The federal investigation into Sen. Ted Stevens’ (R-AK) potentially corrupt relationship to an Alaskan oil company has expanded to include his ties to the fishing industry. Investigators issued “subpoenas throughout the industry last year” asking whether Stevens “pushed seafood legislation that benefited” his son Ben, who is a state lobbyist and politician. One fisherman provided the FBI with a taped conversation indicating that Ben Stevens told a client, “I’ll get Dad to fund you guys, too.”
Eleven years ago, I wrote an article for the Atlantic Monthly with various predictions and warnings on oil and energy technology and climate. Since those subjects remain hot today — concern over oil prices and peak oil is at a three-decade-high and Shellenberger and Nordhaus have reignited the technology debate with a variety of historically inaccurate claims about the clean energy R&D message — and since this is probably the best thing I wrote in the 1990s, I am going to reprint it here. It is a long piece so I will divide it up into several posts.
“MidEast Oil Forever?” (subs. req’d), coauthored by then deputy energy secretary Charles Curtis, became the cover story for the April 1996 issue (click on picture to enlarge — yes that is a lightbulb, the sun, and a windmill about to go over the edge of a sea of oil).
The back story is that the Gingrich Congress had come in with its passionate hatred of all applied energy research, and the Clinton Administration was desperately trying to save the entire clean energy budget from being zeroed out. I wrote most of the piece in the summer of 1995 and revised it in January 1996. The title was a warning that the U.S. would be stuck with its dependence on MidEast Oil if that happened. Hence the subhead for the article:
Congressional budget-cutters threaten to end America’s leadership in new energy technologies that could generate hundreds of thousands of high-wage jobs, reduce damage to the environment, and limit our costly, dangerous dependency on oil from the unstable Persian Gulf region.
[Note: The original online article had active links, and I have kept those that still work. In the interests of space, I will not indent the whole article, as I normally do for extended quotations.]
Imagine a world in which the Persian Gulf controlled two thirds of the world’s oil for export, with $200 billion a year in oil revenues streaming into that unstable and politically troubled region, and America was importing nearly 60 percent of its oil, resulting in a $100-billion-a-year outflow that undermined efforts to reduce our trade deficit. That’s a scenario out of the 1970s which can never happen again, right? No, that’s the “reference case” projection for ten years from now from the federal Energy Information Administration.
Imagine another world in which fossil-fuel use had begun a slow, steady decline; more than a third of the market for new electricity generation was supplied from renewable sources; the renewables industry had annual sales of $150 billion; and the fastest-growing new source of power was solar energy. An environmentalist’s fantasy, right? No, that’s one of two planning scenarios for three to four decades from now, developed by Royal Dutch/Shell Group, the world’s most profitable oil company, which is widely viewed as a bench mark for strategic planning.
As ludicrous as it might seem that Michael Mukasey’s official view on waterboarding is that he can’t say whether or not it’s torture until he’s been confirmed first, it’s even more ludicrous that Benjamin Wittes thinks this makes sense:
It may be obvious to senators–and to me, for that matter–that waterboarding crosses a legal line. But it would be very wrong for a nominee to call foul on a series of opinions which he cannot read, on which a major covert action program depends, which individuals serving their country have used to assure themselves that they operate within the law, and which happen to represent the position of the department Mukasey aspires to lead.
So basically, waterboarding is torture, and it’s obviously torture, but it would be “very wrong” for a would-be Attorney-General of the United States to say so. And what if that means confirming yet another Attorney-General who will condone this act of torture? Well:
The Democrats have a big club to wield over Mukasey’s head to make sure they don’t get snookered: Without a strong working relationship with them, he won’t be able to get anything done.
Now you’re sitting here and saying to yourself, but wasn’t this just as true of Mukasey’s steadfastly pro-torture predecessors? But Wittes, using the same powers of counterintuition that allow him to divine the notion that overturning Roe v. Wade would be wrong “as a jurisprudential matter” but good “for the cause of abortion rights” turns this into an argument for the “see no evil” approach:
The lack of such a relationship gravely impaired both of his predecessors, albeit for different reasons. And, with only a year to serve in office, Mukasey’s clock will tick loudly from the start. He will prove nothing but a caretaker unless he can act as a bridge between the ruling party on Capitol Hill and an administration that has burned its other bridges to Congress yet desperately needs constructive legislation in a variety of areas related to the war on terrorism.
When in doubt, count on the Bush administration’s good faith! Thank the Lord we have Brookings scholars around to offer us independent research and analysis.
