Tag Archives: Joel Achenbach

The Dean Is Dead

Adam Bernstein in the Washington Post:

David S. Broder, 81, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Washington Post and one of the most respected writers on national politics for four decades, died Wednesday at Capital Hospice in Arlington of complications from diabetes.

Mr. Broder was often called the dean of the Washington press corps – a nickname he earned in his late 30s in part for the clarity of his political analysis and the influence he wielded as a perceptive thinker on political trends in his books, articles and television appearances.

In 1973, Mr. Broder and The Post each won Pulitzers for coverage of the Watergate scandal that led to President Richard M. Nixon’s resignation. Mr. Broder’s citation was for explaining the importance of the Watergate fallout in a clear, compelling way.

As passionate about baseball as he was about politics, he likened Nixon’s political career to an often-traded pitcher who had “bounced around his league.”

He covered every presidential convention since 1956 and was widely regarded as the political journalist with the best-informed contacts, from the lowliest precinct to the highest rungs of government.

Joel Achenbach:

If there were a more decent and generous journalist in our business than David Broder, I’ve never met the person.

Broder (“David” to everyone in the hallway, the elevator, the campaign filing center, of course) remained the consummate collegial figure long after — decades after — earning the status of “dean of the Washington press corps.” He had no pretense in him. He was a big-name pundit, but, most of all, he was a thing we used to call “a newspaper reporter.” He knocked on doors to the very end of his career, interviewing voters, getting to know the local political organizers, never promoting himself to a rank too exalted to conduct shoe-leather reporting or pound out a deadline story in a cold gym in some remote corner of New Hampshire or Iowa.

Who am I kidding: He loved those gyms! And the tighter the deadline, the better.

He could turn his analytical eye on his own reporting: Read this story by Broder, in which he expresses doubts about his influential report of Ed Muskie becoming tearful in the snow outside the Union-Leader office in the 1972 New Hampshire primary. Maybe it was just melting snow!

Steve Benen:

Regular readers know that I was often critical of Broder’s columns, but my critiques were driven in part by high expectations — the man was a giant of political journalism.

And even when I disagreed with his analysis, it was impossible not to respect his tenacity and his decency.

Best wishes go out to his family and friends.

David Weigel:

Last September, I traveled to Delaware to interview Rep. Mike Castle and his challenger, Christine O’Donnell, about a soon-to-be-infamous primary election. Castle and I talked for a long while he shook hands with voters outside the Arden Fair.

“This is becoming a pretty big deal,” Castle said. “You just missed David Broder. He came up here to interview me about the race.”

Broder, at that point, was about to turn 81 years old. He hadn’t just beaten me to the story, he’d beaten me by a month, traveling up to Delaware to interview Castle and introduce readers to Chris Coons, a “worthy match” who could actually win. After Castle lost the primary, the political press — myself included, reluctantly — spent countless pixels covering O’Donnell. But Coons won. If you had read Broder’s reporting, you would have expected that.

I can think of nothing more satisfying than doing what you love, doing it well, and making your readers more informed about the world because of the information you’re gathering. I’m deeply grateful to Broder for doing that for so many people over such a long time.

Philip Klein at American Spectator:

Broder was working up until the very end, and anybody who covers politics for a living has probably bumped into him at one point or another. I remember covering the Rudy Giuliani campaign during a cold weekend in New Hampshire in November 2007, and Broder, then in his late 70s, was touring along. I noticed him at one event, standing in the back, his hand slightly shaking as he took notes the old fashioned way while younger reporters were running around with digital recorders and scrambling to upload video on their laptops.

I wondered whether I’d still find the campaign trail so alluring when I reached that age.

Jim Newell at Gawker:

A few quick facts about David Broder:

  • He was only a car or two behind President Kennedy when he was assassinated in 1963. He was proud of his ability to show no human emotion during this traumatic episode for the country. This is probably how he secured “dean” status, by preventing himself from writing with any sort of sadness or sympathy during the assassination of a golden-boy president several yards away.
  • He hated the Clintons and led the moralistic Beltway howl against President Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. It was the angriest he’d ever been in his life, when he heard about Bill Clinton getting a hummer from Monica Lewinsky.
  • He liked compromise and bipartisanship as ends in themselves, had no real interest in analyzing specific pieces of legislation, and was an original proponent of many other familiar Washington media traits, like “both sides do it.” For more, google High Broderism.
  • He was an important figure in 1972’s The Boys on the Bus, one of the earliest media-centric books showcasing the depravity of “pack journalism” on the campaign trail.

David Dayen at Firedoglake:

The phrase “Broderism” became a signifier in the blogosphere for a certain type of self-regarding faux-centrism which always seemed to side with deficit peacocks over everyone else, and defaulted to the position that the midpoint between any two issues was always the wisest course.

Broder’s book “The System,” about the failure of the Clinton health care plan in the 1990s, is actually a highly regarded work. But for many years, he seemed to have been writing the same column over and over, attacking the extremes of political debate in favor of the sensible center.

Nevertheless, Broder had a very strong pull on national politics, and was considered within Washington as the dean of the national press corps. So his death changes that landscape, however subtly


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“Good Morning America How Are You? Don’t You Know Me I’m Your Native Son.”

Joel Achenbach at WaPo:

I was in Toyko, my first and only trip to Asia, when Katrina hit, and rather than wander that exotic place I spent many hours in the hotel room, watching CNN and monitoring Web sites, rapt and horrified like everyone else. The hurricane was awful enough, but the aftermath was shattering — the incompetent response, the rapidly deteriorating conditions at the Superdome, the people dying in wheelchairs. Bush looking out the window of Air Force One, a politically fatal fly-over. There were those rumors (untrue) of roving gangs of rapists, as ugly racial fears surfaced. We all saw poverty and desperation like we hadn’t seen before. This can’t be America, is what a lot of people thought.

I remember we had a lot of great commentary on the Achenblog during the crisis. Unfortunately, they’re no longer live on The Post’s Web site, though maybe they’re stored somewhere. Here’s what I wrote, filing from Japan, one week into the crisis:

Katrina has become a story about race in America. Most affluent and semi-affluent Americans rarely see poor people — they live on the other side of town. The poor of the Deep South, largely black, haven’t been front and center in American consciousness since the 1960s. Katrina has changed that. Even though it’s a painful and rancorous issue, maybe some good will come out of it (predictable upbeat happy note). [A minute ago I caught myself on the verge of using the phrase “well-meaning whites” and had a Dave B. thought: “The Well-Meaning Whites” would make a great name for a rock band.]

There are many types of racism, including the type that says there’s no racism in America anymore, and the situation would be precisely the same if the victims all looked like Macauley Culkin. Then there’s institutional racism: We have to ask whether the government would have been better prepared for this sort of situation in New Orleans if the most vulnerable communities hadn’t been, for the most part, black neighborhoods. (Like, were the levees considered good enough for “the black part of town?”) [The Chicago Tribune ran a graphic showing elevation and demographics in New Orleans; to a striking degree the areas below sea level are predominantly African American.] This will likely wind up in congressional hearings — full-blown postmortems, with testimony from folks high and low, the rescuers and the not-quickly-rescued, that will be far more dramatic than the Supreme Court confirmation hearings (now plural).

In the meantime, there are a couple of good stories in The Post today on the racial dimension of Katrina and the slow response by the government. One is by Wil Haygood, who has been filing daily from the scene of the disaster, and who explains today why so many poor people didn’t evacuate before the storm hit. The second is an essay by Lynne Duke and Teresa Wiltz in the Style section, and one passage jumps out:

“In the Chicago Fire of 1871, the Galveston Hurricane of 1900 and the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, minority groups (Germans, African Americans and Chinese) were rumored to be preying on white women by chewing on their fingers to steal their jewelry. It’s not such a stretch to see parallels in the unconfirmed reports of roving bands of rapists in New Orleans.”

In Japan, at the Memorial Hall for the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, there is a separate monument to the Koreans who were killed because of rumors that they had caused the quake and were poisoning the water supply. There was no truth to it, of course. But in times of crisis, people turn on minorities. It will be interesting to see if some of the early news reports about gangs of armed thugs, about people shooting on rescue helicopters, hold up. Rumors are thick in a whirlwind.

I’ve been to New Orleans a few times this summer, and it still shows the effects of the Big One. At least that’s my impression, for what it’s worth. Bourbon Street is as rowdy as ever (the destiny of all iconic American locales is to become parodies of themselves), and the Garden District has charm to burn, but I still had the sense of a place damaged not just by water but by an exodus of people and capital.

Howard Steven Friedman at The Huffington Post:

I was working in Accra, the capital of Ghana, when the Katrina disaster occurred. The immediate reaction of one of my Ghanaian coworkers was to state, “America will rebuild New Orleans in no time!” With my natural cynicism, I asked, “Why are you so confident that American will react quickly?” My Ghanaian coworker countered, “America is the richest, most powerful country in the world. You even put a man on the moon. If America can spend billions of dollars on wars in Iraq, it can certainly rebuild a city in no time.” He then proceeded to challenge me:

Of course, America is a very corrupt country with a dirty history of oppression, injustice and slavery. While America likes to lecture Ghana about corruption, every African knows all about Halliburton’s no-bid contracts and their connections to your vice president.

He then qualified his initial statement by saying, “America could rebuild New Orleans in no time, if it wanted to.”

