Saturday, November 13, 2004

Cyanide Poisoning Story 

In "The Cyanide Canary," EPA Agent Joe Hilldorfer has written about the horrifying case against Idaho's Evergreen Resources in the cyanide poisoning of worker Scott Dominguez. If you think EPA work and regulations are arcane and dull, listen to the story of what happened to Mr Dominguez on August 27, 1996.

Public Radio's "Living on Earth" tells the story:

"20-year-old Scott Dominguez went to work as he’d done every day for the previous two years at Evergreen Resources. This was a plant in Soda Springs, Idaho that converted mining waste into fertilizer. What would happen in the next four hours would forever change Scott’s life and would place him in the middle of a groundbreaking criminal case."

When Dominguez was ordered into a tank full of cyanide at the company workers called "Everdeath," life as he had known it ended, but the prosecution had only begun what would become an epic struggle. The story points to the incredible difficulties faced by regulators and prosecutors in pursuing redress against even the most egregious violations of the health and safety of workers handling hazardous wastes. It's both a fascinating story and a reminder of the life and death implications of environmental enforcement.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Election Questions, So Messy and Unpleasant, Right? 

I know we're all (the entire blogosphere) being group-spanked by the New York Times today for spreading inaccurate information about the election, so I want to respond on behalf of my little corner of blogdom (which is pretty small):

First, I wish Judith Miller had written the piece. We'd appreciate that, coming from the Times. The Times' slavish preference for official sources, no matter how mendacious, is legendary. Whatever the excesses of the blogosphere (and they are legion, as wide a sphere as we are), interactive news sources provide an airing for many writers that can't get on the corporate media giant's platforms. That the Times doesn't publish someone doesn't disqualify that source from having access to important information or insight.

My second point is more specific to the elections. While the Times article does run down several loose stories that are running around the net regarding Florida and Ohio totals v. exit polling, it doesn't address the underlying problem that spurs on the conspiracy theorists- that our election process is still dubious in many respects.

The count was very close in the state that mattered most, Ohio. In Ohio, the Secretary of State, Ken Blackwell, made several calls which tended to favor the Bush campaign, including the allocation of resources and the acceptance of challengers at the polls. Exceptionally long lines in African American neighborhoods certainly amounted to an unfair disincentive to voters there. The turnout was expected to be high, so the unpreparedness of his office to handle it has a taint to it. In less affluent neighborhoods, long lines (3 plus hours in many cases) take a heavy economic toll on voters that they may not be able to bear.

This wasn't the beginning of the shennanigans in Ohio, either. The Secretary of State there is, after all, the same official who turned away new registration applications if they didn't arrive on heavy cardstock, until challenged in the national spotlight.

Beyond Ohio, the new touchscreen machines, manufactured by a major supporter of the Bush campaign, are going to attract attention. They don't provide paper backup and they should be viewed skeptically and checked on by the press until proven reliable or backed up by voter verified paper. That this will be an issue shouldn't surprise anyone.

The exit polls (yes the FINAL exit polls) still need some explaining, as compared with the results. This effort should be on the shoulders of the polling organizations, not the general public or blogosphere. See my last post and Kevin Drum's excellent piece on that yesterday that it links to for more. Given the problems in our election system, the onus is on official sources and corporate media to make themselves trustworthy to the public regarding election questions for as long as they persist.

Finally, the system itself has shown how ineffective it is at turning out a democratic result. The Electoral College disenfrachises a huge segment of the population, even before the votes are cast. The country turns on what happens in a relatively tiny, moderately conservative segment of the nation, where the campaigns spend enormous resources. Instead of seeing the candidates in our huge population centers, addressing urban issues, they're only seen (ad nauseum) in the swing states. My friends on the West Coast claim they watched the process as if it were unfolding in a foriegn country.

The system requires huge efforts to bring out 60% of eligible voters. That's considered a huge success? We have news. It's not. What's more, the election and registration laws are clearly designed to limit participation, compared with other countries' election methods.

However difficult it is to make history bend towards justice, we will keep at it. But don't expect us to be quiet or neat about it.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Poll Problems Deserve Another Look 

OK, so I know I said "enough" about the exit polls... and I probably still mean it, but there ARE some discrepancies that actually aren't addressed by the facts- at least not yet. See Kevin Drum's post at Political Animal.

Also, Ohio election process issues are still getting an extra look-see and the Secretary of State there is beginning to look more and more like Katherine Harris.

Let the Deception Begin Anew 

When the mainstream press awakens from insisting that the 49% of American voters who said "No' to the Bush administration revamp our entire approach to politics, it might be time to discuss how all Americans got something entirely different out of the new Administration than we might have been expecting, were we listening to the campaign promises.

Aside from the bait and switch on terror, while the Administration now attempts to convince us all that we're much safer at home (all the better to lower our demands for homeland security money for first responders), we're treated to a drastic uptick in the violence in Iraq. This long-planned offensive was put off till days after the election, so as not to cause too much bloodshed while we voted.

Next, the tax system must now be completely overhauled. Anyone remember Bush discussing that during the debates? Gee, me neither.

