Mourning In America

A New York Democrat on politics, journalism, and the Mets

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Friday, August 22, 2003
Bush Tours Disaster Area -- Not Northeast or Jerusalem The President spent yesterday in Oregon, where a couple of forest fires are burning -- oh, and where the Seattle Times reports he plans to raise "millions" in suburban fundraisers. I smell a new tourism slogan: "Oregon: Come for the Fires, Stay for the Funds!"

Maybe he was high on the smoke, but in discussing the seriousness of the fires after flying over the sites, he got carried away:

It's hard to describe to our fellow citizen what it means to see a fire like we saw. It's the holocaust, it's devastating.

On a day when Israel is burying the 20 innocents murdered by a Palestinian bomber, you'd think the president would be more restrained in employing language associated with the extermination of millions of Jews. For the record, while more than 1,000 people have been evacuated, the Oregon fires do not appear to have claimed a single life.

UPDATE New York City's Mayor leads again: Bloomberg to Visit Jerusalem to Support Bombing Victims

Thursday, August 21, 2003
Why Not Boogie Down on 9/11? Evite, a Barry Diller-owned web site that helps party-throwers manage invitation and RSVP lists, regularly sends out marketing e-mails touting "Reasons to Party." Apparently, they got carried away in a recent e-mail:
We also wish to apologize for having listed Yom Kippur as one of our "Reasons To Party". We understand and respect that Yom Kippur is a Day of Atonement, a day to be taken seriously to reflect and fast, and as such, one of the most important Jewish Holidays in the year.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003
Marriage By the Book .. The Good Book The "Public Nuisance" blog has a hysterical post in which he assembles direct passages about marriage into language for the proposed "Defense of Marriage" Constitutional amendment that the Bush administration is reportedly considering. (link via

Tuesday, August 19, 2003
Piling On Pataki: "Gov." George Pataki's effort to find other people to blame for last week's blackout in an effort to divert the spotlight from his administration's own failed deregulation scheme seems to be falling flat. The Village Voice's Wayne Barrett does a great job of charting out how Pataki doled out the deregulation goodies to politically-connected friends.

Equally important, Barrett is the first writer I've found to point out that while most 9/11-hardened New Yorkers consider themselves lucky that the blackout averaged only about 25 hours -- "It Could Have Been Worse" is a common mantra -- they should be asking: "Why Wasn't It Better?" He notes that the "cascading blackouts" stopped in New Jersey, Southern Pennsylvania, and New England -- all areas where state governments have required significant investments in transmission infrastructure -- unlike Pataki's New York.

Right Target, Wrong Reasons The New York Post editorial board has finally recognized the obvious: "Gov." George Pataki suffers from a serious deficiency of leadership. In today's lead editorial, they call on Pataki to call a special session of the legislature to pass a law that would make it easier to build new electric generating plants.

The editors apparently missed the headlines attributing the blackout to the decrepitude of the nation's electric-transmission grid, rather than the strain on existing generating facilities. Their call seems to mimic Washington Republicans' argument that the blackout justifies oil drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge. My admittedly under-informed concerns about the "siting law" below.

In the meantime, however, the jibes at Pataki are too rich to pass up:

"It's time for Gov. Pataki to do whatever he must to prevent another such disaster ... there can be no guarantees ... but that's no reason for Pataki to shirk his clear - indeed, his minimal - responsibility." [emphasis theirs!]

"A Pataki aide terms the bill a "priority" for the governor. Really? He can prove it - by calling the special session."

"Maybe Pataki doesn't command the horsepower to drag such a bill through the Legislature. But, if not, that sad deficiency doesn't relieve him of the responsibility to set the process in motion." [emphasis mine]

On the Merits: I'm not an expert on the so-called "siting law," but I do harbor a vague concern about passing it, especially as a knee-jerk reaction to the blackout. I'm not sure we should be making it easier for private parties to build power plants using any fuel they choose -- the risk is that they'll all choose whatever's cheapest at the moment (for most of the 90s, that meant Natural Gas), leaving us over-reliant on a single fuel for power, and at risk for price spikes if the cost of that commodity surges (as has natural gas in the last few years). The pre-deregulation strategy of encouraging vertically integrated utilities to build power plants drawing on a variety of fuels seemed more stable, and it's worth examining now.

That having been said, power plants are often stymied for no other reason than their potential neighbors' Not In My Backyard reaction. If the new siting law is narrowly-tailored to help combat that obstacle to a greater public good, it might be worthwhile, but there doesn't seem to be any urgent need. As the Post editorial itself points out:

The lack of a siting bill didn't cause last week's disaster. And when - if - one becomes law, it won't guarantee a thing.

Why do I think it will guarantee something: A nice payday for some wannabe plant-builder, possibly one with ties to the Murdoch media empire, or at least the GOP establishment it supports.

Monday, August 18, 2003
Still Not Working Slate notes a new Standard & Poor's analysis showing that dividend-paying stocks have badly trailed their non-dividend-paying colleagues, both since the latest Bush tax cut was approved, and since the beginning of the year, when talk of eliminating taxes on dividends began in earnest. So much for the promises that it would goose stock-market returns...

Clark on DeLay: caught a great exchange on yesterday's Wolf Blitzer show. Suffice it to say, Gen. Wesley Clark doesn't think much of the House Majority Leader.