August 31, 2005
Josh Levin has written an exquisite elegy for New Orleans, the city he grew up in. You need to read it. You also need to donate. I'd like to do a pledge drive here on the site -- anyone know which charities will let me do that?
Another One Bites the Dust
You know, the most surprising thing about this is that it took so long:
The top Food and Drug Administration official in charge of women's health issues resigned today in protest against the agency's decision last week to further delay a final ruling on the whether the emergency contraceptive "morning-after pill" should be made more easily accessible.
Susan F. Wood, assistant FDA commissioner for women's health and director of the Office of Women's Health, said she was leaving her position after five years because Commissioner Lester Crawford's decision on Friday amounted to unwarranted interference in agency decision-making.
"I can no longer serve as staff when scientific and clinical evidence, fully evaluated and recommended for approval by the professional staff here, has been overuled," she wrote in an e-mail to her staff and FDA colleagues.
This is not a good work situation for professionals. As Chris Mooney lovingly documents in his impressive new book, "The Republican War on Science", the Bush administration's attitude towards expert testimony mirrors their feelings towards protesters outside Bush's ranch. The only difference seems to be that Republicans can't understand why they let these reality-based naysayers into the building. Never mind, though, they're doing an excellent job driving such people out of the administration. Paul O'Neill couldn't take the deficit fantasies, Richard Clarke couldn't countenance the Iraq fictions, and much has been written on the veritable exodus of State Department officials and intelligence agents who decided that this would be an excellent time to explore fly-fishing. And now Susan Wood is out, another disillusioned expert whose testimony fell on bemused ears. Soon Karen Hughes will start her job, and anyone who thinks Bush appoint a seven foot tall white woman to aid our public face in the Islamic world should think about renewing their subscription to "Bridge Investments Quarterly". She's going to clean out State, long the Bush administration bureaucratic bete noire.
There's always the argument that these folks should hold on, that Woods should keep fighting and Clarke should keep pushing -- without them, who's left fighting the good fight? But the truth is, it doesn't much matter who's fighting the good fight if the American people aren't watching and the victories aren't coming. I hope Woods enjoys her next project -- God knows it'll bear more fruit than her last one.
The American Pie President
Nancy Nall takes the point I was circuitously making in my metaphor-heavy post (hey -- sometimes you just feel like using some imagery!) last night and shortens it into a two paragraph indictment. Well done! And her question stands: why would Bush's handlers, on the day when new Orleans was experiencing perhaps the greatest tragedy in American history, let him be photographed goofing around with a guitar? Why would they let him out at all? If he needed to leave his Ranch Set, they should've forced him to go to a Church Set (it's right across the lot, just take a left when you reach Karl Rove's trailer). Very weird.
Unless Bush's handlers are themselves being handled. Digby's made this point before, but more and more, I'm think it's right. Second term Bush sees himself as a political war god. He is invincible. A senior. Class president. He already got accepted to college (thanks, dad!). He's the big man on campus. Nobody's going to expel him. Hell, nobody's going to discipline him! He doesn't have to listen to his teachers, his guidance counselors, or even his friends. He can do what he wants.
And doesn't that seem to be what he's doing? A month on the ranch, a bike ride with Lance Armstrong, a late-night little league softball game, a quixotic quest to kill Social Security, a play date with country rockers. He's begun to use the presidency to, well, have a little fun. And when Cindy Sheehan tried to ruin VaCay and he said she couldn't detract from his life, he meant it. None of this can. Bush didn't want to be President, he wanted to win the presidency, crush the Democrats, beat his father's record. And so he has! And now, while New Orleans flood and Iraq burns, it's time to enjoy it. He's hired people to deal with the crises, he's got enterprising freshmen completing his homework, he's earned this.
How many dead?
My poll numbers are where?
The 2006 elections could do what?
This is the state of fear Iraqis live in now:
Rumors of a suicide bomber helped set off a stampede Wednesday among tens of thousands of Shiite Muslim pilgrims on a Tigris River bridge, killing at least 637 people as panicked worshipers hurled themselves off the bridge or trampled others underfoot, Iraqi authorities and survivors said.
