consecutive daily cartoons, but that was to meet a Kickstarter pledge. If we take him at his word, and assume the total count will be in the range of 1,400 cartoons, then at 50 per year there are about ten years of comics to go. He’s covered 883 in ten years, but then initially Burlew wrote 2-3 cartoons a week.
Ten years. Yikes. It’s good news and bad news, isn’t it? It will be delightful to have the cartoon around that long; but crikey that’s a long time to wait to find out how the Forces of Good will triumph…
Please excuse WC now; he has to go check if there is an update…
WC has actually met John Warnock. He’s the co-founder of Adobe Systems. It was at one of the early MacWorld Expositions. He was co-presenting Adobe’s latest version of PostScript, the computer language for printing and graphics pioneered by Apple in the LaserWriter printers. Warnock was the CEO of Adobe then, and also one its primary programmers, Chief Technician and apparently the head of marketing. He was more than happy to help WC solve a thorny PostScript programming problem, and to talk about why PostScript was written in RPN (to differentiate it from InterPress, an earlier product he had developed at Xerox).
Warnock went on to become a zillionaire, as Adobe swallowed other startups and substituted acquisitions for creativity. Instead of writing its own desktop layout program, Adobe bought Aldus and acquired (and killed) PageMaker. Instead of developing its own long document software, Adobe acquired Frame Technology and FrameMaker (and killed it). You can see a pattern. WC remained annoyed for several years after Adobe killed FrameMaker for the Macintosh and GoLive, WC’s favorite web development program.
Instead of keeping its products affordable, and selling lots and lots of copies, Adobe raised the prices of its software to truly breath-taking, credit card-melting levels. An “unbundled” copy of the current version of Photoshop is now $700, more than the cost of a quite good computer.
Adobe didn’t stop there. Adobe pioneered software “bundling,” mixing together desirable products (PhotoShop, Illustrator) with its clunkers) and setting price points that coerced customers to pay more than they wanted and take stuff they didn’t want to get the stuff they did. It annoyed customers, especially individual users, but it made a ton of money for Adobe.
Adobe is now pioneering another “new” way to suck money out of its customers: subscription-based software licenses. You pay, say, $50 a month for the privilege of using some of Adobe’s products. The moment you stop paying, you lose the ability to use the product. Oh, it has a fancy name, “Creative Cloud,” but it’s really just a way to extort more money from its customer base.
Apparently, being a zillionaire isn’t enough any more. You have to be a multi-zillionaire.
You can read the
excuses explanations in a press release disguised as a news story, if you have a strong stomach. The piracy bugaboo gets dragged out. There are truly bizarre discussions of “episodic income,” as if that were a problem beyond the skills of financial planners.
Monthly licensing fees aren’t really new, of course. They go back to the bad old days of minicomputers, where you paid IBM through the nose for the privilege of running its poorly-performing software on hardware only it could sell you. Monthly licensing fees were a primary force leading to the microcomputer revolution. John Warnock and the greedy shirts at Adobe have already forgotten that.
It’s WC’s fond hope that, even as he writes this screed, smart young programmers – some of them recent Adobe employees – are writing the code for a newer and better Photoshop. You know. Like Warnock did. Before he became a greedy shirt.
If you needed any further proof that the Republican Party is in fact the anti-science party, or that among neocons the stupid is very strong indeed, Rep. Lamar Smith (R, TX) has stepped up with conclusive evidence.
Representative Smith, God help the United States, is the Chair of the House Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation of the U.S. House. He has proposed a bill under which his Committee would evaluate the quality of scientific and technological research sponsored by the United States. If that doesn’t make you break out in a cold sweat, you don’t know Rep. Smith.
In response to the hoots of derision from scientists and some his fellow politicians, Rep. Smith demonstrated his profound ignorance of the scientific method and the peer review process by issuing a statement:
The draft bill maintains the current peer review process and improves on it by adding a layer of accountability. The intent of the draft legislation is to ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent on the highest-quality research possible.
