Previous month:
August 2005
Next month:
October 2005

September 2005


P.Z. Myers writes:

Pharyngula: Richard Dawkins has an excellent summary of the idea of evolution in this week's New Scientist, in an article titled "The world's ten biggest ideas". Here it is--it's a very clear, short, six paragraph explanation of a big idea, fewer than 600 words. Now if only everyone could just understand this:

The world is divided into things that look designed (like birds and airliners) and things that don't (rocks and mountains). Things that look designed are divided into those that really are designed (submarines and tin openers) and those that aren't (sharks and hedgehogs). The diagnostic of things that look (or are) designed is that their parts are assembled in ways that are statistically improbable in a functional direction. They do something well: for instance, fly.

Darwinian natural selection can produce an uncanny illusion of design. An engineer would be hard put to decide whether a bird or a plane was the more aerodynamically elegant.

So powerful is the illusion of design, it took humanity until the mid-19th century to realise that it is an illusion. In 1859, Charles Darwin announced one of the greatest ideas ever to occur to a human mind: cumulative evolution by natural selection. Living complexity is indeed orders of magnitude too improbable to have come about by chance. But only if we assume that all the luck has to come in one fell swoop. When cascades of small chance steps accumulate, you can reach prodigious heights of adaptive complexity. That cumulative build-up is evolution. Its guiding force is natural selection.

Every living creature has ancestors, but only a fraction have descendants. All inherit the genes of an unbroken sequence of successful ancestors, none of whom died young and none of whom failed to reproduce. Genes that program embryos to develop into adults who can successfully reproduce automatically survive in the gene pool, at the expense of genes that fail. This is natural selection at the gene level, and we notice its consequences at the organism level. There has to be an ultimate source of new genetic variation, and it is mutation. Copies of newly mutated genes are reshuffled through the gene pool by sexual reproduction, and selection removes them from the pool in a way that is non-random.

What makes for success in the business of life varies from species to species. Some swim, some walk, some fly, some climb, some root themselves into the soil and tilt green solar panels toward the sun. All this diversity stems from successive branchings, starting from a single bacterium-like ancestor, which lived between 3 and 4 billion years ago. Each branching event is called a speciation: a breeding population splits into two, and they go their separately evolving ways. Among sexually reproducing species, speciation is said to have occurred when the two gene pools have separated so far that they can no longer interbreed. Speciation begins by accident. When separation has reached the stage where there is no interbreeding even without a geographical barrier, we have the origin of a new species.

Natural selection is quintessentially non-random, yet it is lamentably often miscalled random. This one mistake underlies much of the sceptical backlash against evolution. Chance cannot explain life. Design is as bad an explanation as chance because it raises bigger questions than it answers. Evolution by natural selection is the only workable theory ever proposed that is capable of explaining life, and it does so brilliantly.

A Real President

William Jefferson Clinton speaks:

The Mighty Middle: "Tax cuts are always popular," Clinton said. "But about half of these tax cuts since 2001 have gone to people in my income group, the top 1 percent. I've gotten four tax cuts. Now, what Americans need to understand is that that means every single day of the year, our government goes into the market and borrows money from other countries to finance Iraq, Afghanistan, Katrina, and our tax cuts," Clinton added. "We depend on Japan, China, the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, and Korea primarily to basically loan us money every day of the year to cover my tax cut and these conflicts and Katrina. I don't think it makes any sense. I think it's wrong."

Why Oh Why Are We Ruled by These Fools?

I sense it will be a long time before Fareed Zakaria votes for a Republican:

MSNBC - Leaders Who Won't Choose : President Bush explains that he will spend hundreds of billions of dollars rebuilding the Gulf Coast without raising any new revenues. Republican leader Tom DeLay declines any spending cuts because "there is no fat left to cut in the federal budget." This would be funny if it weren't so depressing. What is happening in Washington today is business as usual in the face of a national catastrophe. The scariest part is that we've been here before. After 9/11 we have created a new government agency, massively increased domestic spending and fought two wars. And the president did all this without rolling back any of his tax cuts--in fact, he expanded them--and refused to veto a single congressional spending bill. This was possible because Bush inherited a huge budget surplus in 2000. But that's all gone. The cupboard is now bare.

Whatever his other accomplishments, Bush will go down in history as the most fiscally irresponsible chief executive in American history. Since 2001, government spending has gone up from $1.86 trillion to $2.48 trillion, a 33 percent rise in four years! Defense and Homeland Security are not the only culprits. Domestic spending is actually up 36 percent in the same period. These figures come from the libertarian Cato Institute's excellent report "The Grand Old Spending Party," which explains that "throughout the past 40 years, most presidents have cut or restrained lower-priority spending to make room for higher-priority spending. What is driving George W. Bush's budget bloat is a reversal of that trend." To govern is to choose. And Bush has decided not to choose. He wants guns and butter and tax cuts.

People wonder whether we can afford Iraq and Katrina. The answer is, easily. What we can't afford simultaneously is $1.4 trillion in tax cuts and more than $1 trillion in new entitlement spending over the next 10 years.... Robert Hormats of Goldman Sachs has pointed out that previous presidents acted differently. During World War II, Franklin Roosevelt cut nonwar spending by more than 20 percent, in addition to raising taxes to finance the war effort. During the Korean War, President Truman cut non-defense spending 28 percent and raised taxes to pay the bills. In both cases these presidents were often slashing cherished New Deal programs that they had created.... The U.S. Congress is a national embarrasment, except that no one is embarrassed. There are a few men of conscience left, like John McCain, but McCain's pleas against pork seem to have absolutely no effect. They are beginning to have the feel of a quaint hobby, like collecting exotic stamps.

Today's Republicans believe in pork, but they don't believe in government. So we have the largest government in history but one that is weak and dysfunctional. Public spending is a cynical game of buying votes or campaign contributions, an utterly corrupt process run by lobbyists and special interests with no concern for the national interest. So we shovel out billions on "Homeland Security" to stave off nonexistent threats to Wisconsin, Wyoming and Montana while New York and Los Angeles remain unprotected. We mismanage crises with a crazy-quilt patchwork of federal, local and state authorities--and sing paeans to federalism to explain our incompetence. We denounce sensible leadership and pragmatism because they mean compromise and loss of ideological purity. Better to be right than to get Iraq right....

[W]e need government. We already pay for it. Can somebody help us get our money's worth?

Knight-Ridder Is a News Service

Drew Brown, Seth Borenstein and Alison Young write:

KR Washington Bureau | 09/16/2005 | Key military help for victims of Hurricane Katrina was delayed: WASHINGTON - Two days after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, President Bush went on national television to announce a massive federal rescue and relief effort. But orders to move didn't reach key active military units for another three days. Once they received them, it took just eight hours for 3,600 troops from the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C., to be on the ground in Louisiana and Mississippi with vital search-and-rescue helicopters. Another 2,500 soon followed from the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, Texas.

"If the 1st Cav and 82nd Airborne had gotten there on time, I think we would have saved some lives," said Gen. Julius Becton Jr., who was the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency under President Reagan from 1985 to 1989. "We recognized we had to get people out, and they had helicopters to do that."

Federal officials have long known that the active-duty military is the only organization with the massive resources and effective command structure to handle a major catastrophe. In a 1996 Pentagon report, the Department of Defense acknowledged its large role in major disasters. Between 1992 and 1996, the Pentagon provided support in 18 disasters and developed five training manuals on how to work with FEMA and civilians in natural disasters. "In catastrophic disasters, DOD will likely provide Hurricane Andrew-levels of support and predominately operate in urban or suburban terrain," the report said. "This should be incorporated into planning assumptions."

The delay this time in tapping the troops, helicopters, trucks, generators, communications and other resources of the 1st Cavalry and the 82nd Airborne is the latest example of how the federal response to Katrina lacked organization and leadership. And it raises further questions about the government's ability to rapidly mobilize the active-duty military now that FEMA has been absorbed into the massive, terrorism-focused Department of Homeland Security. Addressing the nation on Thursday night in a speech from New Orleans, Bush said the storm overwhelmed the disaster relief system. "It is now clear that a challenge on this scale requires greater federal authority and a broader role for the armed forces, the institution of our government most capable of massive logistical operations on a moment's notice," he said.

Several emergency response experts, however, questioned whether Bush and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff understood how much authority they had to tap all the resources of the federal government - including those of the Department of Defense. "To say I've suddenly discovered the military needs to be involved is like saying wheels should be round instead of square," said Michael Greenberger, a law professor and the director of the University of Maryland's Center for Health and Homeland Security...

Impeach George W. Bush. Impeach him now.

The Iraqi Civil War

Informed Comment writes:

Informed Comment : Tal Afar as Ethnic Civil War: Much of the American press has reported the Tal Afar campaign as a strike by the new Iraqi Army, supported by US troops, against foreign infiltrators in the largely Turkmen city of 200,000. As Jonathan Finer makes clear in the Washington Post, however, the operation looks different if we know some details. The "Iraqi Army" leading the assault turns out to be mainly the Peshmerga or Kurdish ethnic militia Along for the ride are local Turkmen Shiites who are being used as informers and for the purpose of identifying Sunni Turkmen they think are involved in the guerrilla movement (apparently they sometimes make false charge to settle scores). Tal Afar was 70 percent Sunni Turkmen and 30 percent Shiite Turkmen. The Sunni Turkmen had thrown in with Saddam, and some more recently had turned to radical Islam. The Shiite Turkmen lived in fear of their lives.

So Kurds and Shiites are beating up on Sunni Turkmen allies of Sunni Arabs. That is what is really going on. The number of foreign fighters appears to be small, and US troops that had been guarding against infiltration on the Syrian border were actully moved to Tal Afar for this operation. It is mainly about punishing the Sunni Turkmen for allying with the Sunni Arab guerrillas. That the attack came in part in response to the pleas of local Shiite Turkmen helps explain why why Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari (Shiite leader of the fundamentalist Dawa Party) authorized it, and went to Tal Afar on Tuesday for a photo op.

The US will never get stability in Iraq if it is merely an adjunct to a Kurdish-Shiite alliance against the Sunni Arabs and their Turkmen supporters.

Rather, the U.S. will only get a certain kind of stability...

Gene Healy Weeps for Calvin Coolidge

He writes:

AFF's Brainwash :: Gene Healy: Reading Calvin Coolidge in a Starbucks: I recently had what may have been the geekiest moment in a life that's been full of them. Sitting in a Starbucks, I got a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes reading Calvin Coolidge's autobiography. (And no, I'm not going to explain why I was reading it. I have my reasons). The book's mostly pretty platitudinous, but there is a passage about the death of his son where Silent Cal's Old Wasp reserve cracks just slightly. You can tell that as a dad, he wasn't full of hugs, but the pain and anger that lie under the surface of these words is all the more palpable for the tight-lipped refusal to let it gush forth:

My own participation [in the campaign] was delayed by the death of my son Calvin, which occurred on the seventh of July. He was a boy of much promise, proficient in his studies, with a scholarly mind, who had just turned sixteen.

He had a remarkable insight into things.

The day I became President he had just started to work in a tobacco field. When one of his fellow laborers said to him, "if my father was President I would not work in a tobacco field," Calvin replied, "If my father were your father, you would."...

We do not know what might have happened to him under other circumstances, but if I had not been President, he would not have raised a blister on his toe, which resulted in blood poisoning, playing lawn tennis in the South Grounds.

In his suffering he was asking me to make him well. I could not.

When he went the power and the glory of the Presidency went with him.

The ways of Providence are often beyond our understanding. It seemed to me that the world had need of the work that it was probable he could do.

I do not know why such a price was exacted for occupying the White House.

How much richer are all of us today than Calvin Coolidge, for we don't have to worry about our sixteen-year-olds dying of blood poisoning from an infected blister that developed while playing tennis?

The Era of Limited Government Is Over...

Max Sawicky thinks that he lives in a weird world. He's right:

MaxSpeak, You Listen!: THE ERA OF LIMITED GOVERNMENT IS OVER: [Bush's] speech was so Democratic, in fact, that the conservative bits were discordant. The bit about entrepreneurs, for instance. What kind of entrepreneurship depends on tax subsidies? With subsidies, I could be an entrepreneur. A subsidy to entrepreneurship means the government finances a business that can't turn a market rate of profit. It's paying someone to lose money. Hey, I could do that. Mr. President, over here!

If the city is cleaned up, its infrastructure restored, and flood protection established, there should be no need for subsidies to make business development flourish. On the other hand, individuals will need compensation to get on their feet again, including access to credit for business start-ups. Such access would not be a subsidy if it plugged preexisting holes in the market -- the sort of red-lining that prevents solvent, lower-income people, especially minorities, from getting the loans they need and can repay to buy housing and start businesses.

The homesteading thing is interesting, harkening to old populist notions. I take Steve Kyle's point in the comments to the previous post of the danger that such support would be steered to the finance of gentrified neighborhoods that are inhospitable to the former inhabitants. Like the vast bulk of the money set aside, it is really a black box. How it gets done and how worthwhile remain to be determined....

However messy the use of money becomes in the hands of the Bushists, I maintain that this is a watershed moment for the limited-government movement. What we have in this Administration is an unwholesome mixture -- the term toxic soup comes to mind -- of Christian fundy prejudice (towards non-Christians, science, and the Enlightenment), Wilsonian jingoism, and blind anti-tax sentiment. Big, stupid government is all over your bedroom and your public schools, driving your kids further into debt, rattling an insubstantial sabre at a legion of emboldened international miscreants. These people will be the death of us all.

Why Is Michael Chertoff Still Employed?

From Scrivenings:

Scrivenings: FEMA Official Says Brown and Chertoff Ignored Warnings : Anyone who's been sympathetic with attempts to deflect criticism onto state and local officials should go listen to this story from Morning Edition that was playing as I drove in to school this morning. Leo Bosner, the official at FEMA in charge of the unit that alerts officials of impending crises and manages the response says that he sent a very strongly-worded report (I remember a phrase very similar to: "has the potential to be the greatest disaster FEMA has ever had to respond to") to Mike Brown and to Chertoff three days before the hurrican hit the Gulf states. He says at the end of his overnight shift he sent that email out, expecting that by the time he returned to work for his next shift a massive mobilization of food and response teams would be underway.

Instead, he came back to headquarters and found that virtually nothing at all had been done. It was like, he says, his building was on fire and he had pulled the lever on a fire alarm, but instead of crews of fire fighters responding to the scene, the lever had just come off in his hand and he had discovered that nothing was there. This is a man who has been working with FEMA ever since the agency was created 26 years ago, and he indicates that he was simply shocked by the non-response of the entire organization.

