Thursday, September 29, 2005
Abusing the whistle blowers
Andrew Sullivan claims
that Captain Ian Fishback, one of the soldiers who talked to Human Rights Watch about torture by the U.S. military, is being targeted for his whistleblowing.Fishback has now been sequestered at Fort Bragg under orders restricting his contacts...My sources tell me that he has been subjected to a series of long, arduous interrogations by CID investigators...The investigators imply that he failed to report abuses, so he may be charged, or that he is peddling falsehoods and will be charged for that. They tell him his career in the Army is over. Meanwhile the peer pressure on him is enormous. I'm reliably told that he has been subjected to an unending stream of threats and acts of intimidation from fellow officers. He is accused of betraying the Army, and betraying his unit by bringing it into disrepute. His motives are challenged. He is accused of siding with the enemy and working for their cause.
If Sullivan and his sources are accurate, this is perhaps the biggest outrage of the Bush Administration's years in office. The question, if the allegations are true, is how high up the pressure is coming from. Unfortunately, nobody seems to care. The press is not giving the story much play and the Democrats are too busy...well, I don't know what they're doing. They are pretty much useless as an opposition party. So, I guess it's up to the rest of us to somehow make sure this is investigated and the proper authorities--whomever they turn out to be--are punished. I'll post in the next day or so suggestions.
Wednesday, September 28, 2005
A local company continues to work
towards building a space elevator
. It's pretty cool this is happening in our backyard. Interestingly, in October NASA is also sponsoring a challenge
to help spur space elevator development. In March, " NASA announced...the first two cash prizes offered as part of the agency’s Centennial Challenges program. Its mission is to encourage the commercialization of space transportation." NASA providing grants and sponsoring contests may ultimately be more efficient than creating vast programs of its own. This is especially true as legislators look for ways to close budget deficits and the space program is invariably targetted for cuts. The hope is that space is now ripe for the private sector with government inducements.
What Kind of Torture?
So what kind of torture are we talking about?
The acts of torture and other cruel or inhuman treatment they described include severe beatings (in one incident, a soldier reportedly broke a detainee’s leg with a baseball bat), blows and kicks to the face, chest, abdomen, and extremities, and repeated kicks to various parts of the detainees’ body; the application of chemical substances to exposed skin and eyes; forced stress positions, such as holding heavy water jugs with arms outstretched, sometimes to the point of unconsciousness; sleep deprivation; subjecting detainees to extremes of hot and cold; the stacking of detainees into human pyramids; and, the withholding of food (beyond crackers) and water.
The problem, of course, is that a majority of Americans believe torture is justifiable in the so-called war on torture. This needs to change. And, of course, perhaps if Americans realized we were torturing innocent civilians and not just terrorists maybe they would start to change their minds. Again, from the report:
The soldiers believed that about half of the detainees at Camp Mercury were released because they were not involved in the insurgency, but they left with the physical and mental scars of torture.
One officer....described in multiple interviews with Human Rights Watch how their battalion in 2003-2004 routinely used physical and mental torture as a means of intelligence gathering and for stress relief. One soldier raised his concerns within the army chain of command for 17 months before the Army agreed to undertake an investigation, but only after he had contacted members of Congress and considered going public with the story.These soldiersÂ firsthand accounts provide further evidence contradicting claims that abuse of detainees by U.S. forces was isolated or spontaneous. The accounts here suggest that the mistreatment of prisoners by the U.S. military is even more widespread than has been acknowledged to date, including among troops belonging to some of the best trained, most decorated, and highly respected units in the U.S. Army. They describe in vivid terms abusive interrogation techniques ordered by Military Intelligence personnel and known to superior officers.When the administration sent these soldiers to war in Afghanistan, it threw out the rules they were trained to uphold (embodied in the Geneva Conventions and the U.S. Army Field Manual on Intelligence Interrogation). Instead, President Bush said only that detainees be treated "humanely," not as a requirement of the law but as policy. And no steps were taken to define what humane was supposed to mean in practice.4 Once in Iraq, their commanders demanded that they extract intelligence from detainees without telling them what was allowed and what was forbidden. Yet when abuses inevitably followed, the administration blamed only low-ranking soldiers instead of taking responsibility.
