Monday, January 27, 2003
Lots of organizations want my money. Whether it’s the National Trust for Historic Preservation or the American Diabetes Association or the National Building Museum or a local NPR station, I imagine that they trade my name and address like little boys with baseball cards. I contribute to all of the above, and quite a few more, but others often appear in my mailbox unbidden. My demographic and/or contribution profile is such that the Republican Party (no link to them!) occasionally wastes a few of the giga-cents in their coffers by sending me some of their heinous propaganda. Every time I see one of those RNC envelopes, I breathe a little easier, comfortable in the knowledge that their software hasn’t yet figured out that they are not about to collect a penny from these here parts.
A couple of days ago it was the turn of Joan Claybrook, former chair of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Joan’s letter asked for my support in opposition to the Bush Administration’s energy policy. She rightly pointed to the need for improving auto fuel efficiency, reversing energy deregulation, controlling powerplant pollution, and promoting renewable energy. Joan alerted me to the tremendous influence of big-energy special interests, oil-bidness cronyism, self-serving Texas agenda, anti-environmental orientation, and other attributes of Dubya’s operation.
So why am I getting ready to toss Joan Claybrook’s letter into the recycling bin?
It’s simple, really. Joan is the president of Public Citizen, founded by Ralph Nader.
You see, I’m still pissed as hell at Ralph. All those nasty things that Joan warned me about in her letter ... they’re Ralph’s fault. John Ashcroft, Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Charles Pickering, Gale Norton, John Negroponte, Condy Rice, John Poindexter, Robert Zoellick, George W. Bush ... they’re Ralph’s fault.
Ralph said he saw no difference between Al and Dubya, between Democrats and Republicans, in 2000. It was readily apparent then, and orders of magnitude more apparent now, that Ralph was flat-out wrong on that one. Yet he has never uttered a word of apology, never uttered a single mea culpa about what he foisted upon this nation and the world.
In the end, Ralph’s votes affected the outcome of the 2000 election in only two states—Florida, of course ... and New Hampshire. If you remember the electoral maps, the Granite State stood out like a sore thumb, the only state north of Virginia and east of Ohio won by Bush. Bush drew a mere 7211 more votes in New Hampshire than Gore, while 22,198 misguided Granite Staters voted for Ralph. I wonder how many of them are sorry for what they did. As it happens, I was a New Hampshire resident in 2000, so those four electoral votes that he ripped away from Al Gore felt like they were torn from my own heart. Had New Hampshire gone to the Democrats, whatever shananigans transpired in Florida would have been moot, a mere historical footnote.
So I’m sorry to say, Joan, that you and your organization won’t be getting any of my money. Please be sure to let Ralph know why.
Sunday, January 26, 2003
The Peter Principle in action
You do know the term “Peter Principle”, don’t you? Named for educator Laurence Peter, who published a book by that name in the late 1960s, its central theme is that:
in a hierarchy, employees tend to rise to the level of their incompetence
The Peter Principle falls neatly between “Parkinson’s Law”:
work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion (C. Northcote Parkinson, 1958)
and the entire Dilbert oeuvre.
I briefly thought about this classic examination of bureaucracy and its unintended consequences while reading an op-ed piece in Saturday’s Seattle Times, but that article remained firmly in the back of my mind until I read Raye’s latest epistle in By Sand and Sea. In her January 27 essay Not a black helicopter, but..., she quotes from an article about the bully-tactics employed by Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert and House Majority Leader Tom Delay, who are following the example already laid out by the ghouls of the executive branch by accreting all available power and authority to themselves, rewarding those subordinates who toe their line and dumping anyone who steps even a whisker out of (goose)step.
The case of Connecticut’s Christopher Shays, senior Republican on the Government Reform committee, who was bypassed for the chairmanship of that body in favor of Virginian Tom Davis, is well known. Not coincidentally, Shays and Massachusetts Democrat Marty Meehan co-sponsored the House version of the McCain-Feingold campaign reform legislation, while Davis chaired the National Republican Congressional Committee during the 2002 campaign, raising over $180 million in hard and soft money (nearly $1 million of it from his own re-election coffers and his personal PAC).
Also well-reported (see this January 16, 2003 story in the Center for Responsive Politics’s “Capital Eye” site) is the new chairman of the House Resources committee, Richard Pombo (R-CA), who was jumped over five more senior committee Republicans. Needless to say, Pombo is strongly behind the Bush anti-environmental policies of road-building, oil drilling, and logging on wilderness lands. In fact, he goes even farther than most, promising to rewrite (i.e. overturn) the Endangered Species Act because he sees the current Act as an infringement of property owners’ right to develop their land. Pombo received piles of contributions from agribusiness, energy, and construction industry sources, and was also favored with a fundraising visit by Vice President Hallib^H^H^H^H^H^HCheney. How horrendous is Pombo? John Duncan (R-TN), who once compared an environmentalist campaign to Nazi propaganda, was passed over because he’s too moderate!! Even Republican Congressmen, such as Colorado’s Joel Hefley, are angered the Hastert-Delay approach to House governance. As noted in a Denver Post editorial, Hefley said that "Fundraising evidently was an enormous part of it. It’s unseemly. It’s like buying seats and we shouldn’t do that."
