Skybox Buses

So I’ve been meaning to post about this for a while; it’s a petty thing, but still something that goes to the heart of my irritation (and I think other people’s) with the way government is run today.

Here’s a blurry snapshot I took at LAX last night as we waited for the parking shuttle:

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It’s a ‘LAX Flyaway’ bus, a service of the Los Angeles World Airports “…a unique system of four airports owned and operated by the City of Los Angeles.

And it’s registered in Wyoming.

Now it makes a lot of sense to register a commercial vehicle in Wyoming…which costs a flat $60/yr. In California the CVRA fee (assuming a 48,000 pound GVWR) would be $1,161 plus license and registration.

Commercial vehicles with appropriate permits are allowed to operate in California. So I’ll wager that we get a few dollars extra; but right now a City-sponsored transit agency is skirting state taxes in a way that would doubtless get a private bus line in trouble.

And the problem is that private citizens look at our political leadership playing the corners and we ask why it is that we don’t as well.

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Quality In Journalismismism…

This morning I read this article at Factcheck.org:

There’s no dispute that thousands of handguns, military style rifles and other firearms are purchased in the U.S. and end up in the hands of Mexican criminals each year. It’s relatively easy to buy such guns legally in Texas and other border states and to smuggle them across.

But is it true as President Obama said, that “More than 90 percent of the guns recovered in Mexico come from the United States?” No, it’s not.

Then, on my Blackberry, I read this in the LA Times opinion section:

Imagine, for a moment, that a drug war in the United States had claimed 10,000 American lives in a little more than two years, and that about 90% of the 16,000 military-style assault weapons captured from traffickers here were traced to gun dealers in Mexico. What would the reaction of the U.S. government be? And how would we respond if the president of Mexico, having campaigned on a platform to reinstate a ban on assault weapons, acknowledged that it would be too politically difficult to take on the gun enthusiasts?

I meant to blog something about it, but the LA Times bloggers beat me to it (talking about Obama’s assertion):

On his recently concluded first visit to Mexico as president, a week after telling Europeans that his country had been at times arrogant, President Barack Obama blamed his own country for providing 90% of Mexico’s recovered crime guns.

According to a report by the independent FactCheck.org this afternoon, that’s incorrect. By a, uh, long shot.

The president’s assertion, also cited by Mexican President Felipe Calderon during their joint news conference in Mexico City, and the reported inaccuracy seems likely to fuel the eternal American gun-control debate, especially as it relates to the U.S. role in Mexico’s deadly drug world.

Now on one hand, none of the many layers of editors managing LA Times quality knows how to use Google. On the other, someone at the LA Times does, but doesn’t read their own editorial pages.

I see some room for improvement here…

And as a sidenote, it would be really interesting someday to see some ‘nuance’ in the LA Times (or NY Times for that matter) positions on firearms…


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Tea Parties or Garden Parties?

So I was in the neighborhood, and stopped by during the runup to the South Bay Tea Party at Dockweiler Beach. I left about the time the speeches started, but wanted to get a checkup on the attitudes and temperatures of the crowds.

So, for starters, here are three pictures:

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It was crazy windy…

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And here’s the crowd:

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I talked to a decent number of folks, and I’ll post more as I have time to make sense of my notes. I tried to guesstimate the size of crowd, and realized I had no clue. The Dockweiler lot holds 2000 cars, and the north lot was completely full when I left, and the south lot was about half full. Not everyone was at the rally, but it was a horrible day to be at the beach unless you were a master kite-flyer.

So, a few comments about the crowd.

I was given a pamphlet on monetary policy that was printed by the John Birch Society. Who knew they were still around? A smattering of Ron Paul and Fair Tax bumper stickers, and the usual truck decorated with slogans on every body panel.

But the overwhelming impression from the people I spoke with was of normal folks; call it 20% ideolologs and crazies, and 80% whitebread.

There are two interesting questions that will determine the future of the movement – if it has one.

And that is whether those ratios stay the same or change, and which way they change if they do, And whether the movement retains it’s political independence – the initial speakers were incredibly careful to point out that they were reaching out to Republicans, Libertarians, and Democrats; there was an invocation in Spanish (which wasn’t all that well-received). The organizers are clearly trying.

