Tuesday, March 15, 2005


Reading Republicans and conservatives has become the new Encyclopedia Brown-style thrill for me, in which I get to match wits with the bad guys, spotting clues and avoiding traps, and I’m sorry if it bores others.

But I think it’s grimly funny to read our secretary of the interior, Gale Norton, write in yesterday’s New York Times about how technology has made oil drilling so less damaging to the environment — but doing so by describing oil exploration.

A lone man drives across a vast frozen plain on a road made of ice. He sits atop a large, bug-like machine with enormous wheels. He is heading for a spot on the tundra pinpointed by satellite imagery to explore for oil. When the spring thaw comes and the road melts, any evidence that a man or a machine ever crossed there will be gone ... Today, oil exploration in the Arctic occurs only in the frozen winter. Workers build roads and platforms of ice to protect the soil and vegetation. Trucks with huge tires called rolligons distribute load weights over large areas of snow to minimize the impact on the tundra below.

When she talks about actual oil drilling, though, meaning taking oil out of the ground and putting it where it can be refined and used, this picturesque specificity vanishes. In the passage below, notice how discussion of drilling reverts to talk of exploration. It’s marvelous sleight of hand:

Meanwhile, innovations in platform development and directional drilling mean that we need fewer and smaller pads to tap into oil and gas reserves. From a single platform, we can explore an underground area nearly the size of the District of Columbia.

What size are these fewer and smaller pads, anyway? And when she talks about satellite imaging techniques that improve “the chances of drilling a successful well by 50 percent, meaning fewer wells,” isn’t it still important to know how many wells we’re talking about? If there are 2,000 acres on which wells will sit in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, what about pipelines and roads connecting them? It’s entirely possible they would sprawl over the 1.5 million acres to be opened to development, but, not surprisingly, Norton’s article was vague on that point.

Today’s hoot was provided by David Brooks, who made a typical show of blaming Republicans as well as Democrats for being unwilling to budge on “Social Security reform” but dodged the fact that the Bush administration has been trying to kill Social Security, and that’s an awfully strange way to “reform” something. When our prison system kills people via injection or electric chair, its officials do not claim to be “reforming” the prisoner.

When Bush talks about Social Security reform, surely Democrats will have a dialogue with him. Until then, Brooks’ seeming evenhandedness is just more cheap razzle-dazzle.

Norton used misdirection to distract from serious issues; Brooks phrased the argument to avoid them.

Here’s one from the 2000 Republican Party platform, a passage so laden with flaws, fallacies and ironies that I shall leave it largely without comment, free for readers to relish and dissect:

The federal government has operated in the black for the last two years and is now projected to run a surplus of nearly $5 trillion over ten years. That wasn’t magic. It took honesty and guts from a Congress that managed the nation’s purse strings. Over a five year period, as surpluses continue to grow, we will return half a trillion dollars to the taxpayers who really own it, without touching the Social Security surplus. That’s what we mean by our Lock-Box: The Social Security surplus is off-limits, off budget, and will not be touched. We will not stop there, for we are also determined to protect Medicare and to pay down the national debt. Reducing that debt is both a sound policy goal and a moral imperative. Our families and most states are required to balance their budgets; it is reasonable to assume the federal government should do the same. Therefore, we reaffirm our support for a constitutional amendment to require a balanced budget.

Delicious, isn’t it? I count at least five major mind-bogglers.

I’d love to give a link to the 2004 platform at gop.com (also known as rnc.org), for the purposes of comparison, but it doesn’t seem to be working right now. For the truly curious, go here.

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