Thursday, September 29, 2005

Spending Restraint?

We can't write a blank check for Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. Even if the famously corrupt politicians of Louisiana were bypassed and every dollar went for its intended purpose, we can't afford another $60 billion or $200 billion! The web effort to encourage cutting the pork has been substantial - see NZ Bear's Porkbusters - but ignored, as far as we know. Good News! There is a sign of life. In the US Senate, of all places. Bob Novak reports at Real Clear
WASHINGTON -- The Senate was up to its old tricks Monday evening. It prepared to pass, without debate and under a procedure requiring unanimous consent, a federal infusion of $9 billion into state Medicaid programs under the pretext of Katrina relief. The bill, drafted in secret under bipartisan auspices, was stopped cold when Republican Sen. John Ensign voiced his objection. The bill's Democratic sponsors railed in outrage against Ensign, a 47-year-old first-termer from Las Vegas, Nev., who usually keeps a low profile. But he was not acting alone. Ensign belongs to, and, indeed, originated, a small group of Republicans who intend to stand guard on the Senate floor against such raids on the Treasury as Monday night's failure. The group includes Sen. John McCain, who long has tried to wean Republicans from ever greater federal spending but attracted little support from GOP colleagues until recently.
The bill they stopped - or delayed - was pork at its worst. You find a specific need that is widely accepted, then you put your own pet project on it.
The "emergency" Medicaid bill is a classic case of how government grows and spending soars. Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln, concerned by health problems of evacuees in her state of Arkansas, introduced a bill increasing Medicaid funds to the states. The Senate Finance Committee's Republican chairman, Chuck Grassley, and its ranking Democrat, Max Baucus, drafted the scaled-down, $9 billion substitute and marked it for quick passage. No hearings, no debate, no trouble... Ensign noted that Congress had appropriated an extra $62 billion in the wake of Katrina. He pointed to the fact that the bill is a general Medicaid enrichment unrelated to hurricanes. It makes sure that 29 states scheduled for federal Medicaid cuts would be "held harmless" -- that is, would not suffer a reduction. That list is headed by $78 million in extra funds for Alaska.
The Alaska pork master, Don Young, is at it, even in the Senate! The two Republicans from South Carolina are on the team also - Lindey Graham - we are watching him - and Jim DeMint.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Democrats decline influence over court appointments

Our US Senator Cantwell announced that she will vote against John Roberts for Supreme Court Cheif Justice. Seattle Times I think she made a mistake and Senator Leahy of Vermont made a wise move by voting for him. Here is the letter I sent Senator Cantwell today:
Senator Cantwell, Justice Ginsburg got 96 votes in the US Senate. Not because the Republicans supported her positions on issues, but because she was qualified and the president chose her. Why aren't you Democrats as fair as the Republicans? You have shown that you will vote against any nominee of President Bush - even the most qualified. You have shown that you are an extremist. If Roberts had gotten a lot of Democrat votes you would have shown that you judged each individual. And you would have had some sway over future nominees. But since you will vote against anyone you have no influence over Bush. If you want Supreme Court justices that reflect your views then you had better win some elections. President Bush makes court choices, not you senators. Truly, Ron Hebron

Media Low Lights

Cindy Sheehan got a private interview with Senator McCain by lying. Lying. She got to see him because she said she had one of his constituents in her group, but she did not.
He said he might not have met with Sheehan had he known none of his constituents was in the group.
I include this under "media low lights" because she is the creation of the media. See National Review Online's Media Blog NBC supports lying reporters. This is Dan Rather PLUS. On MSNBC's Scarborough Country a Louisiana-based reporter Heath Allen said:
It’s the responsibility of the photojournalist to capture that and put it on television because those people at that point needed help no matter what was true, what was false, what was exaggerated.
And Dan Rather himself is still clinging to the lights, even though they were turned off. RadioBlogger has the transscript of Dan's interview with Marvin Kalb. Here is Duane's intro:
Elder abuse. Oh, sure. I could have come up with some clever title for the staged interview between Marvin Kalb and Dan Rather at George Washington University two nights ago. But after you read and hear these two ponderous dinosaurs talk about what is or isn't journalism, what is or isn't media, and what is or isn't reality with regards to the Bush National Guard story, I'm afraid the reaction in the blogosphere, especially on the conservative side, could easily be considered elder abuse. Want an example of Dan at his most vacuous? Here's 13 of them. If you want to be the Blogger of the Week and needed help, pick one of these and do some analysis.

