Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Bill O'Reilly's Puny Left Wing Conspiracy

Here it is, in its entirety: Bill O'Reilly's enemy's list, such as it is:
A Message from Bill: Media Operations that Traffic in Defamation
The following media operations have regularly helped distribute defamation and false information supplied by far left websites:
- New York Daily News
- The St. Petersburg Times
These are the worst offenders. In the months to come, we expect to add more names to this list. We recommend that you do not patronize these operations and that advertisers do the same. They are dishonest and not worth your time and money.
That's it. Sadly, he doesn't offer any specifics as to the transgressions that earned these organizations such ignominy.

New Orleans, Drowning in the Sands of Time

After the PR offensive, what? Having disappeared from the headlines, New Orleans is dying of neglect. The Washington Post recites the sad litany of failure:
Some 250,000 devastated businesses have applied to SBA loans; only a couple hundred have been approved. Isn't that as lackadaisical a response as FEMA's? If these businesses can't get short-term loans, they're going to close up, and there go the jobs that might enable more folks to return.
Some 284,000 homes were destroyed by the hurricane. Some people got flood-insurance payments, while others in the same neighborhood were denied. Major portions of the area have no power, and the local electric utility is bankrupt. The health care system has been crippled, with only two hospitals partially reopened. The first regular public school reopened only yesterday. Some banks can't decide whether to rebuild. Companies like UPS and Burger King have jobs available, but few takers because there is no housing. Much of the $62 billion okayed by Congress remains unspent.
But there are signs of life emerging, like plants growing between the cracks of broken pavement. The Washington Post reports that New Orleans is offering free WiFi access in two neighborhoods starting today. Here we see the local digerati sitting on boxes outside a cafe. It is much easier (and cheaper) to create a WiFi network from scratch than it is to rebuild the the much less exciting infrastructure of roads, electricity, water, sewer and flood protection.
(1st photo: Erik S. Lesser for The New York Times)
(2nd photo: Eliot Kamenitz -- The Times-Picayune)

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Bringing Color to Black Friday

A new tradition has taken root in Delaware alongside the Wilmington Parade and crazed crowds of shoppers. As reported in the New Journal, the White sisters have celebrated "Buy Nothing Day" on the Friday after Thanksgiving for the last five years. For the consecutive second year, they have been arrested for strolling into Christiana Mall and handing out free samples of "nothing."
In Philly, they once booed Santa Claus. Yesterday Santa, portrayed by environmental activist Allan Muller, got hauled off by the police:
"The mall security kept saying you can't be here," White said. "They said, 'You have to leave.' But if we're being told to leave, they should tell us the grounds why they're making us leave."
By 12:20 p.m., the handcuffs came out.
A state trooper put Muller's hands behind his back and cuffed Santa.
Anna White had the last word:
"All we want for Christmas is free speech, but I guess we can't get it at the mall."
(Photo: Suchat Pederson, The News Journal)

Friday, November 25, 2005

Radio Fun

I had a great time as guest host on the Rick Jensen show on WDEL. Thanksgiving is probably one the quietest days in talk radio, but that didn't stop some die-hards from calling in.
Dana of Delaware Watch called in with the rhetorical question, "Should this turkey be pardoned?" John Flaherty of Common Cause called with some seriously wonky comments about Abraham Lincoln's role in the history of the Thanksgiving tradition. (My kind of listener.) Thanks to everyone who tuned in yesterday.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

A Proclamation

By the President of the United States of America.
A Proclamation.
October 3, 1863
The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years, with large increase of freedom.
No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.
It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.
In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the city of Washington, this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.
A. Lincoln

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

TommyWonk Live on WDEL Thanksgiving Day from 1 to 3 PM

I will be guest host on the Rick Jensen Show on WDEL AM 1150 on Thanksgiving Day from 1:00 to 3:00 in the afternoon.
If you have a chance, listen and call in at 302 478 9335. We'll be talking about Turkey Day traditions, kitchen meltdowns, and all the politics you'd rather not bring up at the family table. Also, we'll be asking listeners to name their biggest political turkey, who may or may not be pardoned at the end of the show.
WDEL is found at 1150 AM on your dial. If you're out of broadcast range, you can listen to WDEL online.

