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

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Saturday, November 30, 2002
More Timber, Less Fish.
The Bush Administration proposed new changes to the Northwest Forest Plan adopted by President Clinton so that timber sales in National Forests and in BLM land would no longer have to consider the harm that logging would cause to salmon populations. The Administration is claiming, apparently with a straight face, that its changes are designed merely to restore the original intent of the Forest Plan, which has been interpreted as requiring the agencies to consider the impacts to fisheries in its logging decisions. The fishing industry is not amused:

"This plan is motivated by the desire to give federal timber and public resources to the timber industry," said Glen Spain, Northwest regional director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Association (PCFF).

"The direct impact of this proposal is more old growth logging, and this is also its intent," added Andy Stahl, executive director of the Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics (FSEEE). "Along with that, there will be less protection for wildlife, streams and salmon. That is also the intent."

... The Northwest Forest Plan was created in 1994 during the Clinton administration to insure that logging operations on some 24 million acres of federal lands in Washington, Oregon and Northern California did not adversely effect the rivers, streams and wildlife.

The plan was written in the wake of lawsuits over federal mismanagement of forests and to protect the northern spotted owl. The owl lives with the range of the lands managed under the Northwest Forest plan, some of which is considered old growth forest.

Details: The proposal, which would revise the Aquatic Conservation Strategy of the Northwest Forest Plan, is published in the Federal Register vol. 67 at page 70575. A final decision is planned for August 2003. There are no plans for public meetings on the revisions, but public comments will be accepted.
Priorities, Priorities.
So let me get this straight. Before leaving town, Congress managed to enact special help for needy insurance companies and drug manufacturers, but couldn't manage to extend unemployment benefits to the 800,000 Americans that will lose their benefits just three days after Christmas? And the Administration is preparing for war with Iraq while simultaneously arguing in court that the federal government does not "owe free lifetime medical care to World War II and Korean War veterans who agreed to serve 20 years in exchange, despite promises made to them when they were in the armed forces"?
Letting It Rip.
Al Gore’s interview with Josh Bensen of the New York Observer was the talk of the town this week. Most people immediately focused on Gore’s description of how certain elements of the so-called “liberal media” are in fact little more than right-wing partisan front groups:

"The media is kind of weird these days on politics, and there are some major institutional voices that are, truthfully speaking, part and parcel of the Republican Party," said Mr. Gore in an interview with The Observer. "Fox News Network, The Washington Times, Rush Limbaugh—there’s a bunch of them, and some of them are financed by wealthy ultra-conservative billionaires who make political deals with Republican administrations and the rest of the media ....”

... Mr. Gore has a bone to pick with his critics: namely, he says, that a systematically orchestrated bias in the media makes it impossible for him and his fellow Democrats to get a fair shake. "Something will start at the Republican National Committee, inside the building, and it will explode the next day on the right-wing talk-show network and on Fox News and in the newspapers that play this game, The Washington Times and the others. And then they’ll create a little echo chamber, and pretty soon they’ll start baiting the mainstream media for allegedly ignoring the story they’ve pushed into the zeitgeist. And then pretty soon the mainstream media goes out and disingenuously takes a so-called objective sampling, and lo and behold, these R.N.C. talking points are woven into the fabric of the zeitgeist."

Everyone’s reaction to these comments was the same: Can he say that? It’s not that Gore’s description is untrue, of course, because everyone knows how the system works. But it’s one of those truths that are supposed to remain unspoken - especially by those whose livelihood depends on media coverage. As Bensen noted, Gore’s “extensive criticism of the media” is “hardly a conventional way of launching a national political campaign.”

Gore’s comments were notable not just for his criticism of the media but also for what I thought was an insightful analysis of how, for business reasons, the media has changed in recent years so that there is much less straight reporting and much more news-based entertainment for sale.

[D]uring a lengthy discourse on the history of political journalism in America, Mr. Gore said he believed that evolving technologies and market forces have combined to lower the media’s standards of objectivity. "The introduction of cable-television news and Internet news made news a commodity, available from an unlimited number of sellers at a steadily decreasing cost, so the established news organizations became the high-cost producers of a low-cost commodity," said Mr. Gore. "They’re selling a hybrid product now that’s news plus news-helper; whether it’s entertainment or attitude or news that’s marbled with opinion, it’s different. Now, especially in the cable-TV market, it has become good economics once again to go back to a party-oriented approach to attract a hard-core following that appreciates the predictability of a right-wing point of view, but then to make aggressive and constant efforts to deny that’s what they’re doing in order to avoid offending the broader audience that mass advertisers want. Thus the Fox slogan ‘We Report, You Decide,’ or whatever the current version of their ritual denial is."

Gore also pointed out that there is a difference between learning from experience and “self-reinvention:”

Of course, some of the harshest criticisms of Mr. Gore have come from distinctly non-conservative quarters. Mr. Gore seemed particularly stung, for example, by an op-ed written by Frank Rich of The New York Times, suggesting that his new spontaneity was a charade. "When people write a line like one that I read this morning—quote, ‘People do not change,’ period, end quote—well, there’s a difference between learning from experience and self-reinvention," Mr. Gore said. "People do change, particularly in America. If you don’t learn from the experiences you have in life, then you’re not trying very hard, and if you don’t make mistakes, you’re not human ...."

Gore could have pointed out that there is no Democratic counterpart in the media to the partisans at Fox, The Washington Times and The Wall Street Journal editorial page. Why this is so is a subject for another time, but there are two explanations I find credible. First, liberal commentators tend to come from journalistic backgrounds whereas conservative commentators tend to come from political backgrounds and the latter are more comfortable in partisan roles while the former see a stronger need to be “objective.” Second, decades of conservative griping about the “liberal media” have made everyone in media jobs hypersensitive to accusations of bias against conservatives.

