Exiled from the Underworld

Location: Tulsa, Oklahoma, Tonga

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

The (9/11) Three (9/11) Bears (9/11)

Did anyone else get a "three bears" feeling during the President's speech last night?

Bush spun a fairy tale riddled with mobile straw men and Al Qaeda monsters. We'll be safe if we-- good children that we are-- follow the Prez without question.

Without questioning statements like this:

Today Iraq has more than 160,000 security forces trained and equipped for a variety of missions.

Unless things have changed dramatically since February, that number is wildly inflated. Countering the "official" White House mid-January estimate of 136,000 Iraqi security forces, Senator Joseph Biden wrote in the Washington Post:

By one measure the Bush administration is right: As of today, there are about 136,000 "trained and equipped" Iraqis. But that measure is meaningless. Indeed, a year ago, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld boasted of 210,000 Iraqis in uniform and called it "an amazing accomplishment."

We should focus on real standards, not raw numbers. The real standard is straightforward: Can an Iraqi soldier or policeman do what we ask American soldiers to do -- provide law and order, protect the infrastructure, defend the borders and, above all, defeat the insurgency? There are nowhere near 136,000 Iraqis capable of accomplishing these goals.

Biden, whose own estimate ran between 4,000 and 18,000 acceptable Iraqi forces, then explained discrepancies in training and equipping those forces. Biden may have underestimated the available security forces (who knows for sure?), but I think that his point is right. The White House numbers exaggerate the readiness of Iraq to manage its own security.

Moreover, the on-ground security situation has worsened in the past months, and the demand for expanding the security presence has confronted the reality of Iraqi defections as well as increasing insurgent attacks on security forces and security leaders. Recruitment is not a current problem because the employment situation in most areas remains bleak.

Bush would prefer that we not question the other statements from the speech, thank you very much. And, by the way, those references to Afghanistan? Don't examine them too closely.

Other than the repeated references to September 11, the most notable elements of the speech were its condescending attitude toward the American people and lack of animation in the Fort Bragg audience.

Regarding the latter, at least the President's staff didn't have to screen away dissenters. No armed services members would risk the consequences of appearing to offer anything but respect to the Commander-in-Chief.

As to the former, here is a perfect illustration that came about two-thirds of the way into the speech:

I recognize that Americans want our troops to come home as quickly as possible. So do I. Some contend that we should set a deadline for withdrawing U.S. forces. Let me explain why that would be a serious mistake. Setting an artificial timetable would send the wrong message to the Iraqis, who need to know that America will not leave before the job is done. It would send the wrong message to our troops, who need to know that we are serious about completing the mission they are risking their lives to achieve. And it would send the wrong message to the enemy, who would know that all they have to do is to wait us out. We will stay in Iraq as long as we are needed, and not a day longer.

Some Americans ask me, if completing the mission is so important, why don't you send more troops? If our commanders on the ground say we need more troops, I will send them. But our commanders tell me they have the number of troops they need to do their job. Sending more Americans would undermine our strategy of encouraging Iraqis to take the lead in this fight. And sending more Americans would suggest that we intend to stay forever, when we are, in fact, working for the day when Iraq can defend itself and we can leave. As we determine the right force level, our troops can know that I will continue to be guided by the advice that matters: the sober judgment of our military leaders.

Here's the condensed version:
We can't send more troops because it would look as if we planned to stay, and we can't give an exit timeline because it would look as if we planned to leave.

The first course of action would be too hot; the second would be too cold. Trust the President-- his fuzzy course would be "just right."

And, by the way, troops, the President will pay attention to "the sober judgment of our military leaders" just as long as they agree with him, and not one day longer. Just ask General Shinseki (Ret.) and his buddies.

Michael Froomkin at the always-enlightening Discourse.net enlisted his brother Daniel's "White House Briefing" column to brush away Bush's straw men. Go read them-- both of them. [In fact, you should make reading the Froomkin brothers a habit, like brushing and flossing.]

The Al Qaeda monsters are still out there and getting larger, thanks to Bush's foreign policy.

The story is over, the speech ended. Good night, and sleep well.

Would you like me to leave the lights on?

Sunday, June 19, 2005

DOJ Ball

Our tax dollars, soldiering away in the War on Terrorism, support the Department of Justice website. Its page-top banner reads:

"Preserving Life & Liberty"

On 28 April 2005 United States Attorney Ken Wainstein, appearing on behalf of the DOJ, testified before House Committee on the Judiciary in hearings on reauthorizing PATRIOT Act provisions that are set to expire at the end of this year. One controversial provision, Section 215, allows law enforcement to obtain a secret, uncontested order from a clandestine court in order to search the business records of... just about anyone. The person on whom the court order is served may NOT disclose to anyone the anything about the order or the search-- including the fact of the order's existence.

