Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Brooklyn Dodgers Almost Stayed

O'Malley vs. Moses: Dodgers Leave New York

Children in Brooklyn learned to hate Walter O'Malley. Their hatred was dark and personal, for O'Malley had ruined their lives. He had taken the Dodgers away to Los Angeles before many had gotten a chance to see them, and follow them, and love them.

After O'Malley abandoned Brooklyn, many grew up believing that if he not done this terrible thing, Brooklyn would have been a better place. O'Malley was not just any villain. He was Brooklyn's villain. He was the man Pete Hamill and Jack Newfield placed in their own triumvirate of evil, along with Hitler and Stalin. But, as people began to learn more about O'Malley and about the circumstances of the Dodger's departure, they began to discover that perhaps, perhaps -- Pete and Jack notwithstanding -- Brooklyn's hatred was misplaced.

"Could Brooklynites have been hating the wrong man all these years?" - asks Michael Shapiro, author of The Last Good Season in a New York Times article.

Although the team was doing well, by the 1950s Ebbets Field was deteriorating. The plumbing was horrible, and the walkways sometimes smelled like urine. Over the years, seats had been added to increase the capacity of the park, which caused crowding. The fans were so close to the field that they could talk to the outfielders, and so close to each other that it was possible to hear almost anything said in any part of the ballpark.

The condition of the stadium, along with the growing popularity of television and radio, hurt attendance at Ebbets Field. Even during the Dodger's 1955 championship year, Ebbets Field averaged only 13,400 fans per game, the lowest level since 1945. Another factor that was blamed for causing the drop in attendance was racial tension. When Jackie Robinson joined the Dodgers, many African-Americans came to see him play. Some felt that this increased tensions in the ballpark, and drove families away.

However, on the other side of town, the New York Yankees were drawing huge crowds in their ballpark. Yankee Stadium, in the south Bronx, was in a location riddled with even more racial conflict than Brooklyn.

The real issue was access. Yankee Stadium is easily accessible by subway or highway. Yankee Stadium also has plentiful and convenient parking for its fans. Ebbets Field, on the other hand, was not easy to get to for the many who had moved from Brooklyn to Long Island after World War II, and there was little parking.

Owner Walter O'Malley decided the Dodgers needed a new stadium. In 1952, he invited industrial designer Norman Bel Geddes to help design a new stadium to replace Ebbets Field. The New York Times described his plans as being "a grandiose order."

They included "a retractable roof; foam rubber seats; heated in cold weather; a 7,000 car garage from which fans can proceed directly into the ballpark; hot dog vending machines, providing dogs with mustard, positioned throughout the stadium; a new lighting system minus the existing steel towers; and instead of grass, a field covered in a synthetic substance which could be painted any color."

The project was derisively called "O'Malley's Pleasure Dome." O'Malley had the money to pay for the ballpark, but he needed a location from the city in which to put it. He had a site in mind: the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues. But obtaining it required the help of Robert Moses, one of the most powerful men in the city. Walter O'Malley needed his help if the Dodgers were to stay in Brooklyn.

Robert Moses

The land O'Malley wanted for the new stadium -- at the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues -- was part of a proposed redevelopment project a little over a mile from Ebbets Field. It was currently occupied by a Long Island Rail Road Depot, Fort Greene Market, and number of other small businesses.

The land was too expensive for O'Malley to buy himself. He needed the condemnation power that Washington had granted Moses under Title I of the Federal Housing Act. Moses, as Slum Clearance Commissioner, had the power to determine where new housing would replace tenement housing, and where school, parks, hospitals, and libraries would go. The Federal Housing Act was intended to eliminate urban slums by giving local agency funds to purchase property and sell it to conform to a larger "public purpose."

So O'Malley turned to Moses, asking him to sell him the Atlantic-Flatbush site under Title I. Moses, however, replied that the ballpark was not a Title I project, and did not fit under the category of for a larger "public purpose." Moses had the ability to make the stadium a Title I project and did not.

However, Moses did not reject the proposal because he did not feel that it fell under Title I, but because he simply did not care about Brooklyn or the Dodgers. Moses saw Brooklyn as a single borough in a vast city, and he cared little about spectator sports. He was more interested in creating more parks for picnicking and swimming, roads to travel on, and public housing.

In January of 1957, Walter O'Malley issued an ultimatum: "Unless something is done in six months, I will have to make other arrangements. There is still a short time left before we could be forced to take an irrevocable step to commit the Dodgers elsewhere."