Monday, September 26, 2005

NOLA - Watch Your Wallet

We need to and intend to rebuild New Orleans, Lousiana. But we have to be careful with our money because Louisiana has a long and wide history of corrupt politicians. John Fund in the Wall Street Journal's Opinion Journal points out today:
In just the past generation, the Pelican State has had a governor, an attorney general, three successive insurance commissioners, a congressman, a federal judge, a state Senate president and a swarm of local officials convicted.
Only Arkansas could match that recent record. ;-) Even one of the levee boards was under investigation at the time Katrina hit. And just this summer:
As for New Orleans, no city in America would better serve its most vulnerable residents with a clean sweep of its institutions. Just this summer, associates of former mayor Marc Morial were indicted for alleged kickbacks involving public contracts. Last month the FBI raided the home and car of Rep. William Jefferson as part of a probe into allegations he had misused his office.
We have to have careful control of the funds we provide. We have to be sure the LA politicians don't pay each other off with our money. Is this partisan politics or reputable oversight?
Despite assurances from President Bush, "the government is fighting this war [on waste] with Civil War weapons, and we're just overwhelmed," Joshua Schwartz, co-director of the George Washington University Law School's procurement law program, told Knight Ridder. Democrats are already scoring political points. Rep. David Obey, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, is lamenting the lack of accountability in the aid package. He is calling for "the beginning of some new thinking" on how to handle disaster relief.
Actually, I agree with the Democrat. But honorable Senator Landrieu will deck you if you interfere with her family's "right" to control most everything:
Indeed, many local officials are quick to attack any outsiders who question the local way of doing things. Sen. Landrieu is especially sensitive since politics is her family's business. Her father was mayor of New Orleans, her aunt sits on the city's school board, and her brother is the state's lieutenant governor. She did a passable imitation of the overwrought Aaron Brossard when she told ABC News that if President Bush utters any criticism of how local officials responded to the disaster "I might have to punch him--literally."
If the they send street fighters to the US Senate imagine what sort of politicians they are hiding at home.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

France fighting declining population

France has looked the "benefits" of a stable or declining population in the eye and has concluded that the costs are higher than the benefits. France announced that women will be rewarded for having children this week. Deutsche Well reports:
They include an increased monthly grant for mothers who take time off work for a third baby. France has one of the highest birth rates in Europe. Of the 25 nations in the European Union, only Ireland's rate is higher.
The problem is not enough children to support the social welfare programs 10 years and more in the future. You can't have lavish benefits for everyone if there is not enough tax revenue to support them.
Evelyne Sullerot, one of France's leading sociologists, points out that France also has one of Europe's highest proportions of women in the workforce. She adds that more needs to be done to promote a balance between work and family life. "Things aren'’t going well in France. With 1.9 children per woman, we have one of the highest birth rates in Europe. But itÂ’s still not enough for us to reproduce our generations," said Sullerot.
And they see the requirement to work as reducing the birth rate.
Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said the new measures were intended to "allow a better conciliation between professional and family life up to the child's majority." Under the proposals, a parent who takes time off from work for a third child will have the option of a boosted monthly pay-out of 750 euros ($915) for one year. Currently the figure is set at $500 available over three years. According to Hubert Brin, president of the National Union of Family Associations (UNAF), the increased payment is to encourage higher-earners to have a third child. The current rate is only attractive for couples on low incomes. But we have to encourage professionals with higher incomes to have babies," he said.
And how about other countries in Europe? Is this a trend?
Falling birth rates are a growing worry across the EU, with demographers predicting that large-scale immigration will be necessary in many countries in order to sustain the benefits enjoyed by a steadily aging population.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Dead voters in Sri Lanka

They intend to top Ron Sims's mismanagement of voting in King County. From the BBC: Tsunami dead to get voter cards
Sri Lanka is to send out voting cards for those people believed to have died in December's tsunami because it cannot be sure who survived. The country is holding its presidential election on 17 November. The election commission fears electoral fraud by people impersonating the dead, so the cards will be specially marked to show the voter is believed dead. Those that have survived will have to prove their identity. More than 30,000 died in the tsunami in Sri Lanka.
Yes. If we mailed voter registration cards to dead people we would have to be on the watch for people impersonating them. OK. They have a problem not knowing who lived and who died. Here is my idea. Make everyone register again. It is much harder for a dead person to impersonate a living one than for a living person to impersonate a dead one. ;-)

