Bailout: A simple (yeah, right) question

In an attempt to ease back into rhythm, a simple question. Paul Kane and Lori Montgomery bring us the news:

In a narrow vote, the House today rejected the most sweeping government intervention into the nation’s financial markets since the Great Depression, refusing to grant the Treasury Department the power to purchase up to $700 billion in the troubled assets that are at the heart of the U.S. financial crisis.

The 228-205 vote amounted to a stinging rebuke to the Bush administration and Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr., and was sure to sow massive anxiety in world markets. Just 11 days ago, Paulson urged congressional leaders to quickly approve the bailout. He warned that inaction would lead to a seizure of credit markets and a virtual halt to the lending that allows Americans to acquire mortgages and other types of loans.

David Horsey, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, September 26, 2008This whole episode seemed sketchy from the outset. On the one hand, the economy does appear to be falling apart, and such an event falls well within the purview of the federal government’s concern. To the other, though, it seemed suspicious that, after waiting so long to acknowledge the situation, the Bush administration wanted Congress to pass a seven hundred-billion dollar solution in a matter of days.

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Obama and expectation

Economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman brings us, with his latest column, an assessment of Senator Barack Obama, considering the Democratic presidential candidate in the context of two other elections, those of 1980 and 1992:

It’s feeling a lot like 1992 right now. It’s also feeling a lot like 1980. But which parallel is closer? Is Barack Obama going to be a Ronald Reagan of the left, a president who fundamentally changes the country’s direction? Or will he be just another Bill Clinton? ….

…. Reagan, for better or worse — I’d say for worse, but that’s another discussion — brought a lot of change. He ran as an unabashed conservative, with a clear ideological agenda. And he had enormous success in getting that agenda implemented. He had his failures, most notably on Social Security, which he tried to dismantle but ended up strengthening. But America at the end of the Reagan years was not the same country it was when he took office.

Bill Clinton also ran as a candidate of change, but it was much less clear what kind of change he was offering. He portrayed himself as someone who transcended the traditional liberal-conservative divide, proposing “a government that offers more empowerment and less entitlement.” The economic plan he announced during the campaign was something of a hodgepodge: higher taxes on the rich, lower taxes for the middle class, public investment in things like high-speed rail, health care reform without specifics.

We all know what happened next. The Clinton administration achieved a number of significant successes, from the revitalization of veterans’ health care and federal emergency management to the expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit and health insurance for children. But the big picture is summed up by the title of a new book by the historian Sean Wilentz: “The Age of Reagan: A history, 1974-2008.”

While there are also fundamental differences in the context of the circumstances under which the Reagan and Clinton presidencies occurred, Krugman—who during the primary often criticized Obama—is not without a valid point. Having achieved the nomination, Obama has followed a trend disturbing to American liberals, one that suggests a transformation of the candidate into a different kind of political creature. His withdrawal from public financing, while understandable in a political context, is disappointing, to say the least, for liberals hopeful of a president of principles. And his support of the recent FISA “compromise” ranges into the realm of the frustrating.
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Pig what? (Basketball and the decline of empires)

The decline of an empire is something that, in history, seems very apparent. Few if any omens have been persuasive enough to shake the people awake. Rome still fell. And life goes on.

    Argument One: The Seattle SuperSonics are preparing to leave town and it is only, really, after it is too late to do anything substantive and dignified about it that people are starting to panic. 

    Argument Two: People are starting to panic.

    Argument Three: The lawsuit attempting to keep the team in Seattle through the end of its lease is already a disaster, involving accusations of bad faith and suspicions of Machiavellian cabals.

    Argument Four: The current owners of the basketball team have filed a motion asking that two witnesses—radio host Mitch Levy and author Sherman Alexie—be barred from testifying.

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At least he wasn’t gay

In a shocking development, a Kitsap County pastor has been accused of sexually abusing children … of the opposite sex.

Hey, there’s a ray of sunshine in everything, I guess. Er … okay, no, there isn’t.

