Friday, September 30, 2005

Saddam trial
Gary Bass in the NYT comments on the possibility that Saddam could be sentenced to death and executed for a 1982 massacre of about 100 villagers, without ever being brought to trial on the main array of charges against him, including killing political rivals, crushing the Shiite uprising in southern Iraq in 1991, invading Kuwait in 1990 and waging the genocidal Anfal campaign against the Kurds in 1988, including gassing Kurdish villagers at Halabja...

...Why hasn’t Saddam been charged with any crime more recent than 1991?[1]. In the leadup to the war, and in its aftermath, it was routinely claimed that Saddam’s regime, at the time it was overthrown was among the most brutal dictatorships in the world. Even among opponents of the war, hardly anyone doubted or doubts now that the regime often practised murder and torture. Why then aren’t there any charges covering this period? Presumably both documents and witnesses are more readily available than for a crime committed more than twenty years ago....

...An obvious interpretion of such an outcome is that too many people have something to hide in all these cases, and that the Dujail case has been chosen because it does not run the risk of raising any awkward questions....

On Just War Theorizing
Kudos to Bob Allen at Ethics Daily for taking Richard Land to task for his outspoken support for the second gulf war in Iraq. More than anyone else, Land bears responsibility for making Southern Baptists America's war denomination....

Thursday, September 29, 2005

The 'Second' Man
The slain Abu Azzam may not have been Zarqawi’s top deputy after all. Will his death have any effect on the Iraq insurgency?

Sept. 28, 2005 - U.S. intelligence officials and counterterrorism analysts are questioning whether a slain terrorist—described by President Bush today as the “second-most-wanted Al Qaeda leader in Iraq”—was as significant a figure as the Bush administration is claiming.

In a brief Rose Garden appearance Wednesday morning, Bush seized on the killing of Abu Azzam by joint U.S-Iraqi forces in a shootout last Sunday as fresh evidence that the United States is turning the tide against the Iraqi insurgency.

“This guy was a brutal killer,” Bush told reporters in remarks that were also carried live on cable TV. “He was one of [Abu Mussab al-]Zarqawi’s top lieutenants. He was reported to be the top operational commander of Al Qaeda in Baghdad.”

Bush’s comments came one day after Gen. Richard Myers, the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters at the Pentagon that the U.S. military considered Abu Azzam the “No. 2 Al Qaeda operative in Iraq, next to Zarqawi.”

But veteran counterterrorism analyst Evan Kohlmann said today there are ample reasons to question whether Abu Azzam was really the No. 2 figure in the Iraqi insurgency. He noted that U.S. officials have made similar claims about a string of purportedly high-ranking terrorist operatives who had been captured or killed in the past, even though these alleged successes made no discernible dent in the intensity of the insurgency.

“If I had a nickel for every No. 2 and No. 3 they’ve arrested or killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, I’d be a millionaire,” says Kohlmann, a New York-based analyst who tracks the Iraq insurgency...

Afghan Absurdities
Americans have heard many news reports about Bush administration falsehoods on Iraq. However, the scams of Afghanistan have not gotten as much attention as they deserve. Following are some examples of how the Bush administration has misled the American people regarding Afghanistan.

In the wake of the U.S. military victory over the Taliban, President Bush warned America in his State of the Union address on January 29, 2002,

Our discoveries in Afghanistan confirmed our worst fears.... We have found diagrams of American nuclear power plants and public water facilities.... What we have found in Afghanistan confirms that, far from ending there, our war against terror is only beginning.

The news that al-Qaeda was targeting American nuclear reactors was the most chilling revelation in Bush’s speech. Senior CIA and FBI officials gave background briefings to the Washington media in the wake of the speech, amplifying the threat that Afghanistan-based al-Qaeda fighters were targeting U.S. nuclear-power facilities. This news made the terrorist threat far more ominous and may have spurred support for Bush’s preemptive war policy.

Two years later, the Bush administration admitted that the president’s statement was false and that no nuclear-power-plant diagrams had been discovered in Afghanistan. A senior Bush administration official told the Wall Street Journal, “There’s no additional basis for the language in the speech that we have found.” Nuclear Regulatory Commissioner Edward McGaffigan, who had testified in 2002 on this issue in closed hearings on Capitol Hill, commented that Bush was “poorly served by a speech-writer.”

When word began circulating that the nuclear-power-plant story was a hoax, at least one White House official refused to raise the white flag. Nucleonics Week reported that National Security Council spokesman Sean McCormack denied that Bush ever claimed the nuclear-powerplant diagrams were found in Afghanistan. McCormack told Nucleonics Week, “We stand by the line in the president’s speech.” McCormack emphasized that, although Afghanistan was mentioned in sentences before and after the bombshell about discovering U.S. nuclear-powerplant diagrams, the word “Afghanistan” did not appear in that specific sentence....

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Smith gave alleged courthouse shooter drugs
Details revealed in new book

ATLANTA, Georgia (AP) -- Ashley Smith, the woman who says she persuaded suspected courthouse gunman Brian Nichols to release her by talking about her faith in God, discloses in a new book that she gave him methamphetamine during the hostage ordeal....

Societies worse off 'when they have God on their side'
RELIGIOUS belief can cause damage to a society, contributing towards high murder rates, abortion, sexual promiscuity and suicide, according to research published today.

According to the study, belief in and worship of God are not only unnecessary for a healthy society but may actually contribute to social problems.

The study counters the view of believers that religion is necessary to provide the moral and ethical foundations of a healthy society.

It compares the social peformance of relatively secular countries, such as Britain, with the US, where the majority believes in a creator rather than the theory of evolution. Many conservative evangelicals in the US consider Darwinism to be a social evil, believing that it inspires atheism and amorality.

Many liberal Christians and believers of other faiths hold that religious belief is socially beneficial, believing that it helps to lower rates of violent crime, murder, suicide, sexual promiscuity and abortion. The benefits of religious belief to a society have been described as its “spiritual capital”. But the study claims that the devotion of many in the US may actually contribute to its ills.

The paper, published in the Journal of Religion and Society, a US academic journal, reports: “Many Americans agree that their churchgoing nation is an exceptional, God-blessed, shining city on the hill that stands as an impressive example for an increasingly sceptical world.

“In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy and abortion in the prosperous democracies. ...

...The study concluded that the US was the world’s only prosperous democracy where murder rates were still high, and that the least devout nations were the least dysfunctional. Mr Paul said that rates of gonorrhoea in adolescents in the US were up to 300 times higher than in less devout democratic countries. The US also suffered from “ uniquely high” adolescent and adult syphilis infection rates, and adolescent abortion rates, the study suggested....

The Utopian Nightmare
This year, economists, politicians, and rock stars in rich countries have pleaded for debt relief and aid for the world’s poorest countries. It certainly sounds like the right thing to do. But utopian dreams of alleviating poverty overlook some hard facts. By promising so much, rich-world activists prolong the true nightmare of poverty.

The past has prepared all the materials and means in superabundance to well-feed, clothe, lodge, train, educate, employ, amuse, and govern the human race in perpetual progressive prosperity—without war, conflict, or competition between nations or individuals.”

These words were not uttered by a hopeful world leader at the most recent Group of 8 (G-8) summit, or by Bono at a rock concert—but they certainly sound familiar. They were written in 1857, when British reformer Robert Owen called upon rich countries, who could “easily induce all the other governments and people to unite with them in practical measures for the general good all through futurity.” Owen was laughed out of town as a utopian.

How comforted Owen would be if he were alive in 2005, when some of the most powerful and influential people seem to believe that utopia is back. American President George W. Bush has dispatched the U.S. military to spread democracy throughout the Middle East, G-8 leaders strive to end poverty and disease sometime soon, the World Bank promises development as the path to world peace, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is trying to save the environment. In a world where billions of people still suffer, these are certainly appealing dreams. But is this surprising new fondness for utopia just harmless, inspirational rhetoric? Are utopian ambitions the best way to help the poor-world majority?

Unfortunately, no. In reality, they hurt efforts to help the world’s poor. What is utopianism? It is promising more than you can deliver. It is seeing an easy and sudden answer to long-standing, complex problems. It is trying to solve everything at once through an administrative apparatus headed by “world leaders.” It places too much faith in altruistic cooperation and underestimates self-seeking behavior and conflict. It is expecting great things from schemes designed at the top, but doing nothing to solve the bigger problems at the bottom. ...

...The problems of the poor nations have deep institutional roots at home, where markets don’t work well and politicians and civil servants aren’t accountable to their citizens. That makes utopian plans even more starry-eyed, as the “big push” must ultimately rely on dysfunctional local institutions. For example, there are many weak links in the chain that leads from Gordon Brown’s 12-cent malaria drug to actual health outcomes in poor countries. According to research by Deon Filmer, Jeffrey Hammer, and Lant Pritchett at the World Bank, anywhere from 30 percent to as much as 70 percent of the drugs destined for rural health clinics in several African countries disappear before reaching the clinics. According to one survey in Zimbabwe, pregnant women were reluctant to use public health clinics to give birth because nurses ridiculed them for not having better baby clothes, forced them to wash bed linens soon after delivery, and even hit them to encourage them to push the baby out faster during delivery. And Africa is not alone—nearly all poor countries have problems of corrupt and often unfriendly civil servants, as today’s rich countries did earlier in their history. Researchers find that many people in poor countries bypass public health services altogether, in favor of private doctors or folk remedies.