Will they succeed, or will this become a GOP mailing list? I can’t begin to say. I have to say that there were no signs of professional organization; as someone who has done a little bit of organizing, I know better than to try and do something where they did it – directly under the takeoff runway of LAX. Hard to make speeches…

I heard the intros so can’t comment on the content of the speeches.

My own attitudes toward the movement are kind of muddled. On one hand, I don’t have a lot of space for the Ron Paul folks; I’m a libertarian liberal, but a liberal nonetheless.

On the other, there really is a reservoir of populist rage that’s building as the political and financial elites work to saw off the limb they are sitting on in the hopes that it will stay in the air without the rest of the country that has been supporting them.

A long time ago, I wrote this:

ARE THERE ANY LIBERALS IN THE SKYBOXES?

I’ve been thinking about ‘Liberalism’ (as opposed to Lockean ‘liberalism’) for a while – after all, I need to justify the title of this blog. I am trying to unify the examples of what mostly goes for Liberalism in this day and age, which I’m calling ‘SkyBox Liberalism’ ‘ which is v. different from what I’m promoting.

While the theory percolates, let me explain by example.

In the late 1970’s, I was a graduate student at UC Berkeley. It was good for me, got me almost exactly the job I wanted when I got out, and convinced me that none of my sons will go to mega-public universities as underclassmen.

While I was there, there was a small controversy that I followed. It involved the effort of the student government to evict from the student union one tenant, and to replace it with another. This is to me, the perfect example of SkyBoxing, and I hope that telling the story will help define what I mean.

In the 60’s in Berkeley, there was a movement to create a series of co-ops that would allow student-radicals to both generate jobs outside the hated-but-paying-their-rent capitalist system, and provide a living example that (for all I know) Trotskyite anarcho-syndicalism could triumph in the Belly of the Beast.

Most of these communal businesses failed mercifully quickly, as far as I know (this is all ancient history to me, so if I’m getting part of it wrong, drop a note). By the time I got there, there were two survivors – Leopold’s Records (‘Boycott Tower Records, keep Berkeley Free’) and the Missing Link bicycle shop.

Leopold’s was off-campus somewhere near Telegraph, but the bicycle store was a part of the mini-shopping area that was in the ASUC building.

The student government decided that they were going to evict it to make room for a small-electronics (Walkmen, stereo, calculators, etc.) annex to the Student Store. Why??

The small-electronics store could pay as much as $50,000 more in rent every year.

Now this is an appropriately cold-hearted landlord kind of decision to make. But the people making the decision weren’t sweater wearing conservative Young Republicans, driven by their vision of the purity of the market.

They were a bunch of New Left, ethnic-identity, progressive communitarian kind of kids.

Why did they want to make this decision? Because it would mean $50K a year more for their organizing budgets; $50K more in pork they could carve up in the hopes of building their perfect communitarian future.

Now I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time imagining anything more keyed to a progressive communitarian future than a cooperatively owned bicycle store. I mean, how much better does it get? Nonprofit. Cooperatively employee owned. Bicycles, for chrissakes. If you really wanted to educate people in alternatives to the ‘mass consumerist repressive capitalist paradigm’ (I think I got the buzzwords right), wouldn’t that be a good way to do it?

But reality couldn’t stand a chance against the cold need for this elected group to make sure that they and their friends were rewarded.

See it’s not about what you really believe in, in the SkyBox world – it’s about making sure you and your friends can be very comfortable while you think and write and feel very very seriously about it.

I’m not touting bicycles or co-ops right now (although there are things to say for both); it’s the fact that one group put their beliefs into practice in the world, while another made it a point to live comfortably while thinking really hard about making the world a better place.

One of those is a Liberal ‘ the other is doing something else, but is definitely doing it from a SkyBox.

The folks that ran ASUC are now running the country.

And people who are real liberals – people who care about the working class, about public goods – the people who think a coop bicycle shop is a good idea – should be as pissed off as badly as the cnservatives are.

