Monday, May 3, 2010

Last Call

My buddy Jay flagged this story down from Seattle about the Make-A-Wish Foundation giving a terminally ill 13-year old boy his dream:  a day as a superhero.
Thursday was shaping up to be just another school day for 13-year-old Erik Martin, but then something extraordinary happened: Spider-Man called.

Spider-Man happens to be one of the few people who knows that Erik, too, has a secret identity — he's Electron Boy, a superhero who fights the powers of evil with light.

And Spider-Man needed Erik's help.

Erik, who is living with liver cancer, has always wanted to be a superhero. On Thursday, the regional chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation granted him that wish with an elaborate event that involved hundreds of volunteers in Bellevue and Seattle.

The local chapter, which serves four states, grants more than 300 wishes every year to children with life-threatening medical conditions, but only a few of them involve so many participants.

Pulling off a wish like this one required a big story, and a lot of heart. And so, with a note of panic in his voice, Spider-Man explained the dilemma: "Dr. Dark" and "Blackout Boy" had imprisoned the Seattle Sounders in a locker room at Qwest Field. Only Electron Boy could free them.

Erik got into his red-and-blue superhero costume, and called on the powers of Moonshine Maid, who owns a DeLorean sports car. For good measure, more than 20 motorcycle officers from the Bellevue Police Department and King County and Snohomish sheriff's offices escorted Electron Boy to Seattle.
And that was just for starters.  The whole city seemed to get in on Erik's wish, and it's a great story to boot.

Epic Just Like Any Other Red-Blooded American Fail

Florida Republican State Senator Mike Bennett does what any lawmaker would do during a particularly boring session.

He screws around on his laptop at work and checks out the boobies.
On Thursday morning, Sunshine State News captured exclusive video of Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, looking at pornographic material on his state-issued computer on the Senate floor.

Ironically, as Bennett is viewing the material, you can hear a Senator Dan Gelber's voice in the background debating a controversial abortion bill.

"I'm against this bill," said Gelber, "because it disrespects too many women in the state of Florida.

Bennett defended his actions, telling Sunshine State News it was an email sent to him by a woman "who happens to be a former court administrator."

"I was just sitting there, bored as they were debating the abortion bill," Bennett said.

"I opened it up and said holy [expletive]! What's on my screen? and clicked away from it right away."

Sunshine State News could not verify how long the image of four bikini-clad women with their tops exposed was open before our cameras started rolling on it, but it was up for at least three seconds before it disappeared from the screen.

Senate spokesperson Jaryn Emhof explained further on Bennett's behalf.
"There was some confusion about an email he received," said Emhof. "He thought it was an email about an item being debated on the Senate floor. As soon as he realized it wasn't he closed the page."

But the one image we caught on camera wasn't the only thing Bennett had viewed. It appears other files, including at least two videos, may have been downloaded, too. He was also caught on camera watching a video of a dog running out of the water and shaking itself off. It is unclear if he also thought that was an email about a bill being debated on the floor.
Republicans!  Workin' hard for the people.  Everyday!  You know, especially when they get caught red-handed.


Donny Doubles Down

Don Surber, ladies and germs (emphasis mine):
UPDATE: I see where a day later, people have noticed this story of the congressman who dared to say that maybe the press has hyped the damage from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The liberals are going bonkers over it. Memeorandum has the links.

Given that the congressman A. represents the Gulf Coast area that will be hit by the oil and B. has actually seen the spill and C. has consulted the experts on this, maybe he knows something the liberals don’t.

So I have bumped this post from its original posting at 12:30 PM on Sunday.

ORIGINAL POST: So we have all these people — left and right — panicking over the spill from an oil rig which suffered an explosion that killed 11 men.

No one should die getting oil. No one.

But the panic over the possible environmental damage seems so unnecessary. Let’s see what happens first. The ocean is big and even a few million gallons of oil is small.

Cooler heads may prevail.

Democratic Congressman Gene Taylor, who represents Mississippi’s Gulf Coast, is telling people to chill. He toured the region where the oil is in the water.

Via the Sun Herald in Gulfsport, Congressman Taylor: “It’s not as bad as I thought… This isn’t Katrina. It’s not Armageddon. A lot of people are scared and I don’t think they should be… It’s breaking up naturally; that’s a good thing. The fact that it’s a long way from the Mississippi Gulf Coast, that’s a great thing, because it gives it time to break up naturally.”
Welcome to the Future Stupidity files, Donny. (You too, Congressman Taylor.)  Let's see who's right say, 30 days from now.


