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This is the archive for July 2009

Friday, July 31, 2009

Finally some progress

Tall tomatoes
Tomatoes almost at eye level

Baby cuke
Baby cuke

After the garden slowed to a halt through June and much of July, the recent warm, humid weather with a good mix of sun and rain has shifted everything into a much higher gear.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Oy yoy yoy yoy yoy:

Banks Paid $32.6 Billion in Bonuses Amid U.S. Bailout
By Karen Freifeld
July 30 (Bloomberg) -- Citigroup Inc., Merrill Lynch & Co. and seven other U.S. banks paid $32.6 billion in bonuses in 2008 while receiving $175 billion in taxpayer funds under the Troubled Asset Relief Program, according to a report by New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.

In the report, the state analyzed 2008 bonuses at nine banks that received TARP financing from the U.S. government. New York-based Citigroup and Merrill, since taken over by Bank of America Corp., received TARP funding totaling $55 billion, Cuomo said in his report.
Feeling better about "the economy" now?
Gerald posted HERE that the "best" thing that could happen on health reform is that a watered down plan fail. Maybe. But I think it's very positive that the House Blue Dogs have met a progressive buzz saw.

The words of the president most certainly tell the truth about the problems that must be solved:
President Obama: Let me be specific. We will stop insurance companies from denying you coverage because of your medical history. (Applause.) I've told this story before -- I will never forget watching my own mother, as she fought cancer in her final days, worrying about whether her insurer would claim her illness was a preexisting condition so they could wiggle out of paying for her coverage. How many of you have worried about the same thing? (Applause.) A lot of people have gone through this. Many of you have been denied insurance or heard of someone who was denied insurance because they got -- had a preexisting condition. That will no longer be allowed with reform. (Applause.) We won't allow that. (Applause.) We won't allow that.

With reform, insurance companies will have to abide by a yearly cap on how much you can be charged for your out-of-pocket expenses. No one in America should go broke because of an illness. (Applause.) We will require insurance companies to cover routine checkups and preventive care, like mammograms and colonoscopies -- (applause) -- eye and foot exams for diabetics, so we can avoid chronic illnesses that cost not only lives, but money. (Applause.)

No longer will insurance companies be allowed to drop or water down coverage for someone who's become seriously ill. That's not right, it's not fair. (Applause.) We will stop insurance companies from placing arbitrary caps on the coverage you can receive in a given year or in a lifetime. (Applause.)
What remains to be seen is if there will be a bill with strong reforms covering all these directions, if there will be gang-of-six crap that makes a mockery of the president, or if there will be nothing. Today I'm feeling that if single-payer truly is barred (on the national level though perhaps not at the state), the first outcome is preferable to the third, but the middle outcome is the worst of all possible worlds.

Update: One more thing I meant to mention--Chelli Pingree is a progressive committed to a robust public option, while Mike Michaud poses as a Blue Dog. In Mike's favor he has said recently in an op-ed, "I support a public insurance option."

Update 2: Pingree did sign the aforementioned letter, Michaud did not.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Appears so, if Senators Max Baucus (D-MT), our own Olympia Snowe, and four other senators rounding out the "gang of six" have their way:
Already, the group of six has tossed aside the idea of a government-run insurance plan that would compete with private insurers, which the president supports but Republicans said was a deal-breaker.
I'm in favor of single payer. But if Obama is going to get through some kind of inferior public plan, doesn't he need to raise the temperature by insisting this gang of six not control the resulting bill?

Update: The story I cite here and Obama's limp defense of public option must be seen in the context of the "co-op squeeze play" Jane Hamsher writes about, HERE. Whaaaat? Insurance stocks SOARING?
Finally, the PUC acts on some theory other than "trust us" or "believe us":
AUGUSTA -- Utility regulators Tuesday ordered FairPoint Communications to pay more than $400,000 it owes in penalties for failing to provide adequate service to local carriers.
Errrr, maybe not
But the Public Utilities Commission also extended a deadline allowing FairPoint to reapply for a waiver that prevents it from paying an additional $1 million in penalties.
It remains to be seen what will be done about this disaster, but overall this should be seen as a sign of the PUC awaking from its long slumber on FairPoint.

Previous stories may be found in the list, HERE.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Northern Green Frog
Northern Green Frog: Hard to find these guys so close to the bog boardwalk

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Harry Patch was 111

In the British papers today, Harry Patch variously is described (in this case by his biographer, Richard van Emden) as "the oldest man in Britain, the last Tommy, the last foot soldier of the First World War, the last man to serve in the trenches in the ?war to end all wars?, the last of that fighting breed."

But he spoke of his experiences only after age 100. And he was "vehemently anti-war," according to the remembrance on the UK ITN TV channel:



Of the War, he said "It wasn't worth it."

I looked through many of the obits and remembrances today, but besides the quite good one by van Emden, I found in the UK and elsewhere no piece as gripping as that written by Robert Barr for the Associated Press:
"I didn't welcome the war at all, and never felt the need to get myself into khaki and go out there fighting before it was 'all over by Christmas.' That's what people were saying, that the war wouldn't last long," he said.

