Robbed by a Fountain Pen

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Yes, as through this world I've wandered / I've seen lots of funny men / Some will rob you with a six-gun / And some with a fountain pen. - Pretty Boy Floyd

Why Robbed by a Fountain Pen?

What Are Your Website Policies?

BJ Blogs For:

Tuesday, August 27, 2002
File Under: No Surprises Here.
No Surprises #1: A new Bush Administration environmental policy benefits industry, not environment.
No Surprises #2: Krugman nails it.

The Subject: The Administration's recently announced logging policy, er, "fire prevention" policy.

George W. Bush's new "Healthy Forests" plan reads like a parody of his administration's standard operating procedure.

... Am I being too harsh? No, actually it's even worse than it seems. "Healthy Forests" isn't just about scrapping environmental protection; it's also about expanding corporate welfare.

... In fact, the government doesn't make money when it sells timber rights to loggers. According to the General Accounting Office, the Forest Service consistently spends more money arranging timber sales than it actually gets from the sales. How much money? Funny you should ask: last year the Bush administration stopped releasing that information. In any case, the measured costs of timber sales capture only a fraction of the true budgetary costs of logging in the national forests, which is supported by hundreds of millions of dollars in federal subsidies, especially for road-building. This means that, environmental issues aside, inducing logging companies to clear underbrush by letting them log elsewhere would probably end up costing taxpayers more, not less, than dealing with the problem directly.

BTW, Krugman refers to several GAO studies in his column. There are several noteworthy ones, which can be found here by searching "forest service" ... or to save time, start here and here. This one also has a primer on the mysterious workings on the Forest Service budget. (Go ahead ... by GAO standards, they're scintillating.) See also this recent story about how the Forest Service "mislaid" $215 million.

Someday, l'll write a piece or two about Forest Service math and the GAO reports. If I had readers, they'd probably be holding their breath.
Quote of the Day.
"Democracies die behind closed doors." - Judge Damon J. Keith, in a ruling declaring that the Bush administration acted
unlawfully in holding deportation hearings in secret.
Water as a National Security Issue.
It's not just those wacky enviros that wonder about water, especially in the Middle East:

Both the United Nations and the National Intelligence Council, an advisory group to the Central Intelligence Agency, have warned that the competition for water is likely to worsen. "As countries press against the limits of available water between now and 2015, the possibility of conflict will increase," the National Intelligence Council warned in a report last year.

Energy Efficiency as a National Security Issue.
Despite Dick Cheney's now-famous observation that, while energy conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, it's not much of an energy strategy, the evidence to the contrary continues to mount. First, California avoided catastrophe during the recent energy crisis mainly through conservation. Now, people are remembering that the nation's wasteful dependence on Middle Eastern oil creates a host of foreign policy problems. As Brad DeLong says, "We are paying a very heavy price for not having taken steps to discourage oil consumption over the past fifteen years." (Read the comments too.)
The Long Arm of the DMCA.
The Recording Industry Association of America has asked a federal court to force an Internet service provider to turn over the name and address of one customer who is sharing songs on the peer-to-peer file sharing network, KaZaa.

The recording industry is sending signals that it wants to cast anti-piracy nets wider to snare individuals, a tactic that legal experts say would be unprecedented in the history of copyright law.

... The RIAA, the Washington trade group that represents the world's five major labels, is using special subpoena powers written into the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998.

The RIAA contends the act allows owners of copyrighted works to subpoena an Internet service provider like Verizon to provide information on a suspected infringer without having to file a lawsuit.

Verizon, however, is fighting the subpoena, saying that the motion raises privacy issues and that the industry is trying to improperly stretch the terms of the act. ... [p] Verizon would have complied with a similar request had the RIAA filed a lawsuit seeking the name of the "John Doe" customer, which would have also given the customer legal protections ....

I cannot understand why the industry seems committed to making criminals out of its best customers -- especially when there is little evidence file sharing is the cause of recent poor sales -- and even less evidence that there is anything the industry could do about it even if it were.

The industry itself is suffering from a worldwide slump in CD sales, which it blames in part on the rise of online music swapping and the proliferation of desktop computers with recordable CD drives.

But several research organizations say the depressed economy and stiff competition from other popular forms of digital entertainment, such as DVD movies and video games, are as much to blame as online piracy.

A new report by Forrester Research found that consumers who are the most frequent downloaders are also the industry's most ardent fans.

About 40 percent of all adults who are online have shared files, 36 percent convert their CDs to MP3 or other digital music formats, and 53 percent burn music onto their own CDs, the report said.

... Other studies indicate that 70 million people have used file-sharing networks, a number that will make prosecuting people for copyright violation as hard as enforcing the old 55-mph-speed limit, said Jessica Litman, a law professor at Wayne State University in Detroit and author of the book "Digital Copyright."

"That's quite a few more than voted for president," Litman said.