If you thought the GOP crazies were limited to the deep south and the borderlands, the new frontier in wingnut stupidity is the Land of 10,000 Lakes.  Meet Minnesota Republican Tom Emmer, who makes the Bachmanniac look sane.
State Rep Tom Emmer picked up the official Republican endorsement at the party's convention this weekend, and he also walked away with the backing of Pawlenty himself. "We don't have any doubt about what Tom Emmer stands for or what his values are," Pawlenty said at the convention. "He is strong. He is steadfast. He is clear. ... He is going to be the next governor of the state of Minnesota." Emmer also has the support of Sarah Palin, who praised him just before the convention got underway as a "hockey dad" who once played for the University of Alaska-Fairbanks -- a move that may have been a tipping point, according to the Star-Tribune.

Emmer was first elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives in 2004. He is a co-author of a proposed state constitutional amendment that would, to borrow the words of Nigel Tufnel, turn the Tenth Amendment all the way up to 11, with Minnesota preemptively nullifying all federal laws unless a state supermajority consents to them. Here is the key quote from the amendment's text: "A federal law does not apply in Minnesota unless that law is approved by a two-thirds vote of the members of each house of the legislature and is signed by the governor. Before voting to approve a federal law, each legislator must individually affirm that the legislator has read the federal law and understands it."
In other words, he wants to nullify all federal laws that apply to Minnesota unless they are ratified by a two-thirds majority vote in both the state House and Senate, and then he wants to give the Governor veto power over that nearly impossible task.  It's not just health care he wants to repeal, it's pretty much every federal law out there that he doesn't like.

And this guy's the new GOP candidate for Governor.

I'm actually glad I moved away from Minnesota in 2002.

Down The Oily Road Ahead

Ezra Klein makes two brilliant points:
New America's Lisa Margonelli has a great piece in the New York Times thinking ahead to the likely consequences of the likely consequences of the oil spill. The obvious next step, she says, is a moratorium on offshore drilling. But that'll only mean a moratorium on American offshore drilling. And that'll push production to places with much worse safety records.
Moratorium for the forseeable furture is absolutely correct but it's closing the barn door after the barn has been hit by a meteor and obliterated into kindling.  A better thing to do is reduce our oil consumption so that  offshore drilling and getting oil from foreign sources is less necessary.  Point 2:
And keep in mind that this is a very small disaster in comparison to the devastation that could follow a 5 degree jump in global temperatures, and yet it's things like offshore drilling -- that is to say, increased access to and consumption of fossil fuels -- that's hastening radical climate change. The dangers of offshore drilling didn't seem real until they became real, and now we're talking moratorium. But if we wait for climate change to really get going before we do something about it, it'll be far beyond the point when we can stop it just by pricing carbon. It's like one of those horror movie taglines: If you can see him, it's already too late.
Serious, deadly serious global warming legislation has to pass now because of this disaster.  The hundreds of billions this disaster will cost us is a drop in the bucket compared to global warming, folks. It's just a taste of what's to come if we don't radically rethink our energy policy in the US.  And yes, that means taxes on gas that are high enough to make people think about taking public transportation, and public transportation that works and is widely available.  Even better, it means redoing cities into walkable ones.

The hippies have been warning about this crap for ages.  Guess what?  It finally happened.  Now's the chance for changing our fates ahead, before we slide down into oblivion.