Let's not forget that we have to privatize social security as a major priority of this new/old Administration. While the President HAS actually spoken briefly on this during the debates, he kept it well below the fold. Now, it's a MAJOR priority. I suppose this would have cut into his vote among the over-60 demographic had he announced it's centrality before they voted, eh?

Let's not forget his lack of a litmus test for Supreme Court Justices. Anyone want to bet on a pro-choice position being taken by his first appointee?

However, if you you thought Bush was serious about sending a message about torture, you WERE right there. He certainly sent one by nominating the man who wrote the legal brief suggesting that torture was legal to lead the Justice Department yesterday.

If you were wondering about how Bush planned to keep his promise of being a "good steward " of the environment, I guess the first item on your clean agenda was to start the drilling in Alaska's ANWR wildlife reserve. It certainly was his, as we now hear. But how will they manage to pass that with so many environmentalists in the Senate willing to fillibuster it? Well, in the interests of the rule of law, Republicans plan to lock it into a huge budget appropriation that isn't subject to any debate rules test.

Readers, if you were planning to lick your wounds for any great length of time...time's up.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Mellow Yellow 

So...New York's financial community can breathe a big sigh of relief, right? After a huge bump in the panic level this summer, just in time to arm the city to the teeth for the Republican National Convention, then (just before the convention) a general relaxation of some security measures that might make the convention look bad, we come to the inevitable coda.

Joy of joys, the alert level for the New York financial community has been lowered to yellow. Ladies and Gentlemen, the election is safely behind us. Worry no more.

And if you buy this, we have a couple of bridges you might be interested in.

O-Hio, O Meeo, Oh My o... 

For anyone wanting to keep the denial going just a bit longer (till you can find more medication) or if you really WOULD like to see all the votes counted, have a look at a communication from the Ohio Democratic Party. They're not walking away and promise to see all the votes counted, eventually.

Good luck.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

A Democratic Narrative 

"The party needs a narrative," says James Carville.

I'm suggesting readers use the comments function below this post to take a stab at your suggested elements of that Democratic or broader progressive narrative. Over time, I'll post from the best of them.

Have a go and we'll see what develops.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Progressive Values 

Gary Hart writes today about his personal history as an evangelical Christian and about his decision not to campaign publicly as an evangelical candidate when he ran for President. It's interesting and on point in highlighting some the fallacies in the arguments against liberalism from political fundamentalists.

I think that aside from the generous application of disinformation and the use of "values" issues to divide people with integrity from other people who also have integrity, the Bush campaign tapped into a vein of anger many people have against social forces larger than themselves and their families. There can be little doubt that the country has experienced awesome dislocation and social upheaval at the same time as it experienced economic transformations that leave many feeling powerless.

No longer can a family depend on a major breadwinner to provide economically for them while another member focuses on raising children. No longer can a family expect that the major employers in their area will be constant providers of jobs for the length of a person's career. Older Americans can't always expect that their children, having stayed near home, will be able to take them in when they can no longer take care of themselves. The same older people are bombarded with the threat that Social Security won't be there for them when they need it.

So it's not completely surprising or personally reprehensible that many people are easy prey for a pitch that a candidate is standing up for "traditional values." The traditional values argument has been used by the Republican right to create a pastoral picture of a simpler past as a salve to the jarring changes technology and multinational globalism have wrought on their lives. People want some control and stability to life and for their community. They're often willing to overlook inconsistencies when that stability is promised as a bulwark of a candidacy. Progressives need to talk about the ways that a platform of jobs, health security, keeping social contracts, people helping each other, peace, and respect for differences addresses that need for stability, steady values, and ethics.

It's not a stretch. It's just clear that the values argument can't be left to the political right to brand as theirs. Especially when the sharp edges of economic change and the economic abandonment of communities and constituencies is part of the right's policy.

A lot of the upheaval in the lives of the heartland can rightfully be laid at the doorstep of Republican policies. Unregulated business walks away from workers whenever it's in their short-term interest. Broadcasters have no reason to put forth public interest programming or educate children. Parents are forced to spend less time with their children and look farther and farther for decent pay in their jobs. The list goes on and on. Progressives don't always have all the solutions, but the issues are about values that are broader than the ones Karl Rove and company would like people to focus on and are more meaningful to the lives of most.

Progressives don't need to change principles to discuss values. People just need to hear that progressives care about them more than we care about programs or about government as a separate entity from them and their communities.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Not So Much Religion, But Meaness 

Maureen Dowd today puts it precisely right when she excoriates the meaness of the Bush/Cheney appeal for "moral values." It's not just about using religion as a cudgel to beat their way to victory. It's the choice to attack the least powerful as a strategy.

"When William Jennings Bryan took up combating the theory of evolution, he did it because he despised the social Darwinists who used the theory to justify the "survival of the fittest" in capitalism. Bryan hated anything that justified an economic system that crushed poor workers and farmers, and he hated that the elites would claim there was scientific basis for keeping society divided and unequal.

The new evangelicals challenge science because they've been stirred up to object to social engineering on behalf of society's most vulnerable: the poor, the sick, the sexually different."

-Maureen Dowd

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