The Distinguished Gentleman Who Speaks for the Trees

In 2007, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works questioned EPA administrator Stephen Johnson about issues like emissions regulation and toxic release tracking. The EPA was also shutting some of its public libraries. Committee Chair Barbara Boxer was critical of this, while ranking Republican James Inhofe said it was a good and necessary step. Here, an excerpt from the hearing:

Senator INHOFE. Administrator Johnson, I want to make sure I understand, the purpose of the library modernization effort is to make all the EPA materials more readily available and all of this. I want to ask you if the following books are still available at the EPA libraries. The first one I would like to ask you about is Lorax. Is this available?


Senator INHOFE. About how many copies are available?

Mr. JOHNSON. I understand that there are nine.

Senator INHOFE. Are any checked out right now?

Mr. JOHNSON. Not that I am aware of.

Senator INHOFE. The author?

Mr. JOHNSON. Dr. Suess. [sic]

Senator INHOFE. Dr. Suess, very good. Next we have WordStar made easy. Is this available?

Mr. JOHNSON. Yes, sir.

Senator INHOFE. I understand that this is a computer software book for pre-1983 computers, is that correct?

Mr. JOHNSON. That is correct, published in 1982.

Senator INHOFE. Published in 1982. A lot of demand for this book? Never mind. The next one is Memoirs of a Geisha. Do you have this available?

Mr. JOHNSON. Yes, sir.

Senator INHOFE. OK. How about Bonesetters Daughter?


Senator INHOFE. What collection is this in?

Mr. JOHNSON. It is in our technical library in Region 8.

Senator INHOFE. OK, great demand? Here’s one, how about this one. This is called Fat Chicks Rule: How to Survive in a Thincentric World. Do you have this?

Mr. JOHNSON. Yes, sir.

Senator INHOFE. How about Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror? Do you have this?

Mr. JOHNSON. Yes, sir.

Senator INHOFE. That is interesting. How about more of the items, the video, Fern Gulley, is that in? The Last Rainforest, do you have that?

Mr. JOHNSON. I believe we have it on video tape.

Senator INHOFE. I believe that is a children’s movie, is that correct?


Senator INHOFE. How about a health issue, do you have a video, Windsor Pilates Ab Sculpting?

Mr. JOHNSON. Yes, we do have Windsor Pilates Ab Sculpting.

The Lorax has become a kind of shorthand for environmentalism, sometimes to prove a famously anti-environmentalist senator’s point. Still, the Lorax has only been invoked nine times* in hearings or the Congressional Record. And of those nine, only about half are actually in an explicitly environmental context. Among the other reasons for citing the Lorax are to illustrate the importance of community service (John Kerry, 2002), as a cartoon character voiced by a deceased voice actor (Fred Upton, 2005), and as intellectual property (Jim Moran, 2010). From the record:

During the Trademark Expo, costumed trademarked characters will introduce themselves during the opening ceremony and make appearances throughout the Expo, joining the USPTO’s own Trademark character, T. Markey. A new cast of characters, including Clifford the Big Red Dog®, Lorax®, GEICO’s Gecko®, Chick-Fil-A’s® cow, The Berenstain Bears®, Dippin’ Dots®, and a 5-Hour Energy® bottle character will join veteran Expo characters Pillsbury’s Doughboy®, Hershey’s Kisses®, Hershey’s® milk chocolate bar, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups®, Crayola® crayons’ mascot Tip, Betty Boop®, Dennis the Menace®, Popeye®, Olive Oyl®, Curious George®, and Sprout®.

Only once has The Lorax been cited in Congress in an explicit effort to increase support for environmental protection. That was in 1999, and it wasn’t even by a Congressman, but Chris Jeffers, who was the city manager of Monterey Park, CA:

I wish to conclude with some well-known words that convey the need for municipal Superfund legislation and our hope that the ability of Congress to move this ahead—these issues ahead now. And if I may, too, I sort of brought one of my child’s books, called the Lorax. And what Dr. Suess sort of said in here is, ‘‘Now that you’re here, the word of the Lorax seems perfectly clear; unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not.‘‘

So good on Mr Jeffers, for remembering the Lorax’s lesson. Though his former constituents in Monterey Park may better remember him for the dust-up following his retirement, when he reportedly cashed out more than $400,000 of accrued vacation time.

*Since 1994, which is as far back as the Government Printing Office’s online database will search.

energy, politics

Comic Sans Controversy

Fine, fine we’ve all beaten up on Comic Sans at one point or another. It’s inspired loads of discussion online, most of it quite ferocious ridicule. (You can see some hilarious examples at Comic Sans Criminal.)

Still, we’re all pretty accustomed to it, no? In LOLing e-mail forwards and cobbled-together personal websites, that kind of thing.

I was browsing through some PDFs of evidence from the November 17th Congressional hearing on Solyndra (weekend reading) and saw this e-mail from George Kaiser:

Email from George Kaiser about Solyndra. Text is as follows: Sounds good, writes Kaiser. I assume that we would not move ahead without the offering without full DOE approval or would you issue while you are under due diligence? BTW, a couple of weeks ago when Ken and I were visiting with a group of Administration folks in DC who are in charge of the Stimulus process (White House, not DOE) and Solyndra came up, every one of them responded simultaneously about their thorough knowledge of the Solyndra story, suggesting it was one of their prime poster children.

Much hay was made of these e-mails by Republican partisans. George Kaiser, according to Forbes, is worth some $10 billion, and is the 89th richest man on the planet. He’s also a major Obama supporter, and his foundation reportedly owned a third of the famously failed solar panel manufacturer Solyndra. The conspiracy-minded among us (and you don’t even have to be all that suspicious) might see the potential for inappropriate benefits when it came to the federal government’s pre-bankruptcy support of Solyndra.