He talks about a few people at FEMA still two days ahead of the storm saying that buses should be mobilized to evacuate the city and that serious precautions should be underway, but none of the higher-ups would listen or respond.... Only after the storm hit did FEMA even begin to mobilize, and by then, Bosner says, they were simply playing catch-up and had missed the window of opportunity...

Impeach George W. Bush. Impeach him now.

The Coming Dollar Crisis?

As is often the case, the most interesting things I learned at last August's round of conferences came not in the formal conference sessions but in the informal small-group conversations before, around, in the interstices of, and after the conference.

Take the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City's "Greenspan Era" conference. It was held in Jackson Hole, at the Jackson Lake Lodge in Grand Teton National Park, in the shadow of the Grand Tetons, which are perhaps the most impressive mountain range in North America. ("Perhaps" because the Canadian central bankers present pointed out the Canadian Rockies from Lake Louise to Jasper, while Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco president Janet Yellen sang the praises of the mountains of her own Federal Reserve District: the east face of the Sierra Nevada as seen from the Owens Valley, to be specific.) You spend the mornings in windowless conference rooms, and the afternoons outside--on the Snake River, hiking, climbing, looking for moose, looking for elk, hoping that bear are not looking for you.

But the afternoons--and the formal and informal breaks in the mornings when you flee the windowless conference room for the fresh air of the west lawn of the lodge to stare at Mount Moran and company across the lake--are filled with arguments. Go with Federal Reserve Governor Don Kohn on an afternoon hike up Cascade Canyon, I am told, and expect to gain 3000 feet in two hours while being quizzed intently about technical details of monetary policy. Try to keep from grounding yourself on sand bars in the Snake River, and you will hear ex-senior executive branch officials of both political parties give their assessments of why neither of the Bush II Treasury Secretaries has been able to make effective use of the thousand or so people who work directly for him.

This time the most interesting rounds of break-and-afternoon conversations I heard were sparked by Sebastian Edwards's paper about the U.S. current account deficit. My conversations quickly exposed a deep fault among the conference attendees. Those who analyzed or forecast the U.S. domestic macroeconomy agreed that a steep decline in the value of the dollar sometime in the next five years was overwhelmingly likely, but by and large they did not think that such a decline would pose a big problem for the U.S. economy. (They agreed that it might well pose a very big problem for some of America's trading partners.) By contrast, those who analyzed or forecast the international economy as a whole were typically terrified by the prospect of a steep (30% or more, perhaps much more) decline in the value of the dollar: they thought a severe U.S. recession was a definite possibility, and that the situation would require exceptionally skillful handling to keep from becoming a serious economic problem.

Why this disjunction?

The domestic macroeconomists would typically argue more or less like this:

Yes, the dollar is likely to decline steeply either when foreign central banks stop buying dollar-denominated assets to keep the values of their currencies down or when international speculators lose confidence or both. But so what? The fall in the value of the dollar will boost foreign demand for U.S. exports. Workers will be pulled out of other sectors into the export sector. The effects of the dollar decline are much more likely to be a plus for employment rather than a minus, a boom rather than a recession.

To this, the international economists would respond more-or-less like this:

When foreign central banks stop buying or international speculators lose confidence in the value of the dollar and thus stop buying U.S. long-term bonds, two things happen: the value of the dollar falls, and the rate of interest on dollar-denominated long-term bonds spikes. The spike in long-term interest rates discourages investment spending directly, and also discourages consumption spending because higher interest rates mean lower housing and stock prices and thus lower consumer wealth. The fall in domestic spending happens now. The rise in exports as the falling dollar makes U.S.-made products more attractive to foreigners happens two years from now. In between, a lot of people are unemployed--and as they are unemployed, they cut back further on their spending. Plus there is the risk that the fall in the value of the dollar and the fall in long-term asset prices generated by the interest rate spike will cause enough bankruptcies among financial institutions to cause a flight to quality--which will further raise non-safe interest rates, and further discourage investment and consumption spending

This then puzzled the domestic economists:

Why should interest rates spike? The Federal Reserve controls American interest rates. If it wants to keep the price of the ten-year Treasury bond high, it can simply start buying bonds until the price of ten-year Treasuries is what the Fed wants it to be. There's no reason for employment in construction and other interest rate-sensitive sectors to fall before employment in exports and related sectors rises--at least not unless the Federal Reserve makes a big mistake and allows rising interest rates to shoot the economy in the head.

And at this point the response of the international economists fragmented:

  1. Some said that the falling dollar would create inflation--with imports at 1/6 of GDP, a 40% fall in the dollar would, if fully passed through to import prices, add 6% to the U.S. price level. The Federal Reserve would feel honor-bound to maintain its reputation as an inflation-fighter, and so would allow interest rates to go high enough to produce enough unemployment to push nominal wages down far enough to offset this rise in import prices. Thus the Federal Reserve would welcome the spike in interest rates as appropriate, and take no steps to offset it.
  2. Others said that the adjustment to the fall in the dollar would require that ten million workers shift out of construction, retail, and consumer services occupations and into export and import-competing manufacturing industries. You cannot move ten million American workers from one sector to another in a matter of a year or two without creating lots of structural unemployment.
  3. Still others said that financial stress would be the key: perhaps some major Wall Street firms would discover big unhedged risks in their derivative books; perhaps perhaps others would find that the values of their portfolios were more responsive to changes in long term interest rates than they had thought. In either case, it is financial distress and chaos that really triggers the recession.

And the domestic side had rebuttals to each of these three points:

  1. If the Federal Reserve announces now that it is targeting a measure of inflation that is not grossly affected by import prices--that it is targeting nominal wage growth, say--there is no need for the Federal Reserve to defend its credibility by attacking the economy. Just as the Federal Reserve has trained observers that it is more important to worry about 'core inflation' than 'headline inflation', so the Federal Reserve ought to be preparing observers to recognize that inflation produced by rising import prices is a one-time event, not an inflationary spiral that needs to be fought by triggering a deep recession.
  2. A large structural shift will cause high unemployment only if the transition is quick and brutal, and only if workers are pushed out of job-losing rather than pulled into job-gaining sectors. Whether it is quick or gradual and whether it is push or pull depends, once again, on the path of interest rates. Only if the Federal Reserve fails to do its job and allows for a massive interest rate spike is there a problem.
  3. Financial stress is something that can be managed: if the Federal Reserve keeps the path of interest rates smooth, great financial stress is unlikely.

And the domestic side of the argument pointed to the historical experience of the U.S. from 1986-1990:

Between 1985 and 1989 the value of the U.S. dollar declined by 40%. Between 1986 and 1990 the U.S. trade deficit declined from 4.0% of GDP to 0.5% of GDP--without a big recession, or significant macroeconomic distress.

Before dinner one evening I was lectured by a prominent Washington-area international finance economist about all the reasons that the 1986-1990 U.S. experience was likely to be a bad guide to the future:

  1. 1986-90 began with a 50% decline in world oil prices, a powerful stimulus to the world economy. This time the process is beginning with a doubling of world oil prices.
  2. 1986-90 saw Europe growing rapidly. Europe has a high propensity to buy U.S. exports, and the European boom meant that U.S. exports grew much faster in the late 1980s than anyone had expected. This time it is Asia that is booming, not Europe. And Asia has a relatively low appetite for U.S. exports.
  3. The Japanese government was willing to buy very large amounts of dollar-denominated assets in the late 1980s to keep the decline in the value of the dollar "orderly." In so doing, it inflated its domestic credit base and touched off its own property bubble. No foreign government is going to risk this again just because the U.S. would rather that the decline in the dollar was slow and orderly.
  4. The problem then was half as big relative to the size of the U.S. economy as is the problem now.

One way I found myself thinking of the argument is that the domestic-side economists look at the goods market and think of a decline in the value of the dollar as a supply shock, and as not that big a supply shock: if half of the adjustment in import prices is taken in reduced margins by producers abroad, and if the shock is spread out over four years, then 40% / 2 x 16% / 4 = 0.8% increase in inflation relative to baseline over three consecutive years. The Federal Reserve could easily allow that to happen without--providing it explained its causes well--running any risk of damaging the credibility of its commitment to effective price stability. No big deal. International finance economists, by contrast, look at the asset markets. A 40% decline in the dollar over four years is a decline at the rate of 10% per year. Once financial markets convince themselves that such a decline is coming and that they need to be compensated for it, that ought to drive a 400 basis point wedge between U.S. and foreign long-bond expected returns. And that is a very big deal.

Martin Feldstein said something very smart just after we had both taken off our shoes at Jackson Hole airport. He said that the domestic-side economists were keying off the past experience of the U.S. after 1985 and of Britain after 1982, and so were saying "no big deal"; while the international finance economists were keying off of the experiences of developing countries that had run large current-account deficits--Mexico 1994, East Asia 1997, Argentina 2001. Each side had its own preferred models that functioned very well at explaining the past historical cases that they focused on. But there was no way right now of settling, empirically, whether a model built to explain the U.S. in 1985 or Korea in 1998 was more applicable to the U.S. in 2006--you had to make a bet, either that continuities in U.S. economic structure were important, or that financial globalization was important, in choosing your model and your terms of analysis.

It was very interesting. And very disturbing. Brilliant economists, thinking hard, unable to reach even the beginnings of analytical agreement about how to model the distribution of possible futures.

Tom Delay Says That There Is No More Waste, Fraud, or Abuse in the Federal Budget!

Tom Delay announces that there is no more waste, fraud, or abuse in the federal budget:

TAPPED: September 2005 Archives: STRANGE VICTORY. Via the Bull Moose, some awesomely weird remarks from Tom DeLay:

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said yesterday that Republicans have done so well in cutting spending that he declared an "ongoing victory," and said there is simply no fat left to cut in the federal budget.

Mr. DeLay was defending Republicans' choice to borrow money and add to this year's expected $331 billion deficit to pay for Hurricane Katrina relief. Some Republicans have said Congress should make cuts in other areas, but Mr. DeLay said that doesn't seem possible.

"My answer to those that want to offset the spending is sure, bring me the offsets, I'll be glad to do it. But nobody has been able to come up with any yet," the Texas Republican told reporters at his weekly briefing.

Every single person who has ever claimed to be a small government Republican needs to immediately:

  1. Dress only in sackcloth and ashes.
  2. Apologize to the nation for the damage they have done.
  3. Swear on the most sacred altars that they will never vote for or work for a Republican candidate again until they have managed to retake control of the Republican Party from the likes of Tom Delay, George W. Bush, and Bill Frist.

Only thus can they hope to retain their self-respect.

Homeland "Security"

The Armchair Generalist writes:

Armchair Generalist: Mike Brown - Fall Guy: While Mike Brown was no emergency responder, I think he was chosen as the fall guy for this administration's actions, Pres. Bush's public acceptance of responsibility not withstanding. Josh Marshall points out this Knight-Ridder article noting that Michael Chertoff at DHS may have been the guy holding back the federal response, rather than Mike Brown at FEMA:

But Chertoff - not Brown - was in charge of managing the national response to a catastrophic disaster, according to the National Response Plan, the federal government's blueprint for how agencies will handle major natural disasters or terrorist incidents. An order issued by President Bush in 2003 also assigned that responsibility to the homeland security director.

But according to a memo obtained by Knight Ridder, Chertoff didn't shift that power to Brown until late afternoon or evening on Aug. 30, about 36 hours after Katrina hit Louisiana and Mississippi. That same memo suggests that Chertoff may have been confused about his lead role in disaster response and that of his department.

"As you know, the President has established the `White House Task Force on Hurricane Katrina Response.' He will meet with us tomorrow to launch this effort. The Department of Homeland Security, along with other Departments, will be part of the task force and will assist the Administration with its response to Hurricane Katrina," Chertoff said in the memo to the secretaries of defense, health and human services and other key federal agencies.

Also visit the Daily Howler, who takes the Washington Post down on its priggish (and factually incorrect) farewell to "Brownie," noting that the offenses attributed to Brown should have been attributed to Chertoff instead. I liked Chertoff's attempts to transform and streamline DHS, but as I've commented before, it's the DHS heirarchy that screwed the pooch in the federal response, not hamstrung FEMA or its luckless leader.

It is true that Michael Brown is finally beginning to push back. Five days ago Michael Chertoff was telling the New York Times's complaisant Elizabeth Bumiller that the reason that he--Chertoff--was so uninformed was that he "was getting much of his information from Mr. Brown and [so] was not aware of what was occurring." Today Brown in his turn finds friendly New York Times reporters to tell his side of the story:

Ex-FEMA Chief Tells of Frustration and Chaos - New York Times: Hours after Hurricane Katrina passed New Orleans on Aug. 29... Michael D. Brown... placed frantic calls to his boss, Michael Chertoff, the secretary of homeland security, and to the office of the White House chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr.... [H]e told [them]... that the Louisiana governor... and her staff were proving incapable of organizing a coherent state effort and that... [there was] an "out of control" situation. "I am having a horrible time," Mr. Brown said he told Mr. Chertoff and a White House official - either Mr. Card or his deputy, Joe Hagin - in a status report that evening. "I can't get a unified command established." By the time of that call, he added, "I was beginning to realize things were going to hell in a handbasket" in Louisiana....

Mr. Brown's account, in which he described making "a blur of calls" all week to Mr. Chertoff, Mr. Card and Mr. Hagin, suggested that Mr. Bush, or at least his top aides, were informed early and repeatedly... that the overall response was going badly. A senior administration official said Wednesday night that White House officials recalled the conversations with Mr. Brown but did not believe they had the urgency or desperation he described in the interview. "There's a general recollection of him saying, 'They're going to need more help,' " said the official, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of internal White House discussions....

In Washington, Mr. Chertoff's spokesman, Russ Knocke, said there had been no delay in the federal response. "We pushed absolutely everything we could," Mr. Knocke said, "every employee, every asset, every effort, to save and sustain lives."...

When he arrived in Baton Rouge Sunday evening, Mr. Brown said, he was immediately concerned about the lack of coordinated response from Governor Blanco and Maj. Gen. Bennett C. Landreneau, the adjutant general of the Louisiana National Guard. "What do you need? Help me help you," Mr. Brown said he asked them. "The response was like, 'Let us find out,' and then I never received specific requests for specific things that needed doing." The most responsive person he could find, Mr. Brown said, was Governor Blanco's husband, Raymond. "He would try to go find stuff out for me," Mr. Brown said.

Governor Blanco's communications director, Mr. Mann, said that she was frustrated that Mr. Brown and others at FEMA wanted itemized requests before acting. "It was like walking into an emergency room bleeding profusely and being expected to instruct the doctors how to treat you," he said.