Dan Savage comments on the news:

As is usually the case when daily papers report on the sexual abuse of children by religious leaders, you could read the PI’s entire front-page report and conclude that this is first known instance of the priestly/pastorly sexual abuse of children in all of recorded human history.

At what point do we start to regard this kind of reporting—this kind of sniveling, deferential, credulous reporting—as complicity in the crimes of men like “religious figures” like Pastor Robb?

It seems a fair point. From the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

Church leaders in South Kitsap County are a genial group. Despite theological differences, they meet monthly for lunch, hobnobbing about charity events or ways to improve their ministry. Over the years, they occasionally extended invitations to Pastor Robbin Leeroy Harper, asking him to join their circle. But the mild-looking church leader rebuffed every overture.

Pastor Robb, as he is known to adherents, led a congregation of 60, who met several times a week on the quiet, rural road where Harper had founded The Church. There, in a gated compound, he preached a non-denominational — though strict — interpretation of the Bible and kept largely to himself ….

…. “When you’re up to no good, you tend to hide,” said Jamie Greening, pastor at First Baptist Church in Port Orchard. “Even the most theologically separatist types remain involved in their communities. But this group was pretty much completely behind doors. The word that I would use is fringe, very fringe.”

Indeed it would be more pleasant for Pastor Greening to believe that such behavior is “fringe, very fringe”, but the accusations against Pastor Robb remind us of a pattern that arises, one described by Mr. Savage:

Well, it seems obvious to anyone paying attention that a statistically significant number of men like “Pastor Robb”—men who claim to speak for God, men that claim to be His representatives here on earth, men that portray God as obsessed with sex and control—turn out to be power-crazed sexual abusers that control, manipulate, and sexually abuse their “flocks.”

But that’s not the only pattern Savage notes. In his stinging indictment of the Post-Intelligencer, Savage notes:

There’s a pattern here. And people are clearly taking a risk when they sign up with a conservative church or put themselves under the thumb of some “iron-fisted” pastor …. But the same mainstream media outlets that can’t resist drawing our attention to known risks for relatively rare cancers get all tongue tied when a certain kind of religious leaders presents a known risk. Dangerous people shouldn’t get a pass just because they wave a bibles over their damn heads ….

…. The sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults is not a shocking aberration or an unexpected violation of a “faith community” lead by a Pastor Robb or a Pope Benedict. It is known risk, a known side effect of a kind of controlling, authoritarian religious garbage ….

…. Papers can’t print that, of course, lest they be accused of being “hostile to religion.” But by avoiding the obvious follow-ups and obvious conclusions—which are only hostile to a certain brand of religion, not all religions generally—the media is effectively friendly to child rape.

The need for open discussion grows more and more obvious. One wonders how much more it will take. Because it is not just the newspapers, but the congregations themselves:

The revelations have decimated Harper’s congregation — they haven’t met since — and several members said they were particularly shattered to realize how long the alleged assaults had continued, undetected.

“I was involved in what you might call an inner circle for some years,” said Rick Thurston, a member since the mid-1990s. “That’s one of the things that’s bothered me the most — how could I not see this? Maybe I just trusted the man.”

According to the P-I, Harper’s congregation was drawn “from other churches they found disappointingly watered down, even hypocritical”. For many of them, Harper’s unflinching, unbending standards “seemed pure”. As Danel Swan, whose niece raised the first accusations, put it, “You want to believe that good things come from church and only good people go to church”.

And that is exactly what makes these people ideal targets for predators. People will give anything to belong. Even their children.

If we keep pretending shock every time this happens, we will keep thinking these are rare occasions that will always sneak up and surprise us. But whether considering the disgraceful collapse of conservative religious values represented in this string of fallen Republicans and preachers, or considering a pastor who lives on Social Security while driving a Jaguar or Hummer, it seems that pretending such tragedies are rare and random only exposes our communities to further exploitation by these most dangerous and destructive charlatans. After all, the accused man’s wife told the Post-Intelligencer, “There were things I felt uncomfortable about. But I can’t even fathom some of these charges.” And despite the Jaguar, despite the Hummer, Ms. Harper also said, “I seriously believe that my children and myself are also victims in this who need healing.”