From Mr. Wainstein's testimony:

To some, section 215 has become known as "the library provision". This moniker, however, is a gross distortion of the provision and makes about as much sense as calling all grand jury subpoenas "library subpoenas." Section 215 does not single out or mention libraries, and the Attorney General has recently declassified that as of March 30,2005, the provision had never be used to obtain library records.


The Department has not requested a section 215 order to obtain library or bookstore records, medical records, or gun sale records.

Should I feel comforted by this fact? Does the DOJ takes seriously its charge to preserve my liberty-- my right to free speech, to have access to a free press, and my right to privacy.

WAIT a minute-- Eric Lichtblau reports in tomorrow's New York Times that law enforcement has made at least 200 formal or informal inquiries to libraries for information on reading material and other internal matters since October 2001. The American Library Association conducted a study to determine how frequently federal, state and local agents are demanding records from libraries.

The study does not directly answer how or whether the Patriot Act has been used to search libraries. The association said it decided it was constrained from asking direct questions on the law because of secrecy provisions that could make it a crime for a librarian to respond. Federal intelligence law bans those who receive certain types of demands for records from challenging the order or even telling anyone they have received it.

As a result, the study sought to determine the frequency of law enforcement inquiries at all levels without detailing their nature. Even so, organizers said the data suggested that investigators were seeking information from libraries far more frequently than Bush administration officials had acknowledged.

"What this says to us," said Emily Sheketoff, the executive director of the library association's Washington office, "is that agents are coming to libraries and they are asking for information at a level that is significant, and the findings are completely contrary to what the Justice Department has been trying to convince the public."

The Times article details an incident at the Whatcom County Library System in northwest Washington where law enforcement attempted to fish for information from library records.

Joan Airoldi, director of the library district in Whatcom County, wrote an opinion column for the 17 May 2005 USA Today about the incident. Her piece exactly identifies the differences between a standard subpoena process and the process set out under Section 215.

It was a moment that librarians had been dreading.

On June 8, 2004, an FBI agent stopped at the Deming branch of the Whatcom County Library System in northwest Washington and requested a list of the people who had borrowed a biography of Osama bin Laden. We said no...


Undeterred, the FBI served a subpoena on the library a week later demanding a list of everyone who had borrowed the book since November 2001.


For our trustees, this sense of responsibility to protect libraries as institutions where people are free to explore any idea ran up against their desire to help their government fight terrorism. But they were resolute and voted unanimously to go to court to quash the FBI subpoena. Fifteen days later, the FBI withdrew its request.

But there is a shadow over our happy ending. Our experience taught us how easily the FBI could have discovered the names of the borrowers, how readily this could happen in any library in the USA. It also drove home for us the dangers that the USA Patriot Act poses to reader privacy.

Since the passage of the Patriot Act in October 2001, the FBI has the power to go to a secret court to request library and bookstore records considered relevant to a national security investigation. It does not have to show that the people whose records are sought are suspected of any crime or explain why they are being investigated. In addition, librarians and booksellers are forbidden to reveal that they have received an order to surrender customer data.


With a Patriot Act order in hand, I would have been forbidden to disclose even the fact that I had received it and would not have been able to tell this story.

The real story is that law enforcement has tried to skirt the exisiting statutes regarding procedures for investigating suspected criminal activity, and that the provisions of the PATRIOT Act essentially forbid any inquiry into government overreaching or abuse of process in a "terror"context.

The library survey found that almost 40 percent of libraries had fielded user inquiries about the effects of the PATRIOT Act on library practices, and about 5 percent of libraries had changed professional practices because of PATRIOT Act issues.

Representative Bernard Sanders, independent of Vermont, who sponsored a bill (which passed 238 to 187) to cut Section 215 as it applied to libraries, said,
"What this demonstrates is that there is widespread concern among the American people about the government having the power to monitor what they are reading."

No-- that can't be true, because this is the first story on the DOJ website:

Majority Supports Renewing USA PATRIOT ActThe USA PATRIOT Act continues to receive broad support from Americans:

From Wainstein's testimony:

One piece of legislation a majority of voters support is renewal of the Patriot Act. A 57 percent majority says the Patriot Act is a good thing for America, up from 54 percent last year (April 2004). Similarly, support for extending the act is up slightly (3 percentage points), as today 56 percent support and 31 percent oppose renewing the legislation.