I've started to read through the Human Rights Watch (HRW) Report
detailing accusations by U.S. soldiers of systematic torture used by U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. I worked quite a bit with HRW when I was back in D.C. They were a very trustworthy operation not prone to hyperbole and generally even handed no matter what a country's political bent. They did good work in Eastern Europe and Nicaragua, in Chile and China. They are not a wacky left-wing organization. Their reporting is usually top-notch. Here's a few select quotes from the summary of the report. In all cases the bolded emphasis are mine.
Tuesday, September 27, 2005
Bush Torture Policy
Here's the Human Rights Watch report
on the use of torture by America. I haven't read it yet but will later this week. Meanwhile, Andrew Sullivan has lots of analysis
Serenity Not Now
It turns out seeing the screening of Serenity is more complicated than originally thought. The PR firm handling this blog campaign asks that I post the Serenity synopsis and link to the Serenity web site to get the ticket. Fine, I suppose. However, when I got to the theatre there was a long line of people waiting to get in. I didn't make it in. Oh well, I'll have to review it after watching when it's released this weekend. Serenity, as it often does in life, will wait.
Friday, September 23, 2005
Policy Vs. Strategy
Kaus has a must read
on the Dems attempts to save Davis-Bacon laws. Josh Marshall and the rest of the blind may want to look for the braille version.
I'll be reviewing the new film, Serenity
, on the ole Sam Speak blog next week. It's a new PR idea where they're letting we bloggers check out a screening of a movie if we promise to review it on our blog. Serenity
, if you don't know, is the movie following up on the short-lived sci-fi series, Firefly.
I didn't watch the show when it originally aired but have caught up through repeats the last couple months (they've been re-showing the 13 episodes on the Sci-Fi channel). The movie and series are created by Joss Wheden, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer
and its spin-off, Angel
. Both shows are fantastic and Firefly
is great too. So, check in Monday night or Tuesday and I'll have the full scoop on Serenity.
Thursday, September 22, 2005
New Media World
It's been remarked upon quite a bit over the last few years but here's another article
, this time in PC Magazine, on the end of movies in theaters and the end of newspapers. Slate
had a better article recently on why a movie's DVD release will soon be pretty much simultaneous with its release in theaters and what that means for theaters. PC Magazine says, "Does this kill Hollywood? And what does it do for the public need for great movies? This is the baffling part of this scenario." I actually think it will end up increasing the quality of movies. Currently big hollywood films have to open big and sell overseas to turn a decent enough profit. In the old days, movies could steadily build on word of mouth and critical reception. When they are released everywhere via DVDs (and soon via broadband), a movie can again slowly grow rather than be forced to make a big splash before it is drummed out of the theaters. In many ways this has already been happening through TV shows, which have produced better quality fiction than movies have for a number of years now. Movies, because their length is at most three hours, are essentially short stories or novellas. But, a TV show such as The Sopranos or Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Lost or Veronica Mars, can be a Charles Dickens novel--complicated, full of twists and turns and substantive character development. In fact, just as Dickens was serialized, so too, essentially are these TV shows as we wait for the next installment week after week. Later, like with Dickens, you could buy the whole novel by purchasing the complete set DVD (though like Dickens, you are unlikely to devour it in a single sitting). What we will lose, as the PC Magazine article points out, are the socialization factors of going to a theater to see a movie. There is something about watching a movie, especially a comedy, surrounded by people experiencing the same emotional responses you are. Plus, where will we go on dates? But, humans crave socialization. So the more interesting questions isn't what will happen to the movies but what new socialization opportunities will fill the gap?
