Monday, July 30, 2007

It's Not All Academic with Me

Loyal readers may wonder how it is that I choose my topics.
Well, one way to get me interested in a topic is to publish something inane about the Laffer curve, or the economics of recycling (you're on notice Paul). Another way to get my attention is to place my body in close contact with the pavement.
I spent the bulk of my day dealing with priorities like a medical exam, a tetanus shot, a prescription for an antibiotic and an x-ray to make sure nothing is broken.
I plan to return to work tomorrow, and to blogging soon. Topic A will be transportation design and road safety. In the meanwhile folks, please, let's be careful out there.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Heckuva Job, SBA

A reader thought this story merits attention. Over at, Keith Girard describes how the federal Small Business Administration (SBA) failed to deliver help to thousands of business owners affected by Hurricane Katrina, and deliberately set out to cover its tracks:
Thousands of Katrina victims were summarily denied loans, often without even being told. SBA procedures were violated wholesale; employees were threatened or offered cash payments to clean up the backlog. In order to disburse billions of dollars in backlogged loan assistance, the SBA dished out money to thousands of unqualified recipients, often without the requisite collateral and documentation. More astonishingly, the SBA wrote checks to thousands of people who never finished a loan application and didn't want the money. In some cases, the SBA hadn’t heard from the recipients in months.
"These numbers represent individuals and families who have faced a tragedy most of us cannot imagine," said SBA Inspector General Eric M. Thorson in disturbing testimony. His office conducted two audits of the program. The reports are in draft form and have not been released to the public. But Thorson provided the details in testimony this week before the Senate small business committee.
When management at the SBA must have realized things weren't going well, whey swung into action:
As the scandal dragged on and public outrage grew, the Bush administration was desperate to break the logjam and get relief to the region. So, in the fall of 2006, the SBA launched a campaign to contact every borrower (some 90,000 in all) within 45 days "to properly and rapidly disburse funds" to the victims of Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report. Hence, the program was called "Operation 90 in 45."
Gale B. Martin, at the time an SBA loan officer in the Office of Disaster Assistance, was part of the effort. She told lawmakers she was shocked and stunned by what happened next. Instead of a humanitarian effort to get aid to the region, SBA officials became hell-bent on clearing the books of unprocessed loans at all costs. "We were being forced by management to cancel, decline, and withdraw [loan] applications unnecessarily and unjustly in order to make the numbers look good to the public, the press, and Congress," she testified.
It seems like a long time ago that we were being subjected to stories on the virtues of our first MBA president. That's right, President Sluggo was awarded a Master of Business Administration from Harvard Business School. Perhap he came away with the idea that he graduated with the credentials to think big strategic thoughts, not to be confused with a real life understanding of operations management.
I have to wonder: Is there any significant function of our national government that is better run than it was seven years ago?

I'm Feeling Lucky

I'm a little sore from yesterday's mishap, which left me with a mild case of road rash. As John of the blog, Delaware Bicycle News points out, John Griffith of Timonium, Maryland was not so fortunate, citing this story in the Salisbury Daily Times:
A DSP [Delaware State Police] spokesman said John G. Griffith, 44 of Timonium, Md. was riding his bicycle south on the shoulder of Coastal Highway. The chain apparently broke on his bicycle causing him to stop along west side southbound shoulder to repair it.
A 2002 Pontiac Grand Am driven by Barry Boulden, 18, of Millsboro was traveling south in the left lane approaching Griffith. Police said Boulden reportedly fell asleep while driving, drifted onto the shoulder and struck Griffith with the front of his vehicle.
The News Journal has more on Dr. Griffith:
Kim Martin, a spokeswoman for Johns Hopkins, confirmed Griffith was director of the Johns Hopkins Fibroid Center, which provides treatment for women with uterine fibroids.
I got up this morning and watched the peleton ride into Paris on the last day of the Tour de France. Depending on the weather and how I'm feeling, I might get back on my bike this afternoon. I'll be going back to work tomorrow morning, a little stiff and sore, but otherwise okay. I'm feeling pretty lucky today.
Chuck Snyder, The Daily Times

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Share the Road

We interrupt this visit to the medicine cabinet to bring you a few words about bicycle safety:
I was heading back towards Wilmington this afternoon on Kennett Pike past the ramp onto Rt. 141. A driver in an SUV thought I was heading down the ramp, and braked and honked when he realized I wasn't. I swerved to avoid him and went down on the pavement. I wasn't hurt badly, though I left some skin cells and a few drops of blood on the road.
The driver was thoughtful enough to stop and wait until I felt okay to ride back home. (Though we both would have gotten to our destinations sooner if he hadn't been going so fast into the ramp.)
I and my bike are a little bent out of shape, but okay. I imagine I'll be sore tomorrow.
So as you're driving around, please keep in mind that a person riding a bike has a right to be on the road. The Delaware Bicycle Council has a summary of laws relating to bicycles. If you ride a bike, or drive on roads where cyclists ride (which covers just about about everyone), you should read it.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Drinking Liberally Tonight in Newark

I almost forgot to mention that Drinking Liberally gathers tonight at 8:00 pm at the Deer Park Tavern on Main Street in Newark. Look for the liberals around the bar.
If you'd like to receive monthly alerts on this fun gathering, go here to get your name on the list.