By 50 percent to 35 percent voters think the Patriot Act has helped prevent terrorist attacks in the United States.

More about the USA PATRIOT Act's broad appeal here:

How are we to evaluate this apparent discrepancy in public opinion?

First, we start with the site that the DOJ promotes to explain the PATRIOT Act's "broad appeal". We go to Fox News to read this headline:

06/16/05 FOX Poll: Congress 'Out of Touch'; Majority Supports Renewing Patriot Act

Actually, the poll covered much more than the PATRIOT Act, but you can read it for yourself.
Who was surveyed?

Opinion Dynamics Corporation conducted the national telephone poll of 900
registered voters for FOX News on June 14-15.

There is no information concerning the numbers of those who identified with specific parties, although the poll breaks down responses to many of the questions by party.

The poll asked 34 questions, including such gems as number 25, "Who do you think is tougher-- Hillary Rodham Clinton or Condoleeza Rice?" (Answer-- Clinton by a big margin) . The poll's structure looks suspiciously, uh, leading. The five questions immediately preceding those dealing with the PATRIOT Act discussed Guantanamo; the last of these asked,

At the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Muslim prisoners are given copies of the holy Muslim book the Koran. If Muslims were holding Americans as prisoners, do you think the Americans would be given copies of the Bible?

In addition to failing to be neutral, the poll failed to ask specific questions regarding the Section 215 or any other controversial provision.

21. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Congress passed the Patriot Act which, in part, gives federal officials wider authority to use wiretaps and other
surveillance techniques. Some people say the Patriot Act is a necessary and effective tool in preventing terrorist attacks, while others say the act goes too far and could violate the civil liberties of average Americans. Which comes closer to your view -- overall, would you say the Patriot Act is a good thing for America or a bad thing for America?
Good ----Bad---- (Mixed)---- (Not sure)
14-15 Jun 05 57% 30 na 13
21-22 Apr 04 54% 28 11 7
29-30 Jul 03 55% 27 9 9

22. Do you think the Patriot Act has helped prevent terrorist attacks in the United States or not?
1. Yes 50%
2. No 35
3. (Not sure) 15

23. Based on what you know, do you support or oppose extending the Patriot Act, which is scheduled to expire at the end of the year?

Support ----Oppose---- (Not sure)
14-15 Jun 05 56% 31 12
21-22 Apr 04* 53% 32 15
*"…scheduled to expire in one year"

By the way, the question about whether Congress is "out of touch" gets position number 10, smack in the middle of a five-question run on Congress-- and completely separated from the questions about the PATRIOT Act. The initial question for the Congress set asks,

8. Do you favor or oppose limiting the number of terms members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, including your own senators and representatives, can serve?

If Fox News can get away with calling itself "fair and balanced", the DOJ gets to tell us that it is "preserving life and liberty."

I just wish that I didn't smell formaldehyde.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Miller-El v. Dretke

The Supremes knocked down another Texas death penalty prosecution this morning. In Miller-El v. Dretke, a case involving an African American defendant on trial for murder, the Supreme Court of the United States found that the prosecution had manipulated the jury pool to eliminate most other African Americans. Additionally, the Court found the prosecution's "neutral" arguments in support of its jury selection process unconvincing. The SCOTUS website should have the complete opinion available around noon today (EDT).

Hope Yen wrote the AP story for the Washington Post:

Death Row Inmate's Conviction Overturned
The Associated Press
Monday, June 13, 2005; 11:02 AM

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court overturned the conviction of a black death row inmate who said Texas prosecutors unfairly stacked his jury with whites, issuing a harsh rebuke to the state that executes more people than any other.

The 6-3 ruling Monday ordered a new trial for Thomas Miller-El, who challenged his conviction for the 1985 murder of a 25-year-old Dallas motel clerk. It was the second time justices reviewed the case after a lower court refused to reconsider Miller-El's claims...

Justice Souter,joined by Justices John Paul Stevens, Sandra Day O'Connor, Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer, hit the Texas court hard, saying that the court's conclusion (that jury selection was not racially determined) was "unreasonable as well as erroneous."

"The prosecutors' chosen race-neutral reasons for the strikes do not hold up and are so far at odds with the evidence that pretext is the fair conclusion, indicating the very discrimination the explanations were meant to deny," Souter wrote.

