Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Farmers vs Fish

In a series of posts, Megan put me on to this story about how how the evil Dick Cheney, having ruthlessly obtained power by a majority vote in the electoral college, set about advancing the venal interests of toothless Oregonian rubes (called "farmers" by Republican shills) by subverting the virtuous but overpowered bureacuracy, which had been democratically elected by . . . um, well, nobody actually, but anyway, they were valiantly standing up for the rights of the . . . fish.

What's wrong with this picture?

Here is the story: In 2001, there was a drought along the Klamath River in Oregon. This river is used for several purposes: irrigation for farmers, and commercial fishing. But in 2001, the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) had determined that there was not enough water for both the fish and the farmers, so the farmers were on their own. The Washington Post article is pretty straightforward about the consequences to the farmers: their crop would be destroyed by the drought.

Enter Dick Cheney [cue Toccata and Fugue in D minor]. He invited the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to review the FWS finding. The NAS said, well, maybe the fish would be okay if the farmers took some water. (Yeah, I know: it's more complicated than that. Read the article.) The farmers got their water, and the fish duly perished: some 77,000 of them by one estimate.

Did I miss anything? Note to trolls: I hadn't heard of the Klamath until last week, and everything I pretend to know I read in the Washington Post. So if there are additional facts about this case, please point them out, but spare me your wrath as if I'm trying to make something up, becauase I am not.

It seems to me that what you find here depends on what you bring with you. [Hat tip: Yoda] Not being predisposed to believe that something is evil just because Dick Cheney is in favor of it, and being neither a farmer nor a fisherman, I think that the competing economic interests should be weighed against each other, with a view toward minimizing the damage as much as a bad situation allows.

But of course, that was never going to happen. One of the fish in Klamath had the good fortune of being on the endangered species list. So by the terms of the Endangered Species Act, the FWS put the interest of the fish above any other consideration. The Greens applaud this reasoning, since farmers are a scourge on Mother Earth, and are Repubicans to boot, so they deserve whatever happens to them.

Cheney's intervention, together with the NAS' well-meaning but ultimately wrong finding) meant that the farmers were saved, but the commercial fisherman lost the bulk of their livelihood for several years. (They were ultimately indemnified by the taxpayer, just as the farmers no doubt would have been.) No word in the article on how many of the endangered fish survived, but the silence susggests that some probably did. No word on how big the Klamath commercial fishing industry is, or was, only that the bailout cost $60 million last year. I wonder what the bailout for the farmers would have been, but this seems to be the important question on evaluating the impact of the decision.

Megan brings to this story a wealth of background knowledge on both water management and the inner workings of the federal bureacracy. But ultimately, she (1) hates Cheney for all manner of reasons far beyond her understanding, and (2) is incensed that the elected executive should have the temerity to, you know, govern the country, that being the province of federal bureaucrats, Green groups, and the judiciary.

The Post article makes a big to-do over the electoral politics involved in motivating Cheney's involvement. One might argue that the job of the executive is to enforce the law, even if the law in question was passed 34 years ago to protect bald eagles and has morphed since then into an engine of economic mayhem in the service of critters few of us ever heard of. The usual suspects would have us believe that, in the abstract, yup, that's what it should do. And because Cheney tweaked the enforcement of the law and created an environmental problem, no matter how containable, he's evil and we're going to have Congressional hearings on it.

Compare this too . . . the 1986 Immigration Reform, the enforcement of which, with the full cooperation of the bureaucracy, has been utterly and completely ignored for twenty years, creating hundreds of billions of dollars in externalities, a huge hispanic criminal underclass, the ethnic cleansing of whites and even blacks from several major cities . . . .

So you'll pardon me if I don't take liberal protestations about the integrity of government at face value.


trumwill said...

Dick Cheney, having ruthlessly obtained power by a majority vote in the electoral college,

Not sure if you read The American Scene (I figure you might since Ross Douthat used to post there), but there was a post a week or so back about how Dick Cheney was proof not of folly of the Electoral College but rather of even having states since small ones count as much as large ones or something. It was truly bizarre since Cheney was never elected to statewide office (except insofar as he was their lone rep, but that was a congressional district that happened to be the whole state) and certainly wasn't tapped in order to pick up the state of Wyoming.

The whole thing was bizarre. I'd link to it but I haven't figured out how to navigate to their archives, yet.

Φ said...

The American Scene article is here (the website is having technical difficulties, so it might not work). Here is the opening line:

The dreadful effects of the Cheney Vice Presidency . . .

He's already lost me. Sure, the administration as a whole has been disappointing for reasons other than dead fish in Oregon. But why Dick cheney is supposed to take the blame for this has not been established.

trumwill said...

I believe the theory is that Cheney is the one running the country, so Bush's faults are largely Cheney's. Alternately, the very things that many people despise most about the administration are the things that Cheney is out in front on (Iraq War, most prominantly, but also failure to regulate, hyperpartisanship, and others), so if Bush hasn't handed over the entire keys of the Oval Office to Cheney, Cheney has had influenced the administration on most of its bad decisions.