Upheaval in the Tour de France

It has been said that in the ideal Tour de France, only one rider would be left on his bike at the end of the race. The Tour is about pushing riders to their limits and seeing who survives.

189 riders started the Tour in London on July 1. Only 141 riders finished today's stage. One will wear the yellow jersey when the Tour arrives in Paris on Sunday.
Because race leader Michael Rasmussen was disqualified, no rider wore the jersey today on the road. Only after today's stage, was the yellow jersey awarded to Alberto Contador.

There are many ways to lose: A rider can be dropped by the peleton, crash in an early stage sprint, miss the road in a descent, crack on a mountain stage — or be kicked out for a doping violation.

Michael Rasmussen, who had worn the jersey for nine days, was kicked off his team yesterday for lying about why he missed doping tests in May and June. He had claimed he was in Mexico, but was found to have been training in Italy.

Because of the dark history of doping in recent years, race organizers, and the teams themselves, have taken a sharp stand against cheating. Riders are tested during each event and in between. Leaders are subjected to more tests. If you win a stage, you give a sample. If baseball were this strict, commissioner Bud Selig wouldn't have to meekly mutter that Barry Bonds is "innocent until proven guilty."

Rasmussen was booted, not because he tested positive, but because he lied about why he missed several tests. If Washington were this diligent about telling the truth, Alberto Gonzales would have been fired by now.

Alexander Vinokourov, the pre-race favorite, was disqualified for testing positive for blood doping. He was found to have another person's blood in his body last week. In this, the crudest method of cheating, someone else's red blood cells are injected into a rider's blood vessels. It is dangerous; the added volume of red blood cells can block a person's arteries.

Vinokorouv's team, Astana, and another team, Cofidis, are out of the tour because of doping violations. Vinokourov had impressed fans with his gritty determination to keep riding despite an accident early in the Tour that required nearly sixty stitches. But any favor he may have found among the fans has been erased by his willingness to cheat.

Another rider, Michael Rogers, was the leader on the road when he crashed in stage 8. He tried to keep riding and broke down in tears when he couldn't; he had separated his shoulder. This is a tough sport.

Alberto Contador, who is considered young at age 24, has thrilled fans with his repeated attacks in the mountains. His teammate, Levi Leipheimer, who paced him up the slopes of the Alps and the Pyrenees, is being rewarded for his perseverance with a probable podium finish. Rarely do teammates end up on the podium together; the sacrifices required to put a rider in yellow end up costing a team leader's lieutenants time. I don't think any of Lance Armstrong's teammates (and he rode with some talented riders) joined him on the podium for any of his seven wins. Cadel Evans sits between them in second place, and could take the jersey with a strong time trial performance on Saturday.

Some European papers have called for the Tour to be cancelled. I don't agree. 141 riders have made it thus far. The peleton has covered nearly 2,000 miles and crossed two mountain ranges. Alberto Contador, Cadel Evans and Levi Leipheimer lead the race, having already spent more than 80 hours in the saddle. Others who were picked to win have fallen by the wayside. These three have been proven to be the strongest honest riders left upright in the Tour, and deserve to stand on the podium in Paris.
Photo: Reuters/Thierry Roge

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Pickup Drivers and Fuel Economy Standards

James Surowiecki writes in the New Yorker that the arguments against increasing fuel mileage standards has a familiar ring:
In the nineteen-twenties, Alfred Sloan, the president of General Motors, insisted that the company could not make windshields with safety glass because doing so would harm the bottom line. In the fifties, auto executives told Congress that making seat belts compulsory would slash industry profits. When air bags came along, Lee Iacocca told Richard Nixon that “safety has really killed all our business.” A few years later, when Congress was thinking about requiring fuel-economy standards, auto executives warned that instituting such standards would create “massive financial and unemployment problems.” And now, with Congress debating a bill to raise fuel-economy standards, for the first time in almost twenty years, the Chicken Littles are squawking again, forecasting doom for Detroit and asserting that making higher-mileage vehicles is technologically unfeasible and economically suicidal.
USA Today ran a story on Monday noting that Toyota has passed GM as the world's leading automaker, in part because of sales of the Prius and other hybrids:
TOKYO (AP) — Toyota reaffirmed on Monday its global sales target of 9.34 million vehicles for this year despite worries about plant closures and a sluggish market in Japan. Toyota Motor, which outpaced General Motors in global vehicle sales in the first half of the year for the first time ever, set the full-year target late last year.
Toyota said in June sales of its hybrid cars had passed 1 million vehicles, a landmark for the automaker that started selling the Prius a decade ago and now dominates the hybrid market.
One of the arguments against increasing fuel mileage standards is that drivers have already decided that they like the big vehicles just fine and don’t want liberal do-gooders dragging them out of their SUVs and forcing them into small, inconvenient, unsafe sub-compacts. But as Surowiecki points out, people distinguish between personal choices and public policy choices:
Americans may want to buy the biggest and most environmentally damaging vehicles available, but polls show that, given an option, some three-quarters of them vote for dramatic increases in fuel-economy standards—increases that may well force automakers to sell fewer (or at least smaller) S.U.V.s. We buy gas guzzlers but vote for gas sipping. This isn’t because people are ignorant about how higher fuel-economy standards would affect them personally; polls that explicitly lay out the potential trade-offs involved still find support for tougher standards. And it isn’t as if voters and car buyers belong to two
different groups; one recent survey of pickup owners found that seventy per cent strongly favored tougher requirements.
Why the difference between personal choices and policy preferences?
And the market doesn’t create counter-incentives that would push us in a responsible direction, since someone who drives a Hummer doesn’t suffer the effects of pollution and global warming any more than someone driving a Prius does, and isn’t charged more for the extra environmental damage.
Even people who drive pickups, and don’t spend time pondering the economics of public policy choices, understand that some problems can’t be left to the market.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Energy Negotiations Continue