His most vivid memory of the war was of encountering a comrade whose torso had been ripped open by shrapnel. "Shoot me," Patch recalled the soldier pleading.

The man died before Patch could draw his revolver.

"I was with him for the last 60 seconds of his life. He gasped one word ? 'Mother.' That one word has run through my brain for 88 years. I will never forget it."

Thursday, July 23, 2009


Outstanding

We've been watching this five-part science fiction miniseries set in the UK. It's a Doctor Who spin-off (anagram the name!). It runs on BBC America, Dish Network 135 and also is a choice on other systems.

I must say I'm blown away. Two previous series were more like normal teevee seasons. I found most of those to be very entertaining--full of very creative aliens, actually a very different take on alien contact. Also, lots of vicious threats, tense situation, tough decisions, the whole range of rotten and good.

But this miniseries is on a whole other plane. The moral dilemma is gigantic. Government officials act in extremely nasty ways. The notion of policy making as screwing our children takes on a whole new meaning.

But then you get forced around to consider their point of view after what seems like an obvious moral choice..., well, I'm not going to tell you. You'll just have to watch.

What I will say is I'm on the edge on my seat waiting for Friday's concluding episode. eeeeeeeeeee!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Vince Foster was murdered!

I'm not sure, but I'm sensing that wingnuttia really is feeling its oats this summer. They think they have Obama on the run with sinking job approval ratings that "are even worse than they look" according to THIS guy.

Today Republican pol Vin Weber posited on the Diane Rehm show, paraphrasing, that Obama doesn't have enough chops to strike fear into opponents the way Ronald Reagan did. He's vulnerable.

They smell blood. Now on the attack, many denizens of wingnuttia are working to emphasize Obama is an elitist fraud. For example, here's a comment posted below the U.S. News columnist's item I cited above:

Enough Elitism!! This is still America!
IMPEACH OBAMA FOR FRAUD...FOR LYING TO THE AMERICAN PUBLIC SINCE HE WAS INAUGURATED...FOR BEING A RADICAL SOCIALIST WITH HIS OWN PERSONAL AGENDA, USING US AMERICANS AS HIS PERSONAL GUINEA PIGS TO SEE IF HE CAN PERSONALLY, ALONG WITH SAUL ALINSKY AND HIS OTHER FATHER FIGURES AND MENTORS, CHANGE AMERICA FOREVER...ALL TO BENEFIT THE FEW, THE POLITICIANS AND THEIR FAMILIES...ALL SO THERE CAN BE A BIGGER DIVIDING LINE BETWEEN THE HALVES AND THE HALVE NOTS...THROWING OUT THE MIDDLE CLASS AND OBAMA AND HIS FRIENDS BEING PART OF THE ELITIST CROWD, WITH US AS THEIR SERVANTS...LITTLE WORKER BEES BEING FORCED TO GIVE TO THE COMMON BANK ACCOUNT, ALL TO BE RAIDED BY THE ELITISTS FOR THEIR OWN GAIN AND POWER...MONEY BEING DOLED OUT AS FAVORS FOR MORE POWER, WHILE US WORKER BEES KEEP ON TOILING AWAY, HOPING THAT IN 1 YEAR, WE TOO CAN SEE A DOCTOR FOR OUR BACK PAIN, HOPING THAT WE TOO CAN PUT FOOD ON OUR TABLES FOR OUR OWN CHILDREN TO EAT, HOPING THAT SOMEHOW, WE TOO CAN AFFORD TO GET OUR CHILDREN TO COLLEGE...FAST BECOMING THE ELITISTS PLAYGROUNDS AS THEIR OWN CHILDREN GET IN NO MATTER WHAT GRADES THEY GET, BOUGHT AND PAID FOR BY DADDY AND MOMMY OF THE SOCIALIST ELITIST CLASS OF POLITICIANS AND THEIR GREEDY, POWER HUNGRY FRIENDS.
Meanwhile, the airways are full of THIS sort of thing, via the Media Matters YouTube channel, "Time for this bitch to shut up", "Obama makes private medical insurance illegal", blah, blah.

Now for crazy: a "birther" attacks Republican Congressman Mike Castle, via Digby, HERE. That's extreme core lunacy strong enough to send even the deepest 9/11 conspiracist running for cover. Of course, just like Bush/Cheney enjoyed watching 9/11 conspiracy distract opposition, birther madness probably delights the current White House.

I'll say this, however. I'd share the "elitist" critique of Obama in the sense that the Administration has shown itself to be friendly to high executive pay, policies designed to re-inflate the Wall Street bubble, huge Pentagon budgets with massive wars attached, and preservation of the parasitic health insurance finance system. So what's going to happen? Will Republicans figure out how to direct the lunacy to their own advantage? Can they again position themselves as anti-elitist and find themselves a flag bearer for that purpose? Palin?