On Monday night, Mr. Brown said, he reported his growing worries to Mr. Chertoff and the White House. He said he did not ask for federal active-duty troops to be deployed because he assumed his superiors in Washington were doing all they could. Instead, he said, he repeated a dozen times, "I cannot get a unified command established." The next morning, Mr. Brown said, he and Governor Blanco decided to take a helicopter into New Orleans.... The crowd in the Superdome, the city's shelter of last resort, was already larger than expected. But he said he was relieved to see that the mayor had a detailed list of priorities, starting with help to evacuate the Superdome. He passed the list on to the state emergency operations center in Baton Rouge, but when he returned that evening he was surprised to find that nothing had been done. "I am just screaming at my F.C.O., 'Where are the helicopters?' " he recalled. " 'Where is the National Guard? Where is all the stuff that the mayor wanted?' "... [Tuesday] night, Mr. Brown said, he called Mr. Chertoff and the White House again in desperation. "Guys, this is bigger than what we can handle," he told them, he said. "This is bigger than what FEMA can do. I am asking for help." "Maybe I should have screamed 12 hours earlier," Mr. Brown said in the interview. "But that is hindsight. We were still trying to make things work."...

There is a definite sense that if one of the three governmental levels--the City of New Orleans, the State of Louisiana, or the Federal Government--had been able to respond in a competent fashion, things would have gone much much better.

Given that evacuating a million people is supposed to be a core competence of the Homeland Security Department, this is very disturbing.

On Large Organizations and the Bush Administration

Toyota is a large organization: it employs more than 36,000 people in the United States alone. IBM is a large organization: it employs 23,000 people in India alone. WalMart is a a large organization: it employs 1,500,000 people worldwide.

Nobody I know has any complaints about WalMart's efficiency.

Thus my jaw drops when I come across statements like Arnold Kling's:

TCS: Tech Central Station - A Challenge for Brad DeLong: Large organizations, in the private sector and the public sector alike, are inherently dehumanizing to employees, clumsy, inflexible, and unable to handle sudden new challenges.... [S]urviving [private sector] large organizations tend to be slightly less dysfunctional than those that go out of business.... I wish that we could somehow re-run the history of the last three years with Bill Clinton as President and an administrator DeLong admires... as FEMA Director. My guess is that New Orleans after Katrina would have turned out approximately the same -- maybe a little better, perhaps a little worse...

[M]arket outcomes emerge from decentralized interactions among people.... [B]elievers in Intelligent Design.... The more government fails, the harder they want to try.... If pork-barrel public works projects contributed to the catastrophe in New Orleans, then appropriate billions for pork-barrel public works projects as "relief." Is President Bush particularly bad at administration? I do not think that DeLong is in a position to judge.... I do not believe that one can mold a spectacularly effective government out of the clay of imperfect human beings. I do not believe it is possible for large organizations to behave as if they were the products of Intelligent Design...


"Inherently" rather than "can easily become."

Shouldn't the fact that WalMart finds it more efficient to be a bureaucracy of 1.5 million people--rather than to split itself up into 15,000 companies of a hundred employees each--make Arnold Kling a little hesitant in his declarations that FEMA was bound to foul up this badly no matter what? Serious thoughts about when wants to use market and when one wants to use command-and-large-organizations--and how one then controls command-and-bureaucracy--would be very welcome here.

Mark Schmitt provides some:

TPMCafe: There are some good points in Matt Yglesias's article noting that plenty of Bush appointees aren't all that well qualified. His point that Michael Chertoff's background as a prosecutor doesn't make him well suited to manage most of the functions of DHS was borne out by the revelation that Chertoff bears responsibility for the delay in FEMA response to Katrina, and may not have understood what he needed to do to trigger the response. But I think this misses a bit of what's going on....

The head of any large agency is inevitably going to lack expertise in many key functions of the agency. Homeland Security, among its other problems, may be just too large and diverse for anyone to manage, but the same will be true of many agencies -- how likely is it that an Interior Secretary who knows a lot about open space and wetlands issues would also be expert in the Bureau of Indian Affairs issues, for example?

I don't really expect Chertoff to know exactly what form he needs to sign to trigger an "Incident of National Significance" declaration. But I expect him to have a chief of staff who pulls together the meeting that brings that information up to the secretary's level promptly.... [W]hat matters most about what's happened in the last few years is that career public servants don't have that same attitude anymore. As Paul Krugman pointed out, in places like FEMA, the FDA, Interior, EPA, top career people are leaving in droves.

There was a terrifying quote in Mike Allen's story about the administration: "Katrina has shown the incredible weakness of the notion that you can have weak players in key spots because the only people who matter are in the White House" -- quoting a Republican lobbyist. It would make sense to say, "you can have weak players in key spots because the people who matter are the operational bureaucrats." That's a familiar concept of government, it's how you survive an Ed Meese. But the idea that it's White House staff who would compensate for the weakness of individual cabinet officers -- that is really something new. And it's absolutely crazy. It shows a total disdain and disregard for what government does. White House staff can sometimes do the broad-brush development of a policy initiative. But even the most seriously qualified White House staff -- let's say the Program Associate Directors at the Office of Management and Budget -- can't manage an agency or implement an initiative or help it survive.

That's why it's so important to forget about Michael Brown or Chertoff or the individuals involved and focus some attention on the system that made it all possible -- a radical, unprecedented system of centralized, politicized control that is guaranteed to fail.

And yes, George W. Bush is bad at administration. He is bad at spotting administrative talent. He is bad at telling who among his subordinates is telling whom the truth and who is telling him pleasing lies.

Impeach George W. Bush. Impeach him now.

Four Faces of European Welfare Capitalism

Four European modelds: / Comment & analysis / Columnists - Martin Wolf: Europeans can look to each other: Is the “European model” broken? To many outsiders the answer is a strong yes. Increasing numbers of insiders are beginning to agree. They fear that a supposedly savage Anglo-Saxon liberalism will overwhelm the civilised European economy. Happily, this dichotomy is grossly oversimplified.

What is true is that, in Europe, the birth-pangs of the modern economy were slow and agonising.... After many disasters, Europeans struck a successful balance between individual effort and collective responsibility after the second world war. All western Europeans share a commitment to what is, by global standards, generous, state-organised social welfare. But André Sapir, the Belgian economist, notes there are at least four quite distinct models of how to do so.

The “Nordic model”... the highest public spending on social protection and universal welfare provision. Labour markets are relatively unregulated but there are “active” labour market policies, while strong unions deliver a high degree of wage equality.

The “Anglo-Saxon” model... generous social assistance of last resort, with cash transfers going mainly to people of working age. Unions are weak and the labour market relatively unregulated.

The “Rhineland model”... social insurance... pensions. Employment protection is stronger than in the Nordic countries. Unions are also powerful or enjoy legal support for extension of the results of collective bargaining.

Finally, the “Mediterranean” mode... public spending on old-age pensions. Heavy regulation protects (and lowers) employment, while generous support for early retirement seeks to reduce the number of job-seekers....

European countries tend to trade off high levels of employment protection (in the Mediterranean model) against high coverage of unemployment benefits (in the Anglo-Saxon and Nordic models).... How well then do these different approaches work in terms of two fundamental European objectives: high levels of employment and elimination of relative poverty? On the former goal, both the Nordic and Anglo-Saxon models perform well and the Rhineland and Mediterranean models relatively poorly. On the latter objective, the Rhineland and Nordic models do well and the Mediterranean and Anglo-Saxon models poorly....

[T]here is no doubt about the success of the Nordic countries. But all these (relatively small) countries have highly educated populations with a shared commitment to exceptionally high levels of state-financed welfare.... [I]ts applicability to the Mediterranean countries is questionable.... [I]f the Nordic route is difficult, the Anglo-Saxon one is no easier. The (implicit) goal of Rhineland and Mediterranean welfare models is to protect the jobs and earnings of the male heads of household. The Anglo-Saxon model does not achieve this....

Europe has models of economic policy that seem to work tolerably well and offer something very different from “savage capitalism”. This is dramatically true of the Nordic model. The question is how far other European countries can adopt either of the apparently superior alternatives. Italy, for example, could never turn itself into either Finland or the UK.... It may be difficult for Europeans to learn from one another. Not to do so could prove even more painful.

Google Weblog Search

Barry Ritholtz is very impressed by Google Weblog Search

The Big Picture: Game Over in the Blog Search Space: Today, Google introduces Blog Search.... Google reminds everyone why they are such a fabulous technology company -- more than their sparse and clean interface, their products simply work better than everyone else's -- and often by orders of magnitude. My first try with BlogSearch revealed 613 links in 0.08 seconds, some as recent as 37 minutes old. Competitors typically lag by days and sometimes weeks.

Its game over in the blog search space.... It's also a fascinating reminder how fast and comptitive the technology space is; While Technorati (probably should) get credit for identifying the blog search space, they moved way too slow to get their product offering up to speed.... Meanwhile, this is yet another reminder of why Google is the most important Internet company out there (not neccessarily stock, but company).

Now you understand why Gates and Ballmer are afraid of them. They damned well should be. Google keeps raising the bar . . .

Blog Search is Google search technology focused on blogs. Google is a strong believer in the self-publishing phenomenon represented by blogging, and we hope Blog Search will help our users to explore the blogging universe more effectively, and perhaps inspire many to join the revolution themselves. Whether you're looking for Harry Potter reviews, political commentary, summer salad recipes or anything else, Blog Search enables you to find out what people are saying on any subject of your choice. Your results include all blogs, not just those published through Blogger; our blog index is continually updated, so you'll always get the most accurate and up-to-date results; and you can search not just for blogs written in English, but in French, Italian, German, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Brazilian Portuguese and other languages as well.

How do I find Blog Search? There are a few different ways you can get to Blog Search: (Google-style interface), (Blogger-style interface), The Blogger Dashboard, The Navbar on any Blog*Spot blog. It's the same search in each place, no matter how you get to it. The Navbar, however, provides two buttons: one to search the blog you are currently viewing, and one to search all blogs.

How do I use Blog Search? Just type the word(s) you want to search for in the text box and click "Search." That's all there is to it! If you want more control over your search, click the "Advanced Search" link to the right of the search button. There you'll find options to specify titles, authors, languages and more. Once you get your search results, there will be an additional link that allows you to switch between displaying the results with either the most relevant or recent results at the top. In the Blogger version of the interface, there is an extra "use search options" link beneath the search box. This will show a few of the most common advanced options, such as a specific blog or a date range to search within.

Which blogs are included in Blog Search? The goal of Blog Search is to include every blog that publishes a site feed (either RSS or Atom). It is not restricted to Blogger blogs, or blogs from any other service...

The Thought of George W. Bush Is a Spiritual Atom Bomb of Infinite Power!

Joining Amity "George W. Bush's Was Prepared for Katrina! And His Preparedness Has Already Saved Lives!" Shlaes and Ben "Bush Doggedly Goes on Helping the Least Among Us!" Stein is James "It's All the Mainstream Media's Fault!" Pinkerton:

TCS: Tech Central Station - The MSM Bites Back!: Newsweek... knows how to wield a deft micropolitical shiv against Republican soft underbellies... the weekly jibed that Bush suffers from poor "situational awareness" about the Katrina disaster, such that presidential counselor Dan Bartlett had to make him a DVD compendium of the news coverage to get the point across to his uncomprehending boss. Now how do you suppose that Newsweek got that nugget?... Bartlett either leaked it himself or someone leaked it about him. Either way, the trust level inside the Bush White House, once high, has now fallen lower than the New Orleans land-level....

The New York Times provided a Blanco-eyed view of the recent events, giving long shrift to the Democratic governor -- and short-shrift to the Republican president. In the article's opening scene-setting vignette, the reader is informed that embattled Pelican State Governor Kathleen Blanco was "blistering mad" because she couldn't get help from the Bush administration: "Only a fraction of the 500 vehicles promised by federal authorities had arrived." But what about all those other buses...?... Other MSMers did their part, too. Time broke the Michael Brown resume-padding story, and two days later the Federal Emergency chief was out of a job.... The Los Angeles Times broke another story about the Republican loyalists who filled up FEMA's first tier -- implying that they were nothing but patronage hacks....

Bush's approval rating has dropped three or four points, to between 38 and 42 percent.... To put it plainly, the substantial pro-Bush contingent of the New Media -- that is, cable news, talk radio, and the Net -- was overwhelmed.... So while a few bloggers are hacking away at the accreting conventional wisdom that Everything is Bush's Fault, that battle is being lost even before Bush's big "I take responsibility" concession on Tuesday.... [T]he MSM got there firstest with the mostest.... [W]hile CNN, strictly speaking, might not be part of the MSM, its heart is clearly with its elder brethren. Its president, Jonathan Klein is the former #2 at CBS. So it was easy for CNN talent, such as Anderson Cooper, to get into the MSM groove....

Has the MSM paid any price for its liberal-tilting? Has the American public turned off all these nattering nabobs of negativism? Apparently not.... So is there any hope for the administration? And, more to point, for a fair and balanced media? And for a limited government to go with it? Sure there's hope.... [But i]n the meantime, Bush, and what remains of his domestic-policy revolution, is being buried under an avalanche of bad news, badly reported -- all part of the media-'Trina juggernaut. It's a big wave, indeed, a Category Five assault on the progress of the last five years.

It is very interesting what Pinkerton thinks of as a "biased press": a press that reports on what Dan Bartlett (or whatever) thinks of George W. Bush, that reports on FEMA's inability to fulfill its promises about transportation, that reports on the state of Michael Brown' resume, that reports on the emergency management experience of high FEMA officials.

It is also interesting that these three are willing to do so much damage to their own credibility right now in order to do the administration's bidding by defending the wisdom of George W. Bush. What's the upside for them?

A Real President Talks About Staffing FEMA

From Duncan Black:

Eschaton: Quote of the Day

"... I went to Florida a few days after President Bush did to observe the damage from Hurricane Andrew. I had dealt with a lot of natural disasters as governor, including floods, droughts, and tornadoes, but I had never seen anything like this. I was surprised to hear complaints from both local officials and residents about how the Federal Emergency Management Agency was handling the aftermath of the hurricane. Traditionally, the job of FEMA director was given to a political supporter of the President who wanted some plum position but who had no experience with emergencies. I made a mental note to avoid that mistake if I won. Voters don't chose a President based on how he'll handle disasters, but if they're faced with one themselves, it quickly becomes the most important issue in their lives." Bill Clinton, My Life (p. 428).

It would be so nice to have a real president.

Eighteen Turkeys

Have we no coyotes? Have we no mountain lions?

There are eighteen turkeys--all now adult-sized frolicking by the pipe where the (seasonal) creek goes under the driveway. We have never seen this before.