The initial sixty days is up, but the negotiations to bring wind power to Delaware continue. I don't know much, but I have learned that the parties are not folding their tents, even though the period of sixty days, set by the Public Service Commission (PSC), has passed.
One knowledgeable correspondent, mindful of the need for confidentiality, described the negotiations as a Rubik's Cube. Among the issues that need to be worked out among DPL, Bluewater Wind and either NRG or Conectiv are financial risk, project capacity, and price.
NRG and Conectiv are competing for the job of building a natural gas plant to provide a backup for wind power. What kind of compensation will they seek for building a plant that will operate on standby?
Bluewater Wind already has a long term agreement with the Delaware Municipal Energy Corporation (DEMEC). How will this agreement affect Bluewater Wind's ability to cover its capital and operating costs?
And Delmarva Power never wanted to be in the power generation business in the first place. How would long term contracts to buy wind and natural gas affect its role in Pepco Holdings' corporate strategy?
Understanding how all the moving parts fit together and running the numbers on all the variables is an enormous job. And because these questions involve the public interest and not just a set of competing corporate interests, it's important that we understand how the talks are proceeding.

On this score, the PSC tomorrow considers a motion that Jeremy Firestone has proposed to require more detailed reports on the negotiations:
Commission to consider Jeremy Firestone's Motion Seeking Clarification of Delmarva Power & Light Company's Reporting Requirements Under Order No. 7199.
The PSC is scheduled to hear a report on the negotiations
from mediator Lawrence Hamermesh on Agust 7. Stay tuned.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Mitt's Lapse of Judgment

I usually don't pay much attention to semi-literate signs held by those with whom I disagree. This is a big country, with plenty of folks with ill-considered opinions. But when the sign lumps two U.S. senators together with public enemy number one, and is held high by a leading contender for the GOP nomination, that's another matter:
One qualification for high public office is judgment. One would hope that a candidate for president (or at least an aide) would have the presence of mind to avoid posing for pictures holding up a sign comparing two rivals to a terrorist.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Assertion of Executive Privilege Described as "Breathtakingly Broad"

As we watch our national government’s long march towards the unitary executive, it is sometimes hard to know whether to laugh or cry.
The Washington Post today has the latest from the White House on executive privilege:
Bush administration officials unveiled a bold new assertion of executive authority yesterday in the dispute over the firing of nine U.S. attorneys, saying that the Justice Department will never be allowed to pursue contempt charges initiated by Congress against White House officials once the president has invoked executive privilege.
This latest assertion of privilege is based on a 1984 Justice Department memo:
The President, through a United States Attorney, need not, indeed may not, prosecute criminally a subordinate for asserting on his behalf a claim of executive privilege. Nor could the Legislative Branch or the courts require or implement the prosecution of such an individual.
As for the law itself:

TITLE 2 > CHAPTER 6 > § 194. Certification of failure to testify or produce; grand jury action
Whenever a witness summoned as mentioned in section 192 of this title fails to appear to testify or fails to produce any books, papers, rec­ords, or documents, as required, or whenever any witness so summoned refuses to answer any question pertinent to the subject under inquiry before either House, or any joint committee established by a joint or concurrent resolution of the two Houses of Congress, or any committee or subcommittee of either House of Congress, and the fact of such failure or failures is reported to either House while Congress is in session or when Congress is not in session, a statement of fact constituting such failure is reported to and filed with the President of the Senate or the Speaker of the House, it shall be the duty of the said President of the Senate or Speaker of the House, as the case may be, to certify, and he shall so certify, the statement of facts aforesaid under the seal of the Senate or House, as the case may be, to the appropriate United States attorney, whose duty it shall be to bring the matter before the grand jury for its action. [emphasis mine]

According to the White House, a United States attorney is “may not, prosecute criminally a subordinate for asserting on his behalf a claim of executive privilege,” while the law says it is his or her “ bring the matter before the grand jury.”
I may not know that much about the law, but I do have a passing familiarity with the English language, and don’t see how the administration’s assertion squares with the relevant law.
Perhaps there is someone better versed than I in these matters who could comment:
Mark J. Rozell, a professor of public policy at George Mason University who has written a book on executive-privilege issues, called the administration's stance "astonishing."
"That's a breathtakingly broad view of the president's role in this system of separation of powers," Rozell said. "What this statement is saying is the president's claim of executive privilege trumps all."
Glenn Greenwald has a sober review of the matter, in which he notes that this assertion of privilege was, not surprisingly, anonymous:
We do not know who specifically in the administration announced this obviously radical position because the Post courteously granted them a shield of anonymity to hide behind.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Update on Wind Power Negotiations and Litigation

