Wednesday, July 23, 2003

"The process failed."

So much for the "responsibility era," I guess.

Sunday, July 20, 2003

Getting in Touch with My Inner Newt

My editor today described the East Valley Tribune's selection of opinion columnists as "individual columnists express[ing] views from the far left -- Sam Coppersmith and Molly Ivins -- to the far right -- Marianne Jennings and George Will" in the paper's self-proclaimed striving for overall balance. I guess if George Will is far right, then I'm far left, but then who's really far left and really far right in this particular cosmos?

Feeling Our Fury

East Valley Tribune, Jul. 20, 2003

Maybe Democrats should take a page from the GOP playbook, and get really, really angry. Contrary to today’s conventional wisdom, it worked pretty well for Republicans. It might work for us, too.

Republicans who beat the Clinton impeachment drums furiously now counsel Democrats to cool their anger over Bush, or “suffer” as the GOP supposedly did. But the GOP didn’t suffer much at all.

They hoped to make major gains in 1998 based on the party controlling the White House traditionally losing House seats in the sixth year of a president’s terms. Instead, Republicans lost a couple seats, but the historical parallels were flawed because they had gained essentially every possible seat four years earlier. The 1994 GOP wave was so broad, Republicans won some seats they simply couldn’t hold for three straight elections. While pre-election expectations got overblown, Republicans actually did pretty well in 1998.

A few Republicans lost, but on balance the GOP did quite well by attacking Clinton ceaselessly and heedlessly. Those extremists changed the width of the debate; by shrieking from the right wing, they let other Republicans sound moderate -- and forced Democrats to address all sorts of off-the-wall attacks. Maybe today’s war-for-oil conspiracy theorists can do as much for our side as The Wall Street Journal editorial page did with its own bizarre conspiracy theories (Mena airfield, anyone?).

And if Newt Gingrich got “disgraced,” well, you should get as much money and TV time as he still gets today. If that’s “disgrace,” sign me up.

Anti-Clinton anger fired up the base fabulously. If Republicans didn’t do as well with an “all anti-Clinton, all the time” agenda as they’d hoped with swing voters, maybe it was because those voters didn’t like their actual policies.

We’re seeing a “role of rhetoric” reversal this year. In 2000, George W. Bush cloaked a harsh, partisan agenda in moderate language. In 2003, Howard Dean is cloaking a moderate agenda in harsh, partisan language. Dean is doing so well -- even among Democrats, like me, supporting a different candidate -- not because he’s moving leftward. Dean is succeeding because he’s tapping into Democratic anger. As Joel Klein noted in Time, we’re not liberal, we’re furious.

So Republicans, who did pretty well by hating Clinton, now argue that Democrats risk alienating swing voters who like Bush. That might be a problem, except those Republican savants are not the best source of Democratic strategy, and any “swing voters” who still like Bush -- after three years of job losses, cutting taxes for the richest, and going to war based on “darn good” intelligence that apparently wasn’t minimally accurate -- probably aren’t swing voters a Democrat could get anyway. As The New Republic noted, the real question is whether making the election turn on Bush’s lack of competence and honesty gets the Democratic nominee more swing voters than the alternative.

As it dawns on people that Bush continually lies about his policies, maybe the supposed swing voters who would be turned off by anger (but not by Bush’s lying!) weren’t ever going to vote for a Democrat anyway. But as more people recognize that Bush just makes stuff up, believes things that are flat-out wrong, and won’t let facts get in the way of his predetermined policies, maybe anger -- when combined with policies people actually support regarding health care, education, the environment, and the economy -- will be a positive thing.

Anger worked pretty well for the GOP. So why shouldn’t Democrats start enjoying their inner outrage? Remember, more people voted for the Democrat than the Republican in the past three presidential elections.

Hey -- just thinking about it makes my bile rise.

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Liar, Liar, Forest's On Fire

"Good science," my eye. We're supposed to listen to lectures about what constitutes "good science" from people who, for political reasons, can't accept evolution?

The Fight Over Forests
GOP Cherry-Picks Its Own 'Good Science'

East Valley Tribune, Jul. 13, 2003

The least convincing utterance in the debate over Arizona’s forests -- about as useful as our GOP congressional delegation’s refusal to help obtain emergency aid for Arizona unless Gov. Napolitano endorses the Bush administration’s long-term anti-environmental agenda -- is the oft-made claim that we should use “good science” in forest management. The people using the phrase (call them “suddenly ecosystem-aware Republicans”) know good science when they see it: Science that’s politically correct.

The “good science” rhetoric rests on fundamental misunderstandings of how science actually works. The really interesting issues in science are an ongoing, collaborative discussion. It’s not like a simple math question, to which the answer is either right or wrong. Science is essentially a series of “best guesses,” eventually narrowing toward consensus.

Always, some scientists disagree with the consensus. These outliers sometimes strengthen the theory by noting flaws and encouraging refinements. In remarkable cases, they develop either the data or theory that shatters the previous consensus. But not every crank is Copernicus; humanity always produces far more crackpots than Einsteins.