How far is their range? Are these the same turkeys that we see from the Lafayette-Moraga trail as they forage for half-rotted pears in the abandoned pear orchards?

X-Treme Cooking

Teresa Nielsen Hayden writes:

Making Light: Listening to habaneros: Habaneros are in season, those wicked little hot peppers that clock in at 100K - 580K Scovilles.*... I%'ve been working up improved methods for dealing with them. Here's the principle: Capsaicin, the molecule that makes hot peppers hot, is hydrophobic, meaning it doesn't like water. Safely handling habaneros isn't just a matter of wearing rubber gloves and never touching your face (though you do have to wear rubber gloves and avoid touching your face). Less obviously, you want to avoid having lots of habanero come into contact with water that isn't heavily loaded with detergent. If you've ever handled metallic sodium, you know the drill, except you use olive oil instead of kerosene....

Equipment: A large glass jar (I used recycled spaghetti sauce jars) that will fit in your microwave oven. A tight lid for the jar. Rubber gloves, which you will infallibly wear every time you're handling habaneros. (Goggles aren't a bad idea, either.) A metal strainer. A microwave oven. Lots of dish detergent. Lots of paper towels. Utensils that aren't made of wood, unless you're planning to throw them away afterward. Optionally, an aerosol degreasing cleaner like Orange Clean or Xenit--it's handy for the cleanup phase. Ingredients: Fresh habaneros, half a dozen to a couple of dozen, depending on your tastes and ambitions. A big bottle of fresh olive oil...

The Thought of George W. Bush Is a Spiritual Atom Bomb of Infinite Power!

Jet Fashionranch reads Ben Stein--a horrible fate for anybody. Highlights "Bush's response has not been unusually bad, but amazingly powerful and swift." "No one has been able to point to a single instance in which black victims were mistreated because of their race by whites. In fact, just the opposite has happened." "George Bush... does not attack those who falsely accuse him of the most horrible acts and neglect. Instead, he doggedly goes on helping the least among us.":


The American Spectator | Ben Stein: What is the real story of Katrina is (I suggest) not so much that nature wrought fury on land, water, people, property, and animals, not at all anything about racism, not much about federal government incompetence. The real story is that the mainstream media rioted.

They used the storm and its attendant sorrows to continue their endless attack on George W. Bush. Wildly inflated stories about the number of dead and missing, totally made up old wives' tales of racism, breathless accounts of Bush's neglect that are utterly devoid of truth and of historical context -- this is what the mainstream media gave us. The use of floating corpses, of horror stories of plagues, the sad faces of refugees, the long-faced phony accusations of intentional neglect and racism -- anything is grist for the media's endless attempts to undermine the electorate's choice last November. It is sad, but true that the media will use even the most heart breaking truths -- and then add total inventions -- to try to weaken and then evict from office a man who has done nothing wrong, but has instead turned himself inside out to help the real victims.

In the meantime, George Bush does not lash out, does not attack those who falsely accuse him of the most horrible acts and neglect. Instead, he doggedly goes on helping the least among us. I don't know how he does it, but we are very lucky he does. As for truth, it eventually may be salvaged from the flooded neighborhoods of The Crescent City, but not as long as there is a lie to use to hurt an honest man trying to do the best he can, and hundreds of thousands of brave, tireless men and women who do more than point fingers and tell tales. The Katrina story is a disgrace to the people who are "reporting" it while pouring gasoline on a fire. They and their crusade against George Bush are the real stories, and they are dismal ones.

George W. Bush "doggedly goes on helping the least among us."

He helps the victims of the disaster by straining every nerve to make sure that the best-qualified person in the country--nay, in the world!--heads up FEMA. He helps those who give him guitars feel good about themselves while the levees break two-thousand miles away. He helps those who couldn't get a relief convoy to the New Orleans Superdome in four days feel good about themselves by telling them they're doing a "heckuva job." And he helps firefighters stay out of the devastation by using them as props in his photo-ops:


I swear. This is as bad as Amity Shlaes. It's not the mainstream media that's the source of the stories that Bush is "fidgety, cold and snappish in private. He yells at those who dare give him bad news and is therefore not surprisingly surrounded by an echo chamber of terrified sycophants. He is slow to comprehend concepts that don't emerge from his gut. He is uncomprehending of the speeches that he is given to read." Its Bush's top aides--and some of them have been dining out on stories like this for years.

Rodrik and Subramanian Respond to Critics

Why did India's growth accelerate so much in the 1980s? And was there a sense in which India's rapid growth in the 1980s was 'unsustainable' while growth in the 1990s was 'sustainable'? Rodrik and Subramanian don't think their critics have put their finger on it:

IMF Staff Papers - Volume 52, Number 2, 2005 - Reply to Comments by T. N. Srinivasan by Dani Rodrik and Arvind Subramanian: Since our discussant's intemperate remarks risk detracting attention from the interesting questions at hand, let us try to clarify where the important disagreements are so that the reader can make up his or her own mind.

First, it is worth listing the areas of agreement. Our discussant does not deny any of the following important points we make in the paper:

(1) India's economic growth rate rose significantly around 1980, and the pace of economic expansion and productivity increase during the 1980s was on the whole indistinguishable from that experienced during the 1990s. (This may have been well known to economists in India, but it certainly has not been common knowledge among reasonably well informed analysts of economic growth and economic reform elsewhere.)

(2) India's major liberalizing reforms came after 1991. Before that date, India was a practically closed economy.

(3) While there was some liberalization during the latter part of the 1980s, it was not significant enough to have been the driving force behind the higher growth of the 1980s.

(4) Manufacturing played a key role in the increase in growth in the 1980s.

(5) The quality of India's institutions can support a much higher level of income than what the country had until recently.

Our discussant's main argument is that growth during the 1980s was driven by fiscal expansion and hence is unsustainable. We did discuss this possibility in our paper and found it wanting. Briefly, we argued that the demand-pull argument is inadequate to explain the large increase in trend productivity, even under the most favorable circumstances for that argument. The rise in capacity utilization, such as it was, cannot explain more than part of the increase in labor or total factor productivity. We can adduce additional evidence to support our point of view. Consider the Latin American experience prior to the 1982 debt crisis. Fiscal-expansion-led growth there hardly produced an increase in productivity growth.

Moreover, we do not consider India's 1991 balance of payments crisis to constitute compelling evidence that the growth of the 1980s was unsustainable. Countries can make macro policy mistakes both when they are stagnating and when they are growing rapidly. Once more, comparative evidence is useful: How many analysts seriously believe that the Asian financial crisis of 1997–98, arguably much bigger in magnitude than India's in 1991, proves that the rapid growth of Republic of Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia in the decades prior was unsustainable? And we have seen few analysts arguing that the crises in Latin America (Mexico in 1994, Argentina in 2000, or Brazil in 1998–99) call for a change in the market-based reforms preceding the crises on the grounds that they were unsustainable!

In any event, the case that growth in the 1980s was fiscally driven and unsustainable needs to be made; it is not enough to assert it. Indeed, it would have been extremely useful if the discussant had discussed why our methodology for demonstrating that growth in the 1980s was not fiscally driven was flawed or inadequate. We suspect that there is a tendency to dismiss the growth of the 1980s because it makes the subsequent reforms less impressive ("since the system was not reformed, any growth that came out should have been unsustainable—i.e., bad growth"). But that would be just ideology, not analysis.

We also need to correct a misunderstanding. We did not argue that the attitudinal shift of the early 1980s led to a "once-and-for-all" increase in growth. We argued that the attitudinal shift was a plausible reason for the increase in growth during the 1980s. We explicitly mentioned the possibility that, without the reforms of the 1990s, growth might have petered out.

We are puzzled by the discussant's claim that the distinction between promarket and probusiness policy orientations is incoherent. It seems to us that the distinction is analytically quite clear, and in practice quite useful. Suharto's economic policies were probusiness, but hardly promarket. We made clear that policies that would help incumbents without allowing newcomers to share in the increased profitability would count as probusiness rather than promarket. We do not disagree with the discussant's point that "any policy ... which raises the profits of incumbents also raises that of potential entrants, if allowed to enter" (our emphasis), but we maintain that it is possible to enhance incumbents' profits without allowing entry (a possibility that the discussant himself allows with his qualifier).

Finally, the discussant takes issue with us for not providing any direct evidence for the attitudinal shift on the part of government toward the organized private sector. We would be the first to agree that our explanation is speculative and based (necessarily) on indirect evidence. But let us also be clear that we were driven to this hypothesis by the paucity of other plausible stories. The increase in growth is too large to attribute exclusively to the minor tinkering in policies (regulatory or fiscal) that took place at the time.

In his recent book The World is Flat, Thomas Friedman reports an interview with Tarun Das, who was the long-time director of the Confederation of Indian Industry. After detailing the cumbersome bureaucratic rules and pervasive state ownership that suffocated the Indian private sector, Das says this about the 1991 reforms:

'Our Berlin Wall fell,' said Das, 'and it was like unleashing a caged tiger. Trade controls were abolished. We were always at 3 percent growth, the so-called Hindu rate of growth—slow, cautious, and conservative. To make [better returns], you had to go to America. Well, three years later [after the 1991 reforms] we were at 7 percent rate of growth.' (Friedman 2005, p. 50)

Das's comments as well as Friedman's unquestioning acceptance of them reveal how widespread is the erroneous view that links India's growth since the early 1980s to the liberalizing reforms of 1991. They underscore the need to open up the debate on the origins of India's exceptional performance.

The Thought of George W. Bush Is a Spiritual Atom Bomb of Infinite Power!

Amity Shlaes writes about how the fact that George W. Bush was personally mobilized and prepared to deal with Hurrican Katrina has saved lives: "The level of preparedness for a giant storm may not have been obvious outside the country. But the US was prepared for Katrina. All the old and new federal offices worked together and confronted the storm early."

I guess she didn't get the memo: / Comment & analysis / Columnists - Amity Shlaes: Bush has learnt to ride the storm: Published: September 1 2005 20:24 | Last updated: September 1 2005 20:24: It is early to be getting partisan about New Orleans. We are still too close to the awfulness of the hurricane: as I write the death toll from the waters is approaching 200. The US is absorbing the news of the annihilation of an entire American city. Still, the big political question about Hurricane Katrina is already being posed by the bloggers: is President George W. Bush's foreign policy affecting the federal government's response to New Orleans? Did America react differently to Katrina because it was thinking about Iraq?

The answer of course is yes. In some ways, foreign commitments are limiting the US's ability to respond. Instead of buttressing the levees or arresting looters today, the 5,000 troops from the Louisiana national guard are parked at Camp Liberty outside Baghdad, watching the video clips of the crowds at the Superdome just like the rest of us. Mississippi guardsmen are also in Iraq, attached to the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force. In the national mind, Katrina, Iraq, and the potential for a terror strike are all competing for attention.

Still, Iraq has not caused the US to botch Katrina -- either the preparation or response. On the contrary, the fact that the country and President Bush personally were already mobilised for disaster has saved lives.

Go back, for just a moment, to the 2000 elections. A debate moderator asked Mr Bush, the presidential candidate, what he would do when confronted with an emergency. Mr Bush -- then Texas governor -- gave a reply about a flood in Del Rio, Texas, that now seems touching both for its emotion and the small scale on which he was thinking: "A fellow and his family got completely uprooted. The only thing I knew was to get aid as quickly as possible with state and federal help, and to put my arms around the man and his family and cry with them. That's what governors do." And that was just about as far as Mr Bush%u2019s thoughts went. After all, among Mr Bus's advisers were federalists who deplored the concept of expanding Washington's power. They recognised that weather emergencies, like wars, often provide the excuse for just such expansion. Faced with a Katrina in the summer of 2001, the president, thinking as a federalist, might have been slower to call for Washington's intervention. He might have said: "this is a job for Kathleen Blanco, the governor of Louisiana. With a little help from Washington." And that, alas, probably would not have been sufficient.

September 11 changed Mr Bush and the country. Many of Mr Bush's critics remarked that he looked like a deer in the headlights in that moment at the primary school when aides first whispered to him the news of the aircraft hijackings. But Mr Bush grew into a new role of leader in emergencies, and so did the federal government. In addition to its old Federal Emergency Management Agency, it created the Office of Homeland Security to co-ordinate local, state and federal responses.

The level of preparedness for a giant storm may not have been obvious outside the country. But the US was prepared for Katrina. All the old and new federal offices worked together and confronted the storm early. Nearly two days before Katrina hit New Orleans, the president made millions available to Louisiana by declaring the state an official disaster area. In a press conference on Sunday morning, he instructed the country to listen for any alerts -- and warned straightforwardly that he could not "stress enough the danger this hurricane poses to Gulf coast communities". On Sunday too, Alabama and Mississippi received access to cash when they in turn were declared disaster areas. Citizens of New Orleans with special needs were instructed to go to the Superdome. Sunday also brought a mandatory evacuation order from the mayor of New Orleans. The hurricane made landfall only on Monday morning. And so on, in military fashion. As for troops, 30,000 will be in the south soon -- hardly a shortage.

What of the future, when the waters recede? Katrina is likely to change the US, and lead Washington to spend more to protect against certain eventualities: another California earthquake; worse forest fires than those of 2000. But the odds of another natural disaster on a Katrina scale are still less than the odds of a terrorist poisoning of a water source or, heaven forfend, a dirty bomb at an airport. And those terror odds are currently increasing -- after all, terrorists see chaos as opportunity. Most Americans know all this and are trying to rise to the special challenges this year has brought. To introduce politics at such a point would be not only wrong but low.

One of the Financial Times's great advantages to me is that I kinow I can count on it not to print things by people who are deliberately lying to me. Or, rather, one of the Financial Times's great advantages was that I thought I could count on it not to print things by people who are deliberately lying to me.

Dr. Bush and Mr. Bush

Daniel Froomkin notes the transformation of George W. Bush--that is, the transformation in what the mainstream media tells us about George W. Bush:

Now They Tell Us: Is Bush the commanding, decisive, jovial president you've been hearing about for years in so much of the mainstream press?

Maybe not so much.

Judging from the blistering analyses in Time, Newsweek, and elsewhere these past few days, it turns out that Bush is in fact fidgety, cold and snappish in private. He yells at those who dare give him bad news and is therefore not surprisingly surrounded by an echo chamber of terrified sycophants. He is slow to comprehend concepts that don't emerge from his gut. He is uncomprehending of the speeches that he is given to read. And oh yes, one of his most significant legacies -- the immense post-Sept. 11 reorganization of the federal government which created the Homeland Security Department -- has failed a big test.... [Bush] is, after all, undeniably an unpopular president now.... [F]or whatever reason, critical observations and insights that for so long have been zealously guarded by mainstream journalists, and only doled out in teaspoons if at all, now seem to be flooding into the public sphere....