And so I believe there’s a lot of room for this phenomenon to do more than become the Moveon.org of the GOP, and I’ll be as dissapointed if that happens as I was when Moveon became the party shills they are today.

Because we need to empty the Skyboxes out, not fight over who is sitting in them.

And if this is that kind of garden party … count me out.

Presidential Decisionmaking And Error

So in the post below, I expressed my unhappiness with people who – with no meaningful data – built a narrative critical of the White House. I claimed that they did so because they were more interested in selling a narrative than telling the truth.

I still believe that.

But…I’ve been contacted by someone who I reasonably believe has meaningful data, and who set out for me information that places the White House in a pretty bad position on this. I’ll leave it to others who can disclose sources to make more of a public issue of this – but I know enough now to question my own assertions.

It’s complicated, but I want to suggest that I was both right (that critics didn’t have enough information to make the partisan claims they were making) and wrong (in saying that the White House had performed well).

Sigh. Reality is a cruel bitch sometimes.

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What Obama Did Or Didn’t Do

There’s a wide variety of discussion on whether Obama did “good” in making the call that freed Capt. Phillips. There are two points I’d like to make in this…one is tactical, and one is political.

Tactically, there’s a pretty clear explanation of why Obama didn’t greenlight action until Saturday.

Because that’s when the SEALS showed up.

The operation to rescue Capt. Richard Phillips involved dozens of Navy SEALs, who parachuted from an aircraft into the scene near dark Saturday, landing in the ocean. The SEALs were part of a group of Special Operations forces involved in the effort, according to military officials.

The SEALs set up operations on the USS Bainbridge, which had been communicating with the four pirates via radio and had used smaller boats to make deliveries of food and water to their lifeboat.

Now why it is that we’d send ships out into that kind of environment without SEALS or Recon Marines on board, I’m not too sure (maybe because we don’t have enough of them).

But it kinda does make sense not to start a fight until the resources you need are in place.

Now the politics of this are kind of depressing.

Because what it suggest is that there are people whose position is – simply – that Obama can do no right (or no wrong).

There’s a word for people who take those kinds of positions.

Salesmen.

Now it’s perfectly respectable to agree or disagree with a lot of what Obama does. But when people suspend their independent judgment in favor of blind position-taking, we ought to call ‘em like we see ‘em.

Salesmen.

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Good For Obama, Good For The Navy…

From the Beeb:

Three pirates were said to have been killed in the operation to free Captain Richard Phillips, who had been held in a lifeboat for several days.

Capt Phillips is said to be unhurt and on the USS Bainbridge, a warship sent to track the pirates holding him.

He was taken hostage after pirates briefly hijacked his ship, the Maersk Alabama on Wednesday.

On Friday he failed in an attempt to swim free.

An unnamed US official told the Associated Press that Capt Phillips was freed in what appeared to be a swift firefight.

You know a decision like this went all the way to the top, and to their credit, Obama’s White House was willing to make the call. And – to the immense credit of the operators who carried the mission out – they were successful.

Good for everyone, and welcome home, Capt. Phillips.

Introducing Gummitch

So we have been keeping the cat “Formerly Known As Basement Cat” in the upstairs – bedroom/bathroom/office – while keeping the “normal cat” – creatively named ‘Kit’ – downstairs. So we decided to introduce them tonight, by bringing Gummitch downstairs in a travel case. Then letting her out.

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Kit ran away. They are not yet talking.

Gummich is exploring…sorry for the photo quality, I didn’t have time to set the camera up…

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Mo’ Hamsher Fun

I neglected to cover one point when I was mocking Jane Hamsher below…she concludes her screed with:

Right wing bloggers at the top of the food chain don’t have to worry about this dynamic, because they’re well compensated through a variety of means — and also conspicuously silent on the subject. It’s the toadies on the bottom who churn right wing propaganda for free who are whining, and they clearly don’t understand the financial structure that both traditional media outlets and liberal blogs are operating within.