When our conversation ended, I walked away with many thoughts spinning in my head. I remembered how outside the United States, people are often more aware of other countries, cultures, history and news than Americans. Perhaps this is a reflection of America’s educational system, America’s embedded self-perception of exceptionalism or merely a negative side-effect of America being so powerful. I remembered the launching of the 2003 Iraq invasion and how pathetic Colin Powell appeared trying to defend the upcoming invasion with “evidence of weapons of mass destruction” that wouldn’t convince most schoolchildren, let alone the rest of the world. I remembered the feelings of helplessness as the American government insisted on waging a war, with virtually no debate or discussion in Congress or in the media, while public protests were actively suppressed. Finally, I remembered my grandfather’s collection of newspaper cover pages. His favorite was the 1969 moon landing as he insisted that the manned moon landing was the greatest event in all of history, not merely U.S. history. Mankind, he argued, had been staring at the moon throughout history, and America will always be known as the first country to place a human there.

Five years later, I dread running into that same Ghanaian coworker. He would undoubtedly remind me of the government’s poor response to those suffering during Hurricane Katrina. He would point out the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers failures, FEMA’s issues, the needless death and the slow recovery of many parts of the city. He would soon swing the conversation to talk about more recent events. He would cite how the US government can find so many billions of dollars to support banks, bankers and other financially and politically elite, as well as pay for wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan but how America is torn apart arguing about providing basic health care to all its citizens. He would point out that the ugly reality of American inequality raised its head in the government’s reaction to Katrina. He would remind me of the media’s obsession with race-based stories about chaos and hooliganism, prominently displaying images of armed national guards. Lastly, he would conclude that “A person, group or even a country’s priorities are reflected in how they spend their time and money. America could have rebuilt New Orleans in no time, if it wanted to.”

Michael D. Brown at The Daily Beast:

This still “minor” Hurricane Katrina struck Florida at 7 p.m. All responders were prepared yet there were still nine Floridians dead almost immediately. The next day would be worse.

August 26, 2005: As we expected from our exercise involving Hurricane Pam, Hurricane Katrina’s wind speed momentarily dropped to 75 miles an hour by 9 a.m. The change was not as encouraging as it might seem. It was like a long-distance runner slowing briefly around the curve before increasing speed for an all out race to the finish, in this case Louisiana. And as our experts predicted, eight hours later, the storm had regained its momentum and become Category 2. Hurricane Katrina was now ripping along the gulf at 100 miles per hour.

Hurricane Katrina swept through Florida, traveled along the Gulf Coast, and continued picking up speed. Unless it shifted direction, it would strike New Orleans with a minimum speed of 115 miles per hour—Category 3. The mayor knew this. The governor knew this. The city’s first responders, along with first responders in those nearby communities that maintained mutual assistance pacts, all knew this. That was why we expected the same call for assistance Jeb Bush had made. That was why we also expected a mandatory evacuation order within New Orleans. Instead I felt we were confronted with denial, delay, and poor choices.

Tom Diemer at Politics Daily:

With the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaching, a central figure in the botched response, then-FEMA administrator Michael Brown, says the Bush administration made a “fatal mistake” in churning out facts and figures about its efforts instead of explaining the wider picture and the obstacles the government faced in dealing with the catastrophe.

All of the numbers “were factually correct, but weren’t in context,” the former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency told CNN Thursday. “We’re moving all of this stuff in. We have teams here. Rescue teams are doing this. But we never explained to the people that it’s not coming as fast as we want it to, and it’s not enough, because of the number of people that were left behind in the aftermath of the storm.”

Brown said he winced when President Bush told him on Sept. 2, while chaos reigned in New Orleans, “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.” “I knew the minute he said that, the media and everybody else would see a disconnect between what he was saying and what I was witnessing on the ground. That’s the president’s style. His attitude and demeanor is always one of being a cheerleader and trying to encourage people to keep moving. It was just the wrong time and the wrong place.”

Ten days later Brown, who had little experience in dealing with natural disasters, was out as FEMA chief. He now criticizes his boss at the time, then-Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, for his handling of the situation. Chertoff was an avian flue conference during part of the unfolding catastrophe. “Whether it’s a natural disaster or man-made disaster, you need to have one person in charge. And that person needs to be on the ground with the team, understanding what’s going on,” Brown said.

David Dayen at Firedoglake:

I do recommend Spike Lee’s two-part HBO documentary, which touches on this. There, you see public housing projects in New Orleans torn down despite having no flood damage. You see Charity Hospital, one of the largest in the country and servicing the poor, unopened, while a new sprawling medical campus that would cater to a higher-class clientele gets planned. You see the racial and ethnic makeup of the population, and particularly the socioeconomic makeup, change. And you see a Republican Governor in Mississippi get much more attention and funding at the outset of the recovery, with the Bush Administration in office, than a Democratic Governor in Louisiana.

That said, there are bright spots, particularly Brad Pitt’s home-building project. But the disparities exist, as they have always existed. And, the money was available to reduce those disparities.

More than a quarter of the $20 billion in Housing and Urban Development relief funds that were earmarked for Gulf Coast states after Hurricane Katrina remains unspent five years after the storm, a fact noticed by at least one congressional leader who’s eager to spend it elsewhere.

(Sen. Tom) Coburn suggested some of these funds could be used to help cover federal budget deficits and said that “serious questions need to be asked about whether this money was appropriately designated as emergency funding.”

Officials in Mississippi, however, said that the unspent money is earmarked for needed recovery projects and that they are moving as fast as federal red-tape, litigation and arbitration and other hurdles will allow.

I think you can call the recovery in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast uneven and unfinished. And driven, as ever, by money.

Ron Futrell at Big Journalism:

Since we are now five years beyond the hurricane, let me tell you what the true disasters of Katrina were, and these are the things that the media will likely intentionally miss in their anniversary analysis. Some of us spotted these at the time, but now that the media now has the advantage of hindsight (which is supposed to be 20/20) so they only way they get it wrong now is if they want to get it wrong.

1) Government cannot save us.

The American left and its media believes that it is government’s job to save us all. I don’t care whether we’re talking about local, state or national government—it rarely has the power to save us. This is the most devastating fallout from Katrina, the fact that people think government is there to save us. The message was loud and clear from the media—“it is government’s job to save us.”  Yes, I think Mayor Ray Nagin should’ve used the buses to save his people, but he didn’t. Yes, I think Governor Kathleen Blanco should’ve called in the National Guard sooner, but she didn’t, and yes, I wish Bush would’ve responded faster with the recovery days after the Coast Guard was called in to pick people off their roofs, but he didn’t. Wait for government to save you, and you may never be saved.

2) Failure of the Welfare State.

Three generations of Democrat promises to the people of New Orleans were exposed when the levees broke. Democrat “leaders” in New Orleans had promised these good people that they would care for them from cradle to grave, just vote Democrat when you are bused to the polling places (the buses worked fine on Election Day.) The Democrat Welfare State was exposed on those rooftops that day.

It took at least 70 years to falsely teach those Americans that government would save them (see #1.) When they needed government most, it was not there for them. Imagine that? The media missed the real story behind those on the rooftops. Why were they still there? They were waiting for government to save them as promised.

3) Failure of the media to be accurate.

The media got as many stories wrong with Katrina as it got right. The headlines of the day shouted “Tens of Thousands Dead, Thousands Dead in the Superdome, Superdome Destroyed, Toxic Soup Floods New Orleans, Bush Hates Black People” (Oh, that was Kanye West, but the media helped him spread that message.) The tragedy is that more than 1,800 people died,  1,400 of those in New Orleans. Of those who died in New Orleans the large majority died because the levees (promised to be secure by all levels of government—see #1) broke. Had the money dedicated to the levees been spent where it was intended, they would’ve held and perhaps the number dead would’ve been in the dozens, not the hundreds. It was the levees’ breaking that caused the major damage, not the hurricane itself—the media seemed to blow by that fact in 2005.

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He Got His 15 Minutes On An Emergency Exit Slide

Radar Online:











Heather Robinson at Huffington Post:

And I gotta say, the guy made my day.

The funny thing is, I was seated on this flight yesterday — JetBlue #1052, Pittsburgh to JFK — next to a lady who was scared to fly. At the outset, she pulled out a rosary and started praying (that’s not unusual, especially on a flight from Pittsburgh, which is a heavily Catholic city).

As we ascended, the turbulence was a bit more intense than typical, but nothing to be alarmed over. She was crossing herself and fidgeting, so I told her, “There’s nothing to worry about. I’ve been flying multiple times a month all my life and this is normal.”

She thanked me, and we got to talking a bit. I told her the same thing — “it’s totally normal”– when we heard the bump of the wheels coming down prior to landing.

It was when we stood up to disembark — in those annoying moments when everyone is waiting to be released from the metal can we’ve been packed in together — that Steven Slater commandeered the PA system and issued his rant. I didn’t take notes so the following is not exact, but a paraphrase: “F— you! F— all of you! I’m f—— through with this! I’VE HAD IT! I’ve been doing this for 28 f—— years and I can’t take it anymore. And for the f—– a—–who told me to f— off: f— you! That’s it! I’m done! F— you all!”

At that point the older Catholic lady looked back at me and crossed herself, and I told her, “No, that is not normal.”