(Other links discussing Gore's remarks: Dan Kennedy's Media Log (Boston Phoenix) and Joe Conason's Journal (Salon).)
Thursday, November 28, 2002
Environmental News Under the Radar.
Three dispatches from the Environmental News Network:

Senators Question Yucca Mountain Science
Citing evidence of fraud and abuse, Nevada's U.S. senators have asked for a federal investigation into defects in the scientific process within the Yucca Mountain project.

Senators Harry Reid, a Democrat, and John Ensign, a Republican, referred to a recent story in the "Las Vegas Review Journal" which raised allegations of mistreatment of quality assurance personnel who identified technical deficiencies in the project. According to the article, two quality assurance personnel were removed from their jobs with the Yucca Mountain project because they were aggressive in identifying technical deficiencies in the project.

BP Exits Arctic Lobbying Group
BP, the world's third largest petroleum company, has pulled out of Arctic Power, the group leading the campaign to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil drilling.

Jetski Bans May Boost Park Visitor Numbers
Parks that banned personal watercraft (PWC) earlier this year experienced an average six percent increase in visitation over last year's numbers, finds a review by the Bluewater Network.

The nonprofit group's review of the National Park Service's (NPS) recreation visitor counts for the past two seasons showed that parks that prohibited PWC in April 2002 saw their visitor numbers rise. By contrast, those parks that continued to allow PWC use saw an average nine percent drop in visitation during the same time period.

The Big Shakedown.
It used to be that lobbyists courted legislators. These days in Washington, it’s the other way around. The Post’s Thomas Edsall reports:

Major industries such as accounting, aerospace, commercial banking, defense, HMOs and pharmaceuticals have abandoned their tradition of bipartisan campaign contributions in favor of a commitment to the GOP, a trend that could deepen the problems of a Democratic Party rocked by this month's elections.

An analysis of political donations by industry groups shows that over the past decade, 19 major sectors have shifted from a roughly 50-50 split between the two main parties -- or in some cases, a slightly pro-Democratic tilt -- to a solid alignment with the Republican Party, which now enjoys advantages exceeding 5 to 1 in some of these sectors. The shift has produced at least $78 million in additional GOP support from these groups over 10 years, while donations to Democrats have declined slightly.

The realignment is no accident. Republican leaders for years have been pressing corporate and trade groups to hire more GOP lobbyists and to support more GOP candidates. ...

Now that Republicans will again control both chambers of Congress and the White House, these leaders haven't been shy about reminding industry executives and their lobbyists that Republicans will decide which bills and nominees pass or fail.

Some Republican activists are determined to isolate Democrats as much as possible in terms of political fundraising and influence on K Street, Washington's main corridor for lobbying firms and interest groups. ...

[House Majority Leader Tom] DeLay has maintained what amounts to a kitchen cabinet of advisers made up largely of lobbyists from major industries and associations, assigning members to the successful anti-regulatory drive under the title Project Relief, and using K Street alliances to push legislation to kill ergonomics regulations approved by the Clinton administration.

"Perception does become reality, and the perception is that he [DeLay] is the 'Dirty Harry' of Capitol Hill, the bad cop," said Marshall Wittmann, former Christian Coalition staffer and now communications director for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). "Every K Street lobbyist is shaking in their boots because K Street lives on access, and DeLay can shut off their oxygen."

Wednesday, November 27, 2002
Making Criminals Out of Fans.
This doesn't strike me as a particularly good way for the music and movie business to cultivate a new generation of fans:

In the most severe crackdown yet on online piracy at a college campus, the United States Naval Academy has seized 100 computers from students who are suspected of having downloaded unauthorized copies of music files over the Internet. ...

The academy was one of 2,300 colleges to receive a letter from entertainment industry organizations last month requesting help in cracking down on unauthorized file swapping. The record industry largely attributes the decline in CD sales over the last 18 months to digital piracy, and has brought increasing pressure on institutions in a position to identify and discipline the downloaders.

College students never have enough money to be big CD buyers. Since the dawn of recorded music, they've shared with each other. Before the internet, people just made tapes of their friends' music, or pooled their resources to buy the latest hot release. But when they graduate and have jobs, they can afford to buy their own music - and they naturally turn to their favorite artists, which they heard back at the dorm. This sort of heavy-handed tactic seems guaranteed to alienate the best customers, not cultivate them.
Monday, November 25, 2002
Now Playing - Country Blues Bottleneck Guitar Classics: 1926-1937 (Yazoo Records 1972).
Pretty cool indeed. (I downloaded the album - legally - from Here's the All Music Guide Review.)
Offshore Tax Havens Protected by Homeland Security Bill.
The New Republic traces the debate over closing the "corporate inversion" tax loophole through which companies reincorporate in the Cayman Islands and similar locations to avoid paying taxes. One might think that, following 9-11, such tax evasion might be considered unpatriotic, and indeed, the Senate voted this fall (during the campaign) to bar offshore tax evaders from "homeland security" contracts in their version of the bill. But following the election, things changed again:

On November 13, eight days after the election, the House Republican leadership stuffed seven new provisions into the bill--one of which gutted the restrictions on offshore companies gaining Homeland Security Department contracts--and rammed the new legislation through. John McCain would later complain that, by introducing these new provisions at the eleventh hour, with virtually no public debate, the Republican leadership had "sidestepped the appropriate process."

