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September 2005

Empire of Honour

J.E. Lendon (1997), Empire of Honour (Oxford: Oxford University Press: 0199247633), is an absolutely brilliant application to Imperial Roman history of Montesquieu's apothegm that:

The ruling principle of a republic is virtue; of a despotism, fear; and of a monarchy, honor.

Wonderful book. Just saying.

Two Rather Different Messages

David Frum approvingly relays a message from "a reader":

David Frum's Diary on National Review Online: More Katerina ... A reader writes:

Kathleen Blanco wants the MONEY, but she doesn't want the accountability. Rather than federalizing the Guard (at which point blaming the administration would become completely legitimate), she wants to keep the control herself while pointing the finger. As far as I'm concerned, she joins the parade of Southern governors who declined to federalize the National Guard to defend or help black people. A bit harsh, perhaps, but so are many of the things being said about Bush and Chertoff.

The levees are a project of national importance, and there is clearly a federal role there. But does Louisiana or Jefferson Parish have no role in its own preservation? The comments yesterday from the head of Jefferson Parish about bureaucracy killing people have several grains of truth, but when he says 'get me another idiot' to run FEMA, I want to say, 'and what did you do about preparations?' Maybe Hastert is right. Maybe we shouldn't rebuild part of New Orleans, or simply say that people who choose to build in those parts need to have flood insurance -- and permit the banks to refuse to lend money to people without flood insurance without provoking an investigation by the Federal Reserve.

If Kathleen Blanco is going to play politics by hiring Cllinton's FEMA director, then do Republicans not get to respond? I think the press is pretty aware of the D and R affiliations here, too. Otherwise, we'd be seeing a lot more positive coverage of Haley Barbour.

Jim MacDonald relays a rather different message from somebody else:

Making Light: Today's Lesson:

And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted Jesus, saying, "Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?"

Jesus said unto the lawyer, "What is written in the law? how readest thou?"

And the lawyer answering said, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself."

And Jesus said unto him, "Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live."

But the lawyer, wishing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, "And who is my neighbour?"

And Jesus answering said:

A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.

And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.

And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.

But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, and went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, "Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee."

Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?

And the lawyer said, "He that shewed mercy on him."

Then said Jesus unto him, "Go, and do thou likewise."

Small Government Republicanism Is Gone

Small-government Republicanism has been dead since the inauguration of Ronald Reagan. But now it has been staked, and its head has been cut off and stuffed with garlic. David Wessel muses on the consequences: - Capital: The era of small government is over. Sept. 11 challenged it. Katrina killed it.

Of course... small government has been more principle than practice lately. President Bush has presided over... the largest expansion of Medicare since Lyndon Johnson signed it into law and a 20% increase in all federal spending... even before the cost of responding to Hurricane Katrina. Now the rhetoric is fading to match the reality....

"The era of big government wasn't over," says Allen Schick, a professor of public policy at the University of Maryland. "Look what happened with spending. It was hibernating under Clinton and revived under Bush." The year Mr. Bush took office, federal spending amounted to 18.5% of gross domestic product, the value of all goods and services produced that year. This year, before adding the cost of Katrina, it was projected at 19.8% of GDP, and paying pensions and health care for baby boomers will push it higher still. Katrina already is adding fuel to the spending fire....

All this is more than politicians doing what comes naturally. The politicians are reflecting the public attitude toward government -- complain about it, criticize it and count on it. When Mr. Clinton, in that 1996 speech, said, "We cannot go back to the time when our citizens were left to fend for themselves," it seemed one of those rhetorical flourishes he often used to position himself between two exaggerated extremes. After New Orleans, it sounds more like a prophetic admonition.

In this climate, Mr. Bush's principled effort to create "an ownership society," in which individuals take more responsibility -- for health care, retirement, housing, education -- and rely less on their government, has been stopped in its tracks. His quest to repair Social Security and create private retirement accounts, already stalled on Capitol Hill, may be dying. Preaching self-reliance right now, whatever the merits of the case, won't work.

Mr. Bush's ability to make a convincing, reasoned argument that times of great need like these require budget choices is undermined by his unyielding affection for the tax cuts that were conceived before Sept. 11. The Senate quickly shelved a plan to try to repeal the estate tax permanently this week, but Republicans still hope to extend the life of tax cuts on dividends and capital gains that are set to expire at the end of 2008.

The horror of New Orleans, the photos of Americans on rooftops waving "Help Us" signs, the squalor of the Louisiana Superdome and the convention center, the failure to heed well-publicized warnings about the inadequacy of the levees -- all are provoking loud attacks on local, state and federal governments. But those aren't cries for less government. Government spending over the next five years will be bigger, perhaps significantly bigger, because of Katrina and its aftereffects.

That poses a formidable challenge to the president and Congress. Today's combination of small-government tax rates and big-government spending plans is pleasant and popular. It isn't sustainable.