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Distorted News on Sheehan

How do you make a pitiful showing of 30 people appear to be a crowd? This is the group of 30 people Cindy Sheehan attracted from throughout the 50 states of the US to march on the White House yesterday, September 21. Not much of a showing if you ask me. Confederate Yankee reports that all the major news media left out this one fact - only 30 people participated. PowerLine Blog
After a carefully stage-managed vigil by liberal PR firm Fenton Communications, and a pair of 3-week long national bus tours to drum up support for her cause, "Mother Sheehan" managed to bring with her just this tiny gaggle with her to the gates of the White House. The organizers backing her show hope to draw "tens of thousands" of fellow protestors this weekend, but if this sad crowd and last night's turnout of just 150 in New York are any indication, the fledging anti-war movement of Cindy Sheehan is all but dead.
And Getty Images, a top source of photos for professionals, carefully cropped each of the photos they are selling. It looks like a crowd when you close in on a handful and leave out the "panorama" showing all 30. Getty's 12 photos

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Pay for NOLA by cutting pork spending

We need to rebuild the coastal area devastated by hurricane Katina - Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. But ee can't just "find" $200,000,000 to do it. Congress is irresponsible if it just throws the ball down the field by spending money out of thin air. Where are those dollars coming from? The Highway Bill passed by Congress this summer is filled with "highways to no where" - special little projects for one congressman to buy votes from his district. For one of the worst offenders and his "important" projects see Scott Glabe at Weekly Standard - "Old Don Young Had a Farm"
"DON YOUNG'S WAY" is a $231 million bridge to be built in Anchorage. Don Young's "way" is to use his position as chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to bring home as many federal dollars as possible for his home state. For instance, the highway bill passed at the end of July netted over $1 billion in special projects for Alaska. That's $1,448 in pork for every man, woman, and child in Alaska. Young's eponymous bridge isn't even the most egregious bit of largesse. That honor goes to another bridge, which, for $223 million will connect Ketchikan, population 8,000, with Gravina Island, population 50. The Gravina Island Bridge, which is slated to be taller than the Brooklyn Bridge, will be a towering monument to unnecessity; the small island is already served by ferries, one of which departs every half hour. Young claims the bridge will facilitate Ketchikan's growth by providing ground access to the airport on Gravina Island, a rationale that is sure to be mentioned in a "documentary about infrastructure that demonstrates advancements in Alaska, the last frontier," to which the highway bill allots another $3 million. Perhaps the documentary will also explain how an airport with fewer than 10 flights a day can facilitate such growth, or why the government simply doesn't purchase a Lear Jet for every inhabitant of Gravina Island--which, as Citizens Against Government Waste has noted, would be cheaper than the bridge.
OK. Let's do something about this. N.Z. Bear is running a pork-identification project--with a powerful assist from Glenn Reynolds--in which bloggers point out federal spending that could be cut to balance out the costs of Katrina reconstruction. It's a great idea, and it has a nice logo: We can help. Find a wasteful project in your state or - best - congressional district. Then go to Porkbusters and enter it.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Violating the Constitution in New Orleans

While looters were shooting at them the police made the situation less safe. Did the police need the help and cooperation of law-abiding citizens? Yes, they needed them. But the police refused them. The police violated the Constitution of the United States by confiscating the legal weapons of law-abiding people. But they didn't take guns from the criminals. So they made the situation less safe. By what authority did they do this? None. What they did was illegal. Dimitri Vassarlos of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review has this one liner:
Businesses selling bumper stickers that read "If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns" also should offer one with the rejoinder "We told you so."
Update. See also Gun Owners of America Update. 9/24/05 The police now have to obey the Constitution because a "higher authority" requires them to; a federal judge issued a restraining order. Why they were exempt before I dont' know. In The Houston Chronicle
In documents filed in federal court in Baton Rouge, La., New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, Police Chief Eddie Compass and St. Tammany Sheriff Jack Strain deny ordering the confiscation of firearms. But news reports quoted Compass as saying that only law enforcement officials would be allowed to have firearms and Deputy Chief Warren Riley as saying, "We are going to take all the weapons."
And we saw what they said on those news reports.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Blair Kills Kyoto at Clinton's Summit

