The Real Sarah Palin
JUNEAU, Alaska, By Nick Jans — I sat on the bank of the Kobuk River in northwest arctic Alaska on a mid-September morning. Upstream somewhere, wolves were howling — their chorus filling the silence, close enough that I could hear the aspiration at the end of each wavering call. Behind me, the slate-gray heave of the Brooks Range spilled off toward the north, the shapes of some peaks so familiar I’ve seen them in my sleep. The nearest highway lay 250 miles away. This is the Alaska where I spent half my life, and the only place that’s ever felt like home — the land of Eskimo villages, waves of migrating caribou and seemingly limitless space.
Though I was beyond the reach of the Internet and cellphones, and life was filled with rutting bull moose, incandescent autumn light and fresh grizzly tracks, I knew that thousands of miles to the south, the rest of the country was getting a crash course on our governor, Sarah Palin — someone who believes that climate change isn’t our fault; is dead set against a woman’s right to choose; has supported creationism in the schools; and was prayed over by a visiting minister at her church to shield her against witchcraft.
How was I to explain to all my lower 48 friends and writing colleagues how such a person could have been elected to lead our state — let alone been chosen to possibly become vice-president? Truth be told, I was as startled as anyone when I heard the news. At first I thought the McCain campaign’s announcement was some sort of bad joke.
In the broadest sense, Palin is a poseur. Alaska is too large and culturally diverse (it’s only a bit smaller than the entire lower 48 east of the Mississippi, and once was divided into four time zones) to be summed up by some abstract, romanticized notion. And even if it could be, it sure wouldn’t be symbolized by Palin. “The typical Alaskan? She couldn’t be farther from it,” says Alaska House Minority Leader Beth Kertulla.
Still, Palin is a genuine Alaskan — of a kind. The kind that flowed north in the wake of the ’70s oil boom, Bible Belt politics and attitudes under arm, and transformed this state from a free-thinking, independent bastion of genuine libertarianism and individuality into a reactionary fundamentalist enclave with dollar signs in its eyes and an all-for-me mentality.
Palin’s Alaska is embodied in Wasilla, a blue-collar, sharp-elbowed town of burgeoning big box stores, suburban subdivisions, evangelical pocket churches and car dealerships morphing across the landscape, outward from Anchorage, the state’s urban epicenter. She has lived in Wasilla practically all her life, and even now resides there, the first Alaska executive to eschew the white-pillared mansion in Juneau, down on the Southeast Panhandle.
Folks in the Mat-Su Valley, as the area is known, overwhelmingly support their favorite daughter’s policies — including a state-sanctioned program where private pilots chase down and kill wolves from small aircraft, and another that favors oil drilling offshore in the arctic sea ice and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. These same voters forage at McDonald’s and Safeway in their hunter camouflage, and make regular wilderness forays up and down the state’s limited highway grid with ATVs, snowmobiles and airboats in tow behind their oversize trucks. Sometimes I imagine I can hear the roar echoing across the state, all the way to the upper Kobuk, where easements for the highways of tomorrow are already staked out across the tundra.
Like many Alaskans, I resent Palin’s claims that she speaks for all of us, and cringe when she tosses off her stump speech line, “Well, up in Alaska, we….” Not only did I not vote for her, she represents the antithesis of the Alaska I love. As mayor, she helped shape Wasilla into the chaotic, poorly planned strip mall that it is; as governor, she’s promoted that same headlong drive toward development and despoilment on a grand scale, while paying lip service to her love of the place.
As for that frontierswoman shtick, take another look at that hairpiece-augmented beehive and those stiletto heels. Coming from a college-educated family, living in a half-million-dollar view home, basking in a net worth of $1.25 million, and having owned 40-some registered motorized vehicles in the past two decades (including 17 snowmobiles and a plane) hardly qualifies Palin and her clan as the quintessential Joe Six-Pack family unit — though the adulation from that quarter shows the Palins must be fulfilling some sort of role-model fantasy.
Palin can claim to know Alaska; the fact is, she’s seen only a minuscule fraction of it — and that doesn’t include Little Diomede Island, the one place in Alaska where you actually can see Russia. So she can ride an ATV and shoot guns. Set her down in the bush on her own and I bet we’d discover she’s about as adept at butchering a moose and building a fire at 40 below zero as she is at discussing Supreme Court decisions. And that mountain-woman act is only the tip of a hollow iceberg.
Palin, and by extension, the McCain campaign, has hijacked our state for political purposes, much to the chagrin of the tens of thousands of Alaskans who loathe what she stands for. Her much-touted popularity among residents has eroded over the past six weeks to somewhere in the mid-60s — not exactly what you’d expect in support of a home girl making a White House run.
There are no doubt a variety of reasons for this decline, but many Alaskans are embarrassed — not just by her, but for our state and for ourselves. What’s with the smug posturing, recently adopted fake Minnesota accent, and that gosh-darn-it hockey mom pitch? Maybe it plays well in Peoria (and presumably Duluth), but it’s all an act. “She’s definitely put on a new persona since she’s been a vice-presidential candidate,” says Kertulla, who has worked closely with Palin for the past 18 months. “I don’t even recognize her.”
