Wednesday, July 20, 2005


L**** J**** [name redacted--see Update below], who worked with me in both my political campaigns as well as in my Tempe congressional office -- L*J* gave me one of my favorite anecdotes when he answered the phone one day during the great health care debate and the caller/constituent said, "You tell Congressman Coppersmith that I don't want any of that government health care. My Medicare works just fine." -- sent me an email that makes me proud to know him.

L* has taken a 6-month position with the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) in Iraq. He will work with the Iraqi political parties, candidates, and staff as they move toward the December elections. He felt he could do his part for peace in Iraq, which will come about only through political process and security; the soldiers on the ground are doing every they can for security, and L* felt he should put his 15 years of political experience to work in helping create a civil society in Iraq.

This is an incredibly brave thing to do and we're all proud of L*. We can only hope and pray that he returns safe and sound in 6 months. If you know L* or want to get on his list for emails from Iraq, send me an email at sam [at] cgson [dot] com and I'll send you his email address.

UPDATE: I've redacted the name of our friend. If you know L*, you can guess who it is. If you don't but you know me, send me an email. But the insurgency in Iraq monitors blogs and websites, looking for pictures of both foreigners working in Iraq as well as Iraqis working with them. L* is braver than I realized and I may be overcautious about deleting his name, but it needn't appear here; his picture most certainly won't.

The other news is that apparently, Judge John Roberts Jr. is a college classmate of mine. But he wasn't in the Band, and I don't ever recall meeting him. A white guy who went to Harvard on the Supreme Court -- now there's a change.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Second Prize: Two Weeks in Niger!

Here's this week's effort. Imagine if George Stephanopoulos or Sidney Blumenthal had given a reporter (or two, or six) a CIA agent's identity. My, would we be hearing different things from different people. I know I'm a partisan hack--but does that mean everybody else is, too?

Kevin Drum has his theory as to why the Administration went into overdrive on this particular point--because they really needed the threat of an Iraqi nuclear program to focus support for the war. Otherwise you're left with pretty tepid stuff for the case for war.

East Valley Tribune, Jul. 17, 2005

What if Bill Clinton instead had said, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, that undercover CIA operative”? People who spent years (and millions) seeking his scalp would be calling him a brave whistleblower, just like they’re anointing Karl Rove.

It sure doesn’t take much to make deficit spending responsible, foreign military adventures a matter of national security, and lying to reporters and the public a virtue. Just change the president’s party registration, and everything bad is good again.

I can’t guess how this whole outing-of-the-CIA-agent episode will end. I’m no huge fan of single-issue special counsels, who can confuse their one investigation with the entire national interest. The decade-long investigation of whether former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros wasn’t precise enough in describing his payments to his former mistress -- he acknowledged the payments, but the independent counsel was appointed to investigate whether giving an incorrect amount in an FBI interview was a crime -- still isn’t finished.

On the other hand, elected prosecutors can go off the deep end, too, and spend vast resources on highly publicized, but highly insignificant, cases. As if any parent in the world needed a criminal trial to know that Michael Jackson is extremely weird, and that it’s not a good idea to let your young son sleep in his bed. Access: Hollywood and cable TV tell us that for free; the taxpayers of Santa Barbara County could have used their money for other stuff, like making housing even less affordable.

But whether a prosecutor and grand jury think the disclosure of the CIA agent’s name means a crime may have been committed -- much less whether a regular jury eventually concludes, beyond a reasonable doubt, that a crime was committed -- the news that White House aides were peddling the agent’s identity to reporters should put to bed one of the least credible, but still circulating, assertions about the run-up to the war in Iraq.

When we failed to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, administration defenders pointed fingers at the CIA -- that our “really good intelligence” mistakenly concluded that it was a “slam-dunk” that Iraq had WMD, and that a passive White House let the intelligence community bamboozle them into believing so devoutly what turned out not to be true. But that’s not true.

In the words of the Downing Street memos (links to the original texts are here, if, unlike most op-ed page readers and writers, you consider actual evidence rather than just jumping to predetermined conclusions), “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy” -- and the unmasking of the CIA agent proves the point.

The White House wasn’t some neutral consumer of intelligence about Iraq. The Bush administration actively fought against, and tried to discredit, in any way they could, anything that didn’t support the preconceived White House policy that Iraq was an imminent threat. Any facts or intelligence that didn’t support the already-determined conclusion needed to be “fixed” -- and that’s what Karl Rove (and others) were doing.

