Saturday, December 06, 2003


From OMB Watcher:

A federal judge recently instructed the Interior Department to rewrite part of its new hard-rock mining rules after finding that mining companies are not being required to pay fair market value for use of public lands. The judge criticized the Bush administration’s overall interpretation of federal law on hard-rock mining, but stopped short of striking down the rules, stating that he did not have legal grounds to do so.

In October 2001, the Bush administration weakened environmental and land use protections for hard-rock mining (that includes gold, silver, copper, and other minerals, but not coal), which were issued shortly before President Clinton left office. This stripped the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) of authority to block proposed mines on federal land that could result in “substantial irreparable harm,” locking in a sweetheart arrangement for mining interests, which urged the rollback.

Also from OMB Watcher:

The Bush administration is considering a plan to allow low-level radioactive material to be stored in ordinary landfills and hazardous waste sites. Currently, such waste must be stored at facilities specifically licensed for radioactive material.

Under the plan, EPA would permit radioactive waste to be disposed of in landfills designed and permitted only for chemical waste, industrial waste and municipal garbage.

A coalition of environmental organizations, including the Nuclear Policy Research Institute (NPRI), the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS), the Sierra Club, and Public Citizen, sent a letter to EPA Administrator Michael Leavitt warning that this action “could significantly harm the environment and public health.”

e-mail the President
Mike Leavitt at the EPA

Copyable and pasteable letter:

Dear Xxxxx

Because I hope to live on this planet after you are no longer in office, I am writing you to ask you to please stop rolling back a nation's environmental protections. Specifically, I'm am asking you today not allow the dumping of radioactive material in ordinary landfills. What is wrong with you anyways?

get used to it buddy 

From OMB Watcher:

The House Administration Committee scheduled a Nov. 11 hearing to investigate the ways in which political action committees (PACs) are using soft money after passage of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA).

Chair Bob Ney (R-OH) issued a news release saying, “In recent months, many of us in the Congress have watched with increasing concern as organizations have been formed in the wake of BCRA with the apparent intent of using soft money to influence federal elections -- something which the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act purported to ban.”

Ney, who opposed BCRA, seems confused over its meaning. . .

catch your breath 

From OMB Watcher:

Congress left for the Thanksgiving break after passing less than half of the 2004 appropriations bills that fund government.

Even though the fiscal year began on Oct. 1, 2003, the only finished appropriations bills are Defense, Military Construction, Homeland Security, Legislative Branch, Interior, and Energy and Water. There are 7 remaining bills - Agriculture, Commerce-Justice-State, District of Columbia, Labor-HHS, Veteran's Affairs and HUD, Transportation-Treasury, and Foreign Operations. . .

smile when you say that 

Given the deficit that they've grown and the fact that they have essentially scuttled all our environmental regulations in the name of economic growth, jobs should be falling out of the sky. Guess what. They're not.

What's just disgusting is that the press let's them report an employment report that falls a quarter of a million jobs below their projections as good news.

i'll believe it when i see it 

From The Hill:

Democrats are developing a strategy to alter last month’s Medicare legislation and chip away at the political victory Republicans and the White House won in passing it.

The strategy relies on senior citizens’ disliking the reforms once they understand the details.


From The Hill:

In a move aimed at blunting President Bush’s appeal to Hispanic voters, the New Democrat Network (NDN) today will launch two commercials on Spanish-language television stations questioning his commitment to the Latino community. The message of the 30-second commercials, which will run in Orlando, Florida and Las Vegas, Nevada for two and half weeks, is that Bush has not kept the promise he made during the 2000 campaign to be a friend of the Hispanic community.

“Historically, the Latino community has prospered by embracing the Democrat’s opportunity agenda,” said NDN President Simon Rosenberg. “In the 90s, Latinos thrived. In this decade, they have taken steps backward. These ads remind Latino who their true friends are.”

The first commercial, “Cambio,” (change), features a Hispanic man reading a newspaper with the headline “Latinos Applaud Democratic Agenda.”

. . . Founded in 1996, NDN has helped elect 50 Democrats to the Senate and House.

iring up the base part two 

From The Hill:

Conservative Republican frustration over the failure of the Bush administration and the House Republican leadership to restrain federal spending has boiled over in recent days, producing a rare confrontation between GOP lawmakers and party leaders. The internal conflict, fueled largely by recent passage of the $78 billion Iraq reconstruction effort and the $400 billion prescription-drug benefit for senior citizens that squeaked through the House on Nov. 22, came to a head last week when President Bush abruptly terminated a phone conversation with a Florida Republican who refused his plea to vote for the landmark bill.

Well-placed sources said Bush hung up on freshman Rep. Tom Feeney after Feeney said he couldn’t support the Medicare bill. The House passed it by only two votes after Hastert kept the roll-call vote open for an unprecedented stretch of nearly three hours in the middle of the night. Feeney, a former Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives whom many see as a rising star in the party, reportedly told Bush: “I came here to cut entitlements, not grow them.”

Sources said Bush shot back, “Me too, pal,” and hung up the phone.

you stupid jackass 

What was I just saying about earmarks?

From The Hill:

More than 100 House members of both parties, have been denied any portion of the $750 million in district earmarks in the Veterans Affairs (VA), housing and Urban Development (HUD) and independent agencies spending bill. They are being punished by GOP House leadership, with the support of the ranking Democrat on the committee, Alan Mollohan (W.Va.), for voting against the VA-HUD package last July. The money is included in the FY 2004 catchall spending bill, which the House is expected to approve when it returns for a one-day session next week.

The denial of the earmarks parallels an earlier decision by Rep. Ralph Regula (R-Ohio), chairman of the Labor, Health and Human Services Subcommittee, to deny Democrats any of the $180 million that would have been designated for district projects.

Taken together, the denial of earmarks in the two spending bills codifies a Republican plan to instill a Pavlovian response into lawmakers: If you vote against a bill, don’t expect any earmarks.

But the VA-HUD recrimination scheme had the support of Subcommittee Chairman Jim Walsh (R-N.Y.) and Mollohan, angering his fellow Democrats. “Some members weren’t really happy when they realized that Mollohan had gone along with Walsh on that one,” said a Democratic leadership aide. “He’s was bit embarrassed when that was brought up in caucus [three weeks ago],” the aide added.

Call Mollohan and tell him he's a jackass @ (202) 225-4172

Friday, December 05, 2003


It's amazing to me how much play the steel tariff dust up has gotten. I don't really get it. I am pleased that it has given the Bush admin an opportunity to act foolishly. Which is odd given that, more than likely, this is what their game plan was all along. Throw up illegal tariffs, buy a couple of years for the Steel industry, retreat when the time came. It just is one of the simple pleasures in life to listen to them claim that they were ending them now because they had been effective, not because they were going to get slapped with European tariffs targetted at swing state industries.

150,000 Steelworkers aren't exactly claiming victory. However with estimates of 200,000 jobs lost in the steel consuming industries as a result of the tariffs, it's easy to understand why the AFL-CIO isn't exactly throwing their weight around on the issue.

iring up the base 

Last week on This Week with George Stephanapoulos, George Will was complaining about George Bush and the Republican's recent pork laden legislation in the face of staggering deficits. He was really upset.

This week I see over at Brad Delong a WSJ editorial page column by Alan Murray:

...Increasingly, President Bush resembles not Ronald Reagan, but another GOP forbear: Richard Nixon.... "By many measures," [Herb] Stein concluded, "the Nixon years were a period of retrogression from the conservative economic standpoint." Unless a midcourse correction comes soon, the same will be said of the Bush administration....

It is also possible that what really links Presidents Nixon and Bush is something else: an unbounded desire for a second term, even at the expense of taxpayers. Continuing to cut taxes and increase government spending in the face of runaway budget deficits isn't a good way to run the country. But it may still be a great way to win elections.

So I sauntered over to the Heritage Foundation and the Cato to see what they were making of the revolution they hath wrought.

This is what's cookin' at Heritage:

In 2003, for the first time since World War II, government spending exceeded $20,000 per household. A new online paper examines this colossal expansion of the federal government since 1998, when we had the first budget surplus in over a quarter-century.

