June 16, 2007

Some Things Should Not Be Political

Filed under: Other — PolitiCalypso @ 2:51 pm

I’ve been following this sorry saga for awhile now, because it’s so utterly typical of bureaucracy, yet thoroughly disgusting. Of all the places where public appearance should be less important than getting it right, the weather agencies should be near the top of the list–yet that seems to be changing. The Weather Service and NOAA seem to be reverting to the pre-1950s era.

In that period, tornadoes were not forecast. The word “tornado” was not used in weather broadcasts, and in fact was banned until 1938. The reasoning for this was that, since the weather agency was unable to forecast tornadoes with much accuracy, false alarms would create panic and make the agency subject to public condemnation. When a military base in Oklahoma, Tinker Air Force Base, began issuing tornado forecasts with a fair amount of accuracy, the Weather Bureau tried to get it to stop, claiming weather forecasting as its own domain. The only result was further public embarrassment, but also, a great advancement in tornado and thunderstorm research, from the necessity of producing a decent forecast.

Here’s what’s been happening a bit more recently.

The Quikscat satellite is a satellite that measures wind patterns, speeds, and directions at the earth’s surface. The satellite often reveals whether a tropical system has developed a closed circulation, which is a requirement for classifying it as a depression rather than an open wave. It also helps reveal wind speeds in tropical storms when they are too far away for the government to send planes to investigate. It’s a highly useful forecasting tool, one that the National Hurricane Center frequently cites in its tropical update products to justify a wind speed. Losing the satellite would result in a 16% decrease in the accuracy of tropical forecasts.

The government has been pushing to decommission the aging satellite without any plans for a replacement. National Hurricane Center director Bill Proenza hasn’t been too happy about this, and he’s made some outspoken comments to the media stating the need for a replacement satellite and his complaints with the appropriation of funds for meteorological research and weather forecasting.

In recent interviews with The Miami Herald and other media, Proenza has strongly criticized leaders of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for spending millions of dollars on a public-relations campaign when hurricane forecasters deal with budget shortfalls.

Within days, he got a letter from the acting director of the National Weather Service reprimanding Proenza for suggesting that the agency was in any way crippled by the loss of the satellite. The letter offered “constructive advice” on “how to go forward.” In a bureaucracy, this sort of “constructive advice” is usually backed with a thinly veiled threat.

The posturing hasn’t affected the other forecasters at the NHC, though:

Several forecasters and other staffers at the hurricane center have told The Miami Herald that they fully support Proenza, and his comments have earned compliments from many emergency managers and others.

Additionally, get a load of this. Two words in this demonstrate that it isn’t likely to be just typical bureaucracy in action:

Proenza said that on April 13, he was told by Louis Uccellini, a high-ranking weather service official: “You better stop these QuikScat [and other] complaints. I’m warning you. You have NOAA, DOC [the U.S. Department of Commerce] and the White House pissed off.”

The White House, huh? The same White House that organized the “Mission Accomplished” stunt? The same White House that botched the Katrina response? The same White House that stacked the Justice Department with political hacks and fired competent attorneys who didn’t pursue bogus cases of election-related fraud?

So let’s get this straight. After Katrina, the government spends “millions” on a P.R. campaign to make itself look good, while decommissioning a satellite that aids hurricane forecasts. When the director cries foul and raises Cain to the press about it, it gets the higher-ups, including the most notoriously political White House in history, angry at him, angry enough to issue warnings.

Bill Proenza had better hang on tight. It’s a good thing that this is being brought to light now, so that any attempts at firing him would prompt outcry and calls of foul play. He can outlast this.

After director Max Mayfield retired, there was concern over whether his replacement could possibly fill his shoes. But it seems that Proenza is exactly the sort of no-nonsense straight talker that past directors have been. Should the bureaucrats who value their own media reputation more than human life and property get their way, he’ll be replaced with yet another yes-man for a corrupt, sleazy administration. The forecasters and staff who supported him may be shown the door as well.

But the real price will be paid by the coasts.

June 12, 2007

The Ugly Truth: Mudcat Is Right.

Filed under: Politics — PolitiCalypso @ 12:36 pm

Anyone within the political blogosphere knows about the flap with Dave “Mudcat” Saunders, a TIME Magazine blogger who also happens to be associated with the John Edwards campaign. The post that started it all, “Go Ahead And Shoot At Me,” features a slam against websites that stereotype, mock, denigrate, and dismiss rural voters as being ignorant or racist.

Predictably, the flagships of the left-wing blogosphere cried foul. Sites such as Daily Kos, MyDD, and other prominent blogs posted wailing denials that they were guilty of what Mudcat accused them of. –And, to be perfectly fair, the authors of these blogs, for the most part, are innocent of ad hominem attacks on rural residents. However, the blogging community at large is GUILTY, GUILTY, GUILTY. And that’s the ugly truth.

I’m currently an “urbanite” in the Northeast and likely will remain so for the foreseeable future. However, my roots are in small-town and rural communities. I spent much of my childhood on a large, 10-acre property in the rural South, where the nearest city of 100,000 people was an hour and a half away. When I first was introduced to political discourse on the Internet, I was truly astounded by the utter disdain and contempt shown to rural people–specifically rural Southerners–by the online community. Left-wing bloggers and commenters used such expressions as “ignorant hicks,” “backwards,” “uneducated,” “closet racists,” “fundies” (religious fundamentalists), etc., to generalize about rural voters.