Mean Jean Complains that She's the Victim

Even less becoming than her comments on the House floor last Friday, are Jean Schmidt's protests that she is the one who has been victimized. The Washington Post describes her first comments since she incited a firestorm by flinging the word "coward" at decorated war veteran John Murtha:
Judging by her words yesterday -- the first after avoiding the public for three days -- Schmidt doesn't understand what the fuss is about, and sees herself more as victim than villain. "I am amazed at what a national story this has become," she said in a statement. "I have been attacked very personally, continuously since Friday evening."
Complaints of victimization are particularly puzzling coming from members of our country's ruling party. After five years in power, conservatives continue to display a capacity for complaint that seems at odds with the power they wield. This is what Schmidt said last Friday:
"A few minutes ago, I received a call from Colonel Danny Bubp. He asked me to send Congress a message: Stay the course. He also asked me to send Congressman Murtha a message: that cowards cut and run, Marines never do."
Colonel Bubp, a Republican member of the Ohio state legislature, said in the Cincinatti Enquirer that he never mentioned Murtha by name:
WASHINGTON - Three days after Rep. Jean Schmidt was booed off the House floor for saying that "cowards cut and run, Marines never do," the Ohioan she quoted disputed the comments.
Danny Bubp, a freshman state representative who is a colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve, told The Enquirer that he never mentioned Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., by name when talking with Schmidt, and he would never call a fellow Marine a coward.
For her part, Schmidt claims that she didn't realize that Murtha, a 31 year veteran of Korea and Vietnam, had served in uniform:
"I wrote down what he was saying," she said in the interview. "He did ask me to send a message to Congress, and he also said send a message to 'that congressman.' He did not know that congressman's name, but I did. Neither one of us knew he was a Marine."
Honestly? Is there an article anywhere from last week that didn't mention Murtha's war record? If so, I haven't found it.
(Photo: The Cincinatti Enquirer)

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Biden Blasts Bush on Iraq

The Washington Post has a story on Joe Biden's sharp criticism of Bush's Iraq debacle yesterday in a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations:
Biden, who is perhaps the Democratic Party's most visible spokesman on foreign policy matters, said that President Bush "has to abandon his grandiose goals" for transforming Iraq and the Middle East and define a more realistic mission.
Rather than attempting to transform Iraq into a "model democracy," Biden suggested that Bush spend the next six months accomplishing three goals: creating a "political settlement" that draws support from the rival Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds who make up Iraq; bolstering the ability of the Iraqi government to "deliver basic services"; and accelerating the training of Iraqi troops in order to facilitate a handover of full military authority to them.
This is in line with Biden's previous speeches on Iraq, which could be boiled down to two words: "Get real." Biden disagreed with Representative John Murtha, who has called for a complete withdrawal from Iraq:
Biden also said, however, that he expected 50,000 troops to be redeployed from Iraq by the end of 2006 with the remaining 100,000 out of the country by January 2007. A force of 20,000 to 40,000 would remain in the country to continue to train Iraqi forces and "prevent jihadists from establishing a permanent base in Iraq."
While applauding the growing calls for withdrawal, we should acknowledge that critics of Bush's Iraq misadventure can disagree on how to extract ourselves from this mess, or as Biden put it, "we can start climbing out of the hole he [Bush] has dug with most of our interest intact."
Our Vice President may not brook dissent, as Dana Milbank drily observes:

Vice President Cheney protested yesterday that he had been misunderstood when he said last week that critics of the White House over Iraq were "dishonest and reprehensible.
"What he meant to say, he explained to his former colleagues at the American Enterprise Institute, was that those who question the White House's use of prewar intelligence were not only "dishonest and reprehensible" but also "corrupt and shameless."

It was about as close as the vice president gets to a retraction.
It seems to me that those of us who are critical of the administration should be more tolerant of differing opinions on how to make the best of a bad situation.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Making Sense of Media, Big and Small

It's been a wild year in the world of Washington media. We've seen a former male prostitute lobbing softballs from the midst of the White House gaggle. We've seen our federal government manufacturing news reports and hiring columnists to put out their version of events. We've seen Judy Miller and Bob Woodward acting idependently of the interests of their respective newspapers. Today, the Times has another odd twist:
Here's something you do not see every day: a newspaper reporter interrogating his own boss - on live television yet.
Howard Kurtz, the media writer for The Washington Post, posed tough questions yesterday for nearly eight minutes to Leonard Downie Jr., The Post's executive editor, on a program where Mr. Kurtz is host, CNN's "Reliable Sources." The subject was the revelation last week that Bob Woodward, The Post's investigative reporter, had not disclosed the fact that a senior official in the Bush administration leaked the name of a C.I.A. operative to him more than two years ago.
Is this simply another example of the wacky world of Washington media hijinks? I think it's more. There are two forms of accoutability at play here: The first is the old fashioned accountability of a reporter to his or her editor, described here in an online chat that Downie conducted last Friday:
In this one instance, Bob [made] two mistakes -- not telling me sooner about his conversation with this source and expressing opinions on television about the Fitzgerald investigation. He has acknowledged both mistakes and apologized. In the future, I expect him to work within our newsroom's standards, as he always has except for these two mistakes.
The second is the broader accountability of reporters, editors and bloggers to their readers, listeners, viewers and colleagues. The proliferation of media has expanded and accelerated a kind of peer review process in which published stories, columns and posts are subject to immediate comment, correction, disputation and further dissemination. (For instance, when I posted the first three parts of my series, "The ANWR Fallacy," here and as a diary at dKos, I received instant and useful feedback on the validity, meaning and use of some fairly arcane statistics on Canadian oil shale reserves.)
This open journalism is a good thing for those who are responsible with the facts and all who seek to understand the credibility of anything published, whether in the mighty Washington Post or in a humble blog like mine.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Impolite and Impolitic