Oil's Well That Doesn't End Well For This Oil Well, Part 4

So the people in the energy industry analysis game are crunching the numbers on the Deepwater Horizon disaster/Lake Palin, and even the best case scenario is outright catastrophe.  Annie Lowrey reports on the analysis by David Kotok of Cumberland Investors (emphasis mine:)
Containment chambers are put in place and they catch the outflow from the three ruptures that are currently pouring 200,000 gallons of oil into the Gulf every day. If this works, it will take until June to complete. The chambers are 30-foot-high steel configurations that must be placed on the ocean floor at a depth of one mile. This has never been done before. If early containment is successful, the damages from this accident will be in the tens of billions. The cleanup will take years. The economic impact will be in the five states that have frontal coastline on the Gulf of Mexico: Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida.
Now keep in mind, this is the optimal scenario right now, if the containment dome gambit actually works, which is a hell of a long shot at this depth.  The "even worse" scenario is horrifying.
The containment attempts fail and oil spews for months, until a new well can successfully be drilled to a depth of 13000 feet below the 5000-foot-deep ocean floor, and then concrete and mud are injected into the existing ruptured well until it is successfully closed and sealed. Work on this approach is already commencing. Timeframe for success is at least three months. Note the new well will have to come within about 20 feet of the existing point where the original well enters the reservoir at a distance of 3.5 miles from the surface drilling rig. Damages by this time may be measured in the hundreds of billions. Cleanup will take many, many years. Tourism, fishing, all related industries may be fundamentally changed for as much as a generation. Spread to Mexico and other Gulf geography is possible. 
This is middle of the road, the most likely scenario.  200,000 gallons of oil a day for a good 90 days, two Exxon Valdez tankers worth, and pretty much the end of the Gulf coast as we know it.  That's the likely scenario.

Now here's the worst case:
This spew stoppage takes longer to reach a full closure; the subsequent cleanup may take a decade. The Gulf becomes a damaged sea for a generation. The oil slick leaks beyond the western Florida coast, enters the Gulfstream and reaches the eastern coast of the United States and beyond. Use your imagination for the rest of the damage. Monetary cost is now measured in the many hundreds of billions of dollars.
Yeah, we're talking half a trillion bucks or more, who knows.  Goodbye, fishing industry.  Goodbye, beach tourism.  Goodbye, wildlife.  Oh hey, and now the real numbers start adding up:
We expect that the Federal Reserve will extend the timeframe that we have come to know as the “extended period” in the making of its monetary policy. We do not expect the Fed to raise interest rates at all for the rest of this year, and maybe well into next year. We expect to see the deterioration of the economic statistics for the US to reveal the onset of this oil-slick crisis in May, and the negative impact will intensify during the summer months. A “double-dip” recession probably has been made more likely by this tragedy.
Yeah kids, Lake Palin may have just knocked us into a double-dip recession. There's some great news, huh?  Batten down the hatches, folks.  We just got lubed up, and where this one's going to be inserted, you're not gonna like it.  And it's not just BP who is going to hurt.
Thousands of small and independent businesses as well as larger public companies in tourism are hurt here. This is not just about the source of half the nation’s shrimp. That is already a casualty. It’s also about the bank loans for the $200,000 shrimp boat and the house the boat owner and/or his employees live in and the fact that this shock piles on a fragile financial system that is trying to recover from a three-year financial crisis. Case study, my fishing guide in the Everglades splits his time between Florida and Louisiana. His May bookings in LA have cancelled. His colleagues lost theirs and their lodge will be empty. They are busy trying to find work in the clean up. For him, his wife and eleven year old daughter, his $600 a day guide fees just went “poof”. When I asked him if he thought he had a legal claim on BP, he said he hadn’t thought about it yet but it gave him pause. As we suggested above, the $12.5 billion loss estimate is only a starter.
Anyone think for a moment that BP is still going to pay for all this?  I've got some lovely wetlands in Louisiana to sell you, too.  The reality is this disaster may very well be the shock that knocks the whole house of cards down, folks.  Offshore drilling just might be the issue in November, and both parties are on the wrong side of it.  The Democrats however do have the opportunity to prove that the federal government can and will make a difference, but if this disaster really is worth half a trillion of more in damage, all bets are off for the elections.

I just keep coming back to those big budget disaster flicks: Armageddon, Deep Impact, Chain Reaction, and more recently The Day After Tomorrow, The Core and 2012.  It's not the end of the Earth or anything that crazy, but it sure is going to be horrendous if this analysis is even in the ballpark of the total cost down the road.

It's going to be a sticky summer.

Feeling Randy, Part 7

With two weeks to go before the KY Senate GOP primary, folks are jumping ship on Trey Grayson faster than the speed at which Super Saver won the Kentucky Derby over the weekend.  The latest to bail on the Trey?  James Dobson.
In a major development in the Kentucky Republican Senate primary, James Dobson has retracted his endorsement of establishment favorite Trey Grayson and switched to Tea Party insurgent Rand Paul -- and Dobson claims that top Republicans had misled him about Paul's positions.