Bartender, another round for my friends
As Democrats use Hurricane Katrina as a reason why the federal government should be expanded (they remind me of me back in college finding reasons to drink beer), the Prudent Bear reminds us
this is an administration that has expanded government more than any president since Lyndon B. Johnson.the rebuilding effort in New Orleans follows a 33 percent expansion of the federal government since 2001, a period that saw:
*The 2001 No Child Behind Act, the most expensive education bill in American history, which led to a 100 percent increase in education spending;
*The 2002 Farm Security and Rural Investment Act, the most expensive farm bill in American history;
*The 2003 Medicare Modernization Act, the most expensive Great Society expansion in history;
*A war in and the rebuilding of Iraq that, while justified, could cost between $300 and $600 billion, in total;
*International spending leap 94 percent;
*Housing and Commerce spending surge 86 percent;
*Community and regional development spending jump 71 percent;
*Health research spending increase 61 percent;
*Veterans’ spending increase 51 percent; and
*The number of annual pork projects leap from 6,000 to 14,000.
Shouldn't Daily Kos and TalkingPointsMemo have endorsed Bush in the last election?
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
The Conservative Revolt
A post by Rod Dreher on The National Review's "Corner" blog
shows some conservatives are coming to their senses regarding Bush. "I don't at all get this attitude among many on the right that our sworn duty is to back anything President Bush and the GOP choose to do. We are conservatives before we are Republicans, are we not?" Interestingly, this is from a self-described religious, social conservative. Imagine what fiscal conservatives with more libertarian bents must be feeling about our Pres. Here's the rest of Dreher's post:
Facts are better than dreams, and the fact is, the president is acting like the second coming of Lyndon B. Johnson with his spending proposals on Katrina thing, and it is past time for the grassroots to have hit the wall on the spendthrift Republican president and the spendthrift Republican Congress. What is the point of electing Republicans if they're going to spend worse than Democrats? Moreover, I'm absolutely with Michelle Malkin on this outrageous Bush cronyism regarding the new Immigration and Customs Enforcement chief over at the Department of Homeland Security. I find it impossible to believe that this administration or their GOP Congressional enablers care about enforcing the immigration laws of this country. And I find it impossible to believe that this doesn't matter. A lot. At some point, we conservatives have got to ask ourselves if we stand for principles, or merely maintaining power. We have got to ask ourselves just which conservative goals are being served by the Republican governing status quo. We have got to ask ourselves if our conservatism stands for much more than The Democrats Must Lose. I was having a beer with a fellow religious and social conservative that first Friday after Katrina, and we were both just livid about the administration's response. We both agreed that we'd vote in a heartbeat in 2008 for a social liberal like Rudy Giuliani, who inspires confidence in his competence and judgment, over the present crowd that we both helped vote into power. I hope next year brings forth a raft of primary challengers to GOP Congressional incumbents. If we go on like this for much longer, it will be a long time before the American people trust the government to our side again. The Democrats aren't going to remain more hapless than the Republicans forever, and the denial in which too many Republicans wish to live in right now does the cause of conservatism no good.
Difference Between Independent and Partisan Mouthpiece
KausFiles has a good piece
on the Bush Administration using the Hurricane Katrina clean up to get rid of the Davis-Bacon law mandating union wage levels for government work. His words contrast sharply with Josh Marshall at TalkingPointsMemo
which is keeping track of which Congress Members are supporting the Bush Administration on this issue. Kaus is an independent journalist blogging on Slate and uses his blog for interesting, independent thinking. I still read TalkingPointsMemo and TPMCafe but there's no denying that at this point Marshall is essentially an operating arm for the Democratic Party. Hence, all his postings are made in the context of political strategy. For Marshall, Hurricane Katrina is an opportunity to reduce the power of the Bush Administration. For Kaus, it's a chance to analyze various aspects of the disaster and the government reaction to it. Marshall's blogging is an important new tool for party operatives getting out their message but remember, that's all it essentially is. There's very little real analysis at the site, only political strategy.
Tuesday, September 20, 2005
Salon gave its "Buffy" award (for the most unrecognized television show) to Veronica Mars, which as you may recall, I touted all last TV season. New episodes begin September 28 so check it out. During the summer, I read an article interviewing the creator of the show who said he wanted to create a Philip Marlowe type of character and atmosphere. He has, but in the guise of a teenager--and yet the plot complexities, noir and moral knighting are all there ala Chandler. Remember, September 28th on your TV calendars.