Congress' continued fiscal irresponsibility is also clearly exhibited in the thousands of pork projects proposed for fiscal year 2004, writes Brian Riedl in Another Omnibus Spending Bill Loaded with Pork. Two of the many egregious example are: $6 million for the Treasure Island Bridge; and, $200,000 for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Most New Spending Since 2001 Unrelated to the War on Terrorism by Brian M. Riedl

How Congress Can Achieve Savings of 1 Percent by Targeting Waste, Fraud, and Abuse by Brian M. Riedl

New Medicare Drug Entitlement's Huge New Tax on Working Americans by Brian Riedl and William Beach

'American Dream Act'
American Dream Downpayment Act: Fiscally Irresponsible and Redundant to Existing Homeownership Programs by Ronald D. Utt, Ph.D.

You have to wonder if they aren't feeling a little used.

Oddly, the libertarian Cato was sounding less alarmist. One would expect them to be up in arms about the Patriot Act and the mountains of corporate welfare built into the recent Medicare bill and the once and future energy bill. They are concerned with these things, but no more so than a growing if faint clamor for a neo-prohibition, the dangers of antidiscrimination laws and the debate over the safety of increased speed limits.

Cato captain David Boaz weighs in with a sigh of column in the Washington Post that mentions recent big government abuses but isn't really anything other than a litany a examples that illustate that Americans want smaller government. (Of course he fails to show the counter examples illustrating American's schizoid nature on this - they want more services, in addition to lower taxes and efficient government.) And hidden discreetly around the site are some pieces expressing concern about the Patriot Act.

It's clear however that there is a growing chorus of conservative voices that are less than thrilled with the current direction of the Bush admin and the Republican Congress. The liberal base on the other hand is red hot and ready for this election year.

the other white meat 

In doing the research on the above post I came across a number of resources for keeping track of wasteful pork spending. It makes for good reading in that first you laugh and then you want to cry kind of way.

Cutting pork is crucially important for Democrats. Beyond the obvious fiscal irresponsibility of such spending, earmark spending provides conservatives with inflamatory examples of government waste that erodes support for necessary entitlement spending.

The Democratic Party should articulate a vision of a Federal Government that provides for the regulation of markets necessary to their proper functioning; a generous but straight forward social net that provides for education opportunity, aid to the poor, universal healthcare and retirement security; and the necessary infrastructure of defense, law enforcement public lands, transportation and of course the mail. The party should work to discipline it's members in Congress from giving in to pork.

Pork spending has increased in recent years with the rise of a new trend. In the past, money was given in the form of grants that would then be bid by federal agencies, governors and mayors. Now members of Congress directly earmark funds for pet projects. A new lobbying industry has sprung up to accelerate this trend. The advantages of the grant system for ensuring that innovated programs serve some public good are obvious.

According to a Heritage Foundation report pork spending in the 2003 budget to over $23 billion in the form of 9,362 earmarked projects, up from under 2,000 projects just 5 years ago.

Here's a taste:

$725,000 Please Touch Museum, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
$200,000 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, Cleveland, Ohio
$1,800,000 2003 Women's World Cup Tournament
$270,000 Potato storage
$6,000,000 Police Athletic League
$250,000 Call Me Mister program, Clemson University
$500,000 New England Amer-I-Can Program
$150,000 Rock School, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
$16,000 National Distance Running Hall of Fame, Utica, New York
$225,000 Hawaii statehood celebration
$325,000 Construction of a swimming pool in Salinas, California
$100,000 History competition during National History Day in Iowa
$175,000 Therapeutic Horse man ship center, Hoffman Homes for Youth, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
$315,000 Formosan Subterranean Termite research

Here's a few from 2002:

$50,000 A tattoo removal program in San Luis Obispo County, California
$500,000 The Fort Union Trading Post Bike Trail in North Dakota
$2,000,000 The Center on Obesity at West Virginia University
$270,000 An effort to combat "goth culture" in Blue Springs, Missouri
$150,000 Therapeutic Horseback Riding in Apple Valley, California
$500,000 The recovery of Preble's Meadow Jumping Mouse
$4,000,000 Washington State's dolphin replacement (replace them with what?) project

Of course all this pales in comparison to the billions in Pentagon pork that Trent Lott (to pick one single senator) has secured for his home state of Mississippi:

The record of Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi fits the pattern. Lott landed a $1.5 billion contract for a helicopter carrier for the Ingalls Shipyard in Pascagoula, where his father used to work. Down payment in the fiscal 2000 budget was $375 million. The Pentagon had not requested the carrier.

Lott also wangled $87 million in military construction projects, none requested by the Pentagon, for Mississippi in the latest defense appropriation.


Ted Stevens of Alaska, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, is another prominent practitioner. One of his many many home-state trophies, tucked into the defense appropriation bill, is a $15 million project for development of a supersonic business jet by Gulfstream Corp.

John McCain has been the person really fighting the good fight on this issue and his Senate website has a page dedicated solely to fighting pork.

Citizens Against Government Waste is another good resource though they are very ideological. Their high ratings for individual Republican Congressmen (ideo-illogical) makes no sense given this Congress' profligate ways.

Progressives and liberals should create common cause with libertarians and good government conservatives to go after pork spending.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

in my e-mail this morning 

Dear MoveOn member,

We have some great news. Weeks of on-the-ground testing have shown that our "$87 Billion" TV ad successfully gets the truth out about President Bush and his policies. In West Virginia, where we ran the ad, there was an impressive 4% drop in support for Bush. In Ohio, where no ad ran, little changed. Even experts who have been in this field for years were blown away. . . .

overtime petition 

Go sign the petition to save overtime pay.

for your listening pleasure 

Yesterday, just as I was sitting down to blog, I got called in to work. I ended up working a double. Then I got into long, insane bar debates late into the night. Now, I've overslept. I'm running late for work and I have no time to blog. So . . . all I have to offer you is the highlights of what I listened to on NPR yesterday. Good luck. I barely caught it since this knucklehead was jabbering in my ear all day about his foolish life and then asking me to recap the news stories to him at the same time. How you say in your language . . . uhhhh . . . lead pipe?

yesterday on all things considered 

New EPA Chief Under Fire for Mercury Emissions Rule
New EPA head Mike Leavitt faces an environmental uproar over a proposed pollution regulation that would allow power plants to buy and sell the right to emit mercury, a potent neurotoxin, as long as national emission levels fall every year. NPR's John Nielsen reports.

New Technology to Scrub Mercury from Coal
The Bush administration's decision to ease proposed mercury emissions standards rests on the argument that there's no affordable way to remove the toxic substance from coal. But several entrepreneurs say they've developed market-ready mercury eliminating technology. NPR's Allison Aubrey reports.

Oilfield Sabotage Poses Problem in Iraq
Iraq oil exports leave from southern ports, but in the oil-rich northern Iraq city of Kirkuk, lines for gasoline stretch for nearly a mile. Officials fear sabotage of oil production and delivery facilities could lead to more unrest and destabilize the U.S. occupation of Iraq. NPR's Ivan Watson reports.

Media Execs Get Life Sentences for Role in Genocide
A U.N. tribunal convicted and sentenced a radio news director and a newspaper editor to life imprisonment Wednesday for their role in promoting the 1994 Rwandan genocide -- the first trial of media workers by an international court in more than 50 years. NPR's Michele Norris talks with Sharon LaFraniere of The New York Times, who is covering the trial in Tanzania.

Government Fights Moussaoui Death Penalty Ruling
NPR's Michele Norris talks with NPR's Larry Abramson about the appeals court oral argument in the Zacarias Moussaoui terrorism case. The government is appealing a trial court ruling that says if Moussaoui can't talk to al Qaeda witnesses who might help his case, then he can't be threatened with the death penalty. The defense says that's how justice works -- but the government says it would interfere with the war on terrorism.

U.S. Officers Question Guantanamo Detention Policy
Three former senior U.S. military officers, concerned that detentions of "enemy combatants" without charges set a dangerous precedent for American POWs, denounce the Bush administration's policy on prisoners in the war on terror. NPR's Eric Westervelt reports.

Five-State BATF Crackdown on Hells Angels Gang
NPR's Michele Norris talks with reporter Frank Stolze of member station KPCC about arrests of members of the Hells Angels motorcycle gang in five Western states today. The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) raided the San Francisco, Calif., headquarters of the motorcycle club, and also raided dozens of other

yesterday on marketplace 

Commentary - Steel tariffs: a lose-lose proposition
The WTO has ruled the U.S. steel tariffs illegal, and if Washington doesn't drop them soon, we could be looking at a trade war. Though a decision is not expected before tomorrow, commentator Robert Reich says the tariffs have been a bad idea from the start: The tariffs made some of the U.S. steel customers switch to products made abroad, which resulted in American job losses. “Forget American leadership on global trade: We’re telling the rest of the world that the United States doesn’t give a hoot about any place except the United States,” says Reich.

