Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Tolling the Bell to Honor the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

On November 10, 1975 the freight ship S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald sank during a storm on  Lake Superior. The wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald was the worst loss on the Great Lakes, as the crew of all 29 sailors perished along with the $24 million freighter and a cache of 26 tons of taconite. The Edmund Fitzgerald carried its cargo of iron ore from mines in Duluth, Minnesota heading toward mills in the lower Great Lakes.  During the vessel’s final voyage, the “Mighty Fitz” confronted a mighty winter storm in Canadian waters with near hurricane force winds and waves of up to 35 feet high. The crew gallantly braved the gale force winds for a day and a half before succumbing to the stormy waters.  It is speculated that most of the crew were swept off the deck  by the massive waves before the full broke and the ship sank.

This maritime tragedy was immortalized in the song “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”, which was written and composed by Canadian singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot in 1976.  In the midst of album oriented rock acts and brief advent of disco, this Dorian mode epic ballad nearly topped the American Billboard charts as well as conquering the Canadian charts.  The chart prominence may have been aided by Canadian Content requirements for music played on “the Big 8" CKLW-AM (Windsor, Ont.), which was a top rated station at the time in Detroit, Toledo as well as Cleveland.

Lightfoot was inspired to write the ballad after reading an article about the sinking of the Big Fitz in Newsweek. The song was a straightforward recounting of the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, but there was some artistic license.  Obviously, there was no way to know the crew’s final moments. There also some were slight inaccuracies, as the ship was actually bound for Zug Island (near Detroit) but eventually it was supposed to have docked in Cleveland for the winter. And Mariners’ Church (a.k.a. “The Maritime Sailors’ Cathedral”) was not a musty old hall in Detroit where they prayed. Lightfoot has strived to correct some of these details during recent live performances.

The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald still resonates after 36 years as the laconic chronicle of the heroism of the lost sailors.  Few epic poems permeate the American consciousness like Lightfoot’s magnus opus. There are numerous cultural references to the tune.  A character in the film High Fidelity (2000) declared in the Top Five on songs on death.

The song has been covered many times.  A version that captures the haunting, surreal nature of sense of the surprise storm is by the Dandy Warhols from their Black album (2004). This may be inspired by the fact that the Daddy Warhol’s lead singer was related to one of the Big Fitz lost crew.

On the eve of Veterans Day, as we also celebrate the anniversary of the U.S. Marine Corps, it is worthy to toll the bell of honor 29 times for the valor of the lost crew of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

[This piece originally ran on]

Monday, November 8, 2010

GOP Party Favors?

Even before he enters the Senate Club, Senator-elect Joe Manchin (D-WV) is being courted by Republican insiders to switch parties.  Manchin will be sworn in during the lame-duck session next week since it was a special election caused by the death of long-time Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV).

Aside from dangling choice Committee assignments (like Environmental and Natural Resources) to the new Senator for switching caucuses, the pot might be sweetened by funding pet projects.  There is talk that Republicans would back a plant that converts coal into bio-diesel fuel, which has been stalled in the 111th Congress.   This coal conversion scheme is a $1 billion pet project of the erstwhile Governor of West Virginia and would certainly show that he knows how to bring home the bacon.

Manchins aides are demur about party switching.  While Team Manchin claims, "He was elected as a Democrat and he has to go to Washington as a Democrat to try, in good faith, to make the changes in the party he campaigned on.”  But the same Manchin insider also said, "Now, if that doesn't work and Democrats aren't receptive, I don't know what possibilities that leaves open." That was such a great political answer that manages to converse out of both sides of his mouth.

These party favor forays seem to indicate that Republican leadership in the Senate does not appreciate the Tea Party premises.  Funding a billion dollar earmark for political favor in a backroom deal seems tone deaf to the good governance grievances of Tea Party types.   Moreover, this move would essentially be meaningless.

In the 112th Congress, the Democrat Caucus is 53 to 47.  The increase in Republican Senators will prevent the Obama Administration from steamrolling liberal legislation and picking off a couple of RINO defectors to overcome cloture votes. Certainly the thinking is that Manchin could be the vanguard to stampede conservative Democrat Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE) and liberal hawk Joe Lieberman (I-CN) to caucus with the Republicans.  But It would take four defections in the Senate to shift party control, which is highly unlikely.

Manchin was elected on a conservative campaign although he was elected as a Democrat.  He is going to have to face that constituency in two years.   If Senator Ben Nelson wants to be re-elected, he will have to vote more conservatively and not be swayed by things like the Cornhusker kickback on Health Care. Both Manchin and Ben Nelson would be unlikely to stray far from the conservative fold even if they do not strictly caucus with the Republicans.  In the 2012 cycle, Democrats will have to defend 22 seats, some of which were marginal wins in 2006.  Combine that with the changing electoral map due to redistricting, Democrats will have their hands full trying to keep control of the Senate.