My opinion is that the Obama White House only will respond to broad public concerns if faced by mass protest with a focused message naming the actual elite shenanigans. We better figure out how to do that. Otherwise wingnuttia and its lunatic faux populism will lead the Republicans back in 2010 and 2012.
This is a brief message explaining how you may navigate the blog for nature photography only. Click the chickadee at right to see just the pictures. Then any subsequent click on a Monthly Archive will show you just the pictures from that month. Nice!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Dirigo Blue has hit the streets. I've been the editor for Turn Maine Blue for almost two years, but am not the owner, and did not have overall control of that site. This meant that when the site was down, like it is now, I was unable to do anything except contact the owner - who is often unreachable.

Politics being what it is, this came to be unacceptable, and so I've created a new site that in large part will be much the same as TMB is/was. Dirigo Blue is hosted by SoapBlox, and the user interface is the same, as will much of the information available. I'm still working on some issues regarding color, layout, etc., but hope to have all that resolved by the weekend.

Those interested are welcome to sign up and post their own thoughts, or comment on posts by others. There is also a calender for upcoming events.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Not a dove. He was for the war before he said it couldn't be won. Having seen War Made Easy, I recall the footage of Cronkite celebrating the bombers Solomon mentions. In fact it was the first thing I thought about when I'd heard he died and while his famous February 1968 quote,
Walter Cronkite: But it is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out then will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy and did the best they could.
played over and over.

This doesn't diminish my admiration for his deep questioning on nuclear weapons during his later life (previous post). People are complicated. Life is complicated.
U.S. arsenal caused Cronkite deep worry

In the flood of reports and stories on the passing of the great newsman Walter Cronkite, I barely see mention that in his later years he campaigned on behalf of nuclear disarmament.

"Frankly, I'm worried," he said in 2005 during a 3-minute audio commentary you may play below, "It seems that the United States and the other nuclear weapons states are trying to evade their obligations and responsibilities under [the] critical Non-proliferation Treaty."

The commentary was part of a radio documentary on the six decades since Hiroshima that was produced by Reese Ehrlich and distributed by Public Radio International (PRI). You may find a link to play the full audio from this excellent program at that link.

Play the 3-minute commentary here:


A written version is HERE.
Walter Cronkite (2005): The survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki ? the hibakusha ? have continually warned, "Nuclear weapons and human beings cannot coexist." In the end, I believe this is the most important lesson of Hiroshima. We must eliminate nuclear weapons before they eliminate us.

The best security, perhaps the only security, against nuclear weapons being used again, or getting into the hands of terrorists, is to eliminate them. Most of the people of the world already know this. Now it is up to the world?s people to impress the urgency of this situation upon their governments. We must act now. The future depends upon us.

Anything less would be to abandon our responsibility to future generations.
The U.S. peaked in 1970


"Drill baby drill" all you want, at best it slightly will slow the decline

The post referred to (click graph) develops the entire current world oil production and economic situation. Here's the money quote:
The reason we need a growing economy for the debt system to work is the fact that a person can borrow from tomorrow, only if tomorrow is better than today. (This is especially the case if loans require the payment of interest.) But if tomorrow is worse than today, borrowing from the future doesn't work. Even if tomorrow is the same as today, the system doesn't work, if loans need to be paid back with interest.

The problem is that the economy cannot grow unless oil production is truly rising. This lack of growth in world oil production since 2005 is what is causing the debt collapse we are now seeing. This debt collapse is in turn giving rise to the demand destruction we are seeing currently. Since oil production cannot rise in the future, it seems to me that we are going to see a continuing unwind of the credit bubble that was made possible by rising oil production. Without credit, people will be unable to buy cars and houses. Businesses will be unable to finance new investment, and we will see greater and greater demand destruction.
It's a grim assessment--borrowing against the future is no longer possible because limit on essential liquid fuel energy constrains the growth required to pay those debts.

Yikes. See also HERE and HERE for more. The first link (by the same author ref. above) lists countries with their year-to-year change in oil production rate. Very few are in the "growing" camp.

The second is a penetrating analysis on futures markets and quantification of finite resources with fiat money. This gets straight to the heart of the matter about why the bubble-inflation style of finance capitalism U.S. elites insist on preserving has as its Achilles Heel the erosion of cheap sources of energy resource commodities. It's very useful for understanding the long-term global economic context.
The erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and the political fabric of America. --President Jimmy Carter, July 1979
Seen Sunday at Orono Bog

White Fringed Orchid
White Fringed Orchid in light filtered by the woods of the upland zone; these are endangered in southern New England, but a lot of them were to be seen in Orono yesterday.

