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March 29, 2006

Winning the war on tree-huggers

How Environmentalists Lost the Battle Over TCE (via; snipped and flipped at will for narrative purposes):

Following four years of study, senior EPA scientists came to an alarming conclusion: The solvent, trichloroethylene, or TCE, was as much as 40 times more likely to cause cancer than the EPA had previously believed.

By 2003, after a prolonged challenge orchestrated by the Pentagon, the EPA lost control of the issue and its TCE assessment was cast aside.

What happened with TCE is a stark illustration of a power shift that has badly damaged the EPA's ability to carry out one of its essential missions: assessing the health risks of toxic chemicals.

Half a dozen state, federal and international agencies classify TCE as a probable carcinogen. [...] California EPA regulators consider TCE a known carcinogen and issued their own 1999 risk assessment that reached the same conclusion as federal EPA regulators: TCE was far more toxic than previous scientific studies indicated.

TCE is the most widespread water contaminant in the nation. Huge swaths of California, New York, Texas and Florida, among other states, lie over TCE plumes. The solvent has spread under much of the San Gabriel and San Fernando valleys.....

The public is exposed to TCE in several ways, including drinking or showering in contaminated water and breathing air in homes where TCE vapors have intruded from the soil. [...] In addition, some cities, notably Los Angeles, have high ambient levels of TCE in the air.

If the EPA's 2001 draft risk assessment was correct, then possibly thousands of the nation's birth defects and cancers are due in part to TCE exposure, according to several academic experts.

The agency's authority and its scientific stature have been eroded under a withering attack on its technical staff by the military and its contractors.

[C]ritics say the defense establishment has manufactured unwarranted scientific doubt, used its powerful role in the executive branch to cause delays and forced a reduction in the margins of protection....

The military says it is only striving to make smart decisions based on sound science and accuses the EPA of being unduly influenced by left-leaning scientists.

A few months after the 2001 draft risk assessment came out, an Air Force rebuttal charged that the EPA had "misrepresented" data from animal and human health studies.

It said "there is no convincing evidence" that some groups of people, like children and diabetics, are more susceptible to TCE, a key part of the EPA's report. And it said the EPA had failed to consider viewpoints from "scientists who believe that TCE does not represent a human cancer risk at levels reasonably expected in the environment."

But comments such as these are outside the scientific mainstream. Other federal agencies have also expressed grave concern about TCE and some experts say it is only a matter of time before the chemical is universally recognized as a known carcinogen.

"The evidence on TCE is overwhelming," said Dr. Gina Solomon, an environmental medicine expert at UC San Francisco and a scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "We have 80 epidemiological studies and hundreds of toxicology studies. They are fairly consistent in finding cancer risks that cover a range of tumors. It is hard to make all that human health risk go away."

"If you go down two or three levels in EPA, you have an awful lot of people that came onboard during the Clinton administration, to be perfectly blunt about it, and have a different approach than I do at Defense," said [Raymond F. DuBois, former deputy undersecretary of Defense for installations and environment in the Bush administration]. "It doesn't mean I don't respect their opinions or judgments, but I have an obligation where our scientists question their scientists to bring it to the surface."

[T]he Bush administration leadership at the EPA ultimately sided with the military.

They had political capital. This is how they used it. Sure, it costs money to clean up TCE and control exposure levels. But they had tax breaks to hand out, and a war of choice to fight--and what's the point of stealing elections if you still have to listen to Clinton people?

Posted by pk at 11:31 AM

March 28, 2006

A preponderance of the evidence

These Iraqi government documents that just got put online are going to be like a giant ink blot in which everyone will see what they want to see.

Intelligence officials had serious concerns about turning loose an army of amateurs on a warehouse full of raw documents that include hearsay, disinformation, and forgery.

But here they are, released under pressure from Republican congressmen, with intelligence officials conveniently instructed by John Negroponte not to debate or discuss them.

It's mostly the right that's excited. "Finally!" they'll declare as they find bloody shirt after smoking gun. As though an administration that specializes in selective classifying and strategic declassifying would have concealed, in the interests of our nation's or any other's security, anything that proved that Saddam and bin Laden shared long walks, midnight swims, and exciting plans to demonstrate their mutual loathing of the United States with a holy rain of nuclear hellfire delivered in aluminum tubes manufactured specifically for the purpose.

