March 2007, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Worth Reading:  (In fact, even worth buying, which I mention because the article isn't free.)  Gregg Easterbrook speculates on which areas of the world would lose from global warming, and which areas would gain.  Here's his list of the likely big winners:
More specifically, nearly all the added land-value benefits of a warming world might accrue to Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Russia, and Scandinavia.
And the US outside Alaska?  Would the US gain from global warming, net? Easterbrook goes back and forth on that question, but mentions many possible benefits, longer growing seasons, milder winters, et cetera, though at the end he argues that things are pretty good for us now, so why change?  (Any general manager could answer that question; you can't stand still in a competitive world.)

Despite raising the taboo subject of benefits from global warming, Easterbrook never asks the obvious question: Might the benefits outweigh the costs?  Could a warmer world be, net, a better world?  But he does say this about an earlier warming period.
On the other side of the coin, Europe's Medieval Warm Period, which lasted from around 1000 to 1400, was essential to the rise of Spain, France, and England: Those clement centuries allowed the expansion of farm production, population, cities, and universities, which in turn set the stage for the Industrial Revolution.
All of which, most of us would think, were good things.

(As always when I discuss global warming, I urge you to read my disclaimer, if you have not already done so.)
- 3:42 PM, 24 March 2007
More:  For examples of how some countries would gain from global warming, see this AP article.
- 5:49 AM, 25 March 2007   [link]

Democrats Have Changed:  First, some selections from John F. Kennedy's inaugural:
Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.
. . .
We dare not tempt them with weakness.  For only when our arms are sufficient beyond doubt can we be certain beyond doubt that they will never be employed.
. . .
And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.
And now the arguments made by Nancy Pelosi as she rounded up votes for the Democrats' defeat-in-Iraq bill.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, used an array of persuasion techniques — some hard, some soft — as she walked through the House chamber on Thursday, seeking out undecided legislators in hopes of securing the 218 votes needed to pass the measure.  Representative John Lewis, Democrat of Georgia and a former civil rights leader and chief deputy whip, told Ms. Pelosi this week that he would oppose the bill because of his commitment to nonviolence and his unwillingness to devote more money to the war.  "Let's pray about it," he recalled Ms. Pelosi saying. Ultimately, he added, "she respected my decision."
. . .
In conversations with dozens of lawmakers in recent weeks, often in her Capitol suite or in a late-night telephone call, Ms. Pelosi argued aggressively for the bill, even as she empathized with their anguish over how to vote.  But in the end, participants said, her argument often boiled down to this: Did they want a headline saying, "Congress is standing up to President Bush," or "Congress gives President Bush free rein?"
I'm not sure I can be as pithy as Kennedy's speech writer, but how about this summary of Pelosi's argument?  "And so, my fellow Democrats: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do to cripple the commander in chief in war time."  Or perhaps this:  "And so, my fellow Democrats: ask not what your country can do for you—ask how you can get a headline that says that you stood up to the president."

And other parts of his inaugural need changes, too.  Pelosi might say, if she were honest:   "We won't pay any price, or bear any burden, or meet any hardship, or support any friend, or oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty."  And perhaps this:  "We must tempt them with weakness."

And tempt them with weakness is exactly what that House vote just did.  It would be absurd to assume that our terrorist enemies will resist that temptation.  Completely absurd.

It may be hard to believe now, but the Democrats were once a great party.

(Incidentally, imagine the commentary if President Bush tried to win a vote by suggesting that a congressman pray with him.)
- 12:55 PM, 24 March 2007   [link]

Does Al Gore Believe That Global Warming Is A Serious Threat?  He says he does, but he is unwilling to support one of the most obvious ways to control it, nuclear power.
The Goracle asked the members of Congress in front of him to be brave and adopt policies that may do grievous short-term harm to the economy in exchange for the long-term benefit of curing climate change.

The free market can't be trusted to fix this problem, saith the Goracle, so the politicians have to fix it with unpopular legislation.

Fair enough.  He believes the world is in a crisis and that politicians must do what is best, not what is convenient.

But what about the Goracle walking through a little fire himself?  He knows as well as anyone that the only form of energy that has no effect whatever on greenhouse gases is nuclear energy.

And yet here the Prophet of Doom was bizarrely tentative.

"I'm not opposed" to nuclear power, spake the Goracle, but suddenly he became deeply solicitous of the role of the free market.  Nuclear plants are expensive to build, you see, and when the price of gas drops, energy companies drop their plans to construct them.