The “layer of accountability,” of course, is Representative Smith and his Republican peers, who have the same knowledge of science that they do of, say, economics. Or negotiation. Or history. The idea that they would have a formal gatekeeper function, that they are in a position to understand, let alone evaluate on its merits, modern research is far beyond arrogance. It demonstrates a kind of culpable idiocy that would be disastrous for the United States.
Of course, we’ve already been down this course, although it wasn’t under the color of law. The George W. Bush administration attempted to suppress and stifle climate research. If you’ve forgotten then review this 2007 exchange between Rep. Henry Waxman (D, CA) and NASA climatologist Drew Shindell:
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: Another edit deleted the phrase, “Changes observed over the last several decades are likely mostly the result of human activities.” And that phrase was replaced with a phrase that said, “A causal link between the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and the observed climate changes during the 20th century cannot be unequivocally established.” Is this an appropriate change? Does the rephrasing accurately represent the science, or does it mislead the public?
DR. DREW SHINDELL: I would say that that is also a misleading statement. While technically true, the first statement, that human activities play the dominant role, is a much more accurate picture of the science.
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: Some of the edits we reviewed were made by CEQ chief of staff Philip Cooney. Mr. Cooney is not a scientist by training. Instead, he’s a lawyer who was working as a lobbyist for the American Petroleum Institute before he was appointed to his position at the Council on Environmental Quality. And I’d like to ask you some questions about his edits. In one document, Mr. Cooney deleted a reference to the National Research Council’s finding that human activities are causing temperatures to rise. Obviously, the National Research Council is this country’s premier scientific body. Can you tell us if there is a scientific basis for deleting a reference to this finding?
DR. DREW SHINDELL: No. That is again a well-supported statement.
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: In the same document, Mr. Cooney deleted the phrase, “Climate change has global consequences for human health and the environment.” Is there anything scientifically questionable about this phrase?
DR. DREW SHINDELL: Again, no.
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: In yet another edit, Mr. Cooney wrote that satellite data disputes global warming. Is this scientifically valid?
DR. DREW SHINDELL: No. There was for many years a controversy, where satellite data showed warming but to a different degree than was seen at the surface or that was predicted by models higher up in the atmosphere. It never disputed global warming, and that controversy has since been resolved.
This is what happens when laymen, hacks with special agendas and political thugs put their dirty fingers in scientific research. Do we really need to go there again?
Rep. Smith thinks so. His constituents are unhappy that federally sponsored research might establish still further proof that the Bible’s “science” is nonsense. The oil industry that makes huge contributions to his political campaigns don’t want scientific evidence that fracking is dangerous. His list of special agendas is endless, and WC would no more trust him to be neutral than he’d trust Joe Miller in a computer poll. It’s not just Rep. Smith’s utter lack of training to judge science; there is no significant chance he would be politically or practically neutral.
There aren’t many moments in WC’s birding career that he can describe as epic. But Sunday night in the barley and hay fields southeast of Delta Junction was one of them. It started in the morning with long lines of Trumpeter and Tundra Swans flying in from the Tanana River.
If you look carefully, you can see multiple lines of swans flying in from the North, presumably after spending the night on the Tanana River. The birds settled on a barley field.
Why so many birds in one field among the dozens of mowed fields in the area? WC has no idea. But the field also held Greater White-fronted Geese, Canada Geese, Sandhill Cranes and hundreds of North Pintail ducks.
Periodically a raptor, usually a hawk but sometimes a Bald Eagle or a Peregrine Falcon, would fly over the fields and put up hundreds, soemtimes thousands of birds. These Northern Pintails lifted in response to a flyover by a Peregrine Falcon.
The eastern Alaska Range was out on a perfect day, tempting WC to attempt photos of the birds in front of the snow-covered peaks. These Canada and White-fronted Geese are in front of Meteor Peak.
But mostly WC was content to listen and watch. It was both a visual and a sonic treat. The sounds of all those birds made a nearly-endless winter nearly worth it. This is one of nature’s truly great spectacles,, millions of birds flying thousands of miles. It’s awe-inspiring and glorious. WC is very grateful for having been in the right place at the right time. May your spring bring you equal moments of joy.
