Entries from April 2010

Timeout on Offshore Drilling

April 30th, 2010 at 4:17 pm 32 Comments

After the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl accidents, the nuclear power industry hit on the notion of “safety culture.”

Meaning, that one more spectacularly catastrophic accident broadcast live into America’s living rooms would bury nuclear power’s prospects permanently. Self-preservation dictated fostering a no-nonsense approach to operating a high-risk technology well within demanding margins for error.

In the wake of the spreading oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico, the offshore oil industry ought to call in a few nuclear power executives for some helpful hints about tightening up operations. While they’re at it, bring in some oilmen from Norway, which runs offshore oil drilling operations in the stormy North Sea with crisp attention to safety and environmental protection.

The Obama administration’s call for a temporary halt to offshore leasing is a prudent step – as long as the industry and the bureaucrats take a step back, figure out what went wrong on the Deepwater Horizon rig, revisit their assumptions, and institute truly protective safeguards to prevent such catastrophic accidents in the future – which is especially important as the industry pushes into ever deeper waters and its concomitant higher risks.

The oil industry has sworn up and down that through technological advances it has virtually eliminated the risks of offshore oil production. Its filings with the federal government promise the ability to handle worst-case scenarios. Slick advertising by the American Petroleum Institute assures Americans daily that they need not worry about threats to commercial fisheries, wildlife, or beach tourism from expanded drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf.

The blowout in the Gulf, along with BP’s struggle to contain the resulting spill, vividly show that those oil industry assurances cannot be trusted. Before oil platforms go up off the coast of Florida, Alaska, or Virginia, the oil industry and its regulators will need to demonstrate that they’ve learned the right lessons from the Deepwater Horizon accident.

Economy Still Too Weak to Save Dems in Nov

April 30th, 2010 at 3:10 pm 15 Comments

Today’s GDP growth numbers are pretty good news for President Obama and pretty bad news for Democrats in Congress. They’re probably not enough to impact all-but-certain massive Democratic losses in this November’s elections but could well signal an economic trend that will lead to Obama’s reelection in 2012.

Here’s why: the reported growth of 3.2 percent is good but not great. It’s roughly par for the course in the post-1970s U.S. economy. In technical terms, it signals the end of the recession but, obviously, sky-high unemployment and still sagging wages leave many individuals feeling down.

For those facing elections in November, this type of growth won’t help since people are still behind where they were two years ago. Much stronger growth is needed to produce the short-term economic gains that would convince Americans that the recession is really over.

On the other hand, if growth continues at a similar rate, unemployment will fall and wages will rise decently between now and 2012. This will be good for Obama and, given that he will have real legislative achievements (however problematic the stimulus, healthcare reform, and the likely financial reform are in practice) he’ll be able to grab the credit even if Republicans manage to block every major Democratic proposal between now and 2012.

Judging Frum’s Conservative Bona Fides

April 30th, 2010 at 3:05 pm 41 Comments

Poking around a used book store in Maryland last weekend, I stumbled onto a National Review pamphlet about immigration from earlier in the decade that gathered the opinions of several conservative writers. Prominently listed on the cover as a staunch conservative proponent of enforcing the law: David Frum.

As immigration again rears its head as a hot-button issue, the pamphlet is a timely reminder of how Frum hasn’t changed one whit on the fundamentals. His article in defense of the decidedly hard-right new law in Arizona should remind everyone whose side he’s on. So why do so many people think otherwise? I think I can answer this question.

Two shelves over from the pamphlet, I come across an old advance copy of Dead Right. Flipping through the pages, one sees that the Frum of the 90′s sounds a lot like the Frum of 2010: then as now he is skeptical about whether the Religious Right is to blame for our ills, then as now he is on guard against isolationist tendencies in the party. But most importantly: he is still conscious of the power of ideas and the importance of the vital center in holding together a governing coalition. Not because there’s something magical and inherently virtuous about “the center,” but because it’s the pulse-taker of where the culture is comfortable with moving.

Frum’s mission has always been to connect with the broader electorate on the basis of good governance. It’s not and has never been about positioning the party in “the middle” or on “the right,” but rather about governing pragmatically in a non-ideological manner. These classically conservative tendencies confuse both the Tea Party crowd and the media, and for the same reason: they don’t know what traditional conservatism is. The conservative political theorist Russell Kirk once recounted becoming aghast when a young Republican told him that he believed in the “conservative ideology.” Fundamentally, to Frum like to Kirk, conservatism is not an ideology — which Kirk described cogently as a drug — but a sober way of looking at the world. Frum still believes in the power of incentives rather than in human dispositions, he still believes in the importance of a vibrant and coherent culture, he still believes that dogma is the enemy of prudence. As today’s conservatism becomes more and more dogmatic, it’s no surprise that Frum would feel like a bit of an outsider.