For more than four years, O'Malley had pursued Robert Moses, only to be frustrated time and time again. Moses truly did not want the Dodgers in Brooklyn. His vision was to have the Dodgers play at a city-owned stadium in Flushing Meadows, Queens. O'Malley moved the Dodgers to Los Angeles after the 1957 season. Ironically, the corner of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues in Brooklyn, where O'Malley dreamed of building his stadium, still stands undeveloped.

Friday, May 23, 2008

More Domestic Oil Production is Better

What the heck is Congress waiting for? Our best estimates suggest there are 180 billion barrels of oil or oil equivalent in and around the US beneath territory now off-limits to drillers. With all the anger of the export of jobs and the import of foreign goods, why do we export some of our best paying jobs while importing a commodity that will absolutely positively becme more expensive over time?

We've got lots of oil and gas reserves to tap. But it's getting harder to find and each discovery is smaller. That means it will take more work from more people to exploit our hydrocarbon resources. In other words, more paychecks for more people who will give Americans a product they must have. Moreover, our domestic oil workers are likely to produce enough oil to change the supply/demand balance to favor American consumers rather than our enemies who conspire against us through OPEC.

Oil Industry, Lawmakers Aim To Lift Bans on Drilling

Fears Over Supply Drive Push to Enter Protected U.S. Areas

Mounting concerns about global energy supply are fueling a drive by the oil industry and some U.S. lawmakers to end longstanding bans on domestic drilling put in place to protect environmentally sensitive areas.

Increasing U.S. oil production would require overturning decades-old moratoriums that limit offshore drilling and accelerating leasing of federal lands, moves that would trigger a swift and vigorous political backlash. Still, as gasoline prices continue to climb and squeeze household budgets, the momentum appears to be gaining to open up new areas.

Oil prices have soared 36% this year, though the price of a barrel of crude for July delivery settled at $130.81 on the Nymex on Thursday, down 1.8% from its record close Wednesday.
"These prices are making voters realize we need to produce [more] energy" domestically, said Rep. John Peterson, a Republican from Pennsylvania who is pushing legislation to open up new offshore areas for energy exploration. The U.S. imports two-thirds of its oil, though less than one-sixth of its natural gas, according to federal data. The rest is produced domestically.

A century and a half after oil production began, there is ample evidence that a lot of oil -- and natural gas -- remains to be found in the U.S. and its territorial waters. Some of those areas are wide open to oil companies, including most of the Gulf of Mexico where deep-water floating rigs now routinely drill wells hundreds of miles from shore. Even in the gulf, areas are off limits, including most of the waters off the Florida coast. The entire East and West Coasts are off limits for new drilling.

Last week, Exxon Mobil Corp. Chief Executive Rex Tillerson chided President Bush for asking Saudi Arabia to boost its production, while not doing more to increase production at home in the U.S., particularly off the coasts of Florida and California.

"There is no question in my mind that there is significant conventional resources available," Mr. Tillerson said in an interview last week. "If you are looking for larger fields, they will probably be found in the offshore areas that are currently off limits."

Those offshore areas are closed to exploration and drilling under congressional moratoriums and presidential executive orders that command broad support among elected officials in the politically powerful states of California and Florida. Opening these areas up could prove nettlesome.

Little data exist about how much oil and gas might be found under the waters now closed for exploration. Federal agencies are prevented from doing rudimentary geological surveys in most areas to pinpoint areas of interest. The last time the industry shot seismic imagery was in the 1970s when this widely used search technology was in its infancy.

Other promising areas onshore also are off-limits. In a report last week, the federal Bureau of Land Management stated that at current U.S. consumption levels there are four years worth of oil and 10 years worth of natural gas under federal lands. However, more than 90% of that energy was under lands either closed to development or open with significant environmental restrictions. The federal Minerals Management Service said an additional three years worth of oil and gas is in offshore areas where drilling isn't allowed.

"People have no idea what kind of resources might be out here," said Duane Zavadil, vice president for government and regulatory affairs for Rocky Mountains producer Bill Barrett Corp. He said his company could double or triple its production growth if regulatory hurdles were relaxed.

Critics of the land management bureau's report -- including some Democratic congressional leaders -- argue that it gives a false impression that more drilling will lead to lower gasoline prices. They note that drilling on federal lands has increased steadily during the Bush administration, even as gas prices have risen.

"We simply cannot drill our way to lower prices at the pump," Rep. Nick Rahall (D., W.Va.), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said in a written statement.

Environmental critics contend that new gas drilling in the Rockies requires densely packed wells, turning natural vistas into industrial landscapes. But others respond new horizontal wells allow the industry to drill a cluster of wells in a single spot to drain a large area, minimizing the area affected.