(WC will have more photos from his epic day in future posts.)
UPDATE: WC’s buddy Ronn Murray shot a short video clip, with sound, that give you some idea of what was going on down by Delta.
Robert Beckhusen has an interesting article on the psychological processes by which a disaffected person become a terrorist. Relying on the work of Roger Griffin, a professor of political science at Oxford-Brookes University, he traced the two-step process of “splitting” and then “doubling.” WC isn’t sure how useful the idea is – it’s not going to help identify higher risk characters in advance – but it is insightful.
Just when WC thinks he has lowered his expectations enough, too. Page two is worse.
Finally, WC just finished reading Tombstone: The Great Chinese Famine, 1958-1962, by Yang Jisheng. It is a searing portrait from a Chinese Communist Party member of the manmade famine that killed at least 36-45 million people in China. Brilliantly written and translated, it makes grim reading.
Yang uses some effective techniques to personalize the story. It opens with the death from starvation of his uncle, the man who had raised him. It tracks the deaths of scores of individuals. And Yang meticulously documents the horrific, staggering self-deception at the highest levels. Perhaps the most staggering and grimmest chapters in Tombstone relate what happened in Xinyang Prefecture, in Henan Province. A lush, bounteous region, Yang describes it as “the economic engine of the province,” with a 1958 population of 8.5 million. Chairman Mao’s policies drove the peasants from their individual small holdings that had fed the province for centuries. They were forced to work communally and forced to yield almost everything to the state, either to feed the cities or — crazily, absurdly, tragically — to increase exports. That’s right: China vastly increased it exports of grain while its citizens starved to death. The peasants were allotted enough grain for just a few months. In Xinyang alone, Yang calculates, over a million people died.
Liu Shaoqi and Zhou Enlai, along with most of the rest of the bureaucratic elite, are painted as “the falcons and hounds of evil,” according to Yang. As crop yields dived, they assured Chairman Mao that agricultural production had in fact soared. Mao himself proclaimed that under the new dispensation yields could be exponentially higher. “Tell the peasants to resume eating chaff and herbs for half the year,” Mao said, “and after some hardship for one or two or three years things will turn around.”
Tombstone is banned in China. It was published in Hong Kong in two immense volumes in 2008. This translation by Stacy Mosher and Guo Jian was published in late 2012. This is a monumental work. It drives a stake through the heart of Mao and Maoists. It’s a graphic, detailed, painfully documented description of the murder of 36 million people. We still agonize over the Khmer Rouge’s Killing Fields, and the genocide there; this is twenty Killing Fields.
WC’s most sincere thanks to Yang Jisheng on a grim story, exceptionally well told.
Fairbanks Concert Association hosted Bruce Adolphe & Company at Hering Auditorium in Fairbanks Friday night. Bruce Adolphe is a composer, author, performer and popularizer of classical music. He was accompanied by classical pianist Marije Stroke and chamber violinist Mark Steinberg.
The first half of the show was Adolphe, at Fairbanks Concert’s Bosendorfer grand piano, closely engaged with the audience, performing a series of his Piano Puzzlers. They have been a weekly feature on National Public Radio’s Performance Today for more than ten years. It’s “Name That Tune” for classical music buffs. Adolphe creates a pop tune intertwined with a classic music piece. The two tunes might share a chord progression, or a brief melody line. The pop melody might be a show tune, something from Gershwin, of Rodgers & Hart, or even the Beatles. Adolphe’s pop tunes don’t get much more recent than the Beatles. And the melody line is blended into a classical piece. The challenge for the listener is to identify the pop tune and the classical piece. So you might have “London Bridge Is Falling Down” folded into a Prokofiev interlude.
You can try some for yourself, if you are so inclined.
WC is awful at it. “London Bridge” played at quarter speed – practically a dirge – with the melody mixed into Prokofiev makes both unrecognizable to WC. “Eleanor Rigby” folded into a Brahms sonata was completely unidentifiable, although several members of the audience got it right. But Adolphe was engaging, at pains to show in each case how it was done, breaking the runes apart. He brought a light humor and occasional bad pun to his patter.