The relentlessly high-minded George Will writes of the breakdown of manners in society. Is he concerned about the shouts and catcalls on the floor of the House of Representatives? No, it's iPods that catch his ire, by way of praising the new book by Lynn Truss, "Talk to the Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today, or Six Good Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door."
Her previous wail of despair was "Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation," which established her as -- depending on your sensibility -- a comma and apostrophe fascist (the liberal sensibility) or a plucky constable combating anarchy (the conservative sensibility).
Now hold it right there. I'm politically liberal and like to think of myself as pretty good with spelling and punctuation. Precision in language has nothing to do with the labels liberal and conservative. Will continues with the old canard that feminism has destroyed manners:
Furthermore, it is a brave, or foolhardy, man who shows traditional manners toward women. In today's world of "hair-trigger sensitivity," to open a door for a woman is to play what Truss calls Gallantry Russian Roulette: You risk a high-decibel lecture on gender politics.
I'm a fairly polite guy with a taste for the company of smart, independent and politically active women. I have never been lectured for opening a door, but then for me it isn't an expression of condescension, but a simple gesture of consideration. A true gentleman does not make a show of his manners.
During Friday's rambunctious session in the House of Representatives, the body was reminded to "address their remarks to the Speaker and not to other members." The reason for this tradition is to prevent debate from descending into personal attacks and name-calling. The Times profiles how a representative in the middle of the maelstrom earned her nickname:
WASHINGTON, Nov. 19 - She grew up in the rough-and-tumble of a family auto racing business, went through concealed-weapons training, and bears a local nickname seldom applied to shrinking violets: "Mean Jean."
So when Representative Jean Schmidt, an Ohio Republican, created a furor on her 75th day in Congress by lobbing the word "coward" toward a Democratic war hero, those who know her best were anything but surprised.

This is the same Jean Schmidt who won a surprisingly narrow special election against Iraq veteran Paul Hackett earlier this year. Hackett is one of two Democrats running for the Senate next year. If he succeeds, we can hope that he will find the chamber a bit more polite than the House was on Friday.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Not the Sarcastic One-Liners!

The White House is in default mode, according to the Washington Post:
Beset by criticism of its handling of intelligence before the Iraq war, the Bush White House is fighting back with familiar weapons. There have been sarcastic one-liners from Vice President Cheney. There have been rapid-response rebuttals to unfavorable editorials. Most of all, there have been pointed suggestions from President Bush that the people questioning his policies are emboldening America's enemies.
That would be roughly two-thirds of the American public according to recent polls.
(Photo: Lawrence Jackson -- Associated Press)

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Unsteady Ground in Washington

I think Washington as we know it is coming apart. It's not just the scandals: the CIA leak, Tom DeLay, Bill Frist, Jack Abramoff. It's not just the poll numbers showing Bush significantly below 40% and a mojority of Americans believing his misled us on Iraq. It's not just Republicans worrying about the next election.
The current news cycle includes two earth shaking events:
1. Bob Woodward, who is really an institution in himself, has apologized to the Washington Post, his putative employer.
"I apologized because I should have told him about this much sooner," Woodward, who testified in the CIA leak investigation Monday, said in an interview. "I explained in detail that I was trying to protect my sources. That's job number one in a case like this. . . ."
No Bob. Job number one is telling your editor what's going on. But Woodward has operated by his own rules for years, rules that allow him to keep secrets from the Post to use in his books. This unique arrangement worked as long as Woodward's interests didn't deviate from his employer's. When that happened, he did what comes naturally in Washington:
"I hunkered down. I'm in the habit of keeping secrets. I didn't want anything out there that was going to get me subpoenaed."
Hunkered down is what Nixon did, and for good reason. And actually Bob, you were in the business of revealing secrets, that is before you became fully embedded in the Washington establishment.
2. The House of Representatives reversed itself and cut two embarrassing transportation projects:
WASHINGTON, Nov. 16 - Congressional Republicans decided Wednesday to take a legislative wrecking ball to two Alaskan bridge projects that had demolished the party's reputation for fiscal austerity.
That never happens. It just isn't done. Pork is sacrosanct in Washington, or it was until yesterday. Of course, the GOP majority had grown so shameless that Tip O'Neil would have blushed brighter than his nose at the brazeness of the current Washington kleptocracy. Bridges to nowhere are what the Japanese ruling party, the LDP, built at the height of its power, before economic reality forced the party to face up to needed reforms.
Would that our ruling party offered a more substantive gesture towards reform:
"It's largely symbolic," said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who would have preferred to strike all $24 billion in special projects that members stuffed into the highway bill. "The money will still go to Alaska," as opposed to the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast, or to fund other budget priorities, McCain said.
Roughly 6,000 other transportation projects escaped the axe. Oh well, tomorrow's another news cycle.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Bob Woodward's Secrets