College students sitting nearby were laughing. One of them mentioned that a flight attendant had been bleeding and speculated that that might be “the guy” who’d just engaged in the rant.

I missed Slater’s inflation of the emergency chute, and didn’t know until I woke up this morning about his racing home to Belle Harbor, Queens in his silver Jeep Wrangler and hopping into bed with his boyfriend (leave it to the great New York Post to get those wonderful details).

Overall, it got me to thinking: in a way it’s a shame things like this don’t happen more often. Let me explain: in an age when, for good reason, authorities are constantly on the alert for terrorists and mass shooters, when any highway altercation, we are warned, can escalate into a gunfight, when eighty-year-old women are forced to relinquish their knitting needles and nursing mothers their bottles of milk at airport screening because of dread of vicious acts of brutality, Americans must restrain ourselves and behave obediently at all times in public places. Current mores leave no room, no outlet, for the venting of frustrations, or for freewheeling, spontaneous behavior of any kind.

No one who would engage in deliberate violence against another person is doing so because of petty frustrations; obviously, something deeper is askew in such an individual. But what about the rest of us? The “normal” decent people who feel fed up with the lack of civility, the many little humiliations, of everyday life? People who would never dream of doing anything violent, and who–because of the actions of a few truly evil people–are prevented from expressing normal frustrations, normal anger, out of (often justified) fear that someone might “go crazy,” show up packing a gun, etc.? Sometimes we need to get in someone’s face and tell that jerk to f— off. Likewise, sometimes people just need to get out of a situation, to take an escape, when doing so does not harm anyone else.

Gulliver at The Economist:

The ramifications for Mr Slater are serious, and he faces charges of reckless endangerment and criminal mischief. Who knows what damage the slide could have done to somebody on the ground, etc. But only a heart of stone could fail to sympathise. Indeed Mr Slater could well end up lionised by fellow flight attendants for telling a surly, unco-operative passenger exactly what he thought. And he should also be praised for the manner of his departure. If you are going to effectively jack in your flying career, then speeding down the emergency slide, beer in hand, is no bad way to do it.

Joel Achenbach at WaPo:

I think we all want to pull a Slater now and then. We want to activate the escape slide. Maybe at work, maybe at home. We want to shout “It’s been great!” and grab a beer and slater on out of there.

Flight attendant Steven Slater got arrested, of course, because you’re not supposed to deploy the emergency slide on a plane except in an emergency. But you can just picture what might have happened (and the Times story goes into some detail): Some passenger for whom the rules don’t apply, who perceives himself as more important than everyone else, leaps out of his seat before the plane has reached the gate. Slater tells him to sit back down. The passenger refuses and yanks his oversized bag out of the overhead compartment and bonks Slater on the head. Slater, temporarily deranged, uses the public address system to point out that this man is a total and complete arsehat of the first order. Slater at that point surely realizes he has future in the airline industry. What’s he going to do? Emergency slide!

But what makes him an instant legend, of course, is the beer. He grabs the beer on the way out. That’s the “Animal House” meets “Airplane!” note. No wonder he’s an instant Internet icon. His name will become a verb, just watch.

James Poniewozik at Time:

Move over, Sully Sullenberger, there’s a new folk hero in the skies. OK, maybe not a universally acclaimed hero. And not a “hero” in the sense of, like, saving lives, or stopping a terrorist, or really doing anything traditionally considered “heroic.” Still, Steven Slater—the JetBlue flight attendant who reportedly had an altercation with a passenger who injured him in the head, cursed her out over the PA, then deplaned, with a beer, via the emergency slide—is the talk of the country today. (And, I’m guessing, the talk of late-night TV for a while to come.)

There are a lot of reasons Slater’s exit might have struck a chord: general frustrations with work, the economy, or the rudeness of strangers, or specific irritation with the breakdown of airline civility. But above all, the Slater story is fascinating because it provides an irresistible image of screw-you liberation: the put-upon employee telling off some jerk, kissing off his job over a PA system, then taking off. Grabbing a beer. And going down a slide. A freaking slide! Yabba dabba doo!

Obviously, Slater’s was not the most level-headed course of action. He flew off the handle, freaked out in front of a plane full of passengers and caused inconvenience and expense to others by abusing an emergency exit. I don’t endorse that. Don’t try this at home, kids stay in school, &c.

But it may be the impracticality, the ballsiness, or the craziness of Slater’s gesture that makes it so fascinating. Quitting your job dramatically, after all, would seem to be the last thing you want to do in the middle of an economic downturn. Maybe that’s the appeal. Slater may have had his personal reasons for cracking, but there was a kind of ’70s, mad-as-hell-not-going-to-take-it,  Take This Job and Shove It sensibility to his rebellion, and people responded to it: over 11,000 people had joined the Free Steven Slater! page on Facebook by this afternoon

Glynnis MacNicol at Mediaite:

Steven Slater, the Jet Blue flight attendant who lived out the dreams of every worker frustrated with their job (and probably most people frustrated with the state of flying in this country) with his dramatic, expletive-laden exit “not only from the plane but, one imagines, also from his airline career,” has landed on the cover of all the major New York City papers.Not surprisingly the New York Post wins for headline, though it fails to pack the full punch one normally hopes for. Meanwhile, the NYT, who put the story below the fold on A-1 sans a picture, wins hands down for their write-up:

Mr. Slater asked for an apology. The passenger instead cursed at him. Mr. Slater got on the plane’s public-address system and cursed out the passenger for all to hear. Then, after declaring that 20 years in the airline industry was enough, he blurted out, “It’s been great!” He activated the inflatable evacuation slide at a service exit and left the world of flight attending behind.

Roger Ebert, meanwhile, thinks Slater is a hero fit for our 2010 time: “Predicting JetBlue’s batshit flight attendant becomes a folk hero and guests on cable and talk shows. A Sully for 2010.”

Chris Rovzar at New York Magazine:

When we first read the story of JetBlue steward Steven Slater, who went crazy yesterday after a passenger rudely bonked him on the head with a piece of luggage, our takeaway was simple: This guy’s going to become a folk hero. This morning in the Daily News, columnist Joanna Molloy decided it had already happened, that his status as a populist icon was already sealed. “How many of us have wanted to say Take This Job and Shove It? I’m As Mad as Hell, and I’m Not Gonna Take It Anymore?” Molloy asked. “Slater did it, and he did it with flair, cursing back over the plane’s public address system at the obnoxious passenger who conked him on the head with his suitcase, then releasing the emergency exit slide and jumping out and disappearing across the tarmac. He even had the presence of mind to toss his carry-on luggage down the slide first.” She even predicted: “There’ll probably be a song about him online today.” There isn’t quite yet, but of course there will be.

So what has the Internet wrought on this new icon so far?

• This morning he is both the Nos. 1 and 2 topics on Google Trends, and is trending on Twitter.
• There are already the requisite Free Steven Slater T-shirts.
• Unfortunately, they are not yet available on FreeStevenSlater.com.
• There are multiple Steven Slater fan pages on Facebook, the largest one with at least 12,000 fans.
• There is already a PayPal-linked Steven Slater Legal Defense Fund, if you care to chip in.
• There’s a movement to contact JetBlue directly on Slater’s behalf (though, judging by the fact that the airline waited nearly a half-hour after Slater’s escape from the plane to alert authorities in order to allow his full getaway — and enough time to have sex with his boyfriend before getting arrested — we suspect JetBlue is already at least a little on his side).
• Dealbreaker is already pushing to find Slater a new employer.

Of course, as Steven Slater is bound to find out soon, in the Internet era, folk heroes have about the same enduring presence as the feeling of cleanliness you get from a moist airline towelette. So to the man of the day: Sell that TV interview now, get the biggest payout you can for pictures in a celebrity weekly (we wanna see that boyfriend you were doing when the cops showed up!), and nail down at least one endorsement deal for Xanax or something. Because this isn’t going to last.

UPDATE: Byron York and Ann Althouse at Bloggingheads

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Filed under Infrastructure

Faster, Static! Kill! Kill!

Heather Horn at The Atlantic with the round-up

Bryan Walsh at Time:

BP stopped pumping heavy mud into the blown well around eight hours after beginning on Tuesday afternoon, saying that the procedure had achieved its “desired outcome.” Here’s part of the press release from BP:

The well is now being monitored, per the agreed procedure, to ensure it remains static. Further pumping of mud may or may not be required depending on results observed during monitoring.

The start of the static kill was based on the results of an injectivity test, which immediately preceded the static kill and lasted about two hours.

That doesn’t mean things are over—BP vice president Kent Wells told reporters yesterday that he wasn’t sure if mud alone would be enough to fully plug the well. But the fact that BP was able pump drilling mud into the well—at the weight of about 13.2 lbs. per gallon—means that its physical structure is likely still in good condition. And that should clear the way for the relief well, still set to be completed by mid-August. Most importantly, though, more than 100 days after the Deepwater Horizon exploded, it’s hard to imagine oil flowing from BP’s well again.

And it may turn out that the 4.9 million barrels of oil that did spill from BP’s well may leave less of a mark on the Gulf than first expected. According to the New York Times, the government is expected to announce today that nearly three-quarters of the oil has already evaporated, dispersed, been skimmed or burned—and that what’s left isn’t likely to do further damage, as White House energy czar Carol Browner told NBC’s Today show this morning:

The oil was captured. It was skimmed. It was burned. It was contained. Mother Nature did her part. And that’s good news.