He’s also an educator. His off-the-cuff, spur of the moment explanation of why the opening theme for “Peter and the Wolf” and why it works so well, how musically Prokofiev has Peter wander off into the meadow, was excellent.
After intermission, we had straight ahead concert music, a Brahms sonata sandwiched between two of Adolphe’s own compositions. To WC’s disappointment, Adolphe didn’t perform those pieces, although Stroke and Steinberg were more than adequate to the tasks. The first piece, “Coyote Scatters the Star,” was a story song of an American Indian myth. Steinberg’s violin was in the role of the trickster god Coyote; Stroke’s piano was in the role of First Man. Think of a shorter version of Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf” in a post-modern classical style. The performance was technically excellent; both Stroke and Steinberg are brilliant. But WC’s musical tastes are too strongly rooted in a melody line to find modernist or post-modernist music very interesting.
Next, we were treated to a lovely version of Johannes Brahms’ “Sonata for Violin in A Major, Opus 100.” Complex and delicate, it allowed both Steinberg and Stroke to strut their stuff. The performance was nearly flawless. Steinberg absolutely demonstrated the difference between violin music and fiddle music. Stepcrew gave us fiddle music, and it was well done, indeed. But Steinberg takes the instrument to places fiddlers can’t.
And the show closed with Adolphe’s “Three Secret Stories,” which are hard to describe. Maybe post-modernist tone poems? The third was quirky, with the piano and violin exploring different musical lines, and when the lines converged, repeating – sometimes loudly – the common chords. Perhaps WC is simply conditioned to more traditional music, or his musical appreciation is stunted and trapped in the Classical era, but the brilliant execution of “Stories” didn’t make up for the absence of more traditional melody lines. The third piece, in particular, kind of became a Piano Puzzler in its own right, as WC tried to understand the divergence/convergence.
The crowd loved it all, though. Sure, we’re rubes. We even clap between movements in a piece, a conclusive sign of an incomplete education, WC supposes. But what else can you expect from the hicks in the remote provinces? We had a good time, we appreciated the virtuosity even as we struggled to figure out what the hell the music was about.
Congratulations to Fairbanks Concert Association on an excellent 2012-2013 season. WC is already looking forward to Hot Club of Cowtown, the opening show of the 2013-2014 Season, on September 13. Definitely the polar opposite of Adolphe in the spectrum of American music.
WC has argued for a long time that the United States betrayed its values and principles in its treatment of illegal detainees after 9/11. The conclusions are so clear that WC has been baffled by those who claim otherwise, or those who claim not to care. WC was appalled when both the Obama Administration and Congress failed to at least examine how and why it happened.
The Constitution Project assembled a Task Force on Detainee Treatment. It’s bipartisan, its members’ credentials are impeccable and its Report is out. And that Report is a devastating indictment of our country’s conduct. Without the power to compel testimony or the production of records, working solely from publicly available information, the Task Force has meticulously documented a pattern of behavior that constitutes war crimes.
While the Report contained specific Recommendations, it’s doubtful that our pusillanimous, ineffective Congress will act on them. Or even read them. But you, WC’s readers, should. Over the next few weeks, WC will review portions of the Report and offer his comments.
The last six Findings are a bit of a mixed bag. While important, they lack the punch of the earlier ones. Still, they are worth a look.
What has made President Bush’s creation of Guantanamo an intractable problem is the unwillingness of other countries and the United States to deal with the individuals detained there. Some are very likely violent radicals; others may have started as innocent and law-abiding, but years of mistreatment, unlawful detention and exposure to bona fide radicals have radicalized them as well. What troubled the Task Force and troubles WC is that there is no plan for resolving the mess we have created. Those who could be released on an ad hoc basis have been; the rest will require more thought, effort and planning. That doesn’t seem to be happening. So Guantanamo continue to exist, a dubious, embarrassing and failed experiment in ignoring our own laws. And probably a useful recruiting tool for the bad guys.