Bob Woodward knows how to keep a secret. He protected the identity of Deep Throat for 33 years. And he kept the secret that he was caught up in the CIA leak investigation until Monday:
Washington Post Assistant Managing Editor Bob Woodward testified under oath Monday in the CIA leak case that a senior administration official told him about CIA operative Valerie Plame and her position at the agency nearly a month before her identity was disclosed.
Woodward's lips were so tightly sealed that he didn't tell his editor at the Washington Post until a month ago:
Woodward did not share the information with Washington Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr. until last month, and the only Post reporter whom Woodward said he remembers telling in the summer of 2003 does not recall the conversation taking place.
Bob Woodward was not so shy in airing his opinions of the Fitzgerald investigation:
Woodward, who is preparing a third book on the Bush administration, has called Fitzgerald "a junkyard-dog prosecutor" who turns over every rock looking for evidence. The night before Fitzgerald announced Libby's indictment, Woodward said he did not see evidence of criminal intent or of a major crime behind the leak.
"When the story comes out, I'm quite confident we're going to find out that it started kind of as gossip, as chatter," he told CNN's Larry King.Woodward also said in interviews this summer and fall that the damage done by Plame's name being revealed in the media was "quite minimal."
"When I think all of the facts come out in this case, it's going to be laughable because the consequences are not that great," he told National Public Radio this summer.
The consequences for Woodward's reputation may be greater than he imagined.
(AFP/Getty Images File Photo)

Here's a Surprise: Big Oil Execs Met with Cheney's Energy Task Force

If there was nothing improper in the secret deliberations of Dick Cheney's energy task force, then why has the White House steadfastly refused to reveal the identities of its participants? And if there was nothing improper, then why did the heads of several major oil companies deny their participation?
The Washington Post obtained a White House document that uncovers what has been kept secret for more than four years:
The document, obtained this week by The Washington Post, shows that officials from Exxon Mobil Corp., Conoco (before its merger with Phillips), Shell Oil Co. and BP America Inc. met in the White House complex with the Cheney aides who were developing a national energy policy, parts of which became law and parts of which are still being debated.
In a joint hearing last week of the Senate Energy and Commerce committees, the chief executives of Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp. and ConocoPhillips said their firms did not participate in the 2001 task force. The president of Shell Oil said his company did not participate "to my knowledge," and the chief of BP America Inc. said he did not know.
The executives don't have to worry about perjury. Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens saw to it that they were excused from the indignity of having to be sworn in.
What we still don't know is how a thinking, reasoning adult can equate the interests of big oil with the energy needs of the rest of us.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Take the Doug Forrester Challenge

Doug Forrester, the Republican candidate for NJ governor, blamed Bush for his loss to John Corzine in an interview in the Star-Ledger, even though he didn't campaign in NJ:
The president was one of few top-name Republicans not asked to campaign in New Jersey on behalf of Forrester and other GOP candidates this year.
Forrester, a major donor to the Bush re-election campaign, also credited Corzine for trying to link him to Bush. "It was not a foolish thing to pound that issue so hard," he said.
Forrester didn't mention any policy disagreement with Bush, beyond not screwing up on disaster relief:
"If Bush's numbers were where they were a year ago, or even six months ago, I think we would have won on Tuesday," Forrester said. "Katrina was the tipping point."
So to GOP candidates across the country, I say take the Doug Forrester challenge:
Instead of simply lamenting the president's abysmal approval ratings, tell us where you disagree with Bush. Is it Iraq? Torture? Social Security? Our government's ruinous fiscal policy? Stem cell research?
Do you agree with the lies that were told to drive us into war? Do you agree with Bush when he accuses his critics of undermining the troops? Or do you agree with a majority of your fellow citizens who believe that Bush lied to win support for his Iraq misadventure?
GOP candidates, will you be inviting President Sluggo to campaign with you in the coming year? If not, why not?
Will you accept money from BushCo? (Or from DeLay?)
Are you trying to run away from Bush the political figure while embracing the policies that earned him his unpopularity? And are you willing to acknowledge your role in supporting Bush while trying to put distance between you and your party's leader?