Years ago I saw the Thrilla in Manila live on closed circuit TV at the Mount Baker Theater in Bellingham. It is still, to this day, the single greatest sporting event I have ever seen. In Manila, the fans were screaming, "Ali, Ali, Ali" while in the theater in Bellingham a majority of the audience yelled "Frazier, Frazier, Frazier." The duel between audiences raised the blood level. And, of course, the fight was the greatest blood duel since the Greek Gods of Homer duked it out. In Sports Illustrated that week was the greatest sports article
I ever read. It was written by their main boxing writer, Mark Kram. It starts off with Ali after the fight, beaten, a death mask on his face and then turns to Frazier who asks for more lights turned on in his hotel room because he can't see from his eyes being swollen shut. Frazier, in his own personal darkness says, "I hit him with punches that would knock down cities." Never before or since have I been so struck by an article. I always thought somehow I would return to it. I was reminded of all this the other day by ESPN's Sports Guy recommendation of the book
, The Ghosts of Manila
, which talks about the fight and Ali and Frazier's duel in general. The Sports Guy calls Kram's article the "greatest on-deadline sports story ever. It's a masterpiece. Nobody has ever done better." Never has Simmons been more right.
I picked up Ghosts of Manila
and devoured it. It starts out with the immortal line from Ali later in life, "We went to Manila as champions, Joe and me, and we came back as old men." The book tells of how Ali was unfair to Frazier, making him into the "white man's champion" stereotypically calling him a "gorilla." It describes Frazier's lifelong obsession with Ali's disrespect and how the fight broke both of them. The book is flawed in many ways--overwritten and badly in need of an editor and probably too harsh in its judgment of Ali. And yet, it's a remarkable book. The nine-page description of the first Ali - Frazier fight is one of the best descriptions of a sports event I've ever read. It begins in Frazier's dressing room:"Five minutes!" someone shouted. Joe got up, loosened up with some body rolls and punches. He then knelt at the center of the room and prayed aloud, "God, let me survive this night. God protect my family. God grant me strength. And God...allow me to kick the shit out of this mothafucker."
The Ali - Frazier feud if it happened 3,000 years ago would have made its way into Homer's tales. It is an important book, telling us many things about our society and about men and our foolish ways. It is a book that can and will be turned into much more one day.
Monday, September 19, 2005
Cresting in Deutshland
Angela Merkel's Christian Democrat Party won the German elections but not by a big enough margin to avoid the so-called "grand coalition" with Shroeder's Social Democrats. What this will mean for necessary economic, labor and social reforms in Germany is anybody's guess. More analysis on how the coalition building might go is here.
It will be interesting to see three years from now when Bush is no longer in office what will happen with elections in countries such as Germany where anti-Americanism is so high.
Friday, September 16, 2005
Germany Rises Again?
Per a post earlier this week, I confirmed that Germany's trade surplus is larger than China's. In fact, the German trade surplus is greater than China, Japan and India combined. Germany is also now the largest exporter in the world, surpassing the United States for the first time. If Angela Merkel defeats Schroeder this Sunday in the German elections and is able to push through real economic reforms, the German economy may be poised for a take off. This will also likely transform the EU, allying Germany with pro-growth countries such as Ireland, Poland and Hungary. This Sunday's election in Germany may mark a turning point in European and world fortunes. Merkel needs to win a large enough share of the vote to avoid a coalition with fringe parties that would prevent economic reform. Stay tuned.
