Archive for May, 2008

Index for May 2008

May 31, 2008
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What’s Behind Bush’s Short Notice on Deadline for New Rules?

May 31, 2008

Charlie Savage and Robert Pear in today’s NYT “Administration Moves to Avert a Late Rules Rush,” report that on May 9, Joshua B. Bolten, the White House chief of staff, issued a memorandum to agency heads without public announcement that they must propose any new regulations by June 1 and finish final regulations by November 1. Mr. Bolten’s order will affect only potential rules controlled by the Bush administration. It does not apply to independent agencies or to pending regulations with deadlines imposed by federal statutes or court orders. The memorandum also does not prevent agencies from continuing work on potential rules that are not intended to be made final until after the next president takes office.

Bolton wrote that the government should

resist the historical tendency of administrations to increase regulatory activity in their final months….We must recognize that the burden imposed by new regulations is cumulative and has a significant effect on all Americans.

He added that the administration would make exceptions for rules that missed the deadline in “extraordinary circumstances,” but failed to define what that might mean.

Officials told the reporters they were caught unaware and described a flurry of activity as they sought to get proposals approved for publication in the Federal Register by the deadline.

The deadline will avoid rules which can be reversed by the next President. Many regulations take effect 60 days after they have been issued. After Bush took office in 2001, he froze hundreds of pending regulations issued by Clinton’s administration. Clinton had done the same thing regarding Bush I regs.

White House spokeswoman, Emily Lawrimore, said in an e-mail message,

We’re not shutting down work on important regulatory matters after June 1st. We’re just making clear that we will continue to embrace the thorough and high standards of the regulatory review process as we near the end of the administration.

Sally Katzen, Clinton’s top regulatory aide from 1993 to 1998 said,

There are good-government reasons to do what they are doing . But it has the added advantage of providing an excuse for not doing something they don’t want attributed to them, and for speeding up the things they want to lock in before the next administration.

According to the reporters,

the June 1 deadline to start the public comment process places at risk of delay scores of potential regulations, including protections for the environment and rules on workplace safety and public health.

How exactly are the agency’s supposed to speed up proposals, some which run for hundreds of pages, with just three weeks notice? , some of which run for hundreds of pages, with three weeks’ notice? And are the exceptions one final way to promote an agenda?

As Rick Melberth, director of regulatory policy for OMB Watch, noted,

They get to define emergency.

He predicted that the administrationwould make it a priority to complete rules that relax regulations on industrial pollution and other burdens on business and rules that give businesses more flexibility than Mr. Bush’s successor might, especially if the next president is a Democrat.
On other things, they could do “Sorry, we can’t do anything on this ” because of the deadline.

John D. Walke, director of the clean air program at Natural Resources Defense Council, said the memo intended to

shut down regulation for the remainder of the Bush administration. Until the bitter end,” Mr. Walke said, “the administration will pursue deregulation on behalf of polluting industries and avoid regulation that would protect public health, welfare and the environment. This memo is a codification of that agenda.

Some of the order placed at risk of delay include those backed by business.

The construction industry, for example, has been waiting for years for the Labor Department to issue updated safeguards to prevent crane accidents like the one in New York City on Friday. Industry and labor negotiators agreed to standards in 2004, but the administration has yet to issue them. Robert Weiss, the vice president of Cranes Inc., a provider of cranes in New York and a member of the negotiating committee that reached the agreement, said that the rule “could save many lives” but that he did not know how the White House memorandum might affect its prospects.

And Jeffrey Barach, vice president of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, said he feared that the deadline could jeopardize some rules that food manufacturers want. For example, the food industry has been pressing for more stringent requirements on farms to lower the risk that the food supply might be contaminated by crops that have been genetically modified to produce pharmaceuticals. The Department of Agriculture is planning to issue such a proposed rule in June, too late for the deadline.

“If it doesn’t go through now, it will be delayed,” Mr. Barach said. “There is already, out in the field, developmental work on pharmaceutical crops, which is expected to increase. So any delay is of concern to us.”

William L. Kovacs, a vice president of the United States Chamber of Commerce, praised the order.