When the legislation reached the Senate, Democrats cried foul. But the Bush administration, although ostensibly against corporate tax cheats, lobbied hard for the bill's passage nonetheless. So did Lott, who denounced the Democrats as obstructionist for trying to remove the new House provisions. Finally, after moderate Senate Republicans Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins threatened to join the Democrats and defeat the bill, Lott reversed course and promised to restore the tax-cheat restrictions when Congress reconvenes in January. Snowe and Collins hailed it as a victory. But already Republicans are reinterpreting Lott's pledge as a promise merely to "reconsider" the issue. The smart money says that corporate tax-evaders are home free.

The lesson is painfully obvious. Parties show their true colors not during elections, when they need to appeal to swing voters, but after they have won elections, when they feel politically secure enough to do what they really believe.

(Articles at The New Republic are free, but registration is required.)
Sunday, November 24, 2002
In Case You Missed 'Em.
I’ve been out of town for a couple of days - here are a few links from the past week that I found worthwhile:

Nicholas Confessore reports on how Paul Krugman became “the most important political columnist in America.” As Confessore says, Krugman is great at “writing things before it is okay to write them.”

Krugman's primacy is based largely on his dominance of a particular intellectual niche. As major columnists go, he is almost alone in analyzing the most important story in politics in recent years--the seamless melding of corporate, class, and political party interests at which the Bush administration excels. ...

What makes Krugman interesting, in short, is not just why he writes what he writes. It's why nobody else does. ...

For Krugman devotees ... the main appeal is his proclivity for writing things before it is okay to write them. Journalists may love to break news, but they hate to contradict the narratives that crystallize around particular politicians or policies. Late last winter, for instance, the established storyline on California's energy crisis was that Left Coasters had only themselves to blame: the state had passed a flawed deregulation law, which led its utilities to rely on the spot energy market when prices were high. This neutral explanation came from the supposedly competent and disinterested Federal Energy Regulatory Committee, so reporters favored it. And while the press gave plenty of column inches to the Bush administration's preferred spin--that environmentalists had stymied the construction of needed generation capacity--few reporters gave credence to groups like Public Citizen, who blamed the crisis on market manipulation by energy companies, many of them based in Texas and enjoying close ties to the administration. But Krugman, noting that economists had long worried about the vulnerability of California's trading system to price-fixing, argued that market manipulation was the obvious culprit; otherwise, he wrote in March 2001, the power company executives "are either saints or very bad businessmen." Krugman was ignored at the time. Twenty months later--following the collapse of Enron, three federal investigations into the California crisis, and a passel of indictments against energy company officials--Krugman has been proved right.

Atrios generated some interesting comments when he pulled this Mickey Kaus quote from Confessore’s article:

”The Bush tax cut is based on lies. But it's not enough to criticize a policy to say that it's based on lies. You have to say whether it's good or bad for the country."

For what it’s worth, I think the vast majority of working beat reporters are honest, hardworking types that do a good job. But for a variety of reasons, the system for covering Washington politics just doesn’t serve the country very well. The Bush tax cut campaign promise is a classic example. The math never added up, and any reporter with a calculator and the back of an envelope could tell you that. Simply put, it was impossible to fulfill all of his campaign promises at the same time ... but not one reporter was able to report that simple story. Instead, in a misguided show of impartiality, they just reported what Bush said, and that Gore said it didn’t add up, and that Bush in turn basically made fun of him for being a math geek trying to fool the public with fuzzy math. Even now, people like Kaus think it’s somehow beneath a working reporter to just report the facts: “The Bush tax cut is based on lies.” Sheesh.

Members of Congress from both parties are turning up the heat on possible Saudi backing of the 9-11 attacks, and urging the Bush Administration to get to the bottom of it - even if it means offending an important ally (and oil supplier).

Bush Inc. approved the drilling of two new natural gas wells in Padre Island National Seashore, the most important American nesting ground for the most endangered sea turtle, the Kemp's ridley.

Krugman strikes yet again, this time on how “the heritability of status” has been increasing in the U.S. - and how current trends “will give the children of today's wealthy a huge advantage over those who chose the wrong parents.” As Americans we are taught to believe that with hard work and determination anyone can make it. Personally, I’d love it if we could make a promise as a country to ensure that it’s true. (Footnote: some people in the blogosphere and commentariat took Krugman’s column as a simple-minded rant against nepotism. But I don’t think it’s just about nepotism - it’s also about whether the kid on the corner can grow up to be President, even if he or she isn’t born into wealth or name recognition.)

People keeping score on the energy industry’s manipulation of California’s energy “crisis” as well as those wondering why the White House is refusing to release information about who met with Administration staffers as they developed Bush’s energy policy should check out this article by David Lazarus of the SF Chronicle, “Energy providers have juice.”

Regular readers of this site (that’s you, mom!) know I think energy efficiency is a national security issue. This week, Amanda Paulson of The Christian Science Monitor reported how Green may become the new Red, White and Blue.

Bush Inc. announced its new New Source Review policy, surprising absolutely no one by backing the approach favored by the energy industry. (Both the Post and ENS covered this well.)

I blogged the cool “What Would Jesus Drive?” campaign a few days ago. Now Sheldon Drobny asks, What would Moses drive? “Jews once used their car-buying power to punish Nazis and anti-Semites. It's time to stop buying the SUVs that soak up the gas that provides the cash that sponsors terrorist attacks on Israel.”

Dwight Meredith has a great, great post on the media portrayal of Al Gore and George W. Bush, called Mistaken Identity: “In one respect, the media’’s coverage of the 2000 campaign was spot on. One candidate really does have a problem telling the truth and is constantly reinventing himself. There was just one little problem of mistaken identity.”

Remind me to get some stock in Halliburton. James Grimaldi reported in the Post that Halliburton is one of two Texas energy companies with ties to the Bush White House that “are lining up administration support for nearly $900 million in public financing for a Peruvian natural gas project that will cut through one of the world's most pristine tropical rain forests.”

