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« August 2005 | Main | October 2005 »

September 26, 2005

We Finally Find Serenity...

As readers of this blog (and my friends) know, I'm a huge Joss Whedon fan. In fact, the name of this blog, conspiracysquirrels.com, actually comes from a line said by Anya in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 7 episode "After Life" (which was unfortunately deleted in the final cut of that particular episode). Simply put, I think that Joss Whedon is the pre-eminent force in creative ideas and character development in entertainment today.

In 2000 I was diagnosed with cancer and had to undergo rather extensive treatment and surgery. I had been fairly successful before that in the finance and construction fields. But, like most 40 year old men, I thought I was invincible, and didn't plan for an extended illness. I lost pretty much everything - house, business, and girlfriend. At a very dark time in my life I found Whedon's work. I was a casual fan of Buffy and Angel beforehand, but with an awful lot of time on my hands I ended up watching not only the weekly episodes of both series but the syndicated ones as well. The Whedon universe enveloped me - got me out of myself and my self-pity. I cared about the characters and what happened to them - and I started to care about the big-picture things again (good vs. evil, and the significant gray area in between). It seems a little silly saying this but the Whedon universe gave me hope and was a major part of me not giving up (which would have been easy) and recovering from a very serious sickness.

I was excited when a third Whedon show came on the air - Firefly. It was different, and confusing at first - mainly because, as I found out later, Fox aired the episodes out of order. But a few episodes in the character development and storytelling that is the mark of Joss Whedon became evident. And then, just as I really started to get into it (when I could find the episodes, which is another 'Fox' story) the network geniuses canceled it.

It was a pretty lousy thing to do. Just as the potential of the series became clear, it was no more. But Firefly had made its mark. Thankfully Joss, although disappointed, didn't close the door on the idea of the show. And the fans didn't let it go either. Fansites cropped up, and an amazing thing happened. Somehow enough buzz was created that the 'Powers That Be' decided to release the series, along with all the unaired episodes, on DVD. And it took off - quickly selling 200,000 copies (including one to me!). That showed Universal Pictures that it was feasible to go forward with the Firefly franchise - they commissioned Whedon and his crew to make a theatrical movie - and Serenity was born.

To those unfamiliar with the premise of the movie, Universal has provided the following synopsis:

"Joss Whedon, the Oscar® - and Emmy - nominated writer/director responsible for the worldwide television phenomena of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE, ANGEL and FIREFLY, now applies his trademark compassion and wit to a small band of galactic outcasts 500 years in the future in his feature film directorial debut, Serenity. The film centers around Captain Malcolm Reynolds, a hardened veteran (on the losing side) of a galactic civil war, who now ekes out a living pulling off small crimes and transport-for-hire aboard his ship, Serenity. He leads a small, eclectic crew who are the closest thing he has left to family –squabbling, insubordinate and undyingly loyal."

Firefly/Serenity fans who happen to be bloggers have been invited to participate in a preview showing this Tuesday night at theaters throughout the country. I'm attending one at the Showcase Cinemas at the Providence Place Mall. In return, we are to post a discussion/review of Serenity on our blogs (very easy since I was going to do that anyways!). I'm looking forward to it!

Check out the Serenity site for more information about the Movie and the legions of Firefly fans known as Browncoats (I'm one - joined several months ago). This is one of the best movie sites I have ever seen. I've seen quite a few clips of the movie - prepare to be amazed!

September 23, 2005

Arnold Gets Real...

Many of us on the Right don't like California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, primarily because of his liberal social views. He supports abortion, for one thing. I should correct that - he supports a woman's right to chose - I get the feeling that he thinks the practice itself is abhorrent. And he is realistic about the absurd lengths to which abortion supporters will go to avoid any limits on abortion, and to promote as many abortions as possible.