UK PRime Minister Tony Blair stood on stage with Bill Clinton and announced that the UK will not be bound by the Kyoto Treaty on Global Warming. Why would Blair do such a thing? Because he does not want to send his country backward; he refuses to kill all economic development in the UK. James Pinkerton at has the story:
"My thinking has changed in the past three or four years." So what does he think now? "No country," he declared, "is going to cut its growth." That is, no country is going to allow the Kyoto treaty, or any other such global-warming treaty, to crimp -- some say cripple -- its economy. Looking ahead to future climate-change negotiations, Blair said of such fast-growing countries as India and China, "They're not going to start negotiating another treaty like Kyoto." India and China, of course, weren't covered by Kyoto in the first place, which was one of the fatal flaws in the treaty.
The US Senate voted 95 to 0 to reject the Kyoto treaty if developing countries were excluded and they were. And he was looking to the future:
But now Blair is acknowledging the obvious: that after the current Kyoto treaty -- which the US never acceded to -- expires in 2012, there's not going to be another worldwide deal like it. So what will happen instead? Blair answered: "What countries will do is work together to develop the science and technology….There is no way that we are going to tackle this problem unless we develop the science and technology to do it." Bingo! That's what eco-realists have been saying all along, of course -- that the only feasible way to deal with the issue of greenhouse gases and global warming is through technological breakthroughs, not draconian cutbacks.
Now he's talking my language. Trying to promote growth instead of agreeing to quotas that can only be met by shutting down industry and requiring people to stop driving. Rather, let's work on technology that can reduce the emissions we are concerned about. Isn't it fitting that Blair did it at the conference Bill Clinton put on to showcase himself and Hillary? Pinkerton says that major media didn't cover Blair's statement, so it seems to be a TCS exclusive - by default. But soon everyone will know it.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Marriage Helps Family Finances

According to a report by the Brookings Institution and Princeton University, stable marriage can increase the financial prosperity of couples and improves the lives of American children. The study finds that while the poor see lack of money as a barrier to marriage, a healthy marriage actually ensures them healthier finances in the long run. And this is true even when the couple had children out of wedlock. Brookings Institute is not conservative at all; Princeton University too. They highlight some signs of interest:
The Bush administration is proposing to spend $1.5 billion over the next five years to increase “healthy” marriages. Gays and lesbians are demanding the right to marry. A few states are reconsidering no-fault divorce laws and experimenting with new types of “covenant marriage.” And legislators are scrutinizing tax and transfer policies for “marriage penalties.”
The report consists of several articles including: Healty Marriage Programs: Learning What Works by M. Robin Dion (Mathematica Policy Research) on marriage education programs. Via World Magazine's blog. Reuters also carried a summary of the report.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Honor our US Constitution

Saturday is Constitution Day. Thomas Sowell asks at "Why do we pay attention to the Constitution in the first place?"
But the moral and legal bases for the authority of the Constitution do not rest with those who wrote it. The moral and legal authority of the Constitution comes from those who ratified it -- "we the people" -- not those who wrote it.
That's you and me, not the 100 Senators who look so important on television. CFIF recommends that we celebrate this day by - surprise - reading it. Find it HERE.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Crisis at the United Nations

The United States has finally taken the logical action. Everyone knew the party couldn't last forever. But now it is over. The United States has been paying 23% of the budget of the UN, funds 48 per cent of the UN's World Food Program and 41 per cent of the UN High Commission for Refugees. And what have we gotten? Endless abuse. When Kofi has messed up his budget and needs cash, who comes through? The United States. Now the US is asking the UN to reform itself and Ambassador John Bolton is doing the asking! Some of our complaints as listed by the Telegraph newspaper of the UK:
  • Only last week the UN was described as incompetent, corrupt and in urgent need of change by the Volcker commission, the organisation's own report into the Iraqi oil-for-food scandal.
  • Elsewhere in the organisation, Washington looks on enraged as countries such as China and Cuba are voted on to the UN's human rights commission.
  • America is appalled too by the UN bureaucracy, where staff are appointed according to nationality and where pay aims to match that of the most generous member state.
  • Yet few UN civil servants are ever held to account, as the oil-for-food report underlined. Even before it was published, Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general, said: "I don't anticipate anyone resigning." No one did, despite blistering attacks on named staff including Mr Annan himself.
They won't even do anything when they got caught with the largest misuse of funds in history - the "Food for Oil" program. So Bolton stepped in:
Yesterday, with just 24 hours to go before world leaders convene for the UN's 60th birthday summit, Mr Bolton was still refusing to agree a shopping list of ambitious policies designed to change the world. Many are in stark opposition to the policies of President George W Bush's administration. Why, the Americans are asking, should we go along with this?
The "ambitious policies" are the same old stuff from the UN's bureaucrats. Empty words about reform. And solid proposals to get the US to pay more. In past years our diplomats went along with most of this nonsense. But now the party is over for the UN. What does the United States want the UN to do? To promote democracy. To stop glorifying dictators. The have the Human Rights Commission to be composed of countries that uphold human rights, not the abusers like Sudan and Libya. To get rid of corruption that has been allowed to entrench itself and grow. Hopefully change can begin now.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Cantwell Dunce of the Week