According to the government’s report, a full quarter of the oil dispersed on the surface of the Gulf or dissolved in seawater, and another 16% dispersed naturally as the oil gushed out of the well. The actual cleanup played a smaller role—5% of the oil was removed in controlled burns, and 8% was broken up using chemical dispersants. The warm Gulf ecosystem—accustomed to breaking down oil—was the more significant factor.

Joel Achenbach at WaPo:

The static kill is underway. Whether it will kill, slightly impede, or merely pester BP’s Macondo well remained unknown late Tuesday, as engineers and scientists at BP’s headquarters in suburban Houston scrutinized pressure readings from the hole in the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.

Federal officials huddled in BP’s operations center are trying to manage expectations, saying that even if the static kill goes as hoped, Macondo won’t be kaput until it is intercepted and cemented by a relief well that’s been three months in the drilling.

“You want to make sure it’s really dead dead dead. Don’t want anything to rise out of the grave,” Energy Secretary Steven Chu told The Washington Post late Tuesday afternoon.

BP initiated the process of pumping mud into the blown-out Macondo well at about 4 p.m. Tuesday. The static kill is not a quick operation by design, pumping mud at a leisurely rate of 2 barrels per minute. About 2,000 barrels will be needed to fill the well, engineers have calculated.

Ben Popkin at The Consumerist:

Doesn’t BP know the power of language? I don’t think the use of intense code names for the various operations has really helped assuage the public consciousness throughout this whole fracas. “Static Kill,” “Top Kill,” “Junk Shot,” really, much too exciting. How about “Containment Orocedure # 74 or “Earthen Inflowment Filling Process”? They should catch up on the collected works of your native son, Orwell.

And a new report says that 3/4 of the escaped oil has been burnt off, skimmed off, chemically dispersed, evaporated, or dissolved in the ocean, “like sugar.” That leaves only, ohh, about 53.5 million gallons floating around in the Gulf. Ballpark, that’s about 5 times the Exxon Valdez disaster. In the words of Borat, great success!

Dan Amira at New York Magazine:

There’s a strange amount of good news coming out of the Gulf today. Not only has the vast majority of the leaked oil now been wiped from the face of the Earth, but BP’s latest violently named leak-stopping effort is being declared successful. First there was the top kill, and now, the static kill, in which more of that heavy drilling mud we always hear about was pumped into the well to stabilize the pressure within.

BP called it a “significant milestone,” while CNN said it was “the biggest development in the long-running saga involving BP’s ruptured well since a tightly fitting cap was placed on it in mid-July, stopping oil from flowing into the Gulf for the first time in almost three months.”

The leak won’t be truly dead for good, though, until BP’s ultimate kill maneuver — the “bottom kill,” otherwise known as the relief well — is complete. Carol Browner, director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy, explains, “The static kill is going well, but ultimately, it’s the relief wells we ordered drilled that will be the ‘final kill-kill.'” You can tell by the nomenclature that they really are not very fond of this leak.

Dan Froomkin at The Huffington Post:

The Obama administration on Wednesday delivered an upbeat verdict on the fate of the estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil that spewed out of BP’s blown out well in the Gulf of Mexico, saying that most of it has either been dispersed, burned off, skimmed up, directly recaptured through containment efforts, evaporated or dissolved.

Relatively little, they announced, remains on the surface of the Gulf.

That last part is certainly cause to celebrate. But much of the dissolved or dispersed oil may still be causing massive environmental damage beneath the surface, even if it can’t easily be seen.

So along with the 26 percent of the oil that federal scientists still can’t fully account for, that means more than half could still be posing a serious and present danger to sea life and Gulf ecosystems.

A new report, which was authored by senior officials from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Geological Survey, was based on findings from government and non-government scientists. The underlying measurements and methodology were not made public, however, leaving much of it looking like so much guesswork. It did, however, include this neat graphic


President Obama himself weighed in earlier in the day. “A report out today by our scientists shows that the vast majority of the spilled oil has been dispersed or removed from the water,” he said.

But that’s a big “or”.

Under questioning by the White House press corps, Lubchenco was somewhat less upbeat. “No one is saying it’s not a threat anymore,” she said. “Diluted and out of sight doesn’t necessarily mean benign.”

She said the subsurface oil is biodegrading rapidly, but nevertheless may already have had a devastating effect on the young of many species — for instance, it may have wiped out a whole year’s worth of bluefin tuna eggs.

“I think the common view of most of the scientists inside and outside government is that the effects of this spill will likely linger for decades,” she said. “The fact that so much of the oil has been removed and in the process of being degraded is very significant and means that the impact will not be even worse than it might have been. But the oil that was released and has already impacted wildlife at the surface, young juvenile stages and eggs beneath the surface, will likely have very considerable impacts for years and possibly decades to come.”

Lubchenco also said that dissolved oil (like “sugar into your coffee or your teacup”) is not necessarily less dangerous than dispersed oil (“broken up from large chunks into smaller chunks”).

But there was a definite sense of triumphalism in the briefing room. “I think it is fairly safe to say that because of the environmental effects of Mother Nature, the warm waters of the Gulf and the federal response, that many of the doomsday scenarios that were talked about and repeated a lot have not and will not come to fruition because of that,” Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said.

“I think the original scenario was off the coast of Delaware and halfway to England by September, if I’m not mistaken.”

Lubchenco announced that there is “virtually no threat to the Keys of the East Coast remaining.” And she and White House environmental advisor Carol Browner refused to entertain the notion that their estimates might end up being off.

“We have a high degree of confidence in them,” Lubchenco said of the findings.

“The likelihood of large-scale change is very, very small, because we have so much certainty in some of the numbers,” Browner said.

One particularly unresolved issue, however, remains how much risk there is that dispersed oil will get into the Gulf’s food chain — and eventually to the dinner table.

Lubchenco notably ducked two food-chain questions on Thursday.

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Filed under Energy, Environment

She Won’t Shake Her Salt Shaker, She Won’t Shake Her Salt Shaker

Ed Morrissey:

How does government intervention get sold to citizens?  First, publicize a “crisis” and warn that dire consequences will follow without some immediate changes.  Push people into changing their choices voluntarily with social pressure and warnings of impending disaster.  At some point, declare those efforts insufficient and propose government intervention as the only way to save people from themselves.

DDT? Global warming?  Alar?  No … salt:

The Food and Drug Administration is planning an unprecedented effort to gradually reduce the salt consumed each day by Americans, saying that less sodium in everything from soup to nuts would prevent thousands of deaths from hypertension and heart disease. The initiative, to be launched this year, would eventually lead to the first legal limits on the amount of salt allowed in food products.

The government intends to work with the food industry and health experts to reduce sodium gradually over a period of years to adjust the American palate to a less salty diet, according to FDA sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the initiative had not been formally announced.

Officials have not determined the salt limits. In a complicated undertaking, the FDA would analyze the salt in spaghetti sauces, breads and thousands of other products that make up the $600 billion food and beverage market, sources said. Working with food manufacturers, the government would set limits for salt in these categories, designed to gradually ratchet down sodium consumption. The changes would be calibrated so that consumers barely notice the modification.

Maura Johnston at The Awl:

The FDA, following in Mike Bloomberg’s footsteps, is making plans to force food manufacturers to gradually reduce the amount of salt in their offerings. Salt content went unnoticed until now because it was “generally recognized as safe,” but that was back before the average American was eating 3,500 milligrams of it a day. (That’s the equivalent of 1.25 Triple Baconators. Which seems a little low!)

Mary Katherine Ham at The Weekly Standard:

The FDA will accomplish this regulatory coup, according to Washington Post‘s sources, by merely moving salt out of the “generally recognized as safe,” category, which only requires accurate nutrition labeling into the unsafe substance category, which the FDA can regulate aggressively. It’s the same trick the EPA pulled to expand the role of regulators over carbon levels. They simply had an “endangerment finding” that moved the substance from one EPA-created category into another, more heavily regulated EPA-created category, and voila!, regulatory power.

Kevin Drum:

I am so in favor of this. It’s sort of like the Do Not Call list: I don’t really care about ideology here, and I don’t really care if this is nanny statism or government overreach or anything else. I’m just totally in favor. And you know what? By the time this is done, my guess is that nobody will even remember a difference. They’ll just be eating healthier food that tastes better and doesn’t cause as many strokes or heart attacks. Three cheers for the FDA.

Moe Lane:

Look, I understand that the nanny-state Left doesn’t trust its own judgment and ability to make informed decisions, and that’s fine.  In fact, I agree with them: I don’t trust their judgment or ability to make informed decisions, either.  But why do they insist on trying to interfere with my judgment or ability to make informed decisions? – Aside from them generally being annoying neo-Puritan gloom-magnets, of course.

At any rate, I can’t wait to see the FDA explain to the American people why they can’t have proper bacon anymore…

Joel Achenbach at WaPo:

The most fascinating part of this is the notion that the government can change our palate through incremental measures. Yeah, and maybe in 10 years we can be trained to like half-hour situation comedies again, and the three top sports in America will once again be baseball, boxing and horse racing.