"At least two of the jury shuffles conducted by the state make no sense except as efforts to delay consideration of black jury panelists," Souter said, adding that it "blinks reality" to deny jurors were struck because they were black...

Justice Thomas, joined by Rehnquist and Scalia, dissented. They really prefer "rational basis" to closer scrutiny, and were satisfied with the prosecution's assertions.

In a dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas argued that Texas prosecutors had offered enough evidence that exclusions were made for reasons other than race.

For instance, the state's explanation that jurors were struck based on their hostility to the death penalty is plausible, and the alleged racial motivation behind prosecutors' decision to shuffle the jury pool is only speculative, wrote Thomas, the court's only black member.

"In view of the evidence actually presented to the Texas courts, their conclusion that the state did not discriminate was eminently reasonable," Thomas wrote in an opinion joined by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justice Antonin Scalia.

Texas has a pretty flat learning curve regarding its criminal justice system--especially when applied to capital cases.

Last year, the Supreme Court overturned two Texas death sentences because jurors were not told of the defendants' learning disabilities. They were LaRoyce Lathair Smith, convicted for the 1991 killing of a Taco Bell manager in Dallas, and Robert Tennard, charged with killing a Houston neighbor in 1985.

The court also lifted Delma Banks' death sentence and delivered a strong criticism of Texas officials and lower courts, saying that prosecutors had hid crucial information that might have helped Banks' case.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Up-or-down is a merry-go-round formula

What a rapturous day for hypocrisy! Barely catching a breath after the controversial Priscilla Owen's confirmation to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and oath of office, the Senate granted lifelong tenure to a judge whose record identifies her as so far out of the mainstream that she can't even feel the current.

Brown Approved For D.C. Circuit
Senate Confirms California Justice, Sets Vote on Pryor

By Charles Babington
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 9, 2005; Page A01

The Senate confirmed Janice Rogers Brown to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit yesterday, handing President Bush and his conservative supporters a long-sought addition to the nation's second most influential court.

Brown, a California Supreme Court justice whose forcefully stated views have infuriated liberals and delighted conservatives, was approved 56 to 43 after two days of often emotional debate. Democrats had blocked her since 2003, but they were forced to accept her confirmation -- and those of two other appellate court nominees they strongly opposed -- when a bipartisan group struck a deal last month quelling a Republican threat to ban filibusters of judicial nominations.


Minutes after confirming Brown, the Senate voted to end debate and schedule a confirmation vote today for former Alabama attorney general William H. Pryor Jr., appointed by Bush to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit. If Pryor is confirmed as predicted, he will join Brown and Priscilla R. Owen -- sworn in this week to the 5th Circuit -- as the trio of sharply contested nominees whose approval was the price that liberals paid to retain the right to filibuster future nominees, possibly including those to the Supreme Court.

I can hardly wait for the William Pryor vote.

Remember the Republicans railing against the Democrats for refusing to bring Senate nomination hearings to a close?

Their chant: Up-or-down vote.
Their message: The undemocratic evil of needing a 60-vote majority.

President Bush on judicial nominees:
"I have a duty to nominate well-qualified men and women to the federal judiciary. I have done just that, and I will continue to do so," he said. "The Senate also has a duty -- to promptly consider each of these nominations on the Senate floor, discuss and debate their qualifications and
then give them the up or down vote they deserve.

Senator Doctor Frist on judicial nominees:
All 100 members of the U.S. Senate will soon decide a basic question of fairness. Will we permit a fair, up-or-down vote on every judicial nominee?

Or this one:
"They've been waiting years for an up-or-down vote, and now they'll get one," he said. "It's about time. We're making some progress."

Vice Prez Cheney on judicial nominees:
“I support bringing those nominees to the Senate for an up or down vote,” Cheney said.

Bush on Bolton:
"I thought John Bolton was going to get an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor, just like he deserves an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor, and clearly he's got the votes to get confirmed. And so I was disappointed that once again, the leadership there in the Senate didn't give him an up-or-down vote."

Wow. Three times as powerful.

Everybody wanted to get into the act.

"All judicial nominees deserve an up-or-down vote. It's a matter of fairness," Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said at a news conference at the Justice Department.

Senator John Sununu on judicial nominees: “A 60-vote standard for all nominees is not fair to the President or the Judiciary itself. Nominations reported out of the Judiciary Committee deserve and [sic] up-or-down vote on the floor.”

...and so on.