Thursday, September 15, 2005
No Conservative Gains
Delay's attitude is the norm not an exception to Republicans. Kevin Drum at Washington Monthly
gets it exactly right. Bush has not been a conservative president. In fact, more often than not, his policy initiatives have been liberal ones. This makes it all the more exasperating when the media and liberals claim the federal response to Hurricane Katrina shows limited government is a failure. We don’t have a limited government party in power. We have an incompetent president implementing mainly liberal policies. The conservative movement, if we define it as being for more limited government and freedom of opportunity, has been a complete failure. Republicans have been successful at getting elected but the conservative philosophy has been rejected by the American people and is not defended by the Republicans in power. Here’s Drum’s full post. Read the whole thing.TRENCH POLITICS....Ross Douthat writes today that conservatism hasn't accomplished much since taking over the country four years ago (or 10 years or 25 years ago depending on how you count). You know what? Despite all the griping that liberals do about George Bush, Ross is right. Here's a quick recap of the major legislative and executive actions of Bush's first term:
No Child Left Behind
Some big tax cuts
Big spending increases, both in defense and nondefense spending
The stem cell straddle
Invasion of Afghanistan
Department of Homeland Security
Invasion of Iraq
Medicare prescription bill
Some conservative judges
Of these, some are just plain liberal (3, 7, 8, 11), some were basically neutral or bipartisan (1, 5, 6, 9), and only a couple are clearly conservative (2, 12). Of the remaining two items, the stem cell straddle was....a straddle, and if the Iraq war is a conservative cause, it's only because George Bush is fighting it. Outside of PNAC circles, conservatives have not exactly been baying for more foreign wars over the past decade.
So what explains this? Oddly enough, Ramesh Ponnuru inadvertantly provides the answer in his explanation of why the Medicare bill was necessary even though conservatives didn't care for it:
Like it or not — and I mostly dislike it — the Medicare bill succeeded in defusing the issue. If John Kerry had been able to run ads, and pound Bush in the debates, about how the president had failed to deliver on his promises to create a prescription-drug benefit, Bush could well have lost Ohio.Exactly. Even though expanding Medicare is a classic liberal proposal, passing it was necessary to Bush's political survival. Why? Because for the most part, Americans are fundamentally in favor of liberal policies and goals.This explains why Bush didn't simply ban federal funding of all stem cell research and why his Social Security initiative failed. It's because liberals have won the public opinion fight over both stem cells and Social Security. It also explains why he hasn't cut spending and didn't push very hard on the gay marriage amendment.The fact is, conservatives haven't won much of anything in the last 10 years except a PR triumph. Their biggest successes have been on taxes — a Pyrrhic victory at best without corresponding spending cuts — and in the court system, which hasn't actually delivered much real world benefit. Plus they have a war in Iraq, for whatever that's worth. Public opinion simply hasn't allowed them anything more.Conservatives since Reagan have managed to slow down the march of liberalism — something that was probably inevitable after the 60s anyway — but PR triumphalism aside, that's about it. In reality, today's politics is reminiscent of World War I: dozens of divisions squaring off for bloody and horrific battles that end up doing nothing except clawing back a few yards of territory in one direction or the other. It looks and sounds horrible, but when the smoke clears the landscape hasn't altered much. Even the most conservative president of the past 50 years hasn't been able to change that.BY THE WAY: For all that I despise George Bush, this is why it's not his ideology that bothers me the most. What's always bothered me more is his corporate cronyism and his clueless incompetence. He hasn't really managed to do all that much ideological damage — and most of it can be repaired in any case — but he has managed to screw up Iraq, screw up the future of the economy, screw up FEMA, and even screw up things like the Medicare bill, which I'd otherwise support. In the long run, those things matter a lot more than some new logging rules or the demise of New Source Review.
Delay, No Stop
Andrew Sullivan hits the nail on the head regarding today’s Republican Party:
The ruling Republicans cannot get more self-congratulatory or off-key, we have Tom DeLay saying that there's no fat left in the U.S. budget. Er, Mr DeLay, you have presided over the biggest explosion in pork and government spending in living memory. You and your president, in an astonishingly swift five years, have managed to add $2 trillion to the debt we and the next generation will have to pay back in taxes or inflation. "No fat left to cut?" This is what conservatism has now come to mean: the worst aspects of big government liberalism with the worst aspects of meddling in the moral decisions of people's private lives. And the people who have done this seem oblivious to it. I will remind you, Tom DeLay equated a balanced budget with fiscal sanity in the Clinton years. But now it's his budget, and his constituents and interest groups who get to feed at the trough, and the sky is the limit. A reminder to fiscal conservatives: today's GOP isn't just not what it used to be; it's your main enemy now. Conservatism has been hijacked by puritans and spendthrifts. Their unifying philosophy is meddling in other people's lives and spending other people's money.