We are all bothered by the even higher price of gasoline this week. Can't someone do something about it? Two actions can improve it: 1- increase the supply of refined gasoline, or 2- decrease the demand for it. Enough of either will bring the price down. Can a US Senator increase the supply or decrease the demand? I haven't seen one do it. But Senator Maria Cantwell has another course of action: price controls. Both the theory and the experience of economics show what happens when the price is limited in the absence of actions 1 and 2 - you get a shortage. It has happened every time. Wikipedia In 1973 price controls resulted in rationing and line ups at every gas station and gimicks to reduce them, such as alternating days by even-odd license plates to match the numeric day of the month. Jeff Jacoby says it well:
There is only one rational and efficient way to allocate a scarce commodity: through price. That is because the more a person values something, the more he is generally willing to pay for it. By charging what the market will bear -- for gasoline or anything else -- vendors channel their product to the customers who value it the most. A mandatory cap on the price of gas may seem like kindness to the poor, but all it will do is raise demands that can't be met. The result will be "Sold Out" signs on Joe's pumps, or gasoline lines stretching around the block.
Painful as they are, price spikes are invaluable -- especially after a disaster, when critical goods and services are at a premium. At $3 or $4 a gallon, post-Katrina gasoline prices are transmitting two urgent messages. To consumers they say: "Conserve! Buy only as much as you really need, and look for ways to use even less." To the energy industry they say: "Produce! Get those refineries back online and supply more gasoline ASAP." Aren't those exactly the behaviors we want to encourage? But the power of market pricing to affect behavior is unwelcome to those who think useful things don't happen unless the government tells them to happen. In The New York Times last week, Senator Levin dismissed the idea that higher prices will induce consumers to use less gasoline. "By that logic," he snorted, "you could raise prices to $10 a gallon and you make sure that people walk." In the real world, though, consumers do make choices based on price, as the large photo accompanying the Times story illustrated nicely. It showed a woman turning away from gasoline pumps charging $5.88 a gallon. The caption read: "The price of gas at a station in Stockbridge, Ga., last week was too high for one customer, who returned to her car without buying."
Back to Cantwell. Rich Karlgaard of Forbes Magazine honored her as
Dunce of the Week
for this brave proposal. Actually she isn't the only one! Two more US senators and the governor of Hawaii share the "Dunce" award. See also No Price Gouging.

Monday, September 12, 2005

The Israelis may save the world - Hydrogen

Scientists in Israel have invented a process to produce hydrogen from the sun's energy. Hydrogen is the fuel of the future, everyone seems to agree. But the future has appeared to be far off because producing hydrogen has required burning fossil fuels - that's supposed to be the past. But now there has been a breakthrough, Israel 21C reports:
In a breakthrough that has dramatic implications for energy use worldwide, Israeli researchers have shown that hydrogen fuel can be produced with the help of sunlight - propelling the dream forward of using hydrogen as a 'green' fuel. The innovative solar technology developed at Weizmann Institute of Science that may offer an environmentally sound solution to the production of hydrogen fuel has been successfully tested on a large scale, and also promises to facilitate the storage and transportation of hydrogen. The chemical process behind the technology was originally developed at Weizmann on a scale of several kilowatts. It was then scaled up to 300 kilowatts in collaboration with scientists from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology... The new solar technology developed by the Israelis and their European colleagues creates an easily storable intermediate energy source form from metal ore, such as zinc oxide
And the storage problem is handled by this method, as well:
The process generates no pollution, and the resultant zinc can be easily stored and transported, and converted to hydrogen on demand. In addition, the zinc can be used directly, for example, in zinc-air batteries, which serve as efficient converters of chemical to electrical energy. Thus, the method offers a way of storing solar energy in chemical form and releasing it as needed.
And there have been enthusiastic reactions, such as:
"The Israelis may save the world if this technique for producing hydrogen pans out and proves practical," wrote Professor Juan Cole of the University of Michigan on his influential blog Informed Comment.
I continue to be optimistic about our energy future because the Earth is bombarded with huge amounts of energy from the sun every day. We just have to find ways to capture, store, transport and use the solor energy. Hat tip to The American Thinker. They say that Juan Cole has nothing good to say about Israel, so his endorsement is a strong indication.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Remember 9/11