"The people when they were at the bridge, more than one person started yelling, and saying, 'The bridge will fall down, the bridge will explode,' " said Khalid Fadhil, a goldsmith who witnessed the stampede. "So the people started running in panic, pushing each other, trying to run away. Some of the people fell down, and the people stepped on them. The others threw themselves off the bridge, into the river."
Government By Babes
The LA Times throws a roundhouse of an editorial at John Bolton's first weeks fucking up the UN on the job. The consensus? Getting things done means gumming things up. The way to reduce bureaucracy is to paralyze it in proposed amendments. The way to encourage reform is to derail the process.
Now if that don't just tug on your mustache hairs!
But Bolton's small fries, always has been. Appointing that walrus Ambassador to the United Nations was the Bush administration symbolically ascending to the top of Mt. International Community and pushing a shopping cart full of crap down it. What falls out is what they put in. Blaming Bolton is like condemning the shopping cart. It was the kids who loaded it up with arrogance, hypocrisy, self-contradiction, incompetence, ineffectiveness, and ignorance before sending it careening down the incline. They deserve the blame. But will they get it?
No. They never do. The Bush administration is the Enron of political organizations. A teetering pile of plausible deniability, front politicians, and diversions. Rove keeps George's hands clean, Cheney gets the rap of plutocratic grand vizier, Rumsfeld gets the blame for Iraq, Bolton is a loose cannon someone must've accidentally wheeled into the UN, DeLay is the theocrat, and so on and so forth. The bucks stop nowhere, they just twirl and dance in the wind, a bit of inadvertent political performance art. And there's George, an oasis of ignorance in a maelstrom of incompetence. Past administrations have dodged accountability, this one's made it into a zen art.
Republicans run on an ethic of honesty and responsibility, moral values and macho heuristics. But like most tough teenagers, they travel in posses and pick fights in packs. "Who hit you?" "I don't know, there were a lot of guys!" But Karl says it wasn't him, and Don says he didn't do it, and Dick claims he was at his grandmother's, and everyone agrees George has been a pacifist since time immemorial...
But Kerry's still beat, the government's still broke, Iraq is still fucked, the corporations are still served, the UN's still broke, the theocrats still believe, and the country is still a mess. Only problem? There's no one to blame. Bush was clearly mountain biking that day and Gingrich says it's liberal judges and DeLay says it's liberal congressmen and Rush blames the liberal media and it's all very confusing, I think I'll watch Friends.
Republicans have created government by static. They've learned that simply throwing enough crap into the media stream will cloud the water, and if people can't see anything, they'll stop looking. So blame is diffuse, stonewalls are everywhere, and everyone makes sure the figurehead looks innocent, and ignorant, as a newborn babe.
And so he does. And so he does...
August 30, 2005
Another One Rides the Bus
Kevin gets into the Great Gas Tax Debate with a very convincing defense of CAFE. It's got graphs and everything! Go read.
Just got the latest issue of GQ. 436 pages of ads. Content doesn't begin -- begin! -- until page 120, with the letter from the editor. Nowhere in that letter does the editor apologize for the magazine's decision to give up on writing and go with a scruffy-hunky-model-in-strange-lighting format. And we don't just have ads -- there are folds out, pull-out, leaflets, different paper stocks, and all manner of trickery ensuring you can't simply turn pages until you find a byline. The magazine has to be deboned on the fly. And that, of course, fucks up the binding, so all pages, ads and the few not ads, begins falling off.
Matt's got a TAP column today laying out his objections to CAFE standards. Readers will be unsurprised to know I find it unconvincing. But who knows -- I may be wrong. So here are three objections for the gas tax, and maybe if advocated could answer there, I could better understand their case:
• Matt writes: "CAFE rules are, in effect, a tax on gas-guzzlers that's used to subsidize buyers for the purchase of more efficient cars. Companies meet the standards by offering a discount on their more efficient models and by charging higher prices than they otherwise would on less efficient models." Okay. What's wrong with that? Is there some reason we want gas-guzzlers on the road?
• Matt argues that "[a] much better way of reducing consumption would just be to tax it straightforwardly with higher gasoline taxes." He then, to eliminate the regressivity, advocates plowing the savings into a progressive tax cut, or end of the year rebates or something.
Why does anyone think this will pass? And, if we take the progressive step and pound in that you'll somehow get the money back, why do we think it'll change behavior? But really, the question here is what possible convergence of circumstances makes a nation furious at high gas prices agree to pay even more at the pump?