In California there is a ballot initiative coming up that would make most abortions for minors illegal without prior notification of the girls' parents or guardians. Arnold makes clear his support for Proposition 73 in his usual candid manner, in an article in the Sacramento Bee:

"I have a daughter," Schwarzenegger said in an interview with The Bee. "I wouldn't want to have someone take my daughter to a hospital for an abortion or something and not tell me. I would kill him if they do that."

He then says that he doesn't mean that literally, but elaborates on his thinking about the subject:

"They call me when my daughter falls off the jungle gym in the school and they say, 'What do you want us to use? Can we put a Band-Aid on it? Do you want to come in? She's crying a little bit.'

"They call us about everything. I don't want them in that particular incident not to call us."

Pretty simple reasoning, isn't it. Spoken from a parent's point of view. We need more of that.

Spitzer Gets Sued (Finally)!

Readers of this blog know that I have a particular disdain for the Attorney General of New York, Elliot Spitzer. In my opinion, he is just a bully who craves money and power. Most of the Mainstream Media hail him as a fighter for the 'little guy', but a close look at his modus operandi reveal that he is an old-fashioned extortionist hiding behind the law, and even rewriting the law when he feels that it will benefit him. He has little, if any, understanding of how business works, and what constitutes legal business behavior rather than illegal, but he just plows ahead anyways, determining who he will go after by personal opinion and political opportunity regardless of the damage that he inflicts on the innocent. If he gets a good headline that helps him in his quest for the governorship of New York he's happy. And like any true bully, he's petty and vindictive when stood up to. The Wall Street Journal has an editorial this morning about one form, J. & W. Seligman & Co., an asset-management firm, who is standing up to him. The story is telling, including the description of how Spitzer attempted to blackmail the firm. Especially of note is the fact that Spitzer has no jurisdiction in this area according to no less an authority than the United States Congress. This is federal territory, not state. Here's the article:

"Spitzer in Court
September 23, 2005; Page A16

Here's a man bites dog story: A business is turning the tables on Eliot Spitzer and suing him for abusing the law. Even more notably, the details of the lawsuit lift the veil on the New York Attorney General's nasty prosecutorial tactics.

J. & W. Seligman & Co., an asset-management firm, recently asked a federal court to enjoin Mr. Spitzer from further investigating its mutual fund fees, an area of regulation historically reserved to the federal Securities and Exchange Commission. But just as interesting is how Mr. Spitzer came to look at Seligman's fees in the first place. According to the complaint, the Attorney General was using the fee issue to coerce Seligman into caving into his demands in a separate probe.

That investigation had to do with market timing, the practice of trading quickly in and out of a fund in order to take advantage of "stale" prices. Market timing isn't illegal, but since stale-price trading benefits some investors at the expense of others, many funds have shunned it as a bad business practice.

That includes Seligman, which in 2003 terminated an agreement with a brokerage firm that had briefly been market timing several Seligman funds. Seligman informed its independent directors and conducted an investigation. Seligman disclosed what had happened and made financial restitution to funds affected by the market-timed trades. And it did all of this voluntarily, without the prodding of regulators.

Yet none of this good behavior counted for much with Mr. Spitzer, who seems never to have heard the phrase "prosecutorial discretion." In 2003 Mr. Spitzer began one of his legal crusades against market timing and late-trading, and several large investment companies agreed to atone for their sins by reducing their mutual fund fees. Never mind that fees have absolutely nothing to do with market timing, or that by dictating private-sector prices Mr. Spitzer was behaving like some economic commissar.

To its credit, Seligman was a holdout. It was reluctant to pay more to settle with Mr. Spitzer when it had already compensated its own fund investors. As a smaller firm, it also had less cash to pay Mr. Spitzer to go away. Meanwhile, the AG kept increasing his settlement demands, including the preposterous requirement that Seligman turn over its fee-setting to an outsider (presumably responsible to Mr. Spitzer). So Seligman just said no.