Dan is wrong. These critical observations and insights have been doled out by elite journaists at dinner parties for years.

Ongoing Human Evolution

Ah. Andrew Sullivan looks forward--a little too eagerly?--to the division of the human race into subspecies along racial lines: - Daily Dish: Humans are still evolving - and at quite a brisk pace, according to new research. Bad news for liberals: at the rate research is going, you will soon have to choose between believing in evolution and denying any subtle, genetic differences between broad racial groups.

He is, of course, wrong. He hasn't done the math. The human gene pool will be well-mixed as long as there is even a very small amount of cross-population genetic mixing.

To see this, let's suppose that you have two groups of humans--population 1 and population 2--that are almost completely separated: only one in a thousand marriages crosses group lines. And let's suppose that there is a highly favorable dominant mutation--one that increases the holder's relative chances of surviving to reproduce by five percent. Let's make 20 years be a generation. And let's further suppose that this mutation has spread so that 1% of the people in population 1 possess the mutation, and nobody in population 2 possesses it.

Now turn this situation loose. What will happen over time?



There will be an age--about 1500 years--in which a few people in population 1 have this mutation, and almost nobody in population 2 has it. There will be an age--about 750 years--in which about half of the people in population 1 have this mutation, and a few people in population 2 have it. There will be an age--about another 750 years--in which it is rare that somebody in population 1 doesn't have this mutation, and in which less than half of population 2 has it. There will be an age--another 1500 years--in which effectively everybody in population 1 has this mutation, and more than half but not yet effectively everybody in population 2 has it.

There is no age in which you can say what Andrew Sullivan wants to say: that there are subtle, genetic differences between "broad racial groups" in the sense that members of population 1 have the mutation, and members of population 2 do not.

There is surely enough mixing in the human gene pool today to prevent any future strong segregation of genetic markers by groups even as strong as what we see today with the epicanthal fold. Even today, I guess that my children's ancestors 750 years ago lived in what is now the United States, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, England, Germany, Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Madeira, somewhere in West Africa, Italy, Sicily, Poland, Lithuania, White Russia, Ukraine, Great Russia, and Mongolia--and more.

UPDATE: Comments closed--I don't have time to keep them a discussion rather than a food fight.

The Yellowstone River

Calculated Risk returns from Yellowstone:

Calculated Risk: Return from Paradise :


The Yellowstone river winds its way through the Hayden valley in early September. The wildlife viewing was excellent. Herds of bison were ubiquitous. We encountered several bull elk herding their harems through the forest. We saw wolves in the Lamar Valley, Pronghorn antelope, moose, coyote, trumpeter swan, mule deer and more. Did I mention the Bison were everywhere?...

How Badly Off Is Our Government?

Paul Krugman is frightened:

All the President's Friends - New York Times: How many FEMA's are there? Unfortunately, it's easy to find other agencies suffering from some version of the FEMA syndrome.

The first example won't surprise you: the Environmental Protection Agency, which has a key role to play in Hurricane Katrina's aftermath, but which has seen a major exodus of experienced officials over the past few years. In particular, senior officials have left in protest over what they say is the Bush administration's unwillingness to enforce environmental law.

Yesterday The Independent, the British newspaper, published an interview about the environmental aftermath of Katrina with Hugh Kaufman, a senior policy analyst in the agency's Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, whom one suspects is planning to join the exodus. "The budget has been cut," he said, "and inept political hacks have been put in key positions."... What about the Food and Drug Administration? Serious questions have been raised about the agency's coziness with drug companies, and the agency's top official in charge of women's health issues resigned over the delay in approving Plan B, the morning-after pill, accusing the agency's head of overruling the professional staff on political grounds. Then there's the Corporation for Public Broadcasting....

You could say that these are all cases in which the Bush administration hasn't worried about degrading the quality of a government agency because it doesn't really believe in the agency's mission. But you can't say that about my other two examples. Even a conservative government needs an effective Treasury Department. Yet Treasury, which had high prestige and morale during the Clinton years, has fallen from grace.

The public symbol of that fall is the fact that John Snow, who was obviously picked for his loyalty rather than his qualifications, is still Treasury secretary. Less obvious to the public is the hollowing out of the department's expertise. Many experienced staff members have left since 2000, and a number of key positions are either empty or filled only on an acting basis. "There is no policy," an economist who was leaving the department after 22 years told The Washington Post, back in 2002. "If there are no pipes, why do you need a plumber?" So the best and brightest have been leaving.

And finally, what about the department of Homeland Security itself? FEMA was neglected, some people say, because it was folded into a large agency that was focused on terrorist threats, not natural disasters. But what, exactly, is the department doing to protect us from terrorists? In 2004 Reuters reported a "steady exodus" of counterterrorism officials, who believed that the war in Iraq had taken precedence over the real terrorist threat. Why, then, should we believe that Homeland Security is being well run?...

The point is that Katrina should serve as a wakeup call, not just about FEMA, but about the executive branch as a whole. Everything I know suggests that it's in a sorry state - that an administration which doesn't treat governing seriously has created two, three, many FEMA's...

There are rumors that the State Department's career morale and ability to retain first-class career officials is as low as the Treasury's.

John Holbo Reads Micklethwait and Wooldridge

John Holbo reads Micklethwait and Wooldridge's The Right Nation:

Crooked Timber: A few days ago I finished The Right Nation, by Micklethwait and Wooldridge, a pair of "Economist" writers. Perhaps you recall their June 21, 2005 WSJ op-ed: "Go to a meeting of young conservatives in Washington and the atmosphere crackles with ideas, much as it did in London in the heyday of the Thatcher revolution. The Democrats barely know what a debate is." Well, the book is not such a polemical and high-handed affair.... It's worth reading, like an Economist article, but affords many irritations to the non-conservative reader.... All in all, they don't belly up to the bar and drink the conservative kool-aid, but they do take many a debonair, pinky-raised sip. Then, on p. 159-60 these Brits do some Texas-style kool-aid bong hits....

Discovery is also the leading proponent of an increasingly influential idea on the Right: "intelligent design."... Most orthodox scientists dismiss intelligent design as upmarket creationism. But books and papers spew out of Discovery's Center for Science and Culture.... The intelligent design movement is an example of the Right's growing willingness to do battle with what it regards as the liberal "science establishment" on its own turf, using scientific research of its own. Right-wing think tanks have attacked scientific orthodoxy on stem cells... poured over the data on global warming.... There are also battles brewing on animal rights, euthanasia and the scientific origins of homosexuality.... So far the science establishment has given little ground to the conservative upstarts.... But the Right is clearly extending the battle of ideas into new territories, just as Milton Friedman and others did in economics forty years ago.

Puts the "crack" back in "crackle of ideas", you might say.... There isn't any intellectual quality control in... [Micklethwait and Wooldridge's] assessment... But... if you are going to count any effective rhetoric as "winning the war of ideas"... then you ought to just 'fess up that you mean "winning the culture war", which sounds less intellectually high-toned....

Ah, if only the Democrats remembered what a debate is: namely, an expression of populist ressentiment at perceived cultural elites. It really is very shameful that these British Tories, who I don’t suppose believe in ID, find it sufficiently amusing that liberalism is taking kidney shots from these people that they are willing to check their intellectual consciences at the door, for the sake of ‘enemy of my enemy is my friend’. (Who doubts this is the reason why Southern theocrats and economic libertarians are under the same tent? Who thinks they are really staying for the rigorous arguments, across their respective positions?)...

One last passage from Micklethwait and Wooldridge:

Here it is worth making a subtle distinction. Bush's enthusiasm has generally been for business, particularly big business, rather than for the free market. His own career was a textbook example of Texas crony capitalism, characterized by a succession of takeover deals in which outside investors with ties to his father periodically stepped in to save one floundering oil company after another. Arbusto Energy became Bush Exploration, which merged with Spectrum 7, which merged with Harken Energy. Bush's equity magically increased in value, despite a dismal oil market. Then in 1990 he sold 212,000 shares in Harken stock for $848,560 to pay for his investment in the Texas Rangers baseball team. Construction of a spanking-new ballpark in Arlington was subsidized by an increase in the local city sales tax. This sort of buddy capitalism is hardly the stuff of Harvard Business School case sudies. Yet Bush still saw himself as a businessman, and his base has always been the business class. Texas was an ideal state for such a politician because the state's campaign-finance laws placed almost no limits on contributions. In his 1994 and 1998 gubernatorial campaigns, more than half the contributions came from corporate executives (including hefty contributions from Ken Lay, the boss of Enron). And he eventually used his business connections to create the most successful fund-raising machine in presidential history. (p. 142)

It is worth pointing out that the difference between the free market and cronyism is not really subtle -- and getting less subtle by the minute, as the resumes of FEMA executives rise to the surface of the floodwaters.... [Today Newt] Gingrich argues that the values debate that has divided America so sharply during the past decade is over.... "We're not in a values fight now but over whether the system is working.... The issue is delivery."... The very notion: that government might be subject to intelligent design! After 40 years in the wilderness, conservatives seize control of all the levers of the government only to realize that the liberal consensus was right all along?...

*Sigh* One Last Time...

Here is what Jared Diamond says, in his Guns, Germs, and Steel, about the consequences of the enormous Eurasian (and even more enormous western European) edge in power--in guns, germs, and steel--that had developed by 1500:

Brad DeLong's Semi-Daily Journal: The history of interaction among disparate peoples is what shaped the modern world through conquest, epidemics, and genocide. Those collisions created reverberations that have still not died down after many centuries.... [M]uch of Africa is still struggling with its legacies from colonialism. In other regions... civil unrest or guerrilla warfare pits still-numerous indigenous populations against governments dominated by descendants of invading conquerers. Many other indigenous populations... so reduced in numbers by genocide and disease that they are now greatly outnumbered by the descendants of invaders... they are nevertheless increasingly asserting their rights...

Here is what Fred Errington and Deborah Gewertz say about Diamond:

Savage Minds: [Diamond offers] a history of morally neutral conquest through the use of techniques and technologies of physical domination... a model that justifies as well as universalizes expansionism: one used to explain what happened to "everybody for the last 13,000 years" (1997: 9).... Indeed, given Diamond's view of history, the conquest that he (rather mechanistically) entitles "Collision at Cajamarca" (1997: 67), was inevitable.... De Las Casas, citing eye-witnesses and writing only two decades after the event, conveys the massacre as remarkably cruel and entirely unjustified. From his contemporary Spanish perspective, Pizarro was, even by the standards of the time, a "great villain."... We do not think that Diamond, given his history of grand inevitability, would be much interested in such alternative voices as de Las Casas's.... Certainly, the voices of those like Yali would scarcely register: their concerns and sense of injustice would not be heard, their claims to moral worth would not be recognized....

Errington and Gewertz are, of course, simply lunatic.

"Genocide" is not a "morally neutral" term. To say that indigenous peoples "so reduced in numbers by genocide and disease that they are now greatly outnumbered by the descendants of invaders" are now nevertheless "asserting their rights" is not to ignore the "concerns and sense of injustice" of indigenous peoples.

It is hard to know why Errington and Gewertz make the claims that they do. Are they so ignorant of the meaning of words in their own culture that they think the word "genocide" is "morally neutral"? Are they making a cynical bet that the group they are really addressing is made up of people who will never take the time read Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel, and thus that they can simply make stuff up?

To claim that Jared Diamond sees genocide as "morally neutral conquest through the use of techniques and technologies of physical domination" is very false and ugly.

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Michael Kinsley Edition)

Michael Kinsley writes:

Hindsight: A User's Guide : As a good American, you no doubt have been worried sick for years about the levees around New Orleans. Or you've been worried at least since you read that official report back in August 2001 -- the one that ranked a biblical flood of the Big Easy as one of our top three potential national emergencies. No? You didn't read that report back in 2001? You just read about it in the newspapers this past week? Well, how about that prescient New Orleans Times-Picayune series back in 2002 that laid out the whole likely catastrophe? Everybody read that one. Or at least it sure seems that way now. I was not aware that the Times-Picayune had such a large readership in places like Washington, D.C., and California. And surely you have been badgering public officials at every level of government to spend whatever it takes to reinforce those levees -- and to raise your taxes if necessary to pay for it.

No? You never gave five seconds of thought to the risk of flood in New Orleans until it became impossible to think about anything else? Me neither. Nor have I given much thought to the risk of a big earthquake along the West Coast -- the only one of the top three catastrophes that hasn't happened yet -- even though I live and work in the earthquake zone...

Let me say that Michael Kinsley has just become the only person I know who lives and works in the west-coast earthquake zone who claims that he has not "given much thought to the risk of a big earthquake along the west coast."

The rest of us all have our out-of-the-area emergency contact phone numbers--people far away to call and coordinate information. We have our water, our bandages, and our splints stored in the basement. We have our bookcases bolted to the wall. We try to remember to keep our cars relatively gassed up. And we have all thought that if something really bad happens to LA, we in San Francisco will have to mobilize for the first three days--and vice versa. God knows we can't expect anything constructive from Bush's White House, or Chertoff's Homeland Security, or Brown's FEMA.

And let me say that Michael Kinsley has also become the only American I know who claims that he "never gave five seconds of thought to the risk of flood in New Orleans." The rest of us who have been to New Orleans have walked along the bank of the Mississippi River and along the shore of Lake Pontchartrain, and thought about the potential consequences of the fact that water wants to flows downhill.

We don't regularly read the New Orleans Times-Picayune here in California. But every hurricane season we do worry about our fellow citizens on the Gulf and South Atlantic Coasts: we give much more than five seconds' worth of thought to the dangers faced by the inhabitants of Savannah, Charleston, Miami, Tampa, Mobile, New Orleans, and Galveston. We hope that our government is taking the proper steps toward preparing to deal with hurricans. Some of us even vote for Democrats, in part because we think that Democratic legislators and presidents are more likely to do so. It's strange--we not only think about disasters that might happen far away, we worry about what might happen to other Americans we do not know. I don't know what you call it: "citizenship"?

Evan Thomas: How Bush Blew It

Newsweek's Evan Thomas finally writes the story about the quality of Bush Administration decision making--with its immediate corollary that George W. Bush has no business being president--that he has known and been sitting on for four and a half years:

MSNBC - How Bush Blew It
: It's a standing joke among the president's top aides: who gets to deliver the bad news?... The bad news on... Aug. 30... was that the president would have to cut short his five-week vacation.... The president's chief of staff, Andrew Card; his deputy chief of staff, Joe Hagin; his counselor, Dan Bartlett, and his spokesman, Scott McClellan, held a conference call to discuss... the delicate task of telling him. Hagin, it was decided, as senior aide on the ground, would do the deed....