"Senior members of the GOP told me Dr. Paul is pro-choice and that he opposes many conservative perspectives, so I endorsed his opponent," Dobson said. "But now I've received further information from OB/GYNs in Kentucky whom I trust, and from interviewing the candidate himself."
The "Rand Paul is pro-choice" meme has been nuked rather succinctly, Paul is just another Winger when it comes to social issues (or he is now when he noticed that he needs to be one in order to win.)  Dobson called it an "embarrassing mistake" to endorse Grayson, and with Paul still leading by double digits, it's noot looking good for Grayson at all.

It's looking even worse for Kentucky.  We really are going to elect this nutjob as a national embarrassment.

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

Looks like the Republicans are eagerly looking forward to picking up Hawaii's House seat in the special election, and ironically it's the mirror image of NY-23, where is this case the Democratic vote is split by two candidates, and the Republican, Charles Djou, is looking for victory in a three-way race.  Dave Weigel:
Beyond the Democratic bumbling that has led to former congressman Ed Case and state Sen. Colleen Hanabusa duking it out, splitting the vote, we've seen another very effective grass-roots conservative campaign, another successful push by right-leaning Web gurus to make this race exciting to the party's national base.

First, activists raised the emotional stakes by calling the district "Obama's home district." (He was born in Honolulu.) Just like Scott Brown was able to excite conservatives with the prospect of "taking Ted Kennedy's seat," Djou has dangled the possibility of an embarrassment for the president -- something that makes the otherwise modest goal of shrinking the Democrats' majority by one seat sound more enticing. Do a search on Twitter for "obamadistrict" and check out how many conservatives embrace the frame. (A lot of the credit here goes to Republican consultant Patrick Ruffini, who's also organized blogger conference calls for Djou.)

Second, activists rallied when Djou was attacked -- especially D.C. activists. Last month the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee tried to raise Djou's negatives by arguing that his signature on Americans for Tax Reform's pledge meant he'd honored a "special interest group" to protect tax breaks for evil corporations. ATR punched back immediately and nonpartisan groups fact-checked the ad, finding it wanting. (And I'm told that the many D.C. groups that try to get GOP candidates to sign their pledges are on notice to behave the same way when one of those candidates get hit.)
In other words, while Hanabusa and Case and going after each other, Djou is cruising towards a win that could very well turn solid blue Hawaii towards a purple state in 2010.  It's really not looking good here, and it's a reminder to myself and the Democrats that the Hoffman Effect is not limited to just the Republicans when it comes to brutal primary fights that lose the party the general election.

Zandar's Thought Of The Day

Do Republicans in Gulf Coast states know that their de facto leader announced over the weekend that the massive oil spill in the Gulf means that "The ocean will take care of this on its own if it was left alone and left out there" and that "It's natural. It's as natural as the ocean water is"?

Will they dare to say otherwise?

Another Milepost On The Road To Oblivion

I wonder what BP was up to this weekend other than trying to lay low...
Alabama Attorney General Troy King said tonight that he has told representatives of BP Plc. that they should stop circulating settlement agreements among coastal Alabamians.

The agreements, King said, essentially require that people give up the right to sue in exchange for payment of up to $5,000.

King said BP's efforts were particularly strong in Bayou La Batre.

The attorney general said he is prohibited from giving legal advice to private citizens, but added that "people need to proceed with caution and understand the ramifications before signing something like that.

"They should seek appropriate counsel to make sure their rights are protected," King said.
By the end of Sunday, BP aimed to sign up 500 fishing boats in Alabama, Mississippi and Florida to deploy boom.

BP had distributed a contract to fishermen it was hiring that waived their right to sue BP and required confidentiality and other items, sparking protests in Louisiana and elsewhere.

Darren Beaudo, a spokesman for BP, said the waiver requirement had been stripped out, and that ones already signed would not be enforced.
Gotta love how corporations look out for the little people.  Especially after they get caught red-handed trying to screw them over.  If BP's willing to dole out five grand a person to entire towns, how much are they afraid they are really on the hook for?

Add a couple zeroes to that per person figure and a couple zeroes to the figure for the number of coastal residents affected by this spill over the next couple of months (hell, years, let's not sugar coat this) and you're starting to get the picture that BP is in a metric crapton of trouble.  So yes, they are trying to con their way out of this before the people really do figure out the true magnitude of this disaster.