Let me illustrate:

Environmental Intolerance. On some large political blogs where Green (environmentally friendly) power and Green building are big issues, especially blogs with a large membership hailing from the Northeast or the Pacific Northwest where Green technology is widespread and growing, the members will smear rural communities with no choices other than the local Tennessee Valley Authority affiliate, which, generally, does not provide Green power. It’s not limited to carbon-friendly policies, though; they’ll attack people who don’t eat organic foods because their local supermarkets do not carry them. They’ll attack people who live in energy-inefficient housing because they have no alternative. Mitigating circumstances, such as having no alternative choices, don’t seem to matter to these people. If someone does not fit their prescribed acceptable lifestyle, out come the attacks. Mudcat Saunders was talking about precisely this sort of intolerance when he posted on the TIME Magazine blog, and he is absolutely correct.

The “Commuting” Flap. When Hillary Clinton proposed a nationwide speed limit of 55 mph, there was, predictably, uproar among people in areas where driving 65, 70, or, in the desert West, 75 mph is not just a non-issue, but is almost a necessity because of the large amounts of open space. These people who objected to that sort of policy were deemed “part of the problem” (the problem being carbon emissions). If the objectors said that they needed to drive fast because they were rural and had long commutes, the proponents said, flippantly, “you should just move to the city.” The utter disdain and contempt for people who lived in small towns and rural areas was staggering.

The Dean Campaign. Let me make it perfectly clear: I like Howard Dean. I like what he’s done. And I have no problem with former Dean campaign staffers or consultants; in fact, I work with several. But a lot of the left-wing bloggers were supporters of the Dean campaign and never really got over his loss in Iowa and New Hampshire. After he came in third in Iowa, these loudmouths took it upon themselves to attack the voters in Iowa as “corn-fed hicks” or worse. The Dean campaign’s Iowa operation included a LOT of volunteers from the East Coast, and the reports from Iowa are that many of these volunteers were so obnoxious, condescending, and in-your-face that Iowa voters got fed up with it and associated it with Dean himself. In other words, these former campaign volunteers-turned-lefty-bloggers are themselves responsible for the demise of the campaign with the condescension that they showed the Iowans, but they blame it on “corn-fed hicks” who just didn’t know their own good.

Taxes, Allocation, and Demographics. It’s a known fact that “red states,” those states whose electoral votes went to Bush in 2000 and/or 2004, take in more federal tax money than they contribute, and that the contributions typically come from “blue” states. And I agree that it’s deeply ironic that many people in those states vote conservative because they claim to hate taxes and federal handouts. This hypocrisy is a source of continued derision on the part of the left-wing blogosphere for the rural South in particular. Some even go so far as to say that “we should’ve let the South secede” or “we should let the South form a separate country.” After the 2006 elections, there was a very prominent diary on the blog Daily Kos that stated that the South should be ignored and disregarded from that point on, because it wasn’t necessary to win elections. Mathematically, this is true–all that was required in 2004 were the electoral votes of Ohio, which were lost only because of massive fraud perpetrated by the (now known to be criminal) Ohio state government. But it’s a BIG difference between saying that such-and-such a state’s votes aren’t needed to win an election, and writing off the issues of that region… plus the people who live there.

The bloggers who advocate this should take some facts into account:

The Northeast voted Democratic by a margin of between 55 and 60 percent.
California and the Pacific Northwest voted Democratic by a margin of between 55 and 60 percent.
The South voted Republican by a margin of between 55 and 60 percent.
The West voted Republican by a margin of slightly greater than 60 percent.

Within any given state in these regions, selecting 10 people at random will result in a breakdown of 6 of them with the “majority” political affiliation for that region, and 4 with the “minority.” This means that there are a lot of “blue voters” in the South, who don’t deserve the blanket attacks made against residents of these states. It also means that there are an equal percentage of “red voters” in Democratic-leaning areas. These bloggers ignore these facts and refer to entire regions of the country in blanket terms, making the unspoken assumption that everyone within those regions thinks and votes with the majority. I don’t even need to say how false this is. No region is a monolith. All states are variations of “purple.”

However, I’m not meaning to suggest that only those voters who support the ideology of the current government should be given any consideration. That’s the point of view of the Bush administration. Surely the left-wing blogosphere is better than that…? Whether one is conservative, moderate, liberal, or for that matter, apathetic, they’re still an American under the Constitution and deserve the protections of that document and the United States Code. Some bloggers seem to have lost sight of this.

Hurricane Katrina Victims. Some time back I wrote a piece about Mississippi homeowners and the insurance industry and cross-posted it to Daily Kos. The response I got disgusted me: Daily Kos commenters accused the homeowners of deliberately building in disaster zones for the purpose of defrauding the taxpayers and the insurance industry, which in turn would raise their taxes and insurance premiums. All the blogosphere sympathy for New Orleans didn’t carry over eastward to Mississippi. No, as far as these people were concerned, the homeowners were to blame and it was just tough luck to them. I do not doubt that there was a strong element of rural and/or “red state” prejudice in their remarks.

So, no matter how much they wail and gnash their teeth that Saunders was being unfair to them in his blog post on TIME, this doesn’t change the fact that his allegations are true. The facts are out there. On the Internet, nothing goes away as long as there’s a server that has a copy of it, and it doesn’t take that much research to find many examples of the sort of commentary that I’ve noted here.

I am sure it is difficult to relate to people who live in a completely different manner than what one is used to. In the book To Kill a Mockingbird (set in a small town in Alabama, incidentally), progressive lawyer Atticus Finch advises his children not to judge anyone until they’ve walked a mile in their shoes. It’s a lesson that many people on the Internet could learn.

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