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Thinking of You, New Orleans

August 30th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon

Katrina hit landfall on August 29, 2005.
Here is the timeline of the events of the days that followed. As the Gulf states hold their breath for Gustav, reread it. Three years later, it remains grief producing…..and enraging.

Below is a piece of an Op Ed written for the LA Times by Louisiana crime novelist James Lee Burke two weeks after the worst was over. Burke has memorialized his passion for New Orleans in eighteen different books, including last year’s novel about Katrina, the Tin Roof Blowdown. “New Orleans,” Burke wrote in the novel in a voice leaden with sorrow, “was a song that went under the waves.”

All the meteorologists predicted Katrina would hit New Orleans head-on, at category 5 wind speeds of 175 mph. No knowledgeable person had any doubt about the consequences. New Orleans would have been nothing but a smudge in the storm’s aftermath, the levees reduced to serpentine traces in the silt. Instead, the storm shifted toward the northeast, and dropped in velocity by 35 mph, reducing itself to a category 4 storm by landfall.

Two days after the city was flooded, the president stated, on television, “I don’t think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees.” The disingenuousness of the statement, or its disconnection from reality, is, to my mind, beyond comprehension…..

….For the rest of my life, however, I want to remember not only the faces of Katrina’s victims but the images of the Coast Guard rescuers hanging from cables under helicopters; firefighters and cops who threaded boats through the darkness while being shot at; the medical personnel who used hand ventilators to keep their patients alive for six days; the soldiers and ministers and ordinary people who gave up all thought of themselves in service to their fellow human beings. In their anonymity, they glow with the aura of Byzantine saints.”


James Lee Burke, Los Angeles Times, September 18, 2005

Posted in environment, National politics | 60 Comments »

Palin 2: Mudflats Speaks…. UPDATED

August 29th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon


UPDATE: More Alaska response at Mudflats. And for those of you who’d like to dig a little further, click on the Sarah Palin topic link and start scrolling.


Oh-key, dokie, and what do those in Alaska think of Sarah P?
Popular, yes, but not quite the 90-percent approval rating we’ve been hearing so much about today. It seems there are one or two (or eight) interesting things one might want to know about our new VP gal Sarah.

Here, for instance, is today’s post from one of Alaska’s popular political blogs, Mudflats. I’m just going to post the first few ‘graphs, but be sure to click through and read about Divorced Troopergate.

“Is this a joke?” That seemed to be the question du jour when my phone started ringing off the hook at 6:45am here in Alaska. I mean, we’re sort of excited that our humble state has gotten some kind of national ‘nod’….but seriously? Sarah Palin for Vice President? Yes, she’s a popular governor. Her all time high approval rating hovered around 90% at one point. But bear in mind that the 90% approval rating came from one of the most conservative, and reddest-of-the-red states out there. And that approval rating came before a series of events that have lead many Alaskans to question the governor’s once pristine image.

There is no doubt in my mind that many Alaskans are feeling pretty excited about this. But we live in our own little bubble up here, and most of the attention we get is because of The Bridge to Nowhere, polar bears, the indictment of Ted Stevens, and the ongoing investigation and conviction of the string of legislators and oil executives who literally called themselves “The Corrupt Bastards Club”.

So seeing our governor out there in the national spotlight accepting the nomination for Vice Presidential candidate is just downright surreal.


…if McCain had made his selection six months ago, the squeaky-clean governor meme would have made a little more sense. But, Sarah Palin is currently under an ethics investigation by the Alaska state legislature. The details of this investigation read like a trashy novel, and I suspect that the players will soon have newfound celebrity on the national stage. I’ll try to explain for all you non-Alaskans who suddenly have good reason to want to know more about Sarah Palin. For those of you not interested in trashy novels, feel free to skip ahead. Here it is…what we in Alaska call “TrooperGate”.

Posted in Elections '08, Presidential race | 32 Comments »

Sarah Palin: And She Could Play One On Television

August 29th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon


Here’s the good news:
Sarah Palin is so good-looking, dynamic and charismatic that she could easily star in her own TV show about someone like….well….Sarah Palin.

(Geena Davis in “Commander in Chief” was just fine, but if I were a network exec, I’d buy the Sarah Palin Show first in a heartbeat.)

And speaking of heartbeats…..