If I can thank Jesse Helms, I can thank the Bush administration too. (It must be getting a little chilly down in Hades.) The U.S. recently joined an international effort to clamp down on the illegal trade in mahogany. To be sure, the administration didn’t exactly take a leadership role in the debate (the U.S. arrived at the conference without a position and then joined in the emerging consensus) but at least they weren’t in the way.

Jesse Helms emerged as a hero for small, non-commercial web radio stations. Thanks, Jesse, for giving offbeat web music and alternative news a new lease on life. (I once lived in North Carolina and volunteered a little with Harvey Gantt’s first run for Senate. I’m sure that’s the first time I ever thanked Mr. Helms for anything. His action was apparently motivated by a desire to help small Christian webcasters, if you’re wondering.)

The Future of Music Coalition released its report on the dark side of deregulation and consolidation in the radio industry.

Paul Krugman has a knack for saying the things everybody knows but no one will acknowledge publicly ... like this on Bush Inc.’s plan to privatize 850,000 government jobs: “... I doubt that there's a single politician or journalist in Washington who believes that privatizing much of the federal government - a step that the administration says it can take without any new legislation - is really motivated by a desire to reduce costs.” Of course it’s not. Why is he the only one saying so?

Despite Dubya’s carefully cultivated cowboy image, his administration seems poised to break one of Hollywood’s golden rules: the good guys never shoot first.

Glacier National Park, which had 150 glaciers a century ago, now has 35 - and even those are melting so quickly that scientists estimate the park will have none in 30 years.

Federal agencies now ignore public comments on proposed rules.

Gene Sperling proposes to create universal progressive savings accounts with the money that would go to the most wealthy estates if the estate tax were entirely repealed.
Wednesday, November 20, 2002
And Now for Some Important News.

DURHAM, N.C. (AP) -- Two of the nation's top high school basketball players have signed national letters of intent to play for Duke.

Luol Deng and Kris Humphries committed to play for the sixth-ranked Blue Devils during the early signing period that ended Wednesday, coach Mike Krzyzewski said.

Tuesday, November 19, 2002
Live From the Yellowstone National Park and Timber Nursery.
WhiteHouse.Org has the scoop on George W. Bush's recent decision to make Yellowstone just a little more snowmobile friendly:


THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. Today, it is my pleasure to appear here in the Yellowstone National Park and Timber Nursery to correct a grave injustice committed against some of America's most accomplished and fit sportsmen - you snowmobilers. Now it seems my heeb-boning predecessor Bill Clinton thought he and his Sierra Club goons could discriminate against you good folks without giving a second thought to where the snowmobile manufacturer lobby's campaign contributions would go. Well, that's part of why I'm standing here today, proudly presiding over the ribbon cutting for the reopening of the Yellowstone Circumferential Snowmobile Expressway! (Cheers.)

Thank you, thank you. I just hope you enjoy it. And to make sure you do, I've even told the Parks Service to cook up a little sightseeing guide for y'all ....

Note: is a parody site that should never be confused with (porn) or (The White House).
Monday, November 18, 2002
The Question Is, Are We Paranoid Enough?
Wiretaps ... Total Information Awareness ... "Homeland" Security ... should I be paranoid? I'm starting to wonder. What do you think, John? "We have no desire whatsoever to in any way erode or undermine constitutional liberties," Ashcroft said. Forgive me if that doesn't put my mind at ease.
Greenhouse and Statehouse.
NPR's Richard Harris has a good report on the Pew study discussed below.
Sunday, November 17, 2002
You Can Say That Again.
In the weekly Weekly Standard email, Fred Barnes writes that "Washington is now President Bush's town. The media is at least momentarily docile and Republicans in the administration and on Capitol Hill are awaiting orders." Docile media? Can't argue with you there.
Look Alive, Team.
Molly Ivins, in full Molly Ivins mode, chronicles this week's special interest giveaways from Bush Inc. and concludes the good guys can beat them - and have fun doing it. Now that's the spirit!

The litany of horrors, both completed and contemplated, could go on for days, but that is no excuse for giving up. In fact, it's much easier to stop bad legislation than it is to pass good legislation. Playing defense in politics is much easier than playing offense. Smart Democrats in Congress and citizens raising hell can derail most of this. Just stay alert and involved, team. There is fun yet to be had. Indeed, given the number of blue-bellied nitwits who are about to become Senate committee chairs, we can look forward to a high degree of unintentional comedy.

Molly's got a great point - not only is stopping bad things easier than starting good things - it can be fun. (Ask anyone that fought Newt Gingrich as he over-reached during the mid-nineties.) So look alive, team!
More State Action on Climate Change.
A few days ago, I had an entry on how, with the lack of federal action on global warming, an increasing number of states are taking matters into their own hands. Here's a new report from the Pew Center on Global Climate Change called Greenhouse & Statehouse with case studies of nine such states - Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas and Wisconsin.
Cut Air Pollution, Save on Health Care Costs.
Laura Meckler, writing for the AP, reports that a new study published in the journal Health Affairs indicates that even small improvements in air quality could dramatically reduce medical costs:

Older Americans in the most polluted parts of the country are significantly more likely to need medical treatment, particularly for lung ailments, according to a study that suggests reducing pollution could cut medical spending as well.

Earlier studies have established a link between air pollution and early death, but this is the first large-scale look at the impact on medical care itself, said Victor R. Fuchs, a Stanford University economist and lead author of the study ....

The study found air pollution significantly increases Medicare recipients' medical care needs, even after controlling for region, population size, education, income, cigarette use and obesity. Because race plays such a large role in health, the study focused only on whites.

It examined 183 metropolitan areas with more than 100,000 people, using air pollution data from the Environmental Protection Agency, and averaged data from 1989-91.