This is a gracious way of leaving office. The White House is saying, “We will control the regulatory process so the next administration won’t end up with a lot of regulations being challenged in court in its first days in office.”

The Visitor

May 30, 2008

Photo by JoJo Whildon, Overture Films, of Richard Jenkins (maybe most famous for playing the dead father in HBO’s Six Feet Under) left, and Haaz Sleiman as his houseguest in The Visitor, written and directed by Tom McCarthy.

Tonight at the Lyric, I’ll be selling popcorn (and drama/comedy masks from the Chocolate Spike–who orders the Reese’s Cups, anyway?) I’ll let you know what I think after I see it, but the reviews, such as this one April 11 by the NYT’s A.O. Scott look promising. Here’s an interview of McCarthy and Jenkins that appeared April 14.

McClellan: I Became What I Wanted to Change

May 29, 2008

ABC News has posted the transcript of White House Correspondent Martha Raddatz’s interview with former White House Press Secretary and George Bush aide Scott McClellan about his book, What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and What’s Wrong with Washington, (PublicAffairs, May 2008) which has attracted a firestorm of protests from his fellows in the Bush Administration. (I’ve deleted out the “ums” and “uhs.”

I do have great affection for him. I think he’s authentic and sincere, in his beliefs. But I think that, instead of changing Washington, as he promised to do, remember, he came to Washington on a promise of bipartisanship, and honesty, and integrity, he too readily embraced the way Washington, the way the Washington game is played today. He got caught up in this permanent campaign mentality, and I think that was what caused him problems later on, in terms of, uh, a lack of a high level of openness, and forthrightness, at some defining moments. and, and all of us, to some extent, got caught up in that, people on both sides of the aisle…There are a lot of good and decent people, like the President, who come to Washington for the right reasons. But they get caught up in this atmosphere, which is very poisonous.

Weisberg Posits McCain Does Best as Underdog

May 28, 2008


Slate Editor and Financial Times columnist Jacob Weisberg’s “McCain at Rock Bottom : When his campaign was a mess last summer, he was at his best,” in Slate May 27 is adapted from the forward to David Foster Wallace’s new book, McCain’s Promise: Aboard the Straight Talk Express With John McCain and a Whole Bunch of Actual Reporters, Thinking About Hope (Back Bay Books) due out June 1. According to Wallace’s fan site, this is an expansion of “Up Simba, in his non-fiction book, Consider the Lobster.

Wallace’s writing also includes two novels, Infinite Jest and The Broom of the System; three story collections, Girl with Curious Hair, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, and Oblivion; and another nonfiction collections, A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again. He is the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship.

Weisberg will be hosting a chat at the WaPo tomorrow at 1:00. You can submit your questions before or during the chat here.

Sidney Pollack Gone Too Soon at 73

May 27, 2008


Photo byTiziana Fabi/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images show Pollack in Rome after a press conference for the last film he directed, Sketches of Frank Gehry (2005).

A. O. Scott’s New York Times tribute, “Sydney Pollack, Filmmaker New and Old,” which is set to run tomorrow, might not have caught my attention, if Google had not listed it as, “A Master of the Mainstream, When It Still Aimed High.” The official obit from today is here.

It’s hard to imagine him gone, whether you’re a fan of something old, like Tootsie, or something new, like Recount–about the 2000 presidential ballot fight in Florida. This last piece aired on HBO Sunday, the day before he died. And Pollack acted, playing among other roles, Will’s semi-cad Dad on Will and Grace.

Information Activies Lisa Pease (blog, email) has written today about the very political nature of Pollack’s films for Consortium News, saying it so well, I won’t have to:

And while he brought a strong social consciousness to everything he
touched, he never let the message overtake the entertainment. He made great
films that mesmerized and moved and delighted.


You didn’t realize until you were leaving the theater that you’d also
gotten a little lesson in history or morality as well.

I hope future directors will find the heart and courage to follow
in his exceedingly large footsteps. We lost a giant this week.

McCain: Webb’s GI Educational Benefits Bill will Harm Retention

May 26, 2008

I wrote about Jim Webb’s (D-VA) Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2007 (S. 22) introduced January 4, 2007 in a Veteran’s Day entry on November 12, 2007 . Since that time the bill finally had a hearing in the Veterans’ Affairs Committee on May 7.