"It's undeniable the environmental impact is far less now than it was 25 or 30 years ago. The footprint is something like one-tenth what it used to be," said Kurt Gibson, deputy director of the oil-and-gas division of Alaska's Department of Natural Resources.

Examples exist of environmental groups and the industry finding middle ground to pave the way for exploration. In April, a consortium of environmental groups agreed to drop opposition to an oil development that would drill wells beneath waters off Santa Barbara, Calif., in exchange for several concessions from the oil company, including a promise to conclude production by 2023.

New drilling techniques also are driving production in places such as North Dakota's Bakken field, which the federal government estimated in 1995 held 150 million barrels. This year, an updated assessment put the figure at 3.65 billion barrels, said Brenda Pierce, coordinator of the U.S. Geological Survey's Energy Resources Program. "We have the potential to grow production," she said. "We just have to weigh it against all the consequences."

In Washington, Republican lawmakers and oil-industry lobbyists are arguing that opening restricted areas would boost supply and bring down oil prices. Critics contend not enough is being done to encourage alternative fuels and development of already-leased federal lands. Of the more than 45.5 million acres of federal land under lease, oil companies aren't producing oil or gas on 31 million acres.

"Why would we expect oil and gas companies to rush these new areas into production, when they are sitting on literally millions and millions of acres of existing leases without carrying out any production on them?" said Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D., N.M.).

This snail's pace is leading some to try to wrest back existing leases. Alaskan officials are locked in a legal battle with Exxon, BP PLC and Chevron Corp. to reclaim leases on a North Slope oil-and-gas field that is estimated to hold eight trillion cubic feet of natural gas and hundreds of millions of barrels of oil. The companies acquired the leases decades ago but have yet to produce oil or gas. Exxon, which holds the largest interest in the field, has said in the past that it hasn't drilled because there is no pipeline to move the gas to market.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Investment Ideas from the Undisputed Champion

Food, banking, refrigeration equipment and healthcare looked like areas of opportunity to Warren Buffett in the first quarter of 2008. He thinks at least one railroad will increase its earnings and stock price too. That's judgment you can trust. No securities analyst in history has maintained such a sharp eye for opportunity over as many years. For anyone who wants to take the worry out of investing, the best strategy is following Buffett's lead.

Buffett's Berkshire Boosts Kraft, Wells Fargo Stakes

May 16 -- Billionaire Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc. took advantage of falling share prices in the first quarter to boost stakes in Kraft Foods Inc. and Wells Fargo & Co.
Buffett also increased holdings in Ingersoll-Rand Co., the refrigeration-equipment maker, and health insurers UnitedHealth Group Inc. and WellPoint Inc., according to a regulatory filing yesterday by Omaha, Nebraska-based Berkshire. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index declined 9.9 percent in the first three months of the year.

"If a stock goes down 50 percent it doesn't bother me in the least,'' Buffett told reporters earlier this month after Berkshire's annual shareholder meeting in Omaha. "If we're going to be buying things, we want to buy them on sale.''

Buffett, 77, built Berkshire from a textile manufacturer into a $200 billion holding company with a $72.6 billion stock portfolio by investing premiums from insurance units such as Geico Corp. and National Indemnity Co. Berkshire is the largest shareholder of Coca-Cola Co., Wells Fargo, Kraft and American Express Co. as of March 31, according to Bloomberg data.

Berkshire's holdings of Kraft, the world's second-biggest foodmaker, rose 4.4 percent since Dec. 31 to 138.3 million shares, according to the filing, which discloses U.S. equity investments as of March 31. Kraft shares fell 5 percent in the first quarter.

Kraft rose 11 cents to $32.04 at 9:57 a.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. Ingersoll-Rand increased 86 cents, or 1.9 percent, to $45.60. UnitedHealth climbed 35 cents to $32.05, while WellPoint gained $1.06, or 2.1 percent, to $50.94. Wells Fargo declined 57 cents, or 1.9 percent, to $29.03.

Wells Fargo

Berkshire's stake in San Francisco-based Wells Fargo, the second-biggest U.S. home lender, increased by 1.4 million shares to about 290.7 million. The bank averaged $29.74 on the New York Stock Exchange during the first quarter, about 9 percent lower than in the last three months of 2007, when Buffett increased Berkshire's ownership by 3.4 percent.

``He's putting more in the things he's invested in all along,'' said Frank Betz, a partner at Carret Zane Capital Management, which oversees $800 million including Berkshire shares in Warren, New Jersey. ``We'll see more of that; why reinvent the wheel?''