I do not doubt that, ma’am. Take a number.

When the cats won’t eat it ….

Glow-in-the-dark seafood.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Creepy, eh? In a way, not really. Seattle Post-Intelligencer senior correspondent Andrew Schneider reports on glowing seafood that has turned up around the Seattle area, of late.

It sounds like a Halloween joke. A pile of brightly glowing cooked shrimp sitting on the counter in a darkened kitchen.

But Randall Peters doesn’t see the humor in it. He bought the shrimp last week from the West Seattle Thriftway. He ate some that evening and returned to the kitchen a few minutes later.

“It was like a bright eerie light was shining on it,” said Peters, who works for a natural food store.

“I thought that maybe it had been overirradiated, you know, too much radiation. Now, whenever I buy seafood, I take it home and turn out the lights.”

Mr. Peters is not alone. Schneider reports that a local woman named Barbara called in to tell the story of some shrimp she bought at the Wallingford QFC for her cats. The cats did not touch the treat, as she discovered while investigating the mysterious green-blue glow on her front porch. Checking in the refrigerator, Barbara found the bag of shrimp glowing brightly.

There are, at present, no reports of illness. Furthermore, Dr. Bill Robertson of Washington Poison Center told the P-I that he “wouldn’t hesitate to eat the stuff”. The WPC toxicologist said, “I don’t know of any studies that show it’s hazardous but, then again, I can’t envision anyone spending the money to do the costly tests to prove it’s safe”.

According to the FDA Seafood Product Research Center in Bothell, data on glowing seafood is sketchy. A spokeswoman explained to the P-I that the only research into luminescent bacteria in seafood began twenty years ago by an FDA microbiologist. Patricia Sado’s study, published in 1998, examined diverse reports of glowing seafood, and asserted that the luminescence came from the presence of certain bacteria. Glowing products included crabmeat, lobster, shrimp, herring, and sardines. In some cases, all researchers had left to work with were styrene trays or plastic wrappers.

Fresh, uncooked fish also were reported as glowing in the dark. A team of Environmental Protection Agency investigators evaluating the pollution of the Columbia River near the Hanford Nuclear Reservation were stopped by members of the Confederate Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon. They had 200 to 300 pounds of brightly glowing fish — whole King salmon they plan to use in a ceremony.

They were afraid to eat it because they believed the fish were radioactive, Sado reported. The analysis found the salmon — skin, intestine and gills — heavily contaminated with a bacteria called P. phosphoreum.

The reports the microbiologist collected listed only one death attributed to a bioluminescent seafood, and this was not from consumption of the bacteria but rather a 72-year-old man who cut himself while cleaning fish.

The ailments most often reported by Sado were headaches, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramping and diarrhea — symptoms similar to most food poisonings. However, many of her case studies — like Peters and Barbara — reported no health problems.

The FDA scientist — now retired and living in the Seattle area — still retains her interest in bioluminescence.

“It is just fascinating to study,” she said in an interview this week. “But people who see their seafood glowing should not think they’re crazy nor that the aliens have landed. There are reasons backed by solid science.”

She believes the problems at the Seattle stores probably were the result of cross-contamination. Cooking the product kills the luminescent bacteria and pathogens,

“Boiling the shrimp would have killed the P. phosphoreum so the contamination probably happened after cooking,” she said. “Somewhere, either in the grocery that sold the product or the plant where the cooked shrimp were packed, contamination from uncooked seafood had to get on the shrimp. This could present a problem.”

In the meantime, a director for Ocean Beauty Seafood–who supplied the seafood to Thriftway and QFC–told the P-I, “We’re going back to the eastern Canadian company that supplied the shrimp to us to discuss the procedures that they use. That’s only common sense.”

Meanwhile the FDA is not investigating the current claims for lack of any formal complaint. Also, according to a spokeswoman, “it’s not a food safety issue because no one got sick.”

You know, my thing with shrimp has to do with texture. I cannot say that phosphorescence would encourage me to get over that aversion.