I suppose it’s worth saying something about the rumors flying that Kobe Bryant might get traded to Washington, since I heard someone repeating them excitedly at the corner store. In fact, though, the only observation I have is about the cosmic injustice of conference imbalance. Last year’s Lakers went 42-40, whereas the Wizards went 41-41. So the teams did about the same. Except, of course, that if you swapped the entire Lakers roster for the entire Wizards roster, the Wizards would get much better and the Lakers would get much worse. The two teams, after all, compiled their similar records playing against very dissimilar competition.
Looking for signs of progress in Iraq, the Bush administration has been quick to jump on reports of reduced violence in Iraq. The “violence is thankfully coming down,” said White House spokesperson Dana Perino. Violence is “down significantly from last year,” declared President Bush.
In a hearing before the House Appropriations Committee today, Joe Christoff of the Government Accountability Office stated that this recent reduction in violence should be taken with a grain of salt, as it coincides with increased sectarian cleansing and a massive refugee displacement:
I think that’s [ethnic cleansing] an important consideration in even assessing the overall security situation in Iraq. You know, we look at the attack data going down, but it’s not taking into consideration that there might be fewer attacks because you have ethnically cleansed neighborhoods, particularly in the Baghdad area. [...]
It’s produced 2.2. million refugees that have left, it’s produced two million internally displaced persons within the countryas well.
Christoff’s conclusions echo that of ret. Gen. James Jones last month, who observed “progress” in a Shi’a-led ethnic cleansing campaign.
Also in attendance at the hearing was Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) Stuart Bowen. In his quarterly report to Congress released today, Bowen acknowledged the reduction in violence but stated that it has not been accompanied by tangible political reconciliation, a finding that was neglected by the traditional media in its reporting today. In Baghdad, for example, Provincial Reconstruction Team officials note:
Despite reduced violence, officials are pessimistic that lasting reconciliation is occurring. … In Diyala, there is a desire to work toward reconciliation, but it will take years to overcome ill-will between tribes.
Earlier this month, Gen. David Petraeus confidently declared, “There’s a local reconciliation” in Diyala province.
Kevin Drum says he’s leaning toward Hillary. I lean the other way, but I agree with the idea that Obama’s “Kumbaya campaigning schtick leaves me cold. Worse than that, in fact: it leaves me terrified that he just doesn’t know what he’s up against with the modern Republican Party and won’t have the instinct to go for the jugular when the inevitable Swift Boating commences.” I agree. In the early days of Barack Obama’s campaign I thought he had this exactly right; that the thing to do was to mildly annoy Chris Bowers by lying like hell about a professed desire to unite the country while recognizing that politics is a blood sport played for high stakes against unrelenting foes in which the only thing that matters is getting the number of votes you need to win.
Now I have my doubts.
In particular, if Rudy Giuliani is the Republican nominee, I want to see a Democrat who will, enthusiastically, smear him through his association with Alan Placa and sundry other corrupt figures and whose staff will feel intensely comfortable asking supporters to cut $2,300 checks to a third party pro-life challenger. Someone who’s in it to win it, and isn’t trying to prove anything other than his (or her) ability to win the election. Hillary Clinton is that person and I’m not so sure Barack Obama is.
At the end of the day, though, I’m happy to play the youthful idealist here, and note Clinton seems to have so much less in the way of upside — not just or even especially as a candidate — than do Obama or Edwards. I could imagine either of them successfully taking advantage of the disastrous failure of the Bush presidency to rebrand liberalism as the mainstream ideology of our time. Clinton, by contrast, will bring back competent centrist technocracy and basic morality to the White House. That’d be good, but I think the country’s at a place where we can do better right now than a simple reversion to what we had before Bush and I, at least, would like to hold out for more.
In a written response to questions from Senate Democrats today, Attorney General nominee Michael Mukasey refused to explicitly say whether he believed waterboarding to be torture. In the four-page letter, Mukasey called the interrogation technique “over the line” and “repugnant” on “a personal basis,” but added that he would need the “actual facts and circumstances” to strike a “legal opinion”:
Hypotheticals are different from real life and in any legal opinion the actual facts and circumstances are critical.
CNN’s Ed Henry notes that with his “facts and circumstances” hedge, “essentially Michael Mukasey is dodging the question of whether legally waterboarding is torture.” Watch Henry’s report:
Senate Democrats have said that Mukasey’s answer on the question of waterboarding and torture is crucial to their vote on his confirmation. “It’s fair to say my vote would depend on him answering that question,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) told reporters last week. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) called it “the seminal issue.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a judge advocate general in the military, has said that it shouldn’t be difficult for Mukasey to be clear on the issue:
If he does not believe that waterboarding is illegal, then that would really put doubts in my own mind because I don’t think you have to have a lot of knowledge about the law to understand this technique violates” the Geneva Convention and other statutes.