I'll have more on this later today.
I’ve harped on how the U.S. is losing international students to other countries since 9/11 thanks to our boneheaded Administration. More evidence of this in the Financial Times yesterday (hat tip: Dan Drezner):
The market share of lucrative international students enjoyed by British and US universities has dropped sharply as Australia, Japan and New Zealand become increasingly popular destinations, according to an international comparison of education systems published on Tuesday....The Paris-based [OECD] reported that US market share fell 2 per cent between 2002-3 while the UK suffered the fastest decline among OECD members, falling from 16.2 per cent in 1998 to 13.5 per cent in 2003....According to the report the international complexion of US campuses has changed strikingly in the years since September 11 2001. The country’s universities have seen decreases of between10-37 per cent of students from the Gulf states, North Africa and some Southeast Asia countries. The decline was partially compensated for by a 47 per cent increase in students from China and a 12 per cent increase in students from India.
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
Even More Road to 9/11
One of the readings to prepare for last night's event was an article in Foreign Affairs by Gregory Gause III titled Can Democracy Stop Terrorism. Gause's answers a question that wasn't asked, or at least answers the wrong question: can the spread of democracy stop terrorism? As a political science professor, Gause uses numbers to pretend there's science behind his political. I'm all for using numbers and believe we need to Moneyball public policy. But Gause falls prey to two traps. First, he pretends we're in a "war against terrorism." We're not. Terrorism is a technique, not an ideology or cause. It's understandable Gause is confused since our verbally-challenged president has used the War on Terror misnomer so often and because the media uses the phrase all the time as well. But the truth is we're not in a war against terrorism, we're in a war against Islamic Theocracts. Gause says terrorism happens more often in democracies than in authoritarian or totalitarian states and produces numbers to back this up. Thus, he says, transforming the Middle East into democracies won't stop terrorism. The question is not whether we can stop terrorism but whether we can reduce the influence of Islamic Theocrats such as al Quada. Liberalizing the Middle East, though it may take a long time (and doesn't need to be done by force ala the Iraq War) is the only way in the long term to ensure the Islamic Theocrats lose influence. Gause points out that in many cases elections in Middle East countries will bring Islamists to power. This could be true which is another reason why we should be working to liberalize, not just democratize the region. More on all this later.
More The Road to 9/11
As noted briefly last night, I was part of a Council of Foreign Relations meeting last night that previewed a new documentary called "The Road to 9/11," which attempts to "give viewers a better understanding of the forces that have shaped the current crisis." The documentary does an excellent job of providing the history of modern Islam and what has led to the extremist sects that birthed Usama bid Laden. The flick is mostly framed around the world view of eminent historian Bernard Lewis but also features Fareed Zakaria and TomFriedman. PBS will be broadcasting the documentary at some point though I haven't heard when yet. But keep an eye on your local listings; in one hour, the film presents a coherent overview of some of the forces that led to where we are today. It doesn't provide any easy answers to the challenges we face but at least people who watch this program will be able to face them less ignorantly.
Tuesday, September 13, 2005
The Road to 911
I had the opportunity tonight to preview a new documentary, The Road 9/11, that will soon be on PBS. It's excellent. I'll write more about it in the morning.
Dandy Warhols new disc is keen. I especially groove to All the Money or the Simple Life Honey. Dig it.
Howard Lincoln is a weasel
Nothing happened today as David Schmader might write unless you count the fact the Seattle Mariners wouldn't let me and my wife sit in a seat down in the 100 level even though there were eight rows completely empty in this section in a ballpark of about 15,000 people. Good policy, Howard--way to keep that fan base happy at the end of a second consecutive 90 loss season.
Monday, September 12, 2005
You Have No Rights
In the shuffle of disaster-related government incompetence this week, it was easy to forget that a federal appeals court decided the dictator, er, president of the United States can hold a U.S. citizen indefinitely and incommunicado without trial or, in fact, without any oversight by any other body whatsoever. I speak, of course, of the case of Jose Padilla
. For the last three years the U.S. government has held Padilla in prison for wanting to attack the United States. So, the idea is that the same U.S. government which so ably reacted to Hurricane Katrina is competent enough to decide which American citizens can go free and which cannot; the government is so omniscient that it need not submit to the light of justice its evidence against American citizens Four years after September 11, we seek to emulate the Taliban rather than transcend them.