(Click here for the abstract and to purchase a copy of the report.)
Thursday, November 14, 2002
Al Gore for Single Payer Health Care.
The Note reports that Al Gore came out for single payer health care. Speaking last night in a New York synagogue in response to a question about health care, Gore said he had come to the conclusion that it was the best way for the nation to proceed. According to the AP, Gore said "I think we've reached a point where the entire health care system is in impending crisis" and "I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that we should begin drafting a single-payer national health insurance plan.''

As if that weren't enough news for one night, the AP also reports that Gore said Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman is free to run for president if he wants, even though Lieberman has said he would not undertake a campaign if Gore runs. "Whatever he wants to do is up to him," Gore said.
Wednesday, November 13, 2002
America's Finest News Source Strikes Again.
I think the Onion is just perfect - What Do You Think?
For the Record.
Ever wonder what economic growth, inflation, unemployment, federal spending, and the national debt have been like under Republican and Democratic administrations? Dwight Meredith runs the numbers:

We looked at the forty years of Kennedy through Clinton. Consider the following:

1) Economic growth averaged 2.94% under Republican Presidents and 3.92% under Democratic Presidents. See this post.

2) Inflation averaged 4.96% under Republicans and 4.26% under Democrats. See this post.

3) Unemployment averaged 6.75% under Republicans and 5.1% under Democrats. See this post.

4) Total federal spending rose at an average rate of 7.57% under Republican Presidents and at an average rate of 6.96% under Democratic Presidents. See this post.

5) Total non-defense federal spending rose at an average rate of 10.08% under Republicans and at an average rate of 8.34% under Democrats. See this post.

6) During the forty-year period studied, the National Debt grew by $3.8 trillion under budgets submitted by Republican Presidents and by $720 billion under budgets submitted by Democratic Presidents. Stated differently, the average annual deficit under Republicans was $190 billion; and, while under Democrats, it was $36 billion. See this post.

7) During the period studied, under Republican Presidents the number of federal government non-defense employees rose by 310,000, while the number of such employees rose by 59,000 under Democrats. See this post.

Those facts make it difficult to argue that Republican Presidents have done a better job than Democratic Presidents in managing the economy. Indeed, if someone will suggest a measure of economic performance in which Republican Presidents have done better than Democratic Presidents, we will be happy to look into the issue. Surely there must be some measure of economic performance that favors the Republicans; however, we have been unable to locate it.

(I was so impressed with these stats that I didn't want to settle for excerpts; they are reprinted in full from P.L.A., with Meredith's permission. The internal links are to more detailed posts on each bullet.)

Meredith's statistics are consistent with a recent Slate analysis of stock market performance under GOP and Dem administrations:

Poll after poll shows that when Americans divide up the chores of running the country, they tend to think of the economy and stock market as Republican domain and delegate softer issues, like the environment, to Democrats.

But Democrats, it turns out, are much better for the stock market than Republicans. Slate ran the numbers and found that since 1900, Democratic presidents have produced a 12.3 percent annual total return on the S&P 500, but Republicans only an 8 percent return. In 2000, the Stock Trader's Almanac, which slices and dices Wall Street performance figures like baseball stats, came up with nearly the same numbers (13.4 percent versus 8.1 percent) by measuring Dow price appreciation.

The Most Over-Interpreted Election Ever?
Charlie Cook says that in his judgment, "the 2002 midterm election is one of the most over-interpreted, or perhaps even misinterpreted, elections" he has ever seen, and adds that "my strong competitor and close friend Stu Rothenberg, editor and publisher of the Rothenberg Political Report, feels very much the same." Why?

Not one House seat in the country that had been rated leaning, likely or solidly Democratic in the Oct. 20, final post-election issue of the Cook Political Report went Republican. (For that matter, no leaning, likely or solidly Republican seat went Democratic, either.) Republicans simply won seven out of 11 of the toss-up races. Only one Senate seat that was leaning, likely or solidly Democratic in our final issue went Republican, and that was freshman Georgia Sen. Max Cleland's. We had moved his race to the toss-up column on our Web site and in speech handouts during the week before the election, as polls indicated that his challenger, GOP Rep. Saxby Chambliss, had begun to surge.

(I couldn't find this column online, but subscriptions to his regular email Off to the Races are free.)
Monday, November 11, 2002
A Modest Proposal to Pave the Planet.
The Daily Grist describes Colorado's new plan to increase water supplies - by clear-cutting forests - as reported by the Denver Post:

Another one from the Believe-It-Or-Not Department: Colorado officials want to increase clear-cutting to help solve the state's drought problem. Removing trees would allow more snow to fall to the ground, where it would run off into streams in the spring, providing enough new water to supply as many as a million families, says Kent Folksinger, the top water official at the state Department of Natural Resources. Colorado Gov. Bill Owens (R), a powerful Colorado representative to the U.S. House, and key Bush administration officials are all excited about the idea. They say the logging-for-water plan would kill two birds with one stone, increasing water resources while also reducing the risk of forest fires (no trees = no fires -- get it?). Environmentalists say the plan would only increase flooding and damage mountain streams. "This is beyond harebrained," says Chris Wood, a top U.S. Forest Service advisor during the Clinton years.

Apparently, the idea is that if there are no trees, then snow can't get stuck in the trees or absorbed by the trees, and the fires won't have anything to burn. But why stop there? Why not pave the forest? (If the mountains continue to be made of dirt, some of the water will soak in ... and what doesn't soak in will cause erosion and sedimentation problems ... and plants will eventually grow and create a fire hazard. But if you pave the mountains, the water will run off completely, it won't pick up dirt, and you won't have to worry about fires at all. Voila!)