Website of the Day.
The Invisible Library, "a collection of books that only appear in other books. Within the library's catalog you will find imaginary books, pseudobiblia, artifictions, fabled tomes, libris phantastica, and all manner of books unwritten, unread, unpublished, and unfound." (Thanks Redwood Dragon, who got it from Hot Buttered Death.)
Sunday, August 25, 2002
Another Reason to Shell Out for Salon Premium.
You don't object to paying for good paper magazines, right? So why object to paying for a good online magazine? Last week's most interesting article, by Charles P. Pierce, shed light on the continuing allure of Fox, and the continuing failure of the liberals to connect with their audience. And for good measure, the mainstream media:

We actually do have a kept press today, enthralled by the political and social elites. It's completely lost that sense of being a craft apart from those institutions on which it reports. Friendships with sources are no longer a thing of which to be wary, and access has become a kind of genteel corruption. Taken all in all, it's become an upscale whorehouse with an unusual number of piano players.

In short, Pierce argues that liberals (with a few exceptions) have lost touch with their "tabloid sensibility." Along with this recent article, which I think makes a persuasive case for pricipled partisanship, Pierce's article should be required reading for all Democrats.
Global Warming is Good for You! Part III.
Meanwhile, back in the real world, National Geographic picks up the story of accumulating evidence that global warming is real.

New surveys from satellites and aircraft document an alarming acceleration in the melting of glaciers around the world.

The swift retreat of these great ice streams is helping to raise ocean levels and is threatening significant changes in human, animal, and plant life——some good, but mostly bad.

Like a canary in a coal mine, the dwindling of the glaciers is visible evidence that the earth really is getting hotter.

Whether global warming is good for us or not, here it comes.
Global Warming is Good for You! Part II.
Gotta love this quote:

"Carbon dioxide is part of the natural life cycle," General Motors Corp. executive Alan Weverstad told lawmakers as he argued against laws requiring better auto fuel efficiency. "Trees love it. I exhale it every time I breathe."

I found this in a Defenders of Wildlife write-up of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) annual meeting.

Oil companies, chemical conglomerates and many more corporate giants paid tens of thousands of dollars each to ALEC for the right to wine, dine and influence lawmakers during this month’s four-day conference at a posh resort hotel just a few miles from Disney World. Protecting corporate polluters from environmental regulation was one major goal.

Disagreeing with nearly every scientist in the world, corporate lobbyists and so-called policy experts dismissed the threat of global warming and the need to reduce pollution. They encouraged more, not less, burning of dirty fossil fuels, which they promoted as an endless energy source.

ALEC is an industry-funded organization devoted to providing policy advice to state legislators.
Global Warming is Good for You! Part I.
The Poor Man is a flat-out genius, as this post reveals, not least because it pointed me to this article:

a brilliant article by one Dylan Otto Krider of the Houston Press on global warming denial. Read it backwards and forwards, top to bottom, at least three times. I am considering having this entire five-page article tattoo'ed on my face in radioactive ink, so it will glow forever like the Ultimate Beacon of Invincible Truth. Science denying sad-os can whine all they want, but they will find no mercy in the D.O.K.'s bionic kung. Fu. Grip.

The Poor Man found it in War Liberal's comments.
And when the file traders are in jail, who will buy the music?
Scott Rosenberg, in his Salon blog, asks this question in the first of two good entries on the sorry state of the music industry, the former of which includes the best short description of the industry's predicament, and the latter of which points to a solution. (Hint: it involves selling good music at fair prices.) Mark Jenkins, over in Slate, points out that this is not the first time the music biz blamed a downturn in sales on a new technology.

In 2001, U.S. CD sales declined 6.4 percent. Sales have continued downward this year, and a Forrester Research study released last week projects a 6 percent decline in 2003 as well. Yet the report disputes the RIAA's assertion that the now-bankrupt Napster and its successors are responsible for the downturn. More than two-thirds of CDs bought in the United States sell to consumers who rarely or never download music files from the Web, Forrester concludes. Another market research company, Ipsos-Reid, reported in June that 81 percent of music downloaders buy as many or more CDs than they did before they started getting tunes from the Internet.

The RIAA, of course, has studies that say otherwise. But anyone who rewinds to the last major music-biz slump will find some interesting parallels. In 1978, record sales began to fall, and the major labels blamed a larcenous new technology: cassette tapes. The international industry even had an outraged official slogan: "Home taping is killing music." The idea was that music fans—ingrates that they are—would rather pirate songs than pay for them, and that sharing favorite songs was a crime against hard-working musicians (rather than great word-of-mouth advertising). Cassettes were so anathema to the biz that Sex Pistols Svengali Malcolm McLaren could think of no more provocative way to launch his new band, Bow Wow Wow, than with a ode to home taping, "C30, C60, C90, Go!''

More State of the Environment Packages Keyed to the Earth Summit.
The New York Times science section has a series of stories timed to coincide with the sustainable development summit to be held in Johannesburg, and this month's National Geographic has its own State of the Planet. A few days ago, I also blogged an official report on the state of the world's environment published concurrently with the summit, titled Critical Trends. And there are more.
Ever Heard of Fee Demo?
Jon Margolis, writing in TAP, sheds light on a heated battle shaping up over an obscure policy, the "Recreational Fee Demonstration Program." "Fee demo," to those in the know, "authorizes America's parks and national forests to collect money from hikers, anglers, hunters and skiers accustomed to wandering about public lands for free. And fee demo is running into some political trouble."

It's the snowmobilers (and the recreation industry) against the high-country hikers (and the environmentalists) in the battle for the future of America's parkland (and soul).