The poor have neither the income nor political power to hold anyone accountable for meeting their needs—they are political and economic orphans. The rich-country public knows little about what is happening to the poor on the ground in struggling countries. The wealthy population mainly just wants to know that “something is being done” about such a tragic problem as world poverty. The utopian plans satisfy the “something-is-being-done” needs of the rich-country public, even if they don’t serve the needs of the poor. Likewise, the Bush Doctrine soothes the fears of Americans concerned about evil tyrants, without consulting the poor-country publics on whether they wish to be conquered or democratized.

The “something-is-being-done” syndrome also explains the fixation on money spent on world poverty, rather than how to meet the needs of the poor. True, doubling the relatively trivial proportion of their income that rich Westerners give to poor Africans is a worthy enough cause. But let’s not kid ourselves that spending more money on foreign aid accomplishes anything by itself. Letting total aid money stand for accomplishment is like the Hollywood producers of Catwoman, recently voted the worst movie of 2004, bragging about their impressive accomplishment of spending $100 million on its production. ...

Hostage Gave Meth to Atlanta Fugitive
In New Book, Woman Held Hostage by Man Accused in Courtroom Rampage Says She Gave Him Some of Her Drugs

ATLANTA Sep 27, 2005 — Ashley Smith, the woman who says she persuaded suspected courthouse gunman Brian Nichols to release her by talking about her faith, discloses in a new book that she gave him methamphetamine during the hostage ordeal.

Smith did not share that detail with authorities at the time. But investigators said she came clean about the drugs when they interviewed her months later. They said they have no plans to charge her with drug possession.

In her book, "Unlikely Angel," released Tuesday, Smith says Nichols had her bound on her bed with masking tape and an extension cord. She says he asked for marijuana, but she did not have any, and she dug into her illegal stash of crystal meth instead.

Smith, a 27-year-old widowed mother who gained widespread praise for her level-headedness, says the seven-hour hostage ordeal in March led to the realization that she was a drug addict, and she says she has not used drugs since the night before she was taken captive.

"If I did die, I wasn't going to heaven and say, `Oh, excuse me, God. Let me wipe my nose, because I just did some drugs before I got here,'" Smith told the Augusta Chronicle.

Police said Nichols took Smith hostage in her apartment March 11 after a shooting rampage at the Atlanta courthouse.

During the ordeal, Smith says, she pulled out Rick Warren's book "The Purpose-Driven Life" and read to Nichols a chapter called "Using What God Gave Me" to gain his trust. Nichols later released her, and she called 911 and told authorities where to find him. ...

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Fear Itself
Nervous anticipation is making emotional and physical wrecks of some of us who live in the big cities or obsessively watch the ever-alert cable TV news shows. Politicians on all sides are broadcasting their danger/safety messages via the media's hype apparatus. This tapping into today's fears for political purposes is perhaps even more dangerous than the terrorist acts themselves.

Our post-9/11 fears have become a free-floating anxiety that lacks a specific target. We lack information as to where, when or how, or even whether, the threat is greater today than it was yesterday. We no longer know whom to blame or whom to follow to safety.

The collateral damage of these fears appears to be many Americans' health. We are on perpetual alert status, which stokes safety concerns. This process wears us down and interferes with our ability to function.

If fear is no longer protective, if it has been transformed from an adaptive tool into a symptomatic illness, then we have to find a way to cure it.

To slow the spread of fear, it is necessary to "vaccinate" with reason those who aren't yet afflicted. A population that is slow to react hysterically helps contain fear. But lasting immunity to the epidemic of fear is difficult to attain. The biochemistry is built into our brains, waiting to be triggered.

Once fear has been elicited, it is stored deep in the emotional memory, ready to emerge whenever the so-called danger recurs.

In early 2004 my daughter, Rebecca, was taking a bath. She was almost 3 years old, the time when the brain circuitry completes its wiring of the "safety center" in the prefrontal cortex: She had never before experienced the bubble effect, and when the Jacuzzi device in the tub turned on automatically, I was on the other side of the apartment. By the time I rushed back to the tub, she was petrified, standing straight up, bright red from crying.

For months afterward, she was afraid to take a bath at all. I tried to appeal to her newly working brain center to suppress the fear that this tub would always bring scary bubbles, but the fear response was too strong.

This is something like the reality that we encounter in America in the twenty-first century. Once alerted, once afraid, it is hard to turn the switch back to the "off" position. The news signals danger, and we instantly fear it. A person living in a small town in the heartland who watches cable news may experience the fear almost as much as a big-city dweller who has an infinitely greater risk of witnessing terrorism up close. An absurd confirmation of this manufactured, TV fear comes when Homeland Security allocates funds to protect people against terrorism at a rate of $25 per person in New York, and just over $60 per person in Wyoming (in 2004).

Of course, one simple cure is to turn off the TV. ...

Monday, September 26, 2005

Hurricanes and global warming - a link?
...Take the president of the world's most powerful nation. Add two intense and damaging natural storms which bring destruction to that country; then mix in the widely held view that the same nation's environmental policies are partially responsible for those storms.

In the polarised world of climate change, this cocktail has proved an irresistible temptation to organisations which campaign against President Bush's administration in support of enhanced action to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

The latest to succumb was the British newspaper The Independent, which screamed on its front page: "This is global warming", above an alarmingly portentous graphic of Hurricane Rita's projected path.

But is it global warming? What is the evidence that the growing concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are changing weather systems in such a way that hurricanes become more powerful, or more frequent?

Certainly, 2005 appears to have been an unusually active year.

The US National Hurricane Center/Tropical Prediction Center comments in its August summary that "thus far in 2005, there have been 12 named storms and four hurricanes.

"These numbers are well above the long-term averages of 4.4 storms and 2.1 hurricanes that would normally have formed by this date."

But a single year's observation does not permit the divination of a long-term trend, or the attribution of that trend to a cause such as climatic warming.

"Based on recent research, the consensus view is that we don't expect global warming to make a difference to the frequency of hurricanes," explains Julian Heming, from the UK Meteorological Office.

"Activity is naturally very variable in terms of frequency, intensity and regional occurrence; in the Atlantic, there are active phases and not so active phases, and currently we're in the middle of an active phase.

"It's very dangerous to explain Rita or Katrina through global warming, because we have always had strong hurricanes in the USA - the strongest one on record dates back to 1935." ...

... Now that climate scientists are being taken seriously, they are also under pressure to produce instant answers.

One problem is that not all of those answers exist. Another problem is that some scientists - not to mention lobby groups, environmental organisations, politicians, newspapers and commentators - will go much further in their public statements than the data allow.

With such incendiary material, that is unlikely to change; but it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that we would all benefit from people on both wings of the issue looking rather more to research, however laboured its progress, and rather less to screaming headlines and easy quotes.

We're All Machiavellians
Given the obvious "will to power" (as Friedrich Nietzsche called it) of the human race, the enormous energy put into its expression, the early emergence of hierarchies among children, and the childlike devastation of grown men who tumble from the top, I'm puzzled by the taboo with which our society surrounds this issue. Most psychology textbooks do not even mention power and dominance, except in relation to abusive relationships. Everyone seems in denial.

In one study on the power motive, corporate managers were asked about their relationship with power. They did acknowledge the existence of a lust for power, but never applied it to themselves. They enjoyed responsibility, prestige, and authority. The power grabbers were other men.

Political candidates are equally reluctant. They sell themselves as public servants, only in it to fix the economy or improve education. Have you ever heard a candidate admit he wants power? Obviously, the word "servant" is doublespeak: Does anyone believe that it's only for our sake that they join the mudslinging of modern democracy? Do the candidates themselves believe this? What an unusual sacrifice that would be.

It's refreshing to work with chimpanzees: They are the honest politicians we all long for. When the political philosopher Thomas Hobbes postulated an insuppressible power drive, he was right on target for both humans and apes. Observing how blatantly chimpanzees jockey for position, one will look in vain for ulterior motives and expedient promises....

...Power is all around us, continuously confirmed and contested, and perceived with great accuracy. But social scientists, politicians, and even laypeople treat it like a hot potato. We prefer to cover up underlying motives. Anyone who, like Machiavelli, breaks the spell by calling it like it is, risks his reputation. No one wants to be called "Machiavellian," even though most of us are.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The gift that keeps on giving
...Consider the irony: while the insurgency was building and organising (and read the whole article for info on that), Donald Rumsfeld and the administration were insisting that there was no insurgency while giving top priority to the search for weapons of mass destruction that they guaranteed did exist.

Talk about wrong-way round.

Whether you believe the WMD fiasco was a case of deception, incompetence or a combinaton of both, it is now clear that the WMD were at the heart of, not just the invasion, but of the failure to secure the country afterwards.

That's a fairly amazing outcome for a bunch of stuff that didn't even exist.

Monday, September 19, 2005

The Supreme Court's Private Life
...And in 1973 the justices handed down Roe v. Wade, striking down state abortion laws nationwide.

