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Friday, April 29, 2005

Better living despite chemicals?

The Boston Globe headline from yesterday is accurate: "Chemical plants are vulnerable, specialists warn; Former Bush adviser urges law calling for improved security."
Richard Falkenrath, who was Bush's deputy homeland security adviser until May 2004, decried the fact that nearly four years after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Congress has yet to pass a law giving the Homeland Security Department the authority to enforce security standards at chemical plants.

''When you look at all of the different targets for a potential attack in the United States and ask yourself which ones present the greatest possibility of mass casualties and are the least well-secured at the present time, one target set flies off the page, and that's chemicals," Falkenrath said. ''This is an absolutely inescapable conclusion. It is one that was very apparent to me in my official capacity, and it remains apparent to me now as a private citizen."
Tens of millions of Americans live near these plants.
The Environmental Protection Agency says 15,000 facilities use enough toxic chemicals to pose a threat to surrounding communities, including 123 where the rupture of a single tank could endanger the lives of at least a million people.
Essentially, the Bush administration has not said anything about this problem since October 2002 when Tom Ridge and Christie Todd Whitman said that voluntary security measures at chemical plants did not provide sufficient security.

Predictably, industry fears government regulation and Republican members of Congress are reluctant to act because of these business concerns.

Terror expert Richard Clarke has been worried about such attacks as well. And I previously blogged about Matthew Brzezinski's devastating critique of US homeland security efforts on this and other problems last fall.

Clarke might ask: What will industry and Congress say after a chemical 9/11?

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

President George W. Bush is on TV tonight, holding a press conference, talking at every opportunity about how Social Security must be saved.

He just used some statistics that he uses repeatedly on his roadshow. The latest transcript won't be available until at least the end of the show, but this is from a radio stop in Iowa on March 30:
Congress has got the will necessary to fix this problem, because if we don't, the system starts going into the red, negative, in 2017.

Do you realize, in 2027, the cost just to make good on the promises is going to be over $200 billion a year? It gets worse every year from 2017 to 2041. And so there's a huge hole that can only be filled by dramatic benefit reductions and/or payroll increases. It's estimated that in order to fix the problem if we wait, it will -- payroll taxes will have to get up to 18 percent.
Read those numbers carefully.

The President is talking about red ink starting in 2017.

The gap between revenues and payouts exceeds $200 billion in 2027.

In 2001, Bush inherited a $128 billion government budget surplus. In less than five years, thanks to tax cuts tilted overwhelmingly to the wealthy and to new defense and other spending his administration backed, the 2004 deficit exceeded $400 billion.

How can the guy be worried about $200 billion deficits 22 years from now when his own policies have caused more than twice that amount of annual debt? NOW.

He has no shame.

By his logic, the current defense budget is in jeopardy.

Oh, and those future payroll taxes to head off bankruptcy in 2041?

Why? It's complete BS. Government could raise the threshold for taxes and only the wealthiest Americans would pay any Social Security spending gaps. Average Joes wouldn't have to pay more.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Losing the war on terror?

Last summer, the Bush administration had to acknowledge that data included in the State Department's annual report "2003 Patterns of Global Terrorism" was wrong. Though claiming in April 2004 that terror attacks were decreasing in 2003, terror attacks were actually at their highest level in twenty years. The Department issued a correction in June.

Recently, Paul Kerr of Arms Control Wonk noted that the State Department's 2004 release, due on April 30, will now exclude statistical analysis of terror attacks. It will focus on various countries, which is apparently the congressional mandate for the report.

The Department claims that the job of counting attacks belongs now to someone else, the National Counterterrorism Center.

California Representative Henry Waxman (D) thinks something else is behind this shift. Terror attacks tripled during the fourth year of the Bush administration. From the BBC story:
Mr Waxman accused the state department of concealing an increase in terror attacks.

He said congressional briefings by federal officials pointed to a dramatic rise in the number of "significant" terrorist attacks - those that result in loss of life, serious injury or major damage.

There were about 650 such attacks last year, the congressman said - up from 175 in 2003, a record number at the time.
Waxman says the State Department and the Bush administration are playing politics. Since they can no longer tout their anti-terror record, why say anything at all?
"The large increases in terrorist attacks reported in 2004 may undermine administration claims of success in the war on terror, but political inconvenience has never been a legitimate basis for withholding facts from the American people," the letter added.
Last year, by the way, Secretary of State Colin Powell blamed the undercounting on clerical mistakes.

All this misdirection emanates from the people who so like to talk about accountability.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Hagel on multlateralism

Yesterday, I shook hands with Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel (R), who was speaking to a small group of Kennedy School students and Fellows in advance of a public speech.

Usually, those in attendance at these small events are warned that the comments are "off the record." However, no one issued such a statement yesterday. Nonetheless, just about everything Hagel said -- and he does speak frankly for a politician -- can be found in his public statements.

For instance, Hagel made clear that he is not fond of the Bush administration's "coalitions of the willing." As early as March 2003, the LA Times reported:
Hagel, a conservative, has become increasingly vocal in his criticism of the Bush policy; the current international coalition supporting the war, he charges, "is not a coalition of the willing; it's a coalition of the bought."
In fact, after Hagel gave the strong impression that he is a genuine multilateralist, I asked him about shared decision-making and legitimacy, two of my central concerns about American unilateralism. He used that as an opportunity to criticize the current approach, but didn't take the bait I offered. However, in a January 2003 speech at Notre Dame University, Hagel did talk about these concerns in an admirable fashion:
The threats to both our country and the world will require strengthened alliances to manage the diplomatic, economic, law enforcement, intelligence and humanitarian aspects of these new global challenges. Military power alone will not be enough.

