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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Sunday, December 29, 2002
 
War in the West.
Blaine Harden and Douglas Jehl have great color in their long feature today about the growing conflict between ranchers and the energy industry in the mountain west. Here's a sample:

Ranchers like Tweeti Blancett, a sixth-generation New Mexican, warn that a fragile balance between production and conservation is falling badly out of whack.

"We are a multiple-use land, and we understand that," Ms. Blancett said the other day, bouncing along roads rutted by drilling rigs and water tankers on land that is owned by the federal government but leased for both ranching and energy exploration. "But we want industry to understand that there are other users out there."

Ms. Blancett, a lifelong Republican, was Mr. Bush's political organizer in northwestern New Mexico for the 2000 presidential campaign. In November, she and her husband, Linn, and two other ranching families locked out energy companies whose plumbing of the gas beneath the surface of the land, they say, threatens their livelihood.

They call it an act of desperation. The industry has derided it as a publicity stunt. But many in New Mexico describe it as emblematic of a growing unease about the effect of coal-bed methane on the state's landscape and the ranchers' way of life.

Ms. Blancett probably knew that the Bush-Cheney campaign explicitly promised to "review currently restricted federal lands and report on which ones could be opened" to oil and gas exploration. (Source: Governor George W. Bush: "A Comprehensive National Energy Policy," September 29, 2000.) Perhaps Ms. Blancett thought that, as a fellow rancher, Mr. Bush would be sympathetic to the need to protect the range. Unfortunately, ranching families are learning now what environmentalists already know: with this Administration, the energy industry always comes first.
 
Urban Cowboy.
This year, President Bush's Christmas card is postmarked "Crawford, TX," because Bush wanted to demonstrate that "he's not a captive of Washington," writes Eleanor Clift. (See also this earlier NYT piece.) But as Clift writes, there's more to the story:

But the record 1.7 million cards the Bushes sent were too much to handle for the Crawford post office, which is a two-person operation. To accommodate Bush’s down-home image, the post office arranged for the cards to be stamped in Austin, where a special dye was ordered to authenticate the Crawford postmark. Bush, who spent Christmas at Camp David, is apparently the first president to insist on an out-of-town postmark.

This may or may not amount to mail fraud. But it's definitely political fraud. Let's recap: the cards were stamped and mailed from Austin, distributed to a mailing list compiled in Washington, DC, and signed by an autopen for a man that spent Christmas at the presidential retreat at Camp David. Crawford had about as much to do with it as I did.

Time after time, this Administration has rolled out policies that would be wildly unpopular if their true nature were known, and to compensate, has insisted that the policies are something they are not - often, the exact opposite. (Have a budget with numbers that do not add up? Call that criticism fuzzy math. Got a tax cut for the very wealthiest people? Call it tax relief for everyone. Need to sell a logging plan? Say it's for forest health.) They've clearly discovered the power of shamelessness.

That Bush went to such lengths to convince convince recipients that the cards - and the senders - are something they are not seems like a fitting year-end metaphor for his regime.
 
Santa Clause.
Who says environmentalists are unreasonable? Last week, New Jersey Environmental Commissioner Bradley M. Campbell issued a directive welcoming Santa's reindeer into the state. First grade children had written Campbell out of concern that the state's ban on importating deer and elk would be applied to reindeer.

The students feared that the ban, which was designed to guard against the spread of chronic wasting disease, would force Santa to bypass the state and, therefore, force Christmas to be canceled. ...

Campbell's decision was swift and direct. "I have good news," Campbell wrote in a letter that [the teacher] read to her class. "The rules you were worried about only apply to reindeer on the ground. We made the rule to keep the reindeer that live in New Jersey from getting sick. But flying reindeer are just fine and are always welcome in New Jersey."

(File under: gratuitous mentions of old friends.)
Monday, December 23, 2002
 
Irony of the Day.
Check out the table Federal Tax Burdens and Expenditures by State (via Atrios). What it shows is that the most populous states tend to pay more in taxes to the federal government than they get back in spending, while the least populous states tend to pay less in taxes than they get back in spending. Ironically, people in the least populous states tend to be more conservative and anti-government than those in the most populous states - who tend to be more liberal and pro-government.

I'll bet people in populous states and in rural states would both guess it goes the other way. So next time you see a cowboy-hat-wearing politician ranting about the guvmint, taxes or welfare, keep in mind which way the dollars are flowing. Be sure to check Atrios' comments section for this entry - there's some good analysis (including of the Red/Blue state breakdown).
 
Respect for the Troops?
I'm speechless. With our men and women in uniform preparing for war in Iraq, the White House wants to cut military pay raises. (As Kos points out, this comes on the heels of Bush Administration moves to cut funding for veterans and reinstate bonuses for political appointees.) I guess they need the money for Star Wars.
 