In Margolis's story, the recreation industry is represented by Derrick Crandall, the 50-year-old president of the American Recreation Coalition, "perhaps Washington's least-known powerhouse," and the enviros by Scott Silver, who "leads -- actually he is -- an organization known as Wild Wilderness, which is devoted to blocking 'the commercialization, privatization and motorization' of public land."
Fee demo is a niche political controversy about which even most Washington political cognoscenti are incognizant, though it has been condemned by four state legislatures, including California's. It is so esoteric and, at least at first glance, so limited in impact that it is easy to wonder whether Silver and his followers exaggerate its significance. But the fee fight belongs to the much larger battle over whether the values of the marketplace will dominate those of democracy. Its outcome will help determine how Americans use their public lands and waterways. And in the view of Silver and some academics, it may also determine how Americans comprehend the natural world.

Intrigued? Read the article.
The Daily Howler sets the record straight - again - on Al Gore and the internal combustion engine. For years, know-nothings in Congress and many gullible reporters and commentators have been mocking Al Gore's statements, in Earth in the Balance and elsewhere, that the internal combustion engine will become a thing of the past, and within the medium term future. It's an example, they say, of Al Gore's environmental extremism, or of his eagerness to exaggerate. There's just one problem: Al Gore is right. The Daily Howler sets the record straight, again and again explaining why the auto industry itself is saying the internal combustion engine is on the wrong side of history. Here's a sample:

In his 1992 book, Earth and the Balance, [Gore] said that “it ought to be accomplish the strategic goal of completely eliminating the internal combustion engine over, say, a twenty-five year period.” He discussed the car industry’s efforts to replace IC with cleaner technology.

John F. Smith Jr., chairman of General Motors Corp. ... predicts a “slow phase-off” of the internal-combustion engine in 20 to 30 years and adds, “It is prudent for us to be working very hard on alternative technology.”

Fire prevention, or just another logging program?
In last week’s big environmental story, President Bush traveled to the West Coast to announce what Portland’s Oregonian called a “push for more intensive thinning of Western forests to reduce fire danger” and “support legislation streamlining environmental rules that have slowed many Western logging projects.” The Administration billed the program as a response to this year's forest fires. But before Bush could even make the announcement, environmental groups went on the offensive, arguing that the new initiative was just an excuse to promote more logging:

"This administration was pushing logging before these fires, it's pushing logging because of these fires, and it'll be pushing logging after these fires," said Nathaniel Lawrence of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

So, which is it: necessary fire prevention - or a re-named logging program? Douglas Gantenbein, writing in Slate, said "Bush's proposal to reduce forest fires by cutting down trees does get it half right." Gantenbeim apparently believes the half that calls for thinning forests to prevent fires is sensible, but the half that calls for increased commercial logging is not:

... Bush advocates thinning forests to reduce fuel loads, in part by removing underbrush and young trees. Fire specialists call such vegetation "ladder fuels," because it allows a fire to climb off the ground and jump into treetops where it can do real damage. But Bush also wants so-called "merchantable" timber taken out. That is to say, perfectly healthy trees may be chopped down simply because they might burn in the future. Selling these trees to loggers, Bush says, will finance the boring, unprofitable stuff such as pruning pine saplings.

... Bush's shotgun marriage between a sensible forest-health proposal and the cut-and-pillage tradition of Republican anti-environmentalism, though, may be as likely to start political fires as to extinguish forest fires.

Gantenbein is right that waiving environmental laws in order to promote more logging - and using the proceeds to fund legitimate fire prevention programs - is dead wrong. At best, it complicates the issue and dilutes support for legitimate fire prevention. At worst, it's a cynical ploy to tie special interest giveaways to a popular and necessary cause.

But what about the half Gantenbeim suggests Bush got right? His article explains that the proposal is based on a theory that some foresters and academics have been promoting to reduce the risk of large fires. In short, the theory holds that decades of fire prevention have left forests much more overgrown than they would be if naturally occuring fires could burn freely now and then. The most obvious solutions proposed include controlled burns and thinning. Gantenbeim believes the thinning idea, as promoted by Wally Covington, one of its key academic champions, is generally sound. Covington, Gantenbeim says, is:

a little bit of an alarmist but makes a good argument that the defining ecosystem of the West—the ponderosa pine forest, which extends from Mexico to Canada—is in peril due to decades of fire suppression that left it overgrown and vulnerable to fires in a way it never was before Smokey Bear did his thing.

Covington's solution is this: Turn back the clock to about 1880 (chosen as the rough point when grazing changed fire regimes) by estimating how many trees per acre existed then (easy to do by counting tree stumps) then removing all but two or three trees for each pre-1880 stump. Figuring that one or two of those trees will fall victim to bugs or wind, in a decade or three you'll have a forest that looks like it did 120 years ago, when fire frequently burned but did no damage because the widely spaced trees gave the flames little to chew on except grass and pine needles.

It's a good theory, ...

If that were the end of the story, Bush's proposal might indeed be "half right." As Gantenbeim writes, however, "The trouble with it is that there's not yet much solid evidence it'll work." And that's not all:

Then there's a subtlety that the Bush version of Covington's ideas doesn't seem to grasp. Covington focuses on ponderosa pine forests, which don't regenerate well after destructive wildfire of the type burning this summer. They clearly would benefit from some kind of fireproofing. For them, Covington's proposal might prove a good one (and still cheaper than throwing billions at fires that can't be extinguished).