Working through the United Nations and regional alliances allows America to reinforce, not weaken, its power, principles and purpose....America gains by working with and empowering our allies to share leadership and initiative.

There is a disturbing and widening gap between America and the world regarding the perception of the intent of American power. America must not forget the role that coalitions play in bringing international support and legitimacy to our policies, especially to the use of force.
Maybe I should make Hagel my favorite Republican, supplanting John McCain?

Hagel has also introduced bills in the Senate which attempt to address the problem of global warming. As he made clear yesterday, he's a fan of providing incentives to business to promote technological solutions, and opposed to regulatory approaches, but he's obviously willing to push the issue of climate change. That's good news, ultimately.

As I said, Hagel spoke pretty frankly for a politician. Michael Crowley in The New Republic once called him a "McCain-in-training." This is interesting, because he is sometimes viewed as a presidential candidate for 2008. He's been called a "sane foreign policy voice" by centrists who don't like the current administration's choices.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Iraqi security situation

I recently noted that American casualties in Iraq are down from the immediate pre-election period, but are about the same as they were from May 2003 through July 2004.

Unfortunately, the latest evidence suggests that violence in Iraq is escalating once again. The details were in today's Washington Post:
Violence is escalating sharply in Iraq after a period of relative calm that followed the January elections. Bombings, ambushes and kidnappings targeting Iraqis and foreigners, both troops and civilians, have surged this month...Hundreds of Iraqis and foreigners have either been killed or wounded in the last week.

"Definitely, violence is getting worse," said a U.S. official in Baghdad, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "My strong sense is that a lot of the political momentum that was generated out of the successful election, which was sort of like a punch in the gut to the insurgents, has worn off." The political stalemate "has given the insurgents new hope," the official added...
The details are not good:
The U.S. official said this week that overall attacks had increased since the end of March. Roadside bombings and attacks on military targets are up by as much as 40 percent in parts of the country over the same period, according to estimates from private security outfits....

In city after city and town after town, security forces who had signed up to secure Iraq and replace U.S. forces appear to have abandoned posts or taken refuge inside them for fear of attacks.
The story ends with these words from an Iraqi resident of Baghdad, Waleed Sharhan, "There is no hope that this country will be better."

In September 1967, lots of people -- including the Johnson White House -- were encouraged by a high turnout election in South Vietnam that was going to bring legitimacy, constitutional order, and reduced violence to that country. Just over four months later the North launched the Tet offensive. That marked a turning point in the war, optimistic reports from Washington were no longer believed and support for the war eroded significantly. From that point forward, debate centered very much on how to withdraw most securely.

The Iraqi elections were just about four months ago.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

The latest form of preemption

Jim VandeHei's story in yesterday's Washington Post is troubling. This is what he reported about the President's road trips -- often in support of Social Security "reform":
Bush travels to events with a protective guard of Secret Service agents, but the White House relies on paid advance staff members, who organize and oversee travel, GOP volunteers and local authorities to police crowds. They monitor people as they enter, scan the crowd while Bush is speaking and remove anyone seeking to disrupt the event. Usually, they wait until the person starts protesting, but [White House spokesman Scott] McClellan said staff members can remove people if they think they are present only to disrupt.
Gee, how do they know a disruption is, well...imminent?

In Denver, three people kicked out of a Bush event because they had a "No More Blood for Oil" bumper sticker on their car claim that they did not intend to cause a disruption.

As a side issue, the volunteer who asked them to leave apparently led them to believe that he was with the Secret Service, though he was not. To me, the key issue remains the preemption of political speech:
McClellan said the volunteer had a reason to believe they were planning to protest and rightly removed them. "My understanding is the volunteer was concerned these individuals were going to disrupt the event, so he asked them to leave," McClellan said.
Rightly?

He rightly removed them because they were planning to protest?

Here's what Bill Clinton did when his events were "disrupted" in 1996:
Showing a front-runner's cockiness as Election Day nears, President Clinton brushed off noisy hecklers from Bob Dole's camp yesterday by declaring, "I'll bet you they won't be doing that a week from now."
Unfortunately, we still have 3 years, 38 and a half weeks to go with Bush.

Go ahead, heckle the TV when he's on. So far as I know, you are unlikely to be asked to leave your living room.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Time to stick a fork in Bolton?

Now that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee vote on John Bolton has been delayed until May 12, much more information is seeping into the press.

The committee has 10 Republicans and 8 Democrats, who have unanimously said they do not support the nomination. If one Republican votes "no," then the nomination will not be reported out of committee automatically. If the vote is 9-9, or worse, it would be unusual to forward the nomination to the full Senate for a vote. It could happen, for example, if the committee decided to forward Bolton's name with "no recommendation," as the Senate did with Bush's choice for Ag Secretary in August 2002.

There are reports that former Secretary of State Colin Powell warned some Republican Senators on the Foreign Relations Committee about Bolton. Powell did not sign the letter in support of Bolton's nomination that other former Republican Secretaries of State wrote to the Committee (Baker, Kissinger).

Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, a Republican, has said she's glad the vote was delayed. That makes four: Chuck Hagel (Neb.), George Voinovich (Ohio), and Lincoln Chaffee (RI) already expressed this view. As Reuters reports:
Asked if Bolton had Murkowski's support, spokeswoman Kristin Pugh said, "I can't speculate on how she would vote."
Will all 4 of those Republicans vote to support Bolton after expressing doubts?

The LA Times has reported that the former US Ambassador to South Korea, Thomas Hubbard, claims that Bolton misled the Committee about his reaction to a Bolton speech about North Korea in 2003. Bolton claims Hubbard approved of his attacks on North Korea's regime and thanked him for the help; Hubbard says he asked Bolton to tone down the rhetoric -- and that he, in fact, did not agree with them. Hubbard says he thought the remarks were counterproductive, not helpful!