Anyone who thinks that Frum “left conservatism” knows nothing about Frum or conservatism. If people would hit the books rather than the streets, perhaps they’d realize that.

Delinking Obama’s Iran and Israel Policies

April 30th, 2010 at 2:30 pm 3 Comments

After my last post to FrumForum, prostate one reader challenged me to “lay out a succinct, clinic workable, plan [for halting the Iranian nuclear program] that would not cause problems with Russia or China, and would not [lead to] a major conflagration in the Middle East, and the oil crisis that ensues”. Responding to this request another reader said, “You know you’re not going to get an answer … the Bush admin didn’t have one … and neither does the Obama admin … because there isn’t one … short of starting a major war with Iran a sophisticated [nation] of 75 million people which would have calamitous result[s] for US interests and whose outcome no one can predict.”

The reader who asserted that I couldn’t lay out a “workable” plan for dealing with the Iranian threat was right. Any anti-Iranian strategy, such as sanctions, the bombing of Iran’s nuclear facilities, or the encouragement of regime change, may have more negative unintended consequences than potential benefits. I was not calling for military action against Iran.

I intended to make a narrower point. If Iran can be stopped from acquiring a nuclear arsenal, taking the action necessary should not be delayed solely in order to extract concessions from Israel on settlements or other issues related to the Palestinians.

Even without explicit linkage of the two issues, in light of the potential lethal impact of Iranian nukes, it is disturbing to see the stark contrast between most political commentators’ sanguine resignation to the possibility of Iran becoming nuclear and the outrage they express whenever Israel merely announces that it will allow the construction of new housing for Jews on any territory that Israel gained in the 1967 Six Day War.

Israel, these wise men say, should not worry about Iran’s possible acquisition of nuclear weapons. Deterrence, or a nuclear standoff between the Soviet Union and the United States, they argue prevented the outbreak of nuclear war between the two superpowers for almost half a century; and, Israel can rely on its own nuclear arsenal to deter Iran from attacking it. But, deterrence only works when a regime is not willing to let large numbers of its own people die in pursuit of its overseas objectives. However, the religiously fanatical Iranian regime is so driven by its hatred of Israel and Jews that it just might be willing to absorb large numbers of Iranian casualties in pursuit of a lethal blow against the Jewish people and its state. The Islamic Republic has used the Iranian people as fodder, ready to accept the loss of hundreds of thousands of its own people in a totally pointless eight-year war with Iraq. This cannot strengthen the Israelis’ confidence in the utility of deterrence. If and until the Islamic Republic actually fires nuclear weapons at Israel nobody can really know whether it intends to use the arsenal that it will soon acquire for a strike against the Jewish state. But why should Israelis be required to live with the constant threat of an Iranian nuclear attack?

It is common for the advocates of humanitarian intervention to accuse the West of not doing enough to prevent mass murders of civilians in Somalia, Darfur, and in other places. If these people are serious about removing all threats of genocide, they should be in the forefront of the movement to stop the Holocaust denier that rules Iran from getting the weapons with which he could threaten Israeli lives.

Illinois Race Kirk’s to Lose

April 30th, 2010 at 12:59 pm 3 Comments

A new Rasmussen Reports survey of the Illinois Senate race now puts Mark Kirk up eight points over the embattled Alexi Giannoulias. Kirk’s total moved from 41% in early April to 46%, while Giannoulias neither gained nor lost ground. Kirk’s 46-38 lead means that Alexi Giannoulias not only needs to prevent his family bank problems and ties to Rod Blagojevich from scaring away supporters, he actually will need to attract new votes with the issues hanging over his head.

The numbers are no victory for the Kirk camp. The survey was conducted before President Obama offered his support, so they may be tighter than the numbers show, and even if they are not, the fact that Kirk hasn’t buried Giannoulias despite all of his problems and an enormous fund raising advantage suggests that his bank woes alone won’t sink Democrat’s campaign.

