Sounding Board 



An occasional forum on politics, DC, and maybe the environment.


Monday, March 08, 2004

RelaunchI'd like to try something a little different here. After a year or so of keeping up with blogs I've come to the conclusion that I don't really have the time or inclination to do what is expected of a public blog. People like Kos and Atrios set the standard in this field and I can never really foresee myself having enough time and energy to keep up. It's clear to me that a good blog is like a running commentary; one that maintains its connection with the readership thorough frequent posts on the issue of the day. If there isn't new content at least every day (and more frequently than that is preferred) the connection atrophies and people stop paying attention.

Atrios keeps up the pace by writing short pieces on current news stories that maybe aspire to provide a little context (from his perspective, of course) but generally just to highlight news he finds interesting. His commentary is incisive and smart, but sparse. The amazing thing is that he seems to read everything and thus, it's hard to imagine he has a job (much less kids). Checking in with his site is a great way to keep up on what's going on and can be a real eye-opener for those who are not entirely up to speed on the failings of traditional media coverage. I am much more attuned to distorted coverage as a result of reading his site. That said, it's not something I can really do for a number of reasons. Besides, what can I really add?

Kos writes longer pieces and is less referential to current events but he also provides a great deal of information (like polling) that is difficult to find otherwise. He produces an amazing amount of original content (with some help from other contributors). Obviously, it is his nearly full-time vocation and he has managed to parlay his work into a business enterprise. It's a great blog and well worth reading, but I can't possibly do anything like it.

The short of it is the objective of blogging, as I've seen it, is to build up a readership until you become a voice that people feel is indispensable until finally you ... well, I don't really know. Kos will make money as a consultant and I'm willing to bet Atrios ends up some kind of columnist. Neither is my path.

What I'd really like to do is have a few running conversations, with people whose opinions I respect, about issues that interest me. I might gain some new insight and improve my thinking a little. The fact is, I think we all think a little clearer when we are forced to write our arguments with a belief we have to defend them. One side benefit is I may improve my writing a bit as well. A primary benefit to my friends is I will get some of this stuff off of my chest and will feel less compelled to corner you at the next gathering to foist my latest theories upon you. The massive benefit to my wife is that she will no longer be the sole outlet for most of my missives. So, she thanks you for your participation.

What I'd like to do is present my nearly-completed thoughts on subjects and invite your criticism and debate. Use the comments if not too long, or email me if you need more space and I'll publish it. It will be intermittent and not always timely but I will try to make it substantive. I'd love for it to become a dialogue.








Thursday, April 10, 2003


Dean for Prez

Or at least to get deep into the primary.

It may strike some people as kinda early to be thinking much about the 2004 elections. This is an understandable position considering they are roughly 20 months away. But before you dismiss this post out of hand chew on a couple points.

First, this is time when politics feature prominently in world events. Whatever your feelings on the war in Iraq it is undeniable politics played a primary role in getting us to this point. I can't imagine anyone thinks we would be currently fighting in Iraq if Gore were president. Even if one thinks it is a good idea to invade Iraq, you would have to admit there is nothing in the events of September 11th or its aftermath that would lead you to Iraq, unless you already had a predisposition to go there. The President and his advisors had such a predisposition, only one of the Democratic candidates (Lieberman) could even arguably be said to share this view. While we are in the thick of the implementation of Bush's worldview, which I certainly think is disastrous, it is a good time to think and talk about the alternative worldview we would like to see in the opposition.

Second, the first votes of the primary are a little over eight months away but the competition to be a "serious" contender in that primary is already well underway. Being regarded as viable by political prognosticators and mainstream media is the only way to be able to be heard on the issues and thus define the parameters of the debate. Those that are considered "fringe" candidates simply have no say. So if you want to hear particular issues discussed, now is the time to find a candidate who wants to talk about them and help them out.

Why I'm for Dean

It's hard to tell which issues will be important in the campaigns and how the candidates will choose to distance themselves from each other. Lately Iraq has been featured prominently but it is likely there will be several other issues in the coming year. Here are my feelings on a few things I think are important at the moment.

War in Iraq

Actually, I believe all of the candidates (with the notable exception of Sen. Lieberman) share some significant trepidation with the justifications proffered for this war and the way in which the costs, in dollars and lives, have been glossed over. Though Kerry and Edwards seem to agree that it is foolish to amplify those costs by going it alone in Iraq, they want to have it both ways by voting for the resolution authorizing war without any restrictions. This bothers me in two ways. First, as a simple matter integrity I don't see how one can sign a blank check and then later complain that the recipient filled in an amount that was more than you expected. Dean has been unambiguously opposed to the war. Calling it "the wrong war at the wrong time," he has given consistently strong and commonsensical responses to the Administrations' always changing storyline.

Though he has repeatedly stated Iraq is a lower priority than domestic security, Al Queda, and nuclear powers such as North Korea, he doesn't advocate ignoring Iraq:

"The Bush Administration is right to seek the disarmament of Iraq in accordance with Resolutions of the UN Security Council. Saddam Hussein is a serial liar, bully and repeat offender in using chemical weapons. We should work with allies and the UN to ensure that he never again threatens his neighbors or the world. However, in opposing Saddam Hussein, we must be as smart as we are resolute. Our approach must isolate Baghdad, not the United States. This is a major reason why I opposed the Congressional Resolution giving the White House an open-ended authorization to attack Iraq.

If a policy of containment, coupled with UN inspections, is sufficient to protect our interests, that is preferable to the inherent bloodshed and unpredictable consequences of war. If war does prove necessary in self-defense, we must lay out the evidence in advance and do all we can to minimize civilian casualties and protect our troops and allies from the risks of chemical and biological attack. We must also forge the broadest possible coalition not only to win the war, but also to create a secure, stable, united and democratic Iraq in its aftermath. To date, the Administration has done a poor job of gathering support for its policy and made little effort to explain long-term objectives. The result has been a disturbing and thoroughly avoidable growth in anti-American sentiment within key allied nations. This, in turn, has the potential to jeopardize cooperation in the broader war against terror."

Update 4/21: Dean recently published an excellent editorial further articulating his multilaralist alternative to the insane Bush doctrine of foreign policy.

US Economic Security

Remember when Gingrich admitted the Republican strategy for Medicare was to starve it of funding so it would eventually "wither on the vine"? The strategy seems to have been expanded to encompass nearly every non-military function under the current administration. Unsustainably big tax cuts have already been passed and more are planned that will desperate choices be made between raising taxes on future generations or reneging on the social contract we have all come to expect. This social contract is the evidence that we are the compassionate society we believe ourselves to be. Given that the undeniable fact that the already passed tax cuts mandate future deficits, it is hard to see how the further tax cuts advocated by the Administration can be characterized as anything but a direct assault on the social contract.

Dean has made balancing the budget a centerpiece for his campaign. To accomplish it, he's willing to state unequivocally he would roll back the tax cut. He's right and not enough Democrats are being forceful about the question.

Health Care

He's has a vision for providing universal health care. As a doctor he has significant credibility on the issue and has a pragmatic plan for accomplishing it. Others have been scared away from the issue by past failures. It is long past time for the US to be able to guarantee you won't be bankrupted by an illness in the family.

Campaign Finance Reform

This is something of a pet issue for me. I simply believe it is unsustainable in a democracy for campaigns to be financed by interested parties. The necessity to solicit money for campaigns negates the power of those who can't afford to pay for access. Dean is for public financing of campaigns. As I view this as a fundamental issue of Democracy, I take a dim view of those who are unwilling to take the political risk of supporting public financing.

Energizing the Democratic Party

Actually this is the big one for me. I'm not nearly as critical as many are about Democrats in the 2000 and 2002 elections but I do understand the criticism that Democrats did not appear to stand for anything. You can see it in the appallingly low turnout and in the ability of so many people to get away with saying there is no difference between the parties. The differences are there but there has been a trend lately to fight over a diminishing (and ever-shifting) segment of "swing voters" that has led to Democratic candidates to speak in terms of discrete issues rather than core values. Prescription drug coverage in Medicare and the Patient's Bill of Rights are fine ideas but they don't describe a belief system or a worldview. Republicans know how to run against this type of campaign. They simply name a bill something similar that gives off the impression of doing most of the same things. They can be for their own bill, most people won't delve into the details, and then they can move on and talk about something else that they want to talk about. Bush eviscerated Gore's platform employing this technique.

Here's Dean on the subject:

"Bill Clinton said a few weeks ago that Americans would rather have somebody who's strong and wrong than somebody who's right and weak. We haven't stood up for our principles in this party. We're debating the Patients' Bill of Rights in Congress. In the argument over the Patients' Bill of Rights, the Democrats want to sue your HMO and the Republicans don't. I'll tell you something; it doesn't make a difference which bill passes, or if neither bill passes, because not one more American will have health care insurance and your premiums won't go down five cents. What our party ought to be doing, is debating why we don't have some kind of universal health insurance for all Americans. Where are our ideals? This is not some left-wing crazy kooky idea. Harry Truman put this in the platform in 1948; not exactly a big liberal. We can do better.

I need your help. I need you to stand up for the Democratic Party. I need a party where we're proud to talk about Democratic issues. A party where we don't consult the polls first to find out if it's all right to talk about things like health insurance. If you make me the nominee of this party, I will do my best to make you proud to be Democrats again. And I believe that the people of this country agree with our policies more than they agree with Republicans policies. We have got to stand up for what's right. And if we stand up for what's right, if we're proud to be Democrats again, if we look back to our forefathers and stand with the folks that built this party and built this country and are proud and sell our message and educate folks, we won't have to worry about Rush Limbaugh and we won't have to worry about the president's popularity rating and we can stand up for what we believe in as Democrats and move forward to take the country to the middle where it belongs, so that every American gets to participate in the American dream. If you give me the power to help you do that, not only will we be strong, not only will we be right, but we will win the presidency of the United States in 2004."

But you really should see him speak. I recommend checking him out at The California Democratic Party Convention (top of the list) where he followed Edwards. The contrast is striking (and I like Edwards). It certainly sold this guy, whose site is full of stuff on him, including several videos.

The primary is about where we want the party to go. I think there are several Democrats who could win in 2004, more might even enter the race, but I really like Dean's vision of the Democratic Party and think his strong presence can do a lot of good. Watch the video, come to the party (look below), and see if he gets you excited too.

What I'm Doing About it

I'm throwing a house party on April 26th to raise money for the Dean campaign and to give people the chance to find out more about him and get as excited about him as I am. The party begins at 4:00 and at 5:00 we will join a conference call with Governor Dean. We will certainly be able to contribute some questions in advance and (if time permits) be able to ask a few. It will be grassroots politicking at its best (at least for the national level).

Plus, there will probably be several very cute kids there.

Go here contribute what you can, RSVP there for the party, and join us on Saturday, April 26th.

I'm sure everyone already knows this but just in case:

Contributions are not tax deductible for federal income tax purposes


Wednesday, April 09, 2003


Baghdad Falls

It's very good news. Less people will die now.

And now the gloating will begin. Christopher Hitchens got an early start and has already posted a bit about how he was right and the peaceniks were wrong. I won't link to it. There will be plenty more. The White House consigliore who engineered this will be everywhere crowing about how right and courageous they were to liberate the people of Iraq and how dictators everywhere should now be shaking in their boots (except those who are our allies of course).

Quite by accident today I ended up seeing a photo of an Iraqi child, maybe 10 or so. He was a victim of a US bomb. The top half of his head was gone. I couldn't breathe when I saw the picture. My son is just over a year old. It is utterly impossible for me to imagine the pain and grief that boy's family is feeling right now (if they survived) but I guarantee if it were me I would feel nothing but hate for the people who did this. That boy was someone's son. He is now "collateral damage."

The US and UK soldiers who fought this war are sons and daughters too, and mostly young ones at that. They are also innocent of this war. The President ordered them to fight and they did their jobs and I expect they did it with as much humanity as possible. But war is simply not a humane thing. The soldiers who died, and those that will inevitably die during the post-war occupation, didn't deserve it any more than the civilians did. I mourn for them all and wish their parents peace.

To those who supported this war: You are not proved right by this "victory." You were wrong. You were wrong because this was a war of choice. No peaceful option was ever considered, and there were many. Not only to destroy Saddam's weapons but to end his regime. But nothing but war was on the minds of those that have been planning this invasion since the 90's. If I thought they had the capacity for it, I would say they should be ashamed. They won't be. They will be jubilant.

I hope Iraqi people are indeed liberated now, though our actions in Afghanistan give me very little confidence. After all, the Administration is already concerned that Syria and Iran haven't learned their lesson.

We were sold this war on a mountain of lies. Iraq was not an imminent threat and the President knew it. Saddam's weapons could barely reach his neighbor Kuwait, and even they haven't considered him a threat for 12 years. All evidence indicated Iraq had nothing to do with Al Queda and any chemical weapons he had would be a lot easier for terrorists to manufacture in the US than it would be to sneak them in from Iraq. The President knew this too. This was not Rwanda or Kosovo where intervention could stop a genocide. More people were dying due to our ill-conceived sanctions regime. And, the only thing Iraq has to do with September 11th is that now they too have suffered thousands of dead in an unprovoked attack. But the grandest and most grotesque lie of all was when the President said that war was his last option. Nothing else was tried, nothing else ever entered his disastrously narrow mind.

The family of that little boy, and the thousands of others who lost loved ones, do not feel liberated. Those that think we did the right thing, go explain to them why this was worth it. Explain to them that there was no way to free them without bombs.

I hope the troops can come home soon.


Monday, November 18, 2002



Monday, October 21, 2002

RMN at it again

Lest anyone mistake the previous [see last post] trumped up story about the Green candidate in the CO 7th race for the lone action of a bored reporter, the RMN is again trying to peddle the same line. This time the article attempts to pull the same maneuver on the Democratic candidate for Attorney General, Ken Salazar. It would be funny enough if they kept trying to use the same faulty premise as the last time [see below], but this time the Green Party candidate is not even a local officer but merely a member of the Club. That's right, apparently the RMN thinks it is important news that the Sierra Club will no longer be receiving Ms. Maynard's yearly dues of $39 since they declined to endorse her 3rd party candidacy. Seeing as how the Sierra Club has roughly 700,000 members, I'm willing to bet a good number of candidates this year have been similarly "snubbed."

Naturally, the article goes on to flog the examples from the first article again. Since everything I said about the previous article still stands (and then some) for this one, I won't belabor the point further.


Friday, October 18, 2002

Rhymes with "why us?"

It is not exactly news to anyone in Colorado but the campaigns there have become quite nasty. Democrats in several races are widely thought to have a shot, in dramatic contrast to recent elections. Luckily for the Republicans there, they can always count on help from the reporters at the Rocky Mountain News.

In case you haven't been following the races there, there are competitive (Federal) races in the Senate, the newly created 7th district, the 4th (depends on what polls you believe), and, some would argue, the 2nd (seems much less likely). For various reasons, including the balance of power in the US Senate and the woeful environmental record of the incumbent in the Senate and consistent anti-environment members from the 4th, the Sierra Club has included CO in one of its 10 targeted states for this election. Interestingly, this has prompted Senator Allard to embark on what has to be the most brazen greenwashing campaign of this election cycle. Allard's claim that he "has the strongest record of protecting Colorado's environment of any Senator in Colorado's history" has caused outrage in the environmental community and has almost certainly led to raising the profile of the race among enviros. Not to unduly belabor the point but Allard's quote that he "has the strongest record of protecting Colorado's environment of any Senator in Colorado's history" must be fairly galling to former Senator Tim Wirth, and environmental protection pioneer, and, well, every other Senator from Colorado. I'm pretty sure that I can empirically justify the statement that a ham sandwich would have been better for the environment as Senator from Colorado than has been Mr. Allard.

What has recently caught my attention though, is an article in the Rocky Mountain News alleging that the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Sierra Club threatened a local chapter officer, and Green Party candidate in the 7th district, Dave Chandler, for complaining to the media that the Club endorsed the Democratic candidate instead of him.

As far as the actual substance of the conflict between the RM Chapter and Mr. Chandler, the article subsequently reveals (in the 17th paragraph, natch) there isn't much there. The "threat" consisted of options to either sign a statement that Mr. Chandler violated club policy by going to the media and state he'll never do it again, or to step down from his position until after the election. Mr. Chandler maintains the alternative was reprimand and removal from his position. Mr. Casini, the Chapter Director who supposedly delivered the threat, denies there was any threat and says there will be no attempt to oust Mr. Chandler. A quick search of the Sierra Club policies reveals this statement; "Sierra Club is one corporation. Unlike many other environmental organizations, our Chapters and Groups are not independent. Chapters, Groups and "National" do not take contradictory public positions on issues." (If you want to see more, look here) So, Mr. Chandler has unambiguously violated the rules and was apparently informed of this by the Chapter Director. Where's the story? Does anyone really care about the insider machinations of the RM Region of the Sierra Club? No, the story the reporter wants out of this is revealed in the lead-in; "a member of the Sierra Club is wondering if those who say the club is simply a shill for the Democrats are right."

And the reporter certainly got a fabulous quote from Mr. Chandler, one that could have been written by the Republican National Committee (they've been trying to sell this message for years); "Is the club even more aligned with the Democrats than I suspected? ... This seems bigger than me. What's going on with the Sierra Club?"

The reporter then goes on to try and back up this statement with a couple examples. 1) The club has endorsed Rep. Mark Udall (D) over Sandy Hume (R) though Mr. Hume is an officer in the Boulder County Sierra Club, and; 2) the Club "refused to take a stand" in a CO State House race where a Green Party candidate and local group officer is challenging a Republican. All in support of the painfully disingenous premise that if one is a locally elected officer of a local chapter, the Sierra Club must somehow justify any endorsment of another candidate.

Not that there aren't logical reasons for these examples. In the case of the State House race, for example, there are 65 State House races, Sierra Club has endorsed 17 candidates. So that makes this one of 48 State House races where the Sierra Club is simply choosing not to weigh in, including many where Democrats are on the ballot. It does not exactly strike me as a damning indictment of the Club's political committee that they are not paying much attention to a race pitting a minor party candidate against an incumbent in a district so heavily Republican that the Democrats can't even field a candidate.

The Udall v. Hume case is even more ridiculous. Hume might be an officer (I can't find anything on Sierra Club's website, or anywhere else, to verify it) in the Sierra Club but there is little else available to give one the impression that environmental protection is much of a priority for him. There is almost nothing on his website about the environment, and he simply has not made an issue of it in his campaign. And with good reason; if the primary voter concern is environmental policy, Udall will kill him. Beginning with his family legacy as the son of environmental champion Morris Udall, continuing through his years in charge of Colorado Outward Bound, and his two terms on the US House Resources Committee, Udall has compiled a record of environmental protection that ranks among the top in the House. This has led to a 100% lifetime score from the League of Conservation Voters, and 2002 endorsements from LCV, Friends of the Earth, WildPac (dedicated to pro-wilderness candidates), and, as mentioned above, Sierra Club. I don't really know how strongly Mr. Hume feels about environmental issues, but the only vote I can be sure that he will cast, if elected, would offset any 10 pro-environment votes he may cast after. He will vote to retain Rep. Hastert as Speaker of the House, and the rest of what is almost certainly the most anti-environmental leadership group to run the House in the last 40 years.

So there's some evidence that there may be other reasons besides being a "shill for the Democrats" for the Sierra Club to choose candidates other than Sierra Club members. But do they endorse any Republicans? You wouldn't know from the article, but it turns out the answer is yes. Admittedly not many, but I'll argue (another time, perhaps) that it has a lot more to do with who's leading the Republican Party than any pre-disposition towards Democrats. Heck, they endorse Connie Morella (who is certainly a committed enviro) despite the fact that she is facing a Democrat who professes to be equally environmentally committed. Does Sierra Club endorse any Green Party candidates? None I can find. Could this be the source of Chandler's "snubbing?" Carl Pope, the Executive Director of the Sierra Club, has eloquently stated on several occasions that third-party candidicies are self-defeating for enviros. In 2000, he produced a long piece on this issue which includes this snipett, "If voting is viewed strictly as a mirror of personal preference, then third parties-and fourth, fifth, and twenty-seventh parties-are well and good. But voting is also about selecting a government that will make a practical difference in the world, and the reality of third-party candidates in national winner-take-all systems like those in the United States or Britain is that they strengthen their enemies at the expense of their friends."

Whether or not you agree with Mr. Pope about the consequences of third-party candidacies in the US (I do, but more on that another time), it certainly seems like a likely explanation for the Sierra Club's endorsement in this case. But you'd never know that from the RMN article. Instead, amazingly, you get the spin from the Wayne Allard camp that this should be a "wake-up call for the rank-and-file membership." Which leads me to an important question. Why on earth would there be a quote from the Senate Candidate who is being targeted by the Sierra Club in this article (in case you are curious, there are no quotes from any Democratic candidates in the article)? Allard's spokesman adds absolutely no insight on the situation and their sole interest in this whole affair is to try to undermine the legitimacy of the Sierra Club's endorsement of Allard's opponent. And that, it would appear to me, is the entire point of this article.

So I have two questions.

1) Doesn't Mr. Chandler's quote indicate he is more interested in hurting the Democrat in his race than in talking about environmental issues? After all, attacking the Sierra Club doesn't exactly help his candidacy.

2) Any theories on where the reporter might have gotten this story in the first place?


Thursday, October 17, 2002

Reserved Water Rights

Getting back to my intended subject matter for this blog, I commend to readers' attention the article in Sunday's NYT titled "US Eases Way for West to Control Big Volumes of Water". It's a decent article involving an issue that generally takes a great deal of background to understand. In a nutshell, in an ongoing water rights case that allocates the rights to water in the Gunnison river, the US has already been granted a right to sufficient water to protect the values of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. However, the Court has not yet quantified how much water is necessary to protect those values. The Park Service produced a study specifying the amounts necessary and the US, under the previous adminstration, sought to quantify the water rights consistent with the study. Now, apparently, the Bush administration is looking to settle with the other water users for significantly less water for the park. According to the article, "Mr. Comer said that based on a reassessment the total might fall short of what park officials identified last year as necessary. He also said that in contrast to the Clinton administration the Bush administration would claim a right significantly less that the park's needs. As part of any accord, he said, the government would seek to make up the difference by acquiring water from other sources ...". In essence, the new administration wants to undo the legal claims of the last administration.

This will sound familiar to those who were following the fates of the Roadless Rule and the arsenic standard for drinking water promulgated by the Clinton administration. And I would certainly argue that all these actions stem from the same "everything Clinton did was wrong" mentality, but I think there are a number of implications in this case that we should devote some more thought to.

Science vs. Policy -- It's becoming a bit of a tired refrain but, like the arsenic standards, it appears that a change of heart among political appointees is being allowed to trump the empirical scientific conclusions. However, it is a bigger problem here because the result will be a court decree. There will be no revisiting of this issue by a future administration and no opportunity for the public to speak through elections. The only way to get any of this water back will be to buy it back.

Of course that is exactly the situation the Bush administration is looking for. In fact, Mr. Comer (the political appointee within the DOI Solicitor's office in charge of Bureau of Reclamation water rights) admits as much in the interview with the times saying they will have to acquire the necessary water from other sources. Which leads me to :

Fiscal Responsibility -- "Acquiring water from other sources" means buying water from others that the US already had a legitimate claim to but refused to exercise. But it gets worse. The nature of federally reserved water rights is that they date back to the time of the federal designation; in this case 1933, the time the park was first designated a monument. Thus, all water users who began using their water after that time will have to yield to the park. If, instead, DOI decides to try and purchase water on the open market, not only will they pay money for water they had for free, it will almost certainly be far more "junior" in priority. As a result, the purchased water may never even be available when needed. Which leads me to the final, and most important issue:

Constitutional Responsibility -- What makes the Bush administration think they get to decide how much of a right to assert in the litigation? Federally reserved water rights begin with the 1908 Supreme Court case Winters v. US and have been further refined by several Supreme Court cases since. In short, these cases stand for the proposition that when the US sets aside land for some particular purpose like an Indian Reservation or National Park, Congress impliedly sets aside the concommitant water rights necessary to fulfill the particular purposes of the reservation. There are modifications to this principle depending on the kind of reservation we are talking about but they are not terribly relevant here; parks and monuments are pretty clear. In this case, since you have a monument/park that is actually a river, the need for water rights to carry out Congress' intent in the designation is clear cut. It seems to me awfully difficult to maintain the Executive is faithfully executing the law if they simply pass on exercising the legal rights necessary to support the designation. Federally reserved water rights were a fixture in the law when this monument was designated, any political calculations related to the water rights created by the designation were undertaken then. I don't see how this administration has any right, morally or legally, to second guess that decision. Their responsibility is to carry out the law.

Of course enforcing this responsibility on this administration is a different question. Maybe I'll visit that another time.


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