A normal prosecutor -- that is, one who recognizes limits on his power -- would then either drop the case or go to court. Mr. Spitzer typically finds courtrooms inconvenient, however. So according to the Seligman complaint, the "Defendant [Mr. Spitzer] then threatened that, if Seligman did not accept its required conditions, Defendant would expand its investigation from frequent trading into what it termed 'excessive' advisory fees." In other words, Mr. Spitzer made an offer he thought Seligman couldn't refuse. Within days everyone from independent directors to its principal shareholder were hit with subpoenas. Some requested up to seven years of documents about Seligman's advisory fees.

Seligman has now responded by going to court itself, questioning Mr. Spitzer's legal authority to do any of this. Congress invested the SEC with the power to oversee mutual fund fees -- for the simple reason that at least in this area investors are best served by companies working under uniform rules rather than the political agendas of 50 different state attorneys general.

Seligman's decision to fight back entails no small risk, because even if the company prevails on fees it is still subject to Mr. Spitzer's oversight in other areas. And the attorney general is not a graceful loser. A jury recently rejected 29 of Mr. Spitzer's 33 criminal counts against former Bank of America broker Ted Sihpol, and deadlocked on the other four. But rather than accept defeat, Mr. Spitzer says he'll retry Mr. Sihpol on those four. This vindictive streak is also why such national banks as Wells Fargo, Citibank, JP Morgan Chase and other members of the Clearing House Association were initially so reluctant to file a lawsuit challenging Mr. Spitzer on his requests for privileged mortgage data (another suit still pending).

Yet in standing up to Mr. Spitzer, the company is doing its business peers and the rule of law a favor. Unquestioned by a media that live off his news leaks, and unchallenged by businesses afraid of retribution, Mr. Spitzer has expanded his power to usurp the legitimate roles of elected officials and federal regulators. Kudos to Seligman for blowing the whistle."

Let's hope we see more of this sort of stuff.

 

September 20, 2005

Tim Russert Promotes Leftist Propaganda...

Among those outraged on the Left about the Federal response to Katrina was Meet the Press's Tim Russert. Usually Russert does his homework and is fair - I think that he might have been just following the mob on the "blame the Feds and Bush" bandwagon. But from his experience in politics he should be one of the first to recognize that FEMA is not a first responder - and that there are strict policies in place whereby local officials have to call the Feds in. He instead gives prime Meet the Press airtime to one Aaron Broussard, president of Jefferson Parish in New Orleans on the September 4th show. I didn't see that part of the show - I had become disgusted at the tone of the show (blame Bush, blame the Feds) and knew I that MTP was going to be ideological rather than informative that week. But others did watch carefully, most notably the blogger WuzzaDem.com, who noted that Mr. Brousard looked a bit scripted and coached as he recalled the ordeal of his boss listening to his mother begging to get out of her nursing home almost a week after the storm hit:

"The guy who runs this building I'm in, emergency management, he's responsible   for everything. His mother was trapped in a St. Bernard nursing home and every   day she called him and said, 'Are you coming, son? Is somebody coming?' And   he said, 'Yeah, Mama, somebody's coming to get you. Somebody's coming to get   you on Tuesday. Somebody's coming to get you on Wednesday. Somebody's coming   to get you on Thursday. Somebody's coming to get you on Friday.' And she drowned   Friday night. She drowned Friday night."

And:

"Sir, they were told like me, every single day, "The cavalry's coming,"   on a federal level, "The cavalry's coming, the cavalry's coming, the   cavalry's coming."

Well, thanks to the work of WuzzaDem, we now find out that Broussard, a Democrat, was lying in an attempt to place blame for the death on the Feds. In fact, MSNBC, Meet the Press's online home, had to issue a correction after the man that Broussard was talking about, Thomas Rodrigue, said that Broussard was 'mistaken' and that the phone calls had happened before the hurricane hit, not after. This places the blame on the local officials and the owners of the nursing home, where the blame really belongs:

"Subsequent reporting identified the man whom Broussard was referring to in the Meet the Press interview as Thomas Rodrigue, the Jefferson Parish emergency services director. Contacted on Friday by MSNBC.com, Rodrigue acknowledged that his 92-year-old mother and more than 30 other people died in the St. Rita nursing home. They had not been evacuated and the flood waters overtook the residence.