The filing reported no new companies in the portfolio, unlike the prior quarter, when Berkshire disclosed having built a stake of more than $4 billion in Kraft, or last year, when the company revealed it became the largest shareholder in railroad Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp.

Extreme Dislocations

Berkshire has spent $4 billion in the municipal auction-rate bond market, taking advantage of payouts that topped 10 percent after regular bidders fled, Buffett said at the annual meeting. Markets were so disrupted, he said, that bonds from the same issue were selling simultaneously from the same broker with yields of 6 percent and 11 percent.

``Those are extreme dislocations,'' Buffett said during a question-and-answer session with shareholders on May 3. ``Those are great times to make unusual amounts of money.''
Buffett will be in Europe next week meeting with owners of large family-run businesses as he looks to put $35 billion of cash to work.

UnitedHealth, WellPoint

Berkshire added to its stakes in the two largest U.S. health insurers in the first quarter as the shares fell. Holdings in Minnetonka, Minnesota-based UnitedHealth and in Indianapolis- based WellPoint increased by 6.7 percent each. WellPoint lost half its market value in the quarter while UnitedHealth tumbled 41 percent.

Buffett, the world's richest man according to Forbes magazine, is often mimicked by investors who follow his stock picks. Using that strategy for 31 years would have delivered annual returns of about 25 percent, double the return of the S&P 500, according to an academic study in 2007.
Berkshire disclosed a 47 percent increase in shares in Hamilton, Bermuda-based Ingersoll-Rand. Buffett's company had 936,600 shares as of March 31.

Buffett reported no holdings in Minneapolis-based Ameriprise Financial Inc. compared with more than 600,000 shares on Dec. 31. Berkshire had the stake from when the investment adviser was spun off from American Express in 2005.

Iron Mountain, Ameriprise

Berkshire cut its holdings of Iron Mountain Inc., the records-storage company, by 28 percent to 3.37 million shares.

Ameriprise fell 23 cents to $50.42. Iron Mountain fell 12 cents to $29.80.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Somebody Snitched

Is there any chance Al Sharpton will stop in Cleveland to organize a protest against the recent murder of a black citizen? No. Not a chance. Why? Because the murdered victim was killed by a lynch mob of angry blacks out to settle a score. Hence, there's no reason for Sharpton to intrude. However, at least someone had the goodness to ignore threats of retribution and dial the cops. Snitchin. The killers were caught.

Deadly mob beating unnerves Cleveland neighborhood

May 12 04:53 PM CLEVELAND (AP) - Even by tough, urban-crime standards it was a grisly attack: Up to 15 people chased a man, then kicked and beat him to death on the street. Before police arrived, one attacker urinated on the victim's head.

When the crime-hardened neighborhood awoke later that morning, two people reported a man lying on the pavement, his clothes being dragged off by his assailants.

"You got a male being assaulted by 15 other guys. He's laying on the street," one 911 caller said.
The April 27 attack on Charles Gooden Jr. happened in the most murder- ridden neighborhood in one of the nation's poorest cities. But it was also within a 10-minute drive of the city's skyscrapers, sports venues and tourist attractions.

Three suspects have been charged with aggravated murder. Police have not mentioned a motive, but they expect more arrests.

It wasn't always dangerous along East 117th Street, where the tulips bloom late because of the cool winds blowing off Lake Erie just a mile to the north.

"It used to be so quiet, and we were so blessed to live on 117th Street," said Irene Bennett, 78, who has lived there for 40 years. She is so used to gunfire and loud outbursts at night that she slept through the commotion of Gooden's slaying.

In retirement, she and her husband had hoped to enjoy simple pleasures: watching people pass by and planting flowers around their neatly kept home. But the violence in the neighborhood makes that impossible.

"You pay for your home. You work hard. You retire, and you want to enjoy, just come out on your porch and ... wait for the summertime to come," she said, shaking her head.

The attackers sent word that anyone helping police could face retribution, according to City Councilman Kevin Conwell. He described the assailants as gang members.

Conwell said the motive was based on an argument involving a woman and a threat by her cousin against Gooden, 41.

"He went to defend his malehood honor. He hit the cousin in the mouth. When that happened, the other gang members jumped on him," said Conwell, relying on information from police and neighbors.

Charged in the slaying were Latangia Anderson, 23, Johnny Brown, 20, and Paris Moore, 19, all of Cleveland. They were each jailed on $1 million bond.