Hmmm, let’s go to the record:

Technorati Top 100 Blogs (by influence) as of April 9, 2009

1. Huffington Post – Liberal, venture funded

17. Daily Kos – Liberal, ad funded

32. Andrew Sullivan – Liberal, The Atlantic

42. Think Progress – Liberal, Media Matters

45. Michelle Malkin – Conservative, ad funded

46. Talking Points Memo – Liberal, ad and grant funded

51. Pajamas Media (really, Instapundit) – Conservative, investor funded

53. The Corner – Conservative, National Review

56. Hot Air – Conservative, ad funded

63. Ben Smith – Moderate, Politico

65. Crooks And Liars – Liberal, ad funded

76. Glenn Greenwald – Liberal, Salon

96. Powerline – Conservative, ad funded

So we’ve got 7 liberals, 4 conservatives, and 1 moderate. Of the liberals, 2 are ad funded – 29%. Of the conservatives, 3 are ad funded – 75%.

So when Hamsher says that ‘Right wing bloggers at the top of the food chain don’t have to worry about this dynamic, because they’re well compensated through a variety of means — and also conspicuously silent on the subject.‘ I guess she includes the Power Line guys’ income from practicing law…I wrote a long time ago that the top liberal bloggers tended to have been hired to blog, and that continues to be true – Hamsher’s dishonest comments to the contrary.

More Hamsher Funnies

Jane “Money” Hamsher seems a little defensive…and continues to be really, really funny.

She opens by blasting her critics

It’s staggering just how ignorant right wing bloggers are about how the business of media works, or business in general. Which wouldn’t be so ironic if they didn’t run around thumping their chests about the virtues of “free markets” and capitalism all the time. They only understand it through their own lens of blasting propaganda, and in characteristic wingnut fashion, are shrieking j’accuse! most loudly about the things they themselves are guilty of.

…plays the authority card…

As someone who actually has a business degree and has made a career of running media businesses, I wrote this in a comment over at Talk Left:

…and then jumps right into the stupid with both feet:

The reason the New York Times is around to do “earned” media is because they make revenues off of “paid” media. Everyone understands that, it’s just how business works in a capitalist system. And if you look at an advertising campaign for Toyota or Dove or Marlboro, they devote an increasing percentage of each campaign to online advertising. So it’s not like we’re asking anyone to participate in a system that has no benefit to them as advertisers.

The problem is that groups who send us their press releases expecting “earned media” just as they do the New York Times get the same “earned media” from us that they do from the New York Times. The difference is that they aren’t factoring us into their “paid” media budgets, and like the New York Times, without that, we don’t have a sustainable business model to keep offering “earned” media. As groups increasingly depend upon us as the only news outlets covering their issues (which we do without consideration as to whether they advertise with us or not), participating in a sustainable structure is something they need to be thinking about.

Look, I don’t have a lot of time to spend writing a basic handbook on journalistic ethics, but let me briefly offer up as an example the Los Angeles Times scandal which cost a publisher his job (here’s the Wikipedia summary):

The credibility of the Times suffered greatly when it was revealed in 1999 that a revenue-sharing arrangement was in place between the Times and Staples Center in the preparation of a 168-page magazine about the opening of the sports arena. The magazine’s editors and writers were not informed of the agreement, which breached the “Chinese wall” that traditionally has separated advertising from journalistic functions at American newspapers. Publisher Mark Willes also had not prevented advertisers from pressuring reporters in other sections of the newspaper to write stories favorable to their point of view.

I can’t find Otis Chandler’s great letter blasting the Times management online, but here’s the nut graf:

His successors, he said, had been “unbelievably stupid” and caused “the most serious single threat to the future” of the paper his family had bought in 1882.

See, Jane it’s like this. Readers are smart enough to know when the media they read is whoring for its advertisers; Newspapers firewall publishing and advertising from editorial for just that reason.

But you’re explicitly blending them; you’re not promising your readers a firewall, you and Kos are putting on little black dresses and hanging out at the bar at the Intercontinental hoping to make a buck.

I doubt that you’re stupid; so either you’re so blinded by selfrighteousness that selling out suddenly becomes perfectly OK when you do it – because of your superior moral sensibilities – or you’re just ignorant.

You choose and let us all know.

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