Today’s Washington Post campaign blog carried an entry about McCain’s speech today in honor of Memorial Day in New Mexico which included his opposition to Webb’s bill, saying it would harm retention.

It strikes me as harsh on McCain’s part to deny educational benefits in order to bolster retention. Webb counters that his bill will also help with recruitment. Both statements are born out by the CBO cost estimate of May 8:

…because the higher educational benefits would reduce the costs of
attending college after military service, enacting S. 22 (as modified) also
would increase the number of servicemembers who would separate from
military service to take advantage of those benefits. Additional reenlistment
incentives would then be required to keep the number of reenlistments, and the
experience profile of the military force, constant.

Educational benefits have been shown to raise the number of military recruits.
Based on an analysis of the existing literature, CBO estimates that a
10 percent increase in educational benefits would result in an increase of about
1 percent in high-quality recruits. On that basis, CBO calculates that raising
the educational benefits as proposed in S. 22 would result in a 16 percent
increase in recruits. To maintain the same force levels and thus the same
number of recruits, enlistment bonuses and other recruiting costs could be
reduced.

The marginal cost of enlistment bonuses and the other expenditures necessary
to attract an additional enlistment is about $35,000. CBO estimates that
reduced spending for those purposes would result in a savings of almost
$5.6 billion over the 2009-2013 period.

Literature on the effects of educational benefits on retention suggest that every
$10,000 increase in educational benefits yields a reduction in retention of
slightly more than 1 percentage point. CBO estimates that S. 22 (as modified)
would more than double the present value of educational benefits for
servicemembers at the first reenlistment point—from about $40,000 to over
$90,000—implying a 16 percent decline in the reenlistment rate, from about
42 percent to about 36 percent. CBO assumes that to maintain the same force
size, the services would offer selective reenlistment bonuses (SRBs). An
$8,000 bonus to personnel at the first reenlistment point is estimated to
increase reenlistments by about 2 percentage points. Thus, CBO estimates that
SRBs of about $25,000 for each first-term servicemember who reenlists would
offset the expected effects on retention of increased educational benefits,
resulting in a cost of $6.7 billion over the 2009-2013 period for additional
reenlistment bonuses.

A March 6, 2008 article on Military.com (a commercial site for those with military connections) quoted a Department of Defense official who refused to be named as saying that WWII,

was a different era when the government was worried about long-unemployment lines from millions of returning draftees. A robust GI Bill now would make it difficult to keep careerists.

“Why would anybody stay for another deployment when they can go out on a four-year free ride, with guaranteed rent and utilities at the E-5 standard, which by long-standing DoD policy is a two-bedroom townhouse?”

Given current conflicts, this official continued, even volunteers who like service life might decide “to sit out for a year or two, in a large rented townhouse, and come back when things are more hospitable.”

Again pretty cynical. Veteran’s benefits not for service but to avoid mass unemployment (and ensuing social unrest?) Wonder what veterans would say about that?

Amid the debate and namecalling the Post article engendered, I found this interesting comment signed Vietnam Vet:

It would be illuminating if the posters here would identify themselves as combat veterans, or not. In my neck of the woods (active duty Marine Corps), the very nearly unanimous view is that Senator McCain has turned his back on us, as he assumes we’re safely in the Republican column. He’s playing to the breast beating know-nothings who fight their wars from their Lay-Z-Boys.

McCain is a sell-out, pure and simple. A shriveled old dogma-spewing party hack. Picture the turkey on the table in the movie “Christmas Vacation” staring Chevy Chase… McCain, like the shriveled remnants of the over-cooked bird, is a grotesque carcass of his former self, reduced to being a mouth-piece of the Bush machine.

I would like to see a poll which judges how reprensentative this attitude is. If a significant number feel this way, it could mark problems for McCain.

Memorial Day at Poplar Forest

May 25, 2008

Photo of Poplar Forest from a nearby Baptist conference center’s tourist info.

Tomorrow Barry and I will make our fourth trip to Poplar Forest for Memorial Day. Here’s a poem I wrote on the first visit.