The growing U.S. apartment glut
The pool of potential renters has fallen dramatically. In some cities, landlords report vacancy rates topping 11 percent, which is spurring on a price war. From coast to coast, many rents are dropping as the impact of years of low mortgage rates hits the market. Many believe the market has probably bottomed out. But until the second half of 2005, landlords around the country will probably keep making big promises to get renters in the door.
Reporter: Nancy Greenlease

yesterday on the world 

Paramilitary units report (3:00)
The United States has decided to organize a paramilitary force of Iraqi militiamen to hunt for subversive elements in Iraq. The World's Aaron Schachter reports on the new Iraqi-staffed counterterrorism batallion.

Hong Kong report (5:30)
Since Hong Kong reverted from British rule to Chinese control, its economy has been on the decline. But the Chinese government is responding to the problem by making it easier for Hong Kong businesses to connect with the mainland. The World's Mary Kay Magistad reports on China's efforts to stoke the fires of Hong Kong commerce.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

green hornet: the big picture 

Mysteriously the mayor's race in San Francisco has escaped any national attention save quick glosses in CNN and Fox. That's a shame because it has been a fascinating race, riddled with fault lines; shot through with issue politics, party politics, personal politics; and implications galore for the City of San Francisco, California politics and the Democratic and Green Parties. The Nation, The Progressive, In These Times and the San Francisco based Mother Jones have all taken a powder on this race. Go figure.

I had some hope for the Green Party and New Party when they first gained some purchase in early '90's. Unfortunately, the Greens never got their act together when it came to winning local races. Then in 2000, in the name of "party building' they ran for President a candidate who refused to join the party, refused to endorse their platform and refused to coordinate his campaign or share lists and contributed mightily to George Bush's election. It will be a long time before they are forgiven for that. However, Matt Gonzalez's campaign in San Francisco is a worth a look.


The race is a run-off between two City Supervisors: Green Matt Gonzalez and Willie Brown successor Gavin Newsom. The two emerged from a crowded field in the November 4th election. Newsom got 73,635 votes, or 41 percent. Gonzalez had 35,753, or 20 percent, despite entering the race just 13 weeks prior.

Gonzalez's showing was all the more impressive when you consider that he failed to secure his own party's endorsement. Democratic Supervisor Tom Ammiano had strong support amongst many Greens and blocked Gonzalez's ability to secure the 75% support needed to pin down the endorsement. It is an intriguing illustration of the complexity of fault lines in San Francisco progressive politics that while he didn't get the Green endorsement prior to Nov. 4, he has received the endorsement of a number of Democratic clubhouses for the run off election. 'Party rules require the San Francisco Democratic Central Committee to endorse only Democrats in contested races. But only 21 of the committee's 33 members backed Newsom, with the others either absent, abstaining or voting for no endorsement. '

The election is up for grabs with different polls showing either man leading. The momentum however is all Gonzalez's.

"We're going to win this race," said Gonzalez, a Stanford-educated lawyer. "This is someone who has been running for two years and has spent more than $2 million. We have been in the race for 90 days and have spent maybe $100,000-150,000."

Impressively Gonzalez sped ahead of long time progressive stalwart Tom Ammiano, who had also been a candidate. Despite the fact that during the election Gonzalez worked to peel off Ammiano supporters the Supervisor endorsed Gonzalez - albeit through slightly gritted teeth - stating, "While I differ with Supervisor Gonzalez on some issues, including schools, he is clearly the best of our two choices for mayor,'' Ammiano said. "Overall his leadership would be better for the city, and I strongly endorse his candidacy for mayor.''

That endorsement was somewhat overshadowed by the endorsement of Newsom by another candidate, Angela Alioto. Her endorsement came with the announcement that she would have a role in a Newsom administration as a sort of Vice Mayor, working on human services issues, particularly homelessness.

During the campaign for mayor, she regularly attacked Newsom for what she called his uncaring attitude toward the city's poor, which she said was shown by his sponsorship of last year's successful Care Not Cash initiative and the anti-panhandling Proposition M earlier this month.

Those disputes were mostly forgotten Monday as Alioto talked about what her partnership with Newsom means.

"I know this is huge,'' she said as she sat alongside Newsom at the news conference. "Vote for Mr. Newsom and you will be voting for me to take care of the homeless, to get rid of corrupt contracts and to take care of public power, " she said. "He is cash, I'm care.''

To me that has the ring of the clip in a documentary that sets up the betrayal. Can't you just see a VH1 Behind the Administration on Newsom: "Angela Alioto had high hopes for her role in the aministration - but storm clouds were on the horizon. The homeless get the shaft, when Behind the Administration continues. . . "

It just sounds like a sucker deal straight up. Gonzalez was quick to call foul. Newsom and Alioto promply did the pretzel dance denying any quid pro quo. Earlier in the week, a press conference to announce an endorsement of Gonzalez had been announced and then cancelled at the last minute.

The Democratic establishment, still smarting from the debacle of Gray Davis' governorship and the victory of Arnold Schwarzenegger has piled on the Newsom campaign with palpable fear. Endorsements have poured in from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and U.S. Reps. George Miller and Loretta Sanchez and Presdential candidates Dick Gephardt, Joe Lieberman and John Kerry.

Meanwhile, Earth in the Balance author Al Gore drops in for a Newsom fundraiser. Gonzalez can't help but point out that while the Sierra Club gave Newsom a D rating, he scored an A+. Of course Gore is more than likely still smarting from Ralph Nader's role in his defeat. I won't soon forget that either but this race is exactly the kind of campaign that I think the Green's should be focused on.

Friends with ties to San Francisco tell me that the city is going crazy at the grassroots level for Gonzalez with every kind of mad fundraiser going on. A glance at the events calender on the Gonzalez website bears this out. He is more in tune with San Fran voters which his lightening and underfunded surge also bears out. There is a serious problem with Newsom as a candidate if after all that money, he keeps losing ground.

In a move that illustrated the Democrats desperation, Willie Brown accused Gonzalez of racism.

On Tuesday, Brown told a group of black ministers that Gonzalez has "some kind of defect in his head that makes him believe African Americans aren't qualified'' to serve in City Hall. He urged the clergymen to tell their congregations how important it is to keep Gonzalez from becoming mayor.

Da Mayor got a well deserved bitch slap:

Matt Gonzalez called Mayor Willie Brown a liar Wednesday for suggesting in a speech that the supervisor has consistently voted against blacks seeking city jobs and appointments. That claim of racism is a serious one, Gonzalez, a candidate for mayor, said at a hastily called news conference outside a Fillmore Street hat shop. "If Mayor Brown wants to lie to the people of San Francisco, I don't expect anything less,'' Gonzalez said. "He's been doing it for some time.''

"If Newsom wants to have a good fight with me, let's do it,'' Gonzalez said. "But quit sending out Willie Brown.''

(Gonzalez) brought out a number of black supporters and announced the endorsements of actor Danny Glover and haberdasher Ruth Dewson, a Fillmore Street businesswoman who supplies Brown with his trademark hats.

The SF Bay View, the city's black newspaper has been extremely supportive of Gonzalez's candidacy. The published gushing articles including one on his environmental record and a profile/interview entitled 'Matt Gonzalez: Not Beholden to the Machine'

If a campaign headquarters can say something about the person for whom it exists, this location wears itself on its sleeve. The buzz about the place is honest and hardworking, and the atmosphere is neighborly and unpretentious. Interestingly, these are the very qualities that shine through in my conversation with Matt Gonzalez. Soft-spoken but confident, he speaks with a passion fueled by intelligent deliberation.

Newsom has done a good job painting his campaign as a grassroots effort, but the SF Bay Guardian details some less than grassroots fundraising:

More than a third of his cash comes from outside city borders. Out-of-town donors - from locales as distant as Hawaii and New Jersey - have sunk some $1.25 million into the fund.

Newsom's backers also appear to be skilled at skirting campaign finance limits. Several of his top real estate donors have given to the campaign through a web of different corporate entities, many of which share the same address. Technically, it's legal - but the outcome is that one individual can have a disproportionate impact on the race, effectively circumventing the city's contribution limit regulations.

Top-tier employees at scandal-plagued investment banks are among those bankrolling Newsom.