I’ve used previously the analogy by the author Kim Stanley Robinson likening scientific inquiry -- the construction of a theory -- to building a wall. Scientists place individual bricks of knowledge in what may be seem initially a random pattern; it’s not clear whether there will be a wall, much less what it will look like. Eventually, a wall emerges; scientists test its structural integrity, and if it holds, move to the next challenge.

Few new theories persuade everybody, and there are always some ostensible scientists who aren’t convinced that the wall is solid. But over time, their number dwindles, and when they retire, their successors look for more interesting areas to research.

Unfortunately for the public good, some of these “minority reports” are just too ideologically and politically correct for the Bush administration to resist.

The “good science” of forest health is a theory -- yes, a theory -- no more solid than the science behind global warming. Of course, GOP leaders call global warming “liberal claptrap.” The Bush administration initially misled the American people (sound familiar?) about the National Academy of Sciences report they commissioned which concluded that global warming is real and potentially dangerous. The administration recently made the EPA remove mentions of scientific concerns about global warming from its reports, and instead keeps referring reporters to the small, and shrinking, band of scientists who still doubt global warming.

But doubting and denying global warming serves the political interests of the Bush administration in serving its big-business base.

Take stem-cell research. President Bush used bogus data about the number of viable stem cell lines available to justify his 2001 decision. Instead of the 60-plus Bush claimed, the National Institute of Health so far has confirmed only 11 viable lines, most of which were grown in mouse feeder cells -- greatly complicating any human trials. Scientists since have developed alternative to mouse feeder cells, but Bush’s edict makes these newer, cleaner, and better lines ineligible for federal research funding.

Stem-cell research holds tremendous promise for medical advances and remarkable cures. But hindering that research serves the political interests of the Bush administration in serving its evangelical base.

Or take one of the best-accepted scientific walls of all, evolution. GOP House Majority Leader Tom DeLay derides evolution as “unproven,” and President Bush himself equivocates, as if “the jury is still out.” These same Republicans (who, for political reasons, can’t publicly accept the scientific principle of evolution) want us to accept their new-found devotion to “good science” for our forests.

But to these guys, “good science” means only science that’s good for them -- and their political supporters.

Monday, July 07, 2003

Apparently It's Hard to Remember Who's in Charge Here

The headline on this week's column is certainly not what I would have chosen; not that much that's going on in Iraq appears all that comedic. The Time magazine quote is available here; the transcript of McCain's appearance on "Face the Nation" is here; and Adam Felber's entire piece ("Bush Double-Dog Dares Militants to Hurt US Soldiers") is here. There's no easy link to John D. McDonald's remarks, which appeared in the comments to this post on Patrick Nielsen Hayden's site.

East Valley Tribune, Jul. 6, 2003

The head of your federal government is hard at work, according to last week’s Time magazine, searching for those apparently easily overlooked and tough-to-find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq:

“Meeting last month at a sweltering U.S. base outside Doha, Qatar, with his top Iraq commanders, President Bush skipped quickly past the niceties and went straight to his chief political obsession: Where are the weapons of mass destruction? Turning to his Baghdad proconsul, Paul Bremer, Bush asked, ‘Are you in charge of finding WMD?’ Bremer said no, he was not. Bush then put the same question to his military commander, General Tommy Franks. But Franks said it wasn’t his job either. A little exasperated, Bush asked, So who is in charge of finding WMD? After aides conferred for a moment, someone volunteered the name of Stephen Cambone, a little-known deputy to Donald Rumsfeld, back in Washington. Pause. ‘Who?’ Bush asked.”

The guy doesn’t know who’s doing the allegedly most important thing in Iraq, or much care about the fact that the guy actually works in Washington instead, but President Bush sure does know how to move those goalposts closer. We’ve gone from claiming that Iraq represented a mushroom-cloud-imminent threat to the U.S. to announcing the discovery of PFWMD, plans for future
Pretty soon we’ll have the administration claiming that evidence that Iraqi government officials downloaded from the web articles about Bush’s claims about Iraqi WMD justifying preemptive war as the justification for the war. (“Nobody with a clean conscience could possibly have believed that we were telling the truth,” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will claim, to appreciative chuckles from the Pentagon press corps.)

Hey, but Iraq is free now, right? Let’s cheer, and certainly not waste any time wondering exactly how free is, say, Saudi Arabia.

Even with the administration’s claims decomposing faster than precursor chemicals in desert heat -- to name three, the claims about imminent WMD threats, that military action had concluded, and that our troops will be home soon -- it’s still hard for some folks to abandon their Iraqophobia. Sen. John McCain appeared last Sunday on “Face the Nation” and opined that finding Saddam Hussein was “very, very, very important . . . . far more important -- in my view, than capturing or killing Osama bin Laden, although that’s important, too.”