[Edited 11/17/02 to correct spelling error.]
Why America Can Have Nuclear Weapons But Other Countries Can't.
Andrew Northrup has an important bit of scholarship on why some countries (the ones filled with foreigners) are just unfit to have nuclear weapons.
Want Something Done? Better Do It Yourself.
Eric Pianin describes how, with Washington stalled on global warming, states are taking matters into their own hands. I expect to see quite a few stories like this over the next couple of years. If there's going to be progress on the environment, it will have to come from the states - and there are a bunch of new governors looking to make their mark.
Sunday, November 10, 2002
Don't Misunderestimate Bush.
All Democrats should read the article by David Von Drehle in the Washington Post which explains why it's a mistake to "misunderestimate" George W. Bush. Whatever we think of the guy as a president (I think he's running the country into the ground) it's clear by now that he's a fantastic politician. The article posits three reasons, through a quote by Bruce Reed, why it's also politically stupid and counterproductive to underestimate him:

The first: "Book smarts have not necessarily been a perfect indicator of presidential success." Another: "It's always a mistake to personalize the argument." A third: "It plays directly into Bush's strength, which is that he comes across as a regular guy."

The second point is particularly intriguing, mainly because it doesn't get much attention. When people see Democrats suggesting they think they're smarter and more sophisticated than Bush, a lot of those people invariably think the Democrats are saying they're better than them, too. After all, lots of them like the guy. And no one likes to be condescended to:

Whenever Democrats complain about Bush's intelligence and judgment, they are making a mistake similar to the one Republicans made by relentlessly attacking former president Bill Clinton's private life in the late 1990s. In both cases, the attacks bleed over to implicate the voters who chose these men. And voters don't like to be hectored about their decisions.

"It's important to understand where the American people are coming from," Reed observed, "and not assume that they are always wrong. You're not going to get votes by assuming that, as a party, you're a lot smarter than the voters."

You can argue, of course, that it's the Bushes that condescend to the voters, with the casual arrogance typical of inherited power. (Remember Jeb's let them eat cake wisecrack, "What is it with Democrats having a hard time voting"? Or how Junior got around Al Gore's absolutely true claim that Bush's campaign promises didn't add up, just by calling it "fuzzy math"? The message, of course, was that you, Mr. and Mrs. Voter, shouldn't bother to look it up yourself - it'll just confuse you.)

But all of that's beside the point, because the Bushes are good at sounding like they are being straight with people, but the Democrats come off like they are talking down to people.
The Law and Order Party?
We've seen how the GOP is now the party of fiscal irresponsibility here and here, and yesterday I noted that they're also the party of judicial activism. Well, at least they're the law and order party, right? Wrong.

Polluters have paid 64-percent less in fines for breaking federal environmental rules under the Bush administration than they did in the final two years of the Clinton administration, according to federal records analyzed by Knight Ridder.

A Proposal for the New Republican Congress.
I hate to give the GOP good advice, but here goes. Take on the music industry. Whew, that wasn't so hard. Don't say I never did nothin' for ya. (The link is a Blogcritics post by Eric Olsen building on something Glenn Reynolds said.)
New Blogcritics Entry - Live Music: Ornette Coleman Plays a Mean Violin.
I've got a new Blogcritics entry up, a review of this week's astounding Ornette Coleman concert:

For the San Francisco Jazz Festival, Ornette Coleman brought his violin, his trumpet, his electric turquoise suit - and a slate of new songs written for the occasion. ...

Saturday, November 09, 2002
What Would Jesus Drive?
You wouldn't know it from listening to Dubya on Fox, but the Bible admonishes humankind to care for God's creation.

The Rev. Jim Ball has come up with a question he hopes will make millions of church-going Americans think twice before buying another SUV.

It's: "What would Jesus drive?"

Ball, a native of Baton Rouge, La., directs the Evangelical Environmental Network, a "biblically orthodox" nonprofit working with groups including the large relief organization World Vision International and the International Bible Society. The organization is launching a barrage of ads, mostly on Christian radio stations and cable television, urging consumers and automakers to start thinking of gas mileage as an ethical statement, noting that auto emissions are significantly contributing to climate change.

And Who Knows More About Henhouses Than Foxes?
Poor Harvey Pitt still doesn't get it. After (finally) being dumped as the head of the SEC, Pitt gave a speech this week in which he whined about the partisan climate in Washington and suggested he didn't get a fair shake:

"I hope my successor isn't greeted with the same climate of attack and partisanship," he said. "It's easy to find fault, and it's easy to criticize. In a partisan environment, criticism often devolves into attack. This doesn't help anyone. In fact, it's not just unproductive, it's counterproductive."

People close to Pitt said his comments yesterday fit with what he has said in private since he announced his resignation on election night. They said he has taken no responsibility for the problems he compounded through his actions. ...

The vexing question that framed Pitt's stewardship at the SEC was whether, after representing the major accounting firms as counsel, he could be effective as SEC chairman. In a recent contemplative moment with friends, sources said, Pitt rhetorically framed the issue he confronted this way: "Am I too close to the accounting profession to have credibility?"

Yes, Harvey, yes you are.

To be fair, Pitt isn't really the problem. The problem is that President Bush assumes the best people to regulate any industry are the people who run the industry. Sure, the foxes end up guarding the henhouses, but who knows more about henhouses than foxes?