I’m not convinced the White House wanted revenge against Ambassador Wilson for what turned out to be his entirely-accurate dismissal of the Iraq-seeking-uranium rumor (one based on forged documents). Revenge or intimidation doesn’t reward campaign contributors or peel away the other party’s marginal voters, which is what Rove does. Instead, as Howard Fineman wrote for in 2003 (rediscovered for me by Tom Maguire and Mickey Kaus), the White House wanted to discredit Wilson’s conclusion -- and probably thought that the wife business was the best way to keep reporters swallowing the White House line that Iraq really had WMD.

Despite the pressure from the White House to fix the facts and intelligence to the Bush administration’s predetermined conclusion, we now know the CIA was right. Iraq actually didn’t have WMD; even the White House admits the Niger uranium rumor didn’t pan out.

But the only thing less likely than Karl Rove confessing to a crime is for anyone in the Bush administration ever to admit that they were wrong.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Old Math for New Dems and New Math for Old Dems

Lots of links this week. But first, I'm exercising my right to complain about the namby-pamby headline, which doesn't really capture the scope of the column, but then again, I can't think of a better one, and it is a pretty wonky number-crunching essay. But aren't writers allowed (supposed?) to complain about editors without having a better alternative in mind? Here's the newspaper's website version of the column.

This column is, as far as I know, a historical first--the first time anyone ever wrote about Mark Warner without mentioning Dave "Mudcat" Sanders and Steve Jarding, who were the political consultants for the 2001 campaign. For those of you discomforted by that lack of inside baseball, you can read the best profile of them that I've seen by Matt Labash in, yes, The Weekly Standard.

Also, I know the column has a weird lede, but with all that Mitch Albom business, where the Detroit Free Press columnist filed his NCAA men's basketball championship game column in advance and wrote about something that was supposed to, but then didn't actually, happen, I didn't want to cause a scandal if Warner's flight got cancelled and he didn't speak the night before the column ran. (What do you call that tense, the past-future defensive?) The event at which Warner spoke Saturday evening was about the apotheosis of a bad political party dinner; it was a nice thought to honor former State Party Chairs, including yours truly, but the evening was a nice summary of why rational people don't like to attend these things. And if you want to know why, I'll explain it -- at length, and using a really bad sound system, so you can't hear me over the noise of people eating.

You can check out the full Pew Hispanic survey, as well as the Pew Center research showing Democrats being more conflicted on cultural issues than Republicans. Today's New York Times has a depressing, but important, front page article on how meth abuse is straining the foster care and social services systems in rural America, another example of where current policies aren't just not going good things for rural America, they're affirmatively harmful. And it's in the column, but the Progressive Legislative Action Network website and David Sirota's individual weblog are where you go for angry white guy policy stuff.

Finally, the local Phoenix papers didn't cover Warner's speech, but the Washington Post did. So maybe now that it's been in the national media, the local folks will play "catch up" by writing a meta-story about how the national press covered something that happened in Phoenix.

East Valley Tribune, Jul. 10, 2005

Gov. Mark Warner of Virginia, elected with surprising support from rural voters supposedly off-limits to Democrats, was scheduled to speak to Arizona Democrats yesterday. That prompted me to study some math Democrats seem determined to ignore.

First, despite all the talk about Roe v. Wade or moderate Republicans’ discomfort with cultural conservatives, a recent Pew Research Center study, cited by Matthew Yglesias of The American Prospect, shows Democrats are far more divided over cultural issues that Republicans. Democrats are the bigger tent, culturally; by harping on those issues, we just help Republicans avoid divisions on economic issues.

Second, while overall Hispanic population booms, the Hispanic vote hasn’t grown nearly so fast. The Pew Hispanic Center found that while between 2000 and 2004 total Hispanic population increased by 5.7 million, about two-thirds weren’t eligible to vote, being either under 18 or non-citizens.

Overall, Hispanic eligibility to vote (39 percent) is far lower than blacks (65 percent) or whites (76 percent). While increases in Hispanic registration and voting in 2004 were larger in percentage terms than for any other group, both rates still remain significantly lower overall. In 2004, only 47 percent of eligible Hispanics voted, compared with 60 percent of blacks and 67 percent of whites; overall, only 18 percent of all Hispanics voted, compared with 39 percent of blacks and 51 percent of whites.