Representative Peter Hoekstra, the Michigan Republican who is chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and who led the campaign to get the documents released, ...said he wanted to "unleash the power of the Net" to do translation and analysis that might take the government decades.

After all, he's got an election in seven months!

People who want to prove the truth have to tell the truth; if there's no truth to tell, they say nothing, or, "We don't know." People who want to defend a lie have the good fortune of being able to declare that they know--but all they really have to do is spread doubt (and more lies). And these documents are chock full of doubt--in Arabic, even! It's a gold mine of doubt, an impenetrable thicket of confustication. It'll be complicated, there'll be a lot of we-say/they-say. The truth is confusion, uncertainty, a lack of evidence. But plenty of people will eagerly plunge in and emerge with reams of revelation.

It's good, albeit no coincidence, that we receive this treasure trove now that polls place support for Bush and his war down near the bottom third of public opinion. Maybe the coming declarations will fall on ears as deaf as those that received the news this week of the memo confirming that President Bush's inflexible intention was to go to war on Iraq, regardless of circumstance or opposition, and he was willing to lie and fabricate to buffalo his citizens and allies.

At their meeting, Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair candidly expressed their doubts that chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons would be found in Iraq in the coming weeks, the memo said. The president spoke as if an invasion was unavoidable. The two leaders discussed a timetable for the war, details of the military campaign and plans for the aftermath of the war.

Without much elaboration, the memo also says the president raised three possible ways of provoking a confrontation.

"The U.S. was thinking of flying U2 reconnaissance aircraft with fighter cover over Iraq, painted in U.N. colours," the memo says, attributing the idea to Mr. Bush. "If Saddam fired on them, he would be in breach."

It also described the president as saying, "The U.S. might be able to bring out a defector who could give a public presentation about Saddam's W.M.D," referring to weapons of mass destruction.

A brief clause in the memo refers to a third possibility, mentioned by Mr. Bush, a proposal to assassinate Saddam Hussein. The memo does not indicate how Mr. Blair responded to the idea.

Which leaves lots of room for fun speculation, huh?

"I'm sorry, I just threw up a little in my mouth."

"Ha! Brilliant! I'd love to see Chirac's face when he hears about that!"

"Of course you've got a plan for what you'd do next, right?"

See, it wouldn't have mattered what Saddam had or who Saddam knew. Saddam was bad, and God gave George W. Bush that tin star to take him out. Of course Saddam and bin Laden had direct and indirect contact over the years. Like Frank Sinatra said, you hang out in saloons, you meet a certain kind of people. Saddam was a secular dictator who hated religion and religious extremists, and they hated him. He would've wanted to keep tabs on bin Laden and al Qaeda, but he probably wouldn't have wanted to arm them--and even if he did, he didn't have any weapons.

Anyway, all of this is just a massive diversion, a thing we can argue about when the real issue is the lack of the thing. The fact is that we don't know what Bush or his advisors' reason for going to war was. I've got my theory; you've got yours; even in the White House I'll bet you get a different one with each person you talk to. Call it lies, call it obfuscation, call it policy noise; the fact is, there was never an honest public discussion of the decision or its ramifications. There was just this blithe forward momentum that seduced everyone, and now here we are.

The administration is culpable for its part, but the country was only too happy to unthinkingly trust matters to President Bush's questionable vision and competence. That middle third of the public--and the media, and the Congress--that wanted this war and now has lost its nerve must bear its share of the blame. The incompetence, lack of preparation, and sometimes immoral conduct have stunned even those who were skeptical from the beginning, but much of the present reality was predictable, and predicted.

Bush's base out here is looking less like zealous patriots and more like a cult of personality. What are the core philosophies in which their support for Bush is rooted? What are the policy successes with which he has earned their devotion? What conditions--economic, military, environmental--has he produced that they are pleased with? Do they really believe he's "winning the war on terror"? Do they even know what that means anymore?

Or are they just so devoted to winning their rhetorical war on the contemptible left that there isn't a lie their side can tell that they won't defend without a scrap of conscience, even if it's to the detriment of the country?