But millions of acres of Western forests also have in them lodgepole pine, Englemann spruce, Douglas fir, subalpine fir, and other tree species. Many of these trees—lodgepole pine, for instance—are genetically programmed to turn into a pile of ashes every 100 years or so. Lodgepole cones are packed with wax that melts in the heat of a blaze, releasing seeds. Those seeds, meanwhile, need the bare mineral soil a fire exposes in order to germinate. So, it's unclear whether any forest "treatment" would help these forests. Had the 1988 Yellowstone fires burned this summer, Bush would have stood next to Old Faithful and issued the same proclamation he gave in Medford, Ore. And it would have been incredibly wrongheaded.

In other words, Bush's proposal is not half-right. It might be half-right - but only for those forests dominated by ponderosa pines - and only if the untested theory pans out.

In the meantime, it makes sense to use controlled burns where the science indicates they are warranted, to use thinning if the science suggests it is necessary, and to focus fire-fighting efforts on the areas where there is the greatest risk. Leave environmental laws in place. And leave logging for logging's sake out of it.

More background: Like the Oregonian, the LA Times also had the story the day before Bush's announcement. The LAT also had a very smart follow-up, and the NYT's Doug Jehl chimed in with a good backgrounder. Several environmental groups made a counterproposal, including the Sierra Club.

Several of the stories, including the second LAT piece, credited the proposal to Mark Rey, now an Undersecretary in the Bush USDA, who is a former timber industry lobbyist. Rey also authored the infamous "timber rider" that caused so much trouble during the Clinton years, when Rey worked on Capitol Hill.

Ain't the revolving door grand?
Special Thanks.
Today I'm going to try and add a counter, a link to my email address for Letters to the Editor, some links to other sites - maybe even comments - all in an attempt to make this an actual blog. Many thanks to Ann Salisbury of Two Tears in a Bucket, who was kind enough to share some tips about modifying this template, and who will get my first link.
Why Robbed by a Fountain Pen? What are your website policies?
I happened to be listening to the song Pretty Boy Floyd when I was thinking about names for the blog, and one line caught my ear:

Some will rob you with a six-gun, and some with a fountain pen.

With Enron and Worldcom, Harken and Halliburton in the news, and social security looted to fund tax cuts for their executives, it seemed appropriate.

The album was Sweetheart of the Rodeo, the record the Byrds made with Gram Parsons, and not coincidentally their very best. Like many great Byrds songs, it was written by someone else.

The website where I found the song’s lyrics also has this great copyright notice attributed to Woody Guthrie. It pretty much sums up my attitude toward the site, even if the legalisms aren’t particularly legalistic:

This song is Copyrighted in U.S., under Seal of Copyright # 154085, for a period of 28 years, and anybody caught singin it without our permission, will be mighty good friends of ourn, cause we don't give a dern. Publish it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote it, that's all we wanted to do.

If you find something here that you’d like to quote, I’d be honored. - BJ
Saturday, August 24, 2002
War Liberal, who consistently has the best snakehead coverage, posts this gem, describing the difficulties Maryland regulators are having in crafting new rules to control invasive species. "Remember -- if snakeheads are outlawed, only outlaws will have snakeheads." Wondering what snakeheads taste like? They're good.
Brad DeLong runs the numbers on a hybrid Prius, and finds that what looks like a $25,000 purchase is really more like a NPV $16,000 purchase. In the comments section, one reader asks Do they look cool? The answer, my friend, is yes. I’ve got two friends with Priuses (Priui?) and they’re both attractive and zippy.
While high-profile agencies like the U.S. EPA and Park Service get most of the environmental press, a reform-minded Congress could accomplish much more by focusing on the happily below-the-radar Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps' central problem - hardly uncommon within the federal government, but perfected here - is that mid-level managers at the agency and local Congressional delegations are able to funnel most of the agency's money and effort into what amount to pork-barrel projects. Too often, the projects are both economically wasteful and environmentally destructive.

Now comes an unconventional (but not unlikely, when you think about it) alliance of Majority Leader Tom Daschle and conservative Bob Smith (the ranking Republican on the Senate environment committee), plus self-identified reformers John McCain and Russell Feingold, seeking to make some fundamental changes.
Monday, August 19, 2002
Salon jumps on the environmental accounting report recently published in Nature that I flogged a few days back. Here, Farhad Manjoo publishes a very interesting interview (interesting to envirowonks like myself anyway) with Robert Costanza, who published a widely-discussed paper in 1997 on the same subject. In it, Costanza discusses the new paper, for which he is a co-author:

Tell me what your new study found, and how you found it.

The bottom-line answer is that the benefit-cost ratio for preserving most of what's left of relatively wild natural areas is at least 100 to one: From the society's point of view, when you preserve wild nature, you're getting at least a hundred times the benefits over what it costs.

... But the problem is, who --

Who's going to pay for it? Well the problem is that these are social benefits, and the private benefits are much smaller. The reason that these things get converted in the first place is that the private owners can capture the private benefits and they don't have to pay the social costs. So from their private point of view it all looks very good economically, but from society's point of view it looks very bad.