Don’t let raw census data, or Mayor Villaraigosa’s victory in LA, obscure the data. In 2000, Hispanics represented 12.8 percent of the population and 5.5 percent of voters. By 2004, Hispanics increased to 14.3 percent of population, but only to 6 percent of voters. Ruy Teixiera of The Century Foundation notes the lag between Hispanic population growth and voting performance means Democrats can’t wait around for new Hispanic voters to win elections anytime soon. Don’t think “sleeping giant,” but instead “long, slow fuse.” Meanwhile, we need to persuade more working class whites to support Democrats.

So Warner’s success with rural voters wasn’t just required in Virginia, it’s still vital everywhere. Warner’s campaign realized that, contrary to perceived political wisdom, there were more persuadable voters in rural than suburban areas. National polling suggests these voters are voting Republican on cultural issues or from habit, but they aren’t solid, and lack of jobs, infrastructure, and healthcare are making them angry -- and persuadable.

Warner’s campaign reached these voters, in ways both small and cultural (sponsoring a NASCAR Craftsman Series racing team) and bigger and wonkish (detailed rural economic development initiatives). Warner’s campaign didn’t tell working-class voters that supporting Republicans is against voters’ economic interests; that sounds too much like telling them they’re stupid. Instead, Warner paid attention and offered these voters specifics that cut through the cultural clutter.

Likewise, Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, a Democrat elected in 2004 while Bush won by 20 points, campaigned on strengthening hunting and fishing access laws. This year, he got the legislature to fund conserving hunting habitat on private lands and for access to state waters. Too many Democrats only talk about the environmental side of conservation; they need to let rural and working-class voters that Democrats want to make sure they have places to hunt, fish, and camp -- while GOP lawmakers take those Scotland golf vacations.

Democrats could make inroads by ignoring the GOP-loyal pharmaceutical industry and recognizing the toll that methamphetamine takes on rural communities. All Democrats should fight for the Veterans Affairs health system (with one of the nation's best health information technology systems, because patients tend stay in the VA system, making the investment -- and improvements in outcomes -- worthwhile). And we should ask incumbent GOP lawmakers how many cost of living increases they’ve gotten while opposing any increase to the minimum wage.

There’s a new think-tank, the Progressive Legislative Action Network, that plans to assist progressive state legislators with these kinds of specific and targeted policy prescriptions. PLAN’s co-chair, David Sirota, is an economic populist who writes well, detests generalities, and takes few prisoners. PLAN wants to help provide the policies and politics than can reach these disaffected and persuadable not-yet-firmly-Republicans. Check it out later this year at, because for the next three or four cycles, that’s where the action is.

Monday, July 04, 2005

A River Runs Through It--Again

This week's column, about the restoration of Fossil Creek, was some 6 years in the making. Fossil Creek is a perennial desert stream that flows from a spring located just below the Mogollon Rim to the Verde River. For the past century, the water just downstream from the spring has been diverted to two small hydroelectric plans, which were important about a century ago for the copper mines, but the mines have long since been played out in the area and the successor power company, Arizona Public Service, has moved on to coal, natural gas, and being (I recall) the nation's largest commercial nuclear power producer.

APS, to its very great credit, decided in 1999 that it would be better--for the state and for the company and its shareholders--to close the plants, which represent such a small part of the generation capacity and which tie up transmission capacity, which is what's in shorter supply in Arizona, and return full flows to Fossil Creek. I've spent the last 6 years as local counsel for American Rivers, working with APS, the other environmental partners, and government agencies; for those of you who deal with FERC on a daily basis, you have my admiration. APS also made a decision that a company not based here might not have made; it shows the vital importance of having "headquarters companies" in Arizona, which has traditionally (and increasingly) been a "branch office" state.

The column (the newspaper version is here) appears to be the only mention of Fossil Creek in the Tribune. I did a search of the electronic version and didn't find anything using the search term "Fossil Creek," so without a prior news story about restoration of Fossil Creek, I spent a lot of time giving the background. But if you want to see some pictures or learn even more about restoration of Fossil Creek, here are some links from APS, American Rivers, and some other folks:

American Rivers press release on Sen. McCain committing to introduce a Wild & Scenic status bill for Fossil Creek (with links worth checking out).
AZ Game & Fish Department press release.
The Nature Conservancy press release.
Arizona Republic article from June 19.
APS 1999 press release announcing the memorandum of understanding.
APS 2005 joint press release announcing restoration of flows.

