The Media and the McClellan Book.

May 29, 2008

What is it about MCClellan’s book that is causing such a stir? It has not yet been released, but this week it has been a feature story. There is very little in the snips of information that is really news. People who read Paul O’Neil’s book or followed his interviews about it, know that at the first cabinet meeting nine months before 9/11 a map of Iraq was brought out and attack strategies were discussed. Most people in the cabinet seemed to know what was going on but no one explained it to O’Neil. We know that Cheney would tell Bush to stay on point at cabinet meetings. The utter confusion and in fighting that marked the beginning of the invasion of Iraq, as well as its occupation, has been written about at great length.

There are several lists and accounts of the statements by various administration spokespeople regarding the war and their conflicting and errant explanations for it. There is little about the administration’s handling of Katrina that is unknown. McClellan’s admonishment of the press for being so malleable is now well trod ground.

Nonetheless, the media acts like this book is a bombshell. This appears to be because of McClellan’s special relationship with the media, not so much the content of what he has to say. This is the guy who told them that the war was justified, who said no one in the White House was involved with any Plame leaks or coverup, who justified the response to Katrina.The media carried this to its readers, listeners and watchers without comment when much of the free world (as well as other parts) knew these statements to be fabrications.

The media’s treatment of this book as sensational puts the media’s obdurately uncritical presentation of what McClellan said in a better light than it deserves. This sensational treatment presupposes that what was going on was not obvious, that anyone would have believed what he said. The truth is that very few people with independent sources of information accepted the administration’s disjointed explanations of events.

To me the interesting thing about this memoir is the media’s self-justifying treatment of it, even when it points to the blinders that were on the media.

Global Warming Detractors Get Reduced Funding

May 29, 2008

This came from a spokesman for Exxon Mobile:

“We discontinued contributions to several public-policy research groups whose position on climate change could divert attention from the important discussion about how the world will secure the energy required for economic growth in an environmentally responsible manner.”

Without the support of oil companies, this position will lose much of whatever traction is still has.

According to the Dow Jones Newswire Exxon Mobil in 2007 donated about $13 million to “environmental” and “public policy research.” Over the last two years there has been a marked softening of Exxon Mobile’s once adamant position that global warming was a fantasy. This corresponds with the replacement of Lee Raymond, its CEO and chairman, by Rex Tillerson two years ago.


May 28, 2008

What do Pakistan, United States, Russia, China, India, and Israel have in common? Each of them refused to sign theinternational humanitarian accord outlawing cluster bombs. Fortunately 111 other countries joined in the accord. These six countries are manufacturers of cluster bombs. Israel used cluster bombs most recently on a massive scale in its invasion of Lebanon. The U.S. used to describe itself as an international moral beacon. Don’t hear that much any more.

America’s Climate Security Act of 2007

May 28, 2008

For years the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works was the burial ground for legislation addressing among other things coal powered electricity generation. The U.S. has about a quarter of the world’s known supply of coal and coal is the primary source of electricity in this country. (Hydroelectric power is not as prominent elsewhere as in this region.) It is commonly said that reducing the emissions of coal used to generate electricity is vital to controlling greenhouse gas emissions here. Most seem to believe that this is the cornerstone to any effective policy. In December the committee, with a Democratic majority, passed America’s Climate Security Act of 2007 and it the bill will be debated in the Seante next week.

The Republicans are split on this bill. Larry Craig and other Republicans did all he could to prevent the bill from getting out of committee. The bill though is sponsored by Joe Lieberman and John Warner. (Warner is on the committee.)

The bill would impose emission limits on electric utility, transportation and manufacturing industries and includes financial incentives for reducing emissions, as well as assistance for zero and low carbon technologies. The bill creates carbon trading, the sort of thing that is talked about by Senator McCain in speeches. Senator McCain though has not endorsed the bill. When he was in the Northwest he talked vaguely about legislation that sounded kind of like this bill. Remember that a few years ago McCain had co-sponsored a bill with Lieberman on this topic. As 2008 approached though he seemed to fade from association with this legislation. Lieberman continued the fight and on the current bill Warner’s name appears in place of McCain.

The principal opponents of the bill seem to be the National Association of Manufacturers and the American Council for Capital Formation. Their opposition is adamant but their argument is tired and unimaginative, same old refrain that has proven to be false in the past. They say that jobs will be lost and that the price of electricity will soar. This is exactly what they said in opposition to legislation to curb acid rain but prices actually fell following the legislation without imposing hardship on the work force. They do not to offer a good explanation of why they were wrong then and right now.