The Roe decision met not only with academic criticism - some of the sharpest coming from liberal scholars like Archibald Cox and John Hart Ely - but also with resistance from people who opposed abortion as a form of prenatal homicide. Although Justice Harry Blackmun, in the majority opinion, dispensed with the metaphysics of penumbras and emanations, he could not identify a compelling constitutional grounding for the right to abortion. He simply declared that the words "nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law," in the Fourteenth Amendment, were "broad enough to encompass a woman's decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy."

What Blackmun never told us, and couldn't tell us, is why the due process clause - which on its face is concerned with procedural matters - should be interpreted in this sweeping way. On what constitutional basis can we say that abortion is protected by "due process" but a right to assisted suicide - unanimously rejected by the court in 1997 - is not? Why is sodomy protected and prostitution unprotected? Why does the right to privacy not extend to polygamy or the use of recreational drugs? ...

What has happened to Iraq's missing $1bn?
One billion dollars has been plundered from Iraq's defence ministry in one of the largest thefts in history, The Independent can reveal, leaving the country's army to fight a savage insurgency with museum-piece weapons.

The money, intended to train and equip an Iraqi army capable of bringing security to a country shattered by the US-led invasion and prolonged rebellion, was instead siphoned abroad in cash and has disappeared.

"It is possibly one of the largest thefts in history," Ali Allawi, Iraq's Finance Minister, told The Independent.

"Huge amounts of money have disappeared. In return we got nothing but scraps of metal."

The carefully planned theft has so weakened the army that it cannot hold Baghdad against insurgent attack without American military support, Iraqi officials say, making it difficult for the US to withdraw its 135,000- strong army from Iraq, as Washington says it wishes to do....

...Mr Allawi says a further $500m to $600m has allegedly disappeared from the electricity, transport, interior and other ministries. This helps to explain why the supply of electricity in Baghdad has been so poor since the fall of Saddam Hussein 29 months ago despite claims by the US and subsequent Iraqi governments that they are doing everything to improve power generation.

The sum missing over an eight-month period in 2004 and 2005 is the equivalent of the $1.8bn that Saddam allegedly received in kick- backs under the UN's oil-for-food programme between 1997 and 2003. The UN was pilloried for not stopping this corruption. The US military is likely to be criticised over the latest scandal because it was far better placed than the UN to monitor corruption....

Friday, September 16, 2005

Whose Victory, Exactly?
Last week my son's elementary school raised several thousand dollars for hurricane victims by washing cars. My other son's preschool announced without fuss that a boy from New Orleans would be joining the class. My employer is organizing help for the company's Gulf Coast employees, my local bookstore is collecting money for the Red Cross and my favorite radio station raised $54,000 last weekend. Every church or synagogue attended by anyone I know is, of course, raising money, housing evacuees or delivering clothes to victims.

To put it differently, nearly every institution with which I come into daily contact -- my library, my grocery store, my search engine -- has already donated time or money to the victims of Hurricane Katrina, and I don't think this makes me or my community unique. A Zogby poll conducted last week found that 68 percent of Americans had donated money to hurricane relief. An ABC News/Washington Post poll published yesterday found that 60 percent had already donated, and a further 28 percent intend to. Those percentages mean that donors must represent a huge range of political views, economic classes, even aesthetic preferences. Indeed, among the fundraisers listed in last weekend's Post were a jazz concert, a tea dance, a "Christian music" concert and a rehearsal of Verdi's "The Sicilian Vespers." No wonder the Red Cross has already collected more than half a billion dollars; no wonder it was impossible to get on to the Salvation Army's Web site at peak times last week.

But those percentages also mean that it is important not to draw hasty conclusions about the ultimate political impact of this tragedy. More specifically, it's important to ignore the hasty conclusions that have already been drawn, both here and abroad, about the victory of "big government" and the death of a certain kind of American individualism. The German chancellor -- once again using American politics in his election campaign -- has already called the disaster an argument for "strong government." Polly Toynbee, a columnist for Britain's Guardian, declared that Katrina revealed "a hollowed superpower . . . a country that is not a country at all, but atomised, segmented individuals living parallel lives as far apart as possible." A Los Angeles Times article, headlined "A Comeback for Big Government," more objectively quoted lots of experts agreeing that in the wake of the hurricane, the administration will "put aside its interest in small government."...

...But while it is true that the government's relief effort looks set to dwarf anything it has tried before, consider what the actual experience of the disaster has already been -- not theoretically, not on paper, but in practice. Listen, for example, to volunteers who prepared 92 boats to help evacuate people from the rooftops of New Orleans. They were ultimately kept out by Federal Emergency Management Agency bureaucrats because, among other things, they didn't have life preservers. Or listen to the volunteers who organized 100 doctors to treat 400 sick people at a converted Baton Rouge warehouse -- until they, too, were told by the government to shut down, reopen and then shut down again. Or to the hundreds of firefighters who, according to the New York Times, responded to a nationwide call for help and were then "held by the federal agency in Atlanta for days of training on community relations and sexual harassment," while women were raped and lives were lost in New Orleans. Compare their frustration to the joy experienced by 8-year-olds across the country, washing cars for the Red Cross.

By the same token, consider the effectiveness of the relief strategies so far. With great fanfare, the federal government announced it would distribute debit cards to Katrina victims. The result was chaos, anger and expectations of fraud. Quietly, the Red Cross has been paying evacuees' hotel bills. The result is that 57,000 people have time to plan what to do next. Massive government efforts to get people into massive shelters have led to dissatisfaction, delays, long lines and frustration. But private initiatives -- ranging across the political spectrum from's, which is advertising space in thousands of private homes, to First Baptist Church in Athens, Tex., which has just installed six new showers -- are helping people find better housing faster. Over the longer term, it's also pretty safe to bet that people who relocate thanks to a church, find a job thanks to a charitable Web site, and get by thanks to their extended families are going to do a lot better, economically and psychologically, than the people who hang around waiting to be helped by a government jobs program and a government trauma counselor.

I'm not saying anything radical here: I'm not calling for the abolition of FEMA, and I certainly think there's a role for government in disaster and evacuation planning. But it is true that the worst failures of the past two weeks have been big government failures. The biggest successes, by contrast, have come out of this country's incredibly vibrant, amazingly diverse and fantastically generous civil society. Sooner or later, it will be impossible not to draw political lessons from that paradox.

Lessons from Chicago
Over a hundred years ago, the entire city of Chicago was lifted up above the waterline. Why can't we do the same with New Orleans today?

Chicago was built on reclaimed swampland and much of the city is only a few feet above Lake Michigan's water surface. Getting fed up of constant flooding, inadequate sanitation and the threat of disease, something had to be done.

In the mid-1850s, therefore, the city authorities introduced legislation to overcome the problem - that the streets be lifted. Over the next 20 years, the city was lifted up in the air, out of harms way, by between one and five metres. Famously, there are reports of the Tremont Hotel, a six-story building, being jacked up while the guests remained in their rooms. This remains one of the most amazing engineering feats of modern times. The flood risk was effectively eliminated.

However, just as work was being competed, a huge section of Chicago burned to the ground, decimating an area of some 2,000 acres. Sod's law. One third of the city's population of 300,000 inhabitants were made homeless. More than 17,000 buildings - $400million-worth of construction in the value of the day - were destroyed.

Incredibly, the city wasn't defeated. The triumph of the original engineering solution increased the resolve that from this terrible destruction would arise a new city, and a new school of architecture.

The lessons learned provided an incentive to invent, manufacture and legislate for steel fire protection - something that had been unthought of before then. The city's great Columbian Exposition less than 20 years later featured the safety elevator that enabled designers to create the magnificent highrise skyline, much of which we still see today. Chicago's 'natural' disaster was used as a springboard to create new city.

Imagine if that disaster had happened today. Someone would be demanding to know why US President George W Bush had not invested in more research in the steel insulation industry; why nobody had risk assessed the chances of a cow kicking over a candle in a barn (reputed to be the cause of the fire, although there are suggestions of a porcine cover-up); or why so many descendants of immigrants were adversely affected. Probably, there would be major headlines about British backpackers traumatised by coming into contact with black people, and scientifically verifiable tales about how global warming, caused by the construction of the city in the first place, had created the tinderbox conditions for the conflagration.

This attitude is reminiscent of the dark days when people believed that catastrophe was retribution from God. Today, as in the Dark Ages, people believe that horrific events are payback for overstepping preordained limits. The difference is that now people see humans themselves, rather than the gods, as directly responsible for bringing an almighty deluge....

America Has Fallen to a Jacobin Coup
...Historians are quick to note that the Star Chamber was mild compared to Gitmo, to the U.S. practice of sending detainees abroad to be tortured, and to the justice (sic) regime being run by Attorney General "Torture" Gonzales and his predecessor, "Draped Justice" Ashcroft, who went so far as to say that opposition to the PATRIOT Act was itself the mark of a terrorist.

The time-honored attorney-client privilege is another casualty of the "war on terror." Taking their cue from the restrictions placed on lawyers representing Stalin's victims in the 1930s show trials, Justice (sic) Department officials seek to limit attorneys representing terrorist suspects to procedural niceties. Lynne Stewart, attorney for Omar Abdel Rahman, was handed a letter by a Justice (sic) Department prosecutor instructing her how to represent her client. When she did what every good lawyer would do and represented her client aggressively, she was arrested, indicted, and convicted.