In reaction to the speech in question, North Korea called Bolton "human scum."

Hmmmmm.

Definition: "a person or an element of society, that is regarded as despicable or worthless."

You make the call.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Bolton and Cuba

Part of the hullabaloo about John Bolton is his longstanding interest in alleged Cuban WMD. Bolton has been unkind, apparently, to underlinings who disagree with him. From the Washington Post story of April 18:
Thomas Fingar, who runs the State Department's intelligence bureau, which is the official liaison between the department and the rest of the intelligence community, told the Senate committee on April 8 that [Bolton's chief of staff, Frederick] Fleitz had asked that a clearance request for controversial intelligence on Cuba be made through WINPAC [CIA's Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation and Arms Control Center, where Fleitz ordinarily works].

Often those requests go through the National Intelligence Council (NIC), but it became public during last week's hearings that Bolton had clashed with the council officer in charge of Latin America.

Bolton came up against resistance from Fingar's bureau and, later, from the national intelligence officer on Latin America over a speech he gave in May 2002 suggesting that Cuba had a biological weapons program.

The former national intelligence officer told the committee that he received an abusive e-mail from Fleitz after he had raised objections with the Senate staff about the Cuba speech. The former officer and his boss then, Stuart Cohen, who ran the NIC in 2002, said Bolton tried to get the officer removed from his job after the incident.

[Carl] Ford, who ran the State Department's intelligence bureau before Fingar, also said that Bolton had sought the removal of Christian Westermann, the bureau analyst who had also challenged the ambiguous intelligence Bolton wanted to make public about Cuba.

When Westermann shared his dissenting view about the intelligence, he was ordered to Bolton's office and berated, Ford and Westermann said. Ford and Silver said Bolton wanted Westermann removed from his job at the intelligence bureau. Bolton denied that he tried to have anyone fired but said that the national intelligence officer and Westermann had acted inappropriately.
Not good.

A key part of the story, however, is how Bolton made the same mistakes towards Cuban WMD that the entire Bush administration made in regards to Iraqi WMD. The neocons who support Bolton's nomination, by the way, want to overlook all this.

Miles Pomper of the Arms Control Association has a great report:
According to a number of accounts, Bolton’s initial draft read:

“The United States believes that Cuba has a developmental offensive biological weapons program and is providing assistance to other rogue state programs.” It also called for international inspectors to monitor Cuba’s biological facilities.

The speech that Bolton delivered read:

“The United States believes that Cuba has at least a limited offensive biological warfare research and development effort. Cuba has provided dual-use biotechnology to other rogue states. We are concerned that such technology could support BW programs in those states. We call on Cuba to cease all BW-applicable cooperation with rogue states and to fully comply with all of its obligations under the Biological Weapons Convention.”

The remarks that Bolton ultimately delivered closely paralleled those that assistant Secretary of State Carl Ford, then head of the INR bureau, had made before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in March 2002.
Carl Ford, the Republican in the State Department's INR emphasized that there's a pretty big difference between Cuba's "effort" to test some elements of biological weapons and "program" to develop them. The latter would have testing and production facilities, which Cuba apparently lacks.

Still, in 2004, Bolton persisted to push the intelligence:
at a House International Relations Committee hearing in March 2004, Bolton asserted that "Cuba remains a terrorist and BW threat to the United States."

However, the New York Times reported in September 2004 that a new National Intelligence Estimate further scaled down the perceived threat from Cuba. According to the article, the assessment concluded that the intelligence community "continues to believe that Cuba has the technical capability to pursue some aspects of an offensive biological weapons program."
Later, Bolton backed off his earlier claims:
"existing intelligence reporting is problematic, and the Intelligence Community’s ability to determine the scope, nature, and effectiveness of any Cuban BW program has been hampered by reporting from sources of questionable access, reliability, and motivation."
Something similar, by the way, occurred with Bolton's charges about Syria.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Go ahead, clean your plate

The New York Times, today: "Some Extra Heft May Be Helpful, New Study Says."
People who are overweight but not obese have a lower risk of death than those of normal weight, federal researchers are reporting today.

The researchers - statisticians and epidemiologists from the National Cancer Institute and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - also found that increased risk of death from obesity was seen for the most part in the extremely obese, a group constituting only 8 percent of Americans.
The methodology looks fine (and it was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association):
The new study, considered by many independent scientists to be the most rigorous yet on the effects of weight, controlled for factors like smoking, age, race and alcohol consumption in a sophisticated analysis derived from a well-known method that has been used to predict cancer risk...

Some statisticians and epidemiologists said that the study's methods and data were exemplary and that the authors - Dr. Williamson and Dr. Katherine M. Flegal of the disease control centers, and Dr. Barry I. Graubard and Dr. Mitchell H. Gail of the cancer institute - were experienced and highly regarded scientists.
The study didn't consider disease and disability, only death, and some scientists are skeptical about the findings. It may be that the results reflect improvements in medications for high blood pressure and cholesterol.

Oops, it's almost lunch time...

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Projected 2005 National League

My 2004 NL projections weren't that great: I had the Astros in the playoffs, but missed the other three. My Cy Young pick finished third (Roy Oswalt), but the MVP choice finished 20th (Jim Thome).

I did nail the Milwaukee Brewers though.

