Friday, December 07, 2007

Earthpark: Grassley's the Story

December 7, 2007, 10:00 a.m., 11:00 a.m.

[This is a continuation of Nicholas Johnson, "Earthpark's Week-Long Wake," November 26-December 7, 2007. Like the "Holy Roman Empire" that was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire, "Earthpark's Week-Long Wake" proved out to be neither week-long nor a wake. It did end up creating a blog entry that now prints out at about 38 pages. All of that content is hereby "incorporated by reference" and remains as relevant as ever.

NOTE: Because I may very well be out of Internet reach during the next four or five days, if anything breaks and you don't see it here, that's why. Check State29 and read between the lines in everything in (or left out of) your local papers.]

Johnson Forms "Exploratory Committee" to Challenge Earthpark's Grassley

I have been asked on more than one occasion in the past to run against Senator Chuck Grassley. I've always rejected the invitations. Not only do I not dislike Senator Grassley, I actually admire the attention he gives to constituent services -- it is of a quantity and quality among the best of any elected official in Washington. Moreover, I've always taken some responsibility for putting him in office, having lost (by my count by six votes) the Democratic primary for Congress in 1974 that led to a general election of then-legislator Grassley to the U.S. House of Representatives that year. Besides, as Art Small and others have discovered, running against Grassley is more of a sacrificial service to the Democratic Party than a realistic opportunity to gain a U.S. Senate seat.

But I have to say, with the way the Earthpark $50 million earmark is going, I'm seriously re-thinking my past reluctance. And this morning's (or was it yesterday's) Des Moines Register story about Grassley's current position on Earthpark was enough to prompt a serious discussion with my wife over breakfast this morning about my undertaking a statewide race against Grassley.

That's how strongly I feel about this.

Grassley is the Earthpark Story

What would you think on reading the following headline:

Tony Leys, "Grassley: No more extensions for Earthpark project," Des Moines Register, December 6, 2007. (And see, State29, "Grassley Finally Comments On Earthpark," December 6, 2007.)

"No more extensions" is Washington-speak for "more extensions." And that's exactly what seems to be going on.

Oman's document proving (he says) he's "matched" the $50 million of taxpayers' money Grassley's offered to give him if he can match it, is a public document. Many members of the media and public would like to see that document -- and are entitled to as a matter of law. Oman refuses to release it. Senator Grassley, who knows what's in it, refuses to tell. The Department of Energy has been asked to put it up on the Web, or at least respond to the formal Freedom of Information Act requests now pending at the DOE. It has yet to respond. Why all this secrecy about something that is, by law, a public document?

If we can't see what Oman filed on November 30, how can we ever know what revisions he was permitted to make in the document thereafter?

If the DOE said last week they'd have an answer in "a couple of days" how can this continued delay, on top of the secrecy, be considered anything other than an "extension"?

Moreover, it's an ancient trick of government agencies and other institutions to save major announcements that might reflect adversely upon them for the evening before major holidays, when they know there will be few journalists around to cover the story. I first wrote about this in the Saturday Review in 1972, Nicholas Johnson, "Why Ma Bell Still Believes in Santa." Is that what we have in store?

Leys writes:
"Grassley said he had been told what was in the financial documents, but he declined to predict whether the project’s application would pass muster. He said he would not lobby the administrators.

“I’m writing the law, they’re administering it, and I’ve got to be careful not to contact the department while they’re making their decision,” he said. “I don’t think I ought to be seen to be trying to influence it one way or the other.”
Let's put aside for the moment the difficulty of having "been told what was in the financial documents" while being "careful not to contact the department."

What are we talking about here?

For starters, the initial $50 million was provided in one of those secret, undebated, "earmarks." The beneficiaries were Republican leaders, friends and campaign contributors of Grassley, who paid a former Grassley staffer handsomely (and successfully, as it turned out) to lobby the Senator for the $50 million. From the beginning, the grant was viewed by some fellow Republicans, journalists, stand-up comics, editorial and TV writers as laughable. The project has been offered to, and rejected, by a half-dozen or more Iowa cities -- some more than once -- and for very good reasons.

But let's put even all of that aside.

There was never a time at which a strong case could be made for the wisdom of using $50 million of taxpayers' money for this purpose. But my point, for now, is that whatever case one could try to make at the time of the initial award -- the time at which the case was strongest (weak, but its strongest) -- has continued to erode over time until today, when it has completely evaporated.