…Here’s the bad news: remember that thingy that the Republicans have been pushing about Barack Obama not being ready to be President? Well, that’s out the window.

Good luck making that argument again, guys.

Undoubtedly Palin’s entry as VP nominee will make for a far, far more interesting race.

She’s extremely likeable, gutsy, interesting and smart… and it was smart and classy of her to bring up Geraldine Ferraro and, even more so, Hillary Clinton. (And as one of the commenters below notes, a blatant political ploy. But still a classy one.)

She defines the term Bold Choice. And she helps shore up the “family gap.” She can’t out cute the cumulative cuteness factor of the Dem ticket families, but her family helps bridge the chasm.

But will Sarah Palin help John McCain win? My opinion: In a word: No.

Bottom line: Sarah Palin is a great choice for reality TV. Heartbeat away from the president? Not so much.

UPDATE: This is the email I just got from a smart writer friend of mine. It speaks for itself:

Admittedly I’m a little sleepy and the TV’s muted, but did John McCain just pick Tina Fey as his Vice Presidential running mate?! Did “Saturday Night Live” somehow manage to pull off interrupting every morning news program and run a spoof on the serious business of who will be a heartbeat away from the Presidency if something happens to, as Paris Hilton put it, “The old white guy…” on his 72nd b’day?

UPDATE 2: Marc Cooper calls this for the stunt that it is.

Nothing against Palin, you understand, I rather like her in spite of her gas and oil shilling, but this is definitely stunt casting.

Posted in Elections '08, Presidential race | 24 Comments »


August 28th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon



As you can see, I live blogged below.
But, in the end, the speech was the message. It was historic, poetic, substantive, powerful, confrontational, ferocious, creative and inspiring. Remarkable.

“Tonight, I say to the American people, to Democrats and Republicans and Independents across this great land – enough!”

Yes. Enough.

The details are below plus commentary I caught while jumping around the various cable news networks.


Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Elections '08, Presidential race | 38 Comments »

BILL & JOE SPEAK: Live blogging

August 27th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon



I’ll be live blogging in a minute. Some tech issues, but it’ll all be up very shortly—from the beginning. Stay tuned.

Whatever one may think of Bill personally, he is a master at this. Very, very gifted. However crazy he may have been on the campaign trail, this was a brilliant political speech.

Okay, back-tracking to my earlier live blogging: Here’s Bill:

6:05: My candidate didn’t win…. (Okay……and….)

6:07: I’m grateful for the opportunity to speak here tonight. I’m not so grateful to be speaking in the wake of her wonderful speech….” etc. Ha, ha…LOL (Did I ever mention I hate the cyber term: LOL)

6:09: “Hillary is supporting Barack Obama.”

(First mention of Obama’s name. Everybody take a drink.)

“That makes 2 of us. That makes 18 million of us.” (The “18 million” thing was good in Michelle’s speech, good in Hillary’s speech, pretty good here, but now we’re done with the 18 million. We’re over it.)

(Okay, Big Dog is finally clearing is throat..)

6:14: “For his first presidential decision, with his selection of a running mate, he hit it out of the park.” (Okay, this is the first moment when his praise of Obama feels unqualified. The earlier praise felt a bit tepid and pro forma.)

6:15: Bill used the “R” word for the first time. Ready. Barack Obama is ready, ready “ready to be president.”

This is full on Bill at his powerhouse best. He’s like a great athlete who still can run the ball.

6: 20: Of McCain: “…he still embraces the extreme philosophy that has defined his party for 25 years…”

6:21: Then Bill ticks off the things that have happened as a result of that philosophy—from Iraq, to the Economy to torture, to Katrina. “The most unequal America we’ve seen since the 1920’s.” Strong.

6:22: About McCain again: “Thanks, but no thanks. This time the third time is NOT the charm.”

Everybody loves this line.

6:23—He’s mentioning himself (again) and reminds everybody that he was once thought to be “too young and too inexperienced to be president. It’s didn’t work in 1996 because we were on the right side of history. It won’t work in 2008 because Barack Obama is on the right side of history.”

Excellent. Dead on. When Bill’s good, he’s very, very good indeed.

6:29: Brokaw: “Elvis was back in the hall tonight.”