Rose Pogonia
Rose Pogonia; not the best view or light in this shot, but my other frames were not sharp enough.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Cuke blossom 7-17-2009
Cuke blossom

After a half-decent weekend, midweek went cold and dank again. I'm surprised the garden hasn't just rotted. Maybe it's because a little sun comes out just in the nick of time, like it did this afternoon. But forecast for tomorrow? Two to three centimeters of rain. And there is no day in the next ten with a forecast for over 26 C (about 78 F). This garden will struggle to produce.
In light of THIS item from Huffington Post, "Real Health Care Reform -- Not Short-Sighted Take Backs", by Edwin D. Hill, International President of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), and THIS diary at Turn Maine Blue, I'm posting below a detailed article on the labor situation at CMP from the Summer 2009 issue of Solidarity News (published by Food AND Medicine/Eastern Maine Labor Council, May 20, 2009). H/T "The Electrical Worker" for posting and Gerald for promoting the diary at Turn Maine Blue.

Union workers balk at benefit cuts at CMP
Solidarity News | Summer 2009
For its back-slapping joy upon passing the TARP bailout bill last fall.


The Goldman-Sachs Re-inflation Act overjoys its campaign-funds recipients

Remember last fall when members of Congress were being told "there would be martial law in America if [they] voted no"? Well, it turns out that real risk was that Goldman-Sachs would not be able to continue to rule the world.

"Breathtakingly arrogant," according to Mike Lux, "they should have the Justice Department investigating them for anti-trust violations and all manner of stock manipulation," he wrote at Huffington Post today.

See this stunning segment from Grit TV w/Laura Flanders including Lux, Matt Taibbi, and Rob Johnson:


Oy.
The struggle vets returning from often multiple tours face just begins when they get home. That is discussed in devastating detail in an hour-long talk given a couple of months ago by Aaron Glantz and broadcast recently by University of California television. UCTV is available locally if you have Dish Network. There will be several re-broadcasts over this coming weekend. Or, just watch the full program on YouTube:


Author Aaron Glantz reported extensively from Iraq during 2003-05. His book, The War Comes Home, is the first systematically "to document the U.S. government's neglect of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan."

Here are two quotes readers of this blog and its precursors may remember:
The Owl, March 2003: This war will perhaps be the worst cynical betrayal of the fighting men and women in the military in U.S. history. The American people need to know that it is only the peace movement that truly supports the troops. The only troop support that means a damn thing is stopping the war in the first place. This is a strong statement given the experience of Vietnam and the first Gulf War, but I believe that this is true. Our troops will be thrown into a battlefield where they will be exposed to deadly toxins. The deleterious effects on our troops and the Iraqi population of extensive use of depleted uranium munitions in the first Gulf War is only now coming to light. The new war will feature a ten-fold increase in the release of these toxins. A great deal of information on the suffering of our own veterans may be found at this website: http://www.veteransforcommonsense.org/.

The imperialism of Bush and his lieutenants is a BETRAYAL of the troops and the American people, while they engender a false image that American troops do not care about human life. This image of our troops as storm troopers enforcing imperial policy, like it or not, will take a quantum leap in currency after an attack on Iraq. We will have lost any remaining legitimacy we have in using our military might against actual terrorists (not that I agree this has been the U.S. aim at any point, but post-9/11 legitimacy in the eyes of the world will have been squandered totally). None of this weight do I want our great country, our troops, and all of our people to have to bear.
This one perhaps gets to the issues vets would soon face even more poignantly:
Stan Goff, Orono, Maine, November 2005: I don't think any of us want to get to the point where we can clearly demonstrate that Iraq is Vietnam. We don?t need another wall with 58,000 more names on it. We don't need another generation that melts down in the face of this war. And we're already seeing it happen?.Some of us who have lived to my age, or maybe even a little older--we were so hopeful that this would never happen again--that we would never do this to another generation of young people?. And we're doing it right now,? you know,? we're doing it right now. We're killing 'em, we're maiming 'em, we're sending 'em home crazy. And we're not doing anything for 'em when they get back. It's the same thing again.
There is no credit taken here for predicting the future. If anything, the picture Aaron Glantz paints is far more devastating than any of us predicted.

But now President Obama and Secretary of Defense Gates are escalating the war in Afghanistan and want an expansion of the Army by 30,000 troops. Very little is happening to resist. Our peace groups are engaged in some protest planning, but it's very, very quiet so far. It is hard to engage protest against a president in whom many folks want to believe, even though they steadfastly were anti-Bush. Meanwhile, the stories of escalation and civilian killing on one end and despair of vets on the other are afterthoughts on the news, if they are reported at all.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Nukewatch held a symposium, July 1979 in Madison, Wisconsin:

Nukewatch 1979 program cover
Cover of special July 1979 Nukewatch program issue of The Madison Press Connection. The Press Connection was an independent publication of striking newspaper workers, in print from 1978 to 1980.

I have written before in two places about a formative event from my youth. The set of memories it produced are still among those I draw on when confronting issues of war and peace and the realities of the nuclear era that have intersected my entire life. I wrote about this five years ago, HERE, and last spring on the thirtieth anniversary of the Three Mile Island nuclear partial meltdown, HERE.