An article in today's Los Angeles Times has this "scoop:"

At a time when national fire policy is emphasizing the importance of reducing the threat of wild fires to nearby communities, the U.S. Forest Service in California is spending the biggest chunks of its fire prevention funds in some of the least populated parts of the state.

Nowhere is that pattern more starkly reflected than in the Angeles National Forest. Backdrop, playground and watershed for millions living in the Los Angeles Basin, the forest ranks at the bottom of the funding ladder. The Angeles this year received less money for reduction of hazardous fuel than any other federal forest in the state. Its major thinning project last year consisted of sending in a hungry herd of sheep to munch on the chaparral.

By contrast, the Plumas National Forest, in a Northern California county of 21,000 people, got $9.8 million, or about 21 times as much as the Angeles. Plumas' neighbor, the Lassen National Forest, collected $8.9 million.

Yeah, well, that's because, for the most part, these projects are not about reducing the risk of fire at all - they're about loggin! It's a tried and true tactic for the logging industry - re-cast the sales as "fuel reduction" and hope that helps. (After all, if there is less wood in the forest, there's less "fuel" to burn. And trees are made out of wood, so cutting them down prevents forest fires. Eureka!) Dianne Feinstein tries to clue the paper in, stating of one high-profile project: "That is for timber too--to be able to do some selective logging. It's much more complicated than just directed at fire."

Here's hoping the reporter's unwillingness to take Feinstein's clue and re-frame the story is due to the reporter's over-eagerness to write the scoop about Southern California forests getting stiffed in fire reduction money, and not the reporter's over-eagerness to buy the industry line.
No doubt about it, the fisher-folk got a bad deal. Not by the new restrictions, but by the initial mis-management that made the restrictions necessary. Anyway, that's my take on this New York Times article about fishing restrictions along the East Coast that, hopefully, will allow the battered groundfish fishery to recover. "In the spring, commercial fishermen from Maine to Long Island were subjected to the most stringent federal regulations ever, limiting the number of days they may fish, the gear they may use, the size of what they catch and where they may fish."
Worthwhile writing this week about water ...

Christopher Heredia of the San Francisco Chronicle reports, "As many as 76 million people, mostly children in developing countries, could die from preventable water-related illnesses by 2020 if countries don't rethink water delivery systems, a new study by an Oakland environmental research institute concludes." The report, written by Peter Glieck, can be found here.

Maude Barlow & Tony Clarke write in The Nation of the looming problem of scarce fresh water, and the dangers of privatizing the water that exists. "Today thirty-one countries and over 1 billion people completely lack access to clean water." The article fronts this great quote from Fortune: "Water promises to be to the 21st century what oil was to the 20th century: the precious commodity that determines the wealth of nations." No doubt they liked the quote ... and enjoyed being able to quote Fortune approvingly.

Last, but not least, Time runs a cover story and series on global environmental issues, pegged to next week's World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg.
"It's amazing to me that only populists are ever accused of class warfare," writes Molly Ivins, national treasure. This column should be required reading for any journalist inclined to parrot the conservative line that populist policies = class warfare.
According to the Environmental News Service, the Bush Administration defended the "Roadless Rule" in court last week. That shouldn't be news - it's the law, after all - but the Administration up until last week had refused to defend it.

In a reversal of its prior stance, the Bush administration provided a legal defense of the environmental impact statement supporting the Roadless Area Conservation rule. The rule, adopted by the Forest Service in January 2000, would protect 58.5 million acres of national forest and grasslands from road building, mining and logging.

In a series of lawsuits over the past 18 months in which timber, mining and other interests have sought to overturn the rule, the Bush administration has failed to defend the merits of the rule in court. Environmental groups have intervened in the industry led lawsuits to defend the rule.

On Monday, the Bush administration reversed direction and filed a brief for the first time defending the rule on its merits in two consolidated cases in North Dakota, one filed by oil and gas interests and the other filed by the state of North Dakota.

The administration failed to mount a similar defense of the rule when it was challenged by the state of Idaho and Boise Cascade timber company in an Idaho federal court. In that case Judge Edward Lodge granted a preliminary injunction on May 10, 2001, preventing the rule from taking effect.

That injunction is now on appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals by a coalition of environmental groups represented by Earthjustice, but the administration has not defended the rule in that ongoing case.

"Where were the Forest Service and the Department of Justice when this rule was challenged in Idaho? Where were they when it was enjoined and when that injunction was appealed?" asked Todd True, an attorney with Earthjustice.

I'm curious about why the Administration decided to defend the Roadless Rule, but I haven't seen any mainstream media coverage of the subject. Three possibilities come to mind. In descending order of optimism: (1) simple change of heart, (2) confusion at DOJ, and (3) cynical effort to have their cake and eat it too (fail to defend the Rule when it counts, defend it later, Ari says "we did defend the rule").
Catching up on enviroblogging ... comprehensive article in The American Prospect on Steven Griles, the Deputy Secretary of the Interior in the Bush Administration, and his multiple "appearances of impropriety." Great lead paragraph, too:

"This hopefully will be a breath of fresh air," exclaimed National Mining Association spokesman John Grasser, with no intended irony, after he learned that J. Steven Griles had been nominated as the Department of the Interior's deputy secretary. Griles, who epitomizes the revolving door between government and industry, has alternated between getting rich working for industry and serving at high-level government posts, where he has devised industry-friendly policies to open public lands to drilling and mining.