As much as I think McCain has planted himself firmly in the right-wing-wacko camp, as much as it appears that there's no water, no matter how foul, that he won't carry for Bush, every now and then he does something good that I have to salute. But I'll wait and see if he can get the darn bill through first before I reconsider my overall opinion. If he does, then it really is a first--not only have APS and all the other groups re-created something worthy of a special issue of Arizona Highways, but it'll be the first time ever that a restored river can be considered a Wild & Scenic River. It's all pretty cool.

East Valley Tribune, July 3, 2005

If Arizona is the land of second chances, then it’s only fitting that Arizona -- the land itself -- get an unprecedented do-over.

The second chance is for Fossil Creek, which flows from a spring beneath the Mogollon Rim below Strawberry, then down Fossil Creek Canyon to the Verde River.

At least that’s what it did originally. In 1907, the Arizona Power Company, predecessor to APS, began damming Fossil Creek, diverting virtually all the water into an elevated 14-mile wooden flume that carried the water to turbines at two power plants, Childs and Irving, located downstream.

The Childs-Irving plants were unique feats of engineering. They generated the electricity for copper mines at Jerome, then power for north and central Arizona, and are part of Arizona’s mining and industrial heritage.

What was lost, however, was Fossil Creek itself. Not only was Fossil Creek one of the few Arizona rivers that runs continuously, even in summer, but its water contains high concentrations of calcium, which gave Fossil Creek its name. Minerals precipitating out of the water would coat branches and rocks, which early settlers thought looked like fossils. More significantly, the precipitating calcite also forms travertine, creating natural dams and pools for miles.

Fossil Creek’s water chemistry resembles that of world-famous Havasu Springs in the Grand Canyon. Records from before the diversion describe similar travertine formations, dams, and pools, which provided excellent habitat for rare native fishes. Precipitating calcite also made the water turn a deep, almost iridescent blue color. In its natural state, Fossil Creek was natural wonder, located only a 2-hour drive (and a rugged 2-hour hike) north of metro Phoenix.

And thanks to Arizona Public Service Company, Fossil Creek again will be a natural wonder. To its great credit, APS recognized in 1999 that the power generated by the Childs-Irving plants -- less than 1 percent of the APS generation portfolio -- wasn’t as valuable as a one-of-a-kind natural wonder. APS joined with the Yavapai Apache Indian Nation (members of which had provided much of the original labor to build the facilities) and several environmental groups to enter into a historic settlement and decommissioning agreement for the plants. Last month, as promised, APS returned full flows to Fossil Creek and, over the next five years, will remove the flume and structures not deemed historically worthy.

One of the environmental groups working with APS is American Rivers, and normally the journalistic convention is that I merely disclose that I represent them. But I want to do more than disclose; I want to brag.

I got involved in 1999, when American Rivers asked me to volunteer a couple of weeks, months max, to help document the tentative agreement between APS and the other environmental stakeholders. Six years later, I’m still at it. But with leadership from APS and cooperation from the environmental groups (including from some not especially noted for cooperation), Fossil Creek will again be something worthy of Arizona Highways -- and how cool is that?

Restoring and protecting Fossil Creek also demands that I praise Sen. John McCain, who has committed to introduce designation of Fossil Creek to the national Wild and Scenic River System. Wild and Scenic designation is the best way to protect the newly-restored river, which runs through areas already designated as wilderness and which has remained almost entirely undeveloped. It’s the best way to prepare for the increasing number of visitors sure to be attracted by the beauty of the travertine pools and the unique desert riparian habitat.

Designation will be a truly unique event. According to most experts, it would be the first time ever that a restored river could qualify as Wild and Scenic. But for the past century, APS protected Fossil Creek, so restoring full flows actually can bring back a river to its original wild and scenic state.

Thanks to APS, the environmental partners, the governmental agency stakeholders, and the Yavapai Apache Nation, Arizona is getting a second chance at having a remarkable desert riparian jewel gain. It’s now up to Sen. McCain’s colleagues to help give the Forest Service the tools its needs to protect the restored Fossil Creek.