Thursday, September 30, 2010

East NC: Water knee-deep on some roads, but no return of Floyd

I was in Greenville, N.C., in 1999 when Hurricane Dennis, and then Hurricane Floyd, dropped massive amounts of rainfall on the eastern part of the state, causing a 500 year flood.

It wasn't the storm that killed so many people back then, it was the runoff. The Tar River just kept rising until thousands of buildings were under it. It was something to behold, weeks later, when the water fully receded. I'd walk a street, look at the brown lines above my head and think "That's where the water stopped."

So when I read about the current rains in eastern North Carolina approaching, and even topping, the rainfall from Floyd, I pay attention.

But it does not seem we are heading for anything approaching a Floyd-like event. I spoke this morning to the town manager in Princeville, which was completely destroyed by floodwaters in the aftermath of Floyd. He said he's not been contacted by state emergency managers, and doesn't expect serious problems.

North Carolina EMA spokeswoman Julia Jarema said the worst of the state's problems are in Wilmington and New Hanover County, which are on the state's southeastern coast. Jeff Orrock, with the National Weather Service, confirmed that.

The rain there is expected to continue, for the most part, through the night, Orrock said. The water is at knee level on "a lot of the roads," he said, and it will likely be this weekend before the waters recede to "major recovery."

But Floyd-level flooding won't be seen, Orrock said. Back then the state's rivers were already at flood stage when Floyd hit, taking them to "crazy levels." That was not the case this week, despite enough rain the last few days to break some of Floyd's records, particularly in New Hanover County.

3 p.m. Update: The Wilmington Star News has pictures up showing at least 5 feet of water in places thought ought not have any. The paper reports 21 inches of rain fallen and the need to pump sewage.

Much of that is likely due to ongoing flash flooding of a sort, since the Cape Fear River has not crested, based on this hydrograph from the National Weather Service.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Too big to fail, too complex to follow

The News & Observer reports today that North Carolina's unemployment office made $28 million in improper payments over the last two years, and it's sending letters out to get some of the money back.

From the story:
Recipients, all of whom received unemployment benefits for a year or longer, are getting anywhere from one to six letters depending on the number of times their benefits have been extended.

The final letter has the correct amount due, but the letters often aren't arriving in the right order.
Six letters, huh? That sounds like a government. The same type of entity that spends $391 million to personally verify addresses before mailing anything to them and sends out letters to let people know they'll get a letter telling them they'll get a check.

So I won't ask you to explain why anyone would get six letters. But can you at least tell us what went wrong?
(ESC Spokesman Larry) Parker said the improper payments are the result of the ESC paying people from the wrong funding sources and thus overdrawing some accounts and aren't the result of incorrectly calculating individuals' benefits. But he was unable to explain how the accounting problems might result in some people owing the state money.
Read the full story for more detail and context.

Things like this remind me of how complicated we've made our world. For example, I bank with Wachovia, which was taken over by Wells Fargo during the banking meltdown of 2008. In October my accounts will be fully converted.

And this is what they figured I'd need to know about that:

I wrote the number of printed pages each document contains on the their fronts. I have a checking account and a savings account, and it takes 92 pages to explain the name and rule changes.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Open during retooling

I suppose that is obvious.

This blog will be reworked as a reporting exchange, with the goal of peddling low-cost, and not so low-cost, contract reporting for newspapers, news sites, bloggers and everyday readers.

For now, though, it is essentially my resume. The last three years of the blog Lucid Idiocy (Politics), written for myself and The Macon Telegraph, appear below this post.

Its slogan was, and remains, "All politics is local. And mostly ridiculous."

Travis Fain
ctfain (at)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Rove: Lots of numbers, dislikes Democrats

Karl Rove, the Bush White House adviser, Republican political strategist and now Fox News contributor, spoke last night at the University of North Carolina. As The Herald-Sun reports, he stuck to his message and did not generate controversy.

He spoke without written notes and quoted dozens of numbers in nearly unfactcheckable* rapid fire succession. But, basically, Obama = bad, stimulus = bad, health care reform = "an utter, unmitigated financial disaster waiting to happen."
* That's not fair. You'd just need a lot of time, and his sources.
The way Rove spoke, it seemed that his ideas make so much sense, and the Democratic administrations are so breathtakingly stupid, that you wonder why America's problems weren't all solved during George W. Bush's 8 years in office, and how Barack Obama ever got elected.

Going in, I was particularly interested in his thoughts on the way Supreme Court and FEC rulings that have combined to allow unlimited, and in many cases completely anonymous, donations to political groups. The AP moved a story about Mr. Rove's involvement in one of those groups earlier in the day:
The two groups were launched under the direction of two of President George W. Bush's top political advisers, Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie, who still serve as informal advisers. They are among the most prominent groups in an emerging network of Republican-allied organizations that are helping make this year's midterm elections the most expensive on record.

Under rules liberalized by both the Supreme Court and a federal appellate court, American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS can raise unlimited amounts of money from individuals and corporations. American Crossroads is registered with the Federal Election Commission and as such must reveal its donors, but Crossroads GPS is registered only as a nonprofit with the IRS and doesn't have to disclose its sources of money. ...