Much of the information on Griles has appeared elsewhere, but this is the most complete review I've seen. The problem, aside from the familiar Bush Administration fox/henhouse situation, is that Griles is actually receiving a continuing income from a company whose livelihood depends on Interior Dept. regulation, or lack thereof. Even Judicial Watch is taking notice:

Griles' behavior has even drawn the ire of conservatives, including Tom Fitton of the right-wing Judicial Watch, known for hounding President Clinton in the Monica Lewinsky case. "He's receiving money from a company whose finances are dependent on decisions he's making," Fitton says of Griles.

The Department of the Interior did not respond to the reporters' questions regarding the appearance of impropriety by press time. Stay tuned.

Now playing: Wilco, in honor of the self-consciously contrarian and provocative (and deeply silly) write-up in Slate today by James Surowiecki titled "Everyone's wrong about the new Wilco movie" or "Why record execs should fear the new Wilco movie" depending on the angle from which you approach it on Slate's site. More specifically, I'm playing Wilco in honor of Tapped, which takes the phenomenon of critics seeking out a contrarian point of view just for the sake of it, and nails it.

PS - Wilco plays a mean show, and I saw them at one of the shows at which they were taping the movie, at least according to the signs at the door saying "by entering, you consent to have your photo included in the movie." I'm the white guy nodding his head awkwardly over by the bar.

PPS - Wilco is now, officially, past the point where any critic is justified explaining them by reference to other bands ("they've left their alt-country Gram Parsons meets the Replacements roots behind for that Pet Sounds pop vibe"). They've reached that point all really good bands eventually reach - they just sound like themselves.
Wednesday, August 14, 2002
I didn't start this blogging thing just to quote other bloggers. Not because they don't have anything to say, but because, well, they've already said it. And because they have traffic - and I don't - so what would be the point? Still, this entry by Tom Tomorrow (and the one after it ... just keep reading) really got my blood flowing today.

He's right, dammit. Is anybody listening?!

Okay, I'm a little pissed off this morning.

Do you get it yet? Do you begin to understand the implications here, when an American citizen can be arbitrarily declared a terrorist, held indefinitely as enemy combatant--with no evidence to support the charges?

Or do you believe that it's okay for the state to hold a citizen in a military facility without formal charges--as long as some law enforcement agency suspects him of, effectively, thoughtcrime? (In which case, perhaps you ought to consider moving to a country which places the same value on personal liberty that you do, such as, say, Iraq or Libya.)

Constitutional rights are meaningless if they do not apply equally to everyone, even Ted Bundy and Charlie Manson and Tim McVeigh, and even traitorous-high-ranking-al-Qaeda-dirty-bomb-plotting-except-as-it-turns-out-not-really gang members from Chicago. You either believe in our system of Constitutional protections or you don't, but there's nothing to debate here, especially when your strongest argument is, But he's a terrorist! I just know he is! There was never much doubt that Charlie Manson was a mass murderer--he still got a damn trial.....

Here is the article Mr. Tomorrow was ranting about. THE FBI’S investigation has produced no evidence that the man, Jose Padilla, 31, who used the name Abdullah al Muhajir after converting to Islam in 1992 or 1993, had begun preparations for an attack and little reason to believe that he had any support from al-Qaida to direct such a plot, one of the officials said on condition of anonymity.

See also this beauty by Jonathan Turley, in the L.A. Times. And don't miss this one, in the Washington Post, in which Judge Doumar skewers DOJ's indefinite detention of Yaser Hamdi without allowing him access to a lawyer:

"I tried valiantly to find a case of any kind, in any court, where a lawyer couldn't meet" with a client, Doumar said. "This case sets the most interesting precedent in relation to that which has ever existed in Anglo-American jurisprudence since the days of the Star Chamber," a reference to English kings' secret court from the 1400s to the 1600s.

... "I have no desire to have an enemy combatant get out of any status," Doumar said. "However, I do think that due process requires something other than a basic assertion by someone named Mobbs that they have looked at some papers and therefore they have determined he should be held incommunicado. Just think of the impact of that. Is that what we're fighting for?"

UPDATE 8/26/02: Tom Tomorrow has another entry on the Jonathan Turley piece linked above, concluding there is less there than meets the eye.

Second article by Elizabeth Shogren I'm blogging today. Did you know air pollution causes 3 million deaths each year? Do you think they'll send Colin Powell?

Update: here's the actual report. I may have more to say about this once I get a chance to read it in more depth (maybe this weekend). I'm wondering how many people die from lack of healthy air and water annually, and how that compares to other global killers (AIDS, suicide bombings) and how the funding stacks up for each of them. I already know how the media treatment stacks up. May be a longer term project, unless I find someone who's already written this up.
This piece by Michael Tomasky, writing in The American Prospect, should be required reading for all Democrats.

For the better part of two decades now, Democrats have operated according to so timorous a model of partisanship that they no longer know how to fight. They know how to argue policy. They do that quite well, and indeed they often win those arguments, if for no other reason than that so many of the policies Republicans support harken back (if I may) to the Gilded Age. But when it comes to hardball partisan politics, they've been fighting a raging fire with a garden hose. They've been afraid, even petrified, of arguing politics, of stepping outside the comparatively safe zone of policy and assertively debating the core principles that are the reason many of them enter the civic sphere to begin with. ...