The chronology of the phone calls described by Broussard came under particular scrutiny by bloggers.

Rodrigue said he didn’t see or hear Broussard’s comments on Meet the Press. When told of the sequence of phone calls that Broussard described on Meet the Press, Rodrigue said “No, no, that’s not true.”

“I can’t tell you what he said that day, why he was confused, I’m assuming he was under a tremendous amount of pressure,” Rodrigue told MSNBC.

“I contacted the nursing home two days before the storm [on Aug. 27th] and again on the 28th of August,” Rodrigue said.  “At the same time I talked to the nursing home I also talked to the emergency manager for St. Bernard Parish,” Rodrigue said, “to encourage that nursing home to evacuate like they were supposed to and they didn’t until it was too late.”

Broussard must have been confused “because I was calling, not my mother calling me, I was calling her,” Rodrigue said.  Further, Rodrigue says he never made any calls after Monday, the day he figures his mother died, based on conversations he’s had with another person who had a family member perish inside St. Rita’s. Officials believe that the residents of St. Rita’s died on Monday, Aug. 29, not on Friday, Sept. 2, as Broussard had suggested.

Broussard could not be reached for comment Friday, but Jackie Bauer, a spokeswoman for Broussard who was present during the Meet the Press interview, said "it was a misunderstanding."

I wonder if Tim Russert will give a prominent space on this upcoming Meet the Press to correct the record. Somehow I doubt it. Then it wouldn't fit the narrative that Russert, and the rest of the MSM, is  attempting to sell us.



Testing Out New Things...

Just about ready for Dad to come home from rehab - having to do much painting and some bathroom modifications, but I think everything will work out quite well. We're expecting him home within the next two weeks.

Also, on a blog technical note, I've been somewhat disappointed in my web browser of choice, Safari, and its ability to work seamlessly with TypePad, my web-blog hosting site. Specifically, I'm unable to use custom formatting with Safari, although Safari is supposed to be a WYSIWYG browser. I love Apple, and I've used a Macintosh since 1986 (a Mac SE), but sometimes they just seem to make things as difficult as possible.

So I'm going to try using Firefox just for posting. It should allow me to do some formatting that I think is vital from a style and readability standpoint - for example indenting quotes in a different style:

"Thus making it easier to distinguish between my work and the work of others"

I was waiting for Safari to allow me to do this, but the wait is over (I can also Boldface)!

So we'll see how it goes. Sorry for the absence, but I had to get things squared off at home.

September 09, 2005

Democrats Confirmed FEMA Director Mike Brown

Ah, the irony. To become FEMA Director you need Senate confirmation. On June 19, 2002 (when the Democrats controlled the Senate), Senator Joe Leiberman held confirmation hearings for Mike Brown to be head of FEMA. He was approved out of committee, and approved unanimously by voice vote in the Democrat controlled Senate. Byron York has the story on NRO's The Corner:

"Amid all the bashing of FEMA director Michael Brown as an incompetent, unqualified, resume-padding political hack, one small factor has been overlooked: His job required Senate confirmation, didn't it? Indeed it did. And not only was Brown confirmed, but he was apparently confirmed by a unanimous voice vote -- when the Senate was controlled by Democrats. An enterprising blogger has found the transcript of Brown's June 19, 2002 confirmation hearing before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, then chaired by Sen. Joseph Lieberman. The whole affair, including tributes from Brown's home-state senators, apparently lasted less then an hour, and ended with Lieberman saying, "Mr. Brown, I thank you very much. I will certainly support your nomination. I will do my best to move it through the committee as soon as possible so we can have you fully and legally at work in your new position." The hearing was for Brown's nomination as deputy director of FEMA; it appears that Brown did not have to be re-confirmed when he became director."