The op-ed piece I saw on Saturday was written by Froma Harrop of the Providence Journal on January 22. The ProJo archives require registration, so instead here is a link to the Seattle Times version. The subject this time is an old familiar face, a clear exemplar of the Peter Principle in action—Henry Hyde of Illinois. Yep, that good ole abortion fighter is being rewarded by his friends Hastert and Delay for his valiant efforts during the 1999 Clinton impeachment, given the plum assignment of chairing the House International Relations committee.
Hyde apparently wants to marry the resonance of Dubya’s “axis of evil” with his devotion to diversity, because he’s apparently decided that we need another axis for our own hemisphere. Hyde’s axis includes the leaders of Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Brazil. To qualify for this particular axis, it seems, all you have to do is lead a government of at least some discernable leftward tilt. Clearly that is sufficient to constitute a weapon of mass destruction, at least in Henry J. Hyde’s small mind. The new president of Brazil, he of the soccer-like single name Lula, qualifies for Hyde’s axis by virtue of running and winning on a campaign to aid the poor, and showing less-than-total support for Bush’s views on free trade. As Harrop points out in her commentary, US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick’s diplomatic skills in dealing with Lula’s policy statements featured a snide remark suggesting that if Brazil doesn’t sign on to the Free Trade Area of the Americas plan, they could export their products to Antarctica.
Placing Henry Hyde atop the House International Relations committee demonstrates the Peter Principle in full flower. Who knows what silly, hare-brained, stupid, or insulting remark may emerge from his mouth somewhere along the line? It would be humorous, save for the ever-present potential for real damage to US international policy positions. I’m inclined to think that Henry Hyde is a worse representative of the United States on the world stage than the now-retired Senator Jesse Helms ever was. Say what you will about Helms’s isolationist xenophobia ... at least he had the intelligence to understand some of the ramifications of what he said. When Helms pissed off ambassadors or foreign officers, it was because he meant to do so. Hyde won’t have the slightest clue.
I’m amazed that I got all the way to the very end before mentioning that CAPOTUS is also a shining example of the Peter Principle at its best (or is it worst?). The guy can’t deal too well with the minimal responsibilities of being Governor of Texas, and then he gets kicked upstairs to the White House. Where, unfortunately, he and his minions/handlers can do some serious damage to America and the whole world.
Thursday, January 23, 2003
If it's not one thing, it's another
I’ve been traveling a lot lately. First there was a long-weekend pleasure trip to Massachusetts before a two-day meeting in Baltimore. After two days back in Seattle came another trip, to Burlingame CA (tantalizingly close to San Francisco) to participate in a meeting of the Board of Directors of a non-profit. That too was combined with a sidetrip to hang out with friends, in Santa Rosa and Oakland, before flying back here on Monday night.
So I’m just now catching up with the newspapers. And it ain’t pretty. The Seattle Times is replete with outrage after outrage, nearly all attributable to CAPOTUS (the first two letters stand for court-appointed) and his minions/handlers. Did the reactionary right feel this way during the Clinton years? I don’t imagine so, since they were so fixated on Slick Willie’s willie rather than policies and issues.
Anyway, here’s a sampling of what I found in just the first section of the paper, on just two days (Wednesday and Thursday)...
Environmental labs caught faking data—private labs hired by corporations to test air quality, water supplies, petroleum products, and other materials routinely reported test results that favored industry. David Uhlmann, chief of the Justice Department’s environmental crimes section (and clearly not a political appointee), notes that “labs are oftentimes in bed with the people who hired them, and conspired to commit environmental crime”.
Pentagon data project raises issues—Adm. Poindexter’s Total Information Awareness group is raising eyebrows, including those of Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA). Grassley isn’t reassured by what he hears from DoD’s inspector general, Joseph Schmitz, pointing out that the TIA “only heightens my concern about the blurring of lines between domestic law enforcement and military security efforts”.
Bush plan could take much of the wild out of wilderness—using an obscure 1866 law as their excuse, the Interior Department rules that it might be OK to build roads in all sorts of previously near-pristine wilderness, such as Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Monuments. Interior will employ a very broad definition of “right-of-way claims”. The 1866 law was repealed in 1976, but claims could be grandfathered in if there was already a right-of-way present in 1976. Interior intends to define as “roads” such things as wagon tracks, deer paths, and dogsled routes. Not only that ... once defined as a right-of-way, it can be improved (graded, paved, widened). No surprise that oil drilling machinery may soon be rolling down those newly-defined roads. The Bureau of Land Management is tasked to determine whether right-of-way claims are valid and also whether new roads may be built, but the BLM’s history hardly inspires confidence in their status as protectors of wilderness.
GOP holds sway in Senate fight over budget bill—Senator John Edwards (D-NC) tried to delay new EPA regs that let power plants get away without upgrading pollution controls; it was defeated 50-46. Tom Daschle (D-SD) wanted to double the allocation for drought-stricken farmers but was defeated 56-39; an alternative amendment by Thad Cochran (R-MS), which refocused the existing allocation toward large growers and ranchers, passed 59-35.
