Bird Man of Albuquerque (no, not me!)

I am NOT a birder. Birders have life-lists and binoculars. Birders are early-risers. Birders plan their vacations around the northern extent of the trogon (Chiricauhuas) or where to see 47 varieties of hummingbirds (Ramsey Canyon). Birders systematically memorize field marks like trailing white on the wing to distinguish the resurrected Ivory-billed woodpecker from the pileated.

Granted, corvus is on my totem and birds figure in my photos, dreams and poems. I loved Burt Lancaster as The Birdman of Alcatraz and cried a bit during The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill; I’m one of the few people to stay awake during the Kestrel’s Eye. Every day I watch for the neighborhood road runners and hawks. I think turkey vultures are wonderful and deserve to be respected as condors. And, yes, I can distinguish an Inca dove from a white-winged dove. So what if I recognize the dipping flight of flickers and several different sounds made by robins, the dandelions of birds — who doesn’t?

You’re thinking I’m in denial, but I deny that. I’m just a hanger-on, an occasionally alert friend to birders. I’m not a birder, a dancer, a musician or a lawyer — even though all my friends are.

And when my friends head to Ecuador this fall to see birds, I’m just going for the fun of it all. I’ll be damned if I’ll start a life-list. mjh

PS: Last night, I sat among 200+ bird nerds listening to my friend, Dave Mehlman, talk about the Ivory-bill. Afterwards, a man behind me said, “he’s pretty funny for a bird guy.” Dave has been our bird guy on three expeditions to Bosque del Apache and one to the Monticello Box.

PPS: Today, acting on a tip from an Audubon member, we looked for the recently-relocated yellow grosbeak in the side yard of a friend. That this Mexican bird has never been seen in New Mexico really rocks the birders’ cradle — or so they tell me. Here’s Merri’s account.

In the Sausage Factory (updated 2/21/06)
Motion to Waive CBA; Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution Act of 2005

Rejected: 58-41

By 58 yeas to 41 nays (Vote No. 21), three-fifths of those Senators duly chosen and sworn, not having voted in the affirmative, Senate rejected the Specter motion to waive section 407, limitation on long-term spending proposals, of H. Con. Res. 95, the concurrent resolution on the budget for fiscal year 2006, with respect to the bill and Frist (for Specter/Leahy) Amendment No. 2746 (listed above). Subsequently, the Ensign point of order against the bill is sustained, pursuant to section 312(f) of the Congressional Budget Act, the bill is recommitted to the Committee on the Judiciary; provided further, that the vote on the motion to invoke cloture on Frist (for Specter/Leahy) Amendment No. 2746, and the vote on the motion to invoke cloture on the bill were vitiated.

What the hell happened here? I assume from the name, Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution Act of 2005, that said “fairness” was pro-industry, probably suppressing those “frivolous” lawsuits that help restrain capitalist cruelty when government won’t. But the act was of 2005 and the vote was last week. And our Senators split. Does it clarify that Domenici voted ‘yea’ and Bingaman ‘nay’ — that is, Domenici wanted to stop a filibuster, but on what matter? mjh

Update 2/21/06: A Washington Post Editorial adds a little to my understanding (if you read the whole thing). Here’s a piece:

A Challenge for Mr. Frist

The chief hope for reform lies in a Senate bill that would shift asbestos claims from the courts to a $140 billion compensation fund run by the federal government. Sick people, including those excluded from compensation by the tort lottery, would be entitled to payments. Lawyers’ fees would be capped at 5 percent of settlements. The fund would be financed by companies responsible for asbestos, with no direct burden on taxpayers. But the bill was defeated last week in a vote that was technically about the budget impact of reform; “I believe this bill is fiscally irresponsible to the taxpayers and the future,” intoned Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), who forced the so-called budget point of order. Mr. Ensign’s charge was false, but 30 Democrats and 10 Republicans accepted it.

Plugging Leaks, Chilling Debate

Plugging Leaks, Chilling Debate By Gary Wasserman

Not content with jailing an employee for mishandling classified material, the government is applying to private citizens a never-used part of the 1917 Espionage Act. Its expanding secrecy powers threaten to paralyze public participation in making foreign policy. The experts, lobbyists and journalists who, in the normal routines of their jobs, discuss confidential information could now become criminals. …

Information is the lifeblood of policymaking. Expanding restrictions on information adds greatly to the power of the executive; criminalizing citizens’ contact with that information adds even greater uncertainty. …

A democratic government does not, in general, “authorize” the information citizens are allowed. Given enough information, citizens authorize and control their government. Or at least we used to.

Wherein George Will, Conservative, Compares the Threat of Terrorism and the Bush Administration

No Checks, Many Imbalances By George F. Will

[P]erhaps no future president will ask for such congressional involvement in the gravest decision government makes — going to war. Why would future presidents ask, if the present administration successfully asserts its current doctrine? It is that whenever the nation is at war, the other two branches of government have a radically diminished pertinence to governance, and the president determines what that pertinence shall be. This monarchical doctrine emerges from the administration’s stance that warrantless surveillance by the National Security Agency targeting American citizens on American soil is a legal exercise of the president’s inherent powers as commander in chief, even though it violates the clear language of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which was written to regulate wartime surveillance. …

The administration’s argument about the legality of the NSA program also has been discordant with its argument about the urgency of extending the USA Patriot Act. Many provisions of that act are superfluous if a president’s wartime powers are as far-reaching as today’s president says they are. …

Besides, terrorism is not the only new danger of this era. Another is the administration’s argument that because the president is commander in chief, he is the “sole organ for the nation in foreign affairs.” That non sequitur is refuted by the Constitution’s plain language….

Trillion-Dollar Gimmick

Trillion-Dollar Gimmick
Extending Bush’s Tax Cuts Through Sleight of Hand
By David S. Broder

Back when the late John Mitchell was attorney general in the Nixon administration, he advised reporters, “Watch what we do, not what we say.”

That advice certainly applies to the Bush administration as well. The latest bit of evidence to come to my attention is what you might think of as the Case of the Disappearing Trillion. …

The Congressional Budget Office scores the cost of making these tax cuts permanent at $1.6 trillion over the next decade. The administration’s estimate is somewhat less — $1.35 trillion.

But, the folks at the OMB told me, it’s wrong to claim that they are hiding that cost. They told me to get out my copy of the budget, and they told me right where to look. And sure enough on Column 8, Line 11 of Table S-7 on Page 324 of the green-bordered book, I found the very figure they had cited — $1.35 trillion.

The heading on the chart of Effects of Proposals on Receipts reads: “Make Permanent Certain Tax Cuts Enacted in 2001 and 2003 (assumed in the baseline).” Those last four words conceal more than a trillion dollars worth of lost revenue.

In fact, it turns out that Bush tried to get Congress to go along with this bookkeeping switch back in 2004, actually submitting legislation to authorize the change. The House refused to accept it. He put it back in his budget last year, with the same result. But this year he’s back again, with more urgency, as he presses the case to make these tax cuts permanent.