Many conservative lawyers have turned a blind eye because Stewart is regarded as a left-wing lawyer whom they dislike. Only a few civil libertarians, such as Harvey Silverglate, have pointed out that prosecutors cannot create felonies by writing letters to attorneys. Stewart was convicted for violating a prosecutor's letter (technically, a Special Administrative Measure). This should make it obvious even to the blind that American democracy has lost all control over law.

Federal officials have sensed the sea change in American law: arbitrary actions and assertions by federal officials are taking the place of statutory legislation. We saw an example recently when the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced that news media covering the New Orleans hurricane story were prohibited from taking pictures of the bodies of inhabitants drowned when the levees failed. Nowhere is FEMA given authority to override the First Amendment. Yet, FEMA officials saw no reason not to issue its decree. Rome had one Caesar. America has them throughout the executive branch.

We see the same exercise of arbitrary authority in break-ins by police into New Orleans homes in order to confiscate legally owned firearms. No authority exists for these violations of the Second Amendment. No authority exists for the forceful removal of residents from non-damaged homes. Tyrannical precedents are being established by these fantastic abuses of government authority.

In the U.S. today nothing stands in the way of the arbitrary exercise of power by government. Federal courts have acquiesced in unconstitutional detention policies. There is no opposition party, and there is no media, merely huge conglomerates or collections of federal broadcasting licenses, the owners of which are afraid to displease the government....

FEMA Should Be Shut Down
...Let's face it: If Michael Brown wasn't a political appointee and operated instead in the private sector, Congress would be going after him with criminal charges like he was Ken Lay.

But such a comparison is not fair to the former Enron chief. After all, Lay had enough of a clue to resign and find legal representation. Brown has not resigned, but he was taken off New Orleans duty under pressure for oddities in his resume. What's more,the agency itself will likely face no repercussions; in fact its budget will likely be increased. (I have called this tendency for failure to lead to expansion Westley's Law.) Most everyone knows this. Even in New Orleans, when a major storm threatened to test the publicly-managed levees, over 80 percent of the population decided to get out when it had the chance.

The comparison of Enron to FEMA does have its limits. Enron, after all, was effectively abolished by market forces. But since FEMA operates outside the market, and indeed exists because of government's legal monopoly on the use of force, it lives to waste and redistribute and expand for another day....

...For a small glimpse of how the private sector can respond to tragedies such as those occurring along the Gulf Coast, you only need to look as far as Wal-Mart, which has been showing that it is about more than low prices and economies of scale. The firm, hated by the Left for helping to bring autonomy to low-income individuals, had 45 trucks loaded and ready for delivery in its Brookhaven, Mississippi, distribution center and secured a special line at a nearby gas station to ensure that its employees could make it to work before Hurricane Katrina made landfall.

After the storm, while FEMA's Brown was shooting memos, Wal-Mart offered $20 million in cash donations, 1,500 truckloads of free merchandise, food for 100,000 meals and the promise of a job for every one of its displaced workers. According to the Washington Post, the firm "turned the chain into an unexpected lifeline for much of the Southeast and earned it near-universal praise at a time when the company is struggling to burnish its image."

This is simply good business, and Wal-Mart is far from the only overtaxed firm trying to provide it along the Gulf Coast, reflecting the naturally cooperative relationship between producers and consumers.

On NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday, Aaron F. Broussard, president of Jefferson Parish in the New Orleans suburbs, told host Tim Russert that if "the American government would have responded like Wal-Mart has responded, we wouldn't be in this crisis." He's not the only one who glimpsed what might have been if there were no such thing as FEMA in the first place.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Politics of Fear
...United in the conservatism of fear, left and right are often indistinguishable, except for the politician they support and the innovation they want to ban: 'For example, sections of the right would like to ban stem-cell research while many on the left want to rid the world of genetically modified products.' (1)

With both sides of the political spectrum practising the politics of fear, we are left with neither an orientation towards the future nor a defence of society's historic gains. Instead, we have presentism - a conformist sensibility that seeks to manage society in the here and now, against a backdrop of fear about the future and discomfort with the past....

...Just look, he says, at the 'self-conscious way the nanny state is promoted - the way government ministers continually argue that the nanny state has been seen before as a very bad thing, but now we know that the nanny state is exactly what we need'. Or, in the words of prime minister Tony Blair, recently promoting a number of new parenting initiatives: 'Now some of it means changing the way the law operates in a way that frankly a few years ago people would not have found acceptable.'...

'This is ten times worse than under Saddam'
...“It really makes you sad and angry when you find yourself a target. You see your friends and relatives getting killed daily without knowing who is doing that and why. What happened was just part of the deteriorating situation in Iraq. After the fall of the regime we thought Iraq was going to be a big workshop, then we ended up in a situation which is ten times worse than it used to be under Saddam.”

Pat Robertson's Katrina Cash
...Far from the media's gaze, Robertson has used the tax-exempt, nonprofit Operation Blessing as a front for his shadowy financial schemes, while exerting his influence within the GOP to cover his tracks. In 1994 he made an emotional plea on The 700 Club for cash donations to Operation Blessing to support airlifts of refugees from the Rwandan civil war to Zaire (now Congo). Reporter Bill Sizemore of The Virginian Pilot later discovered that Operation Blessing's planes were transporting diamond-mining equipment for the African Development Corporation, a Robertson-owned venture initiated with the cooperation of Zaire's then-dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.

After a lengthy investigation, Virginia's Office of Consumer Affairs determined that Robertson "willfully induced contributions from the public through the use of misleading statements and other implications." Yet when the office called for legal action against Robertson in 1999, Virginia Attorney General Mark Earley, a Republican, intervened with his own report, agreeing that Robertson had made deceptive appeals but overruling the recommendation for his prosecution. Two years earlier, while Virginia's investigation was gathering steam, Robertson donated $35,000 to Earley's campaign--Earley's largest contribution. With Earley's report came a sense of vindication. "From the very beginning," Robertson claimed, "we were trying to provide help and assistance to those who were facing disease and death in the war-torn, chaotic nation of Zaire."

(Earley is now president of Prison Fellowship Ministries, an evangelical social-work organization founded by born-again, former Nixon dirty-trickster Charles Colson. PFM has accepted White House faith-based-initiative money and is currently engaged in hurricane relief efforts in Louisiana. Earley remains a close ally of Robertson.)

Absolved of his sins, Robertson dug his heels back in African soil. In 1999 he signed an $8 million agreement with Liberian tyrant Charles Taylor that guaranteed Robertson's Freedom Gold Ltd.--an offshore company registered to the same address as his Christian Broadcasting Network--mining rights in Liberia, and gave Taylor a 10 percent stake in the company. When the United States intervened in Liberia in 2003, forcing Taylor and the Al Qaeda operatives he was harboring to flee, Robertson accused President Bush of "undermining a Christian, Baptist president to bring in Muslim rebels to take over the country."

Robertson's scheming hasn't abated one bit. He is accused of violating his ministry's tax-exempt, nonprofit status by using it to market a diet shake he licensed this August to the health chain General Nutrition Corp. (Robertson continues to advertise the shake on his personal website.) He has withstood criticism from fellow evangelicals for investing $520,000 in a racehorse named Mr. Pat, violating biblical admonitions against gambling. He was even accused of "Jim Crow-style racial discrimination" by black employees who successfully sued his Christian Coalition in 2001 for forcing them enter its offices through a back door and eat in a segregated area (Robertson has since resigned). ...

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Katrina-ism 6.0: the triumph of government?
...We've got a million or so human beings living in a low-lying area created in the first place by government engineers. The local government of New Orleans, apprised of an approaching storm, summarily orders everybody out of the city about 36 hours too late without lifting a finger to provide the means to do so. At the last minute it occurs to somebody to herd those left behind into a large government-built structure, the Superdome; no supplies are on hand for its inhabitants, and the structure itself is rendered--according to the government's assessment--permanently useless. Even though the storm misses the city, government-built levees fail in unforeseen and catastrophic ways. Many of the New Orleans cops opportunistically quit their jobs, many more simply fail to show up for work, others take the lead in looting supplies from storm-stricken neighbourhoods, and just a few have the notable good grace to shoot themselves in the head. The federal government announces that assistance is on its way, sometime; local and state authorities--who have the clear-cut burden of "first response" under federal guidelines nobody seems to have read--beg for the feds to hurry up while (a) engaging in bureaucratic pissing-matches behind the scenes and (b) making life difficult for the private agencies who are beating the feds to the scene. Eventually the federal government shows up with the National Guard, and to the uniform indignation and surprise of those who have been screaming for it, the Guard turns out to have a troubling tendency to point weapons in the general direction of civilians and reporters. I'm not real clear on who starts doing what around mid-week, but the various hydra-heads of government start developing amusing hobbies; confiscating guns from civilians, demanding that photographers stop documenting the aftermath of America's worst natural disaster in a century, enforcing this demand by seizing cameras at gunpoint, shutting down low-power broadcasting stations in shelters, and stealing supplies from relief agencies and private citizens. In the wake of all this, there is probably no single provision of the U.S. Constitution left untrampled, the Posse Comitatus Act appears destined for a necktie party, and the 49% of Americans who have been complaining for five years about George W. Bush being a dictator are now vexed to the point of utter incoherence because for the last fortnight he has failed to do a sufficiently convincing impression of a dictator.