President Bush knew the storm and its consequences had been bad; but he didn't quite realize how bad. The reality, say several aides who did not wish to be quoted because it might displease the president, did not really sink in until Thursday night. Some White House staffers... thought the president needed to see.... Counselor Bartlett made up a DVD of the newscasts so Bush could see them in their entirety as he flew down to the Gulf Coast the next morning on Air Force One.

How this could be--how the president of the United States could have even less "situational awareness," as they say in the military, than the average American about the worst natural disaster in a century--is one of the more perplexing and troubling chapters in a story that... ranks as a national disgrace....

It is not clear what President Bush does read or watch.... Bush... equates disagreement with disloyalty. After five years in office, he is surrounded largely by people who agree with him.... Most presidents keep a devil's advocate around.... When Hurricane Katrina struck, it appears there was no one to tell President Bush the plain truth: that the state and local governments had been overwhelmed, that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was not up to the job and that the military, the only institution with the resources to cope, couldn't act without a declaration from the president overriding all other authority.... On Tuesday, within 24 hours of the storm's arrival, Bush needed to be able to imagine the scenes of disorder and misery that would, two days later, shock him when he watched the evening news....

Bush and his advisers in his "war cabinet" have always been action-oriented.... But this time "Rummy" opposed sending in active-duty troops as cops. Dick Cheney, who was vacationing in Wyoming when the storm hit, characteristically kept his counsel on videoconferences; his private advice is not known.... The inner thoughts and motivations of Bush and his top advisers are impossible to know for certain.... A NEWSWEEK reconstruction of the government's response to the storm shows how Bush's leadership style and the bureaucratic culture combined to produce a disaster within a disaster....

The FEMA man found a phone, but he had trouble reaching senior officials in Washington. When he finally got someone on the line, the city officials kept hearing him say, "You don't understand, you don't understand." Around New Orleans, three levees had overtopped or were broken. The city was doomed. There was no way the water could be stopped. But, incredibly, the seriousness of the situation did not really register, not only in Washington, but at the state emergency command post upriver in Baton Rouge.... Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, a motherly but steely figure known by the nickname Queen Bee, knew that she needed help. But she wasn't quite sure what. At about 8 p.m., she spoke to Bush. "Mr. President," she said, "we need your help. We need everything you've got."... There are a number of steps Bush could have taken, short of a full-scale federal takeover, like ordering the military to take over the pitiful and (by now) largely broken emergency communications system throughout the region. But the president, who was in San Diego preparing to give a speech the next day on the war in Iraq, went to bed.

By the predawn hours [of Tuesday, eighteen hours after it had happened], most state and federal officials finally realized that the 17th Street Canal levee had been breached, and that the city was in serious trouble. Bush was told at 5 a.m. Pacific Coast time.... To his senior advisers, living in the insular presidential bubble, the mere act of lopping off a couple of presidential vacation days counts as a major event. They could see pitfalls in sending Bush to New Orleans immediately.... Bush blithely proceeded with the rest of his schedule for the day, accepting a gift guitar at one event and pretending to riff like Tom Cruise in "Risky Business."...

At emergency headquarters in Baton Rouge, confusion raged. Though more than 100,000 of its residents had no way to get out of the city on their own, New Orleans had no real evacuation plan, save to tell people to go to the Superdome and wait for buses. On Tuesday, the state was rounding up buses; no, FEMA was; no, FEMA's buses would take too long to get there.... On Tuesday afternoon, Governor Blanco took her second trip to the Superdome and was shocked by the rising tide of desperation.... Early Wednesday morning, Blanco tried to call Bush. She was transferred around the White House for a while until she ended up on the phone with Fran Townsend, the president's Homeland Security adviser, who tried to reassure her but did not have many specifics....

By Tuesday morning (and even before the storm) the military was moving supplies, ships, boats, helicopters and troops toward the Gulf Coast. But, ironically, the scale of the effort slowed it.... By the week after the storm, the military had mobilized some 70,000 troops and hundreds of helicopters—-but it took at least two days and usually four and five to get them into the disaster area....

The one federal agency that is supposed to handle disasters—-FEMA—-was dysfunctional. On Wednesday morning, Senator Landrieu was standing outside the chaotic Superdome and asked to borrow a FEMA official's phone to call her office in Washington. "It didn't work," she told news-week. "I thought to myself, 'This isn't going to be pretty'." Once a kind of petty-cash drawer for congressmen to quickly hand out aid after floods and storms, FEMA had improved in the 1990s in the Clinton administration.... [Albaugh's] college buddy Mike Brown, whose last private-sector job (omitted from his official resume) had been supervising horse-show judges for the International Arabian Horse Association. After praising Brown ("Brownie, you're doing a heck of job"), Bush last week removed him from honchoing the Katrina relief operation. He was replaced by Coast Guard Vice Adm. Thad Allen. The Coast Guard was one agency that performed well, rescuing thousands.

Bad news rarely flows up in bureaucracies. For most of those first few days, Bush was hearing what a good job the Feds were doing. Bush likes "metrics," numbers to measure performance, so the bureaucrats gave him reassuring statistics. At a press availability on Wednesday, Bush duly rattled them off: there were 400 trucks transporting 5.4 million meals and 13.4 million liters of water along with 3.4 million pounds of ice. Yet it was obvious to anyone watching TV that New Orleans had turned into a Third World hellhole.

The denial and the frustration finally collided aboard Air Force One on Friday. As the president's plane sat on the tarmac at New Orleans airport, a confrontation occurred that was described by one participant as "as blunt as you can get without the Secret Service getting involved." Governor Blanco was there, along with various congressmen and senators and Mayor Nagin (who took advantage of the opportunity to take a shower aboard the plane). One by one, the lawmakers listed their grievances as Bush listened. Rep. Bobby Jindal, whose district encompasses New Orleans, told of a sheriff who had called FEMA for assistance. According to Jindal, the sheriff was told to e-mail his request, "and the guy was sitting in a district underwater and with no electricity," Jindal said, incredulously. "How does that make any sense?" Jindal later told NEWSWEEK that "almost everybody" around the conference table had a similar story about how the federal response "just wasn't working." With each tale, "the president just shook his head, as if he couldn't believe what he was hearing," says Jindal, a conservative Republican and Bush appointee who lost a close race to Blanco. Repeatedly, the president turned to his aides and said, "Fix it."...

The meeting broke up. Bush and Blanco disappeared to talk. More than a week later, there was still no agreement. Blanco didn't want to give up her authority, and Bush didn't press. Jindal suggested that Bush appoint Colin Powell as a kind of relief czar, and Bush replied, "I'll take that into consideration." Bush does not like to fire people. He told Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff to go down to Louisiana and sort out the various problems. A day later FEMA's Brown was on his way back to Washington.

Late last week, Bush was, by some accounts, down and angry. But another Bush aide described the atmosphere inside the White House as "strangely surreal and almost detached." At one meeting described by this insider, officials were oddly self-congratulatory, perhaps in an effort to buck each other up. Life inside a bunker can be strange....

Mike Allen is also late to the party with a story on Bush administration decision making that he too could have written... anytime in the past four and a half years: Print Page: TIME Magazine -- Living Too Much in the Bubble? : Longtime Bush watchers say they are not shocked that he missed his moment--one of his most trusted confidants calls him "a better third- and fourth-quarter player," who focuses and delivers when he sees the stakes. What surprised them was that he still appeared to be stutter-stepping in the second week of the crisis, struggling to make up for past lapses instead of taking control with a grand gesture.

Just as Katrina exposed the lurking problems of race and poverty, it also revealed the limitations of Bush's rigid, top-down approach to the presidency. "The extremely highly centralized control of the government--the engine of Bush's success--failed him this time," a key adviser said....

[H]e did not immediately show that he sensed its magnitude. On the Monday that Hurricane Katrina landed and the Crescent City began drowning, Bush was joshing with Senator John McCain on the tarmac of an Air Force base in Arizona, posing with a melting birthday cake. Like a scene out of a Michael Moore mockumentary, he was heading into a long-planned Medicare round table at a local country club, joking that he had "spiced up" his entourage by bringing the First Lady, then noting to the audience that he had phoned Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff from Air Force One. "I said, 'Are you working with the Governor?'" Bush recounted. "He said, 'You bet we are.'" But the President was not talking about the killer storm. He was talking about immigration, and the Governor was Arizona's....

From tarmac to Cabinet room, the President's performance was uneven at the very least, and associates say that can be explained by several factors.... his elongated summer vacation... five weeks... pressure on White House officials to take only the most vital decisions to Bush and let the bureaucracy deal with everything else. Bush does not appear to tap sources deep inside his government for information, the way his father or Bill Clinton did, preferring to get reports through channels. A highly screened information chain is fine when everything is going well, but in a crisis it can hinder. Louisiana officials say it took hours for Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco to reach Bush (although when she did, he talked to her soothingly, according to White House officials). "His inner circle takes pride in being able to tell him 'everything is under control,' when in this case it was not," said a former aide. "The whole idea that you have to only burden him with things 'that rise to his level' bit them this time."

A related factor, aides and outside allies concede, is what many of them see as the President's increasing isolation. Bush's bubble has grown more hermetic in the second term, they say, with fewer people willing or able to bring him bad news--or tell him when he's wrong.... A youngish aide who is a Bush favorite described the perils of correcting the boss. "The first time I told him he was wrong, he started yelling at me," the aide recalled about a session during the first term. "Then I showed him where he was wrong, and he said, 'All right. I understand. Good job.' He patted me on the shoulder. I went and had dry heaves in the bathroom."... His chief of staff, Andrew Card, has never been mistaken for James Baker.... Bush has filled a number of lesser spots around the government with political hacks and patronage candidates--most embarrassingly Michael Brown, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (fema), who was yanked from on-site supervision of Katrina on Friday.

"Katrina has shown the incredible weakness of the notion that you can have weak players in key spots because the only people who matter are in the White House," said a lobbyist who is tight with the Administration. "You can't have a Mike Brown at fema unless you can guarantee that there isn't going to be a catastrophe." The result is a kind of echo chamber in which good news can prevail over bad--4even when there is a surfeit of evidence to the contrary. For example, a source tells TIME that four days after Katrina struck, Bush himself briefed his father and former President Clinton in a way that left too rosy an impression of the progress made. "It bore no resemblance to what was actually happening," said someone familiar with the presentation....

Impeach George W. Bush. Impeach him now.

Michael "You're Doing a Heckuva Job" Brown Is Still Employed

From Kevin Drum

The Washington Monthly: MIKE BROWN WATCH.... I suppose that piling on FEMA chief Mike Brown will get old eventually, but this is too rich not to pass along:

In 2002, a pair of FBI agents showed up at a small, well-known law firm near Oklahoma City, asking questions about Mike Brown, a former employee being considered for a job at the Federal Emergency Management Agency. There, Stephen Jones, a lawyer best known for defending bomber Timothy McVeigh, recalled how he hired Brown fresh from law school two decades earlier. He'd been impressed by Brown's stint on a nearby city council. But just a few years later, Jones and the other four partners decided to split the firm. To minimize job loss, they unanimously agreed to keep 35 of their 37 employees. Brown was not one of them.

"He did not develop the way we wanted," Jones said this week. "He was average. Maybe that's the best way to put it." Brown was pleasant enough, if a bit opportunistic, Jones said, but he did not put enough time and energy into his job. "He would have been better suited to be a small city or county lawyer," he said. Jones was surprised Brown was being considered for job at FEMA but figured it wasn't impossible he could have risen high enough in local and state government to be considered for a job directing FEMA operations in Oklahoma.

The agents quickly corrected him. This was a national post in Washington, deputy director of FEMA, the arm of the federal government that prepares for and responds to disasters around the United States. Jones looked at the agents, "You're surely kidding?"

Meanwhile, Andrew Sullivan for some reason tries to shield the guy who hired Brown, and who continues to praise and protect Brown to this day: - Daily Dish : This really isn't or shouldn't be a pro-Bush, anti-Bush, left or right issue. We had a catastrophe and the government was incompetent in response - at all levels. Given the threat still over us since 9/11, it's simply responsible to ensure we get accountability and reform at the federal level especially before the next disaster. Would you want Michael Brown to be FEMA head if al Qaeda attacked a major city with chemical weapons? This isn't about politics. It's about a functional government in wartime.

Accountability at the federal level would be a very good idea. Would you want a person who hired, praised, and defended Brown to be at the head of the federal government if... if... if... if anything happened whatsoever?

Impeach George W. Bush. Impeach him now.

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (David Ignatius Edition)

David Ignatius says that "fundamental weaknesses in how this White House makes decisions" were "exposed" last week--that the weaknesses were hidden until then, at least from him.

Who does he think he's kidding?

Why does the Washington Post continue to pay him?

A CEO's Weaknesses: By David Ignatius: There were two levee breaks last week: The natural disaster of Katrina ravaged New Orleans and left behind thousands of victims, but there was also a political catastrophe that breached the Bush administration's containment walls and exposed fundamental weaknesses in how this White House makes decisions. The political damage may be harder to repair than the flooded infrastructure. The management flaws that have been so obvious over the past week go to the heart of how President Bush runs the government....

Early in his first term, it was popular to speak of how this Harvard Business School graduate was operating an "MBA Presidency." He insisted that everyone be on time to meetings; he wanted his aides to be properly dressed; he favored delegation of power, crisp meetings, early bedtimes.... Like Isaiah Berlin's famous hedgehog, he came to focus on one big thing -- the war against terrorism -- and let many lesser things slide. Loyalty counted for more for this CEO than performance -- an attitude that is deadly in managing any enterprise.

The most pointed criticism of Bush's management I've read over the past week comes from the conservative columnist William Kristol. "Almost every Republican I have spoken with is disappointed" by the administration's response to Katrina, Kristol told The Post's Jim VandeHei. "He is a strong president . . . but he has never really focused on the importance of good execution. I think that is true in many parts of his presidency."...

Even on the issues Bush has identified as his priorities, there has been a surprising reactive quality. Take the war on terrorism: The two bureaucracies that are crucial for protecting Americans -- the Department of Homeland Security and the intelligence community -- have been in obvious disarray over the past two years. Yet Bush has not seized the initiative in either case and has let others set the agenda for reorganization. The disorientation today at those two mission-critical bureaucracies is genuinely dangerous for the country.

Iraq, too, has been a policy disconnect.... There hasn't been one Iraq policy but several competing versions...

What this White House needs most is the tonic of honest accountability...

But isn't that exactly what it is not going to get?