It seems like former Senator Trent Lott’s statement about co-opting new members still has some resonance amongst the Cocktail Party and (by some extension ) Senate cloakrooms where there is the expectation that it can be politics as usual.  The Midterm Elections should have shown that the voters prefer a different cup of tea for party functions.

UPDATE 11/10  Considering the day after this rumor broke, the RNSC started a campaign directed AGAINST Senator-elect Manchin, it makes more sense that the party switching rumblings may have stemmed from Manchin's staff to seem to augment his position by playing coy.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Now NPR CAIRs Not (sic) for Juan Williams

Long time NPR news personality Juan Williams was terminated by National Public Radio (NPR) after offering his opinions on FNC’s O’Reilly Factor.   Williams was asked by the host for his views regarding the walkout reaction to the Goldberg/Behar gaggle on ABC’s The View when O’Reilly said that Moslems committed the atrocities on 9/11/2001.

Williams, a reliable liberal voice who also often appears on Fox News programs, concurred with O’Reilly’s observation that Moslem jihadists are the biggest threat to the world today.  Sharing unusual honesty, Williams dared to say,

I mean, look, Bill, I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.

It did not matter that Williams couched his views by added that there are plenty of good Moslems but that those who were strongly identifying with Moslem culture are more prone to jihadism.

NPR’s press release noted that Williams remarks, “were inconsistent with our editorial standards and practices, and undermined his credibility as a news analyst with NPR.”.   That high minded statement of standards seems rather hypocritical considering NPR approving the Mark Fiore’s  “How to speak Tea Bag” on their own website.   NPR omnibusman Alicia Shepard claims that no one knew that “tea-bagger” was a sexual slur.   NPR executives would neither apologize for the cartoon nor remove it from their website. NPR Vice President for News Ellen Weiss said, This one satire is not the only coverage on the topic and while it offends some members of the audience, I see no reason to remove it."

If Williams’ introspective opinions on ANOTHER NETWORK  was controversial and over the line, Michelle Malkin points out that an NPR affilliate employee Sarah Spitz of KCRW wished death on Rush Limbaugh, and this was not considered a firing offense or even a distancing of the repugnant view by the network.

Could William’s termination be due to the $1.8  million endowment by George Soros Open Society Foundation to endow hiring 100 political reporters for NPR?  Aside from its left of center slant, NPR has been well known for skewing news for reporters with endowed news beats.  For instance, NPR used to only have one Pentagon reporter but had five science reporters that were endowed by generous grants by public minded corporations.  Of course, this underwriting would never have any influence on NPR science coverage since Public Radio is so fair and balanced and unbeholden to corporations–not.

A more likely causal connection is Politically Correct dhimmitude.  On Wednesday, the Council for American Islamic Relations (CAIR) issued a press release demanding consequence for William’s opinion. CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad stated: "Such irresponsible and inflammatory comments would not be tolerated if they targeted any other racial, ethnic or religious minority, and they should not pass without action by NPR.".  Williams was notified of his termination Wednesday night.

Williams was off the PC reservation and expressing these concerns was anathematic to elites.  So much so, NPR CEO Vivian Shiller was quoted as saying to the Atlanta Press Club that Juan Williams should should have kept his feelings about Muslims between, "himself and his psychiatrist or his publicist," But Shiller walked that statement back after bad publicity and said that she spoke in haste.

Juan Williams has never been the darling of conservatives as he was a reliable liberal.  However, Williams has a remarkable record for his honesty and integrity about racial issues.  Williams sometimes stood alone and reused to  succumb to the drum beat of conformism to so called civil rights leaders.  If people can not connect the dots and see how individuals who aggressively immerse themselves in Islamic culture are going to be more prone to the siren song of violent jihadism then this country is well on its way to dhimmi-tude.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Coffee, Tea or Cocktail Party

Since President Obama has taken office, the Republicans and the Democrats have been challenged by a few new “parties” to the political scene. While these factions have not yet sought to create formal party apparatuses, they are seeing to influence the established political parties.

Clearly, the TEA Party has stirred the grassroots of the American political field. While there may be other embryotic origins for the Tea Party, many attribute an on the air rant by Rick Santelli of CNBC as being the inspiration for the movement. In February 2009, while he was filing a live report on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange about the Homeowners Affordability and Stability Plan, Santelli vents about the poor financial plans that the Federal government was implementing. The CNBC reporter turns to the traders and asked if they should be forced to subsidize the bad behavior of others’ home loan, which elicited a bevy of boos. Santelli spontaneously suggests throwing a Chicago Tea Party.