Don't forget. We didn't realize we were at war through attacks in New York in 1993, against US barracks in Saugi Arabia, two US emabassies in East Africa simulataneously, and the USS Cole. It took simultaneous attacks on New York City and Washington, DC, before we realized. Don't forget.

Friday, September 09, 2005

No Price Gouging

We see it again. When an event causes a shortage that everyone knows about, prices start going up - as you would expect. Then some US Senator says "Price Gouging." Then every talking head starts parading their ignorance. "This was done intentionally by BIG OIL." ... etc. Prices change according to the Law of Supply and Demand. If the supply is cut, but no one wants the commodity, then the price goes down slightly. If the supply is cut, but there is constant or increasing demand, then the price goes up. And those who value the commodity the most get it, because they are willing to pay more. Anyone who tries to do away with the Law of Supply and Demand makes things worse - they cause shortages. Iain Murray at TechCentralStation covers the basics.
For various reasons, I took a lot of trips to the local hardware store on Sunday. On my route there were two gas stations gazing at each other across the thoroughfare. On the first trip, I noticed that one was charging $3.41 a gallon for regular, while the other was charging $3.29. And there, in a nutshell, was proof that gas price "gouging" does not exist. This was actually an excellent case study for the basic economic lesson on supply and demand in situations of scarcity. Price is not an arbitrary figure. It contains a vast amount of information from the viewpoints of both the supplier and the customer. In normal circumstances it represents a balance between the effort and risk undertaken by the supplier to provide the product and the preferences and needs of the potential consumer taken in aggregate. Each individual consumer will have different preferences and needs, so that one may balk at a price another finds perfectly reasonable and another considers a bargain, but as a whole the price represents a signal about the balance of considerations among consumers in the market for the product. When the product becomes scarce, however, additional information is added in the form of increased price that represents notice from the producer to the consumer that he may not be able to supply every customer with the full amount of the product desired. The customer is then more able to balance his wants with his needs and, again taken in aggregate, the market will respond to the scarcity by reducing its demand to meet the expected supply. ... Gouging in the gas market makes no sense. The owner of the station that was charging $3.41 as I drove by was presumably reacting to his own supply constraints. Yet because the other station took a lot of his business, those constraints eased. By the third time I drove past the station, he had reduced his price to $3.29 also.
So, economics tells us that "gouging" simply doesn't exist in a rational market. Responsible higher prices actually ensure that as much of the good or service as possible is available for use. In an emergency, that is an important consideration.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Disaster 101 by Bob Williams

Bob Williams was the state representative for the district that contained Mt. St. Helens when it blew in 1980 killing around 70 people; it knocked out bridges, flooded homes with mud or destroyed them, destroyed good-size businesses and just blew away a lot. He is now the president of Evergreen Freedom Foundation, a Washington-oriented think tank in Olympia. They do first-class work. Williams covers the basics of who is responsible for what in a disaster. Samples:
The plain fact is, lives were needlessly lost in New Orleans due to the failure of Louisiana's governor, Kathleen Blanco, and the city's mayor, Ray Nagin. The primary responsibility for dealing with emergencies does not belong to the federal government. It belongs to local and state officials who are charged by law with the management of the crucial first response to disasters. First response should be carried out by local and state emergency personnel under the supervision of the state governor and his emergency operations center. 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.
Mayor Nagin was responsible for giving the order for mandatory evacuation and supervising the actual evacuation: His Office of Emergency Preparedness (not the federal government) must coordinate with the state on elements of evacuation and assist in directing the transportation of evacuees to staging areas. Mayor Nagin had to be encouraged by the governor to contact the National Hurricane Center before he finally, belatedly, issued the order for mandatory evacuation. And sadly, it apparently took a personal call from the president to urge the governor to order the mandatory evacuation.
Congratulations, Bob, for getting in the WSJ, my main source of economic and national news.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Timothy Goddard plugged on national radio

Blogger friend Timothy Goddard got in a plug for his blog on Hugh Hewitt's national talk radio program.
The Flag of the World
He has an item "1951 vs. 2005" on disaster preparedness.