But tonight the AP reports:

Brownback Puts Diplomat Nomination on Hold

By SAM HANANEL, Associated Press Writer
Wed Jun 8, 8:48 PM ET

WASHINGTON - Sen. Sam Brownback has put a hold on the White House's nomination of a prominent abortion-rights supporter to a diplomatic post.

Kind of refreshing to see the old "pyramid" journalism style in use-- leading with the most salient information.

The Kansas Republican, a strong abortion opponent with presidential aspirations, says he has concerns about Julie Finley's nomination as ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Brownback is chairman of the Helsinki Commission, an independent U.S. government agency that formulates policy on OSCE issues. The Vienna-based organization monitors compliance with human rights and security standards in Europe established by the 1975 Helsinki Accords.

"I have some concerns about Ms. Finley and I would like to have assurances about these issues before I make any final decisions on the nomination moving forward," Brownback said in a statement. "She is a wonderful lady that I have worked with before, but not yet on issues relevant to the OSCE."

Finley, a longtime Bush supporter and Republican fundraiser, is a founding member of the WISH list, a political action committee that raises money for female Republican candidates who support abortion rights.

Brownback's office declined to specify his concerns, but a spokesman said the senator is meeting with Finley on Thursday to discuss her nomination. Finley declined to comment.

A single senator can block a nomination from moving forward by placing a hold on it.

What-- no up-or-down vote?

No comment forthcoming from the Senate Republicans on the undemocratic evil of a one-man veto.

Some anti-abortion groups mobilized last month to stop Finley's nomination based on her abortion views. The Republican National Coalition for Life has urged its members to contact the White House to oppose the nomination.

"Because of ongoing attempts to promote taxpayer funding of abortion and the distribution of abortion-causing drugs overseas, we are concerned that, given her history of support for liberal abortion policies, she will be able to promote her pro-abortion views through the OSCE," said a letter on the group's Web site.

James Geoffrey, a commission spokesman, said the issue of abortion is not typically addressed by the organization.

"The commission doesn't take a position on things like that, and we don't expect it to be an issue," Geoffrey said.

Finley's views on abortion did not come up during her Senate confirmation hearing last month, where she testified that she is a strong advocate of NATO expansion and spreading democracy to former Soviet Union nations.

Finley is a trustee and treasurer for the National Endowment for Democracy. She was a founder and board member of the U.S. Committee on NATO.

Sam Brownback--more evidence of the decline of Kansas.

Looking for adventure and whatever comes our way...

More good news from the AP, via CBS associate KOTV :

Waste Shipment Rolls Through Oklahoma

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- The first of what is to be 15 shipments a day of radioactive waste has been trucked across Oklahoma.

We should all cheer! Good for business! McDonald's restaurants all along the highways!

Two steel canisters of 20,000 pounds of a mixture of uranium combined with fly ash was carried from a plant in southwest Ohio to a storage site in Andrews, Texas, near the Texas-New Mexico state line.

I guess that the Yucca Mountain facility isn't ready yet.

The waste is carried along Interstate 44 to Interstate 40, traveling through Tulsa and Oklahoma City.

I wonder if the potholes on I-44 and I-40 have been repaired?

State Department of Environmental Quality spokeswoman Monty Elder says officials aren't worried about the radioactive material and are satisfied it's safely packaged.

Okay, maybe... but what about the Department of Homeland Security? Any assurances from those people? Got a note from Michael Chertoff?

A total of about 2,000 shipments of the waste will be trucked across the state and officials say there will be about 15 shipments per day, seven days a week, later this summer.

I'm still waiting on that DHS note.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

He's got the Bible and a loaded 44

I came back to the office this evening around 9:30 to work on a little extra-curricular stuff. Specifically, I needed to put together some material in anticipation of a public hearing to be held Tuesday morning before the Tulsa Park and Recreation Board. This board has authority over the Tulsa Zoo, a pretty nice place for involuntarily captive animals. Better than Guantanamo, anyway. Back in November it won $25,000 from Microsoft Game Studio's "Zoo Tycoon 2" America's Favorite Zoo Contest (we're number one).

The only reason that I will be attending the meeting is a small "action item" on the agenda, listed as "Creation and Intelligent Design-- Dan Hicks."

Dan Hicks-- obviously not the Dan Hicks who, performing with his band the Hot Licks, created such memorable songs as "How Can I Miss You When You Won't Go Away?" and "Milk Shakin' Mama."

No, this is Tulsa's Dan Hicks, who complained recently upon hearing that Tulsa's gay community would be having a "Gay Day" at the zoo for families and friends of gays and lesbians.