While 41% do say that the Broadway Bank failure is at least somewhat important in their decision about how they will vote, 49% said it’s not very or not at all important.  That said, independents are more likely to rate the issue as important in determining their vote than individuals affiliated with either major party, meaning that Giannoulias is going to have a tough time swinging the 12% of voters who are undecided. If Giannoulias doesn’t win an overwhelming portion of remaining undecideds, it is unlikely that he can win this race.

These poll results simply confirm what most following the race know: the race is Kirk’s to lose.

Al Gore’s New Beach House

April 30th, 2010 at 12:50 pm 29 Comments

From the April 28 Los Angeles Times:

Former Vice President Al Gore and his wife, physician Tipper, have added a Montecito-area property to their real estate holdings, reports the Montecito Journal.

The couple spent $8,875,000 on an ocean-view villa on 1.5 acres with a swimming pool, spa and fountains, a real estate source familiar with the deal confirms. The Italian-style house has six fireplaces, five bedrooms and nine bathrooms.

I guess those rising sea levels of which Gore cries havoc is not so inconvenient a truth to dissuade him from buying oceanfront.

Avlon on Crist’s Political Opportunism

David Frum April 30th, 2010 at 8:16 am 25 Comments

My friend John Avlon has a piece in the Daily Beast on Charlie Crist.

As an independent and a centrist, I should be a textbook supporter of Charlie Crist’s newly announced independent candidacy for U.S. Senate.

But I’m not—because Charlie Crist confirms the worst stereotypes of a centrist. Instead of being principled in his differences with his party, he is opportunistic.

Most independents and centrists feel politically homeless in our polarized two-party system because they are too fiscally conservative for Democrats but too socially liberal for Republicans. It is a principled position that refuses to conform to the go-along/get-along ideological straitjacket imposed by the special interests in both parties. But Charlie Crist does not represent this courageous tradition with any consistency—instead it is just a pose he is adopting for short-term political gain.

A lot of us who supported Rudy Giuliani in 2008 also remember Charlie Crist’s auctioning his support to the highest bidder in the ‘08 primaries, first leading Giuliani to believe that he’d endorse Rudy’s candidacy, then switching to McCain when that looked a more promising route to the vice presidency.

The Fat Diaries: Choosing Between Healthy and Cheap

April 30th, 2010 at 5:30 am 22 Comments

It’s the eternal argument for those who have to cook for their families. Do I get something cheap and quick, look or something healthy?

I know I’ve been on my natural food soap box for a while. Picture me as a disheveled figure in a wrinkled trenchcoat and a hand-made picket sign reading: “French Fries are the Devil”.

Monica’s Journal: [DATE] 2010 The city is fat. I have seen its BMI. They wallow in their bacon fries and sour cream, giving pitchers of ranch dressing to their sticky soda-covered kids eating Lunchables. One day a wave of FDA reform will wash over the city and I’ll see the housewives and mortgage brokers clutching their hearts and wallets. They’ll reach up to me crying, “defibrillate me” and I’ll say…”NO.”

Okay, that was a bit tangential. Sorry. So anyways I have a confession to make. While I try to make the best choices and everything for my family, I have one consistent weakness that I can’t even contemplate giving up: oven pizza.

I look after two preschoolers so I am on my feet or driving around or even running for most of the day. When I have to stand in front of that oven range and contemplate another 20-40 minutes of cooking I feel weak at the knees. Some days it’s just too much. Dun-dah-dah-DAH!! Oven pizza to the rescue!!

When I was young and newly married (and had no concept of money) I relied on delivery pizza. Twice a week, at least I would call Domino’s and order my usual sausage and mushroom pizza. When I grew older and wiser and subsequently less prone to spend money I didn’t have, I became a fan of oven pizza.

Oven pizza is not the healthiest food on the planet. Not even the kind with veggies all over it (which I pick off, cause I don’t like ‘em). As much as I’d like to justify it having good points like lycopene-rich tomatoes (pureed and cooked with a ton of sugar and salt), and valuable carbs (bleached starchy flour loaded with oil for a crust), not even the pizza companies are trying to kid us. Unless you’re in the organic isle, you’re not going to see a lot of pizza boxes in the frozen food isle that claim that they’re good for you.

The only concession to the modern trend for health food is that big dairy symbol on the box announcing that the pizza is made with “real cheese.” Honestly, in America, “real cheese” doesn’t count for much. So why do I like ‘em? They taste good. They are insanely easy to prepare. They cost next to nothing.