Top Ten Things About Bill Frist You Didn't Hear on the Weekend Talk Shows.
Liberal Oasis has the goods.
Saturday, December 21, 2002
 
The Party of ...
If you missed Michael Kinsley's recent Slate piece "How Reaganomics Became Rubinomics: The bizarre Republican swoon for deficit spending," go read it now. Perhaps I'm naive, but I'm wondering how these people even call themselves Republicans.

In recent weeks we've seen how the GOP has left to the dustbins of history its claim to being the Party of Lincoln (Trent Lott) and the Party of Teddy Roosevelt (turning over the public forests created by TR to private interests). With big government programs like the Dept. of Homeland Security and TIA, they're hardly the Party of Goldwater. (Did I mention the judicial activism? The opposition to allowing states to be the laboratories of democracy? The anti-trade tariffs and subsidies?)

Now, as Kinsley explains, they can't even be considered the Party of Ronald Reagan.

Who's left? Herbert Hoover?
Friday, December 20, 2002
 
Blurting Out What We Really Think.
Sometimes, a quote jumps right out at you. Ron Harris (AP) reports that Hollywood has gone to court to block a company from selling its DVD backup copy software.

Seven major motion picture studios filed a counterclaim Thursday in U.S. District Court, Northern District of California against 321 Studios, makers of DVD Copy Plus and DVD X Copy.

The software sold at stores nationwide allows the user to make a copy of a DVD to a blank CD or DVD by defeating the copy protections encoded onto the original movie disc - activity the studios say is a legal no-no.

The movie studios say the software contains the power of digital piracy, and asked the court to enjoin 321 Studios from selling it or distributing it further. The studios also seek damages from any proceeds derived from the company's software sales.

"It's like somebody selling a digital crowbar. It's like breaking into the castle if you will," said Patricia Benson, an attorney for the studios.

A digital crowbar? I was all set to write about this, but Edward Felton beat me to it:

I'm not sure what castle Ms. Benson is referring to, but the crowbar analogy pretty much speaks for itself. Ms. Benson would doubtless be shocked to learn that an outfit calling itself "Ace Hardware" is selling crowbars openly, right here in sleepy Princeton, New Jersey.

It's often instructive when a public figure blurts out what he or she really thinks (ask Trent Lott). Crowbars, after all, are a great tool for burglers. They're also quite handy around the garage.

The idea that "crowbars" - digital or otherwise - should be illegal would be silly if it weren't so offensive. Unfortunately, that's precisely what the music and film industries have been trying to do with new technology. Thanks, Ms. Bensen, for clearing that up.
 
Area Man Joins the ACLU and the EFF.
John Markoff and John Schwartz (NYT) report that the Administration will support comprehensive internet monitoring by the government:

The Bush administration is planning to propose requiring Internet service providers to help build a centralized system to enable broad monitoring of the Internet and, potentially, surveillance of its users.

(I'm not kidding - I joined both organizations today. Click here and here to do the same.)
 
Yep, You've Got That Right.
A reader email to Altercation points out Bush Inc.'s contrasting approaches to science in response to two global issues - climate change and "Star Wars." On global warming, "one must have rock-solid scientific evidence before undertaking any action." But on missile defense, "it’s prudent to spend $1.5 billion on unproven technology (figuring you can fix as you go along) because, as Mr. Rumsfeld says, 'It’s better than nothing.'" The writer asks, "Have I got that right?"
Thursday, December 19, 2002
 
Poindexter Awareness.
Paul Boutin (Wired) reports:

The head of the government's Total Information Awareness project, which aims to root out potential terrorists by aggregating credit-card, travel, medical, school and other records of everyone in the United States, has himself become a target of personal data profiling.

Online pranksters, taking their lead from a San Francisco journalist, are publishing John Poindexter's home phone number, photos of his house and other personal information to protest the TIA program.

Matt Smith, a columnist for SF Weekly, printed the material -- which he says is all publicly available -- in a recent column: "Optimistically, I dialed John and Linda Poindexter's number ... at their home ... hoping the good admiral and excused criminal might be able to offer some insight," Smith wrote.

"Why, for example, is their $269,700 Rockville, Md., house covered with artificial siding, according to Maryland tax records? Shouldn't a Reagan conspirator be able to afford repainting every seven years? Is the Donald Douglas Poindexter listed in Maryland sex-offender records any relation to the good admiral?

... What Smith didn't realize was that Poindexter's phone number and other information would end up on more than 100 Web pages a week later as others took up the cause.

Phone-phreaking hackers supplied details on the Verizon switch serving the admiral's home. The popular Cryptome privacy-issues website posted satellite photos of the house.

The San Jose Mercury News also has an article on this today. The article describes a website called the "John Poindexter Awareness Office," which asks for volunteer help to keep tabs on Poindexter's doings. (Wired link via The Sideshow.)