I've got some news on the Delmarva Power negotiations and litigation. First, I received this earlier today from Bruce Burcat, executive director of the Public Service Commission:
The mediator and negotiating parties in the RFP process are tentatively scheduled to provide a report on the status of the negotiations at the Commission’s meeting scheduled for August 7, 2007. The date of the meeting has to do with the availability of the mediator and not the status of negotiations to this point. If negotiations are not concluded by that date, the Commission and other state agencies could agree to extend the negotiations for a specific period of time thereafter according to the four state agencies’ order of May 22, 2007. All three bidders are continuing to negotiate with Delmarva Power on separate tracks. The mediator’s role is to make sure that the negotiating parties continue to have meaningful negotiations and to provide the Commission and state agencies with status reports.
The PSC will take up Jeremy Firestone's motion to require more detailed reports on the negotiations next week. As for DPL's appeal, Burcat writes:
With regard to the Delmarva appeal, I can only report that there is some discussion underway to hold the Delmarva appeal in abeyance for a period of time. If there is agreement on this, then a document will be filed with the Court memorializing the understanding.
A correspondent interested in the case writes that the parties have agreed to put the litigation aside for 45 days:
As you know, on or about June 20, 2007, Delmarva Power & Light filed a Notice of Appeal in the Sussex County Superior Court, of the May 22 2007 PSC Order. That case is now docketed in Georgetown as Case #07A-06004THG, Delmarva Power & Light v. Delaware Public Service Commission.
The case is assigned to Judge [T. Henley] Graves. On July 12, there was an office conference on the case, where it was determined that there should be a stay of all proceedings for 45 days, to give the parties the opportunity to settle the case. This is in light of the current negotiations under the PSC, of course. The Order has not been issued, but it will be forthcoming.
A stay operates to suspend all proceedings in the appeal, including preparation of the transcript and filing of briefs. Unfortunately, no information is posted online about cases filed in Superior Court, at least not in this case.
The bottom line: Negotiations continue while litigation is on the shelf, at least for now. Stay tuned.

“You can't win a war when you're on the wrong battlefield.”

Are we safer than we were six years ago?
Not according to the newly released National Intelligence Estimate (
available here). The New York Times sums up the harsh reality:
The intelligence report, the most formal assessment since the Sept. 11 attacks about the terrorist threat facing the United States, concludes that the United States is losing ground on a number of fronts in the fight against Al Qaeda, and describes the terrorist organization as having significantly strengthened over the past two years.
As Michael Abramowitz writes in the Washington Post, the White House is not even close to acknowledging that a change in strategy could be called for:
Confronted with a political brush fire, the president and his aides retreated to familiar ground, highlighting the parts of the report that they saw as supportive of their policies, particularly the need to confront Islamic radicals on the ground in Iraq.

Although only a portion of the instability in Iraq is attributed to al-Qaeda and the group had no substantial power base there before the U.S. invasion, Bush again cast the war as a battle against its members, whom his aides have described as key provocateurs there.
Barack Obama sums up the failure of the last six years in this report from AFP:
"After almost six years, awesome sacrifices by our brave men and women in uniform, and hundreds of billions of dollars spent, we are no safer than we were on 9/11," Democratic Senator and White House contender Barack Obama said.

"It is time to act to correct those mistakes, and the first step is to get out of Iraq, because you can't win a war when you're on the wrong battlefield."

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

TommyWonk to Talk Energy Today on WDEL

Alan Loudell has invited me back on WDEL, 1150 AM, today at 4:23 PM, to discuss the status of the energy negotiations. As I noted yesterday, the sixty day timeframe, set by the PSC in Order 7199, runs out on Saturday. It seems to me that the public interest is more likely to be heeded if the public is paying attention. So please listen in if you can.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Round One of Wind Power Negotiations Is Almost Over

When the PSC and three other agencies ordered Delmarva Power to negotiate with Bluewater Wind to bring wind power to Delaware, they set a timetable of sixty days for the negotiations. I don’t know anyone who expects the talks to reach a successful conclusion when the sixty days is up on Saturday. The reason for this expected lack of progress is simple: DPL has stated publicly that it doesn’t want to negotiate, and has appealed the PSC’s order to Superior Court.
Given Delmarva’s intransigence, what can be done to move things along? The PSC has hired Widener Law’s Lawrence Hamermesh to serve as mediator for the talks. While I’m glad the state has arranged for adult supervision, Professor Hameresh’s one public report on the negotiations was rather perfunctory:

I respectfully submit the following as a report as contemplated in paragraph 58 of the May 22, 2007 Order of the Commission and other agencies: The negotiations set in motion by the Commission and agencies' order of May 22, 2007 are continuing. Delmarva representatives have met separately and continually with representatives of Bluewater, NRG and Conectiv. While there can be no assurance that appropriate contracts will be entered into and presented as a result of the negotiation process, I am satisfied that the parties are proceeding to negotiate toward that result, bearing in mind the time limits suggested in the May 22 order.