6:44: What exactly is wrong with MSNBC. John Kerry is on stage and they cut to….Rachel Madow. Now I really like Rachel Madow. But these people’s freaking priorities are just a teensy bit skewed.

KERRY: I will always remember how we stood together in 2004, the largest number of Democrats in American history. (Do you think he believes he won in 2004? I don’t mean is he delusional, I mean does he believe they cheated in Ohio? I wonder.)

6:47: Everyone in the room here agrees that Kerry was a TERRIBLE nominee.

6:48. Evan Bayh has good hair. The dems have talking points, and Bayh is using ‘em—too obvious. But his hair is good anyway.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Elections '08, National politics, Presidential race | 40 Comments »

HILLARY NIGHT: I’m Not Live Blogging….But Zach Is… (UPDATE: Evidently, I lied. I too live blogged.)

August 26th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon


6:55 PM, Tuesday: I can’t live blog because then I’d have to take Mark Warner
and his keynote speech off mute, and that would be wrong. (Although he has very nice cheekbones and he got all of Virginia on broadband—at least I think that’s what he said when I took him off mute for a moment.)

But my brilliant former student Zach Sire is live blogging….and he’s much smarter and waa-a-ay more entertaining than those humorless Daily Kos people or this guy at the Guardian (or whomever).

You must go over and read his blog immediately! Immediately, I tell you!


(Did Keith Olbermann just say something about going to the “post-rational-thinking” people before he cut to the pundit panel? He did. Very nice. It describes most of the chattering class.)

So, just out of curiosity, how in the world was Warner’s speech a keynote? Mark Warner gave a Mark Warner speech. Damn! I took it off mute again just along enough to hear him waxing eloquent about…..him. (‘But enough about me, let me tell you what I’ve done for my state…”) WTF???

On MSNBC they’re talking about how “wounded” Bill Clinton is and how Hillary has wanted to be president since she was in high school…. MSNBC has repeatedly cut back to a camera on Bill for a good five minutes now, I guess in order that we might examine his “wounded” self. I’m changing the channel.

7:26: CNN has Montana’s Governor Brian Schweitzer on. (MSNBC doesn’t care about Montana.) Schweitzer is doing a good Democratic growl with his delivery. He seems to have a much better grip on the fact that he is not the candidate….than, say, than Warner did.

7:28: I love Schweitzer….a good bolo tie and a good anti McCain speech using the oil and energy theme.

7:29: “We’re drilling the Bakken formation…. But we can’t drill our way to energy independence… Even if you drilled in all John McCain’s back yards, even the ones he doesn’t know he has….Wooohooo! “[yes, he said, wooo-hooo]”

7:31: I will bet you anything right here, right now, that McCain cannot tell you where the Bakken Formation is… Or what it is….


LATER INFORMATIONAL UPDATE: The Bakken formation is a massive shale rock formation (containing oil reserves) that stretches from northeast Montana well into North Dakota. The USGS’s conservative estimate for how much oil is recoverable in the Bakken is 3.0 to 4.3 billion barrels—-larger than all other current USGS oil assessments of the lower 48 states and it is the largest “continuous” oil accumulation ever assessed by the USGS.

It is okay if you don’t know this. It is NOT okay if John McCain doesn’t know this. (I only know because of my Montana connections.)


7:34….He’s telling everyone to stand up. I’m SO glad they moved Schweitzer to prime time. Montana rocks!

7:35: Did he really say:
“That’s it, baby,” ???? He did. “That’s it, baby! Let’s go win this election!”

Go Brian!

7:37: Okay, Hillary video… They’re doing a whole thing on her laugh….

You know, this is a lovely video…..but how many times in a convention does the runner up get a video intro as if she’s the candidate? Is it me, or is this a little….um….confusing?

7:42: Chelsea’s lovely.

7:43: HILLARY FASHION ALERT. Orange pantsuit. But sort of a peachy-orange. Great color for Hillary. Very unusual. Great with her complexion. Smart choice.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Elections '08, Presidential race | 25 Comments »

Michelle…. Home Run

August 25th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon


Ted Kennedy’s appearance and video was an inspirational tear jerker
designed to draw the Democratic clan together.

Michelle Obama’s speech was something else. It was an introductory message to the whole country.