(Mr. Poindexter, if you're reading this, please understand that I write about this strictly in a spirit of fun.)
 
Update: The Digital Millenium Copyright Act in the Wake of ElcomSoft.
Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., says ElcomSoft's acquittal doesn't sway him away from wanting to change the DMCA. (Click here or here for articles about the ElcomSoft acquittal.) Meanwhile, Blogcritics is involved with requests for exemptions from the DMCA with both Lawmeme and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Click this Blogcritics entry for real-world examples of why the DMCA must, at the very least, include provisions allowing for fair use.
 
Pro-Environment Republicans Wanted - Again.
During the mid-1990s, when the Clinton/Gore Administration and (most) Democrats in Congress fought against, and eventually prevailed against, the Gingrich/DeLay effort to roll back 25 years of environmental standards, a couple of dozen Republicans provided critical support. Led by Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), these pro-environment Republicans provided the margin of victory on a number of votes and ultimately helped turn the tide against the Gingrich Revolution. In so doing, they also kept alive the long tradition of bipartisan backing for environmental safeguards. (Virtually all of the keystone environmental laws were genuinely bipartisan.)

Gingrich is gone, but DeLay and his merry band of lobbyists remain. Congress is still fairly evenly divided, but this time, they've got a sympathetic President. Once again, pro-environment Republicans are in a position to make the difference.

This week provided the first evidence that they might stand up to their party leaders, when Boehlert and some allies wrote USDA Secretary Veneman "expressing serious concerns with a Bush administration plan to weaken rules that govern national forest planning for logging and other forest activities." Boehlert's group also called for a National Academy of Sciences panel to review the proposed regulations.

(See my earlier entry here for my initial take on this rulemaking. The permalinks have been screwy today, but this entry is still on the front page, so if the link doesn't work try searching down this page for the word "unclear.")
 
New Blogcritics Entry Up - "New Ground Zero Designs Are Inspiring."
I just posted a new Blogcritics entry. I am neither an expert in architecture nor a New Yorker, so I wouldn't normally tackle this subject, but I just visited the slide shows for the new ground zero designs and several of them took my breath away - figuratively and literally. Since that's exactly what this location needs - something your average Joe finds inspiring - I'll bet the new designs will be a hit.

Both the New York Times and the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation have good slide shows available. The NYT has a beautiful interactive presentation from each of the seven teams with audio explanation from representatives of the architects. (Go to the NYT article, located here, and click the "Interactive Feature: Envisioning Downtown.") The LMDC site, located here, has extensive background information and even more slides. Click these links when you have some time. They take more than a moment to absorb - but they're worth it.
Wednesday, December 18, 2002
 
Bush Administration Isolated at Population Talks.
A couple of days ago, I noted that the U.S. had threatened to pull the rug out from under the historic 1994 international population agreement because certain pieces of the program might be interpreted as condoning abortion. Vijay Joshi (AP) reports that everyone else disagreed:

The United States lost a vote at an international conference yesterday as Asia-Pacific countries rejected the Bush administration's stand against abortion and condom use among adolescents. ...

U.S. delegates had said some of the wording, including "reproductive health services" and "reproductive rights," could be read as advocating abortion and underage sex. But U.S. changes were rejected. ...

Faced with a deadlock, the conference took a vote on two key chapters of the plan. The U.S. lost the first vote 31-1 with two abstentions, and the second 32-1 with two abstentions.

The United States ended up agreeing on the plan being adopted without change, said Thoraya Obaid, head of the U.N. Population Fund. Its concerns were given in a separate document.

 
Former Child Star Adam Rich Busted.
"Eight Is Enough" star Adam Rich, 34, was arrested today "after he drove onto a closed highway lane and nearly struck a California Highway Patrol car." I know what you're thinking. Adam Rich is 34!?!?
 
Boss Hog.
For more on the factory farms & clean water story check out John Nielsen's NPR story. To get a feel for how this new rule will play out on the ground, see this Des Moines Register article. For background, see the Pulitzer Prize-winning series "Boss Hog" by Pat Stith, Joby Warrick and Melanie Sill, which first appeared in the Raleigh News & Observer February 19,21,22,24 and 26, 1995. (Naturally, the facts are a little dated - the factory farming industry is much bigger now - but this series is a great introduction to the subject.)
Tuesday, December 17, 2002
 
Hometown Duo.
Cool: My hometown school board in Iowa Falls, Iowa (pop. 6000?) votes for a feasibility study to evalauate the potential for wind power on school grounds.