The Tea Party is a reference to the iconic Boston Tea Party of 1773 when the Crown tried to impose the Tea Act. American colonists protested this tax for many reasons but especially because it violated the perceived principle that Americans had the right to be taxed by its own elected representatives. The Sons of Liberty took matters into their own hands by boarding the ships dressed as aboriginal Americans and throwing the merchandise into Boston Harbor. This was considered to be a key event in advancing the nascent American Revolution.

Within two weeks of Santelli’s clarion call on CNBC, there were protests in 40 cities around the country in reaction to Porkulus, a.k.a. the $787 Billion Stimulus Package that was rushed through Congress. The contemporary TEA party picked up steam by widespread nation wide protests on April 15th 2009, tax filing day. The terrific turnout at these ad hoc grassroots events showed participants that they were not alone and that they were Taxed Enough Already. Points of commonality included: lowering taxes, stopping wasteful government spending, reducing that national debt and adhering to the Constitution.

During the August Congressional Recess, when elected Federal officeholders often tour their districts on listening tours and hold Townhall Meetings, they were greeted by motivated Tea Party activists, who asked hard questions. Some of these Townhall Meetings were quite contentious. So much so, some lawmakers cancelled their public appearances since these Town Halls were not the typical constituent cake walks.
There was a gathering on the National Mall on September 12, 2009 that was promoted by Glenn Beck, FreedomWorks and many Tea Party organizations that attracted legions of Tea Party Activists. Crowd estimates vary, but the figures range from 80,000 from the Lamestream Media to an unofficial 1.2 million by on the scene Park Service officials. A figure that seemed reliable counted the number of marchers at Constitution and 14th St. NW, which came to 600,000, but did not include people like me who joined along the way. Regardless of the exact numbers, the crowd was massive.

Another ancillary effect of Tea Party activism has been the ordinary Americans running for office. These outsider candidates have challenged established Republican candidates, and defeated several of them in primaries, such as Christine O’Donnell defeating Mike Castle in Delaware Senate seat, Joe Miller uncrowning Senator Lisa Murkowski in Alaska, Mike Lee defeating Senator Robert Bennett in Utah, et ali.

The Coffee Party was (not was) an effort to counteract the success of the Tea Party that was launched on Facebook in January 2010. I apocryphally associate the genesis of the Coffee Party to the liberal young hipsters that hang out at Starbucks and the ilk. Their slogan was “Wake Up and Stand Up” with a mission to getting cooperation in government and removing corporate influence from politics. The Coffee Party was announced with great fanfare on the Lamestream Media, but the public seems to have received it with the lukewarm enthusiasm of Instant Joe. After the initial news peg there has been virtually nothing in the way of activism or media news pegs. In late September 2010, the national Coffee Party convention in Louisville drew only 350 participants and virtually no media coverage. Considering the watered down rap that organized tried to enlist their elderly audiences involvement, I would say that the Coffee Party is decaffeinated swill that can not be given away.

The Cocktail Party is not a new phenomenon but is an apt appraisal by former Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK) of between the beltways elitists. Angelo Codevilla wrote a book entitled “The Ruling Class: How They Corrupted America and What We Can Do About It” which details the group of bipartisan political elites who run America. It is not just many elected officials but the power circle includes Ivy League academics, those in think tanks and East Coast media mavens. Codevilla illustrates through the example of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, that just because you hold a prominent position, you are not automatically accepted into this elite cliche as you did not go to the right schools and were not trained to think the proper way. You can get this elitist imprimatur even if you have occasionally have wandered off the ideological reservation if you hold a powerful position and mouth the right shibboleth.

The Ruling Class and Country Class (the rest of us, especially in “Flyover Country”) has some resonance but can be confused with the economic class dichotomy of former Senator John Edwards (D-NC). So I believe that a more suitable moniker is the Cocktail Party. When President Ronald Reagan came to Washington, he was adamant about not governing to please the Georgetown cocktail circuit. Palin echoed those sentiments during a speech Bakersfield, California where she railed against cocktail party types, the go-along-to-get-along establishment Republicans. Pardon my French but Palin’s political bon-mot is le mot juste. With one clever phrase, Palin captured the establishment aspirations and inclinations of the Cocktail Party.

As the primary season has shown, the Cocktail Party wing of the Republican establishment is threatened by the Country Class sensibilities of the Tea Party movement. In the general election, I expect the Tea Party spirit to sweep out many entrenched incumbents. That will certainly change the Georgetown Cocktail circuit.