It's been said that Hurricane Katrina has confirmed pretty much everybody in his pre-existing political beliefs. I can't say the record gives me any reason to change mine. But if I can't have a libertarian paradise where state power defers to social power, or use recent events to urge others to the wisdom of such a state of affairs, I'm willing to propose a second-best for America: replace the three branches of republican government with permanent joint rule by Wal-Mart and the Salvation Army. Go on, tell me you could honestly do worse.

The beauty products from the skin of executed Chinese prisoners
A Chinese cosmetics company is using skin harvested from the corpses of executed convicts to develop beauty products for sale in Europe, an investigation by the Guardian has discovered.

Agents for the firm have told would-be customers it is developing collagen for lip and wrinkle treatments from skin taken from prisoners after they have been shot. The agents say some of the company's products have been exported to the UK, and that the use of skin from condemned convicts is "traditional" and nothing to "make such a big fuss about"....

Has Conservatism Died?
This entire debate about whether or not "conservatism" has advanced or declined under big-spenders like George W. Bush and Tom DeLay seems muddled to me. Here's another possible way of looking at it, which may or may not be right. Bush-style "conservatism" over the past decade, I think, has basically taken up the same aims as DLC-style "liberalism" (or even, in a sense, Lyndon Johnson-style liberalism): you have technocratic elites commandeering the resources of the administrative state to enact their preferred social policies and to steer taxpayer money towards their favored constituents. Obviously, the two sides have somewhat different constituents: Bush favors the capitalist class, the DLC favors the educated professional class. Or whatever. But there you go....

Katrina Exposes Government for What It Is
If a private-sector employee performed as badly as the federal, state, and local governments performed before, during, and after Hurricane Katrina, he would be summarily fired. But the governments will claim their budgets were too small and proceed to extract more money from the taxpayers. That’s how the political world works. And it’s part of the reason that governments perform as miserably as they do.

Hurricane Katrina should finally disabuse people of the idea that government exists to take care of them, especially the most vulnerable. That self-serving promise was never credible. Do we need more evidence that it was a fraud? With guardians like these, who needs enemies? ...

Public Sector Unions
... if the government is such a great institution, that totally eschews profiting from the blood, sweat and toil of the working man, from whence comes the justification of, wait for it, public sector unions? My point here is that these sorts of labor organizations are simply incompatible with the leftist case (articulated above) to the effect that the capitalist is an exploiter, and that the government has rescued the worker from the baleful influence of the corporation. If the state is so wonderful as all that, why the need for a public sector union, all of whose members have the benevolent government as their boss?...

...But what is crystal clear is that the existence of these labor organizations cannot be reconciled with the usual leftist rhetoric about mean-spirited private capitalists and benevolent politicians. Were this the case socialists would defend private unions only. However, they of course do not. This is yet one more bit of evidence attesting to their irrationality.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Security Contractors in Iraq Under Scrutiny After Shootings
IRBIL, Iraq -- The pop of a single rifle shot broke the relative calm of Ali Ismael's morning commute here in one of Iraq's safest cities.

Ismael, his older brother Bayez and their driver had just pulled into traffic behind a convoy of four Chevrolet Suburbans, which police believe belonged to an American security contractor stationed nearby. The back door of the last vehicle swung open, the brothers said in interviews, and a man wearing sunglasses and a tan flak jacket leaned out and leveled his rifle.

"I thought he was just trying to scare us, like they usually do, to keep us back. But then he fired," said Ismael, 20. His scalp was still marked by a bald patch and four-inch purple scar from a bullet that grazed his head and left him bleeding in the back seat of his Toyota Land Cruiser.

"Everything is cloudy after that," he said.

A U.S. investigation of the July 14 incident concluded that no American contractors were responsible, a finding disputed by the Ismaels, other witnesses, local politicians and the city's top security official, who termed it a coverup. No one has yet been held responsible.

Recent shootings of Iraqi civilians, allegedly involving the legion of U.S., British and other foreign security contractors operating in the country, are drawing increasing concern from Iraqi officials and U.S. commanders who say they undermine relations between foreign military forces and Iraqi civilians.

Private security companies pervade Iraq's dusty highways, their distinctive sport-utility vehicles packed with men waving rifles to clear traffic in their path. Theirs are among the most dangerous jobs in the country: escorting convoys, guarding dignitaries and protecting infrastructure from insurgent attacks. But their activities have drawn scrutiny both here and in Washington after allegations of indiscriminate shootings and other recklessness have given rise to charges of inadequate oversight.

"These guys run loose in this country and do stupid stuff. There's no authority over them, so you can't come down on them hard when they escalate force," said Brig. Gen. Karl R. Horst, deputy commander of the 3rd Infantry Division, which is responsible for security in and around Baghdad. "They shoot people, and someone else has to deal with the aftermath. It happens all over the place."

No tally of such incidents has been made public, and Aegis, a British security company that helps manage contractors in Baghdad and maintains an operations center in the capital's fortified Green Zone, declined to answer questions. In the rare instances when police reports are filed, the U.S. military is often blamed for the actions of private companies, according to Adnan Asadi, the deputy interior minister responsible for overseeing security companies.

"People always say the Army did it, and even our police don't always know the difference," he said.

The shootings became so frequent in Baghdad this summer that Horst started keeping his own count in a white spiral notebook he uses to record daily events. Between May and July, he said, he tracked at least a dozen shootings of civilians by contractors, in which six Iraqis were killed and three wounded. The bloodiest case came on May 12 in the neighborhood of New Baghdad. A contractor opened fire on an approaching car, which then veered into a crowd. Two days after the incident, American soldiers patrolling the same block were attacked with a roadside bomb.

On May 14, in another part of the city, private security guards working for the U.S. Embassy shot and killed at least one Iraqi civilian while transporting diplomats from the Green Zone, according to an embassy official who spoke on condition he not be named. Two security contractors were dismissed from their jobs over the incident.

Employees of private security firms are immune from prosecution in Iraq, under an order adopted into law last year by Iraq's interim government. The most severe punishment that can be applied to them is revocation of their license and dismissal from their job, U.S. officials said. Their heavy presence stems in large part from the Pentagon's attempts to keep troop numbers down by privatizing jobs that would once have been performed by American forces....

Sunday, September 11, 2005

GloboCop Runs Amok: Bipartisan Foolishness in U.S. Foreign Policy
Most books on American foreign policy reflect the underlying and unstated consensus assumptions of the U.S. foreign-affairs establishment. Democrats and Republicans are passionate in criticizing each other's approach to world affairs, but that criticism is usually constrained by those common assumptions.

For example, liberals have heavily criticized President George W. Bush's "pre-emptive" -- actually, preventive -- war on terrorism and his invasion of Iraq. Yet President Bill Clinton threatened preventive war with North Korea if that nation failed to freeze its nuclear-weapons program (a harder line than the Bush administration has taken), bombed Serbia during its civil war in the province of Kosovo, and threatened an invasion of Haiti unless Jean-Bertrand Aristide was restored to power. Although Bush may win the prize for the most ill-advised overseas armed intervention, Clinton can take a bow for the greatest number of military excursions by any recent president.

Both of them, all of their recent Democratic and Republican predecessors, and most foreign-policy analysts in both parties are operating on a century-old set of principles derived from Christian missionaries sent abroad to save savage peoples from themselves. Those notions were first incorporated into U.S. government policy during the presidencies of William McKinley, a Republican, and Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat. During the Spanish-American War, McKinley wanted, at least ostensibly, to bring Christianity to the Philippines even though the islands were already predominantly Catholic. Wilson, the son of a minister, converted this overtly religious quest into a more secular version of saving implicitly inferior peoples. He believed U.S. military power should be used overseas to fight the "war to end all wars" (World War I) and to teach other peoples to "elect good men" (during his military meddling south of the U.S. border). Although the revulsion at the mass carnage of World War I temporarily interrupted the permanent enshrinement of Wilsonianism as U.S. foreign policy, Wilson has had the most enduring foreign-policy legacy of any president in the modern age. After World War II, both Democratic and Republican presidents copied his use of U.S. military power to remake the world in the American image.

Whether a president has been a leftward-leaning Wilsonian like Clinton or Lyndon Johnson, or a rightward-leaning Wilsonian like Ronald Reagan and the two George Bushes, U.S. policy has been fairly consistent: an activist overuse of the powerful U.S. military to intervene in the affairs of other nations....

After 4 years, new 9/11 revelations
Call it closure of a sort - at least for some. On the fourth anniversary of the terrorist attacks that killed thousands and felled this city's most prominent buildings, what turned out to be the final minutes of life for many of the firefighters at the front lines of emergency rescue efforts are clearer than they were.

The firefighters had 29 minutes to get out of the World Trade Center or die. Inside the north tower, though, almost none of them realized how urgent it had become to leave.

They had no idea that less than 200 feet, or 60 meters, away, the south tower had already collapsed in a life-crushing, earth-shaking heap. Nor did the firefighters know that their commanders on the street, and police helicopter pilots in the sky, were warning that the north tower was on the edge of the same fate.