Given the level of his concern, why would the Goracle not suggest Congress offer enormous incentives to energy companies to build nuclear-power plants?
Because he doesn't believe his own argument, and is just catering to the environmentalist left, which has a superstitious fear of nuclear power?  (That would also explain why Gore hasn't done much to reduce his own energy use.)  If there is an explanation that fits better, I don't see it.

There are environmentalists who now support nuclear power out of fear of global warming, for example, James Lovelock — who is on the same side of this issue as President Bush.  The contrast between Bush and Gore on this issue is striking.  Gore believes, or says he believes, that global warming is an enormous threat, but is not willing to support nuclear power, which would reduce the threat.  Bush believes that global warming has not been shown to be an enormous threat, but supports nuclear power, anyway, just in case.

(As always when I discuss global warming, I urge you to read my disclaimer, if you have not already done so.)
- 5:20 AM, 22 March 2007   [link]

Smokers In Seattle:  Yesterday, I attended a World Affairs Council fund raising luncheon in Seattle, mostly to listen to the speech by travel writer Rick Steves.  The bus schedules gave me a chance to walk around downtown Seattle, where I saw many homeless people — and more smokers in an hour than I usually see, here in a Seattle suburb, in a month.

The homeless that I saw at the same time in downtown Seattle did not surprise me, since Seattle has had policies that encourage people to be homeless for many years.  But the smokers did surprise me, because Seattle also has had policies for many years that discourage smoking.  So why did I see so many smokers there?

It may have just been a accident of timing; perhaps I was there when many workers take their smoking break.  But I don't think that's the entire explanation.  Seattle has higher rates of substance abuse than the Seattle suburbs, for almost every illegal or unhealthy substance, and so perhaps we should expect that Seattle would have more than its share of nicotine fiends, too.

(If I have enough time, I will write a post on Steves' curious speech, probably some time next week.   But I can say this immediately: As a political thinker, he's a fine travel writer.)
- 7:06 AM, 21 March 2007   [link]

AP Story Or Enemy Propaganda?  It can be hard to tell them apart.
- 7:47 AM, 20 March 2007   [link]

Worth Reading:  Bjorn Lomborg explains, once again, why the Kyoto Protocol is not a good idea.
This seems to be why we focus on feel-good approaches like the Kyoto Protocol.  Yet the agreement's fundamental problem has always been that it is simultaneously impossibly ambitious, environmentally inconsequential, and inordinately expensive.  It required such big reductions that only few countries could live up to it.
In short, the benefits from Kyoto are far smaller than its costs.  Is that idea too complicated?  It is for many journalists, who have trouble getting past those "threatened" polar bears to a serious consideration of the issues.

(Incidentally, those polar bears are hunted regularly in much of the Arctic, though a 1973 treaty did put limits on the hunting.

As always when I discuss global warming, I urge you to read my disclaimer, if you have not already done so.)
- 7:02 AM, 20 March 2007   [link]

Are Your Personnel Files Confidential?  In most organizations, they are, and there are severe penalties for releasing them to outsiders.  That's why I was startled by this line in a New York Times $article about the evaluations of the fired US attorneys.
The reviews, each of them six to 12 pages long, were carried out by Justice department officials between 2003 and 2006.  Each report was based on extensive interviews, conducted over several days with judges, other federal law enforcement agencies and staff members in each office.
. . .
Over all, the evaluations, which were obtained from officials authorized to have them . . .
(Emphasis added.)

Now my question:  Was the reporter who wrote this article, David Johnston, among the officials "authorized to have them"?  Of course not, and some official or officials defied orders, and may have broken the law, in order to give the reviews to him.

If you think that's only what the Bush administration deserves, at least in this controversy, then let me put this question to you:  Would you object if an enemy of yours released your confidential personnel files?

Reporters routinely help bureaucrats break laws and undermine their elected superiors.  We have become accustomed to seeing journalists act as accomplices to felonies, and undermine democracy, but we should not accept it, however common it may be.

Stories based on anonymous sources, such as this one, almost never give us the whole story.   Johnston does not even hint at the motives of his anonymous officials.  Most likely, the officials are partisan Democrats, who hope to undermine President Bush.  But we really don't know.  (We can't even rule out wild possibilities, such as this one, which suggests that a subordinate of Attorney General Gonzalez is leaking this material, in hopes that he will be chosen to replace him.)  And so we get these stories where one side in a dispute is hidden from view.  We don't know who gave those files to Johnston, much less why.
- 2:06 PM, 19 March 2007   [link]

Should Bush Have Fired Those 8 Prosecutors?  Not having seen their personnel files, I don't know.  Several, if news accounts can be trusted, were not performing well as prosecutors.  Others were not pursuing cases that the administration thought they should have; for example, Carol Lam, in San Diego, was mostly ignoring illegal immigration cases — which is not a popular thing to do in San Diego.