Ws Ls NL East
90 72 Philadelphia Phillies
88 74 Atlanta Braves (wild card team)
85 77 Florida Marlins
83 79 New York Mets
75 83 Washington Nationals

Ws Ls NL Central
99 63 St. Louis Cardinals
82 80 Chicago Cubs
80 82 Houston Astros
75 87 Milwaukee Brewers
71 91 Cincinnati Reds
70 92 Pittsburgh Pirates

Ws Ls NL West
91 71 Los Angeles Dodgers
86 76 San Diego Padres
83 79 San Francisco Giants
71 91 Arizona Diamondbacks
70 92 Colorado Rockies

NL Champions: St. Louis Cardinals
NL MVP: Albert Pujols (StL)
NL Cy Young winner: Ben Sheets (Mil)
NY Rookie of the year: Clint Barmes (Col)

I think the Cards will beat the Twins in this rematch of the 1987 World Series.

Please, no wagering.

Profile of Eric Christensen

This profile of my old friend Eric Christensen was written by Lukas Velush for the Everett (WA) Herald: "How one man took on Enron; Attorney leads fight from Everett."

I've told Eric's story here before, but it's a good one about a small public utility district (PUD) and a giant corporation:
The PUD's gunslinger is Christensen, 42, a country boy from Nampa, Idaho, who dug up the troves of incriminating evidence against Enron that are now helping states across the West fight the bankrupt energy trader....

The PUD's fight with what once was one of the world's largest corporations began when Enron decided that the PUD would be a good source of cash to pay its bankruptcy creditors, PUD leaders said.

Enron sued the PUD in early 2003, claiming that the utility owed it $117 million plus interest (now more than $122 million) for canceling an electricity contract to power 10,000 homes for eight years. Enron also sued utilities in Nevada and California on similar grounds.

Snohomish County PUD canceled the contract just days before Enron filed for bankruptcy in 2002 to avoid getting tangled up in the proceedings.
By now, everyone has heard the "Grandma Millie" and "smoking gun" references on the famous Enron tapes. In the article, Eric refers to some Enron employees as "amazingly arrogant and unguarded," given that they knew they were being recorded:
"What really comes across from the tapes is the level of arrogance and the complete callousness of the impact of what they were doing was having on our ratepayers," Christensen said. "Ruthless is the right word for it."
Eric's feel for PR may be a bit off (and this has long been a problem):
"We didn't anticipate the general outrage that the public would have," Christensen said. "The David versus Goliath story seems to be pretty irresistible."
But, of course, local political leaders have taken note:
In the trenches, Christensen led the fight to obtain 24,000 hours of taped Enron trader phone conversations. The tapes were obtained after a public information request was filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice. Christensen led the effort to transcribe and read through the conversations.

"Eric has done a magnificent job of demonstrating perseverance in the face of tyrannical fraud," said Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash. "His work has helped thousands of people who don't even know his name yet, but they should. He has just been a bulldog on this."
Eric's boss, PUD General Counsel Mike Gianunzio, says some very nice things:
"Eric is pretty much an unsung, quiet guy who's willing to work very hard. He works in the weeds and digs the dirt out," his boss said. "If we hadn't done this stuff, we basically would have had to pay Enron, and they would have gotten away with that fraud."
One of Eric's PUD colleagues, energy consultant Robert McCullough also provides a glowing job review:
McCullough said Christensen has been a secret assassin in the fight against Enron.

"Frankly, I don't think they [Enron] thought anyone from the PUD would be that good," he said. "They must have thought, 'Those funny people in the Northwest are making noise, but they're stupid and no one will ever listen to them."
It wasn't quite that bad when Kansas University was debating against Harvard or Dartmouth...but let's just say Eric has been through these seemingly lopsided battles before.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Patriots Day

Patriots Day is a Massachusetts holiday celebrating the beginning of the American war for independence. April 19, 1775, William Dawes, Jr. and Paul Revere were sent off to warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock that the British were marching to Lexington.

This morning, we took the kids down to the Old North Church for the 230th anniversary parade and saw a Paul Revere re-enactor ride off toward Lexington with a message from the mayor of Boston.

Later in the day, we visited some of the landmarks on the "Freedom Trail," including the Old South Meeting House.

Throughout its history, Bostonians have used the Meeting House as a place to debate important public issues of the day. I'm for that.

Later, we stood near the finish line of the Boston Marathon and saw some tired participants pick their post-race carbs.

Still later, my oldest daughter drove to Pawtucket and saw the AAA Red Sox lose to Buffalo in extra innings, 5-4.

It was a full day.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Bolton in trouble?

The Washington Post has some more dirt on Bush's nominee to serve as ambassador to the UN. Apparently, Condi Rice is already keeping him out of the loop on Iran policy, so he is basically powerless in Washington right now.

Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel isn't 100% happy with Bolton:
But, yesterday, Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) said the allegations were beginning to pile up.

"If there's nothing more that comes out, I will vote for Bolton," Hagel told CNN's "Late Edition." But Hagel also said that he was "troubled with more and more allegations, revelations, coming about his style, his method of operation," including charges that Bolton had intimidated a member of Hagel's staff who had worked briefly under Bolton at the State Department's Nonproliferation Bureau.
ABC had more from this interview:
"We need a uniter," he told CNN's "Late Edition." "We need a builder. We need someone who will reach out to our friends and our allies at the United Nations."

Hagel deemed the allegations "a disturbing pattern of things that have come out about Bolton's management style, this intimidation. We cannot have that at the United Nations. That should not be anywhere in our government."
The vote is Monday.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Iran's bomb: Years Away

Apparently, the latest US intelligence about the status of Iran's nuclear program was made known in March, by the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency. Anne Gearan's recent AP story (this was taken from The Guardian) has the information, which makes the threat far from imminent:
At the State Department, spokesman Richard Boucher noted that U.S. intelligence agencies, in assessing Iran's nuclear program, have used "an estimate that said that Iran was not likely to acquire a nuclear weapon before the beginning of the next decade. That remains the case."
Of course, this can be spun to sound more threatening. Consider this from the same story:
"Unless constrained by a nuclear nonproliferation agreement, Tehran probably will have the ability to produce nuclear weapons early in the next decade," Vice Adm. Lowell Jacoby told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Israel is peddling an even more pessimistic scenario. CNN April 13:
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon warned Wednesday that Iran is nearing a "point of no return" in developing a nuclear weapon that could be used against his country.