MEMORIAL DAY AT POPLAR FOREST for C.B.A.

Thomas Jefferson
rode the ninety miles
two days on horseback
three by carriage:
this octagon villa
his retreat from public life
at Monticello.

Sated on soda bread
a magnum of wine
we stretch out under the farthest surviving poplar
watch cumulous clouds dock and disolve.
One evokes a falcon
its swoop of wings, its talons.
Above us, the bough trimmed severely,
the poplar’s leaves crowd in along remaining wood
as if to compensate for phantom limbs.

On the house tour we learn
Tom’s slaves cast and laid a quarter million bricks
according to his design directly to clay
with no foundation.
After one hundred eighty-seven years
the skeleton of bricks remains intact
paint scaled off a coat at a time
then plaster, all stored to stoppered test tubes:
archeology essentially a deconstructive process.

Ghost marks on bricks
reveal a mantel here
a chair rail there,
let us glimpse the future restoration.
I prefer this bare brick:
strained backs of men and horses
beneath the great man’s surfaces.

*
And speaking of Memorial Day, here’s a baker’s dozen from NewsTrust on the Iraq War, something to keep in mind as we mark the day tomorrow.

  1. The Sergeant Lost Within NYT–Reviews
  2. Book Review – ‘Standard Operating Procedure’ NYT —Reviews
  3. Soldier-Brothers See All Sides of War AP Reviews
  4. Feeling safer, Iraqis come home APReviews
  5. As soldiers fill Sadr City, militia fighters wait LA Times Reviews
  6. Iran ‘paid Iraq insurgents to kill UK soldiers’ Daily Telegraph Reviews
  7. The Return of Iraq’s Ayatollah Time Reviews
  8. U.S. Teams Start Work Of Restoring South Iraq WaPoReviews
  9. Iraq Vets Get Poor Health Care, Americans Say in Harvard Survey Bloomberg
    Reviews
  10. War and service: Remembrance and debate Balt Sun Reviews
  11. Controversial Contractor’s Iraq Work Is Split Up NYT Reviews
  12. Congress declares budget war LA Times Reviews
  13. Pentagon public relations program investigated AP Reviews

U.S. Digital Divide Redux

May 24, 2008

According to some figures, 10% of the U.S. is still uncovered for basic internet access, but the majority of the 90% are behind the times , too, according to “Fiber Optic’s Digital Divide: Only a Slice of U.S. Homes Will Have Access to Super-Fast Lines” by the AP’s Peter Svensson.

while access to cable and phone-line broadband has spread to cover perhaps 90 percent of the country in the space of a decade, next-generation Internet access looks set to create a much smaller group of “haves” and a larger group of “have nots.”

Svensson identifies a problem, but not much more. And I find it interesting that Svensson thinks that 10% of folks not even having the current lagging technology means the problem of the digital divide has been solved.

An interesting look at the ramifications of high speed internet not just for entertainment but civic engagement and business competitiveness can be found in this Speed Matters pamphlet by the Communications Workers of America, as well as at OMB Watch.

Some other stories of interest:


Post Global on the Internet in the Middle East

May 23, 2008

Post Global has an interesting panel talking about the internet as a political tool. Yesterday, a reader posted this question:

Egypt has detained a number of its citizens for using the social networking site Facebook to organize anti-government protests. What online sites are most effective in influencing politics — and is the impact positive?

Mona Eltahawy answered in a piece, Arab Bloggers Keep Watch Over Government. And Each Other.” She writes,

In Saudi Arabia, which fuels most of the world’s cars but bars half of its population from driving, women’s rights activists used Facebook and emails to collect petitions against the driving ban which they then sent to the king. One of the activists, Wajeha al-Huwaider, further protested the ban by getting behind the wheel as her sister-in-law filmed her, and posted the video on YouTube on International Women’s Day as an open letter to the Saudi interior…


Eltahawy is a syndicated columnist and lecturer on Arab and Muslim issues has lived in Egypt, the UK, Saudi Arabia, and Israel, and is currently based in New York since 2000. She was a reporter in the Middle East, including in Cairo and Jerusalem for Reuters,The Guardian and U.S. News and World Report.