The candidate received donations from nine executives with Charles Schwab Co., including CEO David Pottruck. According to news reports, San Francisco-based Schwab is under heavy scrutiny by the federal Securities and Exchange Commission and state regulators for possibly violating laws governing the corruption-riddled $7.1 trillion mutual fund business. Late last month Schwab publicly admitted its employees may have improperly "late-traded" mutual funds, a practice that cost small investors money. The firm could face criminal charges. Newsom has gotten $4,725 from Schwab bosses. "These are individual contributions, and the company encourages all of our employees to support causes and candidates as they see fit," Schwab spokesperson Greg Gables told the Bay Guardian.

The Newsom campaign has also received donations from three executives with financial leviathan Bank of America, whose illicit after-hours trading with Canary Capital Partners, a Bermuda-based hedge fund, triggered the ongoing high-profile mutual fund probe.

. . . In addition, Newsom is backed by executives at three investment banks – Merrill Lynch, Credit Suisse First Boston, and J.P. Morgan Chase - which last year paid out colossal sums to settle charges of feeding bogus stock advice to small investors. Collectively, the three banks spent nearly half a billion dollars to make the fraud cases go away.

. . . Newsom pulls in big donations from real estate and development firms that have learned to push campaign finance laws to their limits. Not surprisingly, topping the list is Shorenstein and Co., San Francisco's largest commercial landlord. Members of the Shorenstein family, headed by patriarch Walter Shorenstein, are major players in Democratic Party politics nationally and locally. Companies affiliated with the clan have given a total of at least $21,500 to help elect Newsom.

. . . Several other real estate and development interests employed the same tactic. Companies tied to Syufy Enterprises, which operates the Century Theaters chain of movie houses, gave at least $13,500. Real estate manager and developer Carmel Partners is linked to at least $13,000 in donations. Carmel Partners owns the Parkmerced development and South of Market's City Lofts, making it the largest private residential landlord in the city. Companies affiliated with Ron Kaufman, husband of former San Francisco Board of Supervisors president (and Willie Brown ally) Barbara Kaufman, gave at least $6,000. Ron Kaufman was also a major supporter of Brown in his last race.

The Latino Vote

Newsom has been running strong in the Latino community, investing a fair amount of his own shoe leather to make serious inroads in a constituency that Gonzalez should have easily sewn up. Constituting 14% of the population and 5% of the electorate, Latino voters in SF are among the most politically progressive in the City. Mostly poor, the should gravitate towards Gonzalez's progressive politics, especially his leadership in raising the minimum wage to $8.50. Newsom's hard work has paid off though and while the controversial automated poll by Survey USA had Gonzalez ahead 66% to 28% in the Latino community, other signs point to a much closer race in the Latino community. Exit polling from the Nov. 4 election broke down the Latino vote thusly: Newsom 30% | Gonzalez 26% | Angela Alioto 25% | Tom Ammiano 11% | Other 8%

The Neighborhoods

Meanwhile, Gonzalez has taken the battle into Newsom territory stumping in West Portal, Sunset, Glen Park, etc. In a race that will most likely be determined in the last three to five days before the election he faces a number of serious obstacles that no amount of grassroots organzing are likely to offset. Newsom has been running an extremely effective and expensive absentee voter program and will likely carpet bomb the city with some devastating last minute negative direct mail. He also secured endorsements from some three dozen mostly small, mostly conservative (by Bay Area labor movement standards) unions. Expect them to hit the bricks the weekend before the election and election day.

The Labor Vote

The majority of unions decided to sit this race out. Including SEIU locals which represent 40% of the SF Labor Council. This signals a real trepidation about Gonzalez's chances and a real reticence to bet wrong. Obviously, labor's ties to the Democratic party are deep and SEIU has a lot at stake. They represent public employees including workers at the city's Laguna Honda and San Francisco General hospitals. They also have a real interest in finding ways to keep the party from taking them for granted and certainly Gonzalez's campaign represents a real opportunity. Newsom does not have a good track record on labor issues and in the first election:

Larry Mazzola of the Plumbers Union, Josie Mooney of Local 790, and Sal Rosselli of Local 250 . . .demanded that Elections Department chief John Arntz sever the list of 22 unions from Newsom's statement. Why? The city agency required Alioto to supply a letter of support from each union confirming its commitment. Yet Newsom's file held only one such letter, from the San Francisco Firefighters, the union leaders say.

"We strongly object to this special treatment," the three stated in a Aug. 21 letter to Arntz.

Gonzalez, however, has had trouble establishing his labor bonafides:

Part of the problem for Gonzalez is there's a sense among some delegates that his antiestablishment rhetoric has alienated the rank and file. "I think he thinks of us as some kind of machine that flies in the face of his idealistic ideals," one delegate told us.

It's true Gonzalez doesn't have a history of working closely with labor, but that doesn't mean he's been antiworker; he sponsored Proposition L, the successful ballot measure to raise the minimum wage. But union activists complained Gonzalez expected their support for Prop. L without coming to them to collaborate in developing the measure.

That may be part of why he has a reputation for appearing not to prioritize the needs of labor institutions. "On a couple of occasions, he's expressed himself in ways that appear to be antagonistic to organized labor, and I think that's an error in historical judgment on his part," Denis Mosgofian, a labor leader and former president of the Graphic Communications International Union, Local 4N, told us.

But Mosgofian emphasized that union members concerned with larger questions of social and economic justice should back Gonzalez. "He is a better human being than Newsom. Whereas Gonzalez is concerned with what would be good for the commonwealth, Newsom is focused on what would be good for wealth."

Late breaking labor support came for Gonzalez when HERE Local 2 endorsed Gonzalez in the most recent SF Bay Guardian.

The Builders

Perhaps the most interesting fault line that the campaign has brought out is in the developers community. Eyebrows all around town shot up when Gonzalez received the blessing of two powerful builders. Gonzalez has often battled rampant development in San Francisco, a campaign theme best symbolized by the location of his campaign headquarters at 13th and Mission where the old Fell Street off-ramp has been razed. Newsom immediately siezed on the endorsements in a direct mail piece to potential Gonzalez supporters. Gonzalez denies seeking out the endorsements or any inclination to do them any favors.

Joe O'Donoghue, who altered the look of the city in the last decade with his wave of loft-style development projects, says his 700-member Residential Builders Association is "hitting the streets'' for Gonzalez in a bid to crush his rival, Supervisor Gavin Newsom.

Walter Wong, a permit expediter with a reputation for bending rules as he pushed hundreds of projects for clients, including big developers, is renting office space to Gonzalez for his headquarters and recently co-sponsored a Chinatown fund-raiser for him.

The endorsements by these men, who symbolize to many the insider deal-making Gonzalez attacks, has political watchers asking what's going on. Newsom -- who has far more major developer and business backing than his opponent -- has seized gleefully on the endorsements to try to make trouble for Gonzalez with his supporters.

A Newsom mailer, which reached many San Franciscans' mailboxes earlier this week, asks: "Is it naivete that makes Matt think he can accept the support of giant development interests without compromising his campaign? Or is it something worse? "Matt's willingness to play the 'sleazy side' of San Francisco politics doesn't stop with Walter Wong,'' the mailer proclaims. "Gonzalez proudly trumpets the support of developer Joe O'Donoghue, the bane of neighborhood activists ... .''

Gonzalez dismisses the attack, saying he pledged neither O'Donoghue nor Wong anything and adding: "I can assure you I would rather not win than win in a compromised position where I couldn't carry out the promises of what I want to do.''

During Mayor Willie Brown's reign, both O'Donoghue and Wong have been strong allies of the mayor and saw their fortunes soar as Brown pushed development and often dismissed the concerns of neighborhood activists who wanted more urban planning and development reflecting the scale of existing neighborhoods.

Repeated efforts to arrange an interview with O'Donoghue for this story were unsuccessful, but earlier he said his builders group backs Gonzalez because "corporate special interests, like The Chronicle, are against him.''

A friend of O'Donoghue, who declined to be named, said he asked him why he was backing Gonzalez over Newsom when Newsom seemed in favor of development and Gonzalez didn't. He said O'Donoghue told him it was because Newsom is tied to the Chamber of Commerce, the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association and other groups that stand with downtown corporate interests. "They hate us, and we hate them.''

Allied with powerful Chinatown gatekeeper Rose Pak, Wong also increased his own political muscle by helping candidates draw hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions out of the city's Asian community. Today he is president of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce.