Monday, November 14, 2005

"Silent Heroes"

I saw a terrific production of the play "Silent Heroes" by Linda Baggs (pictured at left) at Sweet Briar College over the weekend. The play, set in 1975, is about the wives of Marine aviators waiting together for their husbands to return from an exercise, knowing that one plane has crashed, but not knowing which. The production was directed by my niece, Virginia Robinson (right), who describes how the play came to be written:
The play is based on a story my father told her about a training accident on board an aircraft carrier: the women found out there head been a crash and gathered back at the base, waiting to find out who had been made a widow.
The women in the play struggle with the meanings of sacrifice -- patriotic and personal -- at a time when political, cultural and social changes divided our country. Virginia describes herself as opposing war but supporting those who serve in uniform. For all of us who struggle with the distinction, this is a play worth seeing.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Karl Rove Rallies the Remnant

The Washington Post reports that the Federalist Society was happy to see Karl Rove still at large:
White House adviser Karl Rove, speaking in public for the first time since a prosecutor's report on the CIA leak case, received a standing ovation last night from a conservative legal society and passionately defended President Bush's effort to change the courts.
The New York Times reported this comment from an enthusiastic fan:
"I've noticed a big difference," said one Republican in regular contact with Mr. Rove who declined to speak for attribution because the White House did not authorize it. "There's a spring in his step, more focus, more - something. Some sort of weight off his shoulders."
Photo: Jamie Rose for the New York Times

Thursday, November 10, 2005

The ANWR Fallacy, Part 3

The fallacy is that drilling in ANWR will increase our oil supply. In this series, we look at the reasons why building closer trading ties with Canada will get more oil to U.S. markets than could ever be extracted from ANWR. In Parts 1 & 2, we looked at the oil reserves of ANWR and Canada. Let's compare the estimated reserves for ANWR and Canada:
ANWR: 5.7 to 10.4 billion barrels
Canada: 5.0 to 178.8 billion barrels
Canada has at least as much oil as ANWR with a big upside -- if the country's oil sands can be exploited.
How realistic is oil sand extraction? According to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers [CAPP], 994 million gallons of petroleum were extracted from oil sands in 2004. CAPP estimates that oil sand production will range from 2,098 to 2,264 million gallons in 2012 -- the earliest year that ANWR production could begin if the go-ahead were given today.
Shell Canada Ltd. has embarked on a long-term investment in its Athabasca Oil Sands Project in central Alberta. Shell estimates that it has 6 billion barrels of recoverable bitumen in this site and that production will eventually reach 500,000 barrels a day. Shell already has much of the key infrastructure -- including pipeline, extraction mine and refinery -- in place.
The U.S. Department of Energy [DoE] estimates it would take 7 to 12 years for oil to begin flowing from ANWR and that output could reach 422 million gallons a year 6 years after exploitation began. That would be 2018 to 2023 if Congress said yes today.
In summary, Canadian oil sand production in 2012 will be five times that of ANWR in 2018 at the earliest. The U.S. could benefit from this increase in Canadian oil production -- unless Canada, ruffled by recent and ongoing trades disputes with the U.S., decides to export the oil to Asia.
Look at the whole chessboard. Canada, our ally to the north and one of the most stable democracies on the planet, is expected to produce far more oil faster that we ever could by opening up ANWR to drilling. It is in our interest to see to it that Canada's bounty is used to our benefit.
This series is being cross-posted at tommywonk's diary at dKos. Tommywonk thanks Bill Detwiler for providing the inspiration and a great deal of research and analysis for this series.

Chalabi's Love Fest at the American Enterprise Institute

Blogger Kris Lofgren at Nothing Aside managed to get in to see Ahmed Chalabi's speech yesterday at the American Enterprise Institute. He's got some juicy stuff about Christopher Hitchens offering a cover story for how Chalabi happened to have passed U.S. cypher codes to Iran. But this is my favorite quote:
"I have a multi-dimensional relationship with the Bush administration."
Boy he said a mouthful. Chalabi referred to page 108 of the report of the Robb-Silberman Commission as exonerating him. Over at TPM, Matthew Yglesias, who was also in the room, takes a looks at the report, which describes the involvement of the Iraqi National Congress (INC) in promoting bogus intelligence:
Page 108 states that the INC provided information to the Intelligence Community that was inaccurate. It states that the INC sources were deliberately fabricating their reports. And it states that the sources were being "directed" to do so by the INC.
How this guy is considered a hero is beyond me.