Even if you want to excuse Grassley for making the money available in the first place (and I'm not inclined to do so), there is absolutely no excuse whatsoever for his failure to step in to prevent its being made available now -- match or no match.

It is by now obvious to all who will but look that "the emperor has no clothes." Such conditions as might have ever existed, when more was not known, no longer exist. There is not a prayer that this project will be built to the standards that would be necessary for it to even have a chance of programmatic and financial success -- or, even if it were, that it would create a sufficient cash flow to continue operations without ongoing taxpayer subsidy.

Consider the analogy to Iran.

If it is true that Iran has an active program underway to manufacture and imminently launch an atomic bomb our way (or Israel's), a presidential proposal that we launch a pre-emptive strike, start a war, and bomb their manufacturing facilities can still be questioned, but it will be considered in light of his rationale premised on that intelligence.

Once the NIE reports that Iran is not now, and has not been, engaged in such activities for the last four or five years, however, it is no longer possible for the president to continue -- at least not rationally or responsibly -- to advocate that course of action.

Give Grassley the benefit of the doubt, that he wasn't just doing a $50 million favor for friends, that he actually thought the project had merit for Iowa, and a probability of raising the additional $250 million (initially proposed) that economists thought necessary to a successful venture.

The point is, now he should know better -- as all do who have been paying attention. He cannot be permitted to pass this off onto the DOE, anymore than Bush could pass a post-NIE strike against Iran off onto the DOD.

To have awarded the $50 million in the first place may have been bad judgment and abuse of the earmark process.

To permit it to be given now, knowing what we do, knowing that it will be, if not entirely $50 million wasted at least never produce what was initially proposed, is not only shameful, it should be considered criminal.

Not up to speed on what we now know? Take a look at Nicholas Johnson, "Earthpark's Week-Long Wake," November 26-December 7, 2007, and my Earthpark Web site.

What Leys has succeeded in extracting from Senator Grassley -- that he refuses to step in and guarantee the taxpayers will be saved this criminal expenditure, for which he is solely responsible -- is a beginning. And the Register is to be praised for getting us this much. But it is far from the end of this story.

For my suggested questions for Grassley that still need to be pursued see, in
Nicholas Johnson, "Earthpark's Week-Long Wake," November 26-December 7, 2007, the discussion and questions following the sub-heading, "[Nov. 30] Senator Chuck Grassley Has Explaining to Do," about half-way down, following the Sharpnack editorial cartoon.

Don't let him "sidestep" this one.

Come on, Iowa media! Let's get going on this major national -- not to mention statewide -- story. Get us the Earthpark public document that has been sitting at the DOE for a week now. Ask Grassley how he can justify not stepping in to stop this criminal waste of taxpayers' dollars. Save me from having to go around to Iowa's 99 counties at my own expense running a fruitless campaign against our Senator as a way of getting this story to the Iowa voters. Please.


The one-minute fair use clip, above, is from the delightful 1982 R-rated full-length musical comedy, "Best Little Whorehouse in Texas," staring Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton, among a great many other accomplished and well-known actors, and still available for rental and sale. It's based on a true story of a brothel outside LaGrange, Texas, that was ultimately closed down in 1973, following the work of investigative reporter Marvin Zindler of KTRK-TV, Houston. The writing was done by Larry King (whom I remember from Austin in the 1950s), the Governor was played by Charles Durning, and the studio was RKO Pictures. The film is copyright by, presumably, RKO. The use of this very brief clip is for non-commercial, educational and commentary fair use purposes only. Any other use may require the permission of the copyright owner.

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Anonymous said...

To me, this is a case in point of how corrupted our political system and parties are by money. It shows the power of political contributions from someone like a Ted Townsend.

Thomas Friedman's article today was excellent decrying US policy. It is pathetic that we are even still having this discussion about this boondoggle.

The SCOTUS Decision on campaign finance reminds me of Orwell's "Animal Farm" where some animals where "more equal" than others. If you have money in this country, your speech is "More free" than others.

Anonymous said...

I'd join that exploratory committee. Its time for a change. Sen. Grassley is a good man, but it is time for new leadership and an end to D.C. as usual.