….He’s the same man who drove me and our new baby daughter home from the hospital ten years ago this summer, inching along at a snail’s pace, peering anxiously at us in the rearview mirror, feeling the whole weight of her future in his hands, determined to give her everything he’d struggled so hard for himself, determined to give her what he never had: the affirming embrace of a father’s love.

And as I tuck that little girl and her little sister into bed at night, I think about how one day, they’ll have families of their own. And one day, they – and your sons and daughters – will tell their own children about what we did together in this election. They’ll tell them how this time, we listened to our hopes, instead of our fears. How this time, we decided to stop doubting and to start dreaming. How this time, in this great country – where a girl from the South Side of Chicago can go to college and law school, and the son of a single mother from Hawaii can go all the way to the White House – we committed ourselves to building the world as it should be.

No matter what negative drivel James Carville was spewing on Monday night, Michelle’s here-we-are-get-to-know-us speech hit every note with graceful accuracy and inarguable authenticity—and did exactly what needed to be done.

Even her dress was good. No cliche red blazer. (Yeah, yeah, it’s a trivial point. But you know she had to think a lot about it.)

Her talk about her dad, his struggle with his canes and his courage….it was all very effective.

And it didn’t hurt for us to see all over again that Barack is genuinely hot for his wife.

Yes, and the kids were impossibly winning and obviously (and unfake-ably) well-loved by their daddy.

“I hope everybody has an open heart and an open mind in this campaign,” blurted the often very irritating Chris Matthews in a moment of genuine emotional overwhelm, before he went back to being his usual hyperactively-defended pundit self.

Me too.

Michelle Obama was always an impressive woman.. But she’s grown stronger and more politically sure-footed in the course of the campaign.

Yet, what she had to show us on Monday night, was that she was someone the country could take to its heart—and be proud of. She did exactly that: She showed us she’d make one hell of a first lady.

Carville, you sour-grapes-spitting moron,, this is not like every other election. This time the first night had to be personal.

The platform and the talking points can—and will—come later.

Posted in Elections '08, Presidential race | 40 Comments »

Medical Marijuana—the AG Separates the Clinics from the Crooks

August 25th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon


From time to time here, I’ve taken issue with the DEA’s 100-agent raids
on LA County’s medical marijuana clinics, raids that have used big piles of our tax dollars to harass clinic owners and patients, resulted in few arrests, and in most cases, exactly zero charges.

(Earlier stories are here and here and here.)

Medical marijuana is legal in this state and, unless there is blatant wrong-doing (meaning guys using the clinics as fronts to make big bucks in bulk trafficking), the Feds need to butt out and use their time—not to mention our valuable tax dollars—to shut down some crystal meth dealers instead. (In the past, I’ve offered to point out a few meth-dealing locations, but DEA spokesperson Sarah Pullen, the LA person who has the job of deal with us snarky press types, declined to take me up on it.)

Which brings me to today’s story. Today the California Attorney General’s Office announced that on Friday, the state’s drug enforcers, the Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement or BNE—along with a multi-agency task force—raided a single marijuana clinic in Northridge called Today’s Healthcare and caught the owner and his colleague red handed (or green handed, in this case) buying and selling $18 grand worth of weed, with a like amount stashed in one of the men’s vehicles, and another $6.6 million worth of plants found when warrants were served on the guys’ houses.

According to Brown’s office, in order to make Friday’s bust, 11 agents were involved —as opposed to the DEA’s 100-agent cluster…uh…thingy.

The raids and the arrests were the result of an six-month investigation by the same multi-agency task force.

(Interesting random fact: Established in 1927, BNE is the oldest narcotic enforcement bureau in the United States.)

“This criminal enterprise bears no resemblance to the purposes of Proposition 215, which authorized the use of medical marijuana for seriously sick patients,” said AG Jerry Brown in today’s announcement. “Today’s Healthcare is a large-scale, for-profit, commercial business. This deceptively named drug ring is reaping huge profits and flaunting the state’s laws that allow qualified patients to use marijuana for medicinal purposes.”

In other words, unlike the Feds, California’s BNE and the AG’s office did it right. They went after the blatant drug dealers while respecting state law and the will of the California voters.


UPDATE: Monday afternoon, Brown’s office also announced a set of “guidelines” for law enforcement and patients regarding med marijuana.

Oddly, this is the first time that any state agency has issued such guidelines, and both cops and advocates said they welcomed the legal clarification.