The Hurricane Pam Drill

A report on last year's "Hurricane Pam" drill:

Suspect Device Blog: Hurricane Pam: Where it all started to go wrong. You may have seen mention of the "Hurricane Pam" exercise in press coverage of Louisiana's emergency preparedness, or lack thereof. I was at the Hurricane Pam exercise, and I think maybe I can clear a few things up....

As with most [Innovative Emergency Management] projects, the Hurricane Pam exercise was put together at the last minute, in a blind animal panic with no time for refinement, testing, or subtlety, but it still was a remarkable and bold idea. Hurricane Pam was a week-long simulation (not a tabletop exercise) with a difference: while response to the fictional Hurricane Pam, a slow-moving category three storm making steady progress up the Mississippi and landing just to the west of New Orleans, was the designated activity, the purpose of the exercise was to create a series of plans and recommendations which would be presented to the State of Louisiana and adopted as the official Hurricane Response Plan.

Attendees included emergency managers from all across Louisiana, representatives from the EPA, the National Guard, the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, the DOTD, the Red Cross (who I remember as being marginalized and tolerated at best, with more than a little eye rolling from the "professionals"), the State Police, and many others. Also taking on important roles were representatives from the Army Corps of Engineers and FEMA, who provided facilitators, computers, and a great deal of support.... Daily information regarding the progress of the Hurricane was distributed in the form of briefings, presentations, and maps. Details of wind damage, flooding, displaced populations, communication outages, and much more, was available through handouts and detailed maps.... Notes were taken and a draft plan was created and presented to the Command Committee (or whatever it was called) at the end of each day, with a final plan presented at the end of the week.

Now. There has been considerable talk in the press about this exercise being one of the instances of experts admitting that the NOLA levees could be breached. This is true, but only to this extent: there was uniform agreement that water would overflow the NOLA levees or migrate around gaps in the St. Charles Parish levees, but I heard no serious or sustained talk about levees breaking....

There was a certain amount of contention, a few turf wars, some loud talk. None if it consequential, in the end, because of the single greatest emollient: FEMA. The Federal Emergency Management Agency promised the moon and the stars. They promised to have 1,000,000 bottles of water per day coming into affected areas within 48 hours. They promised massive prestaging with water, ice, medical supplies and generators. Anything that was needed, they would have either in place as the storm hit or ready to move in immediately after. All it would take is a phone call from local officials to the state, who would then call FEMA, and it would be done. There were contracts-in-place with major vendors across the country and prestaging areas were already determined (I'll have more to say about this later, but this is one reason FEMA has rejected large donation and turned back freelance shipments of water, medical supplies, food, etc: they have contracts in place to purchase those items, and accepting the same product from another source could be construed as breach of contract, and could lead to contract cancellation, thus removing a reliable source of product from the pool of available resources. I'm not saying I agree with this -- in fact, I don't, and think it's boneheaded -- but the reasoning is that if they accept five semis of water from the east Weewau, Wisconsin, Chamber of Commerce, the water supplier who is contractually bound to provide 100,000 gallons per day will be freed from that obligation.

The organizers of the exercise -- particularly the former commender of LOHSEP, Col. Michael Brown (not that one) -- insisted that the plans contain no "fairy dust": no magical leaps of supply chains or providers: if you said you would need 500 semis for your part of the plan, you had to specify where the 500 semis were coming from. Everyone tried to keep the fairy dust to a minimum, and they did so, for the most part, despite having big plans: LSU, Southern, Southeastern and other campuses dismissed for the semester and turned into giant triage centers/tent cities; acres of temporary housing built on government-owned land; C-130 transport planes ferrying evacuees to relatives in other states, and so on. Bold plans, but doable, with cooperation. A comprehensive plan was beginning to emerge....

So: Louisiana did have a hurricane plan, but was devising a new one, to be based on recommendation from the people who would actually be doing the work. The need to evacuate people from impact areas, including those without transportation or the means to obtain it, was discussed, despite media assertions to the contrary. The possibility of levee overflow was discussed.... The problem is FEMA, and by extension the Department of Homeland Security, which gobbled FEMA up in 2003. FEMA promised more than they could deliver. They cut off deeper, perhaps more meaningful discussion and planning by handing out empty promises. The plans that were made -- which were not given any sort of stamp of authority -- were never distributed or otherwise made available to those who most needed stable guidance; they vanished into the maw of FEMA and LOSHEP (probably when Col. Brown was removed from his command due to financial "irregularities" -- the project was tainted after that)....

Impeach George W. Bush. Impeach him now.

Die Verlorene Ehre des Colin Powell

Colin Powell wonders what it would be like to still have some of his honor left:

Former Secretary of State Says U.N. Speech Will Always Remain a "blot" on His Record - from WASHINGTON (AP) - Former Secretary of State Colin Powell said Thursday his prewar speech to the United Nations accusing Iraq of harboring weapons of mass destruction was a "blot" on his record. "I'm the one who presented it to the world, and (it) will always be a part of my record. It was painful. It is painful now," Powell said in an interview with Barbara Walters on ABC-News.

The presentation by the soldier-diplomat to the world body in February 2003 lent considerable credibility to President Bush's case against Iraq and for going to war to remove President Saddam Hussein. In the speech, Powell said he had relied on information he received at Central Intelligence Agency briefings. He said Thursday that then-director George Tenet "believed what he was giving to me was accurate." But, Powell said, "the intelligence system did not work well." "There were some people in the intelligence community who knew at the time that some of those sources were not good, and shouldn't be relied upon, and they didn't speak up," Powell said. "That devastated me," he said.

Powell in the TV interview also disputed the Bush administration's linking of Saddam's regime with terrorists. He said he had never seen a connection between Baghdad and the 9-11 attacks on New York and Washington in 2001. "I can't think otherwise, because I'd never seen evidence to suggest there was one," he said...

Curious. The first rule of Washington is that most people you talk to have every incentive to tell you lies--either what they think you want to hear, or what they want you to believe. So you check. And you cross-check. You cross-check everything.

The Secretary of State has mighty powers to check everything he or she is told. Yet Powell claims that it never occurred to him to use them.

This is not credible.

It is also the direct opposite of what Powell's then-chief of staff Wilkerson says. Wilkerson and Powell knew what they were doing when they were putting Powell's speech together. It was, Wilkerson says, 'the lowest point of my life' and the material they were working from 'were anything but an intelligence document'.

Powell doesn't even dare tell it straight now.

Not Race, But Class

Colin Powell says that the Bush administration and the state of Louisiana neglects not African-Americans but poor people:

Powell slams storm effort - Yahoo! News: Colin Powell, the former U.S. secretary of state seen as a potential leader for Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts, has joined the chorus of Americans criticizing the disaster response at all levels of government....

"There have been a lot of failures at a lot of levels -- local, state and federal," Powell said in an ABC interview for the "20/20" program to be broadcast on Friday evening.... "There was more than enough warning over time about the dangers to New Orleans. Not enough was done. I don't think advantage was taken of the time that was available to us, and I just don't know why," Powell said in excerpts on ABC's Web site.

He said he did not think that race was a factor in the slow response, but that many of those unable to leave New Orleans in time were trapped by poverty which disproportionately affects blacks.... "I don't think it's racism, I think it's economic," Powell said. "But poverty disproportionately affects African-Americans in this country. And it happened because they were poor."

In a normal evacuation, you have places for people to go and ways other than private SUVs for them to get there.

The FEMA Spoils System

Rebecca MacKinnon posts a Bloomberg article by Mike Forsythe:

RConversation: FEMA Spoils System: Bloomberg: My friend, Bloomberg correspondent Mike Forsythe, has given me permission to reproduce his article on FEMA in full, as it's not easily available online:

FEMA Spoils System Leaves Few Experts Managing Crisis Agency, By Michael Forsythe: Sept. 8 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency's upper ranks are mostly staffed with people who share two traits: loyalty to President George W. Bush and little or no background in emergency management.... The lack of experience among Brown's top lieutenants in responding to disasters was revealed by Hurricane Katrina, said Paul Light, a professor of organizational studies at New York University. It also marks a reversion to the days when the agency was treated as a turkey farm'' -- a place where political operatives could get high-level jobs -- after being led by professionals during the Clinton administration, he said.These guys kind of have a deer-in-the headlights look; they haven't been through this kind of thing and it shows,'' said Light, the founding director of the Center for Public Service at the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based research group. ``I'm afraid FEMA has gone backwards in time to the old era of a more traditional campaign-loyalty position.''

Brown, 50, and his agency have come under fire from both Democrats and Republicans for responding slowly to Katrina, the storm that battered Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama and may have claimed thousands of lives.... Bush singled out Brown for praise. ``Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job,'' Bush said at a stop in Mobile, Alabama, on Sept. 2. The top FEMA officials are well-qualified for their jobs, and they don't get them through a spoils system, said Russ Knocke, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, yesterday. ''It's certainly not the case that the senior positions are rewards for political loyalty,'' Knocke said. ''There is experience in their background relevant for doing their jobs, whether in policy or management.''...

Henry Renteria, head of California's emergency-services administration, has more than two decades of experience in the field. Dave Liebersbach, director of the Alaska Division of Homeland Security, has four decades of experience. Liebersbach, who said Brown pretty much knows what he's doing,'' suggested that the FEMA director's shortcomings derive more from his lack of experience in dealing with Congress. Also, unlike Witt,he doesn't have the president's ear,'' Liebersbach said.... ``There's been a huge demoralization of the professional FEMA staff,'' said Liebersbach, the outgoing president of the National Emergency Management Association, a Lexington, Kentucky-based group that represents state directors of emergency services.

Witt, who took the FEMA job in 1993, had managers with experience. His chief of staff, Jane Bullock, was a 22-year veteran of the agency when she left in 2001. One of Witt's deputy directors, Mike Walker, had been an employee of Democratic politicians, although he served as acting secretary of the Army before he came to the post and is a military veteran. George Haddow, a research scientist specializing in disaster management, was deputy chief of staff under Bullock.

Brown's lieutenants lack that emergency planning background. During Bush's first presidential campaign, Rhode and former Deputy Chief of Staff Scott Morris worked in Austin, Texas, with Rhode serving as deputy director of national advance operations and Morris working as a media consultant, according to their FEMA biographies. Rhode and Morris both worked at the U.S. Small Business Administration after Bush's 2001 inauguration. FEMA's chief of staff position has been vacant.... Morris also worked for the Republican National Committee as an assistant to the executive director and was a media strategist for former Senator Robert Dole when he ran for president in 1996, according to his official biography.... Altshuler, 31, worked at the White House in 2001 as a ``senior advance representative'' earning $51,250 a year, according to a White House pay list published by the Washington Post at the time. Rhode and Altshuler couldn't be reached for comment.

Because of their backgrounds, the FEMA executives don't readily know which county officials are competent, which cities have the right equipment and who to call for specific needs, Light said. There is a profession of disaster preparedness,'' Light said.It is a well-developed profession. Witt came out of that community. Witt had a very good Rolodex, and at the end of the day, that's really important.'' Bullock said that in the pre-Witt era, FEMA was used as a dumping ground for political appointees if they didn't have a place to go.'' In the present administration, she said, the people who have gone to FEMA have not had the emergency management background to understand what needs to be done to respond to a disaster of the magnitude we're experiencing.''...

Impeach George W. Bush. Impeach him now.

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Michael Brown a "Casualty" Department)

In what sense is Michael Brown a "casualty" of the hurricane? He still has his paycheck. He still has his office. He still has his job (sort of). He is still alive. He still has his house.

Nobody would ever accuse Elizabeth Bumiller of good taste, or of reportorial judgment. But this seems extreme even for her:

Casualty of Firestorm: Outrage, Bush and FEMA Chief - New York Times : By ELISABETH BUMILLER: Republicans had been pressing the White House for days to fire "Brownie," Michael D. Brown, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, who had stunned many television viewers in admitting that he did not know until 24 hours after the first news reports that there was a swelling crowd of 25,000 people desperate for food and water at the New Orleans convention center. Mr. Brown, who was removed from his Gulf Coast duties on Friday, though not from his post as FEMA's chief, is the first casualty of the political furor.... With Democrats and Republicans caustically criticizing the performance of his agency, and with the White House under increasing attack for populating FEMA's top ranks with politically connected officials who lack disaster relief experience, Mr. Brown had become a symbol of President Bush's own hesitant response.

The president, long reluctant to fire subordinates, came to a belated recognition that his administration was in trouble for the way it had dealt with the disaster, many of his supporters say. One moment of realization occurred on Thursday of last week when an aide carried a news agency report from New Orleans into the Oval Office for him to see. The report was about the evacuees at the convention center.... Mr. Bush had been briefed that morning by his homeland security secretary, Michael Chertoff, who was getting much of his information from Mr. Brown and was not aware of what was occurring there. The news account was the first that the president and his top advisers had heard not only of the conditions at the convention center but even that there were people there at all.

"He's not a screamer," a senior aide said of the president. But Mr. Bush, angry, directed the White House chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr., to find out what was going on. "The frustration throughout the week was getting good, reliable information," said the aide, who demanded anonymity so as not to be identified in disclosing inner workings of the White House. "Getting truth on the ground in New Orleans was very difficult."

Ummm... Watch the television?

If Mr. Bush was upset with Mr. Brown at that point, he did not show it. When he traveled to the Gulf Coast the next day, he stood with him and, before the cameras, cheerfully said, "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job."... Behind the president's public embrace of Mr. Brown was the realization within the administration that the director's ignorance about the evacuees had further inflamed the rage of the storm's poor, black victims and created an impression of a White House that did not care about their lives.

One prominent African-American supporter of Mr. Bush who is close to Karl Rove, the White House political chief, said the president did not go into the heart of New Orleans and meet with black victims on his first trip there, last Friday, because he knew that White House officials were "scared to death" of the reaction. "If I'm Karl, do I want the visual of black people hollering at the president as if we're living in Rwanda?" said the supporter, who spoke only anonymously because he did not want to antagonize Mr. Rove....

OK. Who is this? What African-Americans are (a) prominent, (b) supporters of George W. Bush, and (c) close to Karl Rove?

Mr. Bush, characteristically, did not officially dismiss Mr. Brown, instead calling him back to Washington to run FEMA while a crisis-tested Coast Guard commander, Vice Adm. Thad W. Allen, was given oversight of the relief effort. The take-charge Admiral Allen, who commanded the Coast Guard's response up and down the Atlantic Seaboard after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, immediately appeared on television as the public face of the administration's response. In Baton Rouge, Mr. Brown appeared briefly at Mr. Chertoff's side before heading back to the capital, where, the secretary said, the director was needed for potential disasters. "We've got tropical storms and hurricanes brewing in the ocean," Mr. Chertoff said.