As James D. Macdonald pointed out, these priorities make perfect sense because (1) Osama bin Laden attacked the United States, and (2) Saddam Hussein hasn’t.

But the best evidence that we’re in Iraq for only the absolutely best reasons came last Wednesday, when President Bush made clear that the difference between U.S. foreign policy and professional wrestling is that with U.S foreign policy, you get an official transcript.

As reported by Reuters, President Bush “challenged militants who have been killing and injuring U.S. forces in Iraq, saying ‘bring them on’ because American forces were tough enough to deal with their attacks. ‘There are some who feel like that conditions are such that they can attack us there. My answer is: Bring them on.’ ”

As satirist Adam Felber noted, these taunts were made by guy who avoided the draft, had an attendance record for his National Guard service that was (ahem) spotty at best, and who said these brave words thousands of miles from the front lines. Felber bets our troops actually in the line of fire in Iraq enjoyed this White House bravado. If they had worried that they might stop getting ambushed and attacked, or that President Bush might treasure their safety more than a good line, well, they can breathe easy now.

Friday, July 04, 2003

Republicans for the Ecosystem. Yeah, Right.

The large, and destructive, fire atop Mount Lemmon outside Tucson has put some of our congressional delegation into unusual contortions. They can't blame environmentalists for stopping forest-thinning and fire-reduction projects on the Catalina Mountains, or even in the entire Coronado National Forest, and have to justify having steered wildly inadequate Forest Service resources to fire projects out in the middle of nowhere. In Arizona, two projects near Flagstaff--both near houses and communities--haven't received funding while the Forest Service fights to allow logging of mature trees north of the Grand Canyon. It's the GOP environmental motto: Do last things first!

Saving the Forests

East Valley Tribune, Jun. 29, 2003

The Tribune editorial page tried pinning the Mount Lemmon fire on the usual suspects; hit the F6 key and another editorial emerges blaming environmentalists, environmental laws, and appeals of Forest Service projects. There was just one problem with using last year’s ideology on this year’s fires -- the truth.

As noted by several environmental activists on this page Thursday, environmental appeals played no role in the Aspen fire. Unfortunately for the “log first, think later” crowd, nobody ever challenged any planned fuel reduction projects in the Catalina Mountains. In the entire Coronado National Forest, millions of acres, it appears there was only one, quickly-resolved, appeal filed, and the project went forward.

Blaming forest fires on environmental appeal delays is the Iraqi WMD of our national forests -- a cynical way to push a pre-existing agenda, with an argument that depends on exaggerating data, ignoring evidence, and substituting ideology for fact.

Instead of environmental appeals, the reality is that fuel-reduction programs aren’t going forward because the Bush administration and the GOP Congress aren’t funding them. Forest health apparently just isn’t important enough. While Arizona’s drought worsens, the Republicans funded fewer and fewer acres of fuel reduction programs each of the past three years.

In 2001, the Coronado National Forest got funding for tree thinning, brush removal, and controlled burns for some 5,000 acres; in 2002, for 1,800 acres; and in 2003, for a measly 202 acres. This year, the Forest Service requested $1 million for fuel reduction around Summerhaven atop Mount Lemmon; the Bush administration and Congress gave them only $120,000.

Unlike some politicians, the numbers don’t lie. As Arizona’s fire danger has increased, the Republicans have responded as they only know how: By doing less.

As doing less isn’t enough, they actually want to make things worse by doing what little they’re willing to fund in really, really remote areas.

Suddenly, with the flames highlighting their record, the GOP must justify spending scare tax dollars (that pesky discretionary federal spending that we must cut to justify those tax cuts) miles from nowhere. Instead of dealing with an immediate crisis at the forest interface, where people are at greatest risk and where basically everybody agrees on the need to act, key Republicans suddenly start worrying about -- get this -- the “ecosystem.”

There’s Sen. Jon Kyl, who says it’s not enough to protect communities from an immediate crisis when we also should “protect the greater forest and its wildlife.”

Rep. J. D. Hayworth also won’t let the Forest Service concentrate on doing the most important work first. Instead, he wants the federal government also to “protect the forestland and the ecosystems and wildlife and watersheds as well.” Sheesh -- who’s the environmental extremist now?

Since when do these guys care about wildlife and ecosystems? Since when is it good governance to spend scarce tax dollars in lower-priority ways and therefore do increasingly less in the places facing the greatest dangers?

The so-called “Healthy Forest Initiative” isn’t about health or forests, and the only initiatives are to eliminate public input and gut environmental protections. To the Bush administration, the fires are a smokescreen, hiding their real goal of helping GOP timber industry contributors, who make their money miles from the homes, communities, and people at greatest risk.

Follow the money, people. For the past three years, the Republicans in Washington have pointed fingers at environmentalists, all while funding fewer and fewer acres for fuel reduction programs in the areas facing the greatest dangers from fire.

If they actually considered forest health important, the Bush administration would devote resources to it. They’re responsible for this job. They haven’t done it.