If the news accounts are correct, David Iglesias in New Mexico and John McKay in this area were dismissed because they did not take charges of vote fraud seriously.  Here's what the Wall Street Journal has to say about Iglesias's efforts:
In New Mexico, another state in which recent elections have been decided by razor thin margins, U.S. Attorney David Iglesias did establish a voter fraud task force in 2004.  But it lasted all of 10 weeks before closing its doors, despite evidence of irregularities by the likes of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or Acorn.  As our John Fund reported at the time, Acorn's director Matt Henderson refused to answer questions in court about whether his group had illegally made copies of voter registration cards in the run-up to the 2004 election.
Or lack of efforts, to be more accurate.  And I have followed New Mexico politics enough so that I can say that, yes, the state does have serious problems with vote fraud.

And here's what Stefan Sharkansky, who is the expert on voting problems here in Washington state, says about John McKay's unwillingness to do a serious investigation:
Let's recap: Two years after Democrat Christine Gregoire "won" the governor's race by 129 votes, the still-climbing tally of known illegal votes caused by negligence (or worse) in the Democrat-controlled King County Elections office is approaching 500.  Most of these were counted shortly before certification, when Gregoire appeared to be narrowly losing.  King County actively concealed these illegal votes from the public and the contest trial.

Maybe innocent human error explains all of this.  Maybe not.  We'll never know without a thorough investigation, which McKay refused to conduct.  Was McKay really concerned about "integrity of the election system"?  Or maybe he didn't want to perturb his own relationships in the local Democrat-dominated power structure?
So I think the Bush administration had legitimate grievances with both men.  (And most likely with other fired prosecutors; this Wall Street Journal editorial notes other problems, though it does not identify the prosectors who had them.)

By the way, Iglesias and McKay are not unusual among prosecutors for being unwilling to pursue vote fraud cases.  As far as I can tell, most prosecutors prefer to avoid such cases, partly because they know that they will be attacked by the party being investigated.  (That explains why prosecutors are marginally more willing to look at vote fraud cases in primaries, where such charges are harder to make.)

Since, as I said, I have not seen the personnel files, I am not certain that the other six deserved to be fired, but I am almost certain that columnist Paul Greenberg is right when he says the whole thing is a "non-scandal".  And he is absolutely right to say that these firings do not compare to the wholesale firings of prosecutors at the beginning of the Clinton administration.  (They were fired, as everyone knows, to protect the Clintons and Dan Rostenkowski, who was then chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee..)

(Wonder how the "mainstream" treated the Clinton firings?  Brent Bozell has the answer: "So in 2007, the firing of a U.S. Attorney is an egregious ethical offense, but in 1993, it was merely a customary transition of administrations."   You weren't surprised by that, were you?)
- 11:28 AM, 19 March 2007   [link]

Al Gore Profited from a dirty mine.
Al Gore has profited from zinc mining that has released millions of pounds of potentially toxic substances near his farmstead, but there is no evidence the mine has caused serious damage to the environment in the area or threatened the health of his neighbors.

Two massive white mountains of leftover rock waste are evidence of three decades of mining that earned Gore more than $500,000 in royalty payments for the mineral rights to his property.
. . .
In the five-year period from 1998 to 2003, before the mines were shuttered, 16.6 million pounds of toxic substances were released into the air, water and land at the Gordonsville site, according to the EPA's Toxic Release Inventory data, and 2.6 million pounds were released at the Cumberland site.   Most of that was the zinc pulled from ground during mining.

In its last year of full operation in 2002, the Gordonsville-Cumberland mines ranked 22nd among all metal mining operations in the U.S., with about 4.1 million pounds of toxic releases.  The top releasing mine, Red Dog Mine in Alaska, emitted about 482 million pounds that year.  In 2002, Smith County ranked 39th out of more than 3,000 U.S. counties for lead compound releases and 21st for cadmium releases, according to tallies by Scorecard, a Web site run by environmentalists that compiles federal data.
And may profit again, since the mine is being reopened.

That first sentence in the story is a work of art, isn't it?  Up to the "but" it says there is a scandal, and then switches to "never mind".  And the rest of the story follows that pattern, describing many environmental sins — but assuring us that no harm came from those sins.  Which left this reader wondering what the reporter really thinks.  Did the mine harm the environment by Greenpeace standards?  (Almost all mines do.)  Or is this much ado about nothing?