Posted by pk at 10:10 AM

March 27, 2006

Rookie of the year

I suppose this just makes me one more liberal who's forgotten how to behave at funerals, but if you want a look at what Ben Domenech's defenders see in the mirror, read the comment section that follows "Contrition," his final word last week. It's all there--Bible verses, martial rhetoric, manly claps on the back, pity, self-pity, pity parties.... It's like a prayer breakfast with Charlton Heston, Curtis LeMay, and Sam the Eagle--each of them certain that this brave, decent boy, having manfully shouldered the burden of his guilt, will once again sit tall in the saddle and ride to the sound of the guns.

I don't read RedState, and I probably won't start. Perhaps as "Augustine," Ben Domenech is strapping the might of his intellect to the brilliance of his language and developing a unique and powerful voice that will dominate American letters for generations to come. But he hasn't done it yet. He and his allies claim he's being pilloried for youthful indiscretions, but that's the thing: He's a 24-year-old whose track record is mostly youthful indiscretions. Why is he writing for the Washington Post? Why is he editing bestselling authors at Regnery Publishing? He's not a victim, he's an arrogant boy who's been making it the lazy way--taking his loose ethics and his father's name up the conservatives' well-greased escalator.

Plagiarism is stealing and lying. It is to newspapers what gambling is to baseball. Ben Domenech may have done most of his when he was a "teenager," but that just wasn't that long ago, and even though his last apology was refreshingly earnest and free of caveat, he was clearly still doing a lot of lying last week. I'm not surprised RedState's pious conservatives don't mention that, but I am surprised so few of them seem bothered by it. Instead they bemoan his martyrdom at the hands of a left-wing lynch mob, when it ought to go without saying that, as a few of them commendably point out, if he'd had nothing to hide, they'd've had nothing to find.

I know only the broad outlines, but it looks like Ben's a classic product of the conservative establishment whose way has been paved since his birth. He may mouth stern and noble principles, but right now he just looks like a privileged cheat with a smart mouth whose dad works for the president. It'd be low to cast aspersions on the fact that he was homeschooled (on the other hand, I'd hate to let anyone down), but perhaps that cloistered world's implicit condemnation of the rest of us is what gave him the idea that cheating is the way we go about things. And, OK, I used to copy P.J. O'Rourke copying Hunter Thompson myself--their style, not their words, but it was still pretty lame. I've been lazy and arrogant, too--and, as a result, when I was 24, I was a file clerk.

In my case, the system was working, but let's not pretend, as conservatives compulsively preach, that the market sorts out the geniuses and the jackasses in a manner that is consistently infallible and just. Up to now, Ben Domenech has demonstrated that cheating can't hurt as long as you have connections, which makes it hard to stomach the buck-up speeches from the RedState faithful. "I am sure that you have a great future ahead"..."You can and will recover and be stronger for it"..."I know you will put this behind you and move on." It's sort of cute the way these bootstrap counter-elitists act like they don't know his resume's larded in advance with think-tank fellowships and shouting-head appearances, and all he's got to do is show up sober. Of course he'll land on his feet! From Oliver North to John Poindexter to Donald Rumsfeld, conservatives who screw up don't get shit-canned, they get the Medal of Freedom! (Unless they're gay. Anyone seen Jeff Guckert/Gannon lately?) Ben Domenech will be on Fox News within 18 months--maybe tag-teaming topics with James Frey. They can call it "Our Truth."

I didn't have a vehement knee-jerk reaction when the Washington Post hired a conservative blogger. A lot of lefty bloggers tried to finesse this, but Dan Froomkin's a stone liberal and that's why I like reading his column. I don't know why the Post owes it to anyone to balance against him, but I also don't know why anyone has a right to say they shouldn't. But let the knuckle-biters of the right spare us their rent garments and cries of left-wing skullduggery. Domenech was a hack who didn't belong in professional journalism, and they know it.

It's not so much that what Domenech has done is so bad, but that he hasn't done enough that's any good. It's no surprise he's got a "job" at Regnery, but I do wonder who had whose ear at the Post. His friends may think he's a heckuva nice guy, and he's certainly got plenty of time to build a career on his own merits. For now, though, he's one more example of the values the conservative system instills, and how far cronyism will take one of their own, however modest his resume, however sloppy his work.