None of the three defendants was able to afford an attorney. Lawyers were appointed to represent them. Moore's attorney, Michael Maloney, said he could not comment on the case. Attorneys for the other two did not immediately return calls from The Associated Press.
After the attack, a memorial of stuffed animals took shape outside the Bennett house because the slaying scene doesn't have a tree to anchor the display.

The display has dwindled but still has a stuffed dog with the label "Puppy love" and another with Gooden's nickname, Bud, written on it, according to Bennett, who knew Gooden when he was a youngster visiting an uncle down the street.

The uncle's house is now boarded up, along with many other neighborhood homes left dilapidated by poverty and drugs. There are a few newly renovated homes and two newer ones, one with barred windows. But in the once-lively commercial district around the corner, most stores are closed, except for a few barbershops or storefront churches.

The neighborhood is Cleveland's murder capital, according to police spokesman Lt. Thomas Stacho, and outsiders driving the streets risk getting pegged as people looking to buy crack cocaine.

Still, Gooden's death unnerved people here, including the 911 callers.

"They're stomping somebody and ripping their clothes off. You need to come," another caller said. "Like 15 of them beating the hell out of him."

The emergency dispatcher asked if an ambulance should be sent. "You better bring a stretcher, too," the caller replied. "Please hurry."

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mass Death in Burma

It is sadly ironic that the military junta ruling Burma -- Myanmar -- has stopped the US from delivering humanitarian aid to storm victims because the junta dislikes the fact that the US has accused the junta of committing human rights violations.

In other words, the US is the bad guy for trying to provide life-saving food and water to millions of storm victims while the incompetent local government does its best to extend the misery and increase the death toll by seizing relief supplies and keeping them from storm victims.

No civilized nation would let millions suffer by stopping help and relief supplies from reaching victims. But military juntas and other forms of dictatorships and totalitarian governments always remind us of the contempt such leaders have for the unfortunate residents of these nations and why they are not civilized.

Boat Carrying Myanmar Aid Sinks
Posted: 2008-05-11 19:59:35

YANGON, Myanmar (May 11) - Myanmar's monumental task of feeding and sheltering 1.5 million cyclone survivors suffered yet another blow Sunday when a boat laden with relief supplies -- one of the first international shipments -- sank on its way to the disaster zone.

In the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis, an estimated 1.5 million survivors are in desperate need of food and shelter. The situation seemed even grimmer Sunday when a Red Cross boat carrying relief supplies sank on its way to the disaster zone.

The death toll jumped to more than 28,000 and British Foreign Secretary David Miliband warned that "malign neglect" by the isolated nation's military rulers was creating a "humanitarian catastrophe of genuinely epic proportions." The junta has been sharply criticized for its handling of the May 3 disaster, from failing to provide adequate warnings about the pending storm to responding slowly to offers of help.

Though international assistance has started trickling in, the few foreign relief workers who have been allowed entry into Myanmar have been restricted to the largest city of Yangon. Only a handful have succeeded in getting past checkpoints into the worst-affected areas.

But in what was seen as a huge concession by the junta, the United States finally got the go-ahead to send a C-130 cargo plane packed with supplies to Yangon on Monday, with two more air shipments scheduled to land Tuesday.

Myanmar's military rulers are deeply suspicious of Washington, which has long been one of the junta's biggest critics, pointing to human rights abuses and its failure to hand over power to a democratically elected government.

"We hope that this is the beginning of a long line of assistance from the United States," White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe told reporters in Crawford, Texas, over the weekend. "They're going to need our help for a long time."Highlighting the many challenges ahead, however, a Red Cross boat carrying rice, drinking water and other goods for more than 1,000 people sank Sunday near hard-hit Bogalay town. All four aid workers on board were safe.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies could not say how much of the cargo has been lost, but it said the food supplies were contaminated by river water.

"Apart from the delay in getting aid to people we may now have to re-evaluate how we transport that aid," said Michael Annear, the IFRC's disaster manager in Yangon, who described the sinking as "a big blow." Other aid was increasingly getting through, the group said, but on "nowhere near the scale required."

Heavy showers were forecast for the coming week, further complicating delivery of aid that is still barely reaching victims in the Irrawaddy delta, which was pounded by 120-mph winds and 12-foot-high storm surges from the sea.In hard-hit Laputta, hundreds of survivors crowded the floor of a monastery's open-air hall, the sound of hungry children wailing. Many people tried to sleep sitting up because of lack of space. Pain Na Kon, a tiny nearby village of just 300, was completely obliterated. The only 12 known survivors huddled together in a tent set up in a rice field, sharing a small portion of biscuits and watery soup handed out at a local monastery.