Its one of several events for Gay Pride week. Donna Jones: "That is something that we do frequently on Saturdays is go to the zoo and that's not something I would want to take my children to." Dan Hicks: "I just think it’s very inappropriate to have a gay demonstration at the Tulsa Zoo where young children are and they're not ready for their parents to have to discuss these kinds of issues."

Issues like, uh, adults and children enjoying the zoo? What could he be thinking? I wonder if he thinks parents won't already have enough to discuss with their children when the children watch animals copulating, defecating, urinating, etc. Let alone asking-- as my darling babies asked-- why some of the animals had such big penises and others had such tiny penises.

I remember a third-grade trip-to-the-zoo with one of my sons' class where the entire class laughed until they ached over the feces fight at the chimp house, and how some of the parents had some difficulty explaining that, no, the male rhesus monkeys knew perfectly well that they could not get trees and rocks pregnant-- let alone the other male rhesus monkeys-- no matter how energetically they tried to mate with them.

Tulsa's Dan Hicks must not visit the zoo very often.

At any rate, I thought that Chris C. Mooney and P.Z. Myers at Pharyngula would likely have some good evolution material to support my rather dry legal presentation, so I wandered over to find that--*gasp*-- Pharyngula's taken the Bible hostage! He has a LOADED 44! Well, actually, he has a 44-oz. Diet Coke that he threatens to unload into himself, fully cognizant of the consequences!

Alright, people, I'm gonna get tough. You know what I want, and you'd better give it to me.

I've got a bible here, and a 44oz. Diet Coke…lots of liquid containing a diuretic, to boot. In about an hour, I figure my bladder is going to be pretty full. You know what could happen.

I don't need information from you, and I sure don't want your money. This is a weblog, and the currency here in these parts is the link, the trackback, the comment. Fork 'em over, or I'm taking this Bible down the hall. You know I'd do it. I'm a godless atheist—I don't think your Bible means doodley-squat.

Intimidated yet?

YES! I AM INTIMIDATED![Can one claim to be intimidated using all capitals?]

So, in exchange for marauding through his trove of clear and enlightened argument, I hereby note that he is NOT KIDDING. If you can link or trackback to his site, do so NOW. He is a godless atheist and a Commentist who deserves every little trackback ping he gets.

Deep Throat, Deep Rectum

From this morning's Washington Post:

Prosecution of Felt Called Unlikely

Associated Press
Saturday, June 4, 2005; Page A18

NEW YORK, June 3 -- W. Mark Felt, the former FBI official who was "Deep Throat" during the Watergate scandal, probably will not be prosecuted for leaking information to reporters three decades ago, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales said Friday.

The Justice Department "has a lot of other priorities," Gonzales said.

Asked whether he considered Felt to be a hero or a villain, Gonzales said he will leave that to history. His boss, President Bush, has also refrained from expressing an opinion on Felt.

Felt leaked tips about criminal wrongdoing at the White House to Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward during the Watergate investigation.

As attorney general, Gonzales is overseeing an investigation into who gave the name of an undercover CIA officer to journalists.

Following his immediate predecessor's fine example, Mr. Gonzales fails to note that the information that Mark Felt leaked was not illegal to leak. In the thirty-two years since Watergate I haven't heard of anyone trying to roust out the identity of Deep Throat in order to prosecute him. Does anyone recall Ben Bradlee, Katharine Graham, Carl Bernstein, or Bob Woodward being pressured to reveal Deep Throat because he had acted illegally?

Of course not.

Furthermore, if Felt had acted illegally Gonzales should state so clearly and unequivocably rather than obliquely promoting that implication with that "other priorities" evasion.

Oh, and how is that other investigation going?

Back in mid-April, the House Intelligence Committee Democrats wrote to Mr. Gonzales asking the same question, since it had been nearly two years since Robert Novak-- shall we call him Deep Rectum?-- had illegally published the name of CIA covert operative Valerie Plame.

Here's how CNN reported it:

In response to the Democrats, Gonzales said he is confident that Patrick Fitzgerald, the U.S. attorney from Chicago who is the lead prosecutor on the case, is "proceeding on a basis that he thinks is appropriate and that at the appropriate time the matter will come to a head."

Gonzales noted that he recused himself from the matter after taking office. His predecessor, John Ashcroft, also recused himself in December 2003 after complaints from Democrats. Ashcroft's office said he took that step to avoid an appearance of conflict of interest.

The Democrats' letter noted that Fitzgerald wrote in March court filings that the factual investigation "was for all practical purposes" completed in October, yet no charges were filed.