Time reported earlier today that if Mukasey “refuses to declare waterboarding expressly illegal, he looks likely to be rejected by the Judiciary Committee.”
Read Mukasey’s full answers HERE.
UPDATE: In a statement, Leahy said he was “very concerned” that Mukasey was “unable to state unequivocally that waterboarding is illegal”:
Based on an initial review of his response to the letter, I remain very concerned that Judge Mukasey finds himself unable to state unequivocally that waterboarding is illegal and below the standards and values of the United States.
Today, the Justice Department’s controversial Voting Rights section chief John Tanner testified to the House Subcommittee on Civil Rights. He offered an anemic apology for his comments that minorities “die first” before becoming elderly, and are therefore not as affected by voter ID laws. He said the comments “do not in any way accurately reflect my career of devotion to enforcing federal laws designed to assure fair and equal access to the ballot.”
Yet after Tanner’s testimony, Toby Moore, a former Voting Rights section employee, testified that Tanner’s remarks “are a fair example of Tanner’s approach to the facts, the truth, and the law.” Moore also said that Tanner “is both the cause and the effect of the politicizing of the Civil Rights Division” and that the voting rights section was “a wounded institution”:
John Tanner is both the cause and the effect of the politicizing of the Civil Rights Division, and should not be allowed to hide behind a career status which he has abjured by his actions.
Until someone in the department, in this administration or the next, admits to the mistakes of the past several years and restores credible leadership, the voting section of the Civil Rights Division will remain a wounded institution. How long will the Department of Justice tolerate chronic mismanagement simply to save face?
One of Tanner’s most controversial acts as Voting Rights chief surrounded his approval of a 2005 Georgia law requiring voters to show photo identification to vote, a law a federal judge compared to a Jim Crow-era poll tax. Today Moore called it a “discriminatory” and “nasty piece of legislation” that included “draconian restrictions.”
Under the Bush administration, the Civil Rights division, of which the Voting Rights section is a part, has undergone “a sea change,” shifting from its traditional focus of protecting minority voting rights to bringing cases alleging reverse discrimination against whites. The section “has notably shirked its legal responsibility to protect voting rights,” former Voting Rights section head Joseph Rich wrote last March.
Transcript: Read more
Gilbert Arenas gets his big profile in The Washington Post magazine. In my experience, a lot of us Wizards fans are experiencing a bit of cognitive dissonance over the whole Gilbert phenomenon. When I first moved to town and the Wizards were, as they are today, a middling franchise capable of making the playoffs in a weak Eastern Conference, nobody in DC seemed aware of that fact. It’s not really been a basketball town historically, the Wizards/Bullets had been terrible for a long time, and everyone wanted to talk about the Redskins or the new baseball team.
But for DC’s NBA fans there was this treat — a charismatic underrated combo guard with at times questionable decision-making and commitment to defense, but an unquestionable nose for scoring and various delightful quirks. Now over the past twelve months or so, Gilbert seems to have leapt from underrated to overrated — he’s on the cover of NBA Live, I saw his jersey prominently featured in the NBA Store in New York, etc. — and I’m not sure he realizes that he owes his fans in DC something more. In particular, a winning basketball team. In double particular, the Wizards defense was so bad last season that it seems to me that something as simple as a little leadership by example from the team’s star player could do a lot to boost the defense from “awful” to “below average” and win a ton of games. But I’m not at all optimistic that it’ll happen.
The clearest sign you could ask for that Democrats are overwhelmingly favored to win in 2008 is this graphic which appeared in yesterday’s New York Times showing all segments of the health care industry now favoring Democrats with their campaign contributions even though Democrats are all promising tough new regulations that would seem to ill-serve the industry’s interests.
The question of course arises of what these firms are buying for their trouble. It’s something I’d like to see Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both address. I don’t think there’s any sense in asking them (or anyone else) to disavow accepting contributions from this sector of the economy (it’s giant, after all, and “health professionals” and hospital administrators can be donating out of a complicated mix of interests) but as long as we’re in the phase of the political process where these people are supposed to be “pandering” to the Dread Base, I’d like to see us, the voting public, wring a bit more out of them in terms of rhetorical bridge-burning.