One of the obstacles to releasing the remaining prisoners is the claim that among those already released there is a high rate of terrorist activity. “Recidivism” isn’t the right word, since few if any have ever been convicted of committing a crime. But those “recidivism” figures are dubious. It’s contradicted by independent evidence suggesting the reported recidivism rate is seriously inflated. It includes, for example, wholly unsubstantiated “suspicion” of terrorist activity. Since the claim of “recidivism” is one of the primary justifications for keeping the Guantanamo prison running, the claim needs to be examined carefully.
There is a tendency in American government to stamp as “Secret” any facts that are merely embarrassing to those in power. That’s happened in the case of our country’s torture and outsourced torture of the kidnapped and illegally detained victims of our national paranoia. It’s not an issue of national security; it’s an issue of personal security for the torturers and their enablers. The federal courts are emasculated on issues of purported national security. Only Congress, through reform legislation, or the Executive, through declassification, can bring light where there is shameful darkness. The Task Force concluded the continuing secrecy was indefensible.
Findings 20 and 21 point to the failure by Congress to implement the Convention Against Torture. The United States signed the Convention in 1988. The Senate ratified it in 1994. Almost two decades later, implementation is almost entirely incomplete. Neither the required criminalization nor the required restitution have been enacted into law. This from a country that styles itself a champion of liberty. The current Congress is seemingly incapable of tying its own shoelaces, let alone addressing critical issues of human rights. But the Convention must be implemented.
President Obama takes credit for stopping U.S. torture of detainees. But the Task Force found that in some instances the President accomplished that by redefining what the U.S. regards as torture. Portions of the Army Field Manual that prohibited sleep deprivation and stress positions were deleted. Appendix M, authorizing up to 40 hours of continuous interrogation, were authorized. That conduct violates the Convention Against Torture. And it is an embarrassment for any country that thinks of itself as a nation of laws. The Army Field Manual should be restored to its pre-2001 form.
There is strong evidence that U.S. detainees transferred to Afghanistan, including persons released from Guantanamo, are subsequently tortured by the Afghan security forces. It’s another violation of the Convention Against Torture. The Convention bars a country from releasing persons to a country where they are likely to be tortured, whether the release is by the Armed Forces or by the CIA. Those releases also violate the Leahy Law:
None of the funds made available by this Act may be provided to any unit of the security forces of a foreign country if the Secretary of State has credible evidence that such unit has committed gross violations of human rights, unless the Secretary determines and reports to the Committees on Appropriations that the government of such country is taking effective measures to bring the responsible members of the security forces unit to justice.
The U.S. financial support to Afghanistan, or at least to the National Directorate of Security, violates U.S. law. We’re giving vast amounts of money and military equipment to known human rights violators. There is a loophole, but the Task Force found no evidence that the requirements for the loophole had been satisfied.
Some of WC’s readers may remember the Watergate scandal, and Presidential Counsel John Dean’s most famous single line: “Mr. President, there is a cancer on the Presidency.” Treating the cancer that was Watergate was painful and protracted but necessary.
WC believes that the pattern of kidnapping and torture committed by the United States is another cancer on our country. The failure to properly address it has the potential to permanently injure our democratic government.
It’s never a good idea to ignore a cancer. The Task Force’s Report is a good start. WC offers his sincerest thanks and admiration to the Task Force members and staff. But until the events the Task Force describes are addressed at the national level, the cancer will remain. And, eventually, it may very well kill our way of government.
The thing that most characterizes Joe Miller is his execrable, terrible, wretched, appalling and very bad judgment. And bad judgment isn’t what WC is looking for in a politician, let alone a U.S. Senator. There’s enough politicians with bad judgment already.
Miller’s bad judgment isn’t exactly news; his decision to “explore” running against Begich is just the latest evidence. And confirmation that his pre-existing bad judgment issue isn’t improved.
You don’t have to look much further than his website to see what WC is talking about. He buffs his resume by calling himself a “judge;” he was never a judge. He was a magistrate, an appointed position. The closest a magistrate gets to being judge is small claims court. But to support WC’s claim that Miller has terrible judgment, let’s revisit one of WC’s favorite posts.