Until last month, the extent of their isolation from critical information in the final 29 minutes had officially been a secret. For three and a half years, Mayor Michael Bloomberg refused to release the Fire Department's oral histories of Sept. 11, 2001. Under court order, however, 12,000 pages were made public in August.

On close review, those accounts give a bleaker version of events than either Bloomberg or former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani presented to the 9/11 Commission. Both had said that many of the firefighters who perished in the north tower realized the terrible danger of the moment but chose to stay in the building to rescue civilians.

They made no mention of what one oral history after another starkly relates: that firefighters in the building said they were "clueless" and knew "absolutely nothing" about the reality of the gathering crisis. In stairwells or resting on floors, they could not see what had happened or hear clearly stated warnings....

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Private Industry, Private Citizens, to Gulf's Rescue
Ordinary Americans and companies large and small from across the country are reaching out by the thousands to offer flood victims their time, talents and financial resources. It will take a long time for some communities to recover from Hurricane Katrina, but we are once again witnessing that the most effective compassion comes from the private sector.

While Americans are reaching out, the media are pointing fingers. The media always seem to point first at the federal government’s response in times of national tragedy – demanding that federal agencies do more, spend more and send more.

An example is a Sept. 2 ABC News/Washington Post poll. The pollsters were so blinded by their bias that all they could see was the federal government’s response in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Their questions focused on placing blame on President Bush and asked people whether the government’s response left them “angry; proud; ashamed; hopeful; or shocked.”

A hallmark of our free market economic system is that when individuals work on pursuing their dreams, in this case rebuilding cities and states, the positive effects ripple throughout the economy. Together, those dreams lift a society.

It’s been widely reported that Home Depot’s stock value rose with the floodwaters. But the story behind that is exactly what USA Today reported on Sept. 1: the company’s massive effort to stock stores in the devastated region and to prepare for a speedy response. As USAToday’s Julie Schmit wrote, “Plywood makers are cranking up production. Contractors and laborers are lining up to enter the area. Retailers are redirecting products from as far as Wisconsin to the gulf region.”

Without a free economic market, the companies that can help the most wouldn’t have the incentive to hurry to the scene. They know their products and services will be needed – so they’re doing all they can to assist those who want to begin the rebuilding process.

Of course, plenty of companies aren’t solely concerned with demand for their products and services. They’re going above and beyond to provide huge amounts of charitable assistance. In a commendable Sept. 4 article, The Washington Post told the tale of corporate generosity in Hurricane Katrina’s wake. The outpouring has included everyone from blanket manufacturers to wireless communications providers to toymakers.

In addition to its quick response efforts, Home Depot and its foundation donated $1.6 million.

I hope Americans will notice that some of the often-maligned corporations -- which the media and the liberals hate for making money -- have given some of the biggest gifts. Wal-Mart pledged $15 million. U.S. drug companies have donated more than $25 million in cash and pharmaceutical supplies.

And what about the oil companies, whom the media continually vilify for profiting from gasoline? The Post reported that Exxon Mobil has pledged $7 million; ConocoPhillips and Shell $3 million apiece; Marathon Oil $1.5 million, and the BP Foundation $1 million. Guess where all that disaster-aid money came from? Profits from gasoline.

But will the media recognize that corporate profits are used for corporate charity? It’s doubtful. They don’t want to admit that America’s marketplace encourages success, which in turn allows the successful to be charitable. It’s times like these when that truth is most obvious....

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Frustrated: Fire crews to hand out fliers for FEMA
ATLANTA - Not long after some 1,000 firefighters sat down for eight hours of training, the whispering began: "What are we doing here?"

As New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin pleaded on national television for firefighters - his own are exhausted after working around the clock for a week - a battalion of highly trained men and women sat idle Sunday in a muggy Sheraton Hotel conference room in Atlanta.

Many of the firefighters, assembled from Utah and throughout the United States by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, thought they were going to be deployed as emergency workers.

Instead, they have learned they are going to be community-relations officers for FEMA, shuffled throughout the Gulf Coast region to disseminate fliers and a phone number: 1-800-621-FEMA....

...The firefighters, several of whom are from Utah, were told to bring backpacks, sleeping bags, first-aid kits and Meals Ready to Eat. They were told to prepare for "austere conditions." Many of them came with awkward fire gear and expected to wade in floodwaters, sift through rubble and save lives.

"They've got people here who are search-and-rescue certified, paramedics, haz-mat certified," said a Texas firefighter. "We're sitting in here having a sexual-harassment class while there are still [victims] in Louisiana who haven't been contacted yet." ...

Money Flowed to Questionable Projects
State Leads in Army Corps Spending, but Millions Had Nothing to Do With Floods

Before Hurricane Katrina breached a levee on the New Orleans Industrial Canal, the Army Corps of Engineers had already launched a $748 million construction project at that very location. But the project had nothing to do with flood control. The Corps was building a huge new lock for the canal, an effort to accommodate steadily increasing barge traffic.

Except that barge traffic on the canal has been steadily decreasing.

In Katrina's wake, Louisiana politicians and other critics have complained about paltry funding for the Army Corps in general and Louisiana projects in particular. But over the five years of President Bush's administration, Louisiana has received far more money for Corps civil works projects than any other state, about $1.9 billion; California was a distant second with less than $1.4 billion, even though its population is more than seven times as large.

Much of that Louisiana money was spent to try to keep low-lying New Orleans dry. But hundreds of millions of dollars have gone to unrelated water projects demanded by the state's congressional delegation and approved by the Corps, often after economic analyses that turned out to be inaccurate. Despite a series of independent investigations criticizing Army Corps construction projects as wasteful pork-barrel spending, Louisiana's representatives have kept bringing home the bacon.

For example, after a $194 million deepening project for the Port of Iberia flunked a Corps cost-benefit analysis, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) tucked language into an emergency Iraq spending bill ordering the agency to redo its calculations. ...

The Deadly Legacy of the Welfare State Lies in New Orleans
Among the most tragic scenes in the Hurricane Katrina disaster was that of the thousands of poor people – almost all of whom were African Americans – who were stranded at the New Orleans Superdome and Convention Center, desperately waiting for the federal government to come and save them.

Why were they stuck there when thousands of others had already left the city? Because they were too poor to save themselves from death and disaster. They lacked the money to drive out of town and get a motel room for a few days before the hurricane struck.

Leftists are now saying that the New Orleans disaster shows that federal-government assistance to the poor and needy is more necessary than ever.

What in the world could leftists be thinking? It is leftist economic ideology – reinforced unfortunately by modern-day conservative “reform” philosophy – that is responsible for the horrible economic plight in which the New Orleans poor find themselves.

After all, don’t forget: The economic situation in New Orleans comes 70 years after President Franklin D. Roosevelt converted the federal government into a welfare provider for the poor and needy. Under FDR, the primary purpose of the federal government became to relieve poverty through the coercive confiscation of wealth from “the rich” in order to redistribute the money to “the poor.” This was the era in which Americans witnessed the advent of Social Security, a bankrupt tax-and-transfer program that ultimately became the crown jewel of the socialistic welfare state.

Thirty years after the New Deal came Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, in which Johnson declared “war on poverty” all across America. Here we saw the advent of Medicare and Medicaid along with hundreds of other federal programs whose supposed aim was to abolish poverty, once and for all.

Decade after decade, the federal government became a massively growing tax-and-spend engine that sucked trillions of dollars of income and savings out of the pockets of the American people in order to fund ever-growing federal programs to “help the poor.”

And now New Orleans. Here in its spectacular glory is the magnificent result of 70 years of the welfare state – of the federal “war on poverty.” Tens of thousands of people lacking sufficient money to enable them to escape oncoming disaster for just a few days – dependent on the federal government for their salvation – desperately waiting for federal officials to deliver food and water to them – and to pick them up and deliver them to government-run refugee centers around the nation.

In other words, the 70-year-old New Deal–Great Society “war on poverty” has left tens of thousands of people destitute (or dead) in New Orleans and looking to the federal government for their salvation.

Yet, according to leftist commentators, this just confirms that we need to wage the federal “war on poverty” more fiercely than ever before.

What deadly and destructive leftist nonsense! ...

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

When the Catastrophe Is Government
...Sept. 11 is no longer the most catastrophic failure of government in my lifetime. Its response to Hurricane Katrina is. Government at all levels, run by both parties, regardless of race, inexcusably failed to secure the safety of the people of New Orleans. The lesson here is not the failure of one party or the other. The lesson here is the failure of government.

Despite decades of knowing what a Category 4 or 5 hurricane could do to New Orleans, for example, local officials failed to have an adequate evacuation plan in place. The dispossessed were shuffled off to the Superdome with no security, and little food or water. There was no effort at organization, dissemination of information, or order. The state government failed to amass state resources to aid in the evacuation of people with no means to get out. Inexcusably, both state and local officials made the exact same mistakes they made in response to Hurricane Ivan, just a year earlier. And they'd made similar mistakes in 1998, with Hurricane Georges.

The federal government's shortcomings have been widely reported. They include the symbolic: After the storm hit, President Bush strummed a guitar at a fundraiser, invoking comparisons to Nero. He couldn't cut the last few days of his five-week vacation. Vice President Cheney returned from his vacation six days after the storm hit.

