A Krugman book review
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Wed Nov 5 08:13:18 MST 2003
NY Review of BOoks, Volume 50, Number 18 · November 20, 2003
By Paul Krugman
George W. Bush
Bushwhacked: Life in George W. Bush's America
by Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose
Random House, 347 pp., $24.95
Big Lies: The Right-Wing Propaganda Machine and How It Distorts the Truth
by Joe Conason
Thomas Dunne/St. Martin's, 245 pp., $24.95
On a recent Friday afternoon, the Interior Department announced a change
in rules for US mining companies. (They always announce the outrages on
Friday afternoon, because few people read the Saturday papers or watch
the Saturday TV news.) Reversing a Clinton-era decision, Interior now
says that companies mining precious metals can appropriate as much
federal land as they want to dump the waste from their operations—and
modern mining techniques generate a great deal of waste.
Environmentalists were appalled, not just because of the direct effect
on the landscape, but because chemicals can leach out of the exposed
waste, polluting a much wider area.
To understand why and how officials made that decision—and why we
needn't waste time parsing the administration's claims that it was all
about promoting economic growth—it helps to have read Chapter 9 of
Bushwhacked, by Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose. That chapter, entitled
"Dick, Dubya, and Wyoming Methane," tells you all you need to know about
the Bush Interior Department. We learn, in particular, that J. Steven
Griles, the deputy secretary—and probably the real power in the
department—has spent his career shuttling back and forth between being a
government official and lobbying for the extractive industries. And he
has never worried much about ethical niceties—little things like
recusing himself from decisions that affect his former clients.
Moreover, Griles isn't likely to be disciplined, even when he brazenly
supports industry interests over the judgments of government experts.
After all, just about every other senior official at Interior, including
Secretary Gale Norton, has a similar résumé.
So it's a very good bet that the new rules on mining-waste disposal
don't reflect a careful economic analysis of the pros and cons. Nor, by
the way, do they represent a general ideological bias in favor of free
markets and private property, since this wasn't a ruling about what
companies can do on their own property. It was a major extension of
their rights to make private use of public land. Or to put it another
way, this decision was about extend-ing corporate privilege, not
protecting property rights. Needless to say, this particular extension
of privilege was worth a lot of money to a select group of mining
companies—a very nice return on their prior investment in the Bush
administration, not just through campaign contributions, but through
deals that enriched individual government officials.
The point about the mining-waste ruling is that it isn't at all
exceptional. Instead, it is typical of the Bush administration—in its
callousness toward the general welfare, in the brazenness with which
special interests were able to buy a decision to their liking, and in
the contempt officials showed toward the public and the press. (Indeed,
the ruling received only brief mention in the national press.) We're
living in a replay of the Gilded Age, in which robber barons openly
bought and sold government officials and their policies. And just as the
Gilded Age brought forth a golden age of muckraking, our modern descent
into money politics has brought forth a new wave of outraged reporters.
Ivins and Dubose are worthy heirs of an honorable tradition.
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