Based upon the fact-based articles that I've read (not the hysterical news/opinion pieces has been dominating the media lately) FEMA didn't do that bad a job considering their mandate and the fact that they are not first responders. Although the press will try to cover it up, the people who screwed this thing up from the very beginning, in New Orleans and Louisiana at least, were the Mayor of NO and the Governor. Blanco, it seems, is still doing everything in her power to mess things up. You do see some stories acknowledging that in the media these days, but they are still far outnumbered by the anti-Bush stories.

September 08, 2005

New Orleans Evacuation Plan

A week ago last Sunday after visiting my father I ate dinner at the Cactus Grill restaurant in Providence. Across the bar from me were two Narragansett Electric employees - linemen. Sitting there I had an increasingly bad feeling about Katrina. Most of the time I just ignore the hype that the media gives these storms, but this one seemed different. I was particularly alarmed when President Bush went on air to tell everyone to evacuate immediately. And he pre-emptively declared the path of the storm "Disaster Areas", which I thought was strange as well. I knew that that was all the President really could do at that time - he couldn't 'order' an evacuation. According to our Constitution and laws the only people that could do that were the mayors and the governors of the cities and states in Katrina's path. The Federal Government could (and did) pre-position assets to assist later, but that was all it could do until after the storm hit. And even after Katrina hit, the Federal Government was not a first responder - it was merely supposed to help the local authorities in their immediate needs upon request until assessments could be done, at which time a decision to federalize the effort could be made.

The linemen that I was talking to were also worried about the storm. A jet had been chartered (I think with the assistance of FEMA) to fly crews from New England utility companies from Hartford CT to where they were needed. They told me that they were being told that there probably wasn't going to be any New Orleans left after Katrina, let alone the rest of the area. And they couldn't understand (nor could I) why the Mayor of NO wasn't making sure that everyone was out.

It turns out that that was exactly the plan - to get everyone out. But it just wasn't implemented. And it wasn't the Federal Government's fault that this wasn't done. The Feds were precluded by law to do anything like that, unless Congress declared Martial Law or the President were to invoke the Insurrection Act, neither of which was going to happen. Responsibility for the local citizens before the storm and in the immediate aftermath was simply the local government's job. Here is the plan, located on the City of New Orleans web site, to evacuate everyone in the city: link

Shameful...

Gotta Love Those Environmentalists!

Repair or reinforce the levees in New Orleans? Well, I guess there was a plan put forth in 1996 to do just that. While I don't have the details of the plan and therefore can't say if it would have made any difference, it is interesting to note that it was stopped by lawsuits (of course) filed by several environmental groups (of course). Some of the details are in a piece by John Berlau over at NRO:

"The Army Corps was planning to upgrade 303 miles of levees along the river in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas. This was needed, a Corps spokesman told the Baton Rouge, La., newspaper The Advocate, because “a failure could wreak catastrophic consequences on Louisiana and Mississippi which the states would be decades in overcoming, if they overcame them at all.”

But a suit filed by environmental groups at the U.S. District Court in New Orleans claimed the Corps had not looked at “the impact on bottomland hardwood wetlands.” The lawsuit stated, “Bottomland hardwood forests must be protected and restored if the Louisiana black bear is to survive as a species, and if we are to ensure continued support for source population of all birds breeding in the lower Mississippi River valley.” In addition to the Sierra Club, other parties to the suit were the group American Rivers, the Mississippi River Basin Alliance, and the Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi Wildlife Federations.

The lawsuit was settled in 1997 with the Corps agreeing to hold off on some work while doing an additional two-year environmental impact study. Whether this delay directly affected the levees that broke in New Orleans is difficult to ascertain.

But it is just one illustration of a destructive river-management philosophy that took hold in the ‘90s, influenced the Clinton administration, and had serious policy consequences. Put simply, it’s impossible to understand the delays in building levees without being aware of the opposition of the environmental groups to dams, levees, and anything that interfered with the “natural” river flow. The group American Rivers, which leads coalitions of eco-groups on river policy, has for years actually called its campaign, “Rivers Unplugged.”"