"We don't know when they will also run out of food," said U Nyo, casting glances at his 6-year-old niece, Mien Mien, who lost both her parents in the cyclone and sat outside in the dark.U Nyo called out to her gently, but Mien Mien stared emptily into the darkness. Overcome with emotion, U Nyo walked, teary-eyed, over to the girl and sat beside her in silence. His wife, Saw San Myant, described in a hushed voice what had happened to Mien Mien's father.

"We hung together on a coconut tree as the tide continued to rise. Her father was separated. He tried to hang onto a pole of the hut but that was broken. The wind was too strong." She saw her father swept away by the water but we didn't see anyone else. We think they are all dead," she said.

On Sunday, Myanmar's state television said the death toll from Cyclone Nargis had gone up by about 5,000 to 28,458 -- with another 33,416 missing -- though some experts said it could be 15 times that if people do not get clean water and sanitation soon.

"A natural disaster is turning into a humanitarian catastrophe of genuinely epic proportions in significant part because of the malign neglect of the regime," said Miliband, the British foreign secretary." I would be amazed if there hadn't been about 100,000 who had died already ... what's more, hundreds of thousands more are at risk," he told British Broadcasting Corp. television.

Meanwhile, aid was piling up in foreign countries, awaiting approval from the junta.The country's main airport in Yangon is incapable of handling more than five flights a day, when it should be taking in at least one every hour, said PLAN, a London-based children's aid group.

"Logistically, the situation looks bleak," it said in a statement. "In short, they have one congested airport, ill equipped to deal with the influx of cargo, no port, restricted fuel and no trucks."Aid group World Vision said it has requested visas for 20 people and received approval for two, while the U.N. World Food Program had one approved out of the 16 it requested. Still, the U.N. was making some progress in aid delivery. The junta released 38 tons of high-energy biscuits to the WFP that were confiscated on Friday and several other shipments were on their way.

"We're delighted and very encouraged by what is a very positive sign," said the group's spokesman, Marcus Prior. But World Vision, which has a big presence in Myanmar, said relief material delivered so far is a tiny fraction of what is needed.

The junta says it wants to hand out all donated supplies on its own. But many survivors have been without help for more than a week after fleeing their inundated villages to take shelter in monasteries and schools in towns. The canals and flooded roads to higher ground were littered with the bloated bodies of humans. The stench was everywhere."The first few we saw, we were all very shocked," said U Pinyatale, a monk living near the Pyapon River, where dozens of corpses floated in the brackish waters. "After a while, there were just too many."

Monday, May 05, 2008


Myanmar, Burma, or whatever you want to call the country, it is controlled by a military junta. That's why the country was unprepared to weather a storm that might have killed 10,000. Capitalist democracies defend themselves against the natural disasters that regularly arrive. Building codes, sewers, drainage, fire protection, insulation, sound engineering, it all adds up to an infrastructure that can withstand a lot of abuse. But countries run by thugs experience massive tragedies regularly. Why? Because they are either too busy ripping off the country to provide for public safety or they are simply too stupid. The thugs running Myanmar are probably a mix of both.

Cyclone Death Toll Could Hit 10,000

Posted: 2008-05-05 12:05:43

YANGON, Myanmar (May 5) -- Myanmar's foreign minister says the death toll from the cyclone that ripped through the country could reach 10,000.

An 'Utter War Zone'

The death toll from cyclone Nargis in Myanmar could hit 10,000, according to the country's foreign minister. A state radio station said 4,000 were killed another 3,000 left missing in one town.

Foreign diplomats said Foreign Minister Nyan Win acknowledged the possibility of the high casualty figure at a Monday briefing given to them and representatives of U.N. and international aid agencies.State radio earlier reported that the official death toll from Saturday's Cyclone Nargis had risen to 3,939 from an original count of 351. The diplomats, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting was held behind closed doors, said the foreign minister acknowledged 59 deaths in the country's largest city of Yangon.Tropical Cyclone Nargis hit the Southeast Asian country, also known as Burma, early Saturday with winds of up to 120 mph. The cyclone blew roofs off hospitals and schools and cut electricity in Myanmar's largest city, Yangon.The government had previously put the death toll countrywide at 351 before increasing it Monday to 3,939.

The radio station broadcasting from the country's capital, Naypyitaw, said that 2,879 more people are unaccounted for in a single town, Bogalay, in the country's low-lying Irrawaddy River delta area where the storm wreaked the most havoc.The situation in the countryside remained unclear because of poor communications and roads left impassable by the storm.