Note: the photo of the BNE guys is a snapshot I snatched from the InterMountain News of another BNE raid, but not Friday’s drug raid.

Posted in Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Medical Marijuana, The Feds | 22 Comments »


August 25th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon


As we gear up for this week’s Democratic convention,
here are a bunch of must-read stories, each variations on a theme:


First there is a cautionary lecture from Frank Rich in the NY Times, who tells Obama and Biden that they’d better retool their message ASAP to focus on the problems that are really of concern to Americans. Below are the most relevant ‘graphs:

… hour is here. As the presidential race finally gains the country’s full attention, the strategy that vanquished Hillary Clinton must be rebooted to take out John McCain.

Economic anxiety is the new terrorism. This is why the most relevant snapshot of voters’ concerns was not to be found at Saddleback Church but at the Olympics last Saturday. For all the political press’s hype, only some 5.5 million viewers tuned in to the Rev. Rick Warren’s show in Orange County, Calif. Roughly three-quarters of them were over 50 — in other words, the McCain base. By contrast, a diverse audience of 32 million Americans tuned in to Beijing that night to watch Michael Phelps win his eighth gold medal.

This was a rare feel-good moment for a depressed country. But the unsettling subtext of the Olympics has been as resonant for Americans as the Phelps triumph. You couldn’t watch NBC’s weeks of coverage without feeling bombarded by an ascendant China whose superior cache of gold medals and dazzling management of the Games became a proxy for its spectacular commercial and cultural prowess in the new century. Even before the Olympics began, a July CNN poll found that 70 percent of Americans fear China’s economic might — about as many as find America on the wrong track. Americans watching the Olympics could not escape the reality that China in particular and Asia in general will continue to outpace our country in growth while we remain mired in stagnancy and debt (much of it held by China).

How we dig out of this quagmire is the American story that Obama must tell. It is not a story of endless conflicts abroad but a potentially inspiring tale of serious economic, educational, energy and health-care mobilization at home. We don’t have the time or resources to go off on more quixotic military missions or to indulge in culture wars. (In China, they’re too busy exploiting scientific advances for competitive advantage to reopen settled debates about Darwin.) Americans must band together for change before the new century leaves us completely behind.


One example of where Obama/Biden need to be looking was exemplified in newspapers from the San Jose Mercury News to the New York Times, which had weekend articles about how the nuts and bolts of sending kids to school may cause economic hardships for many families this fall. The articles described how cafeteria lunch prices are jumping and how school districts in California and elsewhere, now faced with high gas prices, are being forced to charge for the school bus service that had always been provided for the district’s kids for free.

(cough—$10 billion monthly burn rate in Iraq—cough)


While K-12 parents struggle, there is also the matter of higher education. In an opinion piece in Sunday’s LA Times, a young woman named Zoe Mendelson, who will be a freshman at Barnard College this fall, talks about the difficulties of affording college in an era with dwindling financial aid available for middle class students, even those who are scholastically outstanding. She is lucky, Zoe says, because her parents are lower income and could save nothing to send her to college. But many of her friends with grades and test scores at the top of their class were ineligible for most scholarships.

Here is a clip from Mendelson’s piece:

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Economy, Education, Elections '08, media, National politics, Presidential race | 13 Comments »

It’s Biden! (UPDATED)

August 22nd, 2008 by Celeste Fremon



CNN has confirmed. (So has AP and NBC and Fox.)

He’s smart, he’s experienced, he isn’t pathologically cautious, he reads as decent, he’s been through a thing or two personally, he can laugh at himself. He genuinely knows foreign policy.

And he’s got a smart, very cool, level-headed and charming school teacher wife.

Best funny, semi-snarky quote of the night about Biden: “He sometimes seems unacquainted with his grammatical friend, Mr. Period.”


Out of everything said today in Springfield, the most compelling image is that of Biden taking the Amtrak train home to Wilmington, Delaware every night to be with his family—first as a single dad to raise his boys, then as a husband and father. (According to Google maps that’s a 109 mile trip each way.)

Obama’s strongest line:

“Joe Biden is what so many others pretend to be: a statesman.”

All that stuff about staring down dictators was good too.

Posted in Elections '08, media, Presidential race | 34 Comments »

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