One of the interesting things about Jackson Hole was the number of private conversations about what to do to build institutions to restore fiscal sanity--and whether the Federal Reserve needed to take on a role as guardian of fiscal stability as well, sharply admonishing the executive and legislative branches and telling them that fiscal instability would eventually make inflation impossible to avoid. Bob Rubin's opinion was "Yes": the Federal Reserve does need to take on this watchdog role--and strongly.

Yali's Question Once Again

Timothy Burke has serious complaints with the analytical and rhetorical strategies pursued by Frederick Errington and Deborah Gewertz in the quarrel they pick with Jared Diamond at

I have considerably more serious and deeper complaints.

Let's look at what Jared Diamond reports in his Guns, Germs, and Steel of his conversation with Yali:

...a remarkable local politician named Yali.... We walked together for an hour.... Yali radiated charisma and energy.... He talked confidently about himself, but he also asked lots of probing questions and listened intently.... The conversation remained friendly, even though the tension between the two societies that Yali and I represented was familiar to both of us. Two centuries ago, all New Guineans... used stone tools similar to those superseded in Europe by metal tools thousand of years ago.... Whites had arrived, imposed centralized government, and brought material goods whose value New Guineans instantly recognized, ranging from steel axes, matches, and medicines to clothing, soft drinks, and umbrellas. In New Guinea all these goods were referred to collectively as "cargo." Many of the white colonists openly despised New Guineans as "primitive." Even the least able of New Guinea's white "masters," as they were still called in 1972, enjoyed a far higher standard of living.... All these things must have been on Yali's mind when, with yet another penetrating glance of his flashing eyes, he asked me, "Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo and brought it to New Guinea, but we black people had little cargo of our own?"...

Now let's look at how Fred and Deborah characterize Diamond:

Whereas Diamond understands Yali to be asking about “things”—-about Western “goods”-—Yali was actually asking about social equality. Whereas Diamond thinks Yali envied nifty Western stuff, Yali actually resented the not-so-nifty Western condescension that allowed Europeans to deny PNGuineans fundamental worth. The misunderstanding matters, we think, as more than an issue of factual error. That Diamond does not stretch his imagination to understand Yali’s cultural views is consistent with the history he presents. This is a history that he believes happened for reasons that we in the contemporary West already believe in. It is a history that accords with our view of how the world fundamentally works. Because such a history conveys the perspectives of the “haves,” it not only hinges on the (seemingly) self-evident, it also sustains the self-interested...

Remember the words that Diamond write: "tension... colonists... openly despised... 'primitive'... white 'masters'... on Yali's mind... penetrating glance of his flashing eyes." Diamond does not believe that Yali is interested only in "goods" and not in social equality: Diamond thinks that Yali is very interested in social equality. Diamond is not ignorant of Yali's resentment of Western despisal of Papua New Guineans: Diamond is not so naive as to think that Yali only "envie[s] nifty Western stuff." And Yali was not asking about social equality--if he were, he would have said, "Why is it that you white people treat us black people like s---?" Instead, Yali was asking about "things"--"Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo and brought it to New Guinea, but we black people had little cargo of our own?" is a question about things.

I cannot avoid interpreting Fred and Deborah's characterization as a bad faith misreading of Diamond. It carries us out of the territory of speech situations a la Habermas, and into the territory of Karl Rove.

Stupidest Man Alive

It's time for our once-every-three-months task of laying down a marker that National Review's Donald Luskin is indeed the stupidest man alive. It's a thankless task. But somebody needs to do it.

Today we have:

SO THIS NEWS WASN'T FIT TO PRINT? The New York Times keeps saying that Katrina was a disaster that "everyone knew was coming". But apparently not. On Sunday, August 28, the newspaper of record wrote not one single story about it. Check this out, at Neuro-Conservative.

However, if you look on page A14 of the Sunday, August 28, 2005 New York Times, you will find a photo and a caption. The caption reads:

Residents of New Orleans boarded up stores and homes yesterday as Hurricane Katrina began heading their way. President Bush declared a state of emergency in Louisiana, and a spokesman urged people to heed evacuation orders. The storm is expected to strengthen before reaching land tomorrow.

Contrary to what Luskin believes, the New York Times knew and said on August 28 that Hurricane Katrina was headed for New Orleans. Everyone with a brain knew Hurricane Katrina was coming. Even Bush knew that Hurricane Katrina was headed for New Orleans. See:


Lecture: September 2: Economic Growth Since Deep Time

Lecture: September 2: Economic Growth Since Deep Time

U.C. Berkeley Economics 101b, Fall 2005

The East African Plains Ape Becomes Human

  • Very big brains
  • Tools
  • Culture
  • Manipulation of environment

(Some) Humans Move Out of Africa

  • 50000 years ago?
  • No signs of interbreeding with other non-African proto-human populations
  • Genetic differences?
    • 2000 generations is not a long time for Uncle Charles Darwin to work
    • Facial features, hair, lactose-tolerance, sickle cell and anemia resistance, Tay-Sachs
    • And, of course, melanin: rickets, vitamin D, melanoma
      • Skin color as a marker of slave status in the Americas: it kept slavery going for centuries after indentured servitude (which did not use skin color as a marker) broke down
    • Woolier and unsubstantiated stories:
      • Jared Diamond on how people in Papua New Guinea are smarter than the rest of us
      • In northern latitudes keeping warm is important: selection for dumpy and less athletic body types?
      • But don't go there: evolutionary behavior is still nothing more than a source of just-so stories, and has been a source of immense ignorance and terror in the past
    • The way to think of it, I have been told, is that there is less genetic variation in the entire human race than in a single baboon troop