Affectations aside, there’s plenty about Palin we Alaskans do recognize, and all too well. She’s already proven to us that her promises of transparent government, attendant to the will of the people, are bear pucky. We know about her private e-mail accounts and her systematic obstruction of the Alaska Legislature’s investigation of the so-called Troopergate scandal. But let’s turn to her environmental record, where a similar pattern of obfuscation continues.
First, Palin pushed hard, along with sport hunting and guiding interests, to help defeat a ballot initiative that would have stopped the state’s current aerial wolf control program, which had been criticized by the National Academy of Sciences and the National Research Council for flawed science. Now her administration has pointedly refused to respond to repeated public information requests (I’m one of the petitioners, and a potential litigant), regarding the apparently illegal killing of 14 wolf pups at their dens on the Alaska Peninsula this spring by state personnel, including two high-level Department of Fish and Game administrators. A biologist at the scene admitted to an independent wolf scientist that the 6-week-old pups were held down and shot in the head, one by one. This inhumane practice, known as “denning,” has been illegal for 40 years. But a simple request for information on the details of this operation, including to what extent the governor was involved in the decision, has resulted in a typical Palinesque roadblock and a string of untruths.
Our I-love-Alaska governor was also instrumental in defeating a ballot initiative to stop development of a gargantuan open-pit mine incongruously known as Pebble near the headwaters of the most productive salmon watershed in the state, Bristol Bay. The current mine design calls for building the world’s largest earthen dam to hold back an enormous lake of toxic waste — this in a known earthquake zone. Crazy stuff, yet Palin openly opposed the initiative, in lock step with international mining corporations that invested millions of dollars in a misinformation campaign.
But Palin’s certified anti-environmental whopper is her lawsuit against the Bush administration (of all outfits) for listing polar bears as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. She claimed Alaska’s own experts had completed a review of the federal data and concluded that the listing was uncalled for. The truth was, state biologists had come to the opposite conclusion. But that report was never released, and her researchers had a gag clamped on them. Palin simply didn’t want anything to get in the way of offshore oil drilling in moving pack ice — where there is no way to contain, let alone clean up, catastrophic spills.
Whenever science or rules get in Palin’s way, she blows them off. Says homesteader Mark Richards, co-founder of the Alaska Chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers (a moderate conservation group), “Palin, like Governor Murkowski before her, is part and parcel of the good-ol-boy network that says, ‘Alaska is open for business.’”
Want to talk to Sarah? As governor, she has been accessible only on her carefully chosen terms, a trend we’re now witnessing on the national stage. And how about those Katie Couric moments when she drifts just a skosh off a well-rehearsed script? Are those a recent phenomenon, brought on by all this new information, pressure and the liberal-gotcha media? Nah. She’s been spouting “political gibberish” (to quote gubernatorial opponent Andrew Halcro) since she arrived on the Alaska scene. Yet somehow she continues to get away with it.
In the end, Palin’s attempt to cash in on the Eau d’Alaska mystique as she supports its destruction sickens those of us who do love this land, not for what it will be some day, after the roads and mines and pipelines and cities and malls are all in, but for what it is now. What we see before us is the soul of an ambitious, ruthless, Parks Highway hillbilly — a woman who represents the Alaska you probably never want to meet, and the one we wish never existed. That said, we’re all too willing to take her back. The alternative is just too damn frightening.
Censorship at the EPA
EPA Tells Its Staff: Don’t Answer Watchdogs’ Queries
The Environmental Protection Agency has told its staff not to answer questions from the agency’s internal watchdog, news reporters or the nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress, according an internal memo that an environmental group released Monday.
The June 16 memo to the staff of the EPA’s enforcement division told them that if they’re contacted by the EPA inspector general’s office, an independent internal watchdog that monitors the agency, or by the Government Accountability Office, the investigators who work for Congress, they’re to forward the call or e-mail to a designated person.
“Please do not respond to questions or make any statements,” it adds. The memo sets down the same procedure, with different contact people, for queries from reporters.
EPA spokeswoman Roxanne Smith wouldn’t say whether any specific incident triggered the memo, but said it was consistent with existing policies and intended to coordinate responses.
John Walke, a former EPA air pollution attorney, said the inspector general’s office ordinarily has unfettered access to agency employees so they can speak candidly and anonymously.
The memo appeared as the Senate Environment and Judiciary committees are trying to get EPA to release information about its global warming policies, and after EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson declined to testify this week before the two committees.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said last week that he was instructing the EPA inspector general’s office to investigate whether there was any wrongdoing in failing to cooperate with Congress.
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility obtained the memo and released it to reporters.
“The intent was to control any unscripted release of information to an investigator or to a reporter,” said Jeff Ruch, the director of the environmental group. “We’re not sure what the specific triggering event was, but there’s so much chum in the water that they were certainly biting at something.”
The EPA’s Smith said that Robbi Farrell, the chief of staff of the enforcement division, sent the memo to managers in her office “to ensure consistency and coordination” among staffers who respond to the inspector general and the congressional investigators. It will help with “tracking and record-keeping obligations,” Smith said in a statement.
Smith also said the procedure was developed in part as a response to a 2007 inspector general report about follow-ups on audits at EPA. That report, however, didn’t critique EPA staff members’ contacts with reporters and investigators.