(Click here, here, or here for earlier posts on this problem.)
The Party of Judicial Activism.
In case you missed it, conservatives are the judicial activists now.
Some People Just Don't Want to Know.
Environmentalists love the National Environmental Policy Act, because it forces government agencies to study and disclose to the public the likely environmental consequences of proposed actions. The logging companies, Big Oil, and private developers, on the other hand, hate NEPA, because, well, because it forces government agencies to study and disclose to the public the likely environmental consequences of proposed actions. Guess who's got the upper hand in Washington right now? (Read Brad Knickerbocker in the Monitor for the latest.)
Payback Time.
Naturally, the business lobbies that paid for the GOP takeover of Congress didn't do it for altruistic reasons. Lobbyist wishlists are circulating all over town, as Jonathan Weisman (Washington Post) points out. Here's my favorite quote:

"The business community felt passed over by the first Bush tax cut and the first two years," said one Republican lobbyist. "Now they really want something."

Are you kidding me? The Bush Administration eats, sleeps and breathes to redirect public assets into corporate hands. I mean, aside from the idle rich, who else do they stand up for? This guy seriously thinks the business community was neglected? It's gonna be an interesting two years.
The Party of Fiscal Irresponsibility?
That would be the GOP. As Brad DeLong points out, the current crop of Republicans supports unproductive subsidies and borrow and spend fiscal policies that have turned a record surplus into deficits as far as the eye can see. And that 2001 tax bill? Check out the marginal tax rates:

Let me give you some marginal tax rates... a mother with two kids earning $24000: 68% (she loses the last of her food stamps, and her earned income tax credit phases out)... a doctor making $200,000: 36.4%... an executive making $1,000,000: 40%... Any decent supply-sider would say that the real place where marginal tax rates needed to be cut in 2001 was around the $25000 a year zone: the place where the phase out of the earned income credit makes marginal rates astronomical.

... So we got a tax cut that gives 40% of its notional dollars to those making more than $300,000 a year whose marginal tax rates are much lower than those of the mother of two earning $12 an hour.

Voters Chose Environmental Protection.
Don't get the idea that Tuesday's results signaled a voter shift away from environmental safeguards. In the most direct tests of voter preferences - ballot measures - people voted overwhelmingly for pro-environment policies and greater environmental spending.

Americans across the nation voted this year to spend more money to protect the environment and improve animal welfare. Voters approved a host of measures to slow sprawl and institute smart growth guidelines, and to boost spending on conservation, environmental restoration and animal protection. ...

Open space and land protection measures also won at the polls this year. Voters in 79 communities in 22 states passed ballot measures to create about $2.6 billion in new public funding to protect land for parks and open space, according to the Trust for Public Land (TPL) and the Land Trust Alliance (LTA).

Overall, 79 of 99 local and state measures nationwide were successful, for an estimated 80 percent rate of passage. This is an increase from November 2001, when 75 percent of open space ballot measures were successful nationwide.

Follow the Money - to a Republican Congress.
In case you were wondering, the GOP outspent the Democrats 5 to 3 in the midterm elections.
Dick Cheney is Still Wrong.
Remember when the Vice President said that energy efficiency, while possibly a "sign of personal virtue," could never be a viable energy policy? Well, as the Sacramento Bee reports, he's still wrong:

Almost as soon as the first lights flickered out and the first emergency laws were passed, California's energy crisis swept millions of people into a vast social experiment.

Just how much could they curb their energy appetites? And when would they relapse like a yo-yo dieter back to more lavish ways? Or would they?

Nearly two years later, a partial relapse has occurred, but it's likely the state's consumers will use less electricity for years to come, according to utilities, academics and energy experts studying the legacy of California's power crisis.

"We have seen a lifestyle change," said Christy Dennis of Pacific Gas and Electric Co.

While there are wide variations among different utilities and customer types, the sharp, dramatic drops in energy use in 2001 have rebounded only partially in 2002, according to utility power sales data. ...

If the trend endures, as SMUD and some energy officials expect, it could mean the state will need fewer power plants, and so will see slightly less air pollution.

Thursday, November 07, 2002
Moving Ahead.
Should the Democrats move to the left? Or to the right? Gawd I'm tired of that debate. It's the wrong question, period.

Democrats don't need to stand for anything other than what they've stood for since FDR was in charge. The core of the Democratic party isn't what it stands for anyway, but who it stands for, and the answer is people who work hard and play by the rules. And since the current president views his mandate as helping people who never had to work and think the rules are for other people, Democrats won't have to move left or right to distinguish themselves. They just need to step forward.

Everything anyone needs to know about what went wrong and how to make it right can be found in the Begala interview below and these pieces by Conason and Dionne. Now let's stop moping and move ahead.
Tuesday, November 05, 2002
Can't Beat Something With Nothing.
I'm too tired for a full election analysis and frankly, I need another drink. But anyway, here's my $0.02. As I write this, we still don't know the composition of the Senate, but it looks bad for Dems. All I can say is, if the D's had followed Begala's advice (excerpted from BuzzFlash and by way of the Sideshow), this wouldn't have happened:

BUZZFLASH: Your last chapter describes "what the Democrats are for (or at least what they should be for)." Can you tell BuzzFlash readers what you think the Democratic economic policy should be?

BEGALA: Democrats should stand for working people, period. As Paul Wellstone said in his last campaign ad -- Worldcom, Enron, the big financial interests, they have great representation in Washington. So we should be for stopping the Bush tax cut for the rich before it does any more damage. We should be for an immediate cut in the payroll tax -- 80% of us pay more in payroll taxes than income taxes. We should apply the inheritance tax to estates valued over $2 million, with protections for family farms, then use half the proceeds to repeal the "pre-death tax" -- the Medicaid requirement that forces seniors to "spend down" their life savings to almost nothing before they can receive long-term care under Medicaid.

Far more Americans are taxed to death before they die because of our lack of long-term care insurance. Democrats should stand for free and fair trade, with appropriate compensation for people who are hurt by it. We should invest in our people -- education, training, the things that make us smarter. And we should save social security from ever being gambled on in the stock market. The 75-year shortfall in social security is $3.7 trillion. But the 75-year cost of the Bush tax cut is $8.7 trillion. So we can save social security, without a tax increase and without a benefit cut, and still have $5 trillion left to balance the budget, cut payroll taxes, and invest in education.