Here’s the bottom line: As a nation we’ve come to be repulsed by ourselves. We’re overweight and oversalted. We consume too much and save too little and are a fiscal mess and have too much on our credit cards and spoil our children and live in houses that are excessively large and now, to punctuate the whole miserable picture, our government is going to have to save us from salt, or more precisely, from our palates — from our big fat tongues.

Just watch: Someday they’ll tell us there’s something wrong with burning gasoline.

UPDATE: James Joyner

UPDATE #2: Monica Potts at Tapped

Matthew Yglesias

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Filed under Food

My First SOTU™

Obama’s first State Of The Union is tonight. We’ll add some stuff to this post later, after the speech.

Joel Achenbach at WaPo:

The state of the union is obstreperous. Dyspepsia is the new equilibrium. All the passion in American politics is oppositional. The American people know what they don’t like, which is: everything.

That sounds like nihilism, but they’re against that, too.

Consider the poll last week by The Washington Post and ABC News. People were asked a standard question about how much confidence they had in President Obama to “make the right decisions” for the nation’s future. A majority — 53 percent — gave the two most dismal of the four possible responses: “just some” and “none at all.” The same question had been asked a year earlier; in just 12 months, the “none at all” camp had tripled, from 9 percent to 27 percent.

We are at a strange moment: a crescendo in American anger even as the man in the White House hums along in a state of preternatural equanimity. Obama, who will take over prime-time television Wednesday night for his annual address to Congress, has seen such a drastic erosion of popularity that he may get only about 35 or 40 standing ovations instead of the usual 50 or so.

Jim Treacher at Daily Caller:

Here are some of the rules for our drinking game, if you want to play along at home. All by yourself. Not that I’m judging.

  • If Obama says “This will not be easy,” chug half your drink.
  • If Obama says “Challenging times,” start a waterfall with a staff member of The Daily Caller. There will be one of us near the emcee.
  • If Obama says “Bipartisan” or “Bipartisanship,” the back section of the bar yells “Yes,” while the front section yells “No.” Whichever side is louder should take a drink. Or take a drink after you lock arms with a person next to you (like a romantic toast).
  • Every time the camera shows the Supreme Court justices not standing, take a drink and then recite your Miranda rights.
  • If the camera shows Joe Wilson, yell “You lie” and then take a drink. If Joe Wilson yells “You lie,” finish everything in your glass.

I suggested that every time Obama says “Change,” everybody should throw all the coins in their pockets on the floor. Which would be awesome for me because I really need to do laundry. Tucker fired me on the spot. Do you know of any jobs?

Jules Crittenden:

Treach says these are just “some” of the rules, but doesn’t say what the others are. I guess that means you can make up your own. Here’s one. The first time he says “responsibility,” start a chugging ”wave” that goes around the room stadium-style. See how long you can keep it going. It stops when he says “prior administration” or “inherited.” Also, everytime he says “anger,” jut your jaw and defiantly knock back an appletini.

Robert Schlesinger at US News and World Report:

My colleague Ken Walsh has a nice history of the of the State of the Union address, looking at not only what tonight’s speech can mean for Obama, but how this event–filled with pomp, circumstance, sound, fury, but little significance–developed. And I blogged earlier about some of my favorite behind the scenes moments from various past administrations, from LBJ grousing that his speechwriters had given him “50 pages of vomit” to Richard Nixon bemoaning how boring the speech could be (an opinion shared by Bush 41 speechwriter and bloleague Mary Kate Cary).

But here are some straight facts and figures to sate your need for State of the Union data, trivia, and other minutia.

The shortest state of the Union message in terms of word count was the first: George Washington’s 1790 address weighed in at 1,089 words.

The longest in terms of words was Jimmy Carter’s final message, in January 1981. A written document rather than a speech, the report was 33,667 words long.

The longest orally delivered speech (at least since they started tracking these things in 1966) was Bill Clinton’s January 2000 address, which clocked in at 1 hour, 28 minutes and 49 seconds. Incredibly, that speech was only 7,452 words long, not nearly as long as his 1995 talk, in which he jammed 9,190 words into 1 hour, 24 minutes and 58 seconds. That ’95 address, by the way, was the longest in terms of word count, delivered as a speech.

In the republic’s early days, the House and Senate debated the president’s message and sent formal replies back to him. That practice was eventually deemed too time-consuming and stopped. And while George Washington and John Adams gave their messages in the form of speeches, Thomas Jefferson stopped the practice. It wasn’t until Woodrow Wilson in 1913 that the State of the Union speeches restarted. In all, 76 out of 220 such messages have been delivered by the president, in person.

Two presidents–William Henry Harrison and James Garfield–never delivered such a message to Congress. Both died in office before they were able to.

Silent Calvin Coolidge delivered the first State of the Union (though it was called an annual report until 1934 when FDR called it a “State of the Union” speech) that was broadcast over the radio, in 1923. Harry Truman’s 1947 speech was the first broadcast on television. George W. Bush’s 2002 address (“axis of evil”) was the first livecast from the House’s website.

Until the 1960s, these speeches were delivered around midday. It was Lyndon Johnson who first thought to take advantage of a larger prime time audience, in 1966. That in turn prompted Republicans to ask for chance to respond, starting the tradition of opposition party responses. That first was delivered by House Republican Leader Gerry Ford, who would eventually give his own State of the Union speeches. Last year, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal didn’t fare as well. His speech was such a disaster that many wags compared him to 30 Rock’s Kenneth the Page.

More later.

UPDATE: Max Fisher at The Atlantic with a round-up

Evan McMorris-Santoro at TPM

UPDATE #2: Chris Good at The Atlantic with a live-blog


UPDATE #3: Matthew Yglesias has directed us to his public twitter feed for SOTU analysis

Ed Morrissey looks forward

UPDATE #4: Allah Pundit

Andrew Sullivan

UPDATE #5: The Atlantic live-blog

Michael Crowley at TNR

Paul Mirengoff at Powerline

The Corner at National Review

UPDATE #6: Jonathan Chait

Michael Gerson at WaPo

Peter Wehner at Politics Daily

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“He No Longer Reads The Post In Any Detailed Fashion”

Gabriel Sherman at TNR:

The Post, of course, is not alone; other large newspapers are suffering financially as well. And yet, the Post’s financial decline is only part of the story. Over the past few months, I have talked to about 50 current and former reporters, editors, Web staffers, and business employees. From these conversations, a picture has emerged of a paper suffering an identity crisis. Its peers seem to have coherent strategies for saving themselves: The New York Times is doubling down on journalism in the belief that it can persevere online as the global newspaper of record; The Wall Street Journal remains the country’s definitive chronicler of business; other large papers have tried to distinguish themselves by burrowing into local issues. But the Post seems to be paralyzed-and trapped. It can’t go completely local because the local news in Washington is, in many respects, national; and its status as the paper of record for national politics is under assault from numerous competitors–competitors it isn’t clear the Post can defeat. Meanwhile, the tense, even hostile, relationship between the print and online divisions hasn’t made the paper’s search for a coherent identity any easier. And so, in a new era for journalism, The Washington Post has yet to figure out what it wants to be. The result has been a lot of lurching–some of it (like salongate) embarrassing, much of it merely ineffective, but almost all of it suggesting a newspaper in disarray.


A few months into her tenure, Weymouth took a group of senior Post employees to Harvard Business School for a weeklong corporate boot camp. That retreat kicked off a series of high-level strategy meetings at the Post that continued through much of 2008, as Weymouth tried to figure out a way forward for the paper. The financial picture was downright awful. Advertising, already weak, had taken a secondary dive in the wake of the economic crisis. Once again, the question of the Post’s identity was at the heart of the discussions. Should the Post go hyper-local, as was in vogue in newspaper circles? Should it redouble its political coverage to counter the Politico threat? Would the Web or print dominate?

Near the end of 2008, Post president Stephen Hills met with Weymouth and the top brass to deliver his final recommendations. The conclusion was that print was just too valuable to deemphasize. To illustrate the point, according to one participant in the meeting, Hills put up a chart showing that a daily print subscriber represents $500 in revenue for the paper, while a website reader brings in only $6. “In Steve’s presentation, he was completely focused on the print paper,” the participant recalls. “If you sat in these meetings, the biggest problem was the person who runs the business side doesn’t care about the Web. You bring up mobile and he gets uncomfortable. He’d rather talk about if we should deliver to Charlottesville or not.” (Hills did not respond to phone calls. For her part, Weymouth defends the Post’s balance between Web and print. “Print is still the revenue driver now,” she says. “We are conscious that the Web is a critical part of the future. We are navigating our way through this transition.”)

Even as Weymouth was rethinking the paper’s business model, she had also decided that she needed a new executive editor. Some senior staffers I spoke with pointed out that Weymouth and Downie were not particularly close. Her grandmother had named Ben Bradlee; now Weymouth wanted her own pick. At his sixty-sixth birthday celebration in May 2008, Downie told the newsroom staff that he intended to stay until he was 70. He was stung when Weymouth told him shortly thereafter that she was going to seek his replacement. “I was expecting to stay longer,” Downie told me.

Phil Bennett was the most prominent internal candidate; others in the running included then–New York Times deputy managing editor Jon Landman, former Post Style editor David Von Drehle, and Newsweek editor Jon Meacham. Sources told me that Ben Bradlee pushed for foreign affairs columnist David Ignatius to get the job. “She was looking for a magic solution, for a person to cut the budget, shrink the mission of the paper, and make people happy,” recalls one candidate Weymouth interviewed. “They wanted to shrink the paper, close sections. All kinds of ugly stuff. It was a hairy, hairy combination. And it’s kind of an impossible job.”