ANWR Drilling Dropped from House Bill

Five years in office, with Republican majorities in Congress, BushCo is still having trouble getting approval to open up ANWR to oil drilling. The Washington Post reports that the House nixed the plan:
House GOP leaders agreed last night to strip plans to permit oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and in the offshore continental shelf from a $54 billion budget-cutting measure, probably securing the votes to pass the bill today.
The move is a blow to President Bush, who has made expanded oil exploration a priority since he took office. Lawmakers said the White House applied pressure yesterday to Republicans to save the drilling provisions, especially in Alaska, even wooing conservative Democrats who have steadfastly opposed the GOP budget package.
Perhaps knowing that they wouldn't see a drop of oil for at least 7 to 12 years dampened their enthsusiasm. Or maybe this isn't a good time to be doing favors for oil executives, who dutifully came to Capitol Hill yesterday to be lectured on high gas prices and windfall profits:
Senators struck a note of populist outrage when they ordered oil executives to appear before the Energy and Commerce committees to explain high fuel prices and record company profits. Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), announcing the hearing, said it would expose "those who abuse the free-enterprise system to advantage themselves and their businesses at the expense of all Americans."
But instead of calling oil executives on the carpet yesterday, senators gave them the red-carpet treatment.
To preserve the executives' delicate sensibilities, they were allowed to testify without the usual swearing in:
When Energy Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska, $102,190) announced that he would not require the executives to give their testimony under oath, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash., $9,400) asked for a vote on the issue. Stevens shot back: "There will be no vote . . . It's the decision of the chairman, and I have made that decision."

The executives left with some of their dignity intact but without the prize they wanted--the chance to push the caribou aside to make room for their drilling rigs.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The ANWR Fallacy, Part 2

In Part 1, we looked at the oil reserves of ANWR and Canada. Some readers raised questions about the meaning of the statistics cited in yesterday's post. In response, I will try to refine the estimates used in this analysis. Let's compare the estimated reserves for ANWR and Canada:
ANWR: 5.7 to 10.4 billion barrels
Canada: 5.0 to 178.8 billion barrels
The difference between the low and high numbers for Canada reflects the uncertainty over extracting oil sands reserves.
Next we have to look at how quickly these reserves can be extracted. In a report from 2000, the DoE offered this estimate of the time it would take to get ANWR oil to the market:
Even with nearby production infrastructure, 7 to 12 years would be needed for lease sales, permitting and environmental reviews after approval for leasing.
Tomorrow: How much could Canadian shipments to the U.S. increase in the next 7 to 12 years.
This series is being cross-posted at tommywonk's diary at dKos. Tommywonk thanks Bill Detwiler for providing the inspiration and a great deal of research and analysis for this series.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The ANWR Fallacy, Part 1

The debate over the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve is seen as a choice between protecting the environment and expanding our oil supply. This is a fallacy. Drilling in ANWR will not increase our oil supply.
How could that be? Look at the whole chessboard.
Jimmy Smits on The West Wing asked the rhetorical question: What country sells the most oil to the U.S.? The answer is not Saudi Arabia, but Canada, which shipped 1.6 billion barrels of oil from January to August of this year, according to the Department of Energy. Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela were close behind, with Nigeria fifth with 1.2 billion barrels.
Of these countries, Canada is our closest ally and our most important trading partner. It is also of the world's most stable democracies -- certainly more stable than Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Nigeria. The Office of Trade and Industry Statistics reports that U.S. exports to Canada in 2004 totaled $190.2 billion -- 23% of overall exports. Imports from Canada in 2004 totaled $255.9 billion, $44.8 billion being petroleum and natural gas.
In 1988, the USGS estimated with 95% certainty that ANWR holds about 5.7 billion barrels of recoverable oil. By comparison, the DoE reports that U.S. proven reserves total 21.9 billion barrels, most of which is easier to access than the oil under ANWR. Using data from Oil & Gas Journal, the DoE reports that Canada's reserves of 178.8 billion barrels are second only to Saudi Arabia's. To recap:
ANWR: 5.7 billion barrels
Canada: 178.8 billion barrels
Canada has 31 times the reserves of ANWR. One could conclude we will be increasing our imports of Canadian oil. That is unless...
Tomorrow: How drilling in ANWR will affect our relations with Canada.
Tommywonk thanks Bill Detwiler for providing the inspiration and a great deal of research and analysis for this series.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Former CEO Ed Woolard Criticizes Executive Pay