Republicans, for all their caterwauling about how they're outnumbered in Washington, how nasty liberals are and how beastly the media is, recognize that spewing out a lot of hooey about those dominant Democrats keeps the blood percolating among the true believers, so they keep doing it. But privately, how they must chortle about this state of affairs! They've been fighting a one-armed man.

What Democratic leaders have forgotten is this: Partisanship is good in and of itself. Yes, legislation often needs bipartisan support to pass. Yes, too much partisanship is a bad thing. But intelligent, assertive partisanship is a civic virtue. It symbolizes a party's confidence and belief in itself. It fires up core constituencies -- and in the past nine months, a vast chasm has developed between the party's leaders and its fiercest (but most exasperated) partisans. And, contra conventional wisdom, it can even win over swing voters. Democratic operatives live in ceaseless fear of offending soccer moms or office-park dads, and so they lack the imagination to understand that partisanship, when done right -- with optimism, a joyful spirit and a touch of swagger -- can signal to such voters that at least the party believes in some principles and is committed to a vision of society that is a function of something greater than the latest round of poll results. Two generations of Democratic leaders have let themselves be cowed into forgetting all this.

"President" Bush may not like national monuments, but he makes up for it by loving oil and gas.

From the L.A. Times, Julie Cart and Elizabeth Shogren reporting: The Bush administration announced plans Monday to allow oil and gas companies to expand beyond the boundaries of their leases at the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in southwest Colorado.
Now here's a modest proposal we can all rally behind.

In a philosophical effort to come up with a city law that no one could ever break, conceptual artist Jonathon Keats wants Berkeley to legally acknowledge Aristotle's law, commonly expressed as A=A.

More plainly put, it means a table is a table. A blade of grass is a blade of grass. The mayor is the mayor.

Mayor Shirley Dean was dumbfounded.

"I haven't a clue what that means," Dean said of Keats' proposition.

... Keats plans to present his petition to the City Council when it reconvenes in September. He wants the council to place the proposal on the November ballot for a vote.

Although his law can't be broken, a misdemeanor fine of up to one-tenth of a cent would be imposed on anyone or anything caught being unidentical to itself within city limits.

Is this a Great Country or what? (I particularly like the guy at the end who thinks he has disproved the theory.)
Monday, August 12, 2002
Yours Truly is still on the White Stripes Bandwagon. I don't hold out much hope for the "new" Rolling Stone, but this month's cover has a blurb that is pure genious. The White Stripes: The New Carpenters? Yes, yes they are! (The story itself is only so-so, and the online version doesn't have the blurb that made the print cover so special. You can get a glimpse of the cover here.)
Isn't it interesting that some of the first victims of global climate change are represented by some of the most fossil fuel friendly politicians? Earlier this year, we saw a string of stories from Alaska. Now, Matt Crenson, writing for the Associated Press, reports that Louisiana residents are starting to notice that global warming threatens vast reaches of coastal wetlands, and even the future of New Orleans:

A widely publicized government report recently predicted that sea-level rise caused by global warming could swallow sizable chunks of the coastal United States in the coming century. In Louisiana, that future is already here.

Up to 35 square miles of Louisiana's wetlands sink into the Gulf of Mexico each year. To date, an area the size of Rhode Island has been lost. In some places, the coastline has retreated 30 miles.

If scientists' global warming projections prove correct, virtually every state along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts will have problems similar to Louisiana's by the middle of the century.

... "We're not going to be the only ones in the boat," says Al Naomi, a project manager in the New Orleans District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. "We're just in the boat first."

... The loss of coastal wetlands threatens to devastate the state's fishing industry, worth $2.2 billion a year. Fish, crabs, shrimp and other animals rely on wetlands as a nursery, where their young can find plenty of food without exposing themselves to predators. By some calculations, Louisiana's wetlands are involved in producing as much as 40% of the seafood caught in the United States.

"The biological productivity of the Barataria and Terrebone basins alone dwarfs that of the Everglades, which our country is willing to spend billions to restore," Ted Falgout says.

Three things here:

First, Great Quote, Mr. Naomi.

Second, look for some very interesting political developments in places like Louisiana, the other Gulf States, Alaska, Florida and the other areas where global warming will be felt first. Prediction: within the relatively near term (five to ten years) a conservative from a rural state will become a great champion of policies to fight global warming. Maybe Ted Stevens will have a Dick Armey moment.

Finally, now that there are physical signs of global warming, the politics of the issue are about to change dramatically. For ten years, a majority of the population has believed global warming is real, but it's been a very unfocused belief, with no sense of urgency. It's very hard for pro-environment politicians to vote to impose short-term changes for long-term benefits; it will be much easier when their constituents are personally familiar with the reasons why. Climate change may never have a moment quite as definitive as Love Canal, or the burning Cuyahoga River, or the Santa Monica oil spill, but if people like Ted Falgout are speaking out, things can only get better.

Falgout is no rabid environmentalist, intent on saving every square inch of marsh no matter what the cost. As executive director of the Greater LaFourche Port Commission, he manages the country's largest transportation hub for offshore oil and gas drilling. There are 600 offshore drilling platforms within 40 miles of the port.

