Sunday, September 25, 2005

More Kinky thoughts

Army Reserve officer Kris Alexander, on the ground for Hurricane Rita in Texas, asks:
I'm no big fan of Rick Perry, but do we really think that "Governor Kinky" is remotely a good idea? Government counts and governing well is hard. How about we start asking Kinky some tough questions to see if he’s really the guy who we want running things the next time a CAT5 is rumbling towards us?
It's hard to argue with that. I have assumed that (a) most folks who vote for Kinky will be people who would not vote if he weren't running, and (b) there won't be a lot of them. But I haven't been paying attention to Texas politics lately, so I might have it wrong.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

"Why the Hell Not?"

Should it annoy me that Kinky Friedman's campaign animation is just as shallow as what it criticizes?

Naaah. At least it's shallow with style.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Once in five blue moons

I thought I noticed something unusual in ESPN's score ticker last night.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Clinton Global Initiative

I will be joining other City Year members and alumni by helping out at this conference later in the week.

UPDATE 9/15: Actually, I won't be. But I wanted to.

Monday, September 12, 2005

The expiration of four years

In Washington yesterday afternoon, I stopped by the Lincoln monument. Apparently I just missed this nearby event, although I saw workers breaking Clint Black's stage down.

I return to visit Mr. Lincoln in order to read his two speeches engraved on the walls. Although his monument is always crowded, few tourists bother to read his words.

Only one other person read the Second Inaugural Address with me yesterday. But this passage seemed especially relevant on 9/11/05:
Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself, and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Reflection on Floodweiser

Why did private enterprise appear so ready in the face of catastrophe compared to government? One reason is our lower expectation. Companies like Wal-Mart and Anheuser-Busch aren't required to do anything, so whatever they contribute (click on the image for an example, via Boing Boing) tends to reflect very well on them. By contrast, to paraphrase Tom Delay's floor speech this afternoon, it's hard to provide for whole populations after a crisis, as government (along with the Red Cross, etc.) is expected to do.

This difference in expectations should not, I think, excuse the government's inadequacies, nor should it diminish the laudable actions of corporate donors.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Disasters and democracy

The basic protection of citizens is a fundamental responsibility of government. Furthermore, since 9/11, "security" has been one of the dominant themes in American politics. But Katrina has revealed failures, at several levels, of government preparation for crisis.

Tyler Cowen argues that this is a structural problem of democracies: elected politicians generally lack the incentives to do disaster preparation right. If this is the case, the current outrage over the Katrina aftermath won't translate into adequate planning for future threats. Politicians will continue to be more interested in appearing serious in the short term than in implementing serious, long-term strategies to prevent and mitigate future disasters.

One way we can do better is to create institutions that depoliticize and professionalize our crisis preparations. On the federal level, we already have a model in the Defense Department's Base Realignment and Closure Commission, which makes politically difficult decisions of national importance in a "objective, non-partisan, and independent" manner. Why not develop a similar mechanism to review FEMA/DHS priorities and readiness?

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Forewarned, forearmed?

This morning on the radio, I heard a party hack make the following claim: The NOLA levees were designed to withstand only a Category Three hurricane, but that was an engineering decision made in the 1960s, and therefore the President was not responsible for the late and current suffering.

Is there a logic class we can sign this guy up for? Maybe at Tulane?

Of course the Bush administration was not responsible for decisions made decades ago. But once forecasters predicted that Katrina would strike NOLA as a category four or even five hurricane, government was obliged to prepare for the predictable breach of the levees and the flooding of the city. Only if the breach of the levees was not foreseeable would government be blameless.

Evacuation vs. relief


CCG Spencer, New Orleans, 9/1/05
USCG photo
You'd be forgiven for concluding from the news that government cares more about corporate property than about human lives. Even as the state of Louisiana deployed National Guardsmen against looting in New Orleans, it banned relief agencies from entering the city.

From the Red Cross website:
The state Homeland Security Department had requested--and continues to request--that the American Red Cross not come back into New Orleans following the hurricane. Our presence would keep people from evacuating and encourage others to come into the city.
Don Boudreaux interprets this statement to mean that
government apparently feared that the Red Cross would deliver relief with too much success. Why else would people choose not to leave a destroyed city, and even want to return to it?
Let's get this straight. Relief workers were kept out of NOLA, not because it was inaccessible, but because their entry would have been contrary to a post-disaster plan which prioritized evacuation over relief. This remained the case even while that plan was stumbling and direct relief could have saved lives.

Still not sure? Try this passage from the Times-Picayune's important open letter to the President:
Despite the city’s multiple points of entry, our nation’s bureaucrats spent days after last week’s hurricane wringing their hands, lamenting the fact that they could neither rescue the city’s stranded victims nor bring them food, water and medical supplies.

Meanwhile there were journalists, including some who work for The Times-Picayune, going in and out of the city via the Crescent City Connection. On Thursday morning, that crew saw a caravan of 13 Wal-Mart tractor trailers headed into town to bring food, water and supplies to a dying city.
Wal-Mart allowed in, but not the Red Cross?

Friday, September 02, 2005

Disgrace

The latest news is harrowing:
New Orleans descended into anarchy Thursday as corpses lay abandoned in street medians, fights and fires broke out, cops turned in their badges and the governor declared war on looters who have made the city a menacing landscape of disorder and fear. (From the AP.)
Some half-formed thoughts before I go off-line for a few days:

Reports of the disaster relief, such as it has been, contain both tales of heroism and of shameful incompetence. The same goes for the preparations before Saturday and before Tuesday.

It is hard to escape the conclusion that many of New Orleans' poorest (along with a smattering of other unfortunates) were left to fend for themselves or die, particularly due to inadequate evacuation efforts, both before and after the levees broke. The fact that this situation was unintended makes society no less culpable, reduces our disgrace not one bit.

As for the dead: what do we, as a society, owe to their memories? What comfort, and what explanation, can we offer to those who mourn them?