Hunter gatherers * Pretty ferocious--even East African Plains Apes of two million years ago could drive hyenas from their dens * Sophisticated Cro-Magnon technology * Sophisticated Cro-Magnon culture--doing a lot of things that mark them as fully human * Life was nasty, brutish, and short--but athletic * Cro-Magnon hunter-gatherers * Average menarche at 16? * Life expectancy of 25? * Seven pregnancies to term? * But infinitesimal population growth means ferocious infant mortality * But they were buff: adult male heights of 5'8" or so

Neolithic Revolution

  • Herd animals to be domesticated
  • Plants with big seeds
    • Wheat
    • Rice
    • Corn--an amazing plant
  • Agriculture sees like an enormously good deal at the start
  • Well-nourished and easy-living agricultural populations expand rapidly
    • Farm sizes diminish
    • And Thomas Robert Malthus shows up
  • Agriculture allows human race to grow from ca. 3 million (or less) in 10000 BC to ca. 170 million (or so) in 1
  • Agriculturalists stomp hunter-gatherers, and usually herdsmen
    • Exception: people on horses with bows can hold their own
    • In fact, people on horses with bows can sometimes do much more than hold their own: Atilla, Temujin--until reliable firearms

What Is Agricultural Life Like?

  • Nasty, brutish, short--and definitely not buff
  • Menarche at 18?
  • Life expectancy of 25?
  • 6? pregnancies to term
  • Huge childhood mortality--population growth is once again glacial--except for initial settlement phases
    • Alleviation of Malthusian misery (partial) by European household marriage or Asian lineage family
    • Psychological stress produced by these social institutions--telling your daughter she can't marry her boyfriend until he has a farm, or telling your younger brother he can't have a wife...
  • Agriculturalists definitely not buff--adult male heights of 5'2" or so
  • Plus
    • Agriculture means thugs with spears--rulers and warrior castes
    • Agriculture means thugs with pens--star watchers who keep records and can tell you when to plan become priests

By the Yeqr 1, the Human Race Was Biologically and Technologically Successful--But Pretty Miserable

Lecture: August 31: Thinking Like a Macroeconomist

Lecture: August 31: Thinking Like a Macroeconomist

U.C. Berkeley Economics 101b, Fall 2005

Macroeconomics and Microeconomics: Similarities

  • Retains focus on incentives and opportunity cost
  • Retains focus on aggregating up behavior
  • Retains focus on equilibrium conditions

Macroeconomics and Microeconomics: Differences

  • Ruthless simplification: representative agents
  • Focus on general equilibrium: this is a system, not a market
  • Differences in equilibrium conditions: balanced growth, quantity adjustment

Six Key Macroeconomic Variables

  • Real GDP (also per capita for living standards, and per worker for productivity)
  • The unemployment rate
  • The inflation rate
  • The real interest rate (term structure)
  • The real value of the stock market
  • The real exchange rate

Uncle Simon Kuznet and the Creation of the National Income and Product Accounts

The Circular Flow of Economic Activity

  • The flow of spending power
  • The flow of goods produced
  • The flow of incomes
  • All of these should add up to the same thing--a system with checks and balances

Pop Music!

Wow! The San Francisco Chronicle's Joel Selvin badly needs a new and different life:

'American Idol' champ Clarkson struggles to the finish line in local headlining debut: Kelly Clarkson was not having a good night. Instead of presiding triumphantly over an amphitheater full of screaming teens anointing her a true pop goddess, she cut off the electric guitars and hobbled into the finale. Her voice in shreds, she dropped the key and slowed the beat for the climactic performance of her big hit, "Since U Been Gone." She sang, but without any vitality, flat and listless. She left most of the singing to the audience, parading around the stage holding the microphone out to the crowd, who happily supplied the chorus. Clarkson looked ragged, drained. What should have been a victory lap looked like a forced march.

The song has been the biggest pop hit of the year, rescuing 23-year-old Clarkson from the footnote oblivion of having been the first winner of TV's "American Idol." Clarkson arrived for her Bay Area headline concert debut Sunday at UC Berkeley's Greek Theatre to be greeted by a larger-than-expected crowd of more than 6,000 enthusiasts who were screaming her name in unison -- "Kell-lee" -- before she took the stage.