I can hear some of you now: “Why not make healthy pizza from scratch?” I can proudly say that I have done this. I’m not talking once either, I’m talking I made pizza from yeast to finish every week for almost 3 months. My family was in kind of dire financial straights, and to save money we made our pizza from scratch. I activated the yeast culture, I added flour salt and rosemary, I kneaded and punched it, I set it to rise, I rolled it out and made 2 pizzas.  The pizza was pretty good. Making it sucked.

I was usually covered with flour; the kitchen was a hopeless mess. I had to wash out the yeast bowl, the mixer, the bread hook, the rising pan, the pizza dish and three greasy doughy hand towels. The only reason I did it was because I had to, because in the end it would save two dollars. That’s right. After the cost of yeast, flour, tomato sauce and pepperoni and cheese, we saved about two measly dollars. In those days, two dollars made a difference. Now I can get a delicious frozen pizza for about 4 dollars and I only have to wash the pan I cooked it on, I consider that worth a ‘Jefferson fin.’ Also, the pepperoni on oven pizza tastes so much better than the kind you buy. Dunno why, (Probably has MSG).

This leads me to the other option you were all thinking of: why not buy pizza from the super-healthful organic section? Because it’s more expensive. The organic pizzas run from $8 to $10 and while a $4 to $6 dollar pizza is fine with our budget, I can’t justify the pricey kind. Also, for some reason, the organic pies are smaller so they don’t feed a family of four and I would have to buy two of them. Go figure.

This is one of the big problems in my new lifestyle that has been plaguing me. The reconciliation between health and price is kind of astronomical. American food companies are putting out more organic and natural products than ever, but every one of those products is more expensive. It’s hard when you’re on a tight budget to justify spending extra money on things that maybe only marginally better for you.

Example: Macaroni and cheese:

The regular stuff: it costs 75¢. It’s powdered fake cheese-food-product with yellow dye and processed bleach semolina pasta. Add butter and milk to make the sauce.

Organic Mac and cheese: almost twice the cost of the regular stuff. It is made with whole grain pasta, and powdered cheese with turmeric to make it as yellow as the fake cheese. Add milk to make the sauce. Note: it’s still starchy noodles and powdered cheese!

Macaroni and cheese from scratch: ingredients cost three times as much as the fake stuff. Whole grain pasta is covered in over a pound of real cheddar cheese and a beaten egg. There are hardly any artificial ingredients, but it’s swimming in a puddle of oil from all the cheese.

Ultimately, one has to face the facts. No matter WHAT it’s made of, macaroni and cheese is not healthy food, period. So why spend the extra time and money on making it only slightly healthier?

In the end I have to make a lot of compromises. I serve the junky mac and cheese but I add peas to it. I serve it with fresh fruit and a glass of milk. I don’t serve it the same day I serve the pizza. Oh, and my last reason for eating pizza every week? It’s the only thing everyone will eat. The end. Even the realllllllly picky kid likes it. I’m not giving up pizza.

So yeah, I’m not perfect. I’ll occasionally take the easy road, especially if I’m really tired. And for all my suggestions on how to make the world a more healthful place or telling everyone how I improved my life by doing such-and-such I’m a human. This is not an advice column, this is not a medical study, this is the heartfelt struggle of a woman in America who has stared down the morbid obesity machine and said, “NOT ME.” Eating healthy is not easy. Sometimes, especially if we’re one of the millions of Americans in financial straits, we have to be prepared to sacrifice healthy for cheap and that’s okay. All things in moderation.

(Whew! Writing this wore me out. I’m sticking a pizza in the oven.)

Monica Marier’s “Fat Diaries” appears on FrumForum every Friday.

Mickey Kaus’ Unorthodox Senate Bid

April 30th, 2010 at 5:26 am 1 Comment

Mickey Kaus is an O.G. blogger — possibly the very first political blogger — who not long ago switched to Twitter and has even more recently decided to run for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate in California.  His concerns seem to be labor unions (which he thinks have too much power) and immigration to the U.S. (which he thinks there’s too much of).

He’s said that he has no chance of winning, and I’m assuming that the purpose of the race is to gather material for a book.  ”Kamikazefiles:  A Skeptic’s Crusade to Bring Common Sense to California Politics,” perhaps?  (Sorry–I already told you I’m bad at titles.)