BUZZFLASH: The Democrats haven't been able to get the message out that our deficits are subsidizing the rich, through a gluttonous, ruinous tax cut. The Democrats are petrified that if they speak out, the Republicans will accuse them of wanting to raise taxes. How do the Democrats get out of this box?

BEGALA: I think I answered this one above, but let me try again: when Bush says we're for raising taxes, we should say, "The Hell we are! We're for cutting payroll taxes to create jobs and put money in the pockets of working people. But with the country at war, with Bush spending our social security surplus, we're going to ask the wealthiest one percent of Americans to forgo the tax cut Bush promised you. It's nothing compared to the sacrifice of those families who are sending loved ones to the Persian Gulf. It is, literally, the least you can do. And guess what? The strong economy our policies will create will put more money in your pocket than any tax cut ever could."

BUZZFLASH: What will happen to the economy if the Republicans assume control of the Senate as a result of the November election?

BEGALA: The entire federal judiciary will look like the famous "ascent of man" evolutionary chart -- except stopped about two guys from the end. Every right-wing, mouth-breathing knuckle-dragging thug they can squeeze into a black robe will receive a lifetime appointment to the federal bench. You can bet that someone who became president because he lost an election but won a lawsuit understands the power of the courts. The Democratic Senate has stopped Bush thus far. If we lose the Senate, we lose the courts for a generation.

Second, bar the door on corporate giveaways. Senate Democrats killed Bush's plan to rebate billions of dollars in corporate taxes, including $254 million to Enron.

Third, chew carefully while you breathe. Polluters will control environmental policy and it won't be a pretty sight.

Finally, you can make book that social security will be turned over to Wall Street, where Aunt Gladys' retirement savings will pay for Jack Welch's dry cleaning and Dennis Kozlowski's $6,000 shower curtain.

Honestly, I don't see what's so hard about this. Bush is a terrible president. Name an indicator (economy, crime, security) - it's going the wrong way. We're a wrong track country and you're telling me the out-of-power party can't take advantage of that? Well, you can't if you don't put forward an alternate vision of the future.


Short tangent re: the main storyline:

"It's a big night for Republicans, especially George W. Bush and his coattails."

Baloney. By any objective measure, this country is still split down the middle, just like it was before the election. Dems actually picked up a bunch of important Governorships.

And while Bush was important to the election, it wasn't because he is so popular, or because he has coattails. It sure as hell ain't because his agenda is so popular. Bush was important because the White House controlled the agenda.

Why did the White House control the agenda? Well, see above ... You just can't beat something with nothing.

(Unfortunately, Democrats will be too busy wringing their hands tomorrow to rebut the GOP spin that it was a huge mandate for their party, and with their body language they'll contribute to that impression. We're Democrats, after all, it's what we do (wring our hands).)
Monday, November 04, 2002
Vice President Cheney's Conflict of Interest.
David Lazarus of the SF Chronicle business section poses this hypo:

Let's say there's a businessman -- in China, for example -- with stellar public-sector connections. He wins billions of dollars in government contracts for his company.

Let's say this businessman becomes a high-ranking government official himself. And let's say the government begins throwing its enemies into prison without trials or access to attorneys.

Would anyone be surprised if the official's former company wins the contract for building all those new prison cells? Probably not. We'd just assume that's how things work in a place like Beijing.

Only this isn't a hypothetical situation, and it's not really about China. We're actually talking about the U.S. government and an American company.

And the official in question is none other than Vice President Dick Cheney.

Sunday, November 03, 2002
Under the Radar.
I’ve been either out of town or crazy busy the last few days, so no blogging. Following are a bunch of links to what I thought were interesting or important stories that didn’t get a whole lot of attention.

The Merc reports that the “Bush administration is backing off a key global environmental initiative launched by the president's father, who proposed restricting trade in the wood from world's dwindling mahogany forests.”

The economy still stinks.

This is disgraceful: James Dao (NYT) reports that "The Bush administration has threatened to withdraw its support for a global family planning agreement because of a dispute over abortion.”

A federal judge has halted the 'Yellowcat' seismic exploration project near Arches National Park, “in which 40,000-pound "thumper trucks" would criss-cross 23,000 acres of public land northeast of the park in search of oil and gas deposits. Environmental groups have challenged the project repeatedly, saying it is a dreadful part of the Bush administration's energy policy, which includes drilling in wildlife refuges, roadless areas and proposed wilderness areas.”

Peter Behr reports in the Washington Post that “A week before George W. Bush's 1990 sale of stock in Harken Energy Co., the firm's outside lawyers cautioned Bush and other directors against selling shares if they had significant negative information about the company's prospects.”

The California State Fish and Game Commission has voted to create the largest system of marine reserves off the U.S. west coast, 175 square miles within the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary in 13 separate areas where most or all fishing will not be allowed. (ENS link and LA Times article by Kenneth Weiss.)

Air pollution from refineries and factories would increase under new air pollution rules being prepared by the Bush administration, two studies suggest. (ENS link and AP wire story.)

A Salon interview with Keith Bradsher, the former Detroit bureau chief of the New York Times and author of “High and Mighty: SUVs, the World's Most Dangerous Vehicles and How They Got That Way.”

Arianna Huffington has a great idea for a new ad campaign. (I know it’s a great idea because my friend Debbie made an almost identical suggestion a couple months ago.)

Dana Milbank on how, “For Bush, Facts Are Malleable.” (And here I thought he was just a liar.)

Rittenhouse on the Party of Fiscal Irresponsibility.