Jeremy Firestone of the U.D. College of Marine and Earth Studies has petitioned the PSC to direct Delmarva Power to be more forthcoming in its reports on the negotiations. Professor Firestone is not unmindful of the necessity for confidentiality in the talks:
While we appreciate that the negotiating parties need a level of confidentiality in the negotiations…Delmarva’s total information blackout is significantly more than is required to maintain any necessary confidentiality, is inconsistent with the plain language and intent of Order 7199, and is not in the public interest.
Delmarva president Gary Stockbridge has previously claimed that the company’s resistance is grounded in its concerns for the interests of its ratepayers. But DPL doesn’t represent the interests of its customers; the State of Delaware does. Providing more information about the negotiation’s progress (or lack thereof) would be a useful step in seeing that the public’s interests would be heeded. If Delmarva is so intent on protecting us from wind power, the least the company could do would be to give us more detail on how it’s looking out for our interests by dragging its feet.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Elusive Laffer Curve

Mark Thoma at Economist's View takes exception with the miraculous appearance of the Laffer curve on top of a chart of tax revenues and corporate tax rates for a set of industrialized countries:
The Wall Street Journal says Kevin Hassett has discovered the Laffer curve, but I think these data might say something else.
The curve presented in this chart in a Wall Street Journal editorial purports to show that lower corporate tax rates generate higher tax revenues. Imposing the Laffer curve on the data isn't as delusional as pointing to an apparition of the Blessed Virgin in a grilled cheese sandwich, but it is intellectually dishonest. Here's why.
Mark Thoma rightly describes Norway as an outlier—a data point that doesn't fit the pattern displayed by the other data. The anomalous data point for Norway strongly suggests that another significant factor has entered the picture.
It's a mistake to draw the curve right through Norway; to do so is to say that the data from this one country is more important than the data from all the others represented on the chart. Why not draw the curve through Iceland or Luxembourg or Canada or France? Instead, the only data point the curve actually touches is Norway. It is a principle of data analysis that one should try to use the simplest curve possible to represent the data. A straight line, such as the one Thoma draws in a second version of the chart, is preferable to a curve.
Over at Maxspeak, You Listen!, Max Sawicky actually did the math, by running a linear regression analysis using similar data from another year:
For fun I did a regression line for similar data (same year, same countries). I threw out those annoying communist outliers at the top (Luxembourg and Norway) -- countries with high tax rates and revenues. (By the way, when you include them without forcing a zero intercept, there is no significant relationship between the corporate tax rate (combined, central and sub-central govs) and corp rev/GDP. Very slight negative relationship. Throw out the two outliers and the same non-result (insignificant positive relationship).
Mark Thoma sums up:
I know how much supply-siders want to find a Laffer curve, they've become frustrated going this long without success. But if they really think one exists they'll need to keep looking because they haven't found it yet.
So the data in the chart don't yield a strong relationship of any kind, let alone the elusive Laffer surve. Like an upside down Chesire Cat, the data have once again disappeared, leaving the curve hanging there like an disappointed, lopsided frown. Maybe next time.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

“In the slow blink of a blind eye”

Over at All Spin Zone, Daniel DiRito sums up the bad news:
In the slow blink of a blind eye, we are now being told that al Qaeda has fully reconstituted itself to a level similar to that before 9/11.
It has been 2,130 days since al Qaeda attacked the U.S. World War II lasted 1,365 days, from the attack on Pearl Harbor to Japan's signing of the instrument of surrender on board the USS Missouri. Five years and ten months after 9/11, the outlaw organization that attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon is as strong as ever. The same can not be said of the United States.
So what to do? The neocons who got us into this mess think the answer is to attack Iran, a strategy aptly described by Atrios:
I'm probably not the only person who has played a game of Risk with someone who, when losing, decided the best course of action was to just give the board a good whack and scatter the pieces.
In other words, their way to deal with the chaos in which we find ourselves is to create more chaos. With our troops stretched by deployments in Afghanistan (pop. 32 million) and Iraq (pop. 27 million), the best these folks can think of is to attack another, larger country: Iran (pop. 70 million). Why are they taken seriously?
As for Iraq, why are we there? Jim Henley of Unqualified Offerings sums up the rationale for staying the course:
But you’ve got to love the idea of “force protection” as a main mission. The US military could stay in Iraq for the purpose of trying to keep its members from being killed for being in Iraq. There’s a stirring cause. I know a much more effective “force protection” plan, which I call “get the hell out.”
Instead of simply watching in horror as the Iraq misadventure goes from bad to worse, I suggest joining the growing chorus of voices calling for withdrawal. A group called Americans Against Escalation in Iraq is organizing here in Delaware to convince Congressman Mike Castle that the time has come to call an end to this misbegotten war that has cost thousands of lives, billions of dollars, and failed to make us safer. The group's Delaware organizers will be delivering a letter to Mike Castle today, and are asking people to join the effort by calling or faxing his office at 302 428-1902 or (fax) 302 428-1950. Republicans in Congress are increasingly turning against the war; maybe we can convince our congressman to do the same.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

An Oath to the President or the Constitution?