Posted by pk at 7:23 AM

March 24, 2006

Out like a lamb

Sometimes it's not the size of the blog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the blog.

Posted by pk at 6:39 PM

March 1, 2006

March madness

Wouldn't it be swell if we could just share things like hit TV shows and baseball and the 4th of July, like the old days, without wondering which side of the Ideology Gap we're all on?

Saddle up, cowpokes--it's a rootin', tootin', Texas-style NEWS ROUND-UP!

WaPo "White House Briefing," 3/1/06:

Terence Hunt of the Associated Press: "I'd like to ask you, Mr. President, there was a time when you talked about getting Osama bin Laden dead or alive. Why is he still on the loose five years later? And are you still confident that you'll get him?"

Bush: "I am confident he will be brought to justice. What's happening is, is that we got U.S. forces on the hunt for not only bin Laden, but anybody who plots and plans with bin Laden....

"We're making progress of dismantling al Qaeda. Slowly but surely, we're bringing the people to justice, and the world is better for it, as a result of our steady progress."

I like that prosaic touch Bush gives when he's talking about bin Laden and al Qaeda. "Anybody who plots and plans... there's an enemy who lurks...." You can practically see the turbans, cutlasses, and eye-liner.

Washington Post, 3/1/06:

The director of the Defense Intelligence Agency told Congress yesterday that the insurgency in Afghanistan is growing and will increase this spring, presenting a greater threat to the central government's expansion of authority "than at any point since late 2001."

"Despite significant progress on the political front, the Taliban-dominated insurgency remains a capable and resilient threat," Lt. Gen. Michael D. Maples said in a statement presented to the Senate Armed Services Committee at its annual hearing on national security threats.

A "capable and resilient" insurgency. In the place that was supposed to be all wrapped up. More on capable and resilient insurgencies in a sec....

WaPo "White House Briefing," 3/1/06:

ABC News anchor Elizabeth Vargas got about an hour with Bush yesterday. [...] Vargas tried good and hard to get Bush to address the role of U.S. troops in Iraq as more and more of the violence in the country becomes sectarian, rather than terrorist.

Vargas: "What is the policy if, in fact, a civil war should break out or the sectarian violence continues? Are you willing to sacrifice American lives to get the Sunnis and the Shiites to stop killing each other?"

Bush: "I don't buy your premise that there's going to be a civil war. There's no question that the bomber of the mosque is trying to create sectarian violence, and there's no question there was reaction to it...."

It's funny how some of us have to buy each other's premises, and some of us don't.

Bush: "The presence of the U.S. troops is there to protect as many Iraqis as we possibly can from thugs and violence, but it's also to help the Iraqis protect themselves, and we're making progress in terms of standing up to these Iraqi troops so they can deal with, deal with these incidents of violence."

You can almost hear him say that last part, can't you? "IN-cidentss of VI-olenss..." He didn't say it here, but the implication has been that the insurgents--the "thugs"--were not Iraqis but foreign-derived al Qaeda provocateurs bent on making Iraq the "central front in the war on terror" that it wasn't before. Even though Bush said it was. But now it seems American intelligence has known for some time that this isn't so much the case. It'll be fun to go through the record and see how many times since he received this report Bush (or Cheney) has falsely gone back to the old claim.

Knight-Ridder, 2/28/06:

U.S. intelligence agencies repeatedly warned the White House beginning more than two years ago that the insurgency in Iraq had deep local roots, was likely to worsen and could lead to civil war, according to former senior intelligence officials who helped craft the reports.

Among the warnings, Knight Ridder has learned, was a major study, called a National Intelligence Estimate, completed in October 2003 that concluded that the insurgency was fueled by local conditions--not foreign terrorists--and drew strength from deep grievances, including the presence of U.S. troops.

So it's really worse than just bad guys from outside, and it's bad for the reasons a lot of people were saying it would be bad way before we ever went to war.

Turning to security where it really matters to most of us--the homeland--we've all been thinking about New Orleans a lot this week, it being Mardi Gras time.

WaPo "White House Briefing," 3/1/06:

Vargas: "When you look back on those days immediately following when Katrina struck, what moment do you think was the moment that you realized that the government was failing, especially the people of New Orleans?