“There is nothing in the procedure that restricts conversation between enforcement staff, the press, GAO and the IG and the procedure is consistent with existing policies,” Smith’s statement said.
But Walke, who worked for the EPA as an attorney from 1997 to 2000 and now works for the environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council, said, “If the agency has advance notice of who they want to talk to and about what, it allows them to do spin control and manage the damage fallout.”
The EPA inspector general’s office conducts audits, evaluations and investigations of the EPA and its contractors “to promote economy and efficiency and to prevent and detect fraud, waste and abuse,” its Web site says.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., the chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, has criticized Johnson for not testifying about alleged White House interference with the EPA. Boxer has called on Johnson to release a finding the EPA prepared and sent to the White House in December that found global warming endangers the public welfare.
“Stephen Johnson is turning the EPA into a secretive, dangerous ally of polluters, instead of a leader in the effort to protect the health and safety of the American people,” Boxer said in a statement Monday in response to reports about the memo.
A copy of the memo as released by PEER:
/US 06/16/2008 11:22 AM
Subject PLEASE REMIND STAFF re: RESPONDING TO GAO, IG AND PRESS
Please remind your staff at your next staff meeting of the following policies and procedures.
1. If you are contacted by a reporter, please forward the call or email to Laura Gentile and Roxanne Smith, cc Robbi. Please do not respond to questions or make any statements.
2. If you are contacted directly by the IG’s office or GAO requesting information of any kind, please forward their call or email to Gwen Spriggs, cc Robbi. Please do not respond to questions or make any statements.
Thanks very much for your continued attention to these important procedures.
Bush administration bans talk on polar bears
The Bush administration has banned discussion of polar bears, sea ice, and global warming among officials traveling overseas, according to environmental groups and the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“This is positively Orwellian,” said Kieran Suckling, policy director with the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the environmental groups that made the allegation. “Only the worst cynic could admit the polar bear is being driven extinct by global warming, then issue a gag order to stop government scientists from talking about it.”
Florida Lab Manager Screwed for Doing His Job
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is seeking to punish a laboratory manager because the water pollution data he reported was not ambiguous enough, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The data in question concerns pollution levels in most of South Florida’s key water-bodies, including the Everglades, Lake Okeechobee and the St. Lucie Estuary.
In a letter dated January 3, 2007, Kevin Neal, who has since resigned as Director of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Southeast District, charged Thomas White, the manager of the agency’s Port St. Lucie laboratory, with “generating and reporting deceptive or fraudulent lab results” solely due to his lab’s low usage of “Data Qualifiers,” descriptions of data limitations. Despite use of words like “fraudulent,” DEP is not contending that any data entered by White’s lab were falsified or manipulated – only that certain technical codes were not appended.
White’s lab showed water pollution levels so high that, in some cases, samples had to be substantially diluted just to get them on scale for instrument concentration determination. These profound pollution levels make the issue of Data Qualifiers largely irrelevant to the purpose for which the data is used – establishing whether water-bodies are considered impaired for purposes of the Clean Water Act.
If DEP persists in indicting all of the Port St. Lucie lab work, more than five years of detailed water quality monitoring data on virtually every large South Florida canal, estuary and other watercourses will be invalidated. This would dramatically set back efforts to reduce pollution in places like the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee, as the main evidence these bodies exceeded pollution limits would be thrown out.
“These charges are utterly ridiculous; in essence, DEP is saying that the water pollution numbers are too awful to be true,” stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former DEP enforcement attorney, whose organization is putting together a defense team for White. “Unfortunately, Tom White is collateral damage in a deranged effort by top DEP management to disrupt critical water pollution tracking systems.”
White became manager of the Port St. Lucie lab in 2004. Under White, the lab, for the first time, won certification from the National Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Conference (NELAC). White, who has worked for DEP for 20 years, virtually all in agency laboratories, is one of the auditors DEP has used to review the work of other labs.
The charges against White are especially curious in that all of the information needed to add any Data Qualifiers have been entered into the system during White’s tenure, so that all the lab reports could be supplemented as needed. White contends that the reporting methods he used were mandated by his predecessor and never countermanded in the years since.
“We are asking Governor Crist’s office to take a long look at this before the case proceeds any further,” Phillips added. “DEP has become a cesspool in need of a thorough cleaning and the managers behind these charges should be the first people asked to leave.”
Bureau of Reclamation Tries to Fire Biologist for Doing His Job
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has proposed to fire a biologist after finding emails he had sent to environmentalists and to other agencies, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). In its letter of proposed termination, the agency alleged the “subversive” activity of communicating with “environmental organizations which are opposed to Reclamation generally and adversarial in nature” justifies immediate removal.
Charles (Rex) Wahl, a GS-12 Environmental Specialist, has been on paid administrative leave for the past three months while the agency continues to ponder his fate. Shortly after Wahl was notified of his proposed firing on September 18th, the Bureau of Reclamation also dismissed his wife Cherie from a temporary clerk-typist position.
Ironically, Wahl’s main duty in Reclamation’s Yuma Area Office was to keep stakeholders, including environmentalists, abreast of agency “actions and initiatives” as required under National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). In addition to his contact with environmentalists, Wahl is also charged with revealing “administratively controlled information” to other federal agencies.
“These charges are both insulting and illegal,” stated PEER Senior Counsel Paula Dinerstein, who is leading Wahl’s legal challenge against any proposed disciplinary action. “Public servants cannot be fired simply for telling inconvenient truths.”
In May, Wahl (who had earned excellent performance evaluations) had transferred to Reclamation’s Albuquerque Office. In August, Reclamation discovered the emails Wahl had sent months earlier as it cleared the hard drive of his computer.
Wahl’s disclosures concern an array of proposed Reclamation projects on the Lower Colorado River. He also revealed that Reclamation had falsified material in a permit it submitted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In addition, Wahl suggested to environmentalists that they obtain certain agency reports through the Freedom of Information Act.
“Federal employees are not required to swear bureaucratic omert� – silence at the expense of the public interest,” Dinerstein added. “Part of the Bureau of Reclamation’s problem is that it apparently regards environmentalists as enemies. Contrary to its paranoid posture, Reclamation is required to be forthright about the implications of what it is doing.”
Reclamation is under no deadlines to act on Wahl’s case. Facing a short statute of limitations on filing complaints, however, PEER has initiated an investigation into the matter by the U.S. Department of Labor under the whistleblower provisions of the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act and Solid Waste Disposal Act.
Global Warming Goes to Court
from the NYT:
The Bush administration has been on a six-year campaign to expand its powers, often beyond what the Constitution allows. So it is odd to hear it claim that it lacks the power to slow global warming by limiting the emission of harmful gases. But that is just what it will argue to the Supreme Court tomorrow, in what may be the most important environmental case in many years.
A group of 12 states, including New York and Massachusetts, is suing the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to properly do its job. These states, backed by environmental groups and scientists, say that the Clean Air Act requires the E.P.A. to impose limits on carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases emitted by new cars. These gases are a major contributor to the “greenhouse effect” that is dangerously heating up the planet.
The Bush administration insists that the E.P.A. does not have the power to limit these gases. It argues that they are not “air pollutants” under the Clean Air Act. Alternatively, it contends that the court should dismiss the case because the states do not have “standing,” since they cannot show that they will be specifically harmed by the agency’s failure to regulate greenhouse gases.
A plain reading of the Clean Air Act shows that the states are right. The act says that the E.P.A. “shall” set standards for “any air pollutant” that in its judgment causes or contributes to air pollution that “may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare.” The word “welfare,” the law says, includes “climate” and “weather.” The E.P.A. makes an array of specious arguments about why the act does not mean what it expressly says. But it has no right to refuse to do what Congress said it “shall” do.
Beneath the statutory and standing questions, this is a case about how seriously the government takes global warming. The E.P.A.’s decision was based in part on its poorly reasoned conclusion that there was too much “scientific uncertainty” about global warming to worry about it. The government’s claim that the states lack standing also scoffs at global warming, by failing to acknowledge that the states have a strong interest in protecting their land and citizens against coastal flooding and the other kinds of damage that are being projected.
In a friend-of-the-court brief, climate scientists from the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, Stanford University and other respected institutions warn that “the scientific evidence of the risks, long time lags and irreversibility of climate change argue persuasively for prompt regulatory action.” The Supreme Court can strike an important blow in defense of the planet simply by ruling that the E.P.A. must start following the law.
Why the Rethugs Bombed
Whiskey Fire sums it up succinctly:
Let’s Be Clear
A lot has been said already about the ‘06 elections, and a lot more will be said. Most of this will be crap. So let me just be clear:
The Republicans lost the ‘06 elections because they are crazy people with shitty policies that have all failed.
Crucial to any analysis of yesterday’s results must be the fact that they started a war based on bullshit, and then they quite literally made a bloody mess of it.
Also, they’re completely corrupt and incompetent, self-righteously religious, willing to gay bait and race bait, and generally all they do is tell lies and act like total weasels and whine about the phony bugbear of the “liberal media.”
Please alert Cokie Roberts.
Bush Names Exxon Chief to Chart America’s Energy Future
Even for an administration dedicated to putting industry lobbyists in charge of the very agencies they have devoted their careers to undermining (coal and oil lobbyist J. Stephen Griles as Deputy Secretary of the Interior is one of dozens of examples), Bush has recently outdone himself. He has named Lee Raymond, the retired chief of ExxonMobil, to head a key study to help America chart a cleaner course for our energy needs. Raymond currently chairs the National Petroleum Council (NPC), one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington.
Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman says the study will address the supply and demand of oil as well as “…assess the potential contribution of conservation, efficiency, alternative energy sources, and technology advances” and determine “the potential long term impact of alternative energies that are plentiful, affordable, reliable and transportable.”
Energy Department Under Secretary David Garman, added that the NPC is “well qualified to provide a balanced and informed perspective on strategies and action affecting the energy future for both the U.S. and for every country on earth.”
Environmentalists are outraged about the appointment of Lee Raymond. During his long tenure at ExxonMobil, the company spent $19 million on front groups designed to discredit the science on global warming. It also resisted funding clean energy alternatives and lobbied aggressively to drill in the Arctic Refuge.
In a Wall Street Journal article on June 14, 2005, Mr. Raymond said, “it’s yet to be shown how much of this [global warming] is really related to the activities of man.”
ExxonMobil is considered a rogue company even among its peers. It vocally opposes U.S. energy independence and presses for deeper reliance on oil producing nations such as Saudi Arabia, where the company has sunk heavy investments. Critics argue that Mr. Raymond’s legacy is to deny that oil dependence is a problem.
ExxonMobil is the only major oil giant calling renewable energy an “uneconomical” investment. Known for abruptly shutting off the microphone at shareholder’s meetings when opposition is voiced, Mr. Raymond has the reputation of an impatient, authoritarian leader who shows no qualms about publicly belittling those who disagree with him.
The Exxpose Exxon coalition, a collaborative effort of many of the nation’s largest environmental and public advocacy organizations representing millions of Americans, called on Secretary Bodman “to remove the Global Oil and Gas Study from the purview of Raymond and the NPC. “
“This issue is too vital to be handed over to a company and an industry that have demonstrated again and again that they will maximize profits at the expense of our national security, the environment, and U.S. consumers,” they argued. The coalition recommended the study be given to an independent body such as the National Academy of Sciences.
“Putting Lee Raymond in charge of solving U.S. energy problems is like putting Jack Abramoff in charge of solving corruption,” said Shawnee Hoover, campaign director for the Exxpose Exxon Coalition.
Exxpose Exxon Backgrounder, http://www.ExxposeExxon.com
Undersecretary Garman, Presentation with notes, 6/21/06, http://www.npc.org
Remarks for Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman, U.S. Department of Energy, 6/21/06. http://www.energy.gov/print/3764.htm
(image: Project for the Old American Century)
Majikthise notes this from MyDD: each of the following links reports a story that illustrates the cretinous behavior and "values" of the associated rethuglican candidate. HTML source code to put this list on your blog is here.
--AZ-Sen: Jon Kyl
--AZ-01: Rick Renzi
--AZ-05: J.D. Hayworth
--CA-04: John Doolittle
--CA-11: Richard Pombo
--CA-50: Brian Bilbray
--CO-04: Marilyn Musgrave
--CO-05: Doug Lamborn
--CO-07: Rick O'Donnell
--CT-04: Christopher Shays
--FL-13: Vernon Buchanan
--FL-16: Joe Negron
--FL-22: Clay Shaw
--ID-01: Bill Sali
--IL-06: Peter Roskam
--IL-10: Mark Kirk
--IL-14: Dennis Hastert
--IN-02: Chris Chocola
--IN-08: John Hostettler
--IA-01: Mike Whalen
--KS-02: Jim Ryun
--KY-03: Anne Northup
--KY-04: Geoff Davis
--MD-Sen: Michael Steele
--MN-01: Gil Gutknecht
--MN-06: Michele Bachmann
--MO-Sen: Jim Talent
--MT-Sen: Conrad Burns
--NV-03: Jon Porter
--NH-02: Charlie Bass
--NJ-07: Mike Ferguson
--NM-01: Heather Wilson
--NY-03: Peter King
--NY-20: John Sweeney
--NY-26: Tom Reynolds
--NY-29: Randy Kuhl
--NC-08: Robin Hayes
--NC-11: Charles Taylor
--OH-01: Steve Chabot
--OH-02: Jean Schmidt
--OH-15: Deborah Pryce
--OH-18: Joy Padgett
--PA-04: Melissa Hart
--PA-07: Curt Weldon
--PA-08: Mike Fitzpatrick
--PA-10: Don Sherwood
--RI-Sen: Lincoln Chafee
--TN-Sen: Bob Corker
--VA-Sen: George Allen
--VA-10: Frank Wolf
--WA-Sen: Mike McGavick
--WA-08: Dave Reichert
Science Ignored, Again
from the NYT:
The Bush administration loves to talk about the virtues of “sound science,” by which it usually means science that buttresses its own political agenda. But when some truly independent science comes along to threaten that agenda, the administration often ignores or minimizes it. The latest example involves the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to reject the recommendations of experts inside and outside the government who had urged a significant tightening of federal standards regulating the amount of soot in the air.
At issue were so-called fine particles, tiny specks of soot that are less than one-thirtieth the diameter of a human hair. They penetrate deep into the lungs and circulatory system and have been implicated in tens of thousands of deaths annually from both respiratory and coronary disease. The E.P.A., obliged under the Clean Air Act to set new exposure levels every five years, tightened the daily standard. But it left unchanged the annual standard, which affects chronic exposure and which the medical community regards as more important.
In so doing, the agency rejected the recommendation of its own staff scientists and even that of its Clean Air Scientific Advisory Council, a 22-member group of outside experts that had recommended a significant tightening of the standards. Stephen Johnson, the agency administrator, claimed there was “insufficient evidence” linking health problems to long-term exposure. He added that “wherever the science gave us a clear picture, we took clear action,” noting also that “there was not complete agreement on the standard.”
One wonders how much evidence Mr. Johnson requires, and how “complete” an “agreement” must be before he takes action. A 20-2 vote in favor of stronger standards seems fairly convincing to us; likewise the unanimous plea for stronger standards from mainstream groups like the American Medical Association.
The environmental and medical communities suspect that the administration’s main motive was to save the power companies and other industrial sources of pollution about $1.9 billion in new investment that the more protective annual standard would have required. But here, too, the administration appears to have ignored expert advice. Last Friday, the agency released an economic analysis showing that in exchange for $1.9 billion in new costs, the stronger annual standards could save as many as 24,000 thousand lives and as much as $50 billion annually in health care and other costs to society. Studies like these always offer a range of possible outcomes, but even at the lower end — 2,200 lives and $4.3 billion in money saved — the cost-benefit ratios are very favorable.
In the next year or so, the administration must decide whether to tighten the standards for another pollutant, ground-level ozone, which causes smog and is also associated with respiratory diseases. The scientific advisory committee has tentatively recommended that the ozone standard be tightened, citing new evidence of smog’s adverse effects. This time Mr. Johnson should pay more attention to the scientists and less to the political strategists in the White House.
Ten major news stories the media is ignoringfrom MarketWatch (via truthout):
By Thomas Kostigen
SANTA MONICA, Calif. (MarketWatch) -- The San Francisco Bay Guardian newspaper has printed a list of stories we in the media seem to have largely ignored over the past year. The story is gleaned from an annual list developed by Project Censored, a media research group out of Sonoma State University that tracks the news published in independent journals and newsletters.
It's a provocative and eye-opening list that warrants attention, especially from the media. And each year it usually gets it, as Salon comments, out of "guilt."
In a great example of how certain stories play out, San Francisco Bay Guardian reporter Sarah Phelan opens her article by citing the play two news items recently received on the same day they broke: In Detroit, U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor ruled that the Bush administration's warrantless National Security Agency surveillance program was unconstitutional and must end. Meanwhile, somewhere in Thailand, a weirdo named John Mark Karr claimed he was with six-year-old beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey when she died in 1996.
We all know which story received the most attention.
Here are the Top 10 most ignored stories. I've had to condense them for space considerations, but their headlines should tell enough of a story:
The Supreme Court ruled that giant cable companies aren't required to share their wires with other Internet service providers. The issue was misleadingly framed as an argument over regulation, when it's really a case of the Federal Communications Commission and Congress talking about giving cable and telephone companies the freedom to control supply and content -- a decision that could have them playing favorites and forcing consumers to pay to get information and services that currently are free.
Source: "Web of Deceit: How Internet Freedom Got the Federal Ax, and Why Corporate News Censored the Story," Elliot D. Cohen, BuzzFlash.com, July 18, 2005.
Halliburton, the notorious U.S. energy company, sold key nuclear-reactor components to a private Iranian oil company called Oriental Oil Kish as recently as 2005, using offshore subsidiaries to circumvent U.S. sanctions. The story is particularly juicy because Vice President Dick Cheney, who now claims to want to stop Iran from getting nukes, was president of Halliburton in the mid-1990s, at which time he may have advocated business dealings with Iran, in violation of U.S. law.
Source: "Halliburton Secretly Doing Business with Key Member of Iran's Nuclear Team," Jason Leopold, GlobalResearch.ca, Aug. 5, 2005.
Governments deny global warming is happening as they rush to map the ocean floor in the hopes of claiming rights to oil, gas, gold, diamonds, copper, zinc and the planet's last pristine fishing grounds. Researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in 2005 found "the first clear evidence that the world ocean is growing warmer," including the discovery "that the top half-mile of the ocean has warmed dramatically in the past 40 years as the result of human-induced greenhouse gases."
Source: "The Fate of the Ocean," Julia Whitty, Mother Jones, March-April 2006.
As hunger and homelessness rise in the United States, the Bush administration plans to get rid of a data source that supports this embarrassing reality, a survey that's been used to improve state and federal programs for retired and low-income Americans.
In 2003, the Bush Administration tried to whack the Bureau of Labor Statistics report on mass layoffs and in 2004 and 2005 attempted to drop the bureau's questions on the hiring and firing of women from its employment data.
Sources: "New Report Shows Increase in Urban Hunger, Homelessness," Brendan Coyne, New Standard, December 2005; "U.S. Plan to Eliminate Survey of Needy Families Draws Fire," Abid Aslam, OneWorld.net, March 2006.
If you believe the corporate media, then the ongoing genocide in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is all just a case of ugly tribal warfare. But that is a superficial, simplistic explanation that fails to connect this terrible suffering with the immense fortunes that stand to be made from manufacturing cell phones, laptop computers and other high-tech equipment.
What's really at stake in this bloodbath is control of natural resources such as diamonds, tin, and copper, as well as cobalt -- which is essential for the nuclear, chemical, aerospace, and defense industries -- and coltan and niobium, which is most important for the high-tech industries.
Sources: "The World's Most Neglected Emergency: Phil Taylor talks to Keith Harmon Snow," The Taylor Report, March 28, 2005; "High-Tech Genocide," Sprocket, Earth First! Journal, August 2005; "Behind the Numbers: Untold Suffering in the Congo," Keith Harmon Snow and David Barouski, Z Magazine, March 1, 2006.
Though record numbers of federal workers have been sounding the alarm on waste, fraud, and other financial abuse since George W. Bush became president, the agency charged with defending government whistleblowers has reportedly been throwing out hundreds of cases -- and advancing almost none. Statistics released at the end of 2005 by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility led to claims that special counsel Scott Bloch, who was appointed by Bush in 2004, is overseeing the systematic elimination of whistleblower rights.
Sources: "Whistleblowers Get Help from Bush Administration," Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) Web site, Dec. 5, 2005; "Long-Delayed Investigation of Special Counsel Finally Begins," PEER Web site, Oct. 18, 2005; "Back Door Rollback of Federal Whistleblower Protections," PEER Web site, Sept. 22, 2005.
While reports of torture aren't new, the documents are evidence of using torture as a policy, raising a whole bunch of uncomfortable questions, such as: Who authorized such techniques? And why have the resulting deaths been covered up?
Of the 44 death reports released under ACLU's FOIA request, 21 were homicides and eight appear to have been the result of these abusive torture techniques.
Sources: "U.S. Operatives Killed Detainees During Interrogations in Afghanistan and Iraq," American Civil Liberties Union Web site, Oct. 24, 2005; "Tracing the Trail of Torture: Embedding Torture as Policy from Guantanamo to Iraq," Dahr Jamail, TomDispatch.com, March 5, 2006.
In 2005, the Department of Defense pushed for and was granted exemption from Freedom of Information Act requests, a crucial law that allows journalists and watchdogs access to federal documents. The ruling could hamper the efforts of groups like the ACLU, which relied on FOIA to uncover more than 30,000 documents on the US military's torture of detainees in Afghanistan Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay, including the Abu Ghraib torture scandal.
Sources: "Pentagon Seeks Greater Immunity from Freedom of Information," Michelle Chen, New Standard, May 6, 2005; "FOIA Exemption Granted to Federal Agency," Newspaper Association of America Web site, posted December 2005.
In 2004, the International Court of Justice ruled that the wall Israel is building deep into Palestinian territory should be torn down. Instead, construction of this cement barrier, which annexes Israeli settlements and breaks the continuity of Palestinian territory, has accelerated. In the interim, the World Bank has come up with a framework for a Middle Eastern Free Trade Area, which would be financed by the World Bank and built on Palestinian land around the wall to encourage export-oriented economic development.
But with Israel ineligible for World Bank loans, the plan seems to translate into Palestinians paying for the modernization of checkpoints around a wall that they've always opposed, a wall that will help lock in and exploit their labor.
Sources: "Cementing Israeli Apartheid: The Role of World Bank," Jamal Juma', Left Turn, issue 18; "U.S. Free Trade Agreements Split Arab Opinion," Linda Heard, Aljazeera, March 9, 2005.
At the end of 2005, U.S. Central Command Air Force statistics showed an increase in American air missions, a trend that was accompanied by a rise in civilian deaths thanks to increased bombing of Iraqi cities.
Sources: "Up in the Air," Seymour M. Hersh, New Yorker, December 2005; "An Increasingly Aerial Occupation," Dahr Jamail, TomDispatch.com, December 2005 SFBG.
Project Censored then compiles an annual list of 25 news stories of social significance that have been overlooked, underreported or self-censored by the country's major national news media. See www.projectcensored.org.
Whistleblowers in peril
In another worrying instance of its tendency to quietly arrogate new powers to itself, the Bush administration has reversed two decades of precedent and declared that important whistleblower protections in the Clean Water Act do not apply to federal workers.
This binding change in the interpretation of the law was instigated by a top Department of Justice lawyer a year ago. Steven Bradbury, acting assistant attorney-general in the department’s Office of Legal Counsel, gave a straightforward reason for his decision: the Clean Water Act does not list the US government as a ‘person’ in its definition of employers from whom whistleblowers may seek redress in the event of retaliation by their bosses. He concluded that the ancient legal doctrine of sovereign immunity — which says the government must explicitly consent to be sued — makes the federal government immune from the whistleblower provisions in the law.
The water law was written to protect workers in the private and public sectors who report breakdowns in its enforcement, manipulations of science, or clean-up failures. Its whistleblower provisions essentially apply to any action a worker might take in a sincere effort to do a good job — and hence go further than a different, government-wide whistleblower law that is still in place but that protects only the reporting of gross mismanagement or violations of law.
The water law’s provisions have real teeth: whistleblowers who are found to have legitimate complaints are eligible for reinstatement to lost jobs, back pay, and compensatory damages for loss of reputation and emotional distress — damages that in the past have ranged in the tens of thousands of dollars.
Exempting federal employees would expose to retaliation some 170,000 members of the federal workforce in a dozen different agencies, from the Forest Service to the US Geological Survey, who might make efforts in good faith to see that the law is properly enforced. Scientists could feel this particularly strongly, as the problems they encounter — such as the skewing of a methodology or the removal of a conclusion from a report — don’t typically violate a law. This change is bound to suppress their willingness to report such events.
Superficially, the justice department has made a defensible case. But it goes against two decades of precedent during which the Department of Labor adjudicators charged with administering whistleblower law repeatedly rejected arguments for the government’s sovereign immunity under the water law. Legal doctrine holds that, when an agency such as the labour department has a long-standing interpretation of a law, as in this instance, and Congress does nothing to change it, it can be assumed that Congress accepts that interpretation.
But what is particularly disturbing about this change is the way it was brought in under the radar, remaining unpublished for 12 months and unknown to the federal workers potentially affected by it. It only became public last week, when the advocacy group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility released a letter from Bradbury, which it obtained under the Freedom of Information Act after stumbling upon a reference to it in a whistleblower complaint. This is hardly a fitting approach to jurisprudence in a purportedly open and democratic society.
It is common knowledge that the Bush administration has fought against implementing more stringently protective environmental laws, and its enforcement of existing laws has been weak to a fault; according to the justice department’s figures, government requests for criminal prosecutions of environmental lawbreakers fell by half in the five years to 2005. In such an atmosphere, whistleblowers within the government become a key defence against further erosion of environmental standards. Removing their protections seems all but certain to hasten this erosion.
There is a possible remedy, however: Congress should amend the Clean Water Act to define the US government as an employer against whom whistleblower complaints can be brought.
BushCo to Cut EPA Even Further in 2008from PEER:
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is preparing for a new even larger round of budget cuts for the 2008 Fiscal Year, according to an internal memo released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). These new cuts are being readied even as Congress is still reviewing administration proposals to reduce EPA spending by a record $100 million in FY 2007.
The June 8, 2006 memo from the EPA Chief Financial Officer, Lyons Gray, to agency leadership, calls for pinpointing “larger savings” as part of a series of austerities spread over the next 5 years. Slated for presentation to the President’s Office of Management & Budget on September 11, 2006, the agency’s fiscal reduction package includes:
- Closure of Laboratories. The plan calls for closing 10% of EPA’s network of laboratories and research centers in which much of the agency’s basic and applied science concerning pollution monitoring, toxicological effects and other public health issues is conducted. By 2011, the laboratory network, comprised of approximately 2000 scientists, would shrink by 20%;
- Staff Buy-Outs. The plan gives EPA regions freer hands to carry out personnel reductions targeted at higher ranking (“GS 12 to GS 15” ) scientists, analysts and managers. These cuts would be in addition to anticipated attrition which should be substantial, with 35% of EPA staff becoming eligible to retire during the next three years; and
- Reduced State and Tribal Oversight. Additional savings would accrue from reducing the “regulatory burden” on, and reporting requirements for, state and tribal environmental agencies.
The memo calls identified reductions “disinvestments” and concedes that they will undoubtedly have “long-term consequences.” Agency budget cuts now being debated in Congress for the fiscal year that begins this October 1 have raised concerns that EPA is already losing its ability to maintain coherent scientific, regulatory or enforcement programs.
“EPA planning is now driven entirely by external fiscal targets
without regard to the effects upon public or environmental health,”
stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “The Bush administration
seeks to ‘disinvest’ in environmental science, pollution control and
In his memo, Mr. Gray attempts to sugarcoat cuts by describing scaled-back operations as “centers of excellence.”
“The Bush administration is trying to spin this lobotomy as a diet plan for a trimmer, shapelier EPA,” Ruch added. “In fact, it is a plan to cut and run from historic standards of environmental protection under the guise of deficit management.”
Interior Official Assails Agency for Ethics Slide
from the NYT:
By EDMUND L. ANDREWS
The Interior Department’s chief official responsible for investigating abuses and overseeing operations accused the top officials at the agency on Wednesday of tolerating widespread ethical failures, from cronyism to cover-ups of incompetence.
“Simply stated, short of a crime, anything goes at the highest levels of the Department of the Interior,” charged Earl E. Devaney, the Interior Department’s inspector general, at a hearing of the House Government Reform subcommittee on energy.
“I have observed one instance after another when the good work of my office has been disregarded by the department,” he continued. “Ethics failures on the part of senior department officials — taking the form of appearances of impropriety, favoritism and bias — have been routinely dismissed with a promise ‘not to do it again.’ ”
The blistering attack was part of Mr. Devaney’s report on what he called the Interior Department’s “bureaucratic bungling” of oil and gas leases signed in the late 1990’s, mistakes that are now expected to cost the government billions of dollars but were covered up for six years.
While these leases were the specific focus of the hearing, Mr. Devaney directed most of his criticism at what he called a broader organizational culture at the Interior Department of denial and “defending the indefensible.”
He expressed particular fury at the willingness to dismiss two dozen potential ethical lapses by J. Steven Griles, a former industry lobbyist who served as deputy secretary of the interior during Bush’s first term.
Bush Says EPA Immune From Whistle Blowers
Diane E. Dees writes at MoJo:
Citing an unpublished opinion from the Attorney General’s Office of Legal Counsel, the Bush administration has declared that federal employees may no longer pursue whistleblower claims and protections under the Clean Water Act. As of now, EPA employees will have almost no protection from retaliation if they come forward with information about water pollution enforcement breakdowns, cleanup failures, or the deceptive presentation of scientific findings. Approximately 170,000 employees are affected by this ruling.
The EPA is no help at all. The agency is taking the position that its employees have no protections of any kind regarding any environmental statute.
This turnabout occurred because an EPA employee reported problems with contracts for toxic cleanups. She was rewarded $225,000 in punitive damages after she filed a retaliation suit, but the Department of Labor overturned the court’s decision.
The White House is claiming sovereign immunity for the EPA.