I still wonder a bit, along with others, why Kaus isn’t running in the Republican primary — I’d think that his signature issues would fly better with Republican voters and, more to the point, somehow I’ve always imagined Republican politicians in California to be more colorful — better book material — than their Democratic counterparts.  San Francisco aside, I imagine prominent California Democrats to be dry, time-serving bureaucrats (like the comically Dickensianly-named “Gray Davis”) in contrast to wacky offbeat characters on the Republican side of the aisle.  On the other hand, perhaps the very fact that the Democratic primary is not competitive this year — the incumbent, Barbara Boxer, is facing no serious opposition — has encouraged Kaus to run.  Perhaps he feels that people will feel it’s safe to pull the lever for him as a protest vote, safe in the knowledge that it won’t make a difference.  In the more competitive Republican race, primary election voters probably won’t want to throw their vote away.

From Kaus’s website, I’ve learned that William Bennett has a radio show, a discussion on which prompted Kaus to ask “why doesn’t the GOP at least try to win over a piece of” the African-American vote on the immigration issue, pointing out that “It’s a potentially deep fissure that could pry apart the Dems’ coalition.”  I don’t really see blacks lining up with whites to support the right of the Arizona police to stop Hispanics on the street — but I haven’t seen poll data on this, so maybe there’s something going on that I wasn’t aware of.

The other thing I noticed was that Kaus is asking for campaign contributions.  I can’t imagine he can get serious money from people clicking on the website, so this makes me wonder why bother — can’t he just buy the ads he wants from his own savings (or from contributions from wealthy friends)?  One possibility is that if he gets a bunch of small donors, then he can say that X number of people contributed to the campaign.  It’s an interesting general question — donors for money or donors for P.R. or donors as potential future activists.

The other question is, where does Kaus go next?  I can’t see him returning to blogging.  Blogging is fun, and it’s addictive, but once you stop, I think it shouldn’t be hard to quit.  Also, after thinking about politics and policy for several months, it’s gotta be a bit boring to return to writing about how bad the L.A. Times is and bemoaning that the major news media isn’t picking up on National Enquirer stories.  I’m not saying that these aren’t legitimate issues, just that it can’t be so interesting as a political blogger to be chasing down National Enquirer stories.

More likely, I think, is that Kaus will return to book writing, maybe following up his memoir of campaign hijinks with a more serious policy book.  He’ll probably go back to the blog–if for no other reason than to keep his ideas out there–but I think with less enthusiasm and more of a sense of duty.  And once you’re blogging out of duty–once blogging feels like a job–the jig is up.

Having a high-profile blog can be a great opportunity for Kaus to get involved in the give-and-take of political ideas, but my impression is that he has less interest in this kind of day-to-day engagement and would be happier focusing more deeply on the issues that concern him most.  In my most recent interaction with Kaus, I was disappointed in his apparent lack of interest in following through on his original claims, but in retrospect this makes more sense given that his interest has moved from politics to policy.

Crist’s Selfish Power Play

April 30th, 2010 at 5:25 am 22 Comments

Charlie Crist may not realize it, but holding a position of power does not entitle one to a Senate nomination.

In any normal competitive primary, two qualified candidates duke it out to a finish and the loser exits gracefully. This unwritten law of decorum exists so as to uphold order and create a fair playing field. No governmental regulations were needed to do this; the rules of the arena simply evolved that way to encourage fair play.

Charlie Crist won’t play by those rules because he thinks he’s entitled to a Senate seat by virtue of being the governor. Throughout the year, the media have spoken alternately of a “moderate purge” or “tea party takeover” of the Florida nomination — as if Crist were entitled to the nomination and Rubio was stealing it from him!

The most appalling feature of this mess is the charade Crist is putting on: insiders wanted him to remain a Republican, Crist has explained, but the “voters of Florida” kept asking him to run as an independent, and how could he say no to The People? It’s fairly evident that one Florida resident in particular is most interested in seeing Crist’s political career continue.

After months of portraying himself as a “true conservative,” Crist apparently has been — without much success — wooing Rahm Emanuel and Democratic operatives to lend their tacit support to his campaign, akin to the GOP’s strategy toward the 2006 Connecticut race. Unlike Lieberman, though, who lost the primary due to his principled support of the Iraq War, it seems that Crist’s principled support, as Rudy Giuliani found out in 2008, only reaches as far as it will carry his career.

If Marco Rubio had lost the primary battle and dropped out to run as a Tea Party candidate, he’d have been rightfully ridiculed as a self-serving opportunist. Let’s not spare Charlie Crist that same level of ridicule.