In a CNN interview, Sharon said Iran was years away from possessing a nuclear weapon -- but could be just months away from overcoming "technical problems" in building one.

"The point of no return depends upon the ability of the Iranians to solve some technical issues, and once they solve it, I think that will be the point of no return," he said.
At least for now, Sharon says Israel doesn't intend to strike Iran's nuclear facilities:
As for a unilateral strike, he said, "We don't think that is what we have to do."
Some of the headlines around the world were even more definitive. This one was from the Sydney (Australia) Morning Herald, April 14: "Israel will not attack Iran, Sharon says."

Knock on wood.

This post follows up several others: February 9, February 16, and last October 22.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Enron update

I missed this AP story last month:
Government regulators handed a major victory to Western utilities and cities trying to get out of exorbitant contracts they made with Enron Corp. during the power crisis of 2000-01.

In an order issued Friday evening, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission determined that Enron was engaging in illegal activity at the time it entered in the contracts. It was the first time the commission has acknowledged that the contracts were signed under fraudulent pretenses.
In May, FERC will hold a hearing about whether Enron can collect profits it would have received on those fraudulent contracts. A ruling will come later.

Snohomish County Washington is among the communities trying to prevent Enron from collecting $122 million related to contracts signed before it went bust. My old friend Eric Christensen who is an attorney for the Snohomish Public Utility District (PUD) is again helping to lead the anti-Enron fight:
"This is a very significant order for us," said Eric Christensen, a lawyer for the district. "We've now put in place all the essential legal groundwork to make sure Enron is not able to collect any further unjust profits from us."

FERC has already demanded that Enron give up $32.5 million in unjust profit, but Snohomish's investigators have estimated that the company gouged Western customers for at least $1.1 billion.
Eric was a tenacious researcher in college.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Expert watch

As per usual, I've attended a number of interesting talks and/or meetings with scholars and policymakers this week.

General Charles G. Boyd, President and CEO of BENS (Business Executives for National Security) visited campus Tuesday for an "off-the-record" talk. He told us a bit about BENS projects in New Jersey, Georgia, Kansas, Nebraska and other states.

Boyd (a Kansas University alum, like me) was a member of the Hart-Rudman National Security Commission and has oftened testified to Congress. I asked him about something in his August 18, 2004, testimony to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Specifically, he called for the "professionalization of President's principal intelligence advisor":
THOSE WHO SERVE AT THE PLEASURE OF A PRESIDENT, FOR AN EXPECTED TERM LIMITED TO HIS, WHO COME TO OFFICE PRECISELY BECAUSE OF SHARED POLITICS AND POLITICAL RELIABILITY, COME—I SHOULD THINK—UNDER ENORMOUS PRESSURE OR TEMPTATION TO GIVE THE PRESIDENT WHAT HE WANTS RATHER THAN WHAT HE DOESN’T WANT BUT NEEDS; AND WHEN THAT SERVANT IS RESPONSIBLE FOR SELECTING THE INTELLIGENCE ANALYSIS TO GIVE HIS PRESIDENT, I THINK I’D PREFER A PROFESSIONAL TO A POLITICAL APPOINTEE—WITH AS MUCH INDEPENDENCE AND JOB SECURITY AS POSSIBLE.
Sorry for the caps, that is how it is on the original webpage.

Boyd still holds this position about intelligence reform, though it is not altogether popular in Washington.

Today, Stanford University's Stephen Stedman, Research Director of the UN Secretary-General's High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change talked to some Kennedy School students and fellows in a short off-the-record meeting. Stedman described the scope of the recommendations for UN reform, mentioned the forthcoming interstate negotiations about them, and provided some insight into the HLP's work process. He also handicapped the prospects for success on some of the issues -- as he has elsewhere.
"191 governments have to respond to what we’ve written. They have to!” Stedman says. “The reactions of governments have been incredibly positive, but we’re going to see [this] year whether they’re serious or not.”
In other forums, I notice that he has publicly stated his committment to various peacebuilding initiatives.

The meeting was cut short, so I didn't get a chance to ask him about the potential development of new norms authorizing preventive war. This is what Stedman has said elsewhere:
“What the report essentially says is that when it comes to states defending themselves against an imminent threat, they can legally use force for pre-emptive purposes,” he says. “But when a threat is not imminent, no state has a legal right for the preventive use of force.

“Countless journalists were trying to trap me into saying [that] on the basis of the report, the war in Iraq is illegal,” Stedman says. “But what I kept saying was that the panel did not consider the war in Iraq. This is a forward-looking document.”
Stedman is now a special advisor to Kofi Annan, at the rank of assistant secretary general.

Finally, I also attended Belfer Center Research Fellow Anne Wu's talk about her research on US-China and North Korean nuclear weapons. Some of her thinking was published this month in an op-ed in the Providence Journal:
President Bush could take out "evil" or "tyranny" in talking of North Korea and emphasize the Asian partnership in engaging Pyongyang.

Rice took a move forward by reiterating to Mr. Hu that the six-party talks are the best way to solve the nuclear issue. Washington could also benefit by being committed to the denuclearization talks in a step- by-step and reciprocal manner.
Anne's office is next door to mine.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Oops

Not good news, from the BBC:
The US government has told more than 3,700 laboratories in 18 countries to destroy potentially lethal influenza samples sent out in testing kits.