Wong endorsed Gonzalez during the general election. He told The Chronicle that he backs Gonzalez, whom he first met in September, because he believes he's the candidate with the most integrity and the best plan for the city. He said he didn't ask Gonzalez for anything in return for his support, saying, "I don't need any favors because I'm the best in my line of business. . . You can trust him -- he seemed like a true person, not talking to you like his soul wasn't there,'' Wong said of Gonzalez. "... He wants to make the city more efficient. If the system was more efficient, there'd be no need for a Walter Wong -- I'd probably lose business.''

. . . Newsom, who is backed by Mayor Brown and a litany of real estate and developer interests, including office building owner Walter Shorenstein and mall builder The Mills Corp., says he isn't surprised by O'Donoghue and Wong's endorsement of his rival.

"We want to provide more housing in the downtown core,'' Newsom said, an approach he says is at odds with Wong and O'Donoghue's push for construction in the city's neighborhoods.

It's a sign of the sleaziness of Newsom's campaign that he'd tar Gonzalez for things that are problematic for his campaign, namely close ties to developers. Granted he was trying to point to something hypocritical about his rival's campaign, it's just sleazy.


I've spent the last three days studying this race and I support Gonzalez. On the face of it it seemed like a know brainer. The smart effective progressive versus the establishment conservative Democrat. Newsom has a lot of negatives for me. A poor labor record. A poor environmental record. Nasty campaigning, including a chicken little e-mail to supporters warning: "They'll be coming from Santa Cruz, Humboldt County and Portland where money is evil unless it's taken from someone who earned it and given to someone who didn't.'' I object to this not just for the nastiness of it, but because it is corrosive message about liberalism, sent to Democratic activists.

Then I spent a fair amount of time evaluting extensive interviews with the candidates. They are interesting for a number of reasons. Not surprisingly, Newsom is banking left and Gonzalez is banking center rightish.

Newsom at first blush is extremely impressive. He has a lot of Clinton's knack (a la the '92 election) of impressing a progressive audience by speaking eloquently and extensively on the background and roots of a problem and unleashing a torrent of policy proposals. Gonzalez on the other hand is less articulate and much more terse. He stresses fiscal conservativism which precludes him from being nearly so expansive in his proposals.

As an outsider it was hard for me to evaluate a lot of their proposals and the counter punching between them but I feel one exchange ( They were each asked the same questions. I read the interviews through and then read them again, alternating candidates with each question to emulate a debate format. If you are voting in this election, I highly recommend this) is particularly instructive:

Newsom: And we had an opportunity, again, my opponent, to walk his talk and to make the investment, and to find the money from the city's $4.8 billion bureaucracy, and find over the course of the next five years $10 million next year, 20, 35, 45 and get up to $60 million a year contribution, for arts programs, music programs, after school programs, preschool programs, and athletic programs.

We had a chance to demonstrate that and the next mayor needs to make sure that initiative passes in March, and my concern is my opponent opposed it, and as mayor, I think it's going to be difficult to pass an initiative in a city where the mayor is opposed to something I think he should be supportive of. . .

Gonzalez: I don't think the schools are getting as much money as they should. This year as the board president I got to assign who was on the various committees, and I made a commitment to public education, and I selected a committee chair, Chris Daly, who was committed to increasing the money for public education. He immediately came forward with a supplemental appropriation for $6 million for the schools. I voted with him. Supervisor Ammiano, Supervisor Newsom voted against it.

Through the budget prices we were, however, able to dedicated $8 million to public education, which we were very proud of, that was twice as much as had ever been given in any other year. The previous year had been $4 million.

Recently however, Supervisor Newsom joined Supervisor Ammiano. Tom had a measure to dedicates $60 million to the schools, which I think is great, except they didn't identify where any of the money was coming from. And I said "gee, you know, it's kind of interesting that you guys weren't even willing to vote for a $6 million supplemental appropriation, now you want to make it $60 million." It just seemed the timing of it was a little bit of pandering to the public at a time of an election.

Newsom can dazzle but at a certain point you start to say, this guy is to good to be true and I think Gonzalez put his finger on it there. He can talk the wonk so well, that it's easy to overlook that he hasn't proposed anything, or he's proposed 36 things. Gonzalez on the other hand won't propose what he can't pay for. He was particularly cogent if not all that inspiring, electionwise on bonds:

I do support certain bonds, I have opposed a number of them, which I think separates me from some of my progressive colleagues, and my opponent. I tend not to support bonds that I think should be done with existing dollars that we have, or where there's issues of accountability and, you know, past history of promises to the voters that haven't been kept, and going back for more bond monies for projects that were already supposed to be built. I think the healthcare needs don't get addressed through a bond, that's where you're going to do a capital rebuild.

Considering the shape that San Francisco is in, this kind of talk is bracing to say the least. I also think that it is important for progressive to fight for the mantle of fiscal responsibility. Especially now that the GOP has completely given up on the notion.


The implications of a Gonzalez victory for the Greens and the Democrats are fairly profound.

This would be the first major office that the Greens have ever won in this country. As I've pointed out repeatedly:

In the entire country only 2 Greens hold office in State Houses or Assemblys. There are no state senators. There are only 3 mayors and 30 city council members. In California where their organization is the strongest they have 16 city council members state wide, one mayor and a handful of vice and pro tempore mayors. They have no one elected to the California State Assembly.

This would change that. And in the medium term, a successful Green mayor could contribute mightily to building a viable organization in the Bay Area.

The Greens' 165,722 members make up less than 1 percent of the state's registered voters (it's 14, 698 and 3.2 percent in San Francisco), but every one of them comes right out of the Democrats' liberal base.

'In a city where the second strongest party is "decline to state" ', a Green mayor could realign a lot of voters. Not just in San Francisco, where the Greens have placed two school board members, but also Oakland and Berkeley where the Greens have placed 3 members on the Rent Stabilization Board (big whoop, except that they now have some credentials to run for city council).

What the power move is and what I think that the Democrats are quaking in their boots about is Congressional District 12 currently represented by Rep. Tom Lantos a 75 year old, 12 term Democrat. District 12: "On the San Francisco peninsula, this district includes the southwest corner of San Francisco and northern San Mateo County, covering the cities of South San Francisco, Daly City and San Mateo. Firmly Democratic, it has a 44 percent minority population, including 25 percent Asian and 14 percent Latino. Minorities, however, have yet to flex their political muscle; only 6 percent of the registered voters are Asian and only 9 percent Latino." Is ripe for a well organized voter registration and GOTV campaign by a newly galvinized Green Party. Not in this election season, of course. The Greens, in typical fashion are running a landscape painter against Lantos. But it seems to me that Lantos could be ready to retire just around the time the Greens would be coming into their own if Gonzalez is successful.

And let's not forget that the House of Representatives can switch to proportional representation with an act of Congress. It won't take a Constitutional Amendment.

PS I doesn't take a genius to see the parallels with the Dean campaign. Grassroots insurgent, fiscal conservative, vicious attacks from the same leadership of the Democratic party that has hollowed it out into the worthless husk that it is.

it just occured to me 

Have you ever noticed that even when there is hardly anyone at Trader Joe's it's still crowded? That's because there is always some standing in front of the one thing you want reading all the ingredients and nutritional information.

Well, while I was waiting to grab a chocolate bar from the shelf it occured to me why a certain Al Franken joke really got under my skin.

Yesterday I explained why I thought Progress Media's attempt to create a liberal radio network was doomed for failure. The number one reason is that they are banking primarily on Al Franken to lead the way. One of the things that I referenced was the joke that he kept reading from his book every time he made an appearence on NPR.

He suggests that John Kerry, for example, should run a campaign ad in which he would show the Bush picture, then say in a voice-over, "Dress-up and make-believe are fun, aren't they? Unlike President Bush, I didn't have any time during my dangerous military service in Vietnam to pose for a neat picture like that." Then, you would see Mr. Kerrey wearing a pirate suit, patch over one eye, and a parrot on his shoulder, and he would say, "Yes, dress-up and make-believe are fun, but not what makes a good President...isn't that right, Petey?" "Raaawkk. That's riiight!!"

The real problem with this joke - even more than the fact that it isn't funny - is that semiotics trumps storyline. What you are left with is not the withering critique of Bush's flightsuit moment but, the lingering image of John Kerry dressed as a pirate talking to Petey the Parrot.

