Mourning In America

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

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Friday, August 29, 2003
Holiday Weekend Conspiracy Theory Edition: Gas Prices Riding home from the store a few minutes ago, I passed more than a half-dozen gas stations: Not one of which posted a price of less than $2/gallon for regular unleaded.

I've read a lot of articles purporting to explain why, but I'm not convinced. Did a 12-hour blackout at the North Jersey refineries really play that much havoc with the supply of gas? If so, the media is missing a bigger story about our woefully inadequate reserves.

But it's not just New York -- prices are surging across the country -- most notably in Phoenix, where a pipeline break (and several failed efforts to repair it) allegedly led to a resurgence in gas lines.

I have to wonder if we're not seeing a replay of the California electricity "crisis" -- in which the energy companies are conspiring to curtail the supply of gasoline and to drive prices up, because they know that in the business-friendly Bush administration they can get away with it. Kinder Morgan Partners, the owner of that Phoenix pipeline, is run by Rich Kinder, an Enron refugee, and these companies are lousy with the President's gas-patch buddies.

UPDATE: Paranoid minds unite! Rep. Ed Markey just wrote a letter to Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham calling for an investigation. Abraham has not proven to be the smoothest of customers in handling the blackout investigation, so perhaps Markey should think about releasing some bloodhounds of his own, but at least the ball's rolling.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003
Blame Canada New York "Gov." George Pataki is continuing his drive to deflect any questions that might explore whether his poorly-executed electricity deregulation scheme might share in the blame for the Aug. 14th blackout. If the man can keep up this footwork, Savion Glover might have something to worry about.

In today's installment, Pataki appeared with the premier of Ontario and claimed that "Our system worked and, in fact, we had to shut down." It would be convenient for him if that was the case. Too bad it doesn't appear to be true.

How do we know? Elsewhere in the very same issue of the New York Times, the paper reported on the blackout timeline assembled by the North American Electric Reliability Council. That report shows that if the grid operated as designed, the blackout would have stopped at New York's border with Canada. But for an as-yet-unidentified reason, the relays that should have isolated the New York power grid from Canada's failed to operate. Those relays are owned by the state Power Authority, which is completely controlled by Pataki's appointees.

But wait, there's more! There was another chance to spare New York City from the blackout, but relays that connect the upstate and downstate power grids, owned by a private company, Niagara-Mohawk, which is subject to regulation by the state, also failed.

Pataki's dancing, but those questions keep coming. If the editors of the Times' national section, which carried the NAERC report ever start talking to the editors of the Metro section, which carried Pataki's questionable comments, he's going to have dance even faster to avoid a fall.

The Buck Stops Where? Today's evidence of the Bush Administration's strong commitment to personal responsibility comes from Defense Policy Board member Richard Perle, who told a French newspaper that the U.S. had made mistakes in its execution of the Iraq campaign, most notably
"Our principal mistake, in my opinion, was that we didn't manage to work closely with the Iraqis before the war, so that there was an Iraqi opposition capable of taking charge immediately."

I won't argue with the thrust, but the wording is imprecise. The problem wasn't that "we didn't manage to work closely with the Iraqis" -- it's that we backed the wrong Iraqis, and bet the farm on them!

The Pentagon war-planners, who were advised by Perle (who was chairman of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's Defense Policy Board before he was forced to choose between serving his country in that post and continuing his lucrative private-sector consulting), always planned to turn Iraq over to a native opposition immediately -- the problem was that they thought the opposition would be led by the Iraqi National Congress and its exiled leader, Ahmed Chalabi.

Where did they get that idea? Well, Perle, whose stature as an advocate of the war was clearly boosted by his contacts with the Iraqi National Congress (a leading source of tips about "Weapons of Mass Destruction" in the pre-war period), certainly didn't diabuse them of the notion.

Unfortunately, the idea that Chalabi could return after several comfortable decades in London to unify and lead the nation in the wake of the U.S. invasion proved to be as questionable as the WMD tips the INC had been passing along. Perle needs to take some of the fall for that miscalculation, but instead he falls back on the cliched "mistakes have been made" -- a painfully passive construction that would be funny if it weren't so serious.

This Joshua Micah Marshall post points out just how worthless Perle's "admission" is: It's all well and good to say we should have worked with the Iraqi opposition ahead of the war, but: "It's awfully difficult to build a new state and society around the democratic opposition, when the democratic opposition really doesn't exist."

Tuesday, August 26, 2003
We're Gonna Git You Suckas On the day when U.S. deaths in Iraq since President Top Gun's carrier landing surpassed the level recorded to that point, the Bush administration dispatched its National Security brain trust across the country for a full-court defense of the war in Iraq. And even as the casualties mount in Iraq, the President was still willing to rattle his saber, claiming that we will not shy away from additional military actions elsewhere, specifically mentioning "Pakistan, the Philippines and the Horn of Africa."

Um, what happened to the rest of the Axis of Evil? You know, the countries that have or are trying to get nuclear weapons? They didn't make the cut in Bush's speech today -- perhaps because he's aware that his decision to commit massive numbers of troops to Iraq in response to a WMD threat that now appears to have been overblown.

If we're lucky, the reports of nuclear programs in North Korea and Iran will prove to be as overheated as the pre-war reports from Iraq, but I doubt it. The winning case against Bush's policy in Iraq is that the administration didn't think this all the way through and didn't appreciate the real risk to U.S. lives -- both military and at home -- involved in this expedition. In addition, by failing to seek a broader coalition for the post-war rebuilding of Iraq, Bush has ignored the easiest way to free our troops to respond to threats elsewhere, while also handicapping the rebuilding effort.

Sen. John Kerry made that case in a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars today.