Nice.

Very interesting article by Michael Grunwald in this morning's Washington Post. It describes the federal funding that went to Louisiana via the Army Corps of Engineers over the past several years. Federal funds under President Bush actually increased to put Louisiana second in federal funding for such projects behind Florida. Bush has also spent more money on floodwater projects in Louisiana than did Clinton. The problem was that the money often didn't go for the most important projects - it often went towards those projects favored by the Louisiana congressional delegation for various political reasons. And some of those projects were questionable at best. Grunwald also informs us that the President really doesn't have much say in Corps projects, although the Administration does propose the initial budget:

"In fact, more than any other federal agency, the Corps is controlled by Congress; its $4.7 billion civil works budget consists almost entirely of "earmarks" inserted by individual legislators. The Corps must determine that the economic benefits of its projects exceed the costs, but marginal projects such as the Port of Iberia deepening -- which squeaked by with a 1.03 benefit-cost ratio -- are as eligible for funding as the New Orleans levees."

The Port of Iberia deepening which is referred to above is a plan to facilitate increased barge traffic in an area where traffic has been decreasing, not increasing - calling into question the rational for the project in the first place.

There has also been much complaining from the Left about the Administration cutting a long-term $14 billion project that was to restore the wetlands and coastal marshes around Louisiana, suggesting that this would have prevented the flooding. But that claim is questionable as well.

It is very important to note that no plan that is now or was recently considered would have prevented this tragedy. There was a proposal recently to do a study to devise a way in which New Orleans could have been protected from a Katrina type (Cat 5) storm - but the study wasn't even going to be finished until 2008. Then Congress would have had to agreed on a way to proceed and fund the project.

Also in the article the head of the Corps of Engineers, Lt. Gen. Carl Strock, said:

"that in any event, more money would not have prevented the drowning of the city, since its levees were designed to protect against a Category 3 storm, and the levees that failed were already completed projects. Strock has also said that the marsh-restoration project would not have done much to diminish Katrina's storm surge, which passed east of the coastal wetlands."

One of the things that the Bush Administration has been doing is trying to direct money that goes to the Corps from new construction to long overdue maintenance. But even if everything in New Orleans was completely up-to-date maintenance wise, it still wouldn't have made a bit of difference. The city and its levees simply weren't designed to survive a Category 4 or 5 storm with a 27 foot storm surge. And everyone in Louisiana knew it, but just prayed that the type of disaster that we are watching didn't happen under their watch.

Save Our Wetlands - Let Thousands Die

Very interesting article over at FrontPage.com regarding a plan to create large hurricane barriers that would have prevented much of the flooding caused by the historic storm surge (27 feet) finding its way into New Orleans via Lake Pontchartrain. This plan was developed in the 70s and was stopped by a lawsuit by Save Our Wetlands (SOWL). It references an article in the November 22, 2003, New Orleans Times-Picayune:

"A form of the lake barrier, including gates at the Rigolets and Chef Menteur passes, was successfully challenged in court in the 1970s, when it was recommended as part of the area's hurricane protection system."

Here's a telling part of the article on FrontPage:

"If the Greens prevailed, it was not because the forces of common sense did not make a compelling case. SOWL’s account reveals that during the course of the trial the defense counsel, Gerald Gallinghouse – a Republican U.S. Attorney who acted as a special prosecutor during the Carter administration – felt so strongly that the project should continue that he told the judge he would “go before the United States Congress with [Democratic Louisiana Congressman] F. Edward Hebert to pass a resolution, exempting the Hurricane Barrier Project from the rules and regulations of the National Environmental Policy Act because, in his opinion, [this plan] is necessary to protect the citizens of New Orleans from a hurricane.” Despite this, the judge ruled in favor of the environmentalists. Ultimately, the project was aborted in favor of building up existing levees."

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