They include cronyism: FEMA Director Michael Brown was brought into the organization after having been fired from his previous job directing horse shows. He had no emergency management experience, and seems to have been hired because he was the college buddy of President Bush's pal Joe Allbaugh (who now runs a firm that consults companies on how to win contracts from FEMA and other federal agencies).

And of course they include incompetence: The inexcusable ignorance of FEMA and DHS officials about events that had been in the news for days. And have a look at this chart. It's the power structure of the federal government's emergency response system. Is it any wonder why it took days to get help to people stranded in floodwaters?

Much of that chart was in direct response to Sept. 11. And many of the changes in response to Sept. 11 — including moving FEMA under the auspices of DHS — exacerbated the government failure last week. If after four years of preparation, this is the DHS response to a disaster that was foreseeable for years, and that it had days to prepare for, one shudders to think how the agency will respond to a surprise terrorist attack.

The Army Corps of Engineers began the task of shoring up Lake Ponchartrain decades ago. Administrations and Congresses controlled by both parties had ample opportunity to ensure the task was completed. They had other priorities. When the federal government took over the responsibility to protect New Orleans, it effectively shut out any private or local efforts that may have emerged to upgrade the levee system.

If a consortium of corporations and businesses with assets in New Orleans had gotten together in the 1960s and hired a private firm to protect their investments from a flood, the project would have been completed in a matter of years, at most. Don't believe me? Look at the past week. Private ingenuity has flourished where government response has failed.

By Wednesday of last week, the Hyatt company had sent food and supplies from its Atlanta and Houston hotels to its hotel in New Orleans. The New Orleans Hyatt is less than half a mile from the convention center, an area of the city local and federal government officials said was inaccessible. Oil companies had sent crews in to begin repairs of rigs and refineries on Monday. Television reporters, news crews, even Harry Connick, Jr. managed to navigate through a city the government said was too perilous for relief efforts.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune noted that by Thursday, WalMart had delivered thirteen trucks of supplies while government bureaucrats were still ringing their hands. By the time the federal government finally marched into New Orleans, the Red Cross had sheltered over 130,000 people, and delivered more than 2.5 million meals. By the time military brigades began rescuing people from rooftops, ordinary citizens had saved thousands with private boats.

While government bureaucrats dawdled, politicians covered their rumps, and partisans played the blame game, civil society — private entities — got to the business of helping people. What's worse, in some cases, government prevented the private dissemination of aid. Wal-Mart had three water trucks in New Orleans almost immediately after the hurricane hit. FEMA turned them away. The Red Cross reported on its website that federal and local officials had barred the organization from actually entering New Orleans. Same with the Salvation Army.

One doctor told the Associated Press, "There are entire hospitals that are contacting me, saying, 'We need to take on patients,' but they can't get through the bureaucracy. The crime of this story is, you've got millions of dollars in assets and it's not deployed. We mount a better response in a Third World country."

There should certainly be accountability here. The bureaucrats who failed should be fired. The political appointees who didn't live up to their responsibilities should be dismissed. And one can only hope that the negligent politicians will be punished at the ballot box. But more fundamentally, we need to recognize that this is not so much a failure of individuals as it was a fundamental failure of government — at its most basic and important responsibility, no less. The last time government failed on so large a scale, we reinvigorated our trust in that same government to protect us. We do so again at our peril.

Last week, a blogger named Nicholas Weininger put it best, in words I wish I had written. Observing the tales of individual heroism, private initiative, and generosity coming out of the hurricane-damaged areas, Weininger wrote:

"Rarely has it been so clear how much we, the ordinary people of this country, are better than our rulers. I hope that lesson is not lost on anyone, of any political persuasion."

Did God send Katrina as judgment for Gaza?
Eerie parallels between forced evacuations spark speculation

JERUSALEM – While most religious authorities seem to agree one cannot discern the intentions of God, there has been talk in some circles here and on the Internet that the storm that turned parts of the Gulf Coast into a disaster zone, prompting hundreds of thousands to evacuate their homes and possibly causing upwards of 10,000 deaths, was thrust upon the U.S. for its support of the Gaza evacuation.

"Katrina is a consequence of the destruction of [Gaza's] Gush Katif [slate of Jewish communities] with America's urging and encouragement," Rabbi Avraham Shmuel Lewin, executive director of the Rabbinic Congress for Peace, told WND. "The U.S. should have discouraged Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon from implementing the Gaza evacuation rather than pushing for it and pressuring Israel into concessions." ...

..."We don't have prophets who can tell us exactly what are God's ways, but when we see something so enormous as Katrina, I would say [President] Bush and [Secretary of State Condoleezza] Rice need to make an accounting of their actions, because something was done wrong by America in a big way. And here there are many obvious connections between the storm and the Gaza evacuation, which came right on top of each other. No one has permission to take away one inch of the land of Israel from the Jewish people."...

...Now, Garlitzky and many others here and on the Internet are pointing to what they call eerie similarities between Katrina and the evacuation of Gush Katif, including parallels in events, names and numbers...

Wal-Mart at Forefront of Hurricane Relief
At 8 a.m. on Wednesday, as New Orleans filled with water, Wal-Mart chief executive H. Lee Scott Jr. called an emergency meeting of his top lieutenants and warned them he did not want a "measured response" to the hurricane.

"I want us to respond in a way appropriate to our size and the impact we can have," he said, according to an executive who attended the meeting. At the time, Wal-Mart had pledged $2 million to the relief efforts. "Should it be $10 million?" Scott asked.

Over the next few days, Wal-Mart's response to Katrina -- an unrivaled $20 million in cash donations, 1,500 truckloads of free merchandise, food for 100,000 meals and the promise of a job for every one of its displaced workers -- has turned the chain into an unexpected lifeline for much of the Southeast and earned it near-universal praise at a time when the company is struggling to burnish its image.

While state and federal officials have come under harsh criticism for their handling of the storm's aftermath, Wal-Mart is being held up as a model for logistical efficiency and nimble disaster planning, which have allowed it to quickly deliver staples such as water, fuel and toilet paper to thousands of evacuees.

In Brookhaven, Miss., for example, where Wal-Mart operates a vast distribution center, the company had 45 trucks full of goods loaded and ready for delivery before Katrina made landfall. To keep operating near capacity, Wal-Mart secured a special line at a nearby gas station to ensure that its employees could make it to work.

Wal-Mart has much to gain though its conspicuous largesse -- it has hundreds of stores in Gulf Coast states and an image problem across the country -- but even those who have criticized the company in the past are impressed....

...During a tearful interview on "Meet the Press" on Sunday, Aaron F. Broussard, president of Jefferson Parish in the New Orleans suburbs, told host Tim Russert that if "the American government would have responded like Wal-Mart has responded, we wouldn't be in this crisis."...

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Katrina Blame
...The actions and inactions of Gov. Blanco and Mayor Nagin are a national disgrace due to their failure to implement the previously established evacuation plans of the state and city. Gov. Blanco and Mayor Nagin cannot claim that they were surprised by the extent of the damage and the need to evacuate so many people. Detailed written plans were already in place to evacuate more than a million people. The plans projected that 300,000 people would need transportation in the event of a hurricane like Katrina. If the plans had been implemented, thousands of lives would likely have been saved....

The city's evacuation plan states: "The city of New Orleans will utilize all available resources to quickly and safely evacuate threatened areas." But even though the city has enough school and transit buses to evacuate 12,000 citizens per fleet run, the mayor did not use them. To compound the problem, the buses were not moved to high ground and were flooded. The plan also states that "special arrangements will be made to evacuate persons unable to transport themselves or who require specific lifesaving assistance. Additional personnel will be recruited to assist in evacuation procedures as needed." This was not done....

George Bush's Lethal Hostility to Big Government
Paul Krugman offers the least plausible explanation I've seen so far for the federal government's slow response to Hurricane Katrina...

Don't Let Paul Krugman Win This Debate
Paul Krugman says the last week's tragedy was caused by people who don't believe in government....

...Krugman's making two false assumptions, here. The first is that the ruling GOP doesn't believe in government. In Iraq, this administration believes it can build a liberal soceity from scratch. It believes government can save marriages, convert convicts to Christianity, eradicate the drug supply, save public schools through nationalized testing, stop unwed sex by teaching abstinence, and solve the problem of high drug prices by forcing the rest of the country to pay for the medication of elderly people. That's an off-the-top-of-my-head list. This is an administration that has added an entire cabinet department to the federal rolls (also the largest bureaucracy in the history of U.S. government), spent money at record levels, expanded the regulatory state, and -- at the same time -- has been the most secretive administration in American history. If Krugman believes these to be signs of an administration, political party, and philosophy with "contempt" for government, I'd hate to see what "faith in government" looks like.

Krugman's second false assumption is more egregious. And that is that cronyism is somehow limited to the right, or to limited-government types. Please. The bigger the government, the more corrupt the government. I'll make no attempt to defend the appointment of Michael Brown. Nor will I attempt to absolve the Bush administration of charges of cronyism. They're as guilty as every previous administration. But they are as guilty as every previous administration. Cronyism isn't symptomatic of those of us who distrust government, cronyism is endemic to government. Corruption and backscratching are part and parcel of government. They are the very nature of government. They are one of many reasons why those of us who hold contempt for government -- well -- hold contempt for government.