We're going to have those Republicans on the run in no time. goddamnit.

tough break 

From the NY Times:

If President Bush carries the same states in 2004 that he won in 2000, he will win seven more electoral votes. That change, a result of a population shift to Republican-friendly states in the South and West in the last several years, means the Republicans have a slight margin of error in 2004 while the Democrats will have to scramble just to pull even.

In 2000, after Florida's 25 electoral votes were awarded to Mr. Bush, he won the presidency with 271 — 5 more than Al Gore's 266. Since then 18 states have either won or lost electoral votes, with 7 states that Mr. Bush won last time gaining a total of 11 electoral votes: Florida picked up 2, as did Texas, Georgia and Arizona. North Carolina, Nevada and Colorado each gained 1.

The gain of 11 electoral votes was offset by a loss of 4 from four other Bush states, leaving Mr. Bush with a net gain of 7. The Democrats lost eight electoral votes in six states that went for Mr. Gore and gained one in another, for their net loss of seven.

The shift in the electoral map means that the Republicans have a crucial cushion going into the 2004 presidential campaign. Mr. Bush could hold all the states he won in 2000 except for, say, West Virginia and its five electoral votes, and still win in 2004. The Democrats have no such room for error. They must hold all the states Mr. Gore won and add to them to make up the difference.

This certainly not good news but the article does not go far enough in looking at how those influxes will affect the votes in those states that Bush won last time.

the agony and the ecstasy 

From the NY Times:

In September, the journal Science issued a startling retraction. A primate study it published in 2002, with heavy publicity, warned that the amount of the drug Ecstasy that a typical user consumes in a single night might cause permanent brain damage. It turned out that the $1.3 million study, led by Dr. George A. Ricaurte of Johns Hopkins University, had not used Ecstasy at all. His 10 squirrel monkeys and baboons had instead been injected with overdoses of methamphetamine, and two of them had died. The labels on two vials he bought in 2000, he said, were somehow switched. The problem corrupted four other studies in his lab, forcing him to withdraw four other papers.

It was not the first time Dr. Ricaurte's lab was accused of using flawed studies to suggest that recreational drugs are highly dangerous. In previous years he was accused of publicizing doubtful results without checking them, and was criticized for research that contributed to a government campaign suggesting that Ecstasy made "holes in the brain."

. . . "It's hard to trust George," said Dr. Julie Holland, a professor of psychiatry at New York University who has edited a book on Ecstasy and wants to test it in psychotherapy. She accused him of "playing games with his data" to win more federal grants by making the drugs look bad.

Dr. Richard J. Wurtman, a prominent clinician at Harvard and M.I.T. who has clashed with Dr. Ricaurte, accused him of "running a cottage industry showing that everything under the sun is neurotoxic."

The ongoing moralization of science is really starting to wear me out.
The one time I took Ecstasy, it didn't 'take off'. Very disappointing. Maybe someday.

we've learned this much: that Kim Jong Il took Saddam to the cleaners. 

From the NY Times:

WASHINGTON, Nov. 30 — It was Saddam Hussein's last weapons deal — and it did not go exactly as he and his generals had imagined.

For two years before the American invasion of Iraq, Mr. Hussein's sons, generals and front companies were engaged in lengthy negotiations with North Korea, according to computer files discovered by international inspectors and the accounts of Bush administration officials. The officials now say they believe that those negotiations — mostly conducted in neighboring Syria, apparently with the knowledge of the Syrian government — were not merely to buy a few North Korean missiles.

Instead, the goal was to obtain a full production line to manufacture, under an Iraqi flag, the North Korean missile system, which would be capable of hitting American allies and bases around the region, according to the Bush administration officials.

. . . As war with the United States approached, though, the Iraqi files show that Mr. Hussein discovered what American officials say they have known for nearly a decade now: that Kim Jong Il, the North Korean leader, is less than a fully reliable negotiating partner.

In return for a $10 million down payment, Mr. Hussein appears to have gotten nothing.

The trail that investigators have uncovered, partly from reading computer hard drives found in Baghdad and partly from interviews with captured members of Mr. Hussein's inner circle, shows that a month before the American invasion, Iraqi officials traveled to Syria to demand that North Korea refund $1.9 million because it had failed to meet deadlines for delivering its first shipment of goods.

. . . The investigators say they tripped upon it while looking for something far more nefarious — evidence of a continuing nuclear program, or an active effort to accumulate more biological or chemical weapons.

"So far, there's really not much in that arena," said one official who has monitored the continuing search for weapons led by David Kay, a former weapons inspector who is now conducting the search for the Central Intelligence Agency. After spending tens of millions of dollars in a search that continues on the ground in Iraq to this day, the official noted, "We've learned this much: that Kim Jong Il took Saddam to the cleaners."

. . . The final session was held in Syria in February of this year, just before the war began, officials said. On that trip, according to the Iraqi account of the meeting in Syria, the Iraqis were also seeking night-vision goggles, ammunition and gun barrels — mostly through European middlemen. At that point, a huge American-British force had been built up on Iraq's southern borders, and it was clear that war was coming.

What is also interesting about the shopping list, however, is "what's not on it," said one investigator. "Nothing nuclear, no dual-use items, nothing about weapons of mass destruction."

The Bush administration will of course try to argue that this bolsters their case that Saddam had to be removed from power PDQ. Of course it proves the opposite. Saddam's WMD program had devolved into a Keystone Kops operation after the first Gulf war.

There's something a little too neat about this storyline. The way it implicates Syria, Korea and Saddam all in one fell swoop. The details of how it was put together seem a little sketchy. But I'm not saying anything. Not yet.

NYT story via Armed Liberal at Winds of Change

Monday, December 01, 2003

bush blinks on steel 

From Reuters:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Bush administration intends to lift its controversial duties on steel imports, most likely within the week, bowing to threats of retaliation from Europe and Asia, administration, industry and congressional sources say.

Ending the tariffs 16 months ahead of schedule to comply with a World Trade Organization ruling could spark a political backlash against U.S. President George W. Bush in the pivotal steel-producing states of Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia in advance of his reelection bid next year.

But the sources said on Monday Bush's senior advisers concluded the tariffs were causing more harm than good and that lifting them would boost his standing with small- and medium-sized Midwestern manufacturers, another important constituency whose profits have been squeezed by the higher price of steel.

This is one issue where I break ranks with the AFL-CIO. I don't think it serves our broader interests to engage in protectionism. Agricultural subsidies have been the major sticking point at the FTAA and WTO. You can't help but wonder what lies ahead for free trade.

my my my 

Fast Company has an article on 5 Tech Innovations. My favorites:

Cynthia Kenyon >> Longevity
Ordinarily, C. elegans has a life span of two to three weeks. But Kenyon's worms have had their genes altered in a way that lets them live up to six times longer. "When a normal worm was lying dead, or it was time for the nursing home, these other worms were moving around," she says. "You'd just never think you could do that."

. . . "We're looking at about 50 genes and asking what their functional significance is," she says. The circuits, or signaling pathways, that genes use to control various activities can be turned on and off by feeding the worms bacteria spiked with RNA. The lab has discovered that reducing the worm's genetic receptivity to insulin increased its life span, but they also knew that if you knocked out insulin receptors entirely, the animal would die because it couldn't regulate its metabolism. Dialing down the worm's susceptibility to stress seemed to add to its life span, as did enhancing its aggressive attack on bacteria inside its body.

Chad Dyner >> Interactive floating display
Dyner wanted to transform thin air into a movie screen--a full-color display. And he wanted users to be able to use their hands to manipulate the images, the way Tom Cruise did in the film Minority Report. "I wanted to come up with a system that would allow for collaboration," Dyner says. "It would give designers and architects a way to manipulate data and discuss a project together."

Dyner bought a digital projector--the same kind used to display PowerPoint presentations--and took it apart. Inside was a micromirror system, a single chip that relies on a million tiny mirrors that tilt back and forth to create images. Dyner spent "seven days a week, 18 hours a day" trying to figure out "how to make the light stop in free space" using the micromirror system.

The key lay in using a fan to create a sheet of air that would reflect light projected at a given angle by the micromirror system. Dyner won't be too specific since his patents haven't yet been issued. But his first prototype made images from a computer hover in midair, something like a two-dimensional hologram. The nifty part: Sensors built into the box can tell when a user's hand (or an object used as a pointer) "touches" the image, allowing a finger to serve as a mouse.

a monopoly on dirt 

Another article from the Sunday magazine deserves further attention. In the Columbia Journalism Review, Sarah Chayes writes about dropping journalism and taking up work as an aid worker in Afghanistan.