Below I quote what I wrote previously about Nukewatch and Three Mile Island, plus I include first the lead newspaper story from the Nukewatch/Press Connection program issue from July 1979, something I found in a box just last week:

Why Nukewatch? Why now?
In March of this year, a remarkable series of events occurred that had the potential to dramatically alter the American public's perception of the nation's nuclear power and weapons programs.

The near meltdown of the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania made citizens in every corner of the country aware that nuclear power rests precariously on the brink of disaster. [continued below...]

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Caution: graphic details of a mass killing


In this lengthy segment from Democracy Now! for July 13, 2009, an extended excerpt from Afghan Massacre: Convoy of Death by Irish filmmaker Jamie Doran is included. The description of what happened to perhaps 2000 prisoners of an Afghan warlord and U.S. ally, General Abdul Rashid Dostum, who were packed into shipping containers near Mazāri Sharīf in November 2001 is chilling and sickening.

General Dostum was closely allied with U.S. Special Forces during the first U.S.-Afghan war in the Fall of 2001. That was interesting considering he had been closely allied with the Soviet Union during its occupation of Afghanistan two decades ago.

I won't rehash the story of how Dostum massacred the prisoners, told very capably on Democracy Now! yesterday, HERE. But I will say that it's quite instructive that now all of a sudden there is some interest in this and how the U.S. war was fought during November 2001. It's a prime example of how a horrendous story of conduct of war even can hit a mainstream outlet in the U.S. yet still be deep-sixed by disinterest if the White House wants it that way.

In August 2002, Newsweek printed the explosive cover story, "The Death Convoy Of Afghanistan", by Babak Dehghanpisheh, John Barry, and Roy Gutman that led, "Witness Reports And The Probing Of A Mass Grave Point To War Crimes. Does The United States Have Any Responsibility For The Atrocities Of Its Allies?" The overall media response less than one year after 9/11 was a big yawn.

Perhaps the U.S. public mood at the time was none too sympathetic towards people of the Middle East and South Asia who are seen as irreconcilable hostiles. Even today, some commenters at an ABC News blog entry on the new probe into the killings may share the feelings of "Dan," who wrote,
...I have no problem with Dostum killing a couple of thousand Taliban fighters. If they were still alive, we'd either be fighting them in Afghanistan or arguing about what to do with them (as we're now doing with respect to the Guantanimo detainees). I remember reading about this in '02, thinking, "just as well". We'd probably have been better off if even more Taliban fighters had been eh "massacred". There is no reforming religious fanatics. ...
This kind of comment is pretty typical in America. The thinking goes something like this--we were wronged by bad people who fill a whole section of the world so it doesn't matter what we do over there, just so we kill and kill and kill and kill as much as possible in order to protect ourselves. You'll see this kind of thinking used again and again.

The investigation of the Convoy Massacre ordered by President Obama? As Glen Greenwald has written about the Obama approach, there seemingly is no transgression of law that politically is worth doing anything about. Obama is afraid of the jingoist consensus reflected in the attitudes described above. So like Greenwald, I'll believe there is justice when I see it.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Portland Head Light
Portland Head Light

Two Lights State Park
Mighty Atlantic at Two Lights State Park

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Guess which ones Obama is interested in investigating.

International law means nothing unless it is universal. That's exactly what it is not in U.S. eyes.
Yesterday without specificity a government report indicated that the Bush "Presidential Surveillance Program"
extended far beyond wiretapping without warrants
Perhaps the only truly damning indictments in the report are, as the New York Times puts it,
Most intelligence officials interviewed "had difficulty citing specific instances" when the National Security Agency's wiretapping program contributed to successes against terrorists, the report said.
And,
The initial authorization of the wiretapping program came after a senior C.I.A. official took a threat evaluation, prepared by analysts who knew nothing of the program, and inserted a paragraph provided by a senior White House official that spoke of the prospect of future attacks against the United States.
(Who might that be? Take the POLL at TMB)

The report points to confirmation of The Big Brother Machine, about which Mark Klein blew the whistle in Wired Magazine as early as April 2006, and in late 2007 on MSNBC Countdown and at a Congressional hearing.

But this report serves Obama's apparent purpose of making sure nothing ever is done about the illegality:
GREENWALD: Obama opposes all Congressional investigations into Bush-era crimes and, worse, is engaged in extraordinary efforts to block courts from adjudicating the legality of Bush's surveillance activities by claiming that even long-obsolete and clearly criminal programs are "state secrets"
The biggest joke of all in this story is the ?mind boggling? quote by Rep. Jane Harman (see the first link above). She mounted Bush on this Day 1 after the original NY Times story hit in Dec. 2005. Despite her posturing, she's never climbed down.

Obama? He was turned to favor telcom immunity last summer so that now his evident effort to sweep the illegality under the rug would be easier.