She apologized for her voice after the raw edges showed on a ballad. She talked about having the next day off (after the show she did, in fact, cancel a concert scheduled for Santa Barbara). She nevertheless pulled off the frenzied final chorus of Annie Lennox's "Why." But she was not happy. She made her three guitar players switch to acoustics and tried to regain her equilibrium. Rather than stop the show, she said, they would soldier on. "We'll try to have the same good time," she said, "only at a lower key."

With a hit that big on the charts -- and the limited shelf life of pop hits -- her agents can be forgiven for having her do more than four shows a week this summer. But her gymnastic vocal style calls for a sturdy athleticism that she couldn't summon Sunday. Her big numbers rely on ringing choruses she drives home with blasting, trumpet-like high notes, and, her voice gone, she didn't have other resources to fall back on, as a cunning veteran might. She is, after all, a relative newcomer who owes her fame to winning a talent show on television three years ago, and she was already widely presumed to be washed up. Her surprising career resurrection comes from Swedish songsmith Max Martin, the man who brought you Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys and who has been having a hard time buying a hit himself recently.

Clarkson managed to separate herself from the machinations of the evil geniuses behind "American Idol" -- the ones who made her sing "A Moment Like This" and star in the movie "From Justin to Kelly" -- and she apparently sought out this new career strategy for herself. She has clearly long placed her faith in the work of makeup, hair and wardrobe professionals, although the stylist that picked out the impossibly low-cut knee pants and halter-top outfit didn't do her any favors.

She exuded a certain cheery charm, a becoming modesty that suits her talents, a willingness to please that is always attractive in an entertainer. Her wholesome exuberance is more tomboy than sexy. But waving at fans in the front rows during dramatic passages of a song might be taking the giggly, girlish thing a little too far.

There were moments tinged with promise -- a Joplinesque rasp on the edge of a soulful ballad, a sweet turn in her voice in the country-pop of Rascal Flatts' "I'm Movin' On" that suggested early Ronstadt. But largely she stuck to cookie-cutter teen pop that really wasn't all that interesting or memorable, save for the big hit, of course, which is a great, glowing, gleaming piece of pop cheese Clarkson is likely never to see the likes of again.

We took the Twelve-Year-Old to the concert at Berkeley's Greek Theatre. No, she was not listless. No, it did not look like a forced march. Yes, she has some excellent material to work with. Yes, she has very good taste in the cover songs she chooses. We saw a twenty-two year old realizing as she got into her set that her voice that night couldn't carry the belt-it-out vocal strategy of her new album, and trying to regroup and adjust so that she could do a set that would (a) please her fans, while (b) not straining her voice too far. We saw a remarkably professional twenty-two year old.

She has a voice. She has range. She has presence. She has 160,000 people who have seen her this summer. If she gets good vocal coaches who will help her save and develop her voice, she could do very well.

Joel Selvin, on the other hand.... He needs to get out of town--get out of the music-covering business--before he does himself serious damage.

The Best Use of Firefighters: Props in a Photo-Op

I'm going to have to restrict myself to one of this kind of post a day:

Joshua Micah Marshall writes about firefighters as photo-op props:

Talking Points Memo: by Joshua Micah Marshall: September 04, 2005 - September 10, 2005 Archives: article from today's Salt Lake Tribune which tells the story of about a thousand firefighters from around the country who volunteered to serve in the Katrina devastation areas. But when they arrived in Atlanta to be shipped out to various disaster zones in the region, they found out that they were going to be used as FEMA community relations specialists. And they were to spend a day in Atltanta getting training on community relations, sexual harassment awareness, et al. This of course while life and death situations were still the order of the day along a whole stretch of the Gulf Coast.

It's an article you've really got a to read to appreciate the full measure of folly and surreality.

But the graf at the end of the piece really puts everything in perspective, and gives some sense what the Bush administration really has in mind when it talks about a crisis. The paper reports that one team finally was sent to the region...

As specific orders began arriving to the firefighters in Atlanta, a team of 50 Monday morning quickly was ushered onto a flight headed for Louisiana. The crew's first assignment: to stand beside President Bush as he tours devastated areas.

You can't make this stuff up.

Impeach George W. Bush. Impeach him now.

Brad Setser Talks About the Port of Southern Louisiana

He writes:

RGE - Those Louisiana ports, once again: Southern Louisiana produces oil and gas offshore, refines crude, both local and imported, and then ships that gasolinel inland. Think of it as the inward flow of energy. It also handles a very large share of the outward flow of the Mississippi river basin's agricultural bounty. There are always alternatives, but I don't think there are good alternatives in either of these two areas.... The least damaged refineries are now coming back online, but some refineries will be out for a while. In the short-run, refined product can be imported, but that - obviously - costs a lot more. Grain transportation infrastructure is another. There really is no alternative to the Mississippi. The real question is how quickly the key infrastructure can be repaired - and how much it will cost to store the grain harvest if the ports are not running at capacity in time....

The economic impact of Katrina can be divided into the cost of rebuilding, the cost of feeding, housing and caring for the people displaced from their homes and jobs by Katrina, and the cost of the disruption of the energy and bulk commodity supply infrastructure. Rebuilding has its own dynamic.... [T]he loss of the economic activity of an entire city, however, is something new. The economic impact of Katrina should not be exagerrated, but neither should it be minimized....