Then came September 11. What else would one want to be at that moment than an American foreign correspondent with some experience of the Muslim world?

And yet it proved a difficult juncture to be an American journalist. "The worst period in my entire career," a dear friend confided as we were comparing notes afterwards. He sent me a list of story ideas his editors had turned down. "They simply didn't want any reporting," he explained. "They told us the story lines, and asked us to substantiate them." CNN correspondents received written instructions on how to frame stories of Afghan suffering. A BBC reporter told me in our Quetta hotel the weekend before Kabul fell how he had had to browbeat his desk editors to persuade them that Kandahar was still standing.

It was as though, because the 9/11 attacks had taken place in the American nerve center, they had blown out the critical apparatus of the very people we had always trusted to have one. NPR was not entirely immune. My one civilian casualty story, I hasten to note, which drew vituperative reactions from listeners, enjoyed the full support of my editors. But as time went on, I sensed a rising impatience with my reporting. In that same period between the fall of Kabul and the fall of Kandahar, when the BBC correspondent had trouble with his desk, a senior NPR staffer e-mailed to say that he no longer trusted my work as he had in the past:

A spot I heard tonight was a perfect example. You said that 'refugees' arriving at the Pakistan border from Kandahar described the city as calm, with the Taliban firmly in control. As you surely know, this is the official Taliban line . . . . You did not point that out. The critical question is whether these refugees are in fact pro-Taliban . . . . If they are not pro-Taliban, why would they be leaving Afghanistan at the very moment when the Taliban are losing control and anti-Taliban Afghans are celebrating? . . . with just a few words you can help the listener put what you're reporting in some context, in order that they understand that what you're sharing with them is just a partial — and possibly a biased — account, based on pro-bin Laden sources.

I am a reporter. I try to diversify my sources. They included truck drivers moving great loads of Kandahar's signature pomegranates across the border to buyers in Pakistan. Were those truckers "pro-bin Laden sources?" There had been a withering U.S. bombing campaign under way at the time. In that context, could no one be an unaligned refugee? Mightn't people, regardless of their views, flee their homes under a barrage of fire? And - a difficult question for Americans to untangle - was "pro-Taliban" necessarily synonymous with "pro-bin Laden?" I had learned that it was not.

These differences of vision with my own organization, and a growing disillusion with the U.S. press in general - a sense that it had abdicated its duty to help the public think beyond instinctive reactions - doubtless played a role in my readiness to receive Aziz Khan's question.

So by March of 2002, I found myself field director (an invented title) of Afghans for Civil Society, an organization founded by Qayum Karzai, the president's older brother, in 1998, but nonexistent inside Afghanistan up to that time. The job amounted to inventing an NGO.

We did so with blissful disregard for the usual rules. The firewalls most NGOs erect between development work and political advocacy haven't existed at ACS. And that's why, for me, it works. It's no use deluding oneself. I am not a medic, nor an engineer, nor do I possess any other concrete skill "useful" to people. This incapacity is what held me up when I toyed with the idea of leaving journalism before. What I know how to do, what I do almost compulsively, is look at things, analyze them, and talk about them. Consequently, please understand: I am not attending the bedsides of Afghan mine victims or shepherding a flock of children at an orphanage.

Of course, ACS does run development projects. We rebuilt a village, for example: ten houses and a mosque, bombed to rubble during that final intense battle for the airfield outside Kandahar when the Taliban regime was in its death throes. I visited the building site every day, cajoling children to help clear the debris by making truck noises with them and loading their outstretched arms.

But from the start it was clear to us that humanitarian or development work, conducted in a political vacuum, is at best nonsense. At worst, it can reinforce structures that, if perpetuated, will ensure that aid recipients never get beyond the stage of consuming handouts. In our case, for example, the provincial governor (one of the warlords you've read about) had awarded a monopoly on stone - which along with sunlight is the only abundant resource in this parched former desert oasis - to his brother, to corner the market in gravel as construction of a major highway was about to begin. Our tractors, fetching foundation stone for the village houses, were held up at gunpoint. I will spare you the details, but the upshot was a battle with the governor, which ACS, and I, took public.

I became an outspoken critic of the prevailing alliance of convenience between the Afghan central government and the international community, and the warlords ruling the provinces. I made my position clear in public and in private. And then, you can imagine how it goes: There's this American lady, right? She's been living in Kandahar, of all places, for the past two years. And she's willing to talk.

I had moved from talking to sources to being one.

The notion that even NPR approached editing their reporters with fairly rigid preconceptions is worrisome. Given the state of the media and reporting these days, I wonder if more reporters will bail for more direct work. How do you do development in a country where corruption centers around a monopoly on dirt?

Sarah Chayes archive

innovation for the people 

The New York Times Magazine had a fabulous article about Amy Smith, the instructor at MIT who teaches a course in invention. I included it in my Sunday magazine, but it calls for some comment.

Smith's idea is that the best technology can be cheap and simple. Her drive is towards technology breakthroughs for developing countries.

In a culture that hails mobile phones and plasma-screen televisions as the great innovations of our time, Smith is gloriously out of step. She designs medical devices and labor-saving machines for people who live at the far end of dirt roads in Africa. Her inventions cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a few pennies. ''You can't understand how important a grain mill is,'' she says, ''until you've spent three hours pounding grain and gotten a cup and a half of flour.'' It is this kind of understanding -- of tedium, of tired muscles, of hunger pangs -- that Smith brings to her work.

. . . Now the students have made cultures of Charles River water in petri dishes. The next step is to incubate the petri dishes for an entire day at a steady temperature. But how do you pull that off in a lean-to in Haiti, with no electricity for miles around? Again, Smith has a solution. She passes around a mesh bag of what appears to be white marbles. The ''marbles'' contain a chemical that, when heated and kept in an insulated environment, will stay at a steady 37 degrees Celsius for 24 hours. The balls are the crucial ingredient in one of Smith's inventions -- a phase-change incubator that requires no electricity. The design won her a 1999 Collegiate Inventors award. She says she hopes that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will soon endorse her incubator. ''From there it's not a big step to go to the Red Cross,'' she says.

Every year Smith gives her students the assignment of living on $2 a day for a week in Cambridge. A Haitian student assistant recalls:

Drouillard grew up in Haiti, but that didn't give him any special edge. He laughs, remembering his chief mistake. ''I bought a bunch of Ramen noodles, a packet of hotdogs, a bunch of spaghetti and some ketchup,'' he says. ''It got sickening after Day 3. Actually, before Day 3. I should have mixed and matched instead of buying five boxes of spaghetti. In Haiti, people come up with creative ways of varying their food intake.'' He said the assignment drove home Smith's point quickly: living at subsistence level requires enormous creativity. The African farmwoman who finds a way to make a scrap of land yield enough cassava root for her family is as much an inventor as any M.I.T.-trained engineer.

After a stint in the Peace Corps she enrolled at M.I.T. to become an engineer so as to be able to work more effectively as an aid worker.

In 1987, Smith returned home to Lexington, Mass., for her mother's funeral. Wandering through a supermarket after the service, she marveled at the lunacy of her own country: an entire aisle just for soup? It seemed impossible to bridge the gap between America and Botswana.

. . . Smith's entire life is like one of her inventions, portable and off the grid. At 41, she has no kids, no car, no retirement plan and no desire for a Ph.D. Her official title: instructor. ''I'm doing exactly what I want to be doing. Why would I spend six years to get a Ph.D. to be in the position I'm in now, but with a title after my name? M.I.T. loves that I'm doing this work. The support is there. So I don't worry.''

. . . Likewise, the inventors who most inspire her will never strike it rich. ''There are geniuses in Africa, but they're not getting the press,'' she says. She gushes about Mohammed Bah Abba, a Nigerian teacher who came up with the pot-within-a-pot system. With nothing more than a big terra-cotta bowl, a little pot, some sand and water, Abba created a refrigerator -- the rig uses evaporation rather than electricity to keep vegetables cool. Innovations that target the poorest of the poor don't have to be complicated to make a big difference.

. . . Women have the advantage here, unlike other branches of engineering. ''I know how to be self-deprecating,'' Smith says. ''The traditional male engineer is not taught that way.'' That engineer, were he trying to figure out an agricultural problem in Botswana, might consult with men, but that wouldn't get him very far. ''In Africa, the women are the farmers. Women invented domesticated crops. If you're talking to the right people, they should be a group of elderly women with their hair up in bandannas.''