See also:

Consequences of telcomm immunity

Friday, July 10, 2009

Saccarappa Falls, Westbrook, Maine
Wet summer is cruel summer

It looks like this will be the first stretch of nice weather in weeks. I'll believe it when I see it. It is starting out okay, very pleasant in downtown Westbrook this evening.
Both the Kennebec Journal and the Bangor Daily News have called on FairPoint to pay its fines for providing lousy service to its wholesale telcom customers:

Fair for FairPoint
By BDN Staff | July 10, 2009
The intersection of private enterprise and public service is often problematic and messy, but the troubles that FairPoint Communications has encountered since taking over land-based telephone service in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont should not weaken the resolve of regulators to protect consumer interests. ...
The BDN makes the observation that there is no case for a wavier of fines for poor service, because "as far as is now known, a lack of staffing, planning and customer service response seems to be at fault."

FairPoint's relief shouldn't cost its customers
July 9, 2009
The news that FairPoint Communications has asked Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire regulators to waive almost $3 million in fines for poor service adds to the uneasy feeling that the company simply isn't up to the task of providing phone and internet service to millions of New Englanders. While FairPoint has asked for the waiver in order to strengthen its finances, the desperate request is more likely to lead to the conclusion that the company is edging toward disaster. ...
Short version: there is no reason to penalize customers because FairPoint tells the funny joke that its issues were "unprecedented and unforeseen." No disagreement here.

This is the key fact--FairPoint was unprepared to service its customers, contrary to its solemn promises during regulatory hearings prior to the sale.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Some former owners of condos demolished to clear land for the George W. Bush Presidential Library say in a lawsuit against Southern Methodist University that they were "defrauded of their homes."

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

It just keeps coming.

FairPoint actually is an essential interconnect for a lot of telecommunications service providers. They are now owed $hundreds of thousands in fines due to poor performance on the part of FairPoint. For example, "GWI, which has 20,000 customers in Maine, stands to receive more than $350,000 in penalties from FairPoint."

The cable ip phone providers have to connect to FairPoint too. You can't escape them.

This is a potential emergency situation. I do not wish any ill to our phone system or the workers who run it. Being one, I certainly want to see good service for Maine telephone customers. There better be a serious mitigation plan to avoid a collapse. PUC, are you listening?
Twenty-five years ago today, a man in Bangor was beaten, thrown off a bridge into Kenduskeag Stream, and left to drown because he was gay. The three teenage male perpetrators laughed as they drove away, according to their 17-year-old female companion. If that was not depraved indifference, I don't know what is.

The three received light juvenile sentences. I have no idea where they are now.

This was the year I was living in Clinton, Maine (about 50 miles down I-95). My job at the time was teaching high school science in the Waterville area. Thinking back, this was quite an important event with respect to my own thinking, as it was for a lot of people around here.

Afterward, two things happened with me. First, I became more vigilant in confronting the type of remarks my teenage students would make against gay people. I realized that the types of deep attitudes reflected in these remarks led to the tragedy on July 7. Second, I woke up to the fact that sexuality is political. That was not at all how I operated up to then. Sure, I knew people who participated in the University Wilde-Stein group, but I pretty much steered clear of the associated politics. Heck, I pretty much steered clear of gay culture entirely even though I've lived in big cities including Minneapolis and Chicago. That detachment and skittishness ended for me in 1984, as it did for a lot of people.

Not long after, I saw the astonishing documentary film, Before Stonewall. This film was made about the same time Charlie Howard died. (The 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots passed just over a week ago, see below for video from two excellent broadcasts on the topic.) Suddenly I realized that I worked with many gay people. All anybody really wanted in work and social relationships was just to be treated the same as everyone else. I was done being skittish about seeing people of the same sex display affection, but I realized that there would be an awful lot of work to do.

Certainly things have changed a vast amount. Maine has a law signed by Governor Baldacci that makes same-sex marriage legal and recognized by the state, as it should be. But the sad truth is there will be a repeal fight over this great new law. The attitudes that led to Charlie Howard's death still exist in our community (look at a few of the comments under the BDN story). There is still an awful lot of work to do. Mosey on over to Equality Maine and help them every way you can. I am.

How'd you like to invest in something that the government has set up so that it is guaranteed to rise in price over time? That's what the carbon cap and trade would do with carbon credits--insure their increasing value by making them scarcer going forward. And both the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and Goldman-Sachs just love the idea!

Monday, July 06, 2009

Hey, I picked it up!
Atrios asked a pertinent question today, What Are We Doing There?, on the occasion of the death of Vietnam architect Robert S. McNamara. McNamara famously used hindsight to re-evaluate the War while making a few apparently repentant gestures during the remainder of his life after government service, as portrayed in the Errol Morris film, The Fog of War.

Getting an answer to that question--What are we doing there?--requires, I believe a deep run through U.S. history and close observation of what the U.S. actually is building with the 12-figure War Supplementals that seem to sail through Congress no matter which party is in charge. I looked inside the last one a bit HERE, and the one previous HERE. These things are laden with money for base construction, special forces/covert war, training and equipping puppet armies that will attack their own people, and tons of other "sweeteners" thrown in to make sure enough Congresspeople will vote for them.