If I had to guess — and this is only a guess — I would say that the mine did do some harm to the environment, but that harm was probably outweighed by the benefits we got from the mine.  But that's only a guess.

There is another scandal about that mine unmentioned in the article.  Here's how the article describes how Gore got his interest in the mine.
Al Gore Jr.'s involvement in mining can be traced to Sept. 22, 1973.

Former U.S. Sen. Albert Gore Sr. bought about 88 acres along the Caney Fork River from Occidental Minerals, a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum, for $160,000.  Included in the deal was the subsurface area.  The rights to the minerals below ground were then leased back to Occidental.

On the same day, Gore Sr. sold the land and subsurface area to his 25-year-old son and daughter-in-law for $140,000.  The mineral lease to Occidental was put in their names.  
Now the last step of that three step transaction is easy to understand.  Gore's father was arranging an investment for his son.  But what about those first two steps, buying the land from Occidental and then leasing it back?  Don't those seem a little strange to you?

They do to me, and they would seem strange even if I didn't know more about Occidental than appears in this story.  First, there's this curious fact: At the time of the deal, Al Gore, Sr. had worked for Occidental for many years, had even been the chairman of a subsidiary of Occidental, Island Creek Coal.  Second, when we say Occidental Petroleum, at least during the 1960s and 1970, we really mean Armand Hammer, who was an unusual financier.  (And not much like the man described in that Wikipedia biography.)  How unusual was not apparent until after his death when Edward Jay Epstein's Dossier was published.  Here's s brief summary from Amazon describing what Epstein learned about this deeply corrupt man.
It comes as little surprise that Armand Hammer, the chairman and tyrant of Occidental Petroleum who molded himself into a modern Medici, was a philanderer, a sycophant to American Presidents and Soviet leaders alike, and an avid art collector who cared not a fig for art.  The surprises in this absorbing biography by Edward Jay Epstein, with Armand Hammer, come from long-buried sources: that Hammer financed Soviet espionage in the United States, that he forced his long-time mistress to change her appearance and her identity to throw his wife off the track, and that Hammer was neither an astute businessman nor anything near the billionaire he portrayed himself as.  Hammer's secret history, and his repellent yet fascinating character, deserve the exhaustive, acerbic treatment Epstein provides.
Knowing this about Hammer we have to wonder whether that transaction between Gore's father and Occidental was a disguised bribe — a bribe from a man who had worked with the Soviets almost all his life.

Just so there is no misunderstanding I will add that Al Gore did not have as close a relationship with Armand Hammer as his father did, but he did have a close enough relationship so that, for example, Hammer was his guest at Reagan's 1980 inaugural.

(Hammer, who committed many crimes during his long life, was caught just once by our legal system.   He pled guilty to campaign finance violations as part of the Watergate scandal.  Embarrassingly, he was pardoned by President George H. W. Bush shortly before his death.)
- 10:43 AM, 18 March 2007   [link]

Was Valerie Plame Covert?  Well, apparently she was at some time in her career before her identity was exposed by Aldrich Ames.  But was she covert in July, 2003, when Robert Novak wrote his now famous column "exposing" her?  Specifically, was she covered by the Intelligence Identities Protection Act?

So far I have not seen an authoritative answer to that question.  And I am not alone in being puzzled about that crucial point; so, too, I learned from Tom Maguire, is Valerie Plame.  Maguire quotes the key paragraphs from an AP story:
Plame said she wasn't a lawyer and didn't know what her legal status was but said it shouldn't have mattered to the officials who learned her identity.

"They all knew that I worked with the CIA," Plame said. "They might not have known what my status was but that alone — the fact that I worked for the CIA — should have put up a red flag."
And then follows with this commentary:
She didn't know her legal status?  She's so covert that not even she knows if she is legally covert!  And we are more than three years into this.  Oh, my - well, I don't know her status either.  Maybe they call her the wind.  (But they call the wind Mariah...)
It's possible, I suppose, that Plame was not lying yesterday when she said that she didn't know her legal status in 2003.  But the way that she answered the question makes me suspect that she did know that she was not covered by the IIPA in 2003.

(More:  John Podhoretz has a hilarious account of her explanation of how the CIA picked Joseph Wilson to go to Niger.  "Sweetness and Light" argues that Valerie Plame was "outed" by — Joseph Wilson. There's much fascinating information in the post, for instance, this: "May 3, 2003: Over breakfast, Wilson and Valerie told [New York Times columnist Nicholas] Kristof about his trip to Niger."  If your spouse was "covert", would you bring them to a breakfast with a New York Times columnist?)
- 8:06 AM, 17 March 2007   [link]