The Real Plan in New Orleans

Someone discovered the real plan by the city of New Orleans in case of a disastrous hurricane. Not the show piece Mayor Bragin put on their web site. No, the one they used. The New Orleans Times-Picayne on July 24, 2005 had the story:
City, state and federal emergency officials are preparing to give the poorest of New Orleans' poor a historically blunt message: In the event of a major hurricane, you're on your own.
That is the plan: You are on your own.
In scripted appearances being recorded now, officials such as Mayor Ray Nagin, local Red Cross Executive Director Kay Wilkins and City Council President Oliver Thomas drive home the word that the city does not have the resources to move out of harm's way an estimated 134,000 people without transportation. In the video, made by the anti-poverty agency Total Community Action, they urge those people to make arrangements now by finding their own ways to leave the city in the event of an evacuation. "You're responsible for your safety, and you should be responsible for the person next to you," Wilkins said in an interview. "If you have some room to get that person out of town, the Red Cross will have a space for that person outside the area. We can help you. "But we don't have the transportation." Officials are recording the evacuation message even as recent research by the University of New Orleans indicated that as many as 60 percent of the residents of most southeast Louisiana parishes would remain in their homes in the event of a Category 3 hurricane. Their message will be distributed on hundreds of DVDs across the city. The DVDs' basic get-out-of-town message applies to all audiences, but the it is especially targeted to scores of churches and other groups heavily concentrated in Central City and other vulnerable, low-income neighborhoods, said the Rev. Marshall Truehill, head of Total Community Action.
Do these poor people all have DVD players? But it's moot because the DVDs have not yet been distributed! Blogger Brad Delong quotes the entire article. I don't know of a link to the original. Plan II Mayor Nagin himself is quoted with a modified version:
Plenty of missteps at the local level contributed to last week's disaster too, from a failure to take basic steps to protect the telecom infrastructure to inadequate food and water at the Superdome. New Orleans may be able to stage events such as Mardi Gras and Jazzfest and provide parking, crowd control and adequate toilets for millions of visitors, but its hurricane plan was more rudimentary. "Get people to higher ground and have the feds and the state airlift supplies to them -- that was the plan, man," Mayor Ray Nagin said in an interview yesterday.
Timeline Rich Moran has constructed a timeline of the events with links. Using it will aid our discussions.

Blame the 3d String for the Starters' Failure

The federal government doesn't have the first responsibility in disaster response. The local government and the state are the "first string." The federal government is supposed to come in later. The feds role is to provide backup resources - backup. The locals and state are supposed to provide the initial resources, then the feds come later. No, this does not fit the "blame Bush for everything" meme. The City of New Orleans had a great plan for a major hurricane. This is the Google cache of it. But they didn't follow it. For example, the plan says to stock the Superdome with food and water for something link 10,000 people for 3 days. But they didn't stock anything at all. Do you blame Bush for that? News Snipet Blog covers the plan. Police Our Constitution prevents the federal government from policing our civilian population. This is because of fear of misuse of the power by the president resulting in a police state. So, of course, it is the local government that provides the police - during normal times and during disasters. The locals know their area and are known by the population, so they are the best source of police. During a disaster the governor of the state has control of the national guard and can use them for policing. Only as a desperate last resort are federal troops used. Hugh Hewitt is a law professor and he covers the legal basics. Skip past his coverage of the ridiculous claim that Condoleeza Rice is to blame.
For starters, the police power resides in the states. There is no general federal police power. It is the power to take care of a citizenry's health, safety and morals. It was described by Chief Justice Taney in the Licensee Cases this way: But what are the police powers of a State? They are nothing more or less than the powers of government inherent in every sovereignty to the extent of its dominion. And whether a state passes a quarantine law, as a law to punish offenses, as to establish courts of justice, or requiring certain instruments to be recorded, as to regulate commerce within its own limits, in every case it exercises the same power; that is to say, the power of sovereignty, the power to govern men and things within the limits of its dominion. "To the extent of its dominion," is the key phrase. For the federal government to act in the face of a natural disaster, it's help must be requested and its guidance accepted by the state and local officials.
Locals Mayor Nagin and Governor Blanco made major errors. The federal FEMA made some and they should be held accountable. Director Brown did poorly and should be replaced. Levees - Does reduced funding for the Army Corps of Engineers explain the failures of the two levees? No. First, the levess that failed had been rebuilt and were in good shape, says the Army Corps of Engineers. Second, A New Orleans levee board was being investigated for corruption before Katrina:
Rampant public corruption was doing big business in New Orleans long before Hurricane Katrina ever hit. What then Congressman, now Senator David Vitter calls "corrupt, good old boy" practices were apparent in the New Orleans Levee Board just one year before the collapse of regional levees, emergency communications and government services brought the Big Easy to the brink of anarchy. In fact, Senator David Vitter requested a federal investigation into improper practices of a number of public utilities, including the New Orleans Levee Board, and anew Task Force was to have been initiated in the Baton Rouge office, beginning in July 2004.
Buses - There has been a lot of coverage and an aerial photo of the 255 school buses that are still sitting in flood water; they were not used to evacuate people. If they were crammed with 55 people in each, then 14,025 could have been evacuated. Photo - You can't blame Bush for the mayor not using them. Resource - Rich Moran has built a timeline of the events in the Katrina response.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