• "Some families share one automobile; others have one for each parent and one for each teenager. To put it in crude, self-interested terms, some Americans -- like, say, me -- don't own a car at all. We're the true heroes of energy efficiency, and CAFE rules provide us with no benefits whatsoever. But if you want to subsidize energy conservation, it makes no sense to leave out people who conserve through not driving or carpooling."
Actually, it does. Matt doesn't use the subway because he's virtuous, he does it because he's got a subway to take. If he lived in LA, he'd have a car. I live in LA. I have, and need, a car. In a month, I'll live in DC. I'm not sure I'll take my car. In any case, I'll mostly use the subway. Not because I'm more virtuous there than here, but because the subway makes sense there and is effectively nonexistent here. What Matt's suggesting amounts to a subsidy for urbanites because driving, for most people, isn't a choice, it's decided by geography.
My grandparents used to live in Basking Ridge, NJ. The market was 8 miles away, the hairdresser 15, work 12, and so forth. They weren't doing anything wrong by driving -- it's just what they had to do. The commercial areas were quite separated from the residential communities. If you do blue collar work in Irvine or Newport Beach, you have to live in Garden Grove or Fountain Valley. You simply have to drive -- there's no other viable option. And is it really fair to subsidize the rich guy who can live near his employer or the urbanite who can take the subway and instead penalize someone who hasn't the money to rent near his work? Why?
Most of this country has a car culture. It's not a moral decision, it's a simple question of where you can afford to live and where your job/kids/life requires you to go. And those who drive more are not morally equivalent to those who drive frivolously -- a commute to work so you can own a house is different than a road trip to TJ. If you could somehow separate those two out with a gas tax, maybe you'd have a case, but until you can, attacking the commuter is another way of saying "I no longer want this congressional seat and I'd be very appreciative if you gave it to someone else."
Lastly, Matt's right on about the SUV/light truck distinction -- the creep of trucks and SUV's into everyday vehicles has wreaked havoc on the rules. But a serious reworking of CAFE standards could easily address that. And while reworking CAFE won't be easy, right now it's got the popular will behind it and, in any case, is infinitely simpler than convincing Americans that the right response to skyrocketing gas prices is a government tax which'll jack up what they pay at the pump.
Forced March of the Penguins
"March of the Penguins" raises this question: If an Intelligent Designer designed nature, why did it decide to make breeding so tedious for those penguins? The movie documents the 70-mile march of thousands of Antarctic penguins from the sea to an icy breeding place barren of nutrition. These perhaps intelligently but certainly oddly designed birds march because they cannot fly. They cannot even march well, being most at home in the sea[...]
The penguins' hardiness is remarkable, as is the intricate choreography of the march, the breeding and the nurturing. But the movie, vigorously anthropomorphizing the birds, invites us to find all this inexplicably amazing, even heroic. But the penguins are made for that behavior in that place. What made them? Adaptive evolution. They have been "designed" for all that rigor — meaning they have been shaped by adapting to many millennia of nature's harshness.
"Tedious" isn't the right word for the forced march an abusive Mother Nature requires of Emperor Penguins. "Brutal", "sadistic", or "excruciating" all fit much better. If everyone in America saw that film, the problem wouldn't be belief in intelligent design, it'd be a wave of spiritual crises sweeping across the "Heartland". God may have a plan, but watching those penguins, the blueprints look suspiciously like what the scary neighborhood kid used to do with a magnifying glass and salt.
While you're at John's place, check out his post on Haley Barbour. I don't know what exactly would make Mississippi's governor encourage "ruthlessness" in national guardsmen, but it really seems like the first step en route to catastrophe.
Your world is about to get sleeker. Apple is bringing out an ipod cell phone. Someday, someone will write a history of mobile devices that explains why teeny-tiny cameras that focus worse than a midget after a bender were a more logical accompaniment for phones than music players, which many of us carry in our pockets anyway. And when that book is written, next week's unveiling of Apple's later market-mover will be lionized as the day sense returned to cell phone manufacturing. Unfortunately, it will also be known as the day we all switched to Cingular, even though their service totally sucks. But I guess you take the good with the bad. If my phone is going to reduced to a useless rectangle in my pocket, it may as well look like a present from the martians and hold my entire music library.