The Conservative Myth
Over the weekend there were more stories
about the difficulty the Hurricane Katrina disaster poses for conservatives, or at least for the limited government conservatives. The idea behind these analysts is that the disaster showed the importance of big government to save people from natural disasters and thus limited government proponents have been shown to be wrong in their philosophy. Two assumptions behind the analysis are that 1) the Bush Administration is conservative; and 2) limited government folks don't think government has a role in disaster relief. Both assumptions, of course, are wrong. As has been pointed out in this space numerous times, Bush, far from being conservative, is the most liberal president since Lydnon B. Johnson. Federal spending, including discretionary non-defense spending has gone up faster under Bush than under any other president since Johnson. Bush is the first president since Johnson to push through a major new entitlement (the prescription drug law). Bush is all for government intruding in every last corner of people's lives. He is not conservative, at least not in the limited government way we traditionally thought of conservatives until his administration.
Second, few conservatives think the federal government doesn't have a large role to play in disaster relief. In fact, many would argue that if the government stopped butting its nose into other areas, it could better concentrate on its core functions such as helping Americans struck by devastations such as Hurricane Katrina.
Finally, it's interesting in light of the wholesale failure of the local, state and federal governments during Hurricane Katrina, that so many would argue the disaster is an argument for government. Many of the stories we read of rescue and assistance come from non-governmental organizations, including ordinary citizens banding together in schools, bars and elsewhere to protect and feed themselves. When one reads the September 11th report, it is interesting to note that air flights were not grounded by the federal government as it became clear there were multiple hijackings. They were grounded by the airlines themselves, private companies.
I'm not saying this is all evidence that government does not have a role and is not crucial during disasters or in other areas of public life. I am saying it's odd when government is such a failure, that people would use the occasion to argue for more and bigger government.
Friday, September 09, 2005
The Germany Threat?
Someone pointed out recently that Germany has a greater worldwide trade surplus than China. I'm awaiting calls on Germany to adjust the Euro and to stop threatening U.S. workers' jobs.
Thursday, September 08, 2005
I'm on deadline again trying to write a synopsis for a novel (is there anything more painful to do?). I'll post more later including on the strange assertion among many that the hurricane disaster relief disaster is somehow caused by the conservative political philosophy of the Bush Administration. This might make more sense if BUSH WAS A CONSERVATIVE. Let's see, he's seen the biggest rise in federal spending since Johnson, has never vetoed a spending bill, and promises money like Seattle Mariners promise they never used steroids. Anyway, we'll get into this more later.
Wednesday, September 07, 2005
Build It And They Came
Came across an interesting June 2003 article
about the New Orleans' levee system in that glossy sexy rag, Civil Engineering Magazine
. It describes the problem New Orleans faced as a city below sea level surrounded by multiple bodies of water. The article notes that Louisiana is being reclaimed by the sea and as a result, "A century ago any hurricane heading toward New Orleans would have had to traverse a 50 mile buffer of marshland. Today that marsh area is only half as broad and the hurricane would be striking a city that itself sinks lower every day." The article notes that studies were being conducted to determine if the system of levees, even if improved, "could provide the level of protection for which they were designed." Bush and the local pols seem to deserve all sorts of blame for the slow response to the hurricane devastation but it's possible that nothing could have been done, at least not in a short five-year time period, to make the city safe from such devastation. The article notes that the levee system begun in the 60s to withstand category 3 hurricanes is still not complete after 40 years of work and visions begun in the 1990s to make the system stronger would take another 30 years and it's possible the design itself and the environmental changes in the region mean no such system could work.
That the city's defense systems clearly were not adequate means authorities--local, state and federal--should have been better prepared to evacuate the citizens of New Orleans. As one Corp of Engineers official puts it in the article, "You don't want to give people a false sense of security by saying that this is a refuge unless you have a place for them to go."