The News Journal ran a story yesterday about former DuPont CEO Ed Woolard criticizing runaway executive pay:
"I'm afraid if something like this goes on, something will happen that CEOs don't like," said Woolard, who heads the NYSE's compensation committee.
Chairing the NYSE compensation committee of the New York Stock Exchange is a significant assignment, given the front page uproar over former CEO Dick Grasso's out of control pay package.
"He's served on some serious corporate boards so he comes to the process bringing gravitas a normal critic wouldn't have," said Charles M. Elson, director of the John L. Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance at the University of Delaware.
A ten minute speech by Woolard from a recent conference on corporate compensation is available here.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, CEO pay grew from 42 times that of factory workers in 1980 to 475 times in 1999. The trend has not abated in recent years. The Corporate Library relased its annual survey of executive compensation two weeks ago:
The survey shows a median increase in Total Compensation of 30.15 percent between fiscal 2003 and fiscal 2004, compared to an increase of 15.04 percent in last year’s survey, and a rise of 9.49 percent in 2002.
The controversy over CEO pay is not just about factory workers. How has your stock portfolio done recently? Paul Hodgson, Senior Research Associate with The Corporate Library's Board Analyst observes that executive pay is not just about the eye-popping numbers:
“CEO compensation is one of the most visible and telling indicators of the effectiveness of corporate governance but our findings have yet to show an overall improvement in pay practices despite the continued high level of public attention, calls for restraint, new exchange listing rules, new director independence requirements and new best practice statements.”
The NYSE experience with Grasso is a good case in point. The scandal was not just Grasso's pay, but the fact that his board didn't know what he was making. A board that lets a CEO take home enormous sums is often a board that isn't paying attention to other important matters of corporate governance.
Woolard debunks the myth that CEOs earn this pay by creating wealth for their shareholders. Decades of research has failed to identify a reliable correlation between CEO compensation and corporate performance. One factor driving CEO pay higher is the "Lake Wobegon effect," as noted in this speech by Kim Clark, dean of the Harvard Business School:
Moreover, the use of [compensation] consultants (and the way it's done in a lot of companies) creates what I call "the Lake Wobegon effect." You recall that in Lake Wobegon everybody is above average. And in a lot of companies the way the system works is most CEOs want to be at the 75th percentile of the distribution of compensation. Well, you can imagine what happens. You get a ratcheting up effect as that information pervades the market, and we get serious distortions in CEO compensation.
Because boards seem reluctant to admit that their CEOs are below average, they contribute to the continually escalating pay. The bottom line for Woolard?
"I'm not some evangelist. I don't care how much money these people make. I'm concerned about the future consequences if it continues unabated," said Woolard.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Oh No! Mr. Bill! This Al Qaeda Prisoner Lied!

That's right Mr. Bill. A captured Al Qaeda leader lied about the organization's intentions and capabilities. But what he said fit with the story that President Sluggo wanted us to hear. The NYT reports on another piece of bogus intelligence that was used to take us to war:
WASHINGTON, Nov. 5 — A top member of Al Qaeda in American custody was identified as a likely fabricator months before the Bush administration began to use his statements as the foundation for its claims that Iraq trained Al Qaeda members to use biological and chemical weapons, according to newly declassified portions of a Defense Intelligence Agency document.
The document, an intelligence report from February 2002, said it was probable that the prisoner, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, “was intentionally misleading the debriefers’’ in making claims about Iraqi support for Al Qaeda’s work with illicit weapons.
Imagine that Scooter! A terrorist lied to his interrogators! But that didn't stop President Sluggo and those in the know from citing this evidence as a reason to go to war with Iraq:
Without mentioning him by name, President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Colin L. Powell, then secretary of state, and other administration officials repeatedly cited Mr. Libi’s information as “credible’’ evidence that Iraq was training Al Qaeda members in the use of explosives and illicit weapons.
Among the first and most prominent assertions was one by Mr. Bush, who said in a major speech in Cincinnati in October 2002 that “we’ve learned that Iraq has trained Al Qaeda members in bomb making and poisons and gases.’’

Friday, November 04, 2005

Follow the Yellowcake Road

Now the New York Times is picking up on the Italian connection in the Niger forgery story:
ROME, Nov. 3 - Italy's spymaster identified an Italian occasional spy named Rocco Martino on Thursday as the disseminator of forged documents that described efforts by Iraq to buy uranium ore from Niger for a nuclear weapons program, three lawmakers said Thursday.
The spymaster, Gen. Nicolò Pollari, director of the Italian military intelligence agency known as Sismi, disclosed that Mr. Martino was the source of the forged documents in closed-door testimony to a parliamentary committee that oversees secret services, the lawmakers said.
Let's hope they stay on the story. After all, what could be sexier that reporting on Italy's spymaster? And while we're at it, maybe someone at the NYT could take another look at the Chalabi connection to other bogus pre-war intelligence. Steve Clemons at The Washington Note is covering Ahmed Chalabi's invitation to speak at the American Enterprise Institute next week. Who in Washington still thinks this self-serving con man has any credibility left?

Thursday, November 03, 2005

The Italian Origins of the Phony Niger Story

The Valerie Plame affair has brought renewed attention to the question of who forged the documents that purported to show that Iraq was seeking uranium in Niger. Terry Neal in the Washington Post takes note of the story playing out in the Italian media over the last week:
According to La Repubblica, Italian intelligence chief Nicolo Pollari met with then deputy national security adviser Stephen Hadley on Sept. 9, 2002, and passed along documents--that turned out to have been forged--about Iraq's attempt to purchase uranium in Niger.
In their eagerness to make the case for war, administration critics say that top White House officials circumvented the normal intelligence checks and balances and funneled the information through the Defense Department's Office of Special Plans, which had been set up by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and then-deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz to develop alternative sources of intelligence.
Bush tried to finesse the dubious origin of the Niger story in his 2003 State of the Union speech by saying that "the British goverment has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought" uranium. Of course the British government had been passed the same forgery that took in those hard-headed realists in the White House.
Josh Marshall is following the story over at TPM.