A number of environmental groups oppose the bill because it is not as comprehensive as it could be and its standards are not terribly limiting. In fact part of the selling of this bill to industry was that if this isn’t passed something far more stringent might be imposed. Carbon trading is not universally embraced as an effective means of controlling the emissions and many groups balk at the support the bill will give the nuclear industry.In short it is a compromise designed to get through Congress. Senator Bernie Sanders tried mightily to amend the bill to give it more scope and spine but failed. The bill’s adovates say that the bill is a meaningful beginning to a pressing problem. It’s detractors say that it frames the issues for years to come in a manner favorable to industry.

Check out the Senate debate.


It’s Time for Democrats to Start Counting Backwards

May 14, 2008

With Edward’s endorsement, which has much more symbolic value than real effect, it is time for Democrats to start the countdown to Obama’s nomination. We are long past adding up delegates to see who is going to get it. According to the Associated Press, Obama is 139 delegates short of the nomination. Oregon and each of the remaining primaries will lower that number. The super-delegates committed to Clinton, who defy the wishes of their constituents in states such as Washingtonby not committing to Obama, should take a close look at their commitments to their party and to their constituents. Undecided delegates should not be viewed as a political prize worth courting, but the cause of a significant problem.

Washington State Economic News

May 14, 2008

The week already there have been a few startling reports about the economy. The Associated Press reported that in the construction industry there was an unprecedented decline in starts. The biggest drop ever! It also reported that the salmon industry is being designated a disaster qualifying it for federal help. The Washington Center for Real Estate Research also reported that in Pierce, King and Snohomish Counties home sales (excluding new homes) were down by about one third over last year, a little above the national average. This suggests that the local insulation from the national trend that we have enjoyed may be ending. Finally, Realty-Trac reported that in April foreclosures are up 65%. Now one in 519 homes in the country is in foreclosure. Washington, which initially was not severely affected by this phenomenon, is now in the middle of the pack among the states.

That’s not all the sobering economic news but all I could stomach mentioning. It is not clear to me how Bush’s policies influenced the number of salmon swimming around (a joke), but these trouble spots are directly linked to the mortgage crisis and generally attributed to the financial community’s exploitation of the absence of regulation, particularly in the investment banking area. Some people more informed than me say that the country’s rampant deficit spending also plays a role, but precisely how I do not understand.

The rising local concern about the economy will play an important role in the November elections.

Reagan Democrats

May 14, 2008

Reagan Democrats or swing voters are described by the New York Times as white working class people who did not attend college. These are the people described in Thomas Frank’s best seller What’s the Matter with Kansas?  His book is a discussion of how this portion of the population, traditionally left leaning was won over by the right.  He says that it had to do with Republicans successfully characterizing Democrats as intellectual elitists and selling themselves as defenders of traditional values on issues such as abortion and gay rights.  In this way the people whose economic interests are not promoted by Republicans were brought into the fold.  This shift on an entire demographic from left to right is a huge accomplishment of the Republicans.

The upcoming election, like many others, is about winning over these voters.  This is Senator Clinton’s base and in substantial part accounted for her runaway win in West Virginia.  Securing this base has always been a primary part of Clinton’s strategy.  She accomplished this but lost the left as well as other constituents.  McCain has defined his base as Bush’s base, recognizing at the same time that this is a miserably unpopular president, so he must gather voters from the center to have a strong bid for the presidency.  So both Obama and McCain will inevitably rush to the center during the campaign.

The Democrats have many things going for them this time: a highly unpopular war, economic troubles, particularly severe now but present in both Bush terms.  While working people have experienced difficulties, the wealthiest people have enjoyed an unsurpassed (literally) bonanza, separating themselves by historic margins from a declining middle class.

The likely Democratic candidate however has not been embraced by the swing voters.  This is a problem for the Democrats and the reason that the intense rivalry between Clinton and Obama is injurious to the party.  In attacking Obama Clinton was driving swing voters from him when the party needs to attract them to win.  In a sense her behind closed door arguments that he is not electable were fueled by the divisiveness of the campaign for candidacy.

McCain’s rush to the left to gain the center already seems a little desperate.  What else can explain a strategy to avoid absolutely all critical environmental votes in order to be able to campaign as an environmentalist.  Candidate’s position always are distorted in their need to capture the center, so Obama is likely to also make stretches.  He is already awakening to the vital importance of symbolism (an area in which the Clintons are extremely capable) and has begun wearing the flag on his lapel, which is now more or less a uniform item for candidates.