Andrew Beaujon at Washington City Paper:

Strangely, though, Sherman’s Twitter feed has a lot of things that didn’t make it into the story, some of which are much, much better than what actually landed. Don’t worry if you told him that you call Brauchli “Count Brauchula,” though—that’s in there. What’s not? Some of Sherman’s more intriguing Tweets after the jump.

Before WP, Brauchli almost didnt get WSJ gig. Press release drafted to announce Paul Ingrassia, but Steiger protested. Brauchli won bake-off

WaPo-60 Minutes divorce: in ’08, Brauchli asked Jeff Fager to pay WaPo for collaborations. 60 Mins said no. Investigative partnership over

Brauchli on bureaus: “If Hurricane Katrina hits, we’ll be there. But we don’t need a staff on the ground covering snow storms in Chicago.”

Brauchli on WaPo’s great multipart A.I.G series beating Michael Lewis in VF to the story: “He didn’t come close but I bet he got paid more.”

Walter Pincus proposed merging WaPo website with NYT website. But WaPo execs nixed idea. “Never been able to get it through our own people.”

Walter Pincus on Politico: “It wouldn’t work at the Post. Politics is a much narrower audience…Most people don’t give a shit.”

But Jim VandeHei at Politico doesn’t mind. A senior DC journalist said VandeHei claims “he no longer reads the Post in any detailed fashion”

In addition to salons, WaPo wanted to plan a half dozen medium size conferences during the year and one epic conference like Davos

Downie says WP considering putting ads on A1: “There may be advertising on Page 1 as soon as this year.” Weymouth wouldn’t confirm or deny

Weymouth on spiders: “”I think I’m a normal person and I don’t want to sleep in a bed or be in a car with a bug. But I don’t have a phobia.”

In 2008, WaPo execs discussed a tiered-pricing scheme, where consumers could buy a cheaper, scaled-down version of the paper. Idea didnt fly

Morning salongate broke, Brauchli went to WaPo national desk. “I didn’t know about it!” he told group of editors. “I didn’t approve flier”

Hamilton Nolan at Gawker:

Gabriel Sherman is Twittererering the outtakes from his big story about the WaPo today. Here is one: “But Jim VandeHei at Politico doesn’t mind. A senior DC journalist said VandeHei claims ‘he no longer reads the Post in any detailed fashion.'” Watch out, Jim VandeHei; they like to punch people over there.

Matt Dornic at Fishbowl DC:

From Susan Glasser‘s rise and fall as editor of the the national desk, the birth of Politico and Katharine Weymouth‘s “salon” fiasco to the hire of Marcus Brauchli and the “mad bitch” beer scandal, the five-page piece by Gabriel Sherman tracks the events leading up to what he describes as a major “identity crisis.”

Sherman says, “the Post seems to be paralyzed – and trapped. It can’t go completely local because the local news in Washington is, in many respects, national; and its status as the paper of record for national politics is under assault from numerous competitors – competitors it isn’t clear the Post can defeat.”

While the piece draws no clear conclusions, the painful recap of the paper’s hardships is sure to get some attention.

David Carr at The New York Times

UPDATE: Matthew Yglesias

UPDATE #2: The pushback: Donald Graham, chairman of the Washington Post company, in TNR

Dana Milbank at WaPo

Erik Wemple at Washington City Paper

UPDATE #3: Joel Achenbach, at WaPo


Filed under Mainstream

In Denmark, A Smorgasbord Is Called A Kolde Bord. With That In Mind, Here’s A Kolde Bord Of Posts Related To Climate Change And Kobenhavn.

To open, a case of dueling op-eds:

Tom Friedman in the New York Times:

In 2006, Ron Suskind published “The One Percent Doctrine,” a book about the U.S. war on terrorists after 9/11. The title was drawn from an assessment by then-Vice President Dick Cheney, who, in the face of concerns that a Pakistani scientist was offering nuclear-weapons expertise to Al Qaeda, reportedly declared: “If there’s a 1% chance that Pakistani scientists are helping Al Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response.” Cheney contended that the U.S. had to confront a very new type of threat: a “low-probability, high-impact event.”

Soon after Suskind’s book came out, the legal scholar Cass Sunstein, who then was at the University of Chicago, pointed out that Mr. Cheney seemed to be endorsing the same “precautionary principle” that also animated environmentalists. Sunstein wrote in his blog: “According to the Precautionary Principle, it is appropriate to respond aggressively to low-probability, high-impact events — such as climate change. Indeed, another vice president — Al Gore — can be understood to be arguing for a precautionary principle for climate change (though he believes that the chance of disaster is well over 1 percent).”


This is not complicated. We know that our planet is enveloped in a blanket of greenhouse gases that keep the Earth at a comfortable temperature. As we pump more carbon-dioxide and other greenhouse gases into that blanket from cars, buildings, agriculture, forests and industry, more heat gets trapped.

What we don’t know, because the climate system is so complex, is what other factors might over time compensate for that man-driven warming, or how rapidly temperatures might rise, melt more ice and raise sea levels. It’s all a game of odds. We’ve never been here before. We just know two things: one, the CO2 we put into the atmosphere stays there for many years, so it is “irreversible” in real-time (barring some feat of geo-engineering); and two, that CO2 buildup has the potential to unleash “catastrophic” warming.

When I see a problem that has even a 1 percent probability of occurring and is “irreversible” and potentially “catastrophic,” I buy insurance. That is what taking climate change seriously is all about.

If we prepare for climate change by building a clean-power economy, but climate change turns out to be a hoax, what would be the result? Well, during a transition period, we would have higher energy prices. But gradually we would be driving battery-powered electric cars and powering more and more of our homes and factories with wind, solar, nuclear and second-generation biofuels. We would be much less dependent on oil dictators who have drawn a bull’s-eye on our backs; our trade deficit would improve; the dollar would strengthen; and the air we breathe would be cleaner. In short, as a country, we would be stronger, more innovative and more energy independent.

But if we don’t prepare, and climate change turns out to be real, life on this planet could become a living hell. And that’s why I’m for doing the Cheney-thing on climate — preparing for 1 percent.

Sarah Palin in the Washington Post:

With the publication of damaging e-mails from a climate research center in Britain, the radical environmental movement appears to face a tipping point. The revelation of appalling actions by so-called climate change experts allows the American public to finally understand the concerns so many of us have articulated on this issue.

“Climate-gate,” as the e-mails and other documents from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia have become known, exposes a highly politicized scientific circle — the same circle whose work underlies efforts at the Copenhagen climate change conference. The agenda-driven policies being pushed in Copenhagen won’t change the weather, but they would change our economy for the worse.

The e-mails reveal that leading climate “experts” deliberately destroyed records, manipulated data to “hide the decline” in global temperatures, and tried to silence their critics by preventing them from publishing in peer-reviewed journals. What’s more, the documents show that there was no real consensus even within the CRU crowd. Some scientists had strong doubts about the accuracy of estimates of temperatures from centuries ago, estimates used to back claims that more recent temperatures are rising at an alarming rate.

This scandal obviously calls into question the proposals being pushed in Copenhagen. I’ve always believed that policy should be based on sound science, not politics. As governor of Alaska, I took a stand against politicized science when I sued the federal government over its decision to list the polar bear as an endangered species despite the fact that the polar bear population had more than doubled. I got clobbered for my actions by radical environmentalists nationwide, but I stood by my view that adding a healthy species to the endangered list under the guise of “climate change impacts” was an abuse of the Endangered Species Act. This would have irreversibly hurt both Alaska’s economy and the nation’s, while also reducing opportunities for responsible development.

Our representatives in Copenhagen should remember that good environmental policymaking is about weighing real-world costs and benefits — not pursuing a political agenda. That’s not to say I deny the reality of some changes in climate — far from it. I saw the impact of changing weather patterns firsthand while serving as governor of our only Arctic state. I was one of the first governors to create a subcabinet to deal specifically with the issue and to recommend common-sense policies to respond to the coastal erosion, thawing permafrost and retreating sea ice that affect Alaska’s communities and infrastructure.

But while we recognize the occurrence of these natural, cyclical environmental trends, we can’t say with assurance that man’s activities cause weather changes. We can say, however, that any potential benefits of proposed emissions reduction policies are far outweighed by their economic costs. And those costs are real. Unlike the proposals China and India offered prior to Copenhagen — which actually allow them to increase their emissions — President Obama’s proposal calls for serious cuts in our own long-term carbon emissions. Meeting such targets would require Congress to pass its cap-and-tax plans, which will result in job losses and higher energy costs (as Obama admitted during the campaign). That’s not exactly what most Americans are hoping for these days. And as public opposition continues to stall Congress’s cap-and-tax legislation, Environmental Protection Agency bureaucrats plan to regulate carbon emissions themselves, doing an end run around the American people.

In fact, we’re not the only nation whose people are questioning climate change schemes. In the European Union, energy prices skyrocketed after it began a cap-and-tax program. Meanwhile, Australia’s Parliament recently defeated a cap-and-tax bill. Surely other nations will follow suit, particularly as the climate e-mail scandal continues to unfold.