On the 493rd anniversary of Martin Luther‘s posting his 95 Theses on the door of Castle Church, Wittenberg, Germany, WC offerred his own 95 Theses, 95 reasons not to vote for Joe Miller. Trust WC, readers; it was difficult to narrow the field to just 95 reasons.
Have you taken your anti-nausea medicine? Rubber gloves and boots on? Good, let’s get started.
- He engaged in unprincipled, unscrupulous behavior in an attempt to defeat a fellow Republican, Randy Ruedrich.
- He lied to his employer about whether he had misused his Borough computer.
- He lied to his employer about whether he had misused his colleagues’ computers.
- He tried to stuff an electronic ballot box.
- He tried to cover his crimes by deleting the cache files on his colleagues’ computers.
- He blamed the victims for his crimes, the conduct of a scoundrel.
- He appears to have committed a Class C Felony, Criminal Use of a Computer, AS 11.46.740.
- He has attempted to minimize his criminal activities by claiming he performed the crime on his lunch hour.
- He deliberately and falsely claimed he could not disclose his Borough personnel file because of the attorney-client privilege.
- He quit the Borough in an unprofessional way that injured his client, the Borough.
- He deleted his emails when he quit, injuring his client.
- He allowed Randy Ruedrich and Ralph Seekins, among others, to claim he had done nothing wrong, when he knew he had.
- He misled the voters about the seriousness of his misconduct at the Borough.
- He allowed Randy Ruedrich and others to defame Jim Whitaker, when he knew Whitaker had spoken nothing but the truth.
- He attempted to intimidate Jim Whitaker by filing a meritless lawsuit against him.
- He attempted to conceal his misconduct at the Borough from the voters.
- He attempted to stonewall the voters as to his conduct at the Borough, rather than coming forward with the truth.
- He complains incessantly about invasions of his privacy while hiding critical information from the voters.
- He has denied and continues to deny voters access to critical information about his past.
- He was arrogant enough to believe he could get away with hiding his misconduct.
- He was arrogant enough to say, or permit an undisclosed staffer to say, he was measuring the drapes for his Senate office.
- He is arrogant enough to really believe he has “Mastered the law,” and posted the statement on his website.
- He describes his career at the Borough, where he was disciplined for very serious misconduct, as “second to none.”
- He believes himself to be smarter than Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Ross Perot.
- He is so arrogant he thinks the beard is attractive.
- He has failed to timely file reports with election officials.
- He has filed incomplete reports with election officials.
- He believes a Constitution written in 1789 can be applied, unchanged, in 2010.
- He believes social security is unconstitutional
- He falsely claims that the social security system is bankrupt.
- He falsely implies that privatization is the only solution to the funding challenges facing social security.
- He falsely claims that Congress has “raided” the social security trust fund.
- He believes medicaid is unconstitutional.
- He has accepted the very Medicaid he claims is unconstitutional.
- He believes farm subsidies are unconstitutional.
- He has accepted the very farm subsidies he claims are unconstitutional.
- He believes unemployment insurance is unconstitutional.
- He falsely claimed that unemployment insurance is an entitlement program.
- His spouse has claimed the very unemployment insurance he claims are unconstitutional.
- He accepted a free undergraduate education from the U.S. Army, but quit the Army at the very earliest opportunity.
- He called, or permitted an undisclosed staffer, to call his opponent a prostitute.
- He permitted his security goons to assault and handcuff a newspaper editor who was asking him hard questions.
- He has apparently committed or assisted others in committing the crime of Interference With Constitutional Rights, AS 11.76.110, a Class A misdemeanor.
- He forced or permitted an undisclosed staffer to force Anchorage Daily News reporter Julia O’Malley to leave a meeting advertised as open to the public.
- He has a demonstrated record of profound disregard for the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
- He accepts the support of Sarah Palin.
- He accepted money from a PAC, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, monies that are tainted by contributions from foreign corporations.
- He has hypocritically complained that one of his opponents accepted money from a PAC.
- He has suggested a Berlin Wall on the U.S.-Mexico border as a solution to illegal immigration.
- He thinks the Federal minimum wage is unconstitutional.