Not so cool: The Administration releases its new clean water rules for factory farms (confined animal feeding operations, of CAFOs), but initial reports indicate they are watered down (bad pun not intended). My home state Senator Tom Harkin says the rule is "a muddled result, without a clear path to a cleaner environment." He added: "Unfortunately, the EPA ducked its responsibility to hold large agribusiness firms responsible for environmental damage from manure."
 
Wetlands Dodge a Bullet.
By a 4-4 vote, the Supreme Court votes to "preserve the Clean Water Act as a tool against an increasingly common method of filling wetlands."
Monday, December 16, 2002
 
The Dixiecrat Double Entendre Blues.
Joe Conason argues it is “time to revisit John Aschroft's connections with the neo-Confederates.” He writes:

Ashcroft has never convincingly explained why he told the editors of Southern Partisan -- a periodical known for repeatedly praising the assassination of Abraham Lincoln -- that he admires their "traditionalist" defense of "Southern patriots" like Jefferson Davis (who is also Lott's favorite statesman).

I agree. For far too long, conservative politicians - mostly in the South, and (in my lifetime) mostly Republicans - have played a wink-and-nod game to attract bigoted supporters. A little “states rights” wink here and a little Rebel Flag nod there and the politician can convey a clear message to unreformed segregationists and racists: “I hear you, and I’m on your side.” More dangerously, the politician sends the message to everyone watching: “Your views are acceptable in this society.”

Along with Trent Lott, John Ashcroft has been one of the most blatant players of this game. Is that what we deserve from the Attorney General of the United States? Has anyone ever asked George W. Bush - who loudly proclaimed Lott’s statement to be wrong (after a few days of mounting pressure) - what he thinks of Ashcroft’s similar statements?

Jeanne D'Arc of Body and Soul has a superbly written and thoughtful entry on the subject called Lady Sings The Dixiecrat Double Entendre Blues. She starts with a story she’s heard about Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit," a song about lynching. (Remember, the 1948 Dixiecrat program was in reaction to Truman’s “anti-lynching and anti-segregation” program. See Atrios for the Mississippi sample ballot.) Lady Day sang the song to two very different audiences, and its meaning depended in large part on the context.

So too, political speeches about “states’ rights” and “tradition.” When a Trent Lott or a John Ashcroft gives an interview with Southern Partisan, and praises the magazine for helping “set the record straight,” we know what he wants his audience to hear. From Body and Soul:

I don't know whether John Ashcroft subscribes to [former editor of Southern Partisan] Richard Quinn's definitions of "state's rights" and "Southern values," but most of the readers of his magazine do, and you don't have to be an expert code-reader to recognize the I-am-one-of-you message Ashcroft was sending to those readers. There's just no other, more innocent explanation of Ashcroft's praise for the magazine as a source that "helps set the record straight." Or his to-the-barricades call for "traditionalists" to "stand up and speak in this respect, or else we'll be taught that these people were giving their lives, subscribing their sacred fortunes and their honor to some perverted agenda." These people are Confederate leaders and Ashcroft didn't want anyone to be taught that there was anything perverted about their agenda. As in the case of Trent Lott's statement, I can't come up with a reading of that sentence that any decent person would subscribe to.

... Trent Lott's statement helps expose the game even to people who normally don't pay much attention to politics.

In the end, this isn't about politics, it's about moral accountability. It's about standing up in front of your audience and singing the song straight. And it's about time.

The vast majority of Republican elected officials and GOP voters abhor the racist views of the Southern Partisan minority. Indeed, until fairly recently, the Republican Party was the less racist of the two major parties. But in exchange for electoral gain in the South, present-day Republicans have made a devil's bargain to look the other way as some of their colleagues actively court - and encourage - the neo-Confederate vote. It’s high time the Party of Lincoln re-discovered its roots. They could start by refusing to tolerate pandering to bigots. And they could start by asking John Ashcroft some uncomfortable questions.

(Other links about the GOP “Southern Stragegy:” New York Times; Salon.)

UPDATE: for more on Ashcroft's record, read Senator Leahy's floor statement on Ashcroft's nomination to be AG. (Via Atrios via Pontificator.) Also James Ridgeway in the Village Voice.
Sunday, December 15, 2002
 
Most Significant Story of the Week?
Yesterday, I linked the Reuters story on Toyota’s and Honda’s introduction of fuel cell vehicles. Tom Redburn, writing in the NYT, thinks it might have been the most important story in recent days: "Which events of recent days are likely to have the most significant long-term impact on American business and the economy? To my mind, it was not the Bush administration's new team of economic policy makers, who dominated the headlines last week. Nor the efforts to clean up Wall Street. And not the buildup of troops to fight a war in Iraq, either. No, my money is on the barely noticed introduction by Honda and Toyota of a handful of experimental fuel cell vehicles to be tested by the State of California."
 
Catching up on Technology, Media and Civil Liberties Stories.
Yesterday, in my return to blogging after a minor hiatus, I listed a string of environmental news stories I found interesting while I was gone. Today I’m taking note of good recent pieces on music, technology, copyright, privacy and civil liberties. Again, I’ll enter them separately for future linking:
 
Tim O'Reilly, one of the best (and most successful) publishers of tech books offers seven lessons from his experience that contradict most of what mainstream copyright holders (or at least their trade associations) seem to believe about electronic file sharing:

Lesson 1: Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy.
Lesson 2: Piracy is progressive taxation.
Lesson 3: Customers want to do the right thing, if they can.
Lesson 4: Shoplifting is a bigger threat than piracy.
Lesson 5: File sharing networks don't threaten book, music, or film publishing. They threaten existing publishers.
Lesson 6: "Free" is eventually replaced by a higher-quality paid service.
Lesson 7: There's more than one way to do it.

(Via Blogcritics.)
 
The Bush Administration has “opened a sharp debate over a landmark family-planning agreement during a United Nations conference this week, angering several of its allies, European and Asian diplomats said today. The skirmish has been taking place at a United Nations regional family-planning conference in Bangkok, where the United States has threatened to withdraw its support for a 1994 family-planning agreement reached in Cairo that called for bringing population growth under control by improving the legal rights and economic status of women, as well as broadly expanding access to health care.”
 
The Free Expression Policy Project has published a comprehensive report on copyright in the electronic age called “The Progress of Science And Useful Arts: Why Copyright Today Threatens Intellectual Freedom.” The report, which I’m still digesting, seeks to answer questions such as “What is ‘fair use’?” and “What does it mean for a creative work to enter the ‘public domain’?” and explain “why should we care?” I’m still digesting the report, an “interim draft” designed to be completed next year, but it looks like a terrific resource for those of us that care about the subject.
 
USA Today ran an editorial on how the music industry fight to block internet file sharing is counterproductive without a corresponding strategy to offer consumers a good product at a fair price: “A better alternative for recording companies is to enlist music fans, not fight them, by offering ‘better than free’ services. ... The music industry can better lure consumers by treating them as ardent fans, not petty criminals.”
 
Click here for a good critique of Hollywood's "Broadcast Flag" proposal, prepared by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). The FCC is taking comments othe Broadcast Flag at the behest of Senator Ernest "Fritz" Hollings, author of the Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act (CBDTPA). EFF describes the CBDTPA as "a sweeping proposal that would require technologists to seek permission from entertainment companies prior to making new technologies available to the public. Industry observers have described the Broadcast Flag as a ‘mini-CBDTPA.'" (See also the EFF press release.)
 
For a funny (but scary) article on the consequences of the CBDTPA, check out this piece from the NYT about how Barbie is a copyright pirate. “In the name of safeguarding intellectual property, recording, movie and television interests went after Napster and its ilk. Then they took aim at consumer electronics makers. Their Public Enemy No. 3 may be Mia Singletary. To them, she is a diabolical creature, armed not with the Internet or a digital music player, but with something much more nefarious. She wields the Barbie Travel Train.”
 
Michelle Goldberg (Salon) has a good piece on how the Bush-Ashcroft police state agenda is bringing together traditional conservatives (the kind that still opposes big government) and ACLU liberals in opposition to programs like TIA. I’ve been wondering for a while what happened to the Republican party that supported personal liberties and distrusted government. Perhaps that party has some life in it yet.
 
Charles Lane had an interesting article in the Washington Post way back at the beginning of the month. Something Ted Olsen said keeps gnawing at me, so I'm going to blog it even though I'm late to the party. (Plus, I want to refer to the quote in the post just below this one.) In the article, Lane reports how the Bush administration is determined to have terrorism suspects punished via an alternate legal system run by the executive branch rather than the judicial system defined by the Constitution. What caught my eye was Solicitor General Ted Olsen’s defense of the system, in which somebody at the Justice Department gets to decide whether a suspect is an "enemy combatant" - not a court - even if the suspect is a U.S. citizen:

"At the end of the day in our constitutional system, someone will have to decide whether that [decision to designate someone an enemy combatant] is a right or just decision," Olson said. "Who will finally decide that? Will it be a judge, or will it be the president of the United States, elected by the people, specifically to perform that function, with the capacity to have the information at his disposal with the assistance of those who work for him?"

... "There won't be 10 rules that trigger this or 10 rules that end this," Olson said in the interview. "There will be judgments and instincts and evaluations and implementations that have to be made by the executive that are probably going to be different from day to day, depending on the circumstances."

In other words, we’re going to make it up as we go along, and you'll just have to trust us.
 
Think there’s no more discrimination in the world? Two academics (at the University of Chicago and M.I.T.) ran an experiment to test employment discrimination based on race. As reported by the NYT:

They selected 1,300 help-wanted ads from newspapers in Boston and Chicago and submitted multiple resumes from phantom job seekers. The researchers randomly assigned the first names on the resumes, choosing from one set that is particularly common among blacks and from another that is common among whites. ... Apart from their names, applicants had the same experience, education and skills, so employers had no reason to distinguish among them. ... The results are disturbing. Applicants with white-sounding names were 50 percent more likely to be called for interviews than were those with black-sounding names.

This study is discouraging for lots of reasons. First, even though we’ve gotten to the point where overt discrimination is unacceptable (ask Trent), subtle and probably subconscious bias clearly still exists. Now ... think about Ted Olsen’s quote above: what are the chances the executive branch will apply its extra-judicial “instincts” fairly? I’d rather take my chances with a jury of my peers, thank you very much. And I'm a white guy.
 
Julie Hilden has an essay on FindLaw.com arguing that “linking” should be immune from lawsuits.
 
Farhad Manjoo (Salon) has a feature on Craig Newmark, operator of the indispensable Craigslist website (link at left) and plaintiff in a lawsuit seeking to establish that “copying” music or film for his own enjoyment is “fair use.” (See here and here for some of my other entries on this subject. My permalinks are messed up for some old entries, so you’ll have to scroll down - look for the word "Hollywood" in the titles.)
 
Tom Tomorrow shows how nefarious ideas enter the political mainstream.
 
Krugman has an interesting piece on an overlooked trend: the growing lack of competition among internet service providers, particularly for high-speed connections. Because local phone service (and cable) is a natural monopoly, there will only be effective competition where government regulation ensures it. For dial-up service, local phone companies are required to allow competing service providers access; but for broadband, the telecommunications laws and the FCC are falling short.
 
Farhad Manjoo (Salon Premium - subscription required) reports the “technology optimist” view of TIA, headlined “Is Big Brother our only hope against bin Laden?”
 
Hendrik Hertzberg (Talk of the Town, New Yorker) ran a great piece on the new Total Information Awareness office. It’s great not only because he does a great job shining a spotlight on the creepy nature of the program and its chosen symbols, but also because he manages to use the phrase “Unfortunately, Bush doesn't know Dick” in a news article. That’s Philip K. Dick, the author, a man whose opinion Hertzberg would like on TIA.
Saturday, December 14, 2002
 
Catching up with Environmental News.
Yes, I’ve been on hiatus for a while, but I’ve been saving a bunch of environmental stories that shouldn’t fall completely through the cracks. Following are some of my favorites from the past couple of weeks:
 
Canada enacts “Species at Risk Act” law that will “protect the more than 400 species at risk in Canada and their critical habitat. The new legislation will come into force in 2003.”
 
For national forests, the only good news we’ve had for a while: a federal court reinstated the Clinton/Gore Roadless Policy for National Forests, even though the Bush Administration refused to defend it in court. The decision reverses a lower court order barring the rule’s implementation. As the court said, “Roadless areas in our national forests also help conserve some of the last unspoiled wilderness in our country. The unspoiled forest provides not only sheltering shade for the visitor and sustenance for its diverse wildlife but also pure water and fresh oxygen for humankind.” (Links: CBS News; Washington Post, Oregonian.)
 
Mike Allen and Eric Pianin (Washington Post) do a good job with Bush plan to accelerate the “cutting of trees and brush in national forests by curtailing environmental reviews and judicial oversight, with the aim of reducing wildfires fueled by overgrowth,” except that there’s not really any evidence that the plan is the best way to protect against harmful wildfires ... and quite a bit of evidence that it’s merely a way to help the timber lobby. “Bush acted after both houses of Congress rejected the proposed changes when he asked for them last summer. The new rules will decrease, from 200 pages to perhaps only one page, the amount of environmental impact information needed to approve clear-cutting projects in some areas.” (Click here for a couple of my previous rants about the cynical timber industry strategy to obtain more subsidies for their businesses by playing on fear of fires. See also this link for Denver Post article on Bush plan in Colorado and below for Colorado study suggesting it will do more harm than good.)
 
2002 will go down in the books as the second warmest year to date. Since record keeping of global temperatures began in 1867, only 1998 was hotter.
 
A new University of Colorado study suggests that "salvage" logging of downed trees from storm-damaged areas may do more damage to the forest than it does good. The study comes just as the Bush Administration rolled out regulatory changes designed to promote salvage logging in “fire-damaged public forests.”
(Links: Associated Press and ENS.)
 
The Prius has become a status symbol. (Click here for my posts on Tom Friedman buying a Prius after 9-11 and Brad DeLong running the numbers on Prius economics.)
Update: My permalinks are temporarily (I hope) messed up - try this one for the Friedman piece (scroll down) and this one for DeLong.
 
Canada votes to ratify the Kyoto Treaty.
 
The Christian Science Monitor shines the spotlight on a topic that is bound to get a lot of attention in coming years as small towns and farmers confront large suburban-style subdivisions: rural sprawl. (Via Grist Magazine.)
 
A Bush-appointed federal judge ruled that the GAO does not have the right to sue the Administration to obtain information about the secret meetings held by the Cheney-led energy task force. This is the second setback in two weeks for those hoping to find out who the Administration met with while formulating its plan, after an appeals court stayed a lower court’s decision that the government had to turn over information about its meetings.
 
The International Center for Technology Assessment, the Sierra Club and Greenpeace sued the U.S. EPA for failing to tackle global warming. Under the Clean Air Act, “EPA is required to limit all air pollution from automobiles that ‘may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare.’" (Links: press release, complaint.)
 
Douglas Gantenbein has a good piece in Slate on “the lousy economics of Bush's new forest policy.” (Some of his arguments are similar to points I made about the NFMA reg revisions here. I also commented on an earlier Slate piece of his on forest fire policy here.)
Update: Again, my permalink seems to be messed up. The earlier Gantenbein link is on this page (most of the way down).
 
The Billings Gazette reports that a number of environmental groups filed suit “challenging the National Park Service's continuing delays in implementing a ban on snowmobiles in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks.”
 
The Bush Administration convenes a policy conference to talk about global warming and makes the case for a decade of research before doing anything. Isn’t that what his dad said back in 1990?
 
Toyota and Honda launch fuel cell cars - and get an order from the University of California.
 
Two more climate change studies from ENS: “Arctic Sea Ice May Vanish this Century” and “Ice Core Analysis Shows Western Canada Warming.”
 
“Extractive” industry lobbyists just can’t wait for the next Congress to convene.
 
HP announces support for a new e-waste bill in the California legislature that would “require PC manufacturers to bear the cost of disposing of discarded computers.” This is big news because resistance from HP and other Silicon Valley companies helped kill a similar measure during the last session, but insiders now think it will become law. Because California is both very large and home to much of the tech industry, state legislation on this subject could change industry practices worldwide.
 
The only pro-environment legislation to make it through Congress this year? According to President Bush's signing statement, the “North American Wetlands Conservation Act will be reauthorized for five years. The law authorizes federal money to match donations from sportsmen, state wildlife agencies, conservationists and landowners. Since 1991, more than $462 million in federal grants have helped to encourage $1.3 billion in contributions from others.”)
 
Roger Ballentine and Jan Mazurek of the Progressive Policy Institute have a smart piece in the DLC magazine. The two describe one of the key flaws in the Bush Administration’s “Clear Skies” initiative - its failure to address carbon dioxide pollution - and make the case for a better solution: bipartisan legislation that has been introduced by Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.).
 
Yet another report on shrinking glaciers triggers a NYT editorial on how even slight changes in global temperature can have dramatic consequences - in this case, for people in the Andes whose fresh water supply depends on glaciers.
 
Matthew Wald (NYT) explains why Clean Air Act debates often break along geographical (as opposed to partisan) lines - it’s the wind.
 
The U.S. pulled out of a U.N. conference to finalize an international agreement to provide the public with greater access to information about sources of pollution. This is unfortunate for enviros who think people have a right to know about pollution that affects their lives, but it’s also unfortunate for conservatives who advocate free market solutions to environmental problems - because a functioning market depends on decent information (see Arthur Andersen).
 
Now Playing: Ron Carter and Richard Galliano: Panamanhattan.
I halfway forgot I owned this CD until I noticed it today, but I really like it. Ron Carter, of course, is one of the most prolific and talented bassists of the past 40 years. Richard Galliano is a French accordianist. I'm sure this is the only accordian jazz CD I own. I like it because it has sort of a gypsy carnival vibe, but it swings. (My fiance' keeps making fun of it, but I'm going to stick with it!)
Sunday, December 01, 2002
 
Flying Too Close to the Sun.
We fried four turkeys Thursday. I think they're digested by now. There were about 12 of us eating off and on from 2 PM to midnight, with about as many people coming and going along the way. We ate 48 pounds of turkey, we did. That seems like a lot, but then this turkey was really, really good.

We also fried twinkies. (Here's the recipe, which was originally published in the St. Petersburg Times. The name of that last URL is "The Twinkie Transform." Indeed.) Anway, you freeze the things, then powder them with flour, then roll them in a batter made of milk, flour, baking powder, oil, vinegar and salt. Toss them in the fryer and a few minutes later you've got a donut with a twinkie filling. This being Northern California, land of tofurkey and similar abominations, several of our company had never had a twinkie before. The rest of us were from the rest of America (or as my Republican friends call it, "America"), so we were familiar with the twinkie. But these were better.