TPM Muckraker raises an interesting question about former White House aide Sara Taylor's refusal to answer some questions put to her by the Senate Judiciary Committee:
"I took an oath the president, and I take that oath very seriously," Sara Taylor said in answer to a question early in the hearing.
And what oath would that be?
And right after a break, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) asked her if she was sure about that. "Did you mean, perhaps, you took an oath to the Constitution?" Leahy asked. It was a telling exchange.
When asked by Senator Leahy whether she took a second oath, Ms. Taylor corrected herself, and said she took an oath to the Constitution. It seems that White House appointees have some difficulty understanding the source of their power under our system of government. Senator Leahy helped her clear things up on that point:
"I know that the president refers to the government being his government -- it's not," Leahy reminded her.

Political Pressure and the Surgeon General

The New York Times reports on the discouraging tale the nation’s most recent surgeon general presented to a congressional committee yesterday:
WASHINGTON, July 10 — Former Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona told a Congressional panel Tuesday that top Bush administration officials repeatedly tried to weaken or suppress important public health reports because of political considerations.
The administration, Dr. Carmona said, would not allow him to speak or issue reports about stem cells, emergency contraception, sex education, or prison, mental and global health issues. Top officials delayed for years and tried to “water down” a landmark report on secondhand smoke, he said. Released last year, the report concluded that even brief exposure to cigarette smoke could cause immediate harm.
Dr. Carmona said he was ordered to mention President Bush three times on every page of his speeches. He also said he was asked to make speeches to support Republican political candidates and to attend political briefings.
Dr. Carmona went before the committee with his predecessors, C. Everett Koop (appointed by Ronald Reagan) and David Satcher (appointed by Bill Clinton). All described instances the political pressures they faced. In his testimony, Dr. Carmona described consulting with his peers about the political pressures of the job:
I turned to my fellow Surgeons General, the men and women who came before me and had made tremendous positive contributions to the science and practice of public health, who had saved and improved millions of lives through their work and dedication. They became my mentors. They said that they had all been challenged and had to fight political battles in order to do their job as “the doctor of the nation.” But each agreed that never had they seen Washington, D.C. so partisan or a new Surgeon General so politically challenged and marginalized as during my tenure.
They told me that although most Americans believe that their Surgeon General has the ability to impact the course of public health as “the nation’s doctor,” the reality is that the nation’s doctor has been marginalized and relegated to a position with no independent budget, and with supervisors who are political appointees with partisan agendas.
Anything that doesn’t fit into the political appointees’ ideological, theological, or political agenda is ignored, marginalized, or simply buried. The problem with this approach is that in public health, as in a democracy, there is nothing worse than ignoring science, or marginalizing the voice of science for reasons driven by changing political winds. The job of Surgeon General is to be “the doctor of the nation”— not “the doctor of a political party.”
Dr. Carmona’s testimony yesterday reminds us of how much work there will be to do to restore rationality to our national government when our current president leaves office. Perhaps Abba Eban was right:
When all else fails, men turn to reason.
Given the systemic failures of George W. Bush and those he put in power, we can hope that people of the U.S. are ready to turn to reason.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

"When all else fails, men turn to reason."

I was enthralled by the interview with E. O. Wilson on Bill Moyers Journal last week. Wilson is an old school naturalist; his insights come from close observation, most notably of ants, about which he wrote the definitive book. When he does turn his attention from minutia to the wider world, he thinks and writes with a clarity that blows the cobwebs from one’s mind. Few scientists have done as much to increase our understanding of our place in nature.
Wilson inspired the creation of the fledgling Encyclopedia of Life, which eventually will catalog every known living species. A sample page describes Kiwa hirsuta, better known as the yeti crab:

Wilson’s 1992 book, The Diversity of Life, soberly describes the ways in which humanity threatens countless species, a danger he compared to the famed meteorite that is thought to have led to the dinosaurs’ extinction:
Well, 65 million years ago, this now is pretty well established, Earth was struck by an unusually large meteorite, off the coast of what is now Yucatan. And even though that may have only been about ten kilometers across, its power -- when it struck the world -- caused gigantic tsunamis over a large part of the world. It rang the Earth's surface like a bell. Volcanic eruptions occurred. Clouds formed over the Earth that dropped, knocked out the sun and greatly reduced photosynthesis. A majority of species of plants and animals died. And among the groups that died out finally and conclusively at that time were the dinosaurs. So -- what we are doing if we don't take care of the living environment, then we're going to go -- start, by the end of this century, getting pretty close to the impact of that -- big meteorite 65 million years ago.
Wilson has created his own foundation, the E. O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation, devoted to the study and preservation of the natural world.
More than anything else he said, this comment from the interview with Bill Moyers struck home with me:
You know, I like what Abba Eban once said during the 1967 war. He said, "When all else fails, men turn to reason."