To complete the answer requires an explanation of what happens once these appropriations are made. Fortuitously a John Pilger interview broadcast today on Democracy Now! provides a pretty accurate such picture.

Pilger explains that the Obama Administration has created a "historic disaster" with it's "AfPak" adventure. According to Pilger, "up to 2 million refugees in Northwestern Pakistan" have been "caused by the attacks by the Pakistanis government, egged on and paid for by the Obama administration."

Pilger decries the use of "electronic battlefield weapons such as drones and other unmanned vehicles" and states that "drones have killed according to the Pakistani authorities, ... something like 700 civilians since the inauguration of President Obama."

The long-term goal?
John Pilger: The Afghanistan War, so called, is really about building as Gates, Robert Gates the Secretary has said, has virtually admitted, is about building a number of secured permanent bases throughout that country and reinforcing the major facility at Bagram. The United States has no intention of getting out of Afghanistan. It is building one of its fortress embassies in Kabul, just as it is building a $1 billion embassy in Islamabad, just as it has built an enormous fortress in Baghdad. Whatever happens to American ground troops who eventually, yes, will be withdrawn, will make no difference to the significance of the American presence, the American, the violent American presence in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and in Iraq. These are seen as places where the United States will have a permanent presence to be able to?a strategic position?where it will be able to monitor, and perhaps influence, and perhaps control the influences of its imperial rivals.
So it's about strategic control, especially with respect to "imperial rivals." Presumably this means European rivals, China, Russia, Iran, maybe even India. This area will be the nexus of resource struggles of coming decades. The U.S. appears to be planning to be ready.
Bruce K. Gagnon has this interesting information today:
Bruce Gagnon: The drone market is exploding and there is an effort underway to turn Brunswick Naval Air Station into a UAV testing center after the base closes next year.

Informed sources tell us that the plans for Maine include drones from BNAS flying up and down the Maine coast peering at boats and people for "homeland security" reasons. [Maine Commissioner of Economic and Community Development] John Richardson has been a key proponent of this plan. Now is the time for Mainers to know about this and to speak up.
Bruce also links to THIS story today:

Top judge: 'use of drones intolerable'
Unmanned weapons are condemned by Lord Bingham as 'beyond the pale' | The Independent | By Robert Verkaik, Legal Editgor | Monday, 6 July 2009
The use of unmanned drones as weapons of war in conflicts around the world has been called into question by one of Britain's most senior judges. Lord Bingham, until last year the senior law lord, said that some weapons were so "cruel as to be beyond the pale of human tolerance".

In an interview with the British Institute of International and Comparative Law, Lord Bingham compared drones, which have killed hundreds of civilians in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Gaza, with cluster bombs and landmines.

His comments are bound to intensify calls for new international rules to protect civilian populations from arbitrary attacks launched by the pilotless craft.

Lord Bingham asked in the interview, which addressed the issue of the state being bound by the rule of law: "Are there, for example, and this goes to conflict, not post-conflict situations, weapons that ought to be outlawed? From time to time in the history of international law various weapons have been thought to be so cruel as to be beyond the pale of human tolerance. I think cluster bombs and landmines are the most recent examples.

"It may be ? I'm not expressing a view ?- that unmanned drones that fall on a house full of civilians is a weapon the international community should decide should not be used."
Bruce has up a video from a New Mexico teevee news report showing drone camera footage. It's an amazing report, mentioning that the pilots operating these killing machines from half-way around the world can "witness the aftermath in great detail" before knocking off for the day to "go to [the] kids' soccer game."

Indeed, "the aftermath." The report doesn't offer details, but they must be bad. After watching the little figures and seemingly toy-sized vehicles get blown to bits in the footage, it's little wonder the Air Force has "brought in more counselors and chaplains to help crews deal with particularly traumatic missions." Imagine how "traumatic" the missions must be for those upon whose heads the bombs are exploded!

Here's the bottom line as far as I'm concerned: The U.S. has invaded and occupied the lands in which it is chopping up innocent, defenseless people with these diabolical killing machines. Every decent citizen of the countries under attack now has the right to defend themselves against the U.S. and its allies. Of course, being vastly weaker in military equipment and technology will lead to extreme cost to these populations. Therefore, it is the duty of every decent American to protest our government's actions and stop these unnecessary wars, in order to prevent the loss of so many lives.

Some related posts:
Pink rose

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Know your bobblespeak (h/t Atrios):
Tucker: she wants a career in national politics but she's petty, vindictive, shallow and stupid

Stephanolpous: yes but what's the downside
THIS belongs in my sidebar if I could ever get around to a thorough update.
This Land is Your Land

Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion
Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion

The folksingers came down from the stage to sing the great song with everyone to finish out the show. The Solidarity 4th Celebration at the Labor Center in Brewer was very wet, but the people who stuck it out got a real treat.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

President Barack Obama:
Here's the problem, is that the way our health care system evolved in the United States, it evolved based on employers providing health insurance to their employees through private insurers. And so that's still the way that the vast majority of you get your insurance. And for us to transition completely from an employer-based system of private insurance to a single-payer system could be hugely disruptive. And my attitude has been that we should be able to find a way to create a uniquely American solution to this problem that controls costs but preserves the innovation that is introduced in part with a free market system.