In any case, there are a few Kaiser e-mails sprinkled throughout the evidence that House staffers threw online. Yet the partisans failed to point out the detail that would have dealt the most devastating blow: His e-mails are all in Comic Sans.

Email from George Kaiser. Text reads as follows: Yeah but the other issue is how we they prepare themselves for Congressional investigation of the loan award by DOE.

Alaska, corruption, crime, influence, money, politics

Alaska, Re-factored

12.30 in the afternoon, North Pole, Alaska, Dec 2004
When Ted Stevens was found guilty of all seven charges of failing to report gifts last week, the conventional wisdom, at least in the Lower 48, was that the Republicans had lost another Senate seat.

I’m inclined to agree. But with reservations. Because if there’s any place that will surprise you politically (other than Minnesota, maybe), it would be Alaska.

Alaska politics seems to have a special knack for getting muddy, if not outright weird. Take the ongoing saga of Stevens’s trial, where the weirdness seems to have spread: a juror took a break from deliberations because her father died, except that he didn’t actually die, and she was not answering her phone because she had, in fact, left D.C. for a horse race in California. As the AP notes:

She apologized for lying, and then started a long rambling story about horses, which included references to horse breeding, the Breeders’ Cup, drugs, President Ford’s son Steven and her condo in Florida being bugged.

Fair enough, I suppose. This after Stevens himself gave some head-scratching testimony, such as calling a massage chair from a supporter that sat in his Washington residence for the last seven years a “loan.” (In a kind of contrapuntal twist, Stevens was questioned by a Justice Department prosecutor; fifty years ago, he was himself a U.S. attorney for the Justice Department.) As the Anchorage Daily News reported:

In fact, Stevens said, he planned to ship the chair back to Persons in Alaska with other furniture from Washington to use in [Stevens’s] Girdwood house, but there wasn’t any room in the “chalet” – the place was filled with Allen’s stuff, he said.

Where was his original furniture?

“Bill Allen stole our furniture and put his in our chalet,” Stevens said.

“Why didn’t you call the police?” Morris asked.

“It never crossed my mind to call the police at that time,” Stevens said. “I might now.”

I kind of wish Jay Hammond were around to paddle up in his canoe and tell us what he thought about all this.

Today, the state personnel board cleared Governor Palin of any wrongdoing in Troopergate, meaning both sides get a report stating what they want to hear, and neither will ever be satisfied. But whether Palin becomes vice president or not, Alaska will soon be pried from its cozy niche in the American political system. And that is why I’m writing about Stevens. 

Because Stevens’s era, and possibly Don Young’s, is over, or almost. (And it seems to me that Palin can’t go back to her governorship and expect to accomplish much meaningful, having burned so many bridges in this campaign.) That Alaskans would take a gamble and reinstall a convicted felon as senator in the hopes that he will continue to bring home the bacon would not be a shock. But the gamble comes in what the Senate does with Stevens if he gets another term. Alaska is a state normally ignored when it comes to national politics, which helped during earmark time. This year, it’s at the center of the storm with the problems that Stevens, Young, and Palin are having. It’s a make-or-break year for Alaska, in terms of the Washington influence it has quietly built up over decades. They’ve got to go all in.

The Times recently wrote:

Some state Republican Party leaders have countered this concern [over Stevens’s convictions] by urging people to vote for Mr. Stevens as a tactical move. They say re-electing him will allow for a special election to replace him should he later resign or be expelled. Otherwise, Republicans would be ceding the race to Mr. Begich [the Democrat].

A tactical move. Politicians like Young and Stevens seem to have stayed in power because of a go-along-to-get-along mentality. There is no great orator or charmer between those two. But with so much seniority, and with Republicans previously in the majority–or at least not marginalized–during their careers, these politicians were not so much inspirations as investments when it came time to cast a vote.

This was an argument I often heard for voting for the incumbents; they have influence built up (meaning: they can keep the federal funds flowing north). Alaska’s political power in Washington has long rested in its Congressional delegation; Palin is an outlier. But now? If Young and Stevens were to win, they’d be shunted to the sidelines in a Democratic Congress. Young has become an object of national ridicule and derision from all sides–this because of Palin and McCain and his Bridges to Nowhere. Stevens will be roundly considered a disgrace for his convictions. And if Palin should become VP, she shouldn’t expect any favors from the new Congress if she tries to send a few more federal dollars to Alaska. Attempting to do so would run counter to one of her ticket’s primary messages, anyway.

But all may not be lost. FiveThirtyEight lists Stevens’s seat as “safely Dem;” RealClearPolitics notes that Young’s House seat “leans Dem.” Maybe Alaskans will come to believe that “investing” votes in a Democrat or two could bring many rewards to the state as a Democratic White House or Congress or both shower the new guys, and thus Alaska, with influential committee spots and other goodies that will help in 2010 and 2014. Tactical moves all over the place from everybody.

And even if they’re Democrats, they’ll still push to open ANWR.


Stevens is reportedly airing a two-minute commercial explaining his vision for Alaska (or, I suppose, after 40 years, reiterating that vision), among other things, during the six o’clock news across the state. It’s not online yet, and I’m not sure through which of the internet tubes it will hurtle. I’m sure it will be on the YouTube. But it’s not there yet. In the meantime, here’s thirty-one-second commercial, “Sticking with Stevens.”

New Order fans will recognize the opening strains of “Ceremony” playing in the background. Not sure that Senator Stevens is a fan of the post-punk, New Wave genre. But I love it. New Order also has songs called “Temptation,” “Regret,” and “Times Change.”