As improbable as it may sound, Smith's brand of invention is moving into the mainstream. That is because her clients -- the disenfranchised in Africa, Haiti, Brazil, India -- are increasingly able to secure loans. The concept of microfinance, which first took off in the 1970's in Bangladesh, has gathered force throughout the developing world, giving impoverished people the capital they need to start small businesses and buy materials. According to Elizabeth Littlefield of the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor, a microfinance group within the World Bank, the integration of tiny loan-making operations into mainstream banking could bring billions of new consumers into the global marketplace over the next few decades. There have already been some surprising strides made. In India, for example, banks have set up solar-powered kiosks in out-of-the-way villages, giving clients access to financial services in places where there is not even electricity. But what will they invest in? The rural poor will need machines designed for their needs. And that will, in turn, create demand for new kinds of technologies.

In a barbecue pit near the M.I.T. student center, pale blue smoke streams out of a trash can and twists in the direction of the tennis courts. It smells of caramel. Shawn Frayne, a gangly guy with a shock of black hair, sticks a lighter down into the can. He's trying to get a fire going. He holds up one of his finished products -- a piece of charcoal that looks like a jet-black hamburger patty. It's made out of the parts of the sugarcane that aren't edible -- that is, trash. These humble wads could help to solve a number of problems in Haiti: poor people would be able to make their own charcoal rather than having to pay for the prefab variety, forests would no longer have to be cut down to make wood charcoal and local entrepreneurs could use the recipe to set up small businesses.

This points to a number of thoughts.

It's striking how little commercial interests have to do with the kinds of innovation that move humanity forward. Modern Liberal economics does a lousy job of modelling this. Very little real innovation comes about because someone thinks that they are going to become the next Bill Gates. Creative minds create because they have no choice. It is instructive that when Bell Labs wanted deep thinking they moved their best minds out to the dessert, insulated from commercial concerns.

That is not to say that markets don't innovate or that these innovations would reach their highest level of effectiveness without markets.

In discussing this article last night with one of my room mates, he made an interesting point. Matt also served in the Peace Corps. In Ghana he developed a water pump that could be made with easily obtained materials and built for about a tenth of what was available from first world technology. He got some men in the village to start building wells. After he left there were numerous problems. Last night he spoke about a friend whose church had raised $40,000 that they wanted to give in aid to Africa and they approached Matt for advice. They had thought that they wanted to donate wells. What Matt advised them would create more leverage was to create a lending library of tools and manuals that the most entreprenuerial souls could borrow and create their own wells or meet other needs. Without that entreprenuerial aspect, things like wells fell into indefinite disrepair because they weren't anyone's responsibility to maintain and no one had motivation to take responsibility.

It's striking how much could be accomplished with so little with some focus. This lab calls to mind the experience of Paul Farmer fighting TB in Haiti. His clinic found that cure rates shot through the roof when they started giving patients a tiny stipend so that they could meet their most basic needs while they convalesced. They could cure some of the patients for around $200 and almost all of them for $210.

porn 2003 

From On the Media:

Playboy's Legacy
This year, Playboy Magazine celebrates its 50th birthday. In 1972, author Gay Talese wrote about Playboy's impact on American society in his book "Thy Neighbor's Wife." He joins Bob to discuss the ways the magazine has shaped American values and furthered the cause of press freedom.

The Bunny at Fifty
From its initial publication in Hugh Hefner's Chicago kitchen, to its current status as the world's premiere men's magazine, Playboy has become a permanent part of our cultural landscape. Brooke speaks with creator Hugh Hefner about feminism, the sexual revolution, and how Playboy factors into it all, fifty years later.

Sex & Technology
In many ways, pornography plays a pivotal role in the development of communications technology. Brooke ties it all together, and discusses the history of pornography as an engine of technological progress.

leading with your chin 

From the NY Times:

Democratic investment group planning to start a liberal radio network to counterbalance conservative radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh says it is close to buying radio stations in five major cities.

. . . The executives said the stations they were acquiring reached all radios in 5 of the 10 largest media markets: New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Boston. They said they would buy stations in other markets in the near future. "We're steady as she goes to have a broadcast debut in early 2004, which gives us time to be part of the election year," said Mark Walsh, the company's chief executive and an Internet entrepreneur formerly with VerticalNet and America Online.

The group is planning to present a daily schedule filled with liberal personalities as hosts of a range of programs, including news analysis segments, talk shows and entertainment programs in the spirit of "The Daily Show," the spoof news program on cable television's Comedy Central that skewers Washington.

Jon Sinton, Progress Media's president, said the company had hired Lizz Winstead, one of the creators of "The Daily Show," to oversee entertainment programming. Shelley Lewis, a longtime network news producer who was most recently in charge of "American Morning" on CNN, will oversee news programming, Mr. Sinton said.

He said Progress Media was pursuing a deal to give the comedian Al Franken a daily talk show. The company, whose programming division is to be called Central Air, is also talking with representatives of the comedian Janeane Garofalo.

The network has hired Martin Kaplan to be the host of an early evening talk show about the news media. Mr. Kaplan is associate dean of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California and was once a speechwriter for Walter F. Mondale as well as a Disney studio executive.


Strategically, what's the purpose of this network? Amusement to the converted? Or trying to win back heartland America?

The hiring of Lizz Winstead is a smart move. Young people are increasingly identifying with the Republican party. I have reservations about what Janeane Garafolo would achieve strategically. My strategy would be to try to poach Love Line in those markets and then have her follow up with a late night show that mixed talk and music. And lead into Love Line with Bill Maher while your at it.

The decision to build the station around Al Franken is just plain leading with your chin. (a liberal specialty these days). They aren't going to build listenership with Franken and they sure as hell aren't going to get swing voters or steal the terms of debate on conservative talk radio going that route. Franken just comes off as a smirking Harvard elitist that he is. He's the kind of liberal conservatives hate to hate but love to hold up to show what's wrong with our side.

When he was promoting his book I had to listen to him on NPR reading the same section of his book over and over. It wasn't funny. It was this needlessly long piece about John Kerry dressing up as a pirate to chide Bush for the flight suit. It wasn't funny and it wasn't devastating. But it was what he felt was his best, most incisive, most radio friendly piece from the the book. It blew chunks. Speaking of NPR, his entire potential audience would rather listen to NPR. Unless you put him up against that bonehead Neal Conan on Talk of the Nation.

An early evening talk show about the news media by the Dean of the Annenberg School for Communications? That'll have Rush on the run.

Three words: Carville, Carville, Carville.

Sunday, November 30, 2003

sunday magazine 

What Washington doesn't see in Iraq.
by George Packer from the New Yorker
printer friendly

Sarah Chayes explains why she left her job as a foreign correspondent for National Public Radio and returned to Afghanistan - this time not as a journalist, but as an advocate.
by Sarah Chayes from the Columbia Journalism Review
printer friendly

by Bill Moyers from
printer friendly

The greatest design achievements, according to an innovative
teacher at M.I.T., ought to save lives and cost next to nothing.

by Pagan Kennedy from the New York Times Magazine
printer friendly

From developing pocket-sized fuel cells to studying a worm that may
hold the key to longer human life, the innovations of these five visionaries
make them wizards to watch.

by Scott Kirsner from Fast Company
printer friendly

NRDC's new Santa Monica building may be the most eco-friendly in the U.S.
by Amanda Griscom from Grist

A home for Seattle's Day Laborers
Photo essay by Casey Kelbaugh from Metropolis

Interactive Feature
from the New York Times

Talking with the resonant octogenarian, hipster, and "word jazz" man
by Nick Spitzer from American Routes

by Mike Weseman from McSweeney's

The virtuosity of John Updike
by Louis Menand from the New Yorker
printer friendly

The artist's mother and her physical infirmity described as
an ascending, and descending, metaphysical ballet.

by Simon Tyszko from

by Davis Schneiderman and Henri d'Mescan from the Absinthe Literary Review

Chemical Brothers Vs. Bruce Lee

by Luke Vibert

by Alien Ant Farm

by Simon Tyszko from

flash game
from Ruder Finn Interactive


Note: My apologies for the Soros and Gore Vidal pieces last week. A couple of clunkers. I don't get to read the magazine until after I edit it. Those are the first two articles that I've ever regretted including in the Sunday mag and I wouldn't mention it, except that I felt bad that there were two clunkers in one issue.

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