I think that we can regulate the insurance companies effectively; make sure that they're not playing games with people because of preexisting conditions; that they're not charging wildly different rates to people based on where they live or what their age is; that they're not dropping people for coverage unnecessarily; that we have a public option that's available to provide competition and choice to the American people, and to keep the insurers honest; and that we can provide a system in which we are, over the long term, driving down administrative costs, and making sure that people are getting the best possible care at a lower price.

But I recognize that there are lot of people who are passionate -- they look at France or some of these other systems and they say, well, why can't we just do that? Well, the answer is, is that this is one-sixth of our economy, and we're not suddenly just going to completely upend the system. We want to build on what works about the system and fix what's broken about the system. And that's what I think Congress is committed to doing, and I'm committed to working with them to make it happen. Okay?
He's actually right about "disruption," but there's something he doesn't explain. That is, a transition to single payer would disrupt the flow of health premium cash onto corporate balance sheets thereby massively undermining the positions of a very small population of very rich players vested in financial markets on the basis of the flow of those premiums.

There is no reason at all Medicare can't just be opened to everyone. All the mechanisms are already in place, including the tax structure. There's not a wage earner in this country that wouldn't trade their large insurance deduction for a smaller amount that would appear as an increase in the Medicare portion of the payroll tax. It's asinine for President Obama to be swatting down this question with such a slippery, dishonest answer.

Friday, July 03, 2009

The annual labor celebration is at the Solidarity Center. Slaid Cleaves!

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Enhanced language techniques are in use at National Pentagon Radio.

To wit:
Nope, explosive reports on torture at Bagram, high seas piracy on the shores of Gaza, and massive war crimes at same do not see the light of day where they "start with the day's news."

There's a reason I've refused to send them money since 1993.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Told you so


Jack McKay and Steve Husson of Food AND Medicine warn against FairPoint in September 2007

A cloud of doom hangs over the northern New England land-line telephone carrier. Today in the news a changing of the guard is reported "amid money problems." According to a story in the Montpelier Times Argus, Vermont has "hired a law firm with experience in corporate bankruptcy cases" to prepare to deal with the shaky company.

Meanwhile, in a June 24 filing with the SEC, FairPoint itself seems to counter its own happy talk about improving service with a dose of heavy reality,

Form 8-K for FAIRPOINT COMMUNICATIONS INC, 24-Jun-2009
Regulation FD Disclosure, Other Events, Financial Statements and Exh
Item 7.01 Regulation FD Disclosure
The Company has a highly leveraged capital structure and has essentially fully drawn all borrowings available under the Credit Facility. In the future, the Company expects that its primary sources of liquidity will be cash flow from operations and cash on hand. Because of Cutover issues that have prevented the Company from executing fully on its operating plan for 2009, the Company's revenue has continued to decline. In addition, cash collections have remained below pre-Cutover levels, causing further stress on the Company's liquidity position. Should these factors persist, the Company may be unable or unwilling to make the October 1, 2009 interest payment on the Notes. If the Company is unable or unwilling to make the October 1, 2009 interest payment on the Notes, such failure would constitute an event of default under the Indenture as well as under the Credit Facility, in each case following the expiration of the 30-day cure period contained in the Indenture with respect to such payment. In such case the holders of the Notes and the lenders under the Credit Facility would be permitted to accelerate the obligations under the Notes and the Credit Facility, resulting in most or all of the Company's long-term debt becoming due and payable. In that event, the Company would be unable to fund these obligations.
None of this has stopped FairPoint from blitzing the media with cheerful ads, many about the great broadband service remote small businesses can get. Executives have been available as well, in THIS June 25 MPBN phone-in, for example.

I do not doubt the sincerity of FairPoint's desire to be a good phone/internet provider. We use them. I don't have many complaints about the dsl service we receive. The bills have been very messed up for months, but that has yet to require much effort on our part to straighten out. They do seem to be working on it without us bugging them.

But, as many critics warned in 2007, the financial terms under which the company was ushered in look to be exactly the losing proposition we all feared.

Update: Jeff Inglis at The Phoenix just now has out a new piece on FairPoint, "FairPoint watch: Making a quiet killing ? of itself and Maine's economy." Portland businesses can't get simple service orders fulfilled without a wait of "more than a month to transfer phone connections to their new locations." Oy.

Jeff also spoke with public advocate Dick Davies, leading to this interesting hint about what the future may hold if FairPoint does fail.
While Davies says bankruptcy is "clearly ... more than a remote possibility," he is hoping that FairPoint will be able to "stop those losses and get people to come back," so as to avoid another transition to a new owner, or the involvement of a federal bankruptcy court in the state's telecommunications industry.
Previous posts on FairPoint: