Index for May 2008

What's Behind Bush's Short Notice on Deadline for New Rules?

Charlie Savage and Robert Pear in today's NYT "Administration Moves to Avert a Late Rules Rush," report that on May 9, Joshua B. Bolten, the White House chief of staff, issued a memorandum to agency heads without public announcement that they must propose any new regulations by June 1 and finish final regulations by November 1. Mr. Bolten’s order will affect only potential rules controlled by the Bush administration. It does not apply to independent agencies or to pending regulations with deadlines imposed by federal statutes or court orders. The memorandum also does not prevent agencies from continuing work on potential rules that are not intended to be made final until after the next president takes office.

Bolton wrote that the government should
resist the historical tendency of administrations to increase regulatory activity in their final months....We must recognize that the burden imposed by new regulations is cumulative and has a significant effect on all Americans.
He added that the administration would make exceptions for rules that missed the deadline in “extraordinary circumstances,” but failed to define what that might mean.

Officials told the reporters they were caught unaware and described a flurry of activity as they sought to get proposals approved for publication in the Federal Register by the deadline.

The deadline will avoid rules which can be reversed by the next President. Many regulations take effect 60 days after they have been issued. After Bush took office in 2001, he froze hundreds of pending regulations issued by Clinton's administration. Clinton had done the same thing regarding Bush I regs.

White House spokeswoman, Emily Lawrimore, said in an e-mail message,
We’re not shutting down work on important regulatory matters after June 1st. We’re just making clear that we will continue to embrace the thorough and high standards of the regulatory review process as we near the end of the administration.
Sally Katzen, Clinton's top regulatory aide from 1993 to 1998 said,
There are good-government reasons to do what they are doing . But it has the added advantage of providing an excuse for not doing something they don’t want attributed to them, and for speeding up the things they want to lock in before the next administration.
According to the reporters,
the June 1 deadline to start the public comment process places at risk of delay scores of potential regulations, including protections for the environment and rules on workplace safety and public health.
How exactly are the agency's supposed to speed up proposals, some which run for hundreds of pages, with just three weeks notice? , some of which run for hundreds of pages, with three weeks’ notice? And are the exceptions one final way to promote an agenda?

As Rick Melberth, director of regulatory policy for OMB Watch, noted,
They get to define emergency.
He predicted that the administrationwould make it a priority to complete rules that relax regulations on industrial pollution and other burdens on business and rules that give businesses more flexibility than Mr. Bush’s successor might, especially if the next president is a Democrat.
On other things, they could do "Sorry, we can’t do anything on this ” because of the deadline.

John D. Walke, director of the clean air program at Natural Resources Defense Council, said the memo intended to
shut down regulation for the remainder of the Bush administration. Until the bitter end,” Mr. Walke said, “the administration will pursue deregulation on behalf of polluting industries and avoid regulation that would protect public health, welfare and the environment. This memo is a codification of that agenda.
Some of the order placed at risk of delay include those backed by business.

The construction industry, for example, has been waiting for years for the Labor Department to issue updated safeguards to prevent crane accidents like the one in New York City on Friday. Industry and labor negotiators agreed to standards in 2004, but the administration has yet to issue them. Robert Weiss, the vice president of Cranes Inc., a provider of cranes in New York and a member of the negotiating committee that reached the agreement, said that the rule “could save many lives” but that he did not know how the White House memorandum might affect its prospects.

And Jeffrey Barach, vice president of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, said he feared that the deadline could jeopardize some rules that food manufacturers want. For example, the food industry has been pressing for more stringent requirements on farms to lower the risk that the food supply might be contaminated by crops that have been genetically modified to produce pharmaceuticals. The Department of Agriculture is planning to issue such a proposed rule in June, too late for the deadline.

“If it doesn’t go through now, it will be delayed,” Mr. Barach said. “There is already, out in the field, developmental work on pharmaceutical crops, which is expected to increase. So any delay is of concern to us.”

William L. Kovacs, a vice president of the United States Chamber of Commerce, praised the order.
This is a gracious way of leaving office. The White House is saying, "We will control the regulatory process so the next administration won’t end up with a lot of regulations being challenged in court in its first days in office.”


The Visitor

Photo by JoJo Whildon, Overture Films, of Richard Jenkins (maybe most famous for playing the dead father in HBO's Six Feet Under) left, and Haaz Sleiman as his houseguest in The Visitor, written and directed by Tom McCarthy.

Tonight at the Lyric, I'll be selling popcorn (and drama/comedy masks from the Chocolate Spike--who orders the Reese's Cups, anyway?) I'll let you know what I think after I see it, but the reviews, such as this one April 11 by the NYT's A.O. Scott look promising. Here's an interview of McCarthy and Jenkins that appeared April 14.


McClellan: I Became What I Wanted to Change

ABC News has posted the transcript of White House Correspondent Martha Raddatz's interview with former White House Press Secretary and George Bush aide Scott McClellan about his book, What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and What's Wrong with Washington, (PublicAffairs, May 2008) which has attracted a firestorm of protests from his fellows in the Bush Administration. (I've deleted out the "ums" and "uhs."

I do have great affection for him. I think he's authentic and sincere, in his beliefs. But I think that, instead of changing Washington, as he promised to do, remember, he came to Washington on a promise of bipartisanship, and honesty, and integrity, he too readily embraced the way Washington, the way the Washington game is played today. He got caught up in this permanent campaign mentality, and I think that was what caused him problems later on, in terms of, uh, a lack of a high level of openness, and forthrightness, at some defining moments. and, and all of us, to some extent, got caught up in that, people on both sides of the aisle...There are a lot of good and decent people, like the President, who come to Washington for the right reasons. But they get caught up in this atmosphere, which is very poisonous.


Weisberg Posits McCain Does Best as Underdog

Editor and Financial Times columnist Jacob Weisberg's "McCain at Rock Bottom : When his campaign was a mess last summer, he was at his best," in Slate May 27 is adapted from the forward to David Foster Wallace's new book, McCain's Promise: Aboard the Straight Talk Express With John McCain and a Whole Bunch of Actual Reporters, Thinking About Hope (Back Bay Books) due out June 1. According to Wallace's fan site, this is an expansion of "Up Simba, in his non-fiction book, Consider the Lobster.

Wallace's writing also includes two novels, Infinite Jest and The Broom of the System; three story collections, Girl with Curious Hair, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, and Oblivion; and another nonfiction collections, A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again. He is the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship.

Weisberg will be hosting a chat at the WaPo tomorrow at 1:00. You can submit your questions before or during the chat here.


Sidney Pollack Gone Too Soon at 73

Photo byTiziana Fabi/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images show Pollack in Rome after a press conference for the last film he directed, Sketches of Frank Gehry (2005).

A. O. Scott's New York Times tribute, "Sydney Pollack, Filmmaker New and Old," which is set to run tomorrow, might not have caught my attention, if Google had not listed it as, "A Master of the Mainstream, When It Still Aimed High." The official obit from today is here.

It's hard to imagine him gone, whether you're a fan of something old, like Tootsie, or something new, like Recount--about the 2000 presidential ballot fight in Florida. This last piece aired on HBO Sunday, the day before he died. And Pollack acted, playing among other roles, Will's semi-cad Dad on Will and Grace.

Information Activies Lisa Pease (blog, email) has written today about the very political nature of Pollack's films for Consortium News, saying it so well, I won't have to:
And while he brought a strong social consciousness to everything he
touched, he never let the message overtake the entertainment. He made great
films that mesmerized and moved and delighted.

You didn't realize until you were leaving the theater that you'd also
gotten a little lesson in history or morality as well.

I hope future directors will find the heart and courage to follow
in his exceedingly large footsteps. We lost a giant this week.


McCain: Webb's GI Educational Benefits Bill will Harm Retention

I wrote about Jim Webb's (D-VA) Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2007 (S. 22) introduced January 4, 2007 in a Veteran's Day entry on November 12, 2007 . Since that time the bill finally had a hearing in the Veterans' Affairs Committee on May 7.

Today's Washington Post campaign blog carried an entry about McCain's speech today in honor of Memorial Day in New Mexico which included his opposition to Webb's bill, saying it would harm retention.

It strikes me as harsh on McCain's part to deny educational benefits in order to bolster retention. Webb counters that his bill will also help with recruitment. Both statements are born out by the CBO cost estimate of May 8:
...because the higher educational benefits would reduce the costs of
attending college after military service, enacting S. 22 (as modified) also
would increase the number of servicemembers who would separate from
military service to take advantage of those benefits. Additional reenlistment
incentives would then be required to keep the number of reenlistments, and the
experience profile of the military force, constant.

Educational benefits have been shown to raise the number of military recruits.
Based on an analysis of the existing literature, CBO estimates that a
10 percent increase in educational benefits would result in an increase of about
1 percent in high-quality recruits. On that basis, CBO calculates that raising
the educational benefits as proposed in S. 22 would result in a 16 percent
increase in recruits. To maintain the same force levels and thus the same
number of recruits, enlistment bonuses and other recruiting costs could be

The marginal cost of enlistment bonuses and the other expenditures necessary
to attract an additional enlistment is about $35,000. CBO estimates that
reduced spending for those purposes would result in a savings of almost
$5.6 billion over the 2009-2013 period.

Literature on the effects of educational benefits on retention suggest that every
$10,000 increase in educational benefits yields a reduction in retention of
slightly more than 1 percentage point. CBO estimates that S. 22 (as modified)
would more than double the present value of educational benefits for
servicemembers at the first reenlistment point—from about $40,000 to over
$90,000—implying a 16 percent decline in the reenlistment rate, from about
42 percent to about 36 percent. CBO assumes that to maintain the same force
size, the services would offer selective reenlistment bonuses (SRBs). An
$8,000 bonus to personnel at the first reenlistment point is estimated to
increase reenlistments by about 2 percentage points. Thus, CBO estimates that
SRBs of about $25,000 for each first-term servicemember who reenlists would
offset the expected effects on retention of increased educational benefits,
resulting in a cost of $6.7 billion over the 2009-2013 period for additional
reenlistment bonuses.
A March 6, 2008 article on Military.com (a commercial site for those with military connections) quoted a Department of Defense official who refused to be named as saying that WWII,

was a different era when the government was worried about long-unemployment lines from millions of returning draftees. A robust GI Bill now would make it difficult to keep careerists.

"Why would anybody stay for another deployment when they can go out on a four-year free ride, with guaranteed rent and utilities at the E-5 standard, which by long-standing DoD policy is a two-bedroom townhouse?"

Given current conflicts, this official continued, even volunteers who like service life might decide "to sit out for a year or two, in a large rented townhouse, and come back when things are more hospitable."

Again pretty cynical. Veteran's benefits not for service but to avoid mass unemployment (and ensuing social unrest?) Wonder what veterans would say about that?

Amid the debate and namecalling the Post article engendered, I found this interesting comment signed Vietnam Vet:

It would be illuminating if the posters here would identify themselves as combat veterans, or not. In my neck of the woods (active duty Marine Corps), the very nearly unanimous view is that Senator McCain has turned his back on us, as he assumes we're safely in the Republican column. He's playing to the breast beating know-nothings who fight their wars from their Lay-Z-Boys.

McCain is a sell-out, pure and simple. A shriveled old dogma-spewing party hack. Picture the turkey on the table in the movie "Christmas Vacation" staring Chevy Chase... McCain, like the shriveled remnants of the over-cooked bird, is a grotesque carcass of his former self, reduced to being a mouth-piece of the Bush machine.

I would like to see a poll which judges how reprensentative this attitude is. If a significant number feel this way, it could mark problems for McCain.


Memorial Day at Poplar Forest

Photo of Poplar Forest from a nearby Baptist conference center's tourist info.

Tomorrow Barry and I will make our fourth trip to Poplar Forest for Memorial Day. Here's a poem I wrote on the first visit.


Thomas Jefferson
rode the ninety miles
two days on horseback
three by carriage:
this octagon villa
his retreat from public life
at Monticello.

Sated on soda bread
a magnum of wine
we stretch out under the farthest surviving poplar
watch cumulous clouds dock and disolve.
One evokes a falcon
its swoop of wings, its talons.
Above us, the bough trimmed severely,
the poplar's leaves crowd in along remaining wood
as if to compensate for phantom limbs.

On the house tour we learn
Tom's slaves cast and laid a quarter million bricks
according to his design directly to clay
with no foundation.
After one hundred eighty-seven years
the skeleton of bricks remains intact
paint scaled off a coat at a time
then plaster, all stored to stoppered test tubes:
archeology essentially a deconstructive process.

Ghost marks on bricks
reveal a mantel here
a chair rail there,
let us glimpse the future restoration.
I prefer this bare brick:
strained backs of men and horses
beneath the great man's surfaces.

And speaking of Memorial Day, here's a baker's dozen from NewsTrust on the Iraq War, something to keep in mind as we mark the day tomorrow.

  1. The Sergeant Lost Within NYT--Reviews
  2. Book Review - 'Standard Operating Procedure' NYT --Reviews
  3. Soldier-Brothers See All Sides of War AP Reviews
  4. Feeling safer, Iraqis come home APReviews
  5. As soldiers fill Sadr City, militia fighters wait LA Times Reviews
  6. Iran 'paid Iraq insurgents to kill UK soldiers' Daily Telegraph Reviews
  7. The Return of Iraq's Ayatollah Time Reviews
  8. U.S. Teams Start Work Of Restoring South Iraq WaPoReviews
  9. Iraq Vets Get Poor Health Care, Americans Say in Harvard Survey Bloomberg
  10. War and service: Remembrance and debate Balt Sun Reviews
  11. Controversial Contractor's Iraq Work Is Split Up NYT Reviews
  12. Congress declares budget war LA Times Reviews
  13. Pentagon public relations program investigated AP Reviews


U.S. Digital Divide Redux

According to some figures, 10% of the U.S. is still uncovered for basic internet access, but the majority of the 90% are behind the times , too, according to "Fiber Optic's Digital Divide: Only a Slice of U.S. Homes Will Have Access to Super-Fast Lines" by the AP's Peter Svensson.
while access to cable and phone-line broadband has spread to cover perhaps 90 percent of the country in the space of a decade, next-generation Internet access looks set to create a much smaller group of "haves" and a larger group of "have nots."
Svensson identifies a problem, but not much more. And I find it interesting that Svensson thinks that 10% of folks not even having the current lagging technology means the problem of the digital divide has been solved.

An interesting look at the ramifications of high speed internet not just for entertainment but civic engagement and business competitiveness can be found in this Speed Matters pamphlet by the Communications Workers of America, as well as at OMB Watch.

Some other stories of interest:


Post Global on the Internet in the Middle East

Post Global has an interesting panel talking about the internet as a political tool. Yesterday, a reader posted this question:

Egypt has detained a number of its citizens for using the social networking site Facebook to organize anti-government protests. What online sites are most effective in influencing politics -- and is the impact positive?
Mona Eltahawy answered in a piece, "Arab Bloggers Keep Watch Over Government. And Each Other." She writes,

In Saudi Arabia, which fuels most of the world's cars but bars half of its population from driving, women's rights activists used Facebook and emails to collect petitions against the driving ban which they then sent to the king. One of the activists, Wajeha al-Huwaider, further protested the ban by getting behind the wheel as her sister-in-law filmed her, and posted the video on YouTube on International Women's Day as an open letter to the Saudi interior...

Eltahawy is a syndicated columnist and lecturer on Arab and Muslim issues has lived in Egypt, the UK, Saudi Arabia, and Israel, and is currently based in New York since 2000. She was a reporter in the Middle East, including in Cairo and Jerusalem for Reuters,The Guardian and U.S. News and World Report.


Stanford Prof B.J. Fogg Promotes Peace through Social Media

Graphic from an April 5 blog entry at Pebbles from Paradise, English author, photorapher and family therapis Stephen Bray (profile), now living in Turkey.


Experimental Psychologist B. J. Fogg's (email), blog) Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford studies computing product design "to change what people believe and what they do." In 2008 he wrote a scholarly paper indentifying what he called "mass interpersonal persuasion" which includes
persuasive experience, automated structure, social distribution, rapid cycle, huge social graph, and measured impact.
Usually Fogg looks at mobile phones or the psychology of companies such as Facebook (interview, review on NewsTrust, call for articles), so I was was intrigued to read about his Peace Innovation Project to help folks "use technology to invent peace."

I'll be getting in touch with Dr. Fogg to see if I can provide readers with more information, but he admits that he's swamped and doesn't always answer his email. So until then, I wanted to point you to the webpage for the Project which asks,
For example, can you imagine a new way to use Google Maps to promote greater harmony? How about Flickr? or Twitter? or perhaps a combination of these?
It wants to bring the Silicon Valley process of innovation to the undefined task of "global harmony."
Many people test lots of ideas. The insights are shared. And then more trials begin....We believe that a good innovation process will make world peace possible in 30 years. But we also believe that today no one person has the answer. And no single solution will change the world. We must work together to test and create many solutions.
So, if you are a teacher or part of an organization who wants to join the quest, write Dr. Fogg. He's currently running a new course at Stanford and you can keep up on what's happening through joining his Facebook group. (natch)

Interestingly, while the Facebook class had a series of sponsors including Amazon and Social Media.com, there are none listed as of today for the Peace Innovation Project. Also interesting, is how Fogg himself uses Facebook in addition to making his classes accessible. He writes,
Friending me on Facebook isn't really so helpful. I "friend" people I know in real life but not strangers. Yeah, I know that's not how many do Facebook, but that's my mode right now.
Yeah, my mode, too.


Prison Project Teaches Introspection and Mindfulness

The Seattle Post Intelligencer had an intersting story today, referred to NewsTrust by Bruce Brown, "Zen toolbox offers path to peace for prisoners ."

Robert Jamieson, Jr., reports that Dow Gordon has received the "Volunteer of the Year award for his work at Monroe Correctional Complex." Convicted for drugs, he spent time inside and came to appreciate the value of meditation and other techniques in curbing his anger and growing in self awareness. Now he works for the Freedom Project in Seattle and volunteers additional hours.

I worked in corrections and I'm glad to hear the story of someone who turned his life around and works to help others do likewise. I would have liked some information on the costs of incarceration, the recidivism rate for folks who participate in this project v.s. others and a link for the project. The information at the site is anecdotal. The reporter could have provided his readers with more facts, or barring that explained why those facts are unavailable. There was also no input from the other side of the argument, except in the comment section. If the reporter had raised these questions in his column he coudl have also provided Gordon, his organization and the prison an opportunity to address them.


Clinton takes KY

Seepreliminary announcement from the State poster here.


Housing Deal Struck in Senate

Tomorrow, at 10:30 a.m. in Room538 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building,
the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs will consider the “The Federal Housing Finance Regulatory Reform Act of 2008.”

Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd (D-CT) and Ranking Member Richard Shelby (R-AL) issued a joint news release about their ageement to create a multi-billion dollar mortgage rescue fund with losses to be paid by the two Government Sponsored Enterprises (GSE's) Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The bill also establishes a new regulator for the GSE's.

Reuters didn't even a have the name of the bill and referred to a CNBC story which should have been attributed to Politico's Crypt, which provided the wording of the news releasewithout a link. At first I couldn't find a copy of the release, looking on the sites maintained by Dodd and Shelby. It turned out to be posted on the Committee's site, along with a copy of the bill and the manager's amendment. This is basically the Senate version of Barney Frank's Federal Housing Finance Reform Act of 2007, H.R. 1427, (report, bill summary) which passed the House on May 22, 2007 by a vote of 313-104, but is the rewrite of the American Housing Rescue and Foreclosure Prevention Act (H.R. 3221), Passed May 8.

Meanwhile the news sources were saying that the details were fuzzy. Go figure. I continually find it sad that as a blogger with an hour or so to write an entry after putting in a full day at work, I can scoop paid journalists who seem to be hiding public information from citizens, rather than providing it.

Said Dodd in the release,

This legislation is good news for both the markets and homeowners. The bill addresses the root of our current economic problems – the foreclosure crisis – by creating a voluntary initiative at no estimated cost to taxpayers which will help Americans keep their homes. The bill also establishes a new fund that will help create more affordable housing for millions for Americans. Finally, this legislation takes a balanced approach toward reforming the GSEs, creating a world class regulator with enough authority to help these vital institutions operate in a safe and sound manner, while better fulfilling their important mission of providing affordable housing for Americans. Americans are looking for leadership and solutions – I am hopeful that the Banking Committee will deliver both by passing this legislation tomorrow. I appreciate the constructive participation of Senator Shelby in the development of this legislation, as well as the bipartisan efforts of our fellow Committee members, Majority Leader Reid, and Republican Leader McConnell.
Shelby added,

I'm proud to join Chairman Dodd in announcing this agreement. My primary consideration during negotiations on this package has been to protect the American taxpayer, and I believe we've made significant progress toward that goal on each component.

In my judgment, the new GSE regulator created under this legislation would be granted much needed authority and flexibility to regulate the GSEs appropriately. Ultimately, a strong regulator will better serve the interests of homeowners and taxpayers for years to come. I'm also pleased that the Hope for Homeowners proposal is paid for. I've long said that we should do what we can to help struggling homeowners, short of asking the taxpayer to foot the bill.

I appreciate the Chairman working with me during this process, and I look forward to helping him move this legislation forward.

Dodd had written an op-ed which the Connecticut Post published Saturday.


Loudon Wainwright III at Lyric in Blacksburg Last Night

5/17 the master singer/songwriter (bio) was in great voice and spirits and after dishing out the popcorn, I actually was assigned to sit at the stage's edge as a "bouncer." I'm happy to report that no one seemed interested in rushing the stage : )


Nuala O' Faolain

Photo from Vancouver International Writers and REaders Festival, where O'Faolain read in 2007.

I heard a rebroadcast of a Fresh Air interview with the late Irish writer Nuala O' Faolain on May 12, the day of her funeral. She had died of metastatic lung cancer three days earlier. Today, I was thinking of her again as I came across a searing interview soon after she had been diagnosed February 9. Interesting to me, then is this other piece I found today from March 10, taking on David Trimble for his criticism of Hillary Clinton as "silly" for her claim of taking part in the Irish peace process. While Clinton's claims may be more hyperbole, a la the Bosnia sniper fire incident, this appreciation is still a moving one.

It may sound small to people now that what she came for was a woman's conference on one occasion and a lecture on another, that she knew people's names and histories and took note of them—and was no doubt sometimes lied to and misled and laughed at by women as well as men (outsiders often strike skeptical locals as simpleminded).

But she kept turning up anyway.

It was not small what she did.

Not small at all.

When the old guys obediently trot out their criticisms of what she did in Belfast, ask yourself: Who else did what she did? Who else gave what she did? Who else gave at all?

Even today, when it is all over, I don't know whether even Hillary Rodham Clinton knows how much someone like me thanks her—how aware I still am of what her bright, friendly, caring presence meant, when despair was very near.


Last night, the Senate voted to reject the FCC decision to let the largest media companies add to their share of the market through increased cross-ownership. The measure now moves to the House of Representatives. President Bush has promised to veto this bill. See Ars Technica's account.

Josh Silver, Executive Director of the FreePress.net Action Fund says,
Corporate news today -- with its propaganda pundits, horse-race election coverage, and celebrity gossip -- undermines our democracy. We must continue to speak out and demand that the public airwaves be used to actually serve the public.


Yom Ha'atzma'ut and Yom Al-Nakba

Graphic by Aish Al Torah, a non-profit Jewish educational center with branches throughout the world.

The 1947 UN Partition Plan was rejected by the Arabs, but Israel declared its independence on the evening of May 14, 1948. Egypt, Syria, Transjordan, Lebanon and Iraq--five of the seven countries of the Arab League--invaded, starting the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Israel defeated them and captured just over fifty per cent of the territory allocated by the UN as an Arab state. The remaining land was annexed by Transjordan or controlled by Egypt.

Yom Ha'atzma'ut, Independence Day for Israel, is celebrated on the 5th of Iyyar, and the government of Israel impemented a program of benefits this year urging citizens living abroad to repratriate on the 50th anniversary.

Nakba Day (Arabic: يوم النكبة meaning "day of the catastrophe" is an annual day of commemoration for the Palestinian people of the anniversary of the creation of Israel, inaugurated in 1998 by Yasser Arafat to draw attemtion to their displacement at the end of the 1948 war when the vast majority of Palestinian Arab refugees outside the 1949 armistice lines were barred from returning to their homes, many of which had been destroyed, or from reclaiming their property.

George Bush gave a speech today at the Knesset in celebration of Yom Ha'atzma'ut, which failed to mention the peace process and suggested Democrats favored "appeasement" of terrorists in the same way some Western leaders appeased Hitler in the run-up to World War II. In doing so, he mightily ticked off Larisa Alexandrovna, Managing Editor for investigative news at Raw Story.
Mr. Bush, the only thing this...lacked was a mirror and some historical facts. You want to discuss the crimes of Nazis against my family and millions of other families in Europe during World War II? Let me revive a favorite phrase of yours: Bring. It. On!
It's an interesting read.


Bush Adminstration Acknowledgs Polar Bears Threatened

January 8, I posted, Is the Bush Administration Stalling on the Polar Bear Question? May 14, one day before a court-ordered deadline in the case brought by environmentalists, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne announced the government was granting threatened status under the Endangered Species Act, He showed the above slide on the 2007 extent and age of arctic ice based on satellite photos and research of Dr. Ignatius Rigor (website) of Washington University's Polar Science Center. The white designates multi-year ice –five years and older, which provides many critical habitat functions. The light blue includes seasonal ice that can form and melt in one year, and is used for hunting. The dark blue represents open water.

Compare this with 10 years earlier:
Kempthorne said,
Today’s decision is based on three findings. First, sea ice is vital to polar bear survival. Second, the polar bear’s sea ice habitat has dramatically melted in recent decades. Third, computer models suggest sea ice is likely to further recede in the future. Because polar bears are vulnerable to this loss of habitat, they are, in my judgment, likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future—in this case, forty-five years.
This is the first time the Endangered Species Act has been invoked to protect an animal mainly threatened by global warming, but Kempthorne stressed the move will not open the door to policy changes on reducing emissions of greenhouse gas. It will only translate to bans on hunting.

Greenpeace climate expert Kert Davies criticized:
They basically took the teeth out of the law....the notion that there is no way that the government—that US actions on global warming can affect the Arctic is also ridiculous, because the US’s 25 percent of global emissions and the thought that nothing we can do in this country will positively affect the polar bear is outrageous.
Since the ruling makes no provision for habitat protection, only hunting, I'd have to agree that this is a pretty hollow victory. It's kind of like saying that you can't shoot the bears, but it's okay for them to drown or starve. I'd like to know the extent of hunting that was taking place, anyway.


DOD meeting recruiting goals, but

May 12, the Department of Defense announced that "all services met or exceeded recruiting goals for the month of April and have surpassed goals for fiscal year 2008 to date."

I've got to wonder if they are acheiving these goals at the price of a decline in quality. For instance,
13 percent of the Army's new recruits (or more than 10,000) received so-called "moral waivers" in 2008, according to the US.A Today. This was up from the previous years stats as reported in July 2007 by the Boston Globe and marks a rate double of that in 2004. In another trend, the percentage of high school graduates among Army recruits was 79% last year, compared with 91% in 2001. And even that number is posibly distorted, if the Army is using the Two Tier Attrition Screen (TTAS) reported in "Army Signs More Dropouts" by Tom Philpott on November 22, 2006 at Military.com.
the Army announced last month that 81 percent of its non-prior service recruits for 2006 were high school graduates. That was disturbingly below the 90 percent Department of Defense standard for every service. But the proportion of high school graduates would have been reported as 74.3 percent if the Army had to count the 5900 TTAS enlistees high school dropouts. The number instead is ignored.
Philpott added that preliminary findings presented in report for the Army Research Institute by researchers Mark C. Young and Leonard A. White show that:
Non-high school graduates... are “relatively inexpensive to recruit and some…do make very good soldiers.” They project that TTAS could save the Army $100 million a year by lowering recruiting costs an average of $10,000 per recruit for up to 10,000 recruits a year.
For more critique of military statistics, see the Straus Military Reform Project of the Center for Defense Information.


You may need passports to board domestic flights or to picnic in a national park next year

...if you live in one of the states defying the federal Real ID Act, according to CNN.


Pangea Day

In 2006, filmmaker Jehane Noujaim won the TED Prize (acceptance speech) was granted $100,000. Her wish was to create a day in which the world came together through film. Pangea Day grew out of that wish. Starting at 18:00 GMT today, folks in Cairo, Kigali, London, Los Angeles, Mumbai, and Rio de Janeiro were linked for a live broadcast of 24 short films selected from an international competition, as well as live music and speakers such as Queen Noor of Jordan, CNN's Christiane Amanpour, musician/activist Bob Geldof, and Iranian rock phenom Hypernova.


Today's Washington Post story by Michael Mosk, "McCain Pushed Land Swap That Benefits Backer," was actually scooped Ken Olsen, a reporter for the Vancouver Columbian, whose by a 2003 Alicia Patterson Foundation article was "Secret Landswaps Taxpayers Help Finance."

According to Olsen, in 2000, the General Accounting Office
recommended the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service abandon their land exchange programs, concluding they were irrevocably broken. The agencies instead should auction acreage they want to get rid of and buy what is worthy of public ownership.
I'd wager that not many people read of this particular deal until the Post covered it. Mosk provides documents for readers weigh the evidence for themselves. While McCain's office stresses that SunCor was not involved until after the land swap, that does not mean that SunCor and the landowner and political supporter Ruskin have not profited.

I've observed similar deals here, such as the 1986 Virginia Tech land swap in which a Tech employee engineered a trade of his agricultural land for 247 acres at tje omtersectopm pf 460 and Peppers Ferry Road, which soon became a shopping center. It seems such swaps almost always involve the taxpayer losing title over public land more attractive for commercial development without adequate compensation. As Betts of SunCor said, his company was not
really interested in spending a lot of time on it until we knew if the legislation would pass.
And although they are not land swaps, per se, McCains maneuvering also brings to Montgomery County's condemnation of land in Nellie's Cave for a road on a planning commsion recommendation voted on by landowner Joe Draper so that a developer Joe Draper, which enabled him to build an upscale subdivision. And of course, recently, there is outgoing Blacksburg mayorRoger Hedgepeth's 2006 race to get the rugby field next to Margaret Beek Elementary School rezoned commercial for a bait and switch. What was suposed to be a lifestyle center and housing now will be used for what appears will be a Wal-Mart store just 4 miles form another one right down from said intersection of the Tech land swap.


Interesting visitor of the day: Someone from Silver Spring, MD, spent over 25 minutes reading 3 pages, after finding my blog on a Google search of "critique warner lieberman & climate change science." The out-click was to the FOE fact sheet. Someone from Puerto Rico searched Google for "linares v. jackson" found my post, about tenant rights or the lack thereof under HUD.
Someone came form NewsTrust and read not only the featured piece on lcimate change, but also my piece yesterday on the FEC. But what I'm most thrilled about is the person from Boulder yesterday, who spent almost 20 minutes reading 22 pages, having searched Google for "inez, ky" martin county coal mine."


Bush Ousts Republican Who Stood up to McCain on Campaign Finance Rules

Late May 6, as the world concentrated on the results of the Democratic primary, White House chief of Staff Joshua Bolten sent a letter in response to a suggestion from Senate Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) that Mr. Bush restart the nominating process for the Federal Elections Commision.

Reid has long proposed holding separate, simple majority votes on each nominee because of Democratic opposition to von Spakovsky. In submitting a slate including one new Democrat and two new Republicans, Mr. Bush ditched Federal Elections Commision Chairman David Mason, who had informed John McCain that he needed to await a quorum for the commission's approval before withdrawing from federal campaign financing and to explain the terms of a loan he obtained before his victory in the primaries.

At the same time, Mr. Bush stayed the course with his renonimation of Hans von Spakovsky, a former Justice Department official, whom Democrats oppose for his leadership in voter ID measures in Georgia. Von Spakovsky failed to win approval for his first nomination, but recieved a recess-appointment which expired at the end of 2007. Mr. Bush resubmitted his name and had previously refused to submit other nominees, thus leaving the commission unable to conduct business during this election year, since it lacked a quorum.

White House spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore said,
We would accept a vote on the entire package or up or down votes on each
Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) , however, has been unwilling to allow an up-or down vote and has blamed Democrats for
the bottleneck created by the Democrats' opposition to one
well-qualified nominee.

In addition to not being able to handle Mr. McCain's case, the FEC has been unable to hand out money, which may have affected the timing of Democrat John Edwards's departure from the race. The FEC also has been unable to issue regulations on candidate air travel or on lobbyist fundraisers and joint advertising by national parties and federal candidates.

Besides von Spakovsky, Mr. Bush's other nominees are:
  • Democrat Cynthia Bauerly, a lawyer who serves as Charles Schumer (D-NY) legislative director
  • Republican Caroline Hunter, a former White House official current serving on the Election Assistance Commission, and
  • Republican Donald McGahn, once served as an attorney for former majority leader Tom DeLay and as counsel for the National Republican Congressional Campaign.

At Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's request, current commissioner, Democrat Ellen Weintraub, will remain on the commission. Democrat Steven Walther, like von Spakovsky, still awaits confirmation. Democrat Robert Lenhard withdrew from the nomination process during the impasse.


I last wrote about the Federal Elections Commission in January on the 31st in Just why did John Edwards drop out of the race yesterday? and on the 9th in Latest Nomination Dispute Stalls FEC. In looking at the current coverage of the nominations, some reporters seem to have buried the news. AP's Jim Kuhnhenn, in "Bush makes nominations to FEC, seeks to break deadlock, " leads off with
President Bush sent the Senate a new slate of Federal Election Commission nominees Tuesday, an attempt to break a Senate confirmation deadlock that was greeted coolly by the Democratic leader.
Only in the fifth paragraph, does he write,

Bush also withdrew the nomination of current FEC Chairman David Mason, who had clashed in the past with like Republican presidential nominee John McCain.
He does include the reaction of Senate Leader Harry Reid (D-NV):

By abandoning Mr. Mason and instead sticking by Mr. von Spakovsky, the White House has abandoned experience and independence for partisan loyalty," Reid spokesman Jim Manley said. "That is the White House's choice. It is a regrettable one. Nonetheless, we will work towards the confirmation of the remaining nominees and expect to defeat Mr. von Spakovsky.
Okay, you might argue, Kuhnhenn's a wire reporter with other stories to file. But how about the Michael Luo at the New York Times, whose "Amid Partisan Standoff, Bush Submits 3 Nominees to Election Commission" starts with
President Bush on Tuesday submitted three new nominees to the Federal Election Commission, a move that could help end a political impasse that has left the agency paralyzed in the midst of a heated presidential campaign.
Luo waits until the sixth paragraph before writing,

But Mr. Bush declined to renominate David Mason, the current Republican chairman of the commission, a move that drew sharp criticism on Tuesday from Democrats and campaign finance watchdogs.
Interestingly, the editorial wrtiers at the Times caught the significance, albeit a day later in "Crippled Election Commission."


Compare the American coverage the Brits in the May 7 Financial Times story, "McCain critic loses role at FEC," by Stephanie Kirchgaessner. The difference is so startling that I've reprinted it in full below, hoping that it is fair use, as this is for educational puroses from which I derive no profit.

The Bush administration has sidelined a federal official who raised legal
questions about whether John McCain, Republican senator, could raise private
funds in his presidential bid.

The White House late on Tuesday nominated Donald McGahn, who once served as an attorney for former majority leader Tom DeLay, to replace David Mason, a fellow Republican, as the chairman of the Federal Election Commission.
Mr Mason raised hackles in some Republican circles early this year when, in response to a query by Mr McCain’s campaign, he questioned the legality of a decision by the campaign to withdraw from the public financing system during the Republican primary.

The move to replace Mr Mason drew scrutiny from Democrats and public advocates who yesterday accused the administration of throwing Mr Mason “under a bus” in order to protect the presumptive Republican nominee for the White House.

“President Bush’s dumping of Mason can only be viewed as a bald-faced
and brazen attempt to wrongly manipulate an important enforcement decision
by the nation’s campaign finance enforcement agency,” said Fred Wertheimer,
president of Democracy 21, a non-profit group that tracks money in politics.

Ken Gross, an attorney at Skadden Arps in Washington, said Mr Mason, having ruffled feathers over issues involving Mr McCain’s presidential funding, had become a “victim” of the political machinations between the White House and Democrats in the Senate. The White House said it would not comment on how personnel decisions were made but that the president “appreciated” Mr Mason’s service.

The nomination was part of an effort by the White House to end a congressional impasse that has brought the campaign finance watchdog to a standstill. Since December the FEC, a six-member bipartisan agency, has lacked a quorum that would allow it to issue advisory opinions on campaign finance issues or to initiate investigations into candidates who may be violating campaign finance rules.

The congressional stand-off is centred on the stalled nomination of the Republican
Hans von Spakovsky, a former attorney at the Department of Justice’s civil rights division, whose nomination Democrats have vowed to reject.

Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican minority leader, said the White House had accommodated a request by Democratic majority leader Harry Reid by offering enough nominees for a full slate at the FEC.

As I write this at 7:50 on May 8, a google news search show 148 stories. Tomorrow, if I have time I'll analyze the resst of the coverage.


Cap and trade: "inefficent and ineffective"

Logo of the United Nation's Permanent Forum of Indigenous Peoples, which held its seventh session: Climate change, bio-cultural diversity and livelihoods: the stewardship role of indigenous peoples and new challenges from April 21 to 2 May, 2008 in NYC.


There are human costs to climate change, especially among indigenous peoples, as noted by the United Nations:
Indigenous peoples are among the first to face the direct consequences of climate change, owing to their dependence upon, and close relationship with the environment and its resources. Climate change exacerbates the difficulties already faced by vulnerable indigenous communities, including political and economic marginalization, loss of land and resources, human rights violations, discrimination and unemployment.
Cap and trade strategies to decrease global warming set a maximum for carbon emissions; those that are able to reduce emissions at a low cost sell their extra permits to companies who would rather not make reductions themselves. Often, at least in the experience of the European Union, the permits are bought from companies operating in the undeveloped world.

British researchers such as Larry Lohman at Corner House and Kevin Smith of Transnational Institute, have criticized that system. Smith wrote in the March/April 2008 Resurgence Magazine,
So when the Dutch FACE Foundation plants trees in Kibale national park in Uganda to offset consumer flights, it ignores the fact that the land has been the site of violent evictions in the recent past and is still hotly contested by the people who once lived there. When companies buy carbon credits in the EU Emissions Trading scheme, the cheapness of the supposed emissions reductions is all that is important. But, any offsetting in Southern countries to justify emissions in Northern countries completely bypasses the issue of the extreme disparity in the levels of per capita carbon consumption and assumes that emissions reductions in the South can be treated like another colonial commodity to be extracted and traded.
But cap and trade has deleterious effects on those in the developed world, too. Consider how the policy, if enacted, will prolong our dependence on fossil fuels. And, as a group of environmental and social justice leaders wrote the Sierra Club in January , 2007,
...carbon credits are being generated almost exclusively by local polluters, while communities preserving local forests or defending their lands against oil exploitation, mountaintop removal or coal-fired power plants receive no such credits for their efforts. It is big polluters, after all, who tend to be in the best position to hire carbon consultants, liaise with officials and pay money to get projects registered with the UN carbon market. Worldwide, many communities interviewed were shocked and dismayed to learn that their local corporate bad citizens were getting extra cash from the carbon market.
Presidential candidates Senators Clinton, Obama and McCain all support cap and trade. Resources for the Future prepared a chart in January of this year that compares the major congressional proposals. All the Senate bills embrace cap and trade. The House has several carbon tax measures which instead would tax all emissions, providing an incentive to reduce emissions.

Over the weekend, Laurie Williams and Allan Zabel, two Oakland, CA EPA attorneys, speaking as private citizens, sent an open letter to every member of Congress indicating that the cap and trade approach, such as espoused in the Lieberman-Warner America's Climate Security Act of 2007 (S. 2191), would be “inherently inferior to a carbon tax.”

The Wall Street Journal Environmental Capital blog noted yesterday,
But if the muzzle is strapped on, it apparently can also be removed–like when a chance arises to criticize the climate-change bills in Congress that the administration dislikes.
I'm not sure that the Bush Administration favors a carbon tax. November 29 2006, Presidents of 22 Local Unions representing over 10,000 United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) environmental engineers, environmental scientists, environmental protection specialists and support staff sent a joint letter to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works urging Congress to take immediate action against global warming. The letter also called for an end to censorship of scientists and other specialists on topics of climate change and the effects of air pollution.

In December 2007, the EPA's chief went against the recommendations of his staff to veto state action to directly regulate greenhouse gases from auto emissions and is delaying development of any federal approach to the problem, apart from voluntary incentives.

Williams and Zabel say the agency’s inability to verify greenhouse gas emissions or effectively police a cap-and-trade market makes for an “inefficient and ineffective strategy” for combating global warming. While tracking may be possible in the industrial sector, “there are many other sectors of the economy from which it will be difficult or impossible to insure accurate reporting.”
  • The determination of the initial cap is “extremely contentious and has resulted in a cap that was significantly inflated above actual emissions”; and EPA is not equipped to enforce market protections that ensure “true reductions, not just paper credits” as exist now in many carbon offset schemes.
  • The cap-and-trade market will confer “tremendous financial incentives to understate actual emissions and overstate the amount of emission reductions or carbon sequestration offsets.”
  • There has been an absence of any technological innovations that have resulted from U.S. emission trading programs, yet technological innovation is seen as the consensus path for long-term greenhouse gas reductions.
The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities has sketched out how to protect low and moderate income consumers under either plan. Supporters of S. 2191, following the lead of Environmental Defense, argue that market forces will curb emissions. I wrote about environmental groups' critique of the bill on February 13, as well as the Congressional Budget Office report favoring a carbon tax on February 15. They argue that cap and trade amounts to a huge giveaway to polluters with questionable results. Some opponents of the bill, such as James Inhofe (R-OK) argued:
Less than half of all published scientists endorse the global warming theory....[and this measure will] cost the average taxpayer something like 10 times the largest tax increase we have experienced in this country.
In the coming days, I will be covering the bills in Congress, But first tomorrow, I want to tell you about when the World Bank looked at the human costs of its energy investments.


Are We Alone?

"Science Radio for Thinking People" broadcast fromAbSciCon 2008:


This photo taken by Watson Davis of the Science Service shows Clarence Darrow, right, questioning William Jennings Bryant during the Scopes Monkey Trial. Marcel C. LaFollette, a scholar and Smithsonian volunteer, found the picture in the Smithsonian's archives. James Glen Stovall (email), Professor of Journalism at the University of Tennessee has a writeup of the discovery and of the trial at his site JPROF.

Carl Bunin (email) publishes a newsletter, "This week in history. Today, in 1925

Biology teacher John T. Scopes was arrested for teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution in a Dayton, Tennessee, high school in violation of state law. Working in a public school, he was prohibited by statute “to teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.”

University of Missouri-Kansas City Law School Professor Doug Linder (email) conducts a Seminar in Famous Trials with a website featuring cases from Aristotle to Moussaoui. His Scopes site includes a wealth of materials.


Trouble in River City

The map from Black Box Voting shows the ratio of the number of purges to the
current voter list.

Bev Harris, the founder of Black Box Voting, reports that Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita, while bragging about the increased registrations, has failed to mention a document which shows that 1,134,427 voter registrations have been cancelled prior to May 6th's Democratic primary--that's 26 percent of the current statewide list. And oddly, just two northwestern Indiana counties purged almost a quarter of these voters. Lake County, home of Gary Indiana deleted 137,164 voters and neighboring Porter County, another 124,958 voters. Harris comments that
Lake County has been referred to as "the second most liberal county in America." Lake County also has one of the heaviest concentrations of African-American voters that you'll find anywhere in the USA.

Nearby Porter County, the home of Valparaiso, is 95% white and went
solidly for Bush in the 2004 election. It's also got a lot of college
She explains the shortcomings in the information available:
It would be nice to have the original quantities, it would make for a
cleaner number, but this is not available on the Secretary of State's
Web site, so I haven't got a tidier statistic for you, wish I did. I also
wish the time period for these purges was clearly indicated, but it is
not indicated -- nor can it be derived -- from available information
at Indiana's official election Web site...
The dang Indiana information doesn't break voter registrations out by party which makes crunching the primary numbers a little harder.

In addition, the Microvote Infinity voting machine has been decertified, but anyone who already bought them can used them, although there have been lawsuits in Pennsylvania for machines that didn't work, and in two Tennessee locales where candidates have asked to redo
elections due to anomalies such as vote totals which changed overnight.

She says that Microvote's insurance company has declined to cover the firm, because the insurance company alleged that Microvote was selling defective products. A judge ruled against the insurance company, saying the product wasn't defective, it just didn't work.

Indiana is also using ES&S paperless iVotronic touch-screens, the ones that
lost 18,000 votes in Sarasota County Florida. Dan Rather showed footage of the touch-screens being manufactured in a sweat shop in the Philippines. Their quality control test was to shake the machine and if it didn't rattle, it passed the test.

She also maintains that the National Election Pool is

paying elections officials (through their associations or otherwise) to call and fax them the results off the voting machine poll tape.In fact, the National Election Pool (used to be Voter News Service) is getting this stuff BEFORE the election officials and way before the secretary of state. The first number they quote is the adjusted exit poll number, and it comes from asking people about who they voted for. The point here is, when what you thought was "exit polls" suddenly changes, that is the impact of those called-in poll tape results. Yep. That's the voting machines talking, and when they say something different than the people answering the exit pollers' questions, we should be looking at the programming on the machine, not the exit pollers, for answers.
Her organization is providing a tool kit on how to do records requests. There will also be a forum to file information from Indiana and North Carolina.


Some reading for Saturday

Before I set out for a dinner party at our house in Newport, I thought I'd noted my most interesting visitor today was someone at the U.S. House of Representatives who searched at google on "walker gao medicare social security" and then spent over 7 minutes at 3:30 this afternoon reading my March piece on Walker leaving the GAO (plus two other pages.) The outclick was to one of my favorite groups of economists, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Saturdays, I round up the lineup for NewsTrust. Here what the community and I found starting last night. The featured topic was U.S. Economy, hence the emphasis in these stories from the US:

Other U.S. Politics

Other Business Stories:

Other Sci-Tech