"It's clear that we're dealing with a very serious situation. The full extent of the impact and needs will require an extensive on-the-ground assessment," said Richard Horsey, a spokesman in Bangkok, Thailand for United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

"What is clear at this point is that there are several hundred thousands of people in dire need of shelter and clean drinking water," Horsey said.

At a meeting with foreign diplomats and representatives of U.N. and international aid agencies, Myanmar's foreign ministry officials said they welcomed international humanitarian assistance and urgently need roofing materials, plastic sheets and temporary tents, medicine, water purifying tablets, blankets and mosquito nets.

Neighboring Thailand announced that it would fly some aid in Tuesday.Older citizens said they had never seen Yangon, a city of some 6.5 million, so devastated in their lifetimes.With the city's already unstable electricity supply virtually nonfunctional, citizens lined up to buy candles, which doubled in price, and water since lack of electricity-driven pumps left most households dry. Some walked to the city's lakes to wash.Hotels and richer families were using private generators but only sparingly, given the soaring price of fuel.Many stayed away from their jobs, either because they could not find transportation or because they had to seek food and shelter for their families.

"Without my daily earning, just survival has become a big problem for us," said Tin Hla, who normally repairs umbrellas at a roadside stand.With his home destroyed by the storm, Tin Hla said he has had to place his family of five into one of the monasteries that have offered temporary shelter to those left homeless.

Despite the havoc wreaked by tropical cyclone Nargis across wide swaths of the Southeast Asian country, the government indicated that a referendum on the country's draft constitution would proceed as planned on May 10."It's only a few days left before the coming referendum and people are eager to cast their vote," the state-owned newspaper Myanma Ahlin said Monday. Pro-democracy groups in the country and many international critics have branded the constitution as merely a tool for the military's continued grip on power.

Should the junta be seen as failing disaster victims, voters who already blame the regime for ruining the economy and squashing democracy could take out their frustrations at the ballot box. Some in Yangon complained the 400,000-strong military was doing little to help victims after Saturday's storm, only clearing streets where the ruling elite resided but leaving residents to cope on their own in most other areas.

"Where are all those uniformed people who are always ready to beat civilians?" a trishaw driver, who refused to be identified for fear of retribution, said Sunday. "They should come out in full force and help clean up the areas and restore electricity."

Residents, as well as Buddhist monks from the city's many monasteries, banded together, wielding axes and knives to clear roads of tree trunks and branches torn off by the cyclones 120 mph winds.Several residents said the streets were like forests, scattered as they were with trees and debris.Airlines announced Yangon's international airport had reopened, but public transport was almost at a standstill. Vehicles on the road had to cope with navigating without traffic lights.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

To Wright, Wrong is Right

In the Dred Scott decision of 1857, the Supreme Court upheld the rights of slaveowners in part by refusing to challenge the accepted notion that blacks were only three-fifths human, and therefore not granted the rights of fully human residents of the United States. Reverend Jeremiah Wright has gone a step further, claiming that blacks are only 50% human. How has he reached this conclusion? By asserting that blacks use only the right half of their brains.

The Wright Side of the Brain

The list of Afrocentric "educators" whom the Rev. Jeremiah Wright has invoked in his media escapades since Sunday is a disturbing reminder that academia's follies can enter the public world in harmful ways. Now the pressing question is whether they have entered Barack Obama's worldview as well.

Some in Mr. Wright's crew of charlatans have already had their moments in the spotlight; others are less well known. They form part of the tragic academic project of justifying self-defeating underclass behavior as "authentically black." That their ideas have ended up in the pulpit of Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ and in Detroit's Cobo Hall, where Mr. Wright spoke at the NAACP's Freedom Fund dinner on Sunday, reminds us that bad ideas must be fought at their origins — and at every moment thereafter.

At the NAACP meeting, Mr. Wright proudly propounded the racist contention that blacks have inherently different "learning styles," correctly citing as authority for this view Janice Hale of Wayne State University. Pursuing a Ph.D. by logging long hours in the dusty stacks of a library, Mr. Wright announced, is "white." Blacks, by contrast, cannot sit still in class or learn from quiet study, and they have difficulty learning from "objects" — books, for example — but instead learn from "subjects," such as rap lyrics on the radio. These differences are neurological, according to Ms. Hale and Mr. Wright: Whites use what Mr. Wright referred to as the "left-wing, logical and analytical" side of their brains, whereas blacks use their "right brain," which is "creative and intuitive."