Oh. All right then. It's... moving right along.

But if our Attorney General isn't working on the Plame case, what's he doing? What is "overseeing the case"? Just more of the same kind of diversion we are used to getting from this bunch.

I guess we shouldn't be surprised that a Deep Rectum probe results in a lot of crap.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Reduced smug smog emissions…

Via Ezra Klein , Matt Yglesias points to this article:

Most Hybrid Vehicles Not as Cost-Effective as They Seem, Reports Edmunds.com

The Edmunds article concludes:

Consumers who own a hybrid car or SUV may purchase less gas and have lower maintenance expenses than if they owned the non-hybrid counterpart, and may qualify for a federal tax credit designated for hybrid vehicle owners. However, most hybrids' high sales prices, insurance costs and related expenses will offset the savings.

Matt agrees that hybrids cost more.

A lot of people I know seem to feel that car buyers irrationally underestimate the financial impact of fuel economy when making their purchasing decisions,and that this gives us reason to fear that market mechanisms alone won't make everything balance out in the long run. The fact that people are, in fact, buying hybrids even though they aren't worth the additional money seems to indicate the reverse -- consumers either irrationally overestimate the financial benefits of fuel efficiency, or else have non-monetary preferences (about, e.g.,the environment or national security) that factor in favor of buying fuel-efficient cars.

He suggests that offering additional purchaser tax credits is a less desirable way of evening out comparative costs than increasing fuel taxes would be, although he thinks that fuel prices will continue to rise (therefore adding value and increasing hybrid popularity).

Ezra read the Edmunds article and Matt’s article and points out that the Edmunds study “does not, in fact, say that hybrids are more expensive than other cars, just that they're more expensive than their non-hybrid models.”

I looked at the Edmunds article more closely and, frankly, I don’t know what they’re talking about. I have no direct experience with other hybrids, so I will limit my discussion to the Prius.

[Nick Beaudrot of Electoral Math posts there and at Politics and War; he covers Honda hybrids more thoroughly, and reaches different conclusions from Edmunds.]

Edmunds compares the Prius to Toyota’s Corolla and Camry. Toyota has a lovely “comparator” feature on its website, where one can select up to three additional cars to compare with the Prius. My car—a 2001 Prius—is more like a Corolla than a Camry, but the newer Prius is much closer to a Camry in all categories. In some categories, the Prius betters the Camry.

1. Insurance costs and related expenses

My Prius is five years old now. The Edmunds article uses a five-year comparison basis for its figures, so my experience—anecdotal though it is—should parallel their conclusion.

My insurance is no higher than it would be for a comparably-priced conventional internal combustion only car and I have not had any “related expenses” that would not ordinarily occur with any car. Car financing is credit- and cost-based; taxes and fees are calculated the same for both conventional and hybrid cars. Only if the hybrid car costs more initially than the comparable conventional car will any of these costs and expenses be higher for the hybrid.

Edmunds notes that maintenance costs may be less for hybrids. This correlates with my experience. Currently my car has about 93,000 miles on it. I replaced the tires (normal wear) and follow regular oil-and-lube maintenance. Once in a while I clean it, but conventional car owners clean their cars, too. Interestingly, because of the hybrid drive train, I have substantially less brake wear than other comparable vehicles. I don’t know what other expenses they may be considering. I haven’t had them, nor have any of my hybrid-driving friends.

2. High sales prices

The 2005 Prius lists at $20,975. Three Camry models, in order of relative added features, list as follows:

LE 4dr Sedan (2.4L 4cyl 5A) $20,125
SE 4dr Sedan (2.4L 4cyl 5A) $20,955
XLE 4dr Sedan (2.4L 4cyl 5A) $22,545

All prices are from the Toyota/Edmunds Comparator.

Again, as Nick Beaudrot points out, these numbers do not reflect current federal tax credits or other state or local incentives that may be available. High sales prices are obviously not as large a factor as Edmunds suggests.

Matt’s “non-monetary preferences”?
Most of those preferences have pronounced monetary involvement, although that involvement may at times be less obvious.

I wasn’t able to buy a Prius until a few years ago when I found a used 2001 model (new in 2000) for sale for less than $13,000. Unbelievable good luck—especially because my 13-year-old Previa needed mechanical intervention and we have no auto Medicare for aging cars.

My techie son and I got excited about hybrid technology in 1997, shortly after Toyota introduced the Prius in Japan. At first our interest was focused on fuel economy, but we became obsessed with the Prius’s other environmental benefits. Of course, the fact that Prius has several really nifty engineering qualities—like the continuously variable transmission and its ability to operate in “stealth mode”—added to our fascination.