Nominee to AIDS panel called disease ‘gay plague’—Pennsylvania marketing consultant Jerry Thacker, a former employee of Bob Jones University, has been chosen to serve on the Presidential Advisory Commission on HIV and AIDS. He has called homosexuality a “deathstyle” and suggested that “Christ can rescue the homosexual”. The newsstory, which originated at the Washington Post, reports that Mr. Thacker’s website was cleansed soon after his appointment; for example, “gay plague” lost its first word.
R.I.P. to two great, and very different, cartoonists:
Al Hirschfeld (1903-2003) drew actors and musicians, his fine lines evoking the essence of their personas with wicked good humor. He is survived by (among others) Nina, his daughter whose name was sought for and counted off in thousands of drawings by millions of eyes.
Bill Mauldin (1921-2003) captured the realities of warfare as experienced by Willie and Joe, the quintessential Army grunts in the field. His work rang true to the soldiers in the field, whether they were stuck in muddy France or sun-baked Tarawa. When George Patton tried to close down his Stars and Stripes feature cartoon, Dwight Eisenhower insisted that Patton lay off.
Tuesday, January 21, 2003
Searching for an apt phrase to be used for a work-related presentation I’ll be making next month, I was searching through one of the greatest troves in existence ... the lyrics of Bob Dylan. The Bard of Hibbing has been filling our minds with his wondrous words for more than four decades, and it’s always a treat to see how his mind’s eye can produce just the right way to view nearly any situation.
Herewith, a selection of lyrics I ran across in RockWisdom.com, one of the many Dylan lyric sites on the web. Some are familiar old favorites, others are from obscure songs of periods during which Bob was out of the spotlight. All are comments on today’s world just as surely as they were intended for what Bob was seeing when he wrote them:
Masters of the bluff and masters of the proposition, but the enemy I see wears a cloak of decency. — Slow Train (1979)
The swift don’t win the race. It goes to the worthy, who can divide the word of truth. — I and I (1983)
I think you will find when your death takes its toll, all the money you made will never buy back your soul. — Masters of War (1963)
Let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late. — All Along the Watchtower (1967)
Trying to create a next world war, he found a promoter who nearly fell off the floor, he said I never engaged in this kind of thing before, but yes I think it can be very easily done. — Highway 61 Revisited (1965)
All that foreign oil controlling American soil. — Slow Train (1979)
Come Senators, Congressman, please heed the call, don’t stand in the doorway, don’t block the hall. — The Times They Are A-Changin’ (1964)
Democracy don’t rule the world, you’d better get that in your head. This world is ruled by violence, but I guess that’s better left unsaid. — Union Sundown (1983)
In the home of the brave, Jefferson turning over in his grave. — Slow Train (1979)
Patriotism is the last refuge to which a scoundrel clings. — Sweetheart Like You (1983)
Steal a little and they throw you in jail, steal a lot and they make you king. — Sweetheart Like You (1983)
We weren’t on the wrong side, sweetness, we were the wrong side. — Driftin’ Too Far From Shore (1986)
Ain’t it hard when you discover that, he wasn’t really where it’s at, after he took from you everything he could steal. How does it feel? — Like a Rolling Stone (1965)
And of course we can’t end without this one, which garnered tremendous applause every time Dylan sang it during his Fall 2002 tour:
Even the President of the United States must sometimes have to stand naked. — It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding) (1965)
Thursday, January 16, 2003
A clear and present danger
An Associated Press story in Tuesday’s paper brings us still another chapter in the continuing attack on American values by the Attorney General. Here’s the relevant quote in Curt Anderson’s report:
"Out of fear, ignorance and occasional bigotry, faith-based groups have been prohibited from competing for federal funding on a level playing field with secular groups,” Ashcroft said in a text of his speech released at the Justice Department.
“Fear, ignorance and occasional bigotry” is apparently Mr. Ashcroft’s code phrase for the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, which can be found here:
The very first words of the very first item in the Bill of Rights are “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;”. Ashcroft is enthusiastically and fervently in support of the last portion of the phrase, but conveniently forgets (more accurately, it seems, tramples upon) the start of it. Of course, he’s well practiced at that, blissfully ignoring the phrase “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State,” whenever he invokes the Second Amendment.
Considering the source, I don’t suppose I’m surprised by this. Ashcroft has constructed his entire political career on selecting his few favorite pieces of the Bill of Rights and the rest of the Constitution while blithely ignoring and/or violating the rest of it. In his shorthand, there’s really only one Amendment in the Bill of Rights, and even that one is pared down to his unswerving support of guns in all forms, in all places, in anyone’s hands, without “interference” by anyone.
What’s troubling is that, by and large, We the People put up with Ashcroft’s bludgeoning of our American rights. He and Dubya and the rest of the cabal have wrapped it all in 9/11, and will continue to ride that excuse as long and as far as they can. Their public relations approach has been impeccable—truly a marvel to behold, if it wasn’t so damn frightening.