Over the last 100 years we have tried to constrain the Mississippi to protect New Orleans and other developments--the result has been new sediment is not reaching the marshlands between New Orleans and the sea and the buffer grows smaller and smaller. A geology professor in the article says, "Coastal Louisiana is sinking under its own weight. The ground in Louisiana is ultimately going to go under."
There is not much evidence, as some environmental advocates have been saying in the wake of Katrina, that global warming is contributing to more hurricanes. Even if it were, it's pretty nonsensical to say Bush's not signing the Kyoto Treaty would have prevented Katrina and this disaster. However, it is true that trying to tame the Mississippi to save New Orleans has had unintended consequences that assisted in its destruction. So, the question is, if a levee system can't be constructed that would protect the city, and if the constraining of the Mississippi leads to environmental changes that leave New Orleans more vulnerable to hurricanes, even if category 3,4 and 5 hurricanes hitting fairly close to New Orleans are an infrequent occurrence, should we rebuild such a city?
Tuesday, September 06, 2005
A Flood of Information
The non-visit of the Chinese President kept me from in-depth reading on the Hurricane Katrina disaster. The BBC has an even-handed article
on the problems in dealing with the hurricane and its aftermath. Despite the rush to judgments, some of which I'm sure are fair and deserved, it's probably more worthwhile at this point to ask questions. These questions can be divided into two broad categories: 1) what could have been done to prevent the catastrophe and 2) what could have been done better once the catastrophe hit. In the first category the big questions appear to revolve around New Orlean's levees. Questions I have not yet seen answered satisfactorily include: a) could the levees of the type currently being used in New Orleans be fortified enough to withstand the Category 3 storm that indirectly hit New Orleans as well as Category 4 or 5 storms? b) should a different system rather than the earthen or even concrete levees have been installed? c) what money was requested and by whom to upgrade these levees and for what type of improvements? That the Bush Administration apparently cut funding for the Army Corp of Engineers may or may not be damning depending on what was the intended purpose for expenditures that were cut. The war in Iraq is a drain on our nation's finances as is the pork-laden transportation bill, the similarly ham-hocked energy bill and the new prescription drug subsidy for seniors. Rarely, if ever, in the federal budget process, is funding prioritized and distributed rationally. But even if funding had been provided for making changes to the levees, it appears to be an open question as to whether that money would have been used wisely.
The second category of examination of what could have been done better to respond to the emergency brought on by Hurricane Katrina elicits a host of other questions. Why was the evacuation order of New Orleans delayed until less than 24-hours before the hurricane? What was the plan to evacuate those who couldn't or didn't want to leave and why wasn't it implemented? What caused the miscommunication between the various levels of government--local, state and federal? There's a host of other questions within this category. They need to be answered in the coming months and the voters and authorities must deal with the consequences of these answers.
Monday, September 05, 2005
The biggest big-government lover administration since Lyndon Johnson keeps pushing to control our ways. Now, it praises prohibition says Grits for Breakfast
blog:A word about prohibition: lots of you hear the argument that alcohol prohibition failed---so why are drugs still illegal? Prohibition did work. Alcohol consumption was reduced by almost 60% and incidents of liver cirrhosis and deaths from this disease dropped dramatically (Scientific American, 1996, by David Musto).
Of course, as Grits notes, "What if four out of ten beer drinkers today were suddenly labeled "criminals"? Would that "work"? Hell no."
Sunday, September 04, 2005
President Hu works ends for now
I'm back blogging now that Chinese President Hu has postponed his trip. It was quite a whirlwind for a while. In the last five days I've been attacked by a religious cult, nearly mauled by five drunk late-40s Mariners fans, had my novel rejected by a literary agent, saved two cats accidentally locked for a day in a bathroom which required my cleaning up their sh** out of a clogged bathroom sink, and had my car battery die all while working 16 - 18 hour days that resulted in, uh, well, curses, absolutely nothing. There is an old Chinese saying...uh, I forget exactly how it goes but it's something about Sam is a cursed soul who should walk the land like Caine.