The samples are of "Asian flu", which killed between one and four million people in 1957 but disappeared by 1968.

If the virus is not handled properly, "it can easily cause an influenza epidemic", Klaus Stohr of the World Health Organization (WHO) warned....

"If this virus were to infect one person, it would spread very rapidly," Dr Stohr, the WHO's influenza expert, told the BBC.
They have also publicized the "full list of countries and areas where laboratories received the virus" between October 2004 and February 2005:
Bermuda, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy, Japan, Lebanon, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and the US.
Saudi Arabia?

Five of the 15 "planning scenarios" developed by the Homeland Security Council deal with biological threats.

One is a flu pandemic.

2005 American League Predictions

I also made predictions last year. How'd it go? 3/4 of the playoff teams correct, and the rookie-of-the-year. The A's collapsed in September.

I'l be doing the NL soon.

Ws Ls AL East
96 66 Boston Red Sox
95 67 New York Yankees (wild card)
79 83 Baltimore Orioles
71 91 Toronto Blue Jays
68 94 Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Ws Ls AL Central
90 72 Minnesota Twins
83 79 Cleveland Indians
78 84 Detroit Tigers
75 87 Chicago White Sox
67 95 Kansas City Royals

Ws Ls AL West
88 74 Oakland Athletics
86 76 LA Angels of Anaheim
80 82 Seattle Mariners
78 84 Texas Rangers

AL Champs: Minnesota Twins
AL MVP: Alex Rodriguez (Yankees)
AL Cy Young: Rich Harden (Athletics)
Al Rookie of the Year: Tadahito Iguchi (White Sox)

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Another one bites the dust

The so-called "coalition of the willing" in Iraq continues to lose membership.

The latest casualty is Poland, which announced its forthcoming withdrawal today. From Reuters:
Poland's government decided on Tuesday to withdraw its troops from Iraq at the end of 2005, making official an earlier proposal, Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski said.

"At the time of the expiry of the Security Council's mandate -- meaning at the end of 2005 -- the operations of the Polish stabilization mission should be finished," Szmajdzinski told a news conference after a cabinet meeting...."We are carrying out an exit strategy from Iraq."
Poland, which has 1700 troops stationed in Iraq, has suffered 17 deaths.

Last month, I think I forgot to note that Italy too is pulling its troops out of Iraq. As reported by the BBC, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi says that the 3000 Italian troops will be home by September.

The Dutch left in mid-March.

I've reported previously about previous similar decisions by the Philippines, Spain, Honduras, and the Ukraine.

All told, 11 states have already pulled out of Iraq and 5 or 6 more have announced their intentions to leave ASAP. As reported by The Times of London, Thailand, Hungary, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, New Zealand and Norway have also taken out all their troops (most number in the low hundreds).

The original coalition had 30 to 35 participating states, though the White House used to list nearly 50 countries, including Afghanistan and some states without real militaries, like Costa Rica, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Palau, and the Solomon Islands.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Roto report

This past weekend, I flew to Chicago for just over 24 hours in order to participate in an annual fantasy baseball draft auction.

Nobody cares about fantasy baseball, save for fantasy players, so I'd encourage most readers to skip this post. If you play the game, feel free to evaluate my team in comments. I'm not 100% happy with it...but I can explain my decisions.

To me, Billy Beane's handling of the Oakland A's epitomizes what I would do with a real major league baseball team -- if a rich owner named me General Manager.

So, naturally, I picked a number of prominent A's players for my team: new C Jason Kendall, 3B Eric Chavez (MVP candidate), young hard thrower P Rich Harden (a Cy Young candidate in the near future), and relief P Juan Cruz. I also retained P Kirk Saarloos, which means that I have 5 A's on my 23 man roster. Four of them are really good players.

Cleveland is a bit of a "Moneyball" team too, and I took DH Travis Hafner and retained from last year C Victor Martinez. another potential league MVP. Oh, I also kept P Bob Howry, on the chance that he might become a bullpen closer again.

Toronto's GM, JP Ricciardi used to work for Billy Beane...so I took one of his pitchers too, Ted Lilly.

I also picked a couple of guys on the reigning World Series Champs. These Red Sox, though, were NLers last season: SS Edgar Renteria and P Matt Clement. I think their prices were a bit low because their talents were mostly unknown in my AL-only league. Derek Jeter, for example, went for more cash in our draft (I finished second in the bidding). But look at these numbers for the two shortstops over the past 3 seasons:

Player Name ABs Rns Hts HR BI BB SB BAvg OBPct SLG

Derek Jeter 590 107 178 17 68 54 22 .302 0.370 0.446
Ed.Renteria 572 086 176 11 85 51 24 .308 0.362 0.439


In fantasy baseball terms, Renteria "wins" three of the four counting categories (we don't use runs). Jeter has a bit more HR power. That's it.

Other players of note on my roster: Twins OF Lew Ford and 2B Mike Cuddyer, along with Rangers OF Kevin Mench and (chair-throwing) relief P Frank Francisco were all retained from last season.

That's 15 players...and most of my draft cash. I took some chances: injured Devil Ray OF Rocco Baldelli , his teammate who missed most of last year, Travis Lee, new Angels 4th or 5th OFer Juan Rivera, young Tiger starting P Wil Ledezma , his OF teammate Nook Logan , and White Sox lefty reliever Damaso Marte.

My team name is Bolts from the Blue.

This virtually forced me to take Nook.

More of desperation than anything else, at the end of the draft, I bought a couple of guys from my favorite team, the lowly KC Royals: former Pirate OF prospect Emil Brown , who hasn't played in the majors since 2001, and injured 3B Chris Truby. Oh, and I selected raw Rule 5 flamethrower Andy Sisco in the last reserve round.

Summary: I have very few saves and not that much speed (I'm not counting on much from backup infielder Nick Punto). I should have plenty of power and I'm relying upon the starting pitching to provide wins and good ERA.

We'll see, eh?

Play ball!

I'll be back to more serious business tomorrow.

Are you a libertarian?

I'm not much of a libertarian, at least according to the "Libertarian Purity Test" by Bryan Caplan. I scored only a 15, for the civil libertarian and anti-militarist parts of the test.

I found the website thanks to David Nieporent of Jumping to Conclusions.

Take the test yourself -- and report the results in comments.

Please remember, this blog welcomes libertarians.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Page A14

Wednesday, 16 people died in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan. Thirteen of them were US soldiers -- and two additional service members are still missing.

In total, 175 American military personnel have died in Afghanistan since war began in October 2001.

The news business is strange. More US troops died Wednesday from the weather-related accident than died during the heavy fighting when the war first began in the last three months of 2001 (12).

Thursday, the Boston Globe covered the accident on page A14.

In Iraq, by the way, US war deaths are nearly 1550 now. Since the Iraqi election, about 1.68 soldiers have died per day. This is a bit more than half the number killed per day in the six months prior to the election (2.93), roughly from the time Iraq regained its sovereignty, and about the same as the number who died (1.89) from the time President Bush declared an end to "major combat operations" through the handover of sovereignty.

By one estimate, more than 17,000 civilians have been killed in Iraq as well.

3000 civilians may have died in Afghanistan.

I'm not sure how to weigh these human costs against "Iraqi freedom" and "Afghan freedom," but it does seem odd that the latest tragedy was made known on page A14.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Darfur news

This week, 2 bits of news about genocide in the Sudan caught my eye.

First, from the top, down: The UN Security Council passed a French-sponsored resolution last week that recommended the International Criminal Court pursue the case. The BBC:
The UN has given a sealed list of 51 people suspected of carrying out atrocities in Sudan's Darfur region to the International Criminal Court.

Last week, the UN Security Council passed a resolution referring the situation in Darfur to the tribunal.
The list apparently includes government officials, as well as army, militia and rebel leaders.

The Sudan refuses to hand over any suspects, and it refers to the Bush administration's refusal to accept ICC jurisdiction to defend its position:
[Sudan's President Omar] al-Bashir swore "thrice in the name of Almighty Allah that I shall never hand any Sudanese national to a foreign court", he is quoted as saying by AFP news agency.
This would be the ICC's first case. It's potentially a big one since 200 to 300,000 people have died.

Second, from the bottom up: In response to student activism, Harvard has divested its investments in a Chinese oil company that does business in Sudan. This news was in the Globe, April 5:
Under mounting pressure from student activists, Harvard University announced yesterday that it will sell an estimated $4.4 million stake in PetroChina, whose parent company is closely tied to the Sudanese government, accused by the United States of waging a genocidal campaign to suppress rebels in Darfur...

"Divestment is not a step that Harvard takes lightly, but I believe there is a compelling case for action in these special circumstances, in light of the terrible situation still unfolding in Darfur and the leading role played by PetroChina's parent company in the Sudanese oil industry, which is so important to the Sudanese regime," said a statement released by Harvard's president, Lawrence H. Summers.
The article points out that Harvard is out in front on this issue, but that the University never fully divested from South Africa during the apartheid era. In 1990, however, Harvard divested from tobacco company stock.

Harvard owned $4.4 million worth of stock in the Chinese company, in its $23 billion endowment. Student groups are a bit worried about other companies that do business in the Sudan. Harvard's press release didn't mention any of them.

Given how worked up some Bush administration officials have been about the possibility that Europe might lift the arms embargo against China, Harvard's decision might not be about Darfur at all.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Europe facts of the day

For my sabbatical, I'm supposed to be working on the longevity of the "western security community." Will America and Europe continue their relatively friendly relations, despite apparently differing views of threats and global responsibilities? Will real or perceived American unilateralism and militarism threaten transatlantic ties?

Mostly, I've been looking at whether European states worry enough about terrorism and "weapons of mass destruction" to support the Bush administration's doctrine of "preemptive" military action, which resembles preventive war. The recent European Security Strategy document certainly takes these threats seriously and I've occasionally blogged about how other states view the so-called Bush Doctrine.

In any case, I've been reading articles about Europe that I might have filed away before the sabbatical began.

Earlier this week, I read an interesting book review of T.R. Reid's The United States of Europe: The New Superpower and the End of American Supremacy by Princeton's Andrew Moravcsik (who was at Harvard until last year).

Moravcsik mentioned a couple of facts worth noting:
European countries provide 70 percent of the world’s foreign aid, which helps explain why the United Nations Security Council tends to vote their way. They also field 10 times more peacekeepers than the United States -- the Pentagon being averse to such tasks -- and have sustained more casualties than the United States, not just in the Balkans but also in Afghanistan.
As Johnny Carson used to say, "I did not know that."

Well, I generally knew about their Balkans work...and their high levels of aid giving.

But casualties in Afghanistan? No.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Republican Professors?

Has everyone read Paul Krugman's latest column in the NY Times?

Krugman begins by referencing some recent social science research:
It's a fact, documented by two recent studies, that registered Republicans and self-proclaimed conservatives make up only a small minority of professors at elite universities. But what should we conclude from that?
I know of Republican professors, of course, including a number of present or former colleagues at Louisville.

I don't know that I've met any at Harvard yet...but I don't meet that many professors.

In any case, what does Krugman say about this?

He thinks few academics are Republican...because Republicans are anti-science. He could have added anti-intellectual as well:
Scientific American may think that evolution is supported by mountains of evidence, but President Bush declares that "the jury is still out." Senator James Inhofe dismisses the vast body of research supporting the scientific consensus on climate change as a "gigantic hoax." And conservative pundits like George Will write approvingly about Michael Crichton's anti-environmentalist fantasies.
Last May, the American Prospect had a troubling article about the scientific views of former Tulsa mayor Inhofe. The author, Chris Mooney, called Inhofe "a kind of scientific Attila the Hun" who challenges overwhelming scientific consensus in behalf of corporate interests:
Last summer he even delivered a 12,000-word Senate floor speech titled "The Science of Climate Change," outlining conclusions he said he'd reached after several years of studying the issue.

The trouble is, Inhofe's views are way out of whack with the scientific mainstream. He argues that natural variability, rather than human influence, is the "overwhelming factor influencing climate." This contradicts both the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), which have emphasized the central role of human activities in explaining recent global warming....

Since 1999, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, Inhofe has received almost $300,000 in campaign donations from oil and gas interests and nearly $180,000 from electric utilities. In the 2002 election cycle, he received more oil and gas contributions than any senator except Texas' John Cornyn.
I suspect this is why dozens of Nobel winners (including many from the hard sciences) favored Kerry over Bush.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Opening Day

To my mind, opening day of the baseball season ought to be a holiday.

As I've noted before, Americans work too much. We don't take and/or receive enough days off. Compared to Germans, for example, people in the US work 7 additional hours per week, every week.

Federal workers will celebrate only 10 public holidays this year, but many of them are not universal.

Who gets off for President's Birthday? Columbus Day? Veteran's Day?

Despite last night's aberration, Opening Day of the baseball season is a Monday. Federal holidays are generally granted on Monday so that workers can enjoy long weekends.

Perfect.

Notice that the Super Bowl is always on a Sunday, so there's no need to create a holiday for that boring event. Do I need to offer 99 reasons why baseball is so much better than football?

I hope everyone can catch a game today.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Bolton letters

Earlier this week, the AP reported that 59 (later reports say 62) former American diplomats signed a letter calling for the rejection of neocon John Bolton as US Ambassador to the UN:
"He is the wrong man for this position," they said in a letter to Sen. Richard Lugar, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which must consider the nomination before it goes to the full Senate for confirmation. Lugar has scheduled hearings for April 7.

"We urge you to reject that nomination," the former diplomats said in a letter obtained by The Associated Press and dated Tuesday.
The stories I've read name a few of the signatories, but I cannot find a list of them all. One known to me is Spurgeon Keeny, who was deputy director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency under the Carter administration.

In response, 65 Bolton supporters have signed a letter urging his nomination. The list of names includes some well-known (if notorious) figures: Former DoD Secretary (and Iran-contra convict, subsequently pardoned) Caspar Weinberger and former CIA Director (and purveyor of dubious Saddam/9-11 link) James Woolsey:
Bolton supporters said his stance "reflects a clear-eyed necessity of the real limits" of accords with other nations that demand one sided terms from the United States.
The Washington Post story has the money quote from the second letter:
It suggested that critics of Bolton's positions on arms control treaties are "misdirected" because his views "are identical" to those of Bush and that "their differences seem to be with a man twice elected by the American people to design and execute security policies, rather than with one of his most effective and articulate officials in advancing those policies."
Apparently, all 8 Dems on the Senate Foreign Relations committee intend to vote against Bolton. The committee includes 10 Senators from the majority Republican party.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Presidential Intell Commission

The 600 page report of the presidentially-appointed Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction is in and the critics don't much care for it.

To begin, CNN explains the findings of the so-called Silberman-Robb Commission:
In a scathing report on the intelligence community, a presidential commission Thursday said the United States still knows "disturbingly little" about the weapons programs and intentions of many of its "most dangerous adversaries."

The panel also determined the intelligence community was "dead wrong" in its assessments of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction capabilities before the U.S. invasion.

"This was a major intelligence failure," said a letter from the commission to President Bush.
Ho hum.

The NY Times op-ed accurately finds the report redundant:
After more than a year's dithering, the panel produced some 600 pages of conventional wisdom about the intelligence failures before the war with Iraq, along with a big dose of political spin that pleased the White House but provided little enlightenment for the public.
Call that an error of commission. Thanks to the US Senate report last July, we already knew that official Washington blames the intelligence agencies for the Iraq fiasco.

As the Times opines, the report makes a serious error of omission:
Sadly, there is nothing about the central issue - how the Bush administration handled the intelligence reports on Iraq's weapons programs and presented them to the public to win support for the invasion of Iraq. All we get is an excuse: the panel was "not authorized" to look at this question, so it didn't bother. The report says the panel "interviewed a host of current and former policy makers" about the intelligence on Iraq, but did not "review how policy makers subsequently used that information."
Too political?

How's this: The National Intelligence Estimate was produced in October 2002, but Dick Cheney gave his VFW speech in August, Condi Rice warned of a smoking mushroom cloud in September, and the President himself repeated all these warnings -- and more -- in various speeches before the NIE was produced. Prior NIE's did not find that Iraq's WMD programs had been reconstituted.

It's really as simple as that.

I previously blogged about this conclusion: "The Chicken, or the Egg?"

Friday, April 01, 2005

Grawemeyer Award followup

Yesterday, the 2005 winners of the $200,000 Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order were on a local public radio program, "State of Affairs."

If you want to hear the thoughts of Roberta Cohen and Francis Deng about "internally displaced peoples," please click this link.