What, you think fishing and tourism is going to magically resume in ten days, or however long that fishing moratorium is going to last?  What fishing?  Odds are real good the Gulf coast seafood industry just took a permanent dirt nap.  Maybe even the whole eastern seaboard.

And BP's giving out a whole $5,000.  Yeah, that'll cover the loss of entire industries.  Schmucks.  Drill, baby, drill...

Things Can Change In A New York Minute, Part 3

More evidence is coming to light about the failed Saturday night Times Square car bomb attempt.  Via Steven D, we learn a couple of important facts, first the FBI paid a visit to a Connecticut junkyard where they tracked the stolen license plate used on the vehicle.
Junkyard owner Wayne LeBlanc didn't catch the news on Saturday night because he was busy watching "Old Yeller" with his grandkids.

So he was shocked when FBI agents with flashlights knocked on his door at 3 a.m. to tell him that the license plate on a vehicle filled with explosives parked in Times Square came from a truck in his junkyard.

"I was sleeping, who wouldn't be? They said it was an urgent matter," LeBlanc said from his Norwalk, Conn., home. "I watch 'NCIS,' but I'm not used to door knocks on my own house."

The 56-year-old grandfather of nine owns Kramer's Used Auto Parts in nearby Stratford, Conn., where law enforcement officials tracked a stolen plate from the bomb-rigged Nissan Pathfinder SUV.
And police are searching for what appears to be a Caucasian balding man in his 40's who ducked into an alley near the SUV, took off his shirt revealing another shirt underneath, and looked back at the SUV.

If this is the Taliban, and they have middle-aged white guys delivering car bombs to Times Square, then we're in trouble.  Of course, this could be a domestic terror job as well.  It's still unclear who the target was.  The Wingers decrying this as an act of Islamist Jihad say the only possible target was the Viacom building, Viacom being the parent company of Comedy Central and South Park (the whole Muhammad in a bear suit gag did not go over well).

Course, it could have just been parked there, too.  It's park where you can on a spring Saturday in Times Square.  Here's the important part.  With the video of this gentleman making the rounds, the wingers are basically saying that the NYPD is covering up an Obvious Act Of Terror By The Great Beturbaned Horde in order to make it look like some middle-aged mook who tried to kill people by rigging a device that would have basically been an order of magnitude more deadly if he had started by writing the word "BOMB" on a piece of cardboard and attaching it to a load of junk parts.

Still too early to come to conclusions.  But it's never the time to assume the NYPD is lying about this, guys.  That's your winger response:  can't possibly be a white guy, they never commit acts of terror.  Ever.

The Ensign Affair

The bizarre situation surrounding Nevada Republican Sen. John Ensign is starting to coalesce into calls for resignation, as Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin became the first of Ensign's colleagues to suggest Ensign should resign if the allegations against him are true.
Sen. John Ensign is facing an increasingly uncertain future in the Senate, with a senior Democrat saying that the Nevada Republican should resign if allegations against him are true and other senators mulling the possibility of public hearings into his extramarital affair with a former staffer.

“If it is true that indeed he did make these payoffs and all that kind of stuff, then I would think the honorable thing would be to resign,” Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said in an interview.

Harkin added that he doesn’t “like the smell” of a sex scandal that has “cast a bad image on the Senate.”

Harkin’s public declaration — the first of its kind by a sitting senator — comes as Ensign’s Senate colleagues stand to make life more difficult for him.

The bipartisan Senate Ethics Committee is not ruling out holding public hearings in the case, a move that some believe could help drive Ensign from office. A number of senators signaled to POLITICO they’d be supportive of seeing Ensign sit before a public forum to address the allegations, something that has not been done since the Keating Five scandal in 1991. 
Sex scandal aside, the politics of Ensign's troubles are vitally important.  Every senator for the Republicans is number 41, and the GOP may actually want to see Ensign gone early to give another Republican the chance to take his seat and run in 2012.  The last thing they want is to see Ensign run again with this one hanging over his head.  It's possible they could throw him under the bus.

And actually, unless Ensign is somehow replaced by a Democrat, the Republicans actually don't need him.  If they filibuster, the Democrats still only have 59 votes and need 60 to break one.  The GOP can afford to let Ensign go right now.  We'll see what happens.


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