- He claims federal farm subsidies are unconstitutional, yet has personally accepted federal farm subsidies.
- He has claimed he was a judge, when he was never more than a magistrate.
- He is a global warming denier.
- He has lied about the evidence for anthropogenic global warming.
- He has ignored incontrovertible evidence in his claimed home state of Alaska that there is global warming.
- He falsely claims two-third of Alaska is owned by the Federal government.
- He falsely claims that Federal government has broken promises to Alaska.
- He has intentionally disregarded the Republican Party’s Statement of Principles by refusing to disclose important information.
- He has been called out for his conduct by moderate Republicans in an open letter dated October 20, 2010.
- He has engaged in unseemly, inappropriate boasting about his military honors.
- He has engaged in unethical behavior in violation of the Alaska Bar Association’s Code of Professional Responsibility (“the CPR”) by lying about his activities to a client.
- He has violated the CPR by using computers in violation of the law.
- He has violated the CPR by withdrawing as counsel without taking adequate steps to protect his client.
- He has published campaign advertising that deliberately and materially misstates his opponents’ positions.
- He has permitted others to publish campaign advertising that deliberately and materially misstates his opponents’ positions.
- In his 2004 campaign against David Guttenberg, he supported government spending for education; now he opposes it.
- In his 2004 campaign, he supported government health care; now he opposes it.
- In his 2004 campaign, he was in favor of government spending; now he opposes it.
- He has called for an end to federal spending in Alaska, even though it constitutes 40% of the Fairbanks economy.
- He doesn’t even pay his Borough property taxes on time.
- He cannot responsibly manage his own financial affairs; he has more than $100,000 in credit card debt.Nearly done. WC recommends aspirin and a cold compress for the headache.
- He is knowingly helping “camouflage a billionaires’ coup as a populist surge.”
- He is a Tenth Amendment absolutist, but only so long as it serves his interests.
- He has demanded national treasures like Denali National Park be surrendered to the State of Alaska, in violation of the Alaska Constitution.
- He accepts, without criticism or apology, the parade of weapons-brandishing beer-bellies carrying his signs in a children’s parade.
- While he waxes hysterical about the federal deficit, he hasn’t offered one specific proposal to substantively reduce it.
- He has lied about the causes of the federal deficit.
- By acting as a stooge for the Koch brothers, biggest supporters of the Tea Party, he is once against betraying Alaska to billionaires.
- He rails against government spending, yet almost all of his life he has worked for and accepted government paychecks.
- He opposes a woman’s right to choose.
- He opposes abortion in the case of rape or incest.
- He has single-handedly contributed to the overpopulation of the planet, when over-population is one of the great crises of our time.
- He is, in the words of Paul Krugman, “the epitome of short-term, narrow-minded selfishness.”
- He opposes meaningful health care reform.
- He has ignored the fundamental economics of recessions, and risks prolonging and worsening the economic downturn.
- Despite the catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico, he opposes a moratorium on off-shore drilling.
- He has grossly exaggerated his legal experience.
- He believes creationism should be taught in schools.
- He has held at least six different jobs in 15 years, raising serious questions about his commitment.
- His claimed beliefs and principles are belied by his actual conduct.
- He is an unscrupulous opportunist.
- He is too ignorant of Alaska’s economics and history to be a U.S. Senator.
- He is too arrogant to be a U.S. Senator.
- He is too dishonest to be a U.S. Senator.
- He is utterly unworthy of your vote.
But wait! There’s more! Those 95 Theses were only current as of October 30, 2010. Since then, Miller has continued to display the same kind of bad judgment that should disqualify him from any job where common sense, good judgment and logical thinking are required. Among the post-election instances of terrible judgment:
- He lost his fight to keep secret his felonious conduct at the Fairbanks North Star Borough Department of Law.
- He lost the general election by 12,000 votes to a write-in candidate.
- He lost his attempt to defeat the will of the voters in Alaska Superior Court.
- He lost his second attempt to defeat the will of Alaska voters in the Alaska Supreme Court.
- He lost his attempt to overturn the election in U.S. District Court.