New Orleans Air Traffic Controllers

Air traffic controllers in the New Orleans area had a triple challenge when the rescue/relief efforts scaled up last week. They were short of staff due to people caring for their own flooded homes. Most of thier phones lines and some radios were out. And they had to handle up to 100 helicopter operations per hours, which they hadn't done before. Kudos to the FAA's air traffic controllers and their union, National Air Traffic Controllers Union. Story in USA Today - 9/6/05

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Katrina Responses

I am overwhelmed by the natural disaster of Katrina, the human tragedy of its victims and the combination of heroism and folly, extraordinary effort and apparent laziness in the responses of both victims and responders. My friend Jim Miller expresses frusteration equivalent to mine. The mayor, governor and president ordered evacuation and attempted to get people to carry it out. Many people chose to stay when they were capable of leaving. Some could not. Now there was provision to shelter a few thousand who were hard to relocate. But the facilites were overwhelmed by numbers increased by those who could have left. And furthermore, the Superdome was chosen as a shelter for its strength against the hurricane. NOT for the flooding and the extended stay it required. Low lights Jesse Jackson, who claims to be a reverend, looks only at race. Race baiting made him rich. But I don't care what JJ declares since he got caught spending donations to his nonprofit to pay for his mistress's house.
And he also criticized the role given to former presidents George Bush senior and Bill Clinton as coordinators for a fund raising effort following the Katrina tragedy, similar to their role as tsunami fund raisers. "Why are there no African Americans in that circle?" Jackson asked. "How can blacks be left out of the leadership and trapped into the suffering
Mike Fancher, the reader's representative at the Seattle Times thinks that it is incredibly brave to carry a notebook and ask questions. The herioc reporter is a first responder taking notes while others are saving lives. Oh. Mixed Errol Lewis of the New York Daily News considers the people to still under slavery!!
That hard, unsympathetic view is the traditional American response to the poverty, ignorance and rage that afflict many of us whose great-great-grandparents once made up the captive African slave labor pool.
Then he points out the ugly facts on the corruption that the people of New Orleans and Louisiana have allowed.
These government failures are not merely a matter of incompetence. Louisiana and New Orleans have a long, well-known reputation for corruption: as former congressman Billy Tauzin once put it, "half of Louisiana is under water and the other half is under indictment." That's putting it mildly. Adjusted for population size, the state ranks third in the number of elected officials convicted of crimes (Mississippi is No. 1). Recent scandals include the conviction of 14 state judges and an FBI raid on the business and personal files of a Louisiana congressman.... The rot included the New Orleans Police Department, which in the 1990s had the dubious distinction of being the nation's most corrupt police force and the least effective: the city had the highest murder rate in America. More than 50 officers were eventually convicted of crimes including murder, rape and robbery; two are currently on Death Row.
Can they expect a full-faith effort from the politicians, bureaucrats and police who have gotten away with allowing such a mess? Of course not. I am praying for the people displaced, injured, sick, victims of looting. And for the responders sent in to help.