David Boaz at Cato:

Bannered across the top of the Post’s op-ed page today is a piece titled “Copenhagen’s political science,” titularly authored by Sarah Palin. I’m delighted to see the Post publishing an op-ed critical of the questionable science behind the Copenhagen conference and the demands for massive regulations to deal with “climate change.”

But Sarah Palin? Of all the experts and political leaders a great newspaper might call on for a critical look at the science behind global warming, Sarah Palin?

Matthew Continetti at The Weekly Standard:

Sarah Palin’s Washington Post op-ed today, calling on President Obama to boycott the Copenhagen climate summit, has elicited a predictable response from the left. Foreign Policy‘s Annie Lowrey blogs: “I wouldn’t recommend reading it.” Joe Klein seems worried that “The Washington Post devotes valuable op-ed space today to Sarah Palin.” Noted climate expert Marc Ambinder of The Atlantic has penned a long “Fisking” of the op-ed, in which he concludes, “It is virtually certain that humans are causing a significant amount of climate (not weather!) change over time.” Gotta love the “virtually” part.

Like Charles Krauthammer, I’m a global-warming agnostic. Like Freeman Dyson, I happen to think that the trade-offs involved in fighting climate change are too burdensome to support at the moment. And the piece to read on the East Anglia scandal is Steven F. Hayward’s cover piece in the new STANDARD.

Joel Achenbach:

Here’s Palin in her Post Op-Ed:

With the publication of damaging e-mails from a climate research center in Britain, the radical environmental movement appears to face a tipping point. The revelation of appalling actions by so-called climate change experts allows the American public to finally understand the concerns so many of us have articulated on this issue.

You understand, these aren’t climate change experts she’s talking about, these are “so-called” climate change experts. Never mind that studying climate change is what they’ve done their entire professional lives. They’re a bunch of Salahis! Full-time posers.

Just because these scientists have been under constant assault for years and years because of their conclusions does not give them the right to be so dyspeptic in their e-mails. Just because they’ve reached conclusions that call into question the sanity of burning up all the fossil fuels on the planet and thus put them in the cross-hairs of trillion-dollar industries does not forgive their clubbiness and sense of embattlement.

The fact that these scientists have let politics creep into their scientific work is what’s so appalling, because surely the politicization of science is the proper responsibility of politicians.

Steve Benen:

There’s no reason for the Post to publish baseless garbage like this. None. Ghost-written propaganda on Facebook is inconsequential, but reality-challenged, 800-word op-eds in the Washington Post are far more disconcerting.

The problem isn’t just that the paper published another right-wing piece from someone who’s obviously clueless — note, the WaPo published a similarly foolish Palin op-ed in July — it’s that the piece is factually wrong. The paper has a responsibility to publish content that informs its readers. Obviously, with “opinion” pieces, the standards are slightly different, but that does not give the editors license to run claims that are patently, demonstrably false.

Marc Ambinder had a very strong post, reviewing Palin’s claims, point by point, which is worth checking out. But also don’t miss Media Matters’ piece, which notes that the Palin op-ed even contradicts the Washington Post‘s own reporting.

Now, back to Copenhagen:

David Corn at Mother Jones:

Who needs a binding global climate treaty?

That was essentially the message delivered by Jonathan Pershing, the Obama administration’s deputy special climate change envoy, when he held an off-the-record briefing for US nongovernmental outfits at the Copenhagen climate summit on Tuesday. Speaking to about 200 people from various environmental groups, Pershing made the case that a non-binding political agreement—in which the world’s biggest emitters of greenhouse gases would pledge to take various actions to reduce their own emissions—would be more effective than a treaty establishing firm and legally enforceable commitments, according to several people who attended the session. Pershing’s comments mark a significant effort on the part of the United States to reshape the climate negotiations underway in Copenhagen. Though the Copenhagen session was initially conceived as the gathering where a hard-and-fast treaty would be crafted, there is now no chance of that happening. Pershing was trying to turn the absence of such an accord into a plus.

Pershing, a well-known scientist who has worked on climate change for decades, maintained that a binding treaty—which would mandate emission reductions and contain penalties for noncompliance—could easily stall. It would have to be ratified by the U.S. Senate (which would require 67 votes) and winning Senate approval would be no easy feat for the Obama administration. (The Senate does not yet have the 60 votes need to block a filibuster of pending climate change legislation.) Other nations also would have to approve it. He pointed out that the 1997 Kyoto global warming accord, which the US Senate never approved, took five years to be ratified around the world. If Copenhagen did produce a binding treaty, Pershing said, it would be years before it could go into effect. In the meantime, emissions would continue to flow. A political deal, he contended, could kick in immediately, with countries taking individual steps to meet self-established goals for reductions and working collectively to fund clean-energy programs in less-developed nations—and could lead to a binding treaty. World leaders have said they expect a non-treaty agreement would include immediate steps and set longer-term goals.

“This is front-page news,” said one American environmentalist who attended the briefing. “The administration is going for a major reframing.” In what seemed to be an attempt to position the United States to be able to declare success, Pershing was saying that the consolation prize could actually be better than the top prize.

Kevin Drum:

It’s true, after all, that the prospect of getting 67 votes to approve a climate treaty in the Senate is piss poor.1 So perhaps this really is our only realistic alternative.  Still, it’s the Obama administration’s biggest climbdown yet, and one that suggests that Obama believes Waxman-Markey is the best we’re going to be able to do in the near term.  Unfortunately, he’s probably right.

1Though there’s always the possibility of ratifying it as an executive agreement with only 60 votes, as NAFTA and other international agreements have been.

Ken Adelman at Foreign Policy:

Diplomacy in all circumstances is tough. It gets tougher when expectations are dampened from the start. Recently, U.S. President Barack Obama admitted that slim pickings will come out of Copenhagen, besides some prep work and a call for another grand multinational climate conference to take place next year.

The diplomat-theorist George F. Kennan once quipped that the problem of reaching a good outcome equals the square of the number of participants. With 192 countries participating at Copenhagen, squaring that yields a mighty big number. At large multinational conferences, successful diplomacy is nigh unto impossible.

In the 1980s, we had to contend in nonproliferation negotiations with a couple dozen fewer countries, but even with fewer players the main problems remain. First, diplomats take over from the wonks. Although a marvelous group — remember, I was among them — they tend to know little of the substance. Real experts get shoved aside, or accommodated, while the “comma futzing” (that’s a euphemism) begins. So, loads of people spend loads of time negotiating over a topic on which they themselves could say little of merit.

Second, the diplomatic accord heads for the heavens. Striving to find compromise, hence consensus, language either drives the rhetoric into the netherworld — so abstract as to be virtually meaningless — or into the depths — so obtuse as to have contradictory — or zero — meanings.

Hence, such linguistic contortions arise as the classic “flexible freeze” from the 1980s (during the height of the popular “nuclear freeze” movement). The phrase was intended to express one thing (stop any increase in nuclear weapons), but actually mean another (allowing an increase in the weapons, to balance Soviet missiles aimed at Western Europe at the time). In the end, nothing was frozen, save perhaps the human mind struggling to comprehend such a notion.

Stephen Hayes at The Weekly Standard:

On Monday, an environmental reporter for Mother Jones magazine reported on Twitter that EPA Administration Lisa Jackson linked the EPA “endangerment” finding to the Climate Change conference in Copenhagen.

Kate Sheppard wrote:

Lisa Jackson on yesterday’s endangerment finding: “We tried to make sure we had something to talk about.”

Today, though, Jackson claims that the timing of the announcement was a happy coincidence.

According to Politico, Jackson, speaking in Copenhagen, said: “The endangerment finding and the work here are separate. Certainly, I was glad we were able to complete the finding and make that statement just before, but that wasn’t the impetus for our work.”

There are more artful ways of making such contradictory statements.

Ed Morrissey:

Liberals used to screech about the Bush administration’s belief in the “unitary executive,” a concept they misunderstood from the start.  However, this power grab more closely resembles the point of their hysteria than anything Bush proposed.  Obama and Jackson have essentially bypassed Congress altogether and given the EPA the power to interfere in just about every transaction that takes place in the US.  That creates a juggernaut of an executive, unbounded in any practical way by Congress from using and abusing power.

In fact, the EPA’s timing makes that clear.  It intends to allow Obama to argue that he can implement any Copenhagen agreement by diktat, rather than wait to see if 60 Democrats in the Senate ratify a treaty in the proper manner and then legislate to enforce it.

John Dickerson at Slate talks to Al Gore:

Q: Why does the Copenhagen meeting matter?

A: We face the gravest threat that civilization has ever confronted. It’s global in nature and requires a global solution. Increased CO2 emissions anywhere, whether from China or the United States or from one of the countries that is burning its forests like Brazil or Indonesia—from wherever the emissions come, they have the same effect: They trap much more heat from the sun, melt the ice, raise the sea level, cause stronger storms, floods, drought, bigger fires, generate millions of climate refugees, destabilize political systems, threaten the growing of food crops and cause a number of other catastrophic consequences which, taken together, threaten the basis for the future of human civilization on the Earth. Because these consequences are distributed globally, the problem masquerades as a distraction. Because the length of time between causes and consequences stretches out longer than we’re used to dealing with, it gives us the illusion that we have the luxury of time. Neither of those things is true. The crisis is a concrete threatening reality today. It stands to get catastrophically worse unless we take action before the accumulation [of] this global warming pollution reaches such toxic levels that the problem becomes bigger than we can solve.