Hedgehogs Are Everywhere

For example:


mamamusings: introducing cecil : This is Cecil, an African pygmy hedgehog. The photo of him is from the website of the store where we purchased him, but once he gets more settled in at our house, we'll be putting lots of photos of him up on my Flickr account. He's adorable. And no, he's not uncomfortable to hold. H's quite friendly and inquisitive once you scoop him up. For more information on hedgehogs as pets, take a look at the excellent Hedgehog Central site. And if you're looking to buy a pet hedgehog in the Seattle area, Animal Talk seems a good place to do so.

Be warned!

The Strong Do What They Want, and the Weak Suffer What They Must

Ah. Fred and Deborah at Savage Minds finally write something interesting--something that does not pretend that Jared Diamond is blind to western colonial domination of Papua New Guinea or that Diamond's argument is an ideologically-driven "perverse justification of colonial forms of inequality." We seem to be back in speech-situation territory:

Savage Minds: Notes and Queries in Anthropology -- A Group Blog: Diamond's conflation between the necessary and the sufficient grows out of the link between his interest in "history's broadest pattern" (1997: 420) and his determination to develop "human history as a science, on a par with acknowledged historical sciences such as astronomy, geology, and evolutionary biology" (1997: 408).... Crucial to this search for law like explanations that will generate long chains of causation back to first causes (chains of causation that even link mountain range formation to Yali's quandary) is Diamond's distinction between ultimate and proximate causes. Ultimate causes are those broadly applicable and pervasive forces, such as guns, germs, and steel. Diamond is interested in these causes because he thinks they are the ones which really drive history -- both past and present. These ultimate causes shape derivative and more immediate occurrences, such as particular battles, conquests, economic systems. The effects of these more immediate occurrences, in turn, become proximate causes of yet other events.

Diamond's view of an inevitable and inexorable course of human history, one driven by the operation of ultimate causes over the span of its 13,000-year course, rests (as some of you suggested in earlier postings) on what seems to us to be an implicit view of human nature.... This is a view of human beings as necessarily leading lives so as to extract maximum advantage over others: give a guy--any guy--half a chance and he will conquer the world; give a guy a piece of appropriate metal and he will inevitably fashion a sword to cut you down; give a guy a piece of appropriate metal and he will inevitably fashion a chain to enslave you within the hold of a ship bound for a New World sugar plantation. In a way that many in the contemporary West find seemingly self-evident--in a way that does not problematize the way the world works--Diamond suggests that people everywhere and at all times, if they had sufficient power, would necessarily use it in seeking to maximize their own advantage through the domination of others. This implicit view of a trans-historical and trans-cultural human nature is consistent with Diamond's explicit rendering of both historical context and cultural perspective as irrelevant. In fact, Diamond works hard to exclude such perspective and context from his scientific history.

Correspondingly, Diamond describes the rise of mercantilism and capitalism as only "proximate forces" in the course of world history (1997: 10).... From our perspective, however, mercantilism and capitalism provide particular historical contexts in which (and in different though related ways) expansionist conquest appears an especially desirable activity--and one made especially feasible by the availability of guns, germs, and steel. This is to say, rather than merely proximate causes of lives more fundamentally and inexorably determined, mercantilism and capitalism impel the use of guns, germs, and steel in particular manners for particular ends.... [L]ives and historical outcomes as made possible by (for instance) guns, germs, and steel but as importantly propelled and shaped by cultural visions of what was worth pursuing and at what cost: of winning favor from God and King, acquiring gold and silver, attaining certain lifestyles, or achieving national strength.... [W]here we see the likes of guns, germs, and steel as necessary but not sufficient causes of such lives, Diamond sees such lives--apparently all lives--as inevitably seeking as much conquest and domination as possible....

Raymond Kelly's recent comprehensive analysis of the origins of human warfare provides a relevant and contrasting view of human nature and of inevitability. In this critique of the Hobbesian notion that there is a "trinity of interrelationship between human nature, war and the constitution of society" (Kelly, 2000: 121), he writes:

Warfare is an episodic feature of human history and prehistory observed at certain times and places but not others. Moreover, the vast majority of societies in which warfare does occur are characterized by the alteration of war and peace; there are relatively few societies--only about 6 percent--in which warfare is continual and peace almost unknown. It is only in this relatively small percentage of cases that something approaching a Hobbesian social condition of pervasive and unending warfare can be found.... The human propensity to peacemaking, so strikingly evident from the characteristic alteration between war and peace, is central to the nexus of interrelationships between human nature, war and society--and this bodes well for the future (2000: 161).

It is the case that Yali was poor and that the people of the New World were brutally conquered by representatives of the Old. It is also the case that those who beat up on other people have the capacity to do so. But are these facts inevitable by virtue either of the nature of history or the nature of humans?... They might make war, but they also might make peace. Whether they choose one or the other is powerfully affected by particular historically and culturally located ideas about the desirable and the feasible....

The existence of such alternatives means that human beings may, realistically, be held accountable for the choices they make. We find this stipulation important both in combating Diamond's general world history and in constructing an aspect of Papua New Guinea's more particular one. Pizarro (for example) had the capacity and resources to behave with remarkable brutality in the New World--he had both the technology and will to conquer. But the mere capacity to behave brutally does not absolve him from having done so. Likewise, Europeans had the resources to treat Yali and other Papua New Guineans with contempt. But that position should not absolve them from having done so...

I have three responses:

First, Fred and Deborah are correct in identifying one important piece of Jared Diamond's visualization of the Cosmic All: Jared Diamond has a Melian Dialogue view of how human societies interact with each other--the strong do what they want, and the weak suffer what they must.

Second, for reasons I don't understand, Fred and Deborah take the fact that Jared Diamond has a Melian Dialogue view of how human societies interact to entail that Jared Diamond approves, justifies, or excuses conquest, genocide, and slavery. Diamond does not. If you were to read the first few pages of Guns, Germs, and Steel, you would find that Diamond writes:

The history of interaction among disparate peoples is what shaped the modern world through conquest, epidemics, and genocide. Those collisions created reverberations that have still not died down after many centuries.... [M]uch of Africa is still struggling with its legacies from colonialism. In other regions... civil unrest or guerrilla warfare pits still-numerous indigenous populations against governments dominated by descendants of invading conquerers. Many other indigenous populations... so reduced in numbers by genocide and disease that they are now greatly outnumbered by the descendants of invaders... they are nevertheless increasingly asserting their rights...

Third, Fred and Deborah believe that Diamond's Melian Dialogue view of how human societies interact must be rooted in some kind of social-darwinist cartoon view of human nature. They claim that Diamond sees "human beings as necessarily leading lives so as to extract maximum advantage over others: give a guy--any guy--half a chance and he will conquer the world; give a guy a piece of appropriate metal and he will inevitably fashion a sword to cut you down; give a guy a piece of appropriate metal and he will inevitably fashion a chain to enslave you within the hold of a ship bound for a New World sugar plantation. In a way that many in the contemporary West find seemingly self-evident--in a way that does not problematize the way the world works--Diamond suggests that people everywhere and at all times, if they had sufficient power, would necessarily use it in seeking to maximize their own advantage through the domination of others."

I see Diamond's Melian Dialogue view of human nature as coming out of what some have called the tragedy of power politics, an argument that goes roughly like this:

  • Human societies vary.
  • Some human societies value, practice, and train for war, others do not.
  • When they meet the societies that value, practice, and train for war will conquer, enslave, and absorb the others whenever they have the technological capability to do so.
  • In the long run we will all be ruled by thugs-with-spears: the only societies we will see surviving as independent entities will be those that:
    • practice and prepare for war--if only in self-defense
    • have good enough military technology to resist whatever aggressive societies that do value, practice, and train for war that they come in contact with.

I hope this "tragedy of power politics" argument is wrong. The existence of the United Nations and the fact that Papua New Guinea is now an independent nation allows us to hope that it is wrong. But the "tragedy of power politics" argument has force, and does not rest upon a social-darwinist cartoon view of human nature. I would be happy to be taught that the "tragedy of power politics" argument has less force than I think it does: examples of hunter-gatherer cultures adjoining agricultural ones for considerable periods of time without bloody war and conquest, anyone?

Bush Public Diplomacy

Abu Aardvark has a very bad feeling about the Bush "public diplomacy" effort:

Abu Aardvark: Hughes town meeting doesn't bode well: Dana Milbank's report of Karen Hughes's "town meeting" with State Department officials...:

The Bush confidante, now undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, held a meeting with her staff in Foggy Bottom yesterday and was asked about the international ramifications of the response to the New Orleans flooding. The problem, Hughes replied, was not a failed relief effort but a foreign press that did not appreciate the federal government's good work.

"There are a lot of things being said about us around the world that aren't true," said the woman in charge of polishing the American image abroad. "We've marshaled the resources of our federal government" to help fellow Americans, she said, and if people think otherwise, "we need to aggressively challenge that idea around the world."


Yet the Bush administration, whether discussing Iraq or Katrina, remains unfailingly upbeat. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, introducing Hughes, said nothing of Katrina as she repeated the Bush mantra that "freedom is on the march."

Hughes picked up the theme. "We have to offer a positive vision of hope," she began. As if preparing troops for combat, she described her plans for improving world opinion of the United States: a "rapid-response unit," a plan to "forward-deploy regional SWAT teams" and create "a dual-headed DAS for public diplomacy."

One of her underlings rose to ask how this effort squared with the administration's famously tight control over its message. "Recently, we've had tremendous amount of difficulty in some cases getting clearance for our ambassadors to speak," he said.

Hughes replied that ambassadors are free to talk -- if they use the talking points she sends them. "If they make statements based on something I sent them," she said, "they're not going to be called on the carpet."

I had some encouraging words about Hughes earlier this week. Please don't make me take them all back.... because this is sounding an awful lot like "truth squads + spin", and not any kind of serious rethinking of how to engage with foreign audiences. Maybe I should have asked for that pony after all...

Remember: this is supposed to be the good, competent side of the Bush administration.

Impeach George W. Bush. Impeach him now.

George W. Bush Helps the Medical Profession

Shakespeare's Sister is shrill:

Shakespeare's Sister: No Chemo for You: Oh the blessed irony. Last Tuesday, the 30th--you know, the day all the papers looked like this--President Bush was in San Diego at the Naval Medical Center, with the intention of the visit to thank medics who aided tsunami victims in Southeast Asia. Well, not only was he busily ignoring the needs of the people in New Orleans; his little photo op in San Diego was also preventing patients there from receiving the medical care they need.

The Naval Medical Center in San Diego's Balboa Park was shut down to accommodate a visit by President George W. Bush Aug. 30, RAW STORY has learned, forcing patients to cancel chemotherapy treatments and hundreds of scheduled patient visits....

Impeach George W. Bush. Impeach him now.

Bush Personnel Policy

Laura Rozen writes:

War and Piece: Campaign Vets for FEMA Damage Control: The guy who callled me back yesterday who was supposedly a spokesman for FEMA? It turns out the WaPo reported as recently as March 2005 that he had been hired as one of three staffers to run a Bush administration Social Security "war room", modeled on the "Coalition Information Centers that promoted the administration message around the world during the war in Afghanistan":

The Treasury Department yesterday announced the formation of a Social Security "war room" and the hiring of three full-time employees to help coordinate and refine the administration's message on the issue. The war room, which the administration is calling the Social Security Information Center, will track lawmakers' remarks to their local news outlets, to help the White House detect signs of Republican concern or Democratic compromise.

The office, modeled after the Coalition Information Centers that promoted the administration message around the world during the war in Afghanistan, will also help target speaking trips by top administration officials...

The center is to be headed by Mark Pfeifle, an administration veteran who has been a spokesman for the Interior Department and last summer's Republican National Convention. Working with him will be Shannon Burkhart and Jill Willis, both of whom worked on the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign. The three were hired about two weeks ago.

What's he doing at FEMA now? Is FEMA's only purpose under the Bush administration to do damage control and photo opportunities for the Bush administration? What was it doing 10 days ago? Where were all these folks who should have been applying their skills doing emergency management? When did their contracts start? Were they hired on the plane back from the Devenish-Wallace wedding party?

Impeach George W. Bush. Impeach him now.

The Magnitude of Katrina

A piece of information:

Alex Berenson and Sewell Chan: In the first indication of how many deaths Louisiana alone might expect, Robert Johannessen, a spokesman for the State Department of Health and Hospitals, said on Wednesday that the Federal Emergency Management Agency had ordered 25,000 body bags...

Economic Impact of Katrina

Andrew Samwick reads the CBO's rapid analysis of the economic impact of Katrina:

Vox Baby: Significant but not Overwhelming: So says the Congressional Budget Office in its preliminary report on the likely economic impact of Hurricane Katrina on economic growth. Quoting from the opening paragraph of the report:

Katrina could dampen real gross domestic product (GDP) growth in the second half of the year by ½ to 1 percentage point and reduce employment through the end of this year by about 400,000. Most economic forecasters had expected 3 percent to 4 percent growth during the second half, and employment growth of 150,000 to 200,000 per month. Economic growth and employment are likely to rebound during the first half of 2006 as rebuilding accelerates.

How do they get these numbers? Start with an overestimate of the affected areas:

The gross state product of Louisiana is about 1.2 percent of U.S. GDP, and that for Mississippi is about 0.7 percent. If half of that product were lost for three months (September to November), the level of real GDP would be lowered by about 1 percent from what it otherwise would be, cutting about 1.3 percentage points from the annualized growth rate for the third quarter and about 2.7 percentage points from the fourth quarter.

They then argue that production of the key industries in those areas will be unlikely to be affected for that long, putting the impact at about 1 percentage point (off an annualized growth rate) in each quarter. They then conduct an analogous exercise to estimate the loss in jobs:

Employment for September will decline significantly—estimates of the impact range from 150,000 to half a million—as a direct consequence of the hurricane. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) may or may not be able to estimate the size of this effect when it releases the September data on October 7. Employment will increase in subsequent months, as workers return home and businesses reopen and as reconstruction activity gathers steam. The large-scale relocation will generate additional demand for workers in receiving communities; some of those jobs will be filled by the evacuees themselves. Once New Orleans residents are able to return home, the net effect on the level of employment will be positive, as reconstruction activity continues.

A reasonable first pass at the questions they were asked. It is not CBO's fault that rebuilding after a natural disaster is one of the more obvious times when GDP--as a measure of economic well-being--comes up short.

I'm now guessing that we are down $100 to $200 billion in total national wealth (i.e., two to four times the predicted total loss-of-GDP shortfall).

What scares me is that hurricane season is only half over.