The road connecting Port Fourchon to civilization, Louisiana Route 1, sits four feet above sea level for its final 18 miles. If a hurricane were to wash it away, nearly 20% of the total U.S. oil supply would be jeopardized. Gasoline prices might triple, Falgout warns.

Here's a story the U.S. media should cover, an Economist piece that asks Is it really in America's interest to create so many hardened criminals? Two excerpts:

The typical inmate goes into prison disadvantaged by almost every measure. He is more likely than other Americans to be poor and poorly educated, to have a sorry employment record, to be a junkie, to be mentally ill, and to be a member of a minority group. A survey of Californian inmates found that half were functionally illiterate. Prison could fix some of those social disadvantages; usually it does not. So the typical inmate is released from prison with all the problems he went in with—plus a prison record that makes finding a job or a place to live even harder.

America's huge criminal class also has profound political implications. Most states limit the voting rights of felons and ex-felons. As a result, 4.7m Americans, or 2.3% of the voting population, have lost their rights.
Saturday, August 10, 2002
Several Goodies from the Paper of Record, Duly Recorded:

Bush Rolls Back Rules on Privacy of Medical Data - The Bush administration on Friday formally rolled back some major protections for the privacy of medical records adopted by President Clinton.

U.S. Seeks to Limit Conservation Law - The Bush administration is arguing that a major environmental law [ed: NEPA] does not apply to the vast majority of oceans under United States control.

Park Service Is Seeking Big Increase in Money for Mass Transit - In an effort to reduce congestion and pollution in the national parks, the National Park Service is asking Congress to increase financing for public transportation in the parks when it reconvenes this fall, Park Service officials said this week.

This last story (in which the byline simply reads "By The New York Times") strikes me as a preemptive attempt by the Park Service to protect their budget from the White House and OMB, by leaking word of the request before OMB can delete it from the President's agenda. Let's hope it works.
According to this dispatch from the Environmental News Service, the benefits of environmental protection are routinely overlooked in the face of the prospect of short-term gains from developing natural resources. That's not news in an of itself - the environment wouldn't enjoy consistently strong public support if people didn't believe this to be true. Now, however, a team writing in Science is quantifying it:

The economic value of wild ecosystems far outweighs the value of converting these areas to cropland, housing or other human uses. A study in [the August 9, 2002] issue of the journal "Science" says habitat destruction costs the world the equivalent of about $250 billion each year.

... The research team estimates that a network of global nature reserves would ensure the delivery of goods and services worth at least $400 trillion more each year than the goods and services from their converted counterparts. This means the benefit to cost ratio is more than 100 to one in favor of conservation - a "strikingly good investment," the researchers wrote. ...

Despite these figures, the net benefit to the public of conservation is generally ignored, compared to the short term, private economic gains that often accompany conversion, the team wrote. ...

The full text of the article can be found in .pdf form at this link [$5 to purchase access from Science]. From the abstract:

Title: Economic Reasons for Conserving Wild Nature
Authors: Andrew Balmford, Aaron Bruner, Philip Cooper, Robert Costanza, Stephen Farber, Rhys E. Green, Martin Jenkins, Paul Jefferiss, Valma Jessamy, Joah Madden, Kat Munro, Norman Myers, Shahid Naeem, Jouni Paavola, Matthew Rayment, Sergio Rosendo, Joan Roughgarden, Kate Trumper, R. Kerry Turner.

Money Paragraph: On the eve of the World Summit on Sustainable Development, it is timely to assess progress over the 10 years since its predecessor in Rio de Janeiro. Loss and degradation of remaining natural habitats has continued largely unabated. However, evidence has been accumulating that such systems generate marked economic benefits, which the available data suggest exceed those obtained from continued habitat conversion. We estimate that the overall benefit:cost ratio of an effective global program for the conservation of remaining wild nature is at least 100:1.
Friday, August 09, 2002
In other words, Don't Discuss the Substance:

WASHINGTON (AP) - Memo to Republican candidates for the House: Never let Democrats "get away with" using words such as privatization or stock market when they criticize GOP plans for Social Security .... [Full Story]

This nifty little 280 page book sounds even funnier than the NRCC document Talking Points Memo found a few weeks back warning that there is "no effective _direct_ rebuttal" to charges the GOP is raiding Social Security and urging candidates to do what they can to "limit erosion" on the issue. I'm not a focus group, but I think the reason there's no effective direct rebuttal is because it's true, and voters don't like it. Call me unsophisticated.

The NRCC book also reminds me of a time way back during the debate over the Contract with America when the GOP House leadership put out a briefing to its members telling them how to deal with Democratic charges that the Newties wanted to roll back environmental safeguards: "plant a tree," they said. Just Don't Discuss the Substance.

I'll post to all 280 pages just as soon as I find a copy. And maybe the Tree Planting Gambit just for old times sake.
The first inductee into the new Robbed by a Fountain Pen Quotes Gallery (just as soon as I figure out how this blogger thing works):

"There is an old adage," said House Majority Leader Richard K. Armey (R-Tex.). "To the victor goes the spoils."
"If ever I could stop thinking about music and politics ..."
- Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy
Yes, as through this world I've wandered
I've seen lots of funny men;
Some will rob you with a six-gun,
And some with a fountain pen.