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Music in Arden and Around the World

Yesterday's Arden Music Festival did not disappoint. The food and drink were refreshing, the hot sun was filtered through the trees, and the music was consistently engaging.
If you think you've heard it all from folk quartets with guitar, madolin, fiddle and bass, think again. The Green Cards, hailing from south Australia showed remarkable musicality with their precise, inventive arrangements. More than once, they demonstrated that rare ability to grab the audience's attention as they got quieter.
Likewise, if you thought you heard all you need to hear from harp led blues quartets, Mikey Jr. and the Stone Cold Blues set you straight with their razor sharp backbeat, wailing harmonica and tasteful guitar leads.
The art of writing and delivering melodic songs about longing, love and loss is alive and well. Last Train Home, hailing from D.C. offered up a terrific set full of punchy melodies and memorable lyrics. Principal songwriter Eric Brace delivered them all with a warm baritone.
Joseph Tayoun (percussion) and Bill Koutsouros (bouzouki and oud) entertained the crowd with traditional and original compositions, joined by a crowd pleasing belly dancer named Meesha. The Tall Pines showed that southern rock lives in Brooklyn, and that white suits and long dresses never really go out of style.
You don't have to wait until next summer to take advantage of the concerts produced by the volunteer, non profit Arden Concert Gild. They bring a wide variety of acts from around the world to the cozy confines of the Gild Hall.
Meanwhile, a much bigger event was taking place around the world.
I have to say that I wasn't clear as to how a set of simultaneous rock concerts could help to heighten awareness of global warming. Hadn't Al Gore already done that with An Inconvenient Truth? And I must admit to a touch of skepticism about promoting environmental activism through watching television, no matter how many rock stars were involved. Of course, I've never thought you needed any more reason to put on an outdoor rock concert than a desire to have fun on a summer afternoon.
But then I considered the size of the event: Hundreds of thousands attended the concerts, and hundreds of millions watched on TV. If you lined up all the world's bloggers end to end, they still wouldn't reach that many people on a single subject on a single day.
So if Al Gore wants to hang out with a bunch of rock stars, God bless him. Who wouldn't, except for a few crusty members of the Fossil Fuels Club, for whom a hot time on a summer afternoon is steaks and gin-and-tonics by the pool, while wondering why the kids are making so much noise.
But yesterday, hundreds of millions of people discussed the topic of climate change, even if was just while waiting for the next act.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

The Tour de France Starts Today

The most demanding event in all of sports gets underway today. This year the Tour de France starts in London, of all places, where the prologue, or time trial, pits riders against the clock on a short course of five miles. Tomorrow, the peleton will gather for the first road stage; following the path of Chaucer's pilgrims, they will ride from London to Canterbury. If there is an early crash, as often happens, some of the 189 riders won't even make it across the Channel.
After three weeks, the surviving riders will roll into Paris after 2,205 miles through France, over the Alps and Pyrenees, heat, cold, rain and wind.

Cycling has been plagued by a series of doping scandals. Last year's winner, Floyd Landis could be stricken from the race's annals of champions for testing positive for an artificial form of testosterone in his blood after his astonishing breakaway with just three days to go, and after he lost ten minutes the day before. It was a performance that may have been too good to be true.
Cycling polices its riders like no other sport. Riders are randomly tested every day of the Tour. If you win a stage, you give a sample. (Imagine if Barry Bonds had to submit to testing every time he hit a home run.)
The consensus favorite this year is Vuelta d'Espana (Spain's three week tour) champion Alexander Vinokourov of Kazakhstan, who finished third in 2003, and didn't ride last year after half his team was disqualified for doping violations. He's brutally tough in the mountains and has a strong team that includes Andreas Kloeden, who finished third last year and last year's Giro d'Italia (Italy's three week tour) champion Paolo Savoldelli. These guys will put down a rugged pace in the mountains, and should be able to chase down anyone who tries to get away from their leader.
Other contenders include Spain's Oscar Pereiro (who could yet be declared last year's winner), Australian Cadel Evans, and Alejandro Valverde of Spain, who finished second in the Vuelta. Levi Leipheimer of the Discovery Channel team is considered the American with the best chance of a podium finish. He's a nimble climber who should be up there with the contenders when the Tour reaches the mountains. His teammate Alberto Contador could put up a big showing, He won this year's Paris-Nice and Castile e Leon at the surprising age of 24.
But before the G.C. (General Classification) battle begins in earnest, the sprinters come to the fore, with their mad dashes to the finishing line. After a week the Tour will come to the Alps, where the serious winnowing out of the peleton will begin. And after the Alps come the Pyrenees.

The Tour is once again being broadcast on Versus, live in the morning with replays in the afternoon and evening.
Photo: AFP

Friday, July 06, 2007

TommyWonk, Dace and Gazizza Together Tomorrow On WILM

I’ll be joining Dace Blaskovitz tomorrow for the monthly view from the blogosphere segment on his Money and Politics show on WILM, 1450 on your AM dial. The show runs from 10:00 to 11:00. I’ll be on at about 10:30 with Paul Smith, Jr. from, who will be subbing for Hube, who will be golfing or something.
We’ll be discussing health care, intrique in Leg Hall and more. Join us and then get outdoors to enjoy the summer weekend.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Arden Music Festival Saturday

The 4th Annual Arden Music Festival is this Saturday from 1:00 to 8:00, in the grove behind the Arden Gild Hall.
The Arden Concert Gild has put together a great lineup, including southern rock from The Tall Pines, world beat music from Joseph Tayoun's Middle Eastern Jam Session, and blues harp master Mikey Jr. and the Stone Cold Blues.
I'm particularly looking forward to the Washington D.C. roots rock band, Last Train Home, known for this Christmas pity party classic:

And you promised to be
Home for Christmas
Life is short and talk is cheap
So don't make promises you can't keep
What could be better than a catchy song about the holiday blues in July? Bluegrass inspired country pop whiz kids the Greencards wrap things up.
The volunteer, non profit
Arden Concert Gild organizes great concerts in the down home comfort of the Gild Hall. If you come out this Saturday, I recommend you buy an annual membership, which entitles you to discounts at their great concerts for the coming year.
Tell 'em TommyWonk sent you.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

When in the Course of Human Events

In CONGRESS, July 4, 1776
The unaminous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. —Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the consent of our legislatures. He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us, in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by the Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

[New Hampshire] Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton
[Massachusetts] John Hancock, Samual Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry
[Rhode Island] Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery
[Connecticut] Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott
[New York] William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris
[New Jersey] Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark
[Pennsylvania] Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross
[Delaware] Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean
[Maryland] Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton
[Virginia] George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton
[North Carolina] William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn
[South Carolina] Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton
[Georgia] Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Framing the Debate on Commuting Scooter Libby's Sentence

Among supporters of Bush’s decision to commute Scooter Libby’s sentence, Mitt Romney’ reasoning, as reported by the AP, strikes me as less than rigorous:
Defending Bush, Romney said at a campaign stop that "the president looked very carefully at the setting" before deciding to commute the 2 1/2-year sentence of Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, who was convicted in the CIA leak case.
The prosecutor in the case "went after somebody even when he knew no crime had been committed," Romney said. "Given that fact, isn't it reasonable for a commutation of a portion of the sentence to be made?"
Actually, there was a crime committed, according to the judge and the jury: lying under oath to federal prosecutors and a grand jury. But perhaps we should give Romney the benefit of the doubt; after all, as a governor, he had experience in tempering justice with mercy:
During the four years Romney was in office, 100 requests for commutations and 172 requests for pardons were filed in the state. All were denied.
Romney took a particularly hard line in turning down one applicant for a pardon:
As governor, Romney twice rejected a pardon for Anthony Circosta, who at age 13 was convicted of assault for shooting another boy in the arm with a BB gun -- a shot that didn't break the skin. Circosta worked his way through college, joined the Army National Guard and led a platoon of 20 soldiers in Iraq's deadly Sunni triangle.
In 2005, as he was serving in Iraq, he sought a pardon to fulfill his dream of becoming a police officer.
Those voicing their support for going easy on Libby tend to veer into arcane legal arguments. But as TPM Election Central reports, Illinois Senator Dick Durbin gets right to the point:
Even Paris Hilton had to go to jail. No one in this Administration should be above the law.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Lying to the Feds: Don't Try This at Home

I'm not a lawyer, but I wouldn't advise those of you in the provinces to try lying to employees of the U.S. Justice Department, or a federal grand jury. In Washington, you might get away with it, if you have the right connections. The AP has the story:
WASHINGTON -- President Bush commuted the sentence of former aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby Monday, sparing him from a 2 1/2-year prison term in the CIA leak case.
And for those who think Scooter Libby is a nice guy caught up in a tight spot, remember he was the chief of staff for a previously undiscovered (or perhaps undisclosed) branch of government that systematically showed contempt for the niceties of checks and balances, even when it came to other Bush appointees.
If you haven't read it yet, I recommend last week's Washington Post series on Dick Cheney, with the caveat that you not read it immediately following a meal.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Unexpected Tactics and Unintended Consequences

Dana at Delaware Watch is positively gushing about the defeat of HB 177:
A new order has emerged in Delaware politics. The old alliances that once exclusively dominated our state have been broken. The tactics of bullying, intimidation, and political threats by party bosses and legislative leaders have lost much of their force. Indeed, they have become laughable.
I will attribute Dana's giddiness to euphoria brought on by sleep deprivation. The defeat of HB 177 came about via a unexpected tactical reaction on the part of House Republicans who, as the News Journal reports,
left Democrats fuming by not supporting the bill:
State Democratic Chairman John Daniello said the defeat shows that the GOP "isn't true to its word."
"This is something that was agreed to and supported by the leadership in all four caucuses," he said. "But I think, in the end, the Republicans thought this would create more problems for us."
Sussex County GOP Chairman David Burris said he encouraged the state party to rethink its position because of the late push for the bill.
As for unintended consequences, how's this from Dana:
On Monday morning I will join the Delaware Democratic Party and I plan to become involved. Very involved.
Welcome to the Party, and bring your friends.
Update: Over at First State Politics, Dave Burris describes how he made the case for bailing on HB 177 to the GOP House caucus:

John Flaherty brought up an interesting point after the vote. “This wouldn’t have happened without blogs.” That’s true. It would not have happened without a coalition of bloggers who played an important role last night, led by Dana Garrett.
In the aftermath, a shocked Mr. Daniello was overheard blaming Chairman Terry Strine for what happened last night. I assure you, Mr. Daniello, it was not Chairman Terry Strine.
It was me.
As the newly picked county chair of a Republican Party trying to make itself relevant in an increasingly blue state, Dave Burris showed the right instincts in opting to come down on the side of open political process.
Meanwhile, Mike Matthews of Down With Absolutes, who got noticed this last week by handing out sausages in Leg Hall, promises more on the story ahead.