[T]he mouth of the Mississippi also has certain intrinsic geographical advantages that are hard for other ports to match. [Stratfor's] George Friedman puts it well:

Rather, it was geography -- the extraordinary system of rivers that flowed through the Midwest and allowed them to ship their surplus to the rest of the world. All of the rivers flowed into one -- the Mississippi -- and the Mississippi flowed to the ports in and around one city: New Orleans.... The ports of South Louisiana and New Orleans, which run north and south of the city, are as important today as at any point during the history of the republic. On its own merit, the Port of South Louisiana is the largest port in the United States by tonnage and the fifth-largest in the world. It exports more than 52 million tons a year, of which more than half are agricultural products -- corn, soybeans and so on. A larger proportion of U.S. agriculture flows out of the port. Almost as much cargo, nearly 57 million tons, comes in through the port -- including not only crude oil, but chemicals and fertilizers, coal, concrete and so on. A simple way to think about the New Orleans port complex is that it is where the bulk commodities of agriculture go out to the world and the bulk commodities of industrialism come in....

The problem is that there are no good shipping alternatives. River transport is cheap, and most of the commodities we are discussing have low value-to-weight ratios. The U.S. transport system was built on the assumption that these commodities would travel to and from New Orleans by barge, where they would be loaded on ships or offloaded. Apart from port capacity elsewhere in the United States, there aren't enough trucks or rail cars to handle the long-distance hauling of these enormous quantities -- assuming for the moment that the economics could be managed, which they can't be.

A city will rise up again in Southern Louisiana; it just may be a smaller city, one shorn of the tourist trade and entirely based around the hard work of a bulk port and servicing the region's energy infrastructure.

The basic economic case for a city at the mouth of the Mississippi is why, now that most have been evacuated from New Orleans, for indications of the length of the hurricane related disruption in the key energy and transportation infrastructure around New Orleans. For now, that primarily stems from the loss of offshore oil and gas production and the loss on onshore refining capacity. Some of those losses can be made up (temporarily) from stockpiles - US stocks of crude, European stocks of refined petrol. But obviously, the longer the basic infrastructure is down, the bigger the impact -- and not just on the US market.

The same is true with infrastructure handling the outward flow of bulk commodities from the Midwest. The longer it is out, the bigger the potential disruption. Current estimates suggest the Port of New Orleans will be out for three to six weeks. I have not found an estimate for the Port of South Louisiana. According to the Los Angeles Times, the ports may not operate at full capacity until early in 2006 ... .

Clearly, workers can be brought in and housed in temporary shelters, and if you pay people enough, generally you can find the workforce you need. Think Halliburton and Iraq. So the ports will get back online. And US grain can be stored elsewhere and stockpiled until the ports are back on line. There are always options. But they all increase the cost of getting the grain harvest out and on the world market...

Please Tell Me the Bush Administration Is Not This Bad

The Financial Times runs my Katrina column: / Comment & analysis / Comment - Katrina reveals the presidential flaws, by Brad Delong: Published: September 6 2005 20:50 | Last updated: September 6 2005 20:50: What is more unbelievable? Aaron Broussard, president of Jefferson parish, reporting that the Federal Emergency Management Agency was still blocking relief supplies to this Louisiana district: “We had Wal-Mart deliver three trailer trucks of water. Fema turned them back. They said we didn’t need them. This was a week ago. We had 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel on a Coast Guard vessel docked in my parish. The Coast Guard said: ‘Come get the fuel right away.’ When we got there with our trucks, they got a word: ‘Fema says don’t give you the fuel.’ Yesterday, Fema comes in and cuts all of our emergency communication lines”?

Or Fema’s decision to keep the Red Cross from sending supplies and medical personnel into New Orleans. The Red Cross reports: “We simply cannot enter New Orleans against their orders . . . [They say] our presence would keep people from evacuating and encourage others to come into the city”?

Or the fact that neither the city of New Orleans, the state of Louisiana or Fema rolled a single busload of refugees out of the city before Hurricane Katrina hit?

Or that when Richard Daley, Chicago’s mayor, offered Fema help before Hurricane Katrina hit, Fema said “no”?

Or the claim by Michael Chertoff, the Department of Homeland Security head, that Katrina “exceeded the foresight of the planners and maybe anybody’s foresight” coupled with the comments of his deputy, Fema head Michael Brown, that Katrina was a Category 4 hurricane that “caused the same kind of damage that we anticipated. So we planned for it two years ago”?

Or George W. Bush’s claim that he was “satisfied with the response” his administration had made to Hurricane Katrina, although he agreed that the results were not acceptable?