The fundraising figures, made available to The Associated Press, place the two Crossroads groups on track to meet their goal of $52 million by Election Day, and put them on virtually the same financial footing as the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
My question, asked by last night's moderator, was this:
What do you think of the relatively recent rulings that allow anonymous donations to non-profits, such as Crossroads GPS, that then finance political advertisements? Should people be able to donate in anonymity to groups that engage in political speech?
Mr. Rove said whoever wrote that question had been "reading way too much of the newspapers." He said he prefers Texas' political fundraising rules, which he described as no-limits policies for all groups. Federal rules limit donations to some groups and not to others and Rove said he will "live under the rules I've got."

You may have noticed that I used some form of the word "anonymous" twice in my question, but he didn't address that issue at all in his answer. Such is life.

Other notes of interest from Mr. Rove's speech:
  • During the Bush years Democrats simply would not vote for the president's budget. That made Republican votes crucial, and to pass the budgets with such small margins, the administration had to allow earmarks, which Rove said he hates. "The bridge to nowhere wiped out all the good work we did. ..." he said. "We need to stop these earmarks."
  • There are 6,000 state legislative races this year, and Mr. Rove expects Republicans to pick up some 500 seats. With congressional redistricting coming in the next legislative sessions, that will be huge, and particularly in Ohio and Indiana.
  • There are 36 governors races. Republican governors make Mr. Rove happy, because those folks turn into qualified Republican presidential candidates.
  • It's too early to know who stands a chance in the 2012 Republican primaries. This time in 2006, had you heard of Barack Obama?
  • The war on terror is a war against those who "have perverted a great religion," but it is the "height of insensitivity" to build an Islamic center so close to Ground Zero in New York. Existing mosques "slightly further away" could be used to mark the appropriate distance for mosque building. Mr. Rove also noted that the group behind this project, the Cordoba Institute, is named for Cordoba, Spain, which he called a "high water mark" for Islam's conquests in Europe circa 1000 AD. The institute itself describes this a bit differently.
  • Relatively low voter participation in this country, when balanced against the fact that people are striving for that right across the world, is embarrasing. "We cannot exist as a society when some people care and others don't," Mr. Rove said.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Barnes v. Deal: Who do you trust?

From Alan Judd of The AJC:
In the midst of his campaign for governor, Nathan Deal faces such dire financial troubles that he must sell his home to avert foreclosure or bankruptcy.

Even if Deal liquidates all his assets, however, he still might be unable to repay a nearly $2.3 million business loan, documents reviewed by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution indicate.
It's a sad story. At least, it's sad for a story about a politically connected millionaire who loses most of his millions trying to help his daughter and son-in-law start a sporting goods business. And you have to wonder how this situation didn't come to light before the GOP primary.

But left unsaid in the response to this story today is why this is so bad. Deal supporters can brush aside concerns about bad judgment — one of the quicker routes to financial ruin for people and governments — by pointing to the family angle. Presumably Deal got in too deep because he wanted to help his family.

But that doesn't address the reality of having a governor with such serious financial issues. That kind of thing makes you vulnerable. It makes you vulnerable to the state contractor who's got his own financial issues, but enough cash for a kickback.

It makes you vulnerable, but it doesn't mean you'll do something illegal. And so the primary question in Georgia's gubernatorial race remains the same: Do you trust Nathan Deal, or do you trust Roy Barnes?

Either way, Georgia, good luck with that.

Update: I should have noted that Libertarian John Monds is also in this race. It's probably not a good sign for him that I'd forgotten he existed. But, then, I live in North Carolina these days.

Update: Shorter Nathan Deal via the AP's Shannon McCaffrey: Also, I forgot about $2.85 million in other loans I failed to disclose. Sorry about that.

From The Telegraph, April 30, 2010

This is a scan of the front page of The Macon Telegraph the day after Georgia's 2010 legislative session. I uploaded it here Oct. 19, 2010 as part of my online resume. The photo credit, and the two bylines shown, are mine.

Click image to enlarge, and again to really enlarge.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Terry Jones: Baseball not necessarily of the devil

I doubt any religious extremists willing to do violence over the burning of their holy text read this blog. But, for the record, in America, dudes with mustaches like this typically don't speak for anyone but themselves.

From CBS News:
Last month, in a deposition from a court case in which (Gainesville, Fla., pastor Terry) Jones was a witness, attorney Michael Spellman asked Jones what else he believed was "of the devil."

Q. And you believe that everything that is not from God is of the devil. Is that right?

A. Yeah, I guess so. Uh-huh. Then again, it depends on what you're talking about. I don't believe necessarily baseball is from the devil because it's not from God. But I mean, basically in general, I believe that if it's not from God, it's from the devil. Right.

Q. Is Hinduism of the devil?

A. Yes, of course.

Q. Buddhism?

A. .Yeah.

Q. How about Judaism?

A. Yes.
You can download the 117-page deposition via the CBS link. The suit deals, at least in part, with students wearing T-shirts to school in Alachua County, Fla., proclaiming Islam to be of the devil.

Which makes you wonder: Aren't T-shirts also of the devil? And, since Jesus was Jewish ...

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Remembering history, and repeating it

This Nicholas Kristof piece in The New York Times is more concept good than it is you-need-to-read-every-word good. But the correlation he points out is pretty stark.
Perhaps the closest parallel to today’s hysteria about Islam is the 19th-century fear spread by the Know Nothing movement about “the Catholic menace.” One book warned that Catholicism was “the primary source” of all of America’s misfortunes, and there were whispering campaigns that presidents including Martin Van Buren and William McKinley were secretly working with the pope. Does that sound familiar?