My original motivations for purchasing my Prius were to reduce tailpipe emissions as well as to lower fuel consumption. Lower in, lower out. The social, health, environmental, and economic costs of oil exploration-drilling-production-transport-refining-distribution-consumption accrue at each step of the industry.

Here in Oklahoma the winds come sweeping up the plains, bringing additional air pollution from Texas. We've had "Ozone Alert" days for years, barely meeting Clean Air Act standards. Public health benefits from better air quality; a disproportionately high number of our residents suffer from health problems that are exacerbated by poor air quality. A disproportionately high number of our residents have inadequate or no access to health care, and use emergency rooms in lieu of primary care. Much of the ER care is more intensive treatment than would be expected if the patient had access to primary care; much of this ER treatment is unreimbursed, resulting in higher taxes for us all. Reducing health care system stress is an economic good.

Further, noncompliance with EPA standards would necessitate corrective and remedial measures that would add to the inconvenience and cost of living; more auto inspections, nozzle traps for fuel pumps, traffic routing measures, and so forth. Too, it’s difficult to attract better-quality jobs into a non-compliant region— even more difficult if prospective new businesses will be expected to share in the costs of remediation and correction.

My techie son is in the Army, and we both have a heightened sense of our participation in national security interests. Reducing our imported oil dependence is in our national interest. Misbegotten alliances with and wars against oil-exporting nations—especially when conducted under the arrogance of American righteousness—violate our national security and compromise the security of the entire world. The added costs of increased security should not be divorced from the costs of fuel consumption.

Early hybrid buyers recognized that the new technology would carry a premium cost. Toyota initially swallowed some of those costs in order to bring the car to market. Technological improvements have increased hybrid efficiency and power; the newer model Prius is a larger, roomier, higher-performing vehicle than is my original model. The newer model is more Camry-sized than Corolla-sized, has more power, and gets better mileage than my car—although its sticker price is roughly the same in light of five years' inflation (2001 model cost $19,995—only one model available; the 2005 model carries a $20,975 MSRP).

Hybrid technology seems to be following the adoption life cycle trend of most technology, and, as Matt notes, “if demand for hybrids goes up, per-unit construction costs (and therefore resale prices) will start dropping, pushing sales higher.”

My contribution to better quality of life is a less immediately realized saving than one experiences by buying a non-hybrid economy car, but just as valuable.

That's why I'm feeling smug.

Too few Democratic criminals?

Seattle Times' David Postman has been live-blogging the gubernatorial election trial in Washington:

POSTED 3:20 PM Wednesday
Democrats' expert witness says GOP analysis flawed

Christopher Adolph, a University of Washington professor and expert witness for Democrats, is on the stand being questioned by Democratic party attorney David Burman.

Adolph is an assistant professor of political science and on the faculty at the UW's Center for Statistics and the Social Sciences.

He is expanding on his testimony last week about what he says are serious flaws in the Republican statistical analysis of illegal votes.

Republicans want illegal votes by felons and others in any given precinct apportioned between Rossi and Gregoire by the same percentage as the total vote in that precinct.

I almost agree with the Republican argument, except that they are too modest. I can think of many very visible Republican criminals (e.g., G. Gordon Liddy, Chuck Colson, H.R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, E. Howard Hunt, Jeb Magruder, James McCord, John Mitchell, Donald Segretti, Robert McFarlane , Oliver L. North, Elliott Abrams, Clair E. George, John M. Poindexter, Alan D. Fiers, Jr., Richard V. Secord, Duane R. Clarridge, Casper Weinberger , a laundry list of (mostly) sex criminals , etc.) --and assume that they are a representative sample. Therefore I conclude that a majority of felon-cast votes in any given precinct should be awarded to Rossi. But, back to the trial:

"This method has no pedigree, no claim to accuracy," Adolph said.

Adolph says the Republican's expert report is unreliable because information appeared to be collected mostly from parts of the state that supported Gregoire.

"This strikes me as clear circumstantial evidence of systematic sampling," he said. That might not have been intentional, but "it does suggest that any inferences from the petitioners data alone will be biased because of their methods."

But he said he used the Republican model to apportion illegal votes alleged by both Democrats and Republicans and says there is "approximately zero chance" that the outcome of the election would change.

See? Rossi couldn't get elected with just a proportionate share of felons. He needed to corner the market on crooks and liars.