Bush: "When I saw TV reporters interviewing people who were screaming for help. It looked--the scenes looked chaotic and desperate. And I realized that our government was--could have done a better job of comforting people. A lot went right, by the way. But the chaotic scenes were very troubling. It just--it was very unsettling for me to realize our fellow citizens were in near-panic wondering where the help was."

It did. It looked chaotic and desperate. It was very troubling. I've got a record of my own moments of realization that week. What moment was the moment Bush realized it was troubling?

In "How Bush Blew It," his Newsweek story last September, Evan Thomas wrote: "The reality, say several aides who did not wish to be quoted because it might displease the president, did not really sink in until Thursday night. Some White House staffers were watching the evening news and thought the president needed to see the horrific reports coming out of New Orleans. Counselor Bartlett made up a DVD of the newscasts so Bush could see them in their entirety as he flew down to the Gulf Coast the next morning on Air Force One."

So that would be Friday morning, Sept. 2, that Bush saw people screaming for help.

Katrina made landfall on Monday, Aug. 29.

Former FEMA head Michael Brown told NBC's Brian Williams that he told Bush on Tuesday that 90 percent of the population of New Orleans had been displaced. Bush finally cut short his Texas vacation on Wednesday, in time to give a listless speech at the White House. Thursday morning, he memorably told ABC's Diane Sawyer: "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees."

Good times.

A friend of mine who generally supports Bush asked me why I thought Bush is so hated. I really haven't had the will to map it all out, because it's hard to cite evidence for opposing Bush without you or your sources being thought to have merely drunk the anti-Bush Kool-Aid. "Well, of course you/he/she/they'd say that: You all hate Bush." The idea of there being objective opposition to the Bush administration is only now becoming acceptable or even believable.

Chris Matthews still can't believe it:

"The number that really surprised me--29 percent on personal approval. People don't like the president--even more than they don't like his policies--which is a staggering blow because we all know that he's had two things going for him since he's been president: The war on terror, where he's had good numbers, and now they're negative; and likeability. They're both going down."

And on the controversy surrounding the Bush administration's plan to turn over port operations to an Arab company:

Matt Lauer: "It has political hot potato written all over it. Of course the real question is, how did President Bush--how did Karl Rove--how did they get blindsided by this? How did they miss it?"

Matthews: "This blindsidedness has become endemic. When we saw the Katrina horror, it was because the president wasn't even watching television. This is a technical problem. His staff is not keeping him alert 24/7. With the Harriet Miers nomination he was off base with that. Now he is off base with the ports issue....

"Why isn't Karl Rove telling the president, 'Mr. President, we've got a head's-up situation on this, we've got to get this on fast?' Nobody is waking up the president to these issues day to day. And it's becoming endemic. It's becoming a habitual problem of incompetence.

And that's without even mentioning that the vice president shot an old man in the face last month.

"I'm telling you, the people that really liked the president a few months ago, and really trusted him a few months ago on terrorism, must be wondering why his second term is so second rate?"

Nobody who's been paying attention for the last five years is wondering. And even though I've used the word "loathe" to describe how I feel about Bush since early in the 2000 campaign, I don't hate the guy. If I came across him in a men's room, I wouldn't trip him or flip him off or do that back-of-the-knees thing and make him pee on himself. Heck, if he still drank, I'd probably like him, too!

But he's been a really, really bad president. Really bad. And I've been angry about it for a long time. And a lot more people are finally getting angry about it, and hopefully they'll realize that not all of us who've been angry for awhile are anarcho-hippie mushheads who just hate Bush because hatin's so much fun, and that we care about freedom and security and democracy, too--probably even more than Bush does.

Wouldn't it be swell if we could just share things like hit TV shows and baseball and the 4th of July, like the old days, without wondering which side of the Ideology Gap we're all on? Because we're not really all that different, except in our feelings for this asshole (oops!) who's been president these last five years. We'll still have the mess he made, but at least maybe we could feel good about being Americans again, and maybe the rest of the world would like us better, too.

Ongoing thanks for tips, warnings, signs, portents, omens. At this point, it's hard to imagine the world without blogs. And The Assassin's Gate: America in Iraq, by George Packer, is really a must-read for anyone looking to understand why and how we got here. Shocking, compelling, depressing, flabbergasting.

Posted by pk at 1:59 PM