We’re already at the point where it’s stretching our capacity to reach an agreement that will solve the problem, but it’s still within our capacity. There are abundant reasons for hope that we will act in time. If you look at the difference between today and 10 years ago, there is a global consensus. More than 70 leaders from nations are gathering at Copenhagen. Many nations have taken action and the world is waiting for the natural leader, the United States to move on this.

UPDATE: Anne Applebaum in WaPo

UPDATE #2: Kevin Drum on where it is now

Bradford Plumer at TNR

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The Picture Below Shows The Future, My Friends


Joel Achenbach in WaPo:

Water on the moon, once a wild conjecture, appears to have become an established fact. Jubilant NASA scientists announced Friday that they had found the tell-tale signs of significant quantities of water, in the form of ice and vapor, lurking in a shadowed crater at the moon’s south poll.

The discovery came from the double-whammy impact of a rocket and a trailing spacecraft slamming into the Cabeus crater four minutes apart on Oct. 9 and kicking up a plume of material. Instruments aboard the trailing spacecraft, and on another orbiting lunar probe, analyzed the ejected material and saw clear signatures of the equivalent of about 26 gallons worth of water, primarily in the form of vapor.

How much water there may be across the rest of the moon is unclear. But the pole turned out to be a jackpot.

“Can you believe it? Isn’t this cool?” said Peter Schultz, a Brown University planetary scientist and team member for a mission called LCROSS, for Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite.

“After the Apollo program ended, we concluded that the moon was dead,” Schultz said. “Now what we’re seeing is a place with a reservoir of ices that have been collected over billions of years.”

Bradford Plumer at TNR:

Hmm… scientists are now saying “unequivocally” that they’ve discovered considerable amounts water on the moon’s south pole after bombing the region with a satellite last month and kicking up debris. I’ve always wondered what the big deal with water on the moon is. Why should we care? The New York Times gives a partial answer that’s mildly satisfying:


The confirmation of scientists’ suspicions is welcome news both to future explorers who might set up home on the lunar surface and to scientists who hope that the water, in the form of ice accumulated over billions of years, could hold a record of the solar system’s history.

But there’s an even more intriguing answer in this old New Scientist piece: If there’s water in the moon, astronauts could someday harvest it to generate hydrogen for fuel—say, in order to blast a ship out toward Mars. Since there’s less gravity on the moon, it’s easier to launch a probe to Mars than it would from Earth. “It’s like building a transcontinental railroad to space,” says one expert. And after that, maybe we can bomb Mars, find water, and off we go again…

Ron Hogan:

Our next step, of course, it to set up a lunar colony so we can fly deeper and deeper into space.  With this discovery of moon water, now we can make our own mooncrete.  After that?  Time to build a Starbucks and a McDonald’s next to the miniature art museum.  Moonsylvania looks like a great vacation spot this time of year, doesn’t it?

Charles Johnson at LGF

Sheril Kirshenbaum at Discover:

Water on the moon… Just wow!

According to NASA, this discovery may ‘hold the key to the history and evolution of the solar system‘ if the water is billions of years old. Potential sources include molecular clouds, solar winds, comets, or even somehow activity within the moon itself. There’s already discussion about the potential for development of a lunar space station. Phil’s got the details.

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Well Hello, Ardi, It’s So Nice To Have You Back Where You Belong


Joel Achenbach:

Ardi lived 4.4 million years ago in the woodlands of East Africa. She spent most of her time in the trees. She stood about four feet tall, weighed 110 pounds, and had long arms, short legs, and a grasping big toe that was perfect for clambering branch to branch. She ate in the trees, raised her offspring in the trees, slept in the trees.

But sometimes she came down to the ground, and stood upright. She could walk on two legs. She was, in a sense, taking baby steps on a journey that would change the world.

“Ardi” is the nickname given to a remarkable, shattered skeleton that an international team of scientists believes is a major breakthrough in the study of human origins. The skeletal remains were painstakingly recovered from the Ethiopian desert along with bones from at least 35 other members of a species scientists call Ardipithecus ramidus. The 15-year investigation of Ardipithecus culminated Thursday in the publication of a raft of papers in the online edition of the journal Science, as well as dual press conferences in Washington and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

“This is huge. This is the biggest discovery really since the ‘Lucy’ skeleton of the 1970s,” said Carol Ward, a University of Missouri paleoanthropologist who was not involved with the research but had been given a preview so that she could offer an independent assessment.

Science Blog:

The discovery reveals the biology of the first stage of human evolution better than anything seen to date.

The 17-year investigation into the discovery of the extremely fragile remains of the small “ground ape,” found in the Afar region of Ethiopia, is described today in a special issue of the journal Science, which includes 11 papers about the discovery. Nearly 15 scientists from 10 different countries were responsible for the 1994 discovery, including Los Alamos geologist Giday WoldeGabriel, who led the field geology investigations and sampling of ancient lavas and ashes that were used to determine the age of the fossilized remains.


After Lucy’s discovery, there was some expectation that when earlier hominid remains were found, they would converge to a chimpanzee-like anatomy, based on the genetic similarity of humans and chimps. The Ardipithecus ramidus fossils do not, however, corroborate this expectation.

Ardi’s skeleton contains enough of the skull, teeth, pelvis, legs, feet, arms, and hands to estimate her body weight and height; that she walked on two legs on the ground, but climbed trees and spent time in them as well; and that she probably was omnivorous. Perhaps surprising, Ardi and her companions did not have limb proportions like chimps or gorillas, but rather like those of extinct apes or even monkeys, and her hands also are not chimpanzee- or gorilla-like, but more closely related to earlier extinct apes.

WoldeGabriel and his colleagues used field and laboratory geological methods to determine the age of the extremely fragile fossils by painstakingly analyzing and dating the stratigraphic markers of ancient lavas, ashes, and sedimentary deposits in which the bones were discovered. He also was able to precisely characterize the environment in which Ardi lived.

More Science Blog

Larry Dignan at ZDNet

More Dignan:

In an interview, Tim White, a prof at the University of California, Berkeley (hear White’s comments on Ardi), who led the research team that found Ardi explained how her remains were painstakingly removed from a treasure trove of fossils. Ardi falls into a prehuman species called Ardipithecus ramidus, which isn’t chimp, but isn’t human either.

Simply put, Ardi is a bit of an evolutionary tweener. White explains (transcript):

Well, ever since the days of [Charles] Darwin and [Thomas] Huxley, it’s been appreciated, first based on anatomy and later of course on genetics, independently on genetics, that our closest living relatives are chimpanzees – African apes that live today in west Africa.

The issue for Darwin was the lack of a fossil record, and in fact, he devoted an entire chapter in his book, On the Origin of Species, to imperfections in the geological record in general. And the human fossil record in those days was extremely imperfect. There were a few Neanderthals known. Well, over the hundred-some [150] years since the Origin of Species was published, people have been collecting human fossils from all over the world, Europe and Asia and Africa, and we had a fairly good fossil record that went back to the time of Lucy and beyond, to between 3 and 4 million years ago. Now, that doesn’t get us far enough back to reach that last common ancestor that we shared with chimpanzees.

So, it’s been a kind of an elusive organism, as it was for Darwin. We just had a lack of fossils. What we found in Ethiopia at 4.4 million years ago is the closest we’ve ever come to that ancestor along our own line – unfortunately, the lines leading to modern chimps and gorillas are not even represented in the fossil record. These animals live in places that don’t produce a good fossil record. So we have virtually no fossil record for these modern apes. But we have a really good one for fossil humans. Well, really good except it doesn’t get us back far enough.

That’s really one of the things that lead us in the Middle Awash to want to explore these older deposits, to see what we would find because ever since Darwin, people have sort of assumed that modern chimpanzees haven’t evolved very much, that the last common ancestor was more or less like a chimpanzee and that it’s been the hominid branch of the family tree, the human lineage, if you want, that’s done all of the evolving. But without a fossil record, it’s very hard to test that.

So this new evidence, coming as close as we’ve ever come to that last common ancestor really allows us to infer what that creature was like.

Brandon Keim at Wired

Eliza Strickland at Discover Magazine:

That woodland habitat contrasts with the savanna where Lucy was thought to dwell, and it has big implications for our understanding of what caused hominids to rise to their feet. If the researchers are correct in thinking that Ardi walked upright as well as climbed trees, the environmental evidence would seem to strike the death knell for the “savanna hypothesis”—a long-standing notion that our ancestors first stood up in response to their move onto an open grassland environment [National Geographic News].

So how did bipedalism take off? One provocative idea rests on Ardi’s dental records. Researchers say her species lacks many typical features of chimpanzees, including large male canine teeth — a sign, say the researchers, that the ultra-aggressive social behaviors seen in chimpanzees were lost early in the human lineage. If so, male A. ramidus may have competed for female attention by bringing them food, rather than fighting each other. That could have contributed to the evolution of pair-bonding behavior [Wired.com]. Some anthropologists believe that early hominids may have switched from a four-limbed gait to a two-legged stride so that the males could more easily bring home the bacon.

UPDATE: Charles Johnson at LGF

UPDATE #2: John Hawks and Razib Khan at Bloggingheads

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