Here's a question for Krugman: The Army Corps of Engineers set out on the task of shoring up those levees on the outskirts of New Orleans in the 1960s. The federal government had taken responsibility for the system in the 1920s. Forty years later, after both parties have held both the White House and the Congress, that task was never completed. Despite, repeated warnings, we finally paid the price for massive government incompetence.

So what if government had never gotten involved? Does anyone think that if corporations with assets to protect in Southern Louisiana weren't protected by federalized flood insurance, and if the federal government hadn't assumed responsibility to keep Lake Ponchartrain at bay, it would have taken forty years to fix those levees? Anyone else suspect the levees would never have fallen into disrepair in the first place? My guess is that anyone with business in the area would have invested to protect his investment. There may still have been damage. But not wholesale devastation....

...This is important. We lost the debate after 9/11. Massive government failure inexplicably led to a massive expansion of the government. One result of that expansion -- puting FEMA under the bureaucratic nightmare auspices of DHS -- likely contributed to the futility we've seen over the last week. A government-planned Brasilia-like New New Orleans would be an atrocity. The Paul Krugmans -- or the Jonathan Alters -- simply can't win this debate.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Insurgents Seize Key Town in Iraq
Al Qaeda in Iraq's Black Banner Flying From Rooftops

BAGHDAD, Sept. 5 -- Abu Musab Zarqawi's foreign-led Al Qaeda in Iraq took open control of a key western town at the Syrian border, deploying its guerrilla fighters in the streets and flying Zarqawi's black banner from rooftops, tribal leaders and other residents in the city and surrounding villages said.

A sign newly posted at the entrance of Qaim declared, "Welcome to the Islamic Kingdom of Qaim." A statement posted in mosques described Qaim as an "Islamic kingdom liberated from the occupation."

Zarqawi's fighters were killing officials and civilians seen as government-allied or anti-Islamic, witnesses, residents and others said. On Sunday, the bullet-riddled body of a woman lay in a street of Qaim. A sign left on her corpse declared, "A prostitute who was punished."

Zarqawi's fighters had shot to death nine men in public executions in the city center since the weekend, accusing the men of being spies and collaborators for U.S. forces, said Sheikh Nawaf Mahallawi, a leader of a Sunni Arab tribe, the Albu Mahal, that had battled the foreign fighters.

Dozens of families were fleeing Qaim daily, Mahallawi said.

"It would be insane to attack Zarqawi's people, even to shoot one bullet at them," Mahallawi said. "We cannot attack them. But we will not stand still if they attack us. We hope the U.S. forces end this in the coming days. We want the city to go back to its normal situation."

U.S. Marine spokesman Capt. Jeffrey Pool in Ramadi, capital of the western province that includes Qaim, said Marines in the area of Qaim had no word of any unusual activity in Qaim. Numerous Marines are stationed near the town, although Marines said they were not involved in recent ground fighting between pro-government tribal fighters and Zarqawi's group....

Civil Society Steps Up
As the local, state, and federal government has abdicated its responsibility to protect its people, evil Big Business has taken up the slack. We've already noted here how Wal-Mart managed to get thirteen tractor trailers full of supplies to hurricane victims even as the federal government insisted that accessing the area was impossible (only to be turned away by FEMA). The Washington Post takes note of what else corporate America has done...

Yet another example not only of the federal government failing to fulfill the responsibilities it assigned to itself, but as with the Red Cross, getting in the way of private efforts to provide relief....

...Again, abolutely criminal acts on the part of federal officials. The government let people die not only through its inaction, but it killed more people by preventing private entities from taking up matters on their own.

The next time someone tries to make the argument that only government can help in times like these, remind them that it is private actors who were on the scene while the federal government played bureaucratic games. That is, until the federal government stepped in and stopped them.

Ben Franklin Had the Right Idea for New Orleans
Why is New Orleans in so much worse shape today than New York City was after the attacks on Sept. 11?

The short answer is that New York was attacked by fire, not water. But then why are urbanites so much better prepared to cope with fire than with flooding? Mostly because they learned to fight fire without any help from the Army Corps of Engineers or the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

For most of history, fire was far more feared than flooding. Cities repeatedly burned to the ground. Those catastrophes occurred sporadically enough that politicians must have been tempted to skimp on fire protection - like levee maintenance, it was a long-term investment against a calamity that probably wouldn't occur before they left office.

But urbanites learned to protect themselves through two innovations Benjamin Franklin introduced to America. He started a fire department in Philadelphia, as well as its first fire insurance company. Other cities followed, often with the firefighters organized by insurance companies with a vested interest in encouraging public safety.

Their customers had a vested interest, too, because they had to pay higher premiums if they lived in homes or neighborhoods that were prone to fire. As fire insurance became a standard requirement for homeowners, they and their insurance companies kept pressure on politicians to finance firefighting and tighten building codes.

As a result, the risk of a fire leveling a city like New York is lower than ever. Although the number of fires has dropped so much that experts routinely advise cities to close firehouses, voters' fondness for the stations makes local politicians loath to close any.

But as we've learned this week, few people seem to care passionately about maintaining levees or preparing for a predictable flood. They've left that to Washington, which promised to hold back the waters and absolved coastal dwellers from worrying about hurricanes.

Starting in the 1960's, the federal government took over the business of insuring against floods. It offered subsidized insurance to people in flood-prone areas, encouraging seaside homes that never would have been built otherwise. Even at bargain rates, most people went without flood insurance - only about a third of the homes in New Orleans carried it.

People don't bother to protect themselves because they figure - correctly - that if disaster strikes they'll be reimbursed anyway by FEMA. It gives out money so freely that it has grown into one of the great vote-buying tools of the modern presidency. Bill Clinton set a record for declaring disasters, and then President Bush set the single-state spending record in Florida before last year's election. ...

Ben Franklin Had the Right Idea for New Orleans
Why is New Orleans in so much worse shape today than New York City was after the attacks on Sept. 11?

The short answer is that New York was attacked by fire, not water. But then why are urbanites so much better prepared to cope with fire than with flooding? Mostly because they learned to fight fire without any help from the Army Corps of Engineers or the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

For most of history, fire was far more feared than flooding. Cities repeatedly burned to the ground. Those catastrophes occurred sporadically enough that politicians must have been tempted to skimp on fire protection - like levee maintenance, it was a long-term investment against a calamity that probably wouldn't occur before they left office.

But urbanites learned to protect themselves through two innovations Benjamin Franklin introduced to America. He started a fire department in Philadelphia, as well as its first fire insurance company. Other cities followed, often with the firefighters organized by insurance companies with a vested interest in encouraging public safety.

Their customers had a vested interest, too, because they had to pay higher premiums if they lived in homes or neighborhoods that were prone to fire. As fire insurance became a standard requirement for homeowners, they and their insurance companies kept pressure on politicians to finance firefighting and tighten building codes.

As a result, the risk of a fire leveling a city like New York is lower than ever. Although the number of fires has dropped so much that experts routinely advise cities to close firehouses, voters' fondness for the stations makes local politicians loath to close any.

But as we've learned this week, few people seem to care passionately about maintaining levees or preparing for a predictable flood. They've left that to Washington, which promised to hold back the waters and absolved coastal dwellers from worrying about hurricanes.

Starting in the 1960's, the federal government took over the business of insuring against floods. It offered subsidized insurance to people in flood-prone areas, encouraging seaside homes that never would have been built otherwise. Even at bargain rates, most people went without flood insurance - only about a third of the homes in New Orleans carried it.

People don't bother to protect themselves because they figure - correctly - that if disaster strikes they'll be reimbursed anyway by FEMA. It gives out money so freely that it has grown into one of the great vote-buying tools of the modern presidency. Bill Clinton set a record for declaring disasters, and then President Bush set the single-state spending record in Florida before last year's election. ...

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Law Officers, Overwhelmed, Are Quitting the Force
NEW ORLEANS, Sept. 3 - Reeling from the chaos of this overwhelmed city, at least 200 New Orleans police officers have walked away from their jobs and two have committed suicide, police officials said on Saturday.

Some officers told their superiors they were leaving, police officials said. Others worked for a while and then stopped showing up. Still others, for reasons not always clear, never made it in after the storm....

...A Baton Rouge police officer said he had a friend on the New Orleans force who told him he threw his badge out a car window in disgust just after fleeing the city into neighboring Jefferson Parish as the hurricane approached. The Baton Rouge officer would not give his name, citing a department policy banning comments to the news media.

The officer said he had also heard of an incident in which two men in a New Orleans police cruiser were stopped in Baton Rouge on suspicion of driving a stolen squad car. The men were, in fact, New Orleans officers who had ditched their uniforms and were trying to reach a town in north Louisiana, the officer said.

"They were doing everything to get out of New Orleans," he said. "They didn't have the resources to do the job, or a plan, so they left."...

Moving Toward Drying Out
...For three days, Corps officials had lamented the difficulty of gaining access to the canal, but yesterday a local contractor, Boh Bros. Construction Co., apparently drove to the mouth of the canal and started placing a set of steel sheet pilings to isolate the canal from the lake. This job was finished yesterday afternoon....