- He has lost his complaint to the Federal Election Commission.
- He dismissed his lame lawsuit against the Fairbanks North Star Borough, taking just $5,000 of the Borough’s money – a pittance by any measure – to avoid being forced to disclose who was paying his attorneys’ fees for all of these silly lawsuits.
But Miller thinks he should be a U.S. Senator. There’s a reason he’s never won elective office. All but the dimmest voter has looked at this record and studiously voted for someone else. His decision to run again, while perfectly foreseeable, is only the latest example of the kind of bad judgment that characterizes the man.
Joe Miller. Just say no.
The opinions in this post are solely those of WC. This post has not been approved by any candidate. No expenses were incurred in creating this post. No electrons were harmed in creating this post.
Interior Alaska’s, ahem, glacial spring migration is inching along. There are Trumpeter Swans at Creamer’s Refuge.
Trumpeters, Cygnus buccinator, are North America’s largest waterfowl, and at 25-26 pounds, among the heaviest flighted birds. Powerful elegant and graceful in the air, their presence is good evidence there is liquid water somewhere around here, despite the freezing 15 mph wind out of the north.
They get respect, too. You can see the Mallard drake scurrying out of the landing zone. Landing into the wind, the birds were almost hovering. You can see from the attitude of their wings they aren’t stalling as they approach the small puddle.
And it was cold. In this photo you can see the ice rim that has built up on the bird’s bill from foraging for barley in the puddles.
Of course, a 15 mph wind is nothing to a bird that migrates a thousand miles or more. But WC hadn’t thought a hat would be necessary on, you know, May 1. A mistake, you’ll agree. Especially if you were outside after 7 PM. So while the swans are a good sign, it’s not spring just yet.
These photos were all taken with the new Canon 1D-X, a 300mm lens with a 2.0 teleconverter and hand-held. With some practice, WC thinks this camera is going to work out pretty well.
This is what a Great Depression looks like. This is what austerity does. This is what the Republicans want to do to America.
Spain has an unemployment rate of 27.4%. By comparison, at the peak of the great Depression, the unemployment rate in the United States is estimated to have been between 23.6 and 25.0%.
The U.S. unemployment rate, despite the strenuous attempts of the austerity-loving neocons, has remained low in comparison, largely because Congressmen, especially the U.S. Senate, have displayed a bit of economic sense.
Spain’s incredibly high unemployment rate is largely a result of the European community’s imposition of fiscal austerity as a condition to loans. It’s externally imposed. Mark Blyth, writing in Foreign Affairs, nails austerity’s failure:
The only surprise is that any of this should come as a surprise. After all, the International Monetary Fund warned in July 2012 that simultaneous cuts to state spending across interlinked economies during a recession when interest rates were already low would inevitably damage the prospects for growth. And that warning came on top of the already ample evidence that every country that had embraced austerity had significantly more debt than when it started. Portugal’s debt-to-GDP ratio increased from 62 percent in 2006 to 108 percent in 2012. Ireland’s more than quadrupled, from 24.8 percent in 2007 to 106.4 percent in 2012. Greece’s debt-to-GDP ratio climbed from 106 percent in 2007 to 170 percent in 2012. And Latvia’s debt rose from 10.7 percent of GDP in 2007 to 42 percent in 2012. None of these statistics even begin to factor in the social costs of austerity, which include unemployment levels not seen since the 1930s in the countries that now make up the eurozone.
Look. Let’s assume it’s a medical experiment. Let’s suppose you are running a trial of a new, promising medication. And suppose every patient, without exception, to whom you gave the medicine got sicker. In some cases, much sicker. Some of your patients lapsed into a coma. Would you continue the medical trial of the new medicine? That’s what the supporters of austerity are doing. The neocons want to give the austerity patent medicine, the same disastrous gunk that’s half-killed Europe, to the United States until the patient – the U.S. economy – sickens and dies. A physician would have his license revoked. Republicans? They’ll probably be re-elected.
It’s economic madness. It’s insane. And yet the neocons use the idea to tube lock government. What, leeches next?
Please, make it stop.