Or Mr Brown’s claim that on the Saturday before the hurricane struck “it was my belief . . . any hurricane is bad – but we had the standard hurricane coming in here, that we could move in immediately on Monday and start doing our kind of response-recovery effort” while, at that moment, Ivor van Heerden, deputy director of Louisiana State University’s hurricane centre, was saying that all indications are that “this is absolutely worst-case scenario”, that “we’re talking about . . . a refugee camp of 1m people” and that his computer simulations indicated that New Orleans could be flooded by 30 feet of water?

Or these remarks by James Lee Witt, who was Fema director under President Bill Clinton: “In the 1990s, in planning for a New Orleans nightmare scenario, the federal government figured it would pre-deploy nearby ships with pumps to remove water from the below-sea-level city and have hospital ships nearby. These things need to be planned and prepared for; it just doesn’t look like it was” ?

Which of these is worst? I do not know.

Let us ask another question: should we be surprised at this? After all, this is the administration that staffed our reconstruction effort in Iraq with young conservative activists with résumés on file at rightwing think-tanks, that refused to recognise that what we faced in Iraq was an insurgency rather than “dead-enders”; that found it extraordinarily difficult to get personal and vehicle armour to US soldiers in Iraq, that advanced a Medicare drugs bill that seems destined to generate huge profits for pharmaceutical companies – for Medicare is forbidden to bargain on price – for mediocre improvements in drug coverage, that turned America’s hard-won fiscal surpluses into deficits that threaten the health of the economy. We could go on.

Yes, we should be surprised. Fema is a bureaucracy. A bureaucracy is designed to keep functioning even when it is headed by a man who was suddenly told by his private-sector bosses to find a new job and whose only qualification is that he is the friend of a friend of the president. When faced with a situation, you pull out the plans and you follow the standard operating procedures. When hurricanes threaten the Gulf coast, you pre-position hospital and rescue ships offshore. You have a meeting beforehand and ask: “if this truly goes south – much worse than we are expecting – what things will we wish a month from now that we had done today?” In the case of New Orleans, you know that there will be floods so you prepare to drop support from the air.

But here the plans were not pulled out of the filing cabinets, the standard operating procedures were not followed, and the “what will we wish we had done?” meetings were apparently not held. In any other form of government besides that of the US – where the president has the formal legal powers of the 18th-century British monarch, and where each party’s presidential candidate emerges from an undignified struggle among party activists – Mr Bush would have been eased out by now. The barons of his party would have told him that he had to step aside.

It would be better for the country--and for the Republican party--if some way were found to ensure its future presidential candidates have some skill in public administration.

The writer is professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley

Kevin Drum Is Shrill

He writes:

The Washington Monthly: BUSH AND KATRINA.... For what it's worth, I'd like to make absolutely clear why I hold George Bush accountable for the federal response to Hurricane Katrina.... I don't blame him for being on vacation... for a certain amount of chaos in the initial response... for rolling FEMA into the Department of Homeland Security... for focusing more on terrorism than on natural disasters. That was a natural reaction to 9/11. Nor do I think that Bush doesn't care about natural disasters....

Rather, what happened was a series of decisions... that taken together made Katrina more damaging than it had to be.... These decisions were deliberate and disastrous, and that's why I think Bush deserves a large part of the blame for what happened....

January 2001: Bush appoints Joe Allbaugh, a crony from Texas, as head of FEMA. Allbaugh has no previous experience in disaster management.

April 2001: Budget Director Mitch Daniels announces the Bush administration's goal of privatizing much of FEMA's work. In May, Allbaugh confirms that FEMA will be downsized: "Many are concerned that federal disaster assistance may have evolved into both an oversized entitlement program...." he said. "Expectations of when the federal government should be involved and the degree of involvement may have ballooned beyond what is an appropriate level."

2001: FEMA designates a major hurricane hitting New Orleans as one of the three "likeliest, most catastrophic disasters facing this country."

December 2002: After less than two years at FEMA, Allbaugh announces he is leaving to start up a consulting firm that advises companies seeking to do business in Iraq. He is succeeded by his deputy and former college roommate, Michael Brown, who has no previous experience in disaster management and was fired from his previous job for mismanagement.

March 2003: FEMA is downgraded from a cabinet level position and folded into the Department of Homeland Security. Its mission is refocused on fighting acts of terrorism.

2003: Under its new organization chart within DHS, FEMA's preparation and planning functions are reassigned to a new Office of Preparedness and Response. FEMA will henceforth focus only on response and recovery.

Summer 2004: FEMA denies Louisiana's pre-disaster mitigation funding requests. Says Jefferson Parish flood zone manager Tom Rodrigue: "You would think we would get maximum consideration....This is what the grant program called for. We were more than qualified for it."

June 2004: The Army Corps of Engineers budget for levee construction in New Orleans is slashed. Jefferson Parish emergency management chiefs Walter Maestri comments: "It appears that the money has been moved in the president's budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that's the price we pay."

June 2005: Funding for the New Orleans district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is cut by a record $71.2 million. One of the hardest-hit areas is the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project, which was created after the May 1995 flood to improve drainage in Jefferson, Orleans and St. Tammany parishes.