Personally, I agree with many of the espoused principles of the Tea Party. But since it is a loose amalgam of grassroots groups, some Tea Party organizations and candidates are not the most appealing or savvy. The test will be governance after November 2nd. In a moment of candor, former Republican Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) warned that a bloc of rabble-rousers spells further Senate dysfunction. I trust that Tea Party candidates will not easily sell out to the Between the Beltways values of incumbency. The real question is whether they will be perched on principle and accomplish nothing or if they can find ways to bend enough to effectively legislate their policies.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Blurry Public Focus for Traffic Cameras

Several developing stories are capturing the real picture about the use of traffic cameras by state and local governments.

In the Big Easy, some of the biggest scofflaws of paying traffic camera fines are New Orleans city employees driving taxpayer-financed vehicles.  Based upon a freedom of information request, New Orleans city workers racked up over $547,000 in fines as of September, 2011.  Moreover, five of the top twenty traffic camera violators were city vehicles.  Mayor Mitch Landrieu (D-New Orleans) claims that he wants to quit letting the good times roll so the policy will be changed so that city workers will be responsible for tickets that they accrue unless they are responding to an emergency.  If the ticket is delinquent by more than 90 days, the city employee may be subject to disciplinary measures and any unpaid fines supposedly will be subtracted from the offending department’s budget.

Before this policy goes into effect, however, New Orleans is wiping the slate clean and the prior fines will be forgiven since there was not clarity about waivers and it would be difficult to collect the fines. OK, public servants need to be warned that the law applies to them and their tickets will not automatically be fixed or effectively ignored. Perhaps obeying the law needed to be clarified with public sector unions.  But at least New Orleans new policy will require an emergency for a waiver.

In the Free State, Maryland Delegate Frank Conaway (D-MD 40th, Baltimore city) has introduced two bills that would exempt all “emergency vehicles” (State Bill 848) and all law enforcement vehicles (State Bill 857) from traffic enforcement camera fines. The problem with these bills is that it makes no distinction as to whether or not these public responders are actually answering an emergency call.  Such legislation puts us further down the road to creating a special class for public employees who are above the law, whether or not they are responding to emergencies.

It seems that Maryland elected officials are tired of hearing constituents crabbing about speed camera tickets.  Despite public assurance to the contrary by sponsors of SB486/HB944, the legislation which was approved by the Maryland Senate allows private contractors to make determinations of traffic camera violations. Specifically, buried in the Fiscal Policy Notes section states:

 The bill authorizes a person trained in speed monitoring system enforcement who is either employed by or under contract with a law enforcement agency to sign a citation or swear to or affirm that a speed monitoring system violation occurred. Thus, in addition to shifting these duties from duly authorized police officers to other trained employees of the law enforcement agency, agencies are authorized to utilize private contractors for this service.

So Maryland is poised to allow individuals other than sworn Law Enforcement Officers to both maintain traffic cameras as well as to make determinations of infractions.  This blurs the distinction between the law and corporations which can deprive citizens of liberty.  Moreover, testimony before a public forum in Baltimore on traffic cameras reveals that 50% of the revenue would go to the traffic camera contractor.  And this is before the private sector contractors become the official adjudicators for traffic cameras.

Currently, corporations stand to make a sizeable profit from maintaining traffic cameras under the guise of government enforcement.  Now Maryland legislators want to subrogate their sovereign rights to a for-profit corporation to supposedly improve public safety? Such a progressive policy sharing police power by a nanny state which co-opts the private sector to control its citizenry stinks of liberal fascism, corporate socialism with a happy face.

These Big Brother tactics of traffic cameras were initially sold to the public as instruments of public safety and efficiency.   Studies have shown that there may only be a negligible improvement in public safety with the use of red light cameras, with some questions about ancillary rear end crashes and questions about the profit motive.

The Maryland Legislature has effectively dropped the pretense that traffic cameras are meant for public safety purposes.  In testifying for her House Bill 372, Delegate Carolyn Howard (D-MD 24th Prince George’s County) asserted: "A government official made a statement that speed cameras were going to be moved so they could generate more revenue. That was not the purpose of the bill when it was passed."  The Maryland House Environmental Matters Committee voted to give the bill an “Unfavorable” rating, which basically killed the bill thereby blessing the practice of relocating speed cameras for profit.

In an era where the public till is empty, governments will look means other than direct taxation to augment their coffers.  These automated traffic controls seem like they are greed cameras that are revenue enhancement tools that the public sector can liberally exempt itself, crony corporations can handsomely profit and which only modestly improve public safety. By  vesting sovereignty to corporations for traffic cameras comes only comes at the cost of sacrificing our liberty and constitutional right to confront law enforcement at the time of alleged infractions to companies that will profit without strong public scrutiny. Such a deal!

Voters better learn how to focus on how our elected officials are blurring the lines between public and private as well as the proper public rationale for traffic cameras lest we be governed by the likes of Omni Consumer Products à la Robocop (1987).