UD Awarded $52.9 Million for Solar Power Research

For those who have been wondering what Allen Barnett has been up to since the collapse of AstroPower, he's still in the solar power research game. The News Journal reports that Barnett, a research professor at the University of Delaware, has helped land an unprecedented $52.9 million grant for solar power research:
Two solar researchers at UD will oversee up to $33.6 million in federal grants and $19.3 million in mostly private funds. The grant will make the university's solar research program one of the best-funded nationwide, officials said.
UD is among the leading academic solar research centers in America. The school's departmentof electrical and computer engineering, and the Institute for Energy Conversion are known in the solar industry for their innovations and for the high number of researchers they produce annually. Eleven institutions competed for the federal grant.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, part of the Pentagon known as DARPA, wants researchers to produce solar cells twice as efficient as the most advanced products available.
The project will be headed by solar pioneer Allen Barnett and university associate professor Christiana Honsberg. They are the principal investigators at the school's department of electrical and computer engineering.
The objective of the grant is to create a solar power cell that is 50% efficient. Current cells covert about 15% of light to electricity. For more on this effort, visit the Institute for Energy Conversion.
DARPA has funded basic research projects for years. Among its success stories: the Internet.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Referendum C Passes in Colorado

Colorado voters approved Referendum C which suspends TABOR (for Taxpayers Bill of Rights). TABOR strictly limits the state government's ability to fund essential programs. Under the constitution, the state would be forced to refund $3.7 billion of tax revenue already collected while cutting health care and higher education. Republican governor Bill Owens has been called a traitor for supporting the measure. Stygius has the rundown.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Senate Democrats Force the Issue on Intelligence

Senate Republicans are hopping mad. Why? Because Democrats in the Senate won't let them off the hook on the bogus intelligence that was used to push the country into war. The Senate Intelligence Committee investigation on the use of faulty intelligence is moribund at best. Today, Harry Reid brought matters to a head:
Senator Reid said that while the Republican chairman of the intelligence committee, Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas, had promised a thorough inquiry into prewar intelligence, including the way the White House had used or misused it, he had not followed through.
"I demand on behalf of the American people that we understand why these investigations aren't being conducted," Senator Reid said from the Senate floor, "and in accordance with Rule 21, I now move that the Senate go into closed session."
Bill Frist, who was fuming, was quoted in the Washington Post as saying, "the United States Senate has been hijacked by the Democratic leadership." However you characterize the move, Reid got results. Six Senators, three from each party, will look into the stalled investigation and report back in two weeks.
I can hear the cheering coming from around the blogosphere. Steve Clemons, no strange to Capitol Hill, calls it "a bold and very constructive move by Reid." Josh Marshall writes "Well done." The Bush administration asked the Senate to authorize war based on bogus intelligence and it's time those who fed us this line of crap were held accountable.
UPDATE: Dana Milbank writes in the Post:
It was a cheap trick -- and it worked brilliantly. Reporters dropped their stories about Alito and covered the melee in the Senate. CNN titled the episode "Congress in Crisis." MSNBC displayed a live shot of a mostly empty hallway outside the Senate chamber and a clock showing elapsed time since the Senate went into closed session.
Republicans knew they were licked. They agreed to set a schedule for the long-delayed intelligence committee investigation Democrats demanded.

Media Giants Notice They've Been Used

Throughout the CIA leak scandal, the White House has turned the media's methods for uncovering secrets on its head. Confidentiality was used by the powerful to control information. Judith Miller -- "Miss Run Amok" to her editors -- went to jail, not to protect whistleblowers, but to protect powerful men. Publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. and the editors of the New York Times, blinded by their own ethos, have belatedly expressed regret for backing Miller.
Today in the Washington Post, E.J. Dionne points out that Scooter Libby counted on news organizations protecting their reporters to keep the truth from coming out:
As long as Bush still faced the voters, the White House wanted Americans to think that officials such as Libby, Karl Rove and Vice President Cheney had nothing to do with the leak campaign to discredit its arch-critic on Iraq, former ambassador Joseph Wilson.
And Libby, the good soldier, pursued a brilliant strategy to slow the inquiry down. As long as he was claiming that journalists were responsible for spreading around the name and past CIA employment of Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, Libby knew that at least some news organizations would resist having reporters testify. The journalistic "shield" was converted into a shield for the Bush administration's coverup.
Confidentiality is not a God-given right or even a First Amendment right; it's not spelled out in the law. It's an accepted practice, supported by the public, because reporters serve an important role in keeping us informed in a world where powerful people would rather we remain ignorant.