When he was of school age in Philadelphia following the Supreme Court's 1954 desegregation decision, Mr. Wright said, his white teachers "freaked out because the black children did not stay in their place, over there, behind the desk." Instead, the students "climbed up all over [the teachers], because they learned from a 'subject,' not an 'object.' " How one learns from a teacher as "subject" by climbing on her, as opposed to learning from her as "object" — by listening to her words — is a mystery.

One would hope that Mr. Wright's audience was offended by the idea that acting out in class is authentically black — it was impossible to tell what the reaction in the hall was to the assertion. But one thing is clear: Embracing the notion that blacks shouldn't be expected to listen attentively to instruction is guaranteed to perpetuate into eternity the huge learning gap between blacks on the one hand, and whites and Asians on the other.

Mr. Wright also praised the work of Geneva Smitherman of Michigan State University, who has called for the selective incorporation of Ebonics into the curriculum in order to validate the black experience. Mr. Wright gave another shout-out to the late Asa Hilliard of Georgia State University, who told us, Mr. Wright said, "how to fix the schools." Like Ms. Hale, Mr. Hilliard argued that disrupting the classroom through "impulsive interrupting and loud talking" is inherently black. His bogus Afrocentrism, propounded in his "African-American Baseline Essays," metastasized in educational circles during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Mr. Hilliard argued that Western civilization was at once stolen from black Africa and crippling to black identity.

As the late Arthur M. Schlesinger recounted in his 1991 alarum about multiculturalism, "The Disuniting of America," Mr. Hilliard urged schools to teach black students that Egypt was a black country; that Africans invented birth control and carbon steel; that they discovered America long before Columbus did; that Robert Browning and Ludwig von Beethoven were "Afro-European"; and that the Atlantic Ocean was originally named the Ethiopian Ocean. (City College of New York laughingstock Leonard Jeffries—he of the infamous distinction between materialistic, aggressive European "ice people" and superior African "sun people"—contributed to Mr. Hilliard's book of essays, asserting therein that slavery was undertaken as "part of a conspiracy to prevent us from having a unified experience.")

Approving of self-destructive behavior in school is just one part of the vast academic project to justify black underclass dysfunction. The academy has also singled out crime as authentically black, another poisonous idea that Mr. Wright appears to have embraced. In his NAACP speech, he mocked the tendency of "those of us who never got caught" to treat "those of us who are incarcerated" with disrespect. In other words, we all commit crime, but only some of us get nabbed for it.

This leveling argument recalls the bizarre doctrines of University of Pennsylvania law professor Regina Austin. In a widely reprinted California Law Review article from 1992, Ms. Austin asserted that the black community should embrace the criminals in its midst as a form of resistance to white oppression. People of color should view "hustling" as a "good middle ground between straightness and more extreme forms of lawbreaking." Examples of hustling include "clerks in stores [who] cut their friends a break on merchandise, and pilfering employees [who] spread their contraband around the neighborhood." It never occurs to Ms. Austin that these black thieves may have black employers who suffer the effects of crime — as do the larger neighborhoods of which they form the essential fabric. Officially incorporating crime into the black identity, as Ms. Austin and Mr. Wright do, is a pathetic admission of defeat and marginalization.

To understand how such ideas become mainstream, one need only read the front page of yesterday's New York Times. There, television critic Alessandra Stanley thrills to the authentic voice of black America: Mr. Wright "went deep into context—a rich, stem-winding brew of black history, Scripture, hallelujahs and hermeneutics," Ms. Stanley effuses. "Mr. Wright, Senator Barack Obama's former pastor, was cocky, defiant, declamatory, inflammatory and mischievous." One might think that Mr. Wright's promotion of the idea that black kids can't sit still in class would raise some worries, even in a television critic. Surely Ms. Stanley would expect her own children to listen to their teachers. But the white elite's desire to avoid charges of racism cancels out all reasonable reactions to dangerous nonsense when such nonsense comes out of black mouths.

The coverage of Mr. Wright's speeches beyond the Times has been just as silent about their crackpot Afrocentric pedagogy, meekly following the agenda that Mr. Wright set by asking instead whether the black church, and not Mr. Wright, was under attack.

Mr. Wright's speeches have shown how quickly academic insanity becomes incorporated into practice. And now we may be on the verge of seeing such madness spread into the White House. The mainstream media have had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into questioning Mr. Obama's affiliation with Mr. Wright. By now, Mr. Wright's 9/11 and AIDS diatribes are well-worn — and Mr. Obama's repudiation of them a no-brainer.

It is imperative that someone ask Mr. Obama whether he, too, believes that the way to "fix the schools" is through Afrocentric curricula and double standards in student discipline, and whether he, too, believes that blacks only think with the "right side" of their brains.