August 2005: While New Orleans is undergoing a slow motion catastrophe, Bush mugs for the cameras, cuts a cake for John McCain, plays the guitar for Mark Wills, delivers an address about V-J day, and continues with his vacation. When he finally gets around to acknowledging the scope of the unfolding disaster, he delivers only a photo op on Air Force One and a flat, defensive, laundry list speech in the Rose Garden.

So: A crony with no relevant experience was installed as head of FEMA. Mitigation budgets for New Orleans were slashed even though it was known to be one of the top three risks in the country. FEMA was deliberately downsized as part of the Bush administration's conservative agenda to reduce the role of government. After DHS was created, FEMA's preparation and planning functions were taken away.

Actions have consequences. No one could predict that a hurricane the size of Katrina would hit this year, but the slow federal response when it did happen was no accident. It was the result of four years of deliberate Republican policy and budget choices that favor ideology and partisan loyalty at the expense of operational competence. It's the Bush administration in a nutshell.

Impeach George W. Bush. Impeach him now.

The Limits of Libertarianism--and of Social Democracy

Alex Tabarrok takes on Jonathan Kozol. First he makes the libertarian point:

Marginal Revolution: The tragedy of Jonathan Kozol: Jonathan Kozol has spent a good deal of his life writing eloquently and passionately about children and the sad state of education in America. The depths of his passion and caring are to be admired and applauded. The tragedy is that his eloquence has often been put to ill use attacking the one reform that would really help - private schools and school choice. Kozol's good intentions, therefore, earn him no free pass from me. In a recent interview he said:

[Private schools] starve the public school system of the presence of well-educated, politically effective parents to fight for equity for all kids....

Barricading parents into the poor schools their government offers them is [immoral].... People, even well-educated, politically effective people, should not be used as tools to further some social engineering scheme.

But I think he has a guilty conscience. Establishing property rights and courts--isn't that a social engineering scheme? Don't some people--those best at silently breaking and entering--lose when we create the mammoth social engineering scheme that is a "judicial system"? Aren't we really choosing among social engineering schemes?

So Alex goes on to make the utilitarian point that Kozol's scheme wouldn't work very well, and makes some very good points:

[I]s the argument even true? Kozol draws on Hirschman's great book Exit, Voice and Loyalty, but like many who read that book he shows no sign of understanding any of its subtleties. Yes, exit and voice can be substitutes and reducing exit may increase voice. But more often than not, voice and exits are complements. When you complain of delay where is your voice more likely to be heard; at a restaurant or at the department of motor vehicles? It's the threat of exit that makes people listen.

Moreover, shutting down exit does not guarantee that voice will arise...

Finally, we go to the data. Kozol's argument implies that places with more exit should have worse public schools. But in fact a large body of research shows that the opposite is true. Places with more choice - whether that choice comes from private schools, charter schools, or even choice among public schools - have better schools. Exit and the threat of exit makes educators listen.

But will Kozol listen? Sadly, I think not because his fundamental opposition to vouchers is not economic but aesthetic. He says:

Vouchers elevate the lowest instincts of humanity over the most beautiful instincts.

Timothy Burke Touches on Issues of Monetary Theory

In comments, he writes about:

Tim Burke: Comment: ...the concept of gift economies and status or reputation capital, that in some societies, manufactured goods were wanted less for some sense of their material utility and more because they could be used in existing forms of exchange centering on gifts and status accumulation. To give an African example, liquor was one of the things that some African elites wanted as payment for slaves, and the common assumption on the part of Westerners was that Africans wanted the alcohol in order to drink it. But in many cases, elites just stockpiled it and never consumed it. They weren't interested in its "real" or material utility: it was a kind of gift-currency. You could give the bottles to clients and at a later date use the circulation of gifts as a way to mobilize your clients for various kinds of labor. The clients didn't usually drink what they were given, either: they had their own stockpiles. A lot of gift exchange in the Pacific worked pretty similarly historically...

But the only reason that liquor was an effective gift currency, medium of market exchange, and way to store wealth was that it was both somewhat scarce and good to drink, no? In the ancient middle east gold was, similarly, an effective gift currency, medium of market exchange, and way to store wealth because it was both somewhat scarce and could easily be worked into beautiful objects.

One could write a paragraph analogous to Tim's about how:

precious metals are wanted less for some sense of their material utility and more because they can be used in existing forms of exchange. To give a modern example, gold has been commonly accepted in payment and the common assumption would be that those who accept gold do so because they can easily work it into beautiful objects. But in many cases elites just stockpiled it and never used it--go down to the basement of the Federal Reserve Bank of New york sometime. They weren't interested in its "real" or material utility, but only as a way to mobilize resources.

When some commodity turns into money, all of a sudden its most real--its most important--use-value is the fact that others will accept and value it in gift or exchange transations. Its real, material use-value becomes subordinate to its use-value as a liquid form of purchasing power. This is a strange and magical transformation. But it doesn't indicate that people who use other things than we do for money--whether shells or liquor or cigarettes--aren't interested in its "real or material utility." It's just that the fact that it has real or material utility has, in that particular social context, led to its acquiring the additional use-value of being a liquid medium of exchange.