(Somehow, the twinkies we fried before the turkeys and the twinkies we fried between the third and fourth turkeys tasted about the same, even though the oil was black with turkey stuff by then. Weird. I also hear pigeons won't eat a twinkie if it's left on a sidewalk. Hmmm.)

Since we still had several gallons of hot oil, the real question was, What else can we fry? The answer: garlic mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie. The potatoes were inspired. My friend rolled them into a ball and rolled the ball into the batter, then tossed it in - and predicted it would look like a potato when it came out. He was right. It tasted like a hush puppie with garlic mashed potatoes inside. In other words, excellent.

We weren't sure how to fry the pie. Pumpkin pie doesn't roll in batter very well, although we tried. Finally, we just dropped the pie on the frying rack and poured the rest of the batter over the top. Presto - hot pumpkin pie with a layer of fried on top! Not bad.

Next year I'm going to try and freeze some pie and cut it into cubes so it can be battered properly. I'll let you know how it goes.
 
Bush Revisions to National Forest Planning Rules - Unclear on the Concept of National Forests?
Maybe it was just a coincidence that the Bush Administration released its long-awaited proposed rewrite to the National Forest Management Act planning regulations on the eve of Thanksgiving, when people tend to pay little attention to the news. But I doubt it.

I was meaning to spend some quality time analyzing the proposed revisions before I write about them, because I have a feeling there are interesting details tucked away in the 155 page “summary” of the proposal. But, well, it’s 155 pages long, and this was Thanksgiving weekend ... so I haven’t done that yet and might not get to it for a while. So in the meantime, here are my initial thoughts based on the news reports. (Links: Forest Service proposal and related material, Washington Post, NYT, AP, ENS.)

As far as I can tell, the revisions are designed to limit public comment, short-circuit environmental impact studies, and raise the ratio of political consideration to scientific consideration that goes into planning decisions. Substantively, the changes seem to explicitly reduce protections for rare plants and animals by making it optional for forest managers to consider the effects their decisions will have on rare but not (yet) endangered species and by reducing the monitoring of programs that are already in place.

The Forest Service brags that this proposal will reduce “red tape,” (Post article) as if logging companies are entitled to as much timber as they can cut as fast as they can haul it away, and the government’s job is to get out of their way as much as possible. They’ve got it backward. Even if the timber companies owned these forests, they wouldn’t be entitled to cut regardless of the consequences for downstream water users or fishermen. And they don’t own the forests, they’re “National” Forests after all - and you and I own them as much as anyone else. It’s bad enough that the Forest Service loses money on logging in National Forests (that’s another way of saying us taxpayers subsidize the timber industry) - the least they can do is give me a voice in how the forests are managed.

Substantively, the proposal appears just as misguided. If forest managers do not consider the effects of logging decisions on rare species, then logging will proceed at an unsustainable rate ... right up until the point when the species are on the brink of extinction and a judge has to shut the program down entirely (or the timber is gone). By contrast, if the forest is managed to take into account the effects of logging on the rest of the ecosystem and the rate at which the forest replenishes itself, logging can continue at a sustainable rate indefinitely. In the trainwreck scenario, the companies employ marginally more loggers during the boom years, but the workers pay a terrible price during the inevitable bust. Downstream users and future generations pay the price too. But the timber executives? They’ve moved on to some other forest, and they resent the implication that their shortsighted ways caused anyone harm. It’s the environmentalists fault, and that darned owl’s - didn’t you hear?

Did I mention that the USDA official overseeing this proposal, Mark Rey, was for many years the chief lobbyist for the timber industry? Well, he’ll be gone through the revolving door when the bust comes too - just in time to complain that the next administration can’t support boomtime logging outputs.

(PS - this is not a crazy hypothetical situation I’m describing - it’s pretty much exactly what happened in the Pacific Northwest during the 80's and early 90's. Through the end of the Reagan years and the first Bush years, scientists and environmentalists argued that logging rates in the area were unsustainable; eventually a judge had to close a vast area to any logging until the administration could develop a sustainable plan; the Clinton/Gore administration finally developed a sustainable plan; by then many loggers had been out of work for a long time; and Mark Rey and the rest of the timber industry complained that the administration wasn’t allowing enough logging. Coming soon ... a boom cycle under the current President Bush’s watch, and a bust cycle on the next guy’s watch?)
 
Now Playing - Johnny Cash's Louisiana Hayride Archives.
The Louisiana Hayride label releases songs recorded live on the radio program of the same name that ran weekly from 1948 to 1957 and monthly into the 1980s on station KWKH in Shreveport Louisiana. The terrific Johnny Cash album (available on emusic.com) captures 15 songs recorded in the 50s and 60s including great versions of I Walk the Line, Big River, Busted, and It Ain't Me Baby. Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters add to the atmosphere.