We economists often find this: historians or anthropologists or sociologists talking about how the presence of valuable, portable, useful commodities that are never used or consumed shows the limits of the economist's utilitarian view of the world. To us, this point is incomprehensible: the liquor isn't drunk not because "cultural" factors overcome "economic" ones; the liquor isn't drunk because the bottle's use-value as a store of wealth and source of liquidity is greater than its use-value as drink--but without its use-value as drink the economic institutions that give it its greater use-value as money would not have developed.

In Deepest Anthropologia II: The Steel Axe Cuts Both Ways

In comments and elsewhere people are disputing the claim that a steel axe is better than a stone one:

Comment: Chris Lovell: But this assumes that the people of PNG evaluate technology and goods in the same way as the European colonists did and as we do now. For all that steel axes seem to us clearly superior than stone ones, they've been viewed with ambivalence in the South Pacific--a classic article by Lauriston Sharp, "Steel Axes for Stone Age Australians," details what happened when missionaries introduced steel axes to a northern Australian tribe--the axes were not adopted smoothly, and many members of the tribe viewed them with suspicion...


Savage Minds: Henry Swift asks: "Were the cargo cultists not interested at all in 'cargo' for its usefulness to them? (i.e. a steel axe would be useful to almost anyone.)" Fred and Deborah say: "Thanks for your responses.... To Henry, yes, perhaps [steel axes were 'useful', but steel axes were, of course, more useful to some than others--mostly to men in the PNG case. This is to say, there is always a political economy at work which must be understood when interpreting what is useful for whom and why--and often a gendered political economy. Usefulness, we think, is never absolute nor asocial. Lauriston Sharp's classic article, "Steel Tools for Stone Age Australians," is very good on the problematics of the introduction of steel tools among the Yir Yoront. They were welcomed by some and detested by others...

Let us be very, very clear about what Chris Lovell and Fred and Deborah are really saying when they claim that steel axes are not "useful." Let's let Lauriston Sharp speak:

Lauriston Sharp: In... aspects of conduct or social relations, the steel axe was... at the root of psychological stress among the Yir Yoront. This was the result of new factors which the missionary considered beneficial: the simple numerical increase in axes per capita as result of mission distribution, and distribution directly to younger men, women, and even children. By winning the favor of the mission staff, a woman might be given a steel axe which was clearly intended to be hers, thus creating a situation quite different from the previous custom which necessitated her borrowing an axe from a male relative. As a result a woman would refer to the axe as "mine," a possessive form she was never able to use of the stone axe. In the same fashion, young men or even boys also obtained steel axes directly from the missions, with the result that older men no longer had a complete monopoly of all the axes in the bush community. All this lead to a revolutionary confusion of sex, age, and kinship roles with a major gain in independence and loss of subordination on the part of those who now owned steel axes when they have previously been unable to possess stone axes...

Each individual steel axe was very useful to its possessor--on that all agree. But to the set of high-status older men as a group, the introduction of steel axes was not useful to them because they "no longer had a complete monopoly of all the axes." The result was a "revolutionary confusion of sex, age, and kinship roles." Why, even a woman could have an axe of her own! How shocking! How terrible!

Most of us would think that the fact that the coming of steel axes brings "a major gain in independence and loss of subordination" for the poorer members of the community would be a plus that makes steel axes more useful community, not a minus.

But, apparently, not Fred and Deborah, and not Chris Lovell. They appear to say that because steel axes destablized patriarchy, they were not "useful" to the Yir Yoront.


  1. Fred and Deborah write: "...the problematics of the introduction of steel tools... welcomed by some and detested by others."
  2. Chris Lovell writes: "the axes were not adopted smoothly, and many members of the tribe viewed them with suspicion."
  3. I would have written: "High-status established males were pissed: not only did women and youngsters no longer have to bow and scrape to get permission to borrow axes, but the women and youngsters had better axes that chopped faster."

Which of these three ways of putting it conveys more and more accurate information about the introduction of steel axes among the Yir Yoront?

If Your Father Loses His Job...

If you are a poor child in Canada, and if your father loses his job and is "displaced" because the business that employs him closes, you lose 9% of your permanent income:

LaborProf Blog: Philip Oreopoulos, Marianne Page, and Ann Huff Stevens (2005), "The Intergenerational Effect of Worker Displacement": Abstract: This paper uses variation induced by firm closures to explore the intergenerational effects of worker displacement. Using a Canadian panel of administrative data that follows almost 60,000 father-child pairs from 1978 to 1999 and includes detailed information about the firms at which the father worked, we construct narrow treatment and control groups whose fathers had the same level of permanent income prior to 1982 when some of the fathers were displaced. We demonstrate that job loss leads to large permanent reductions in family income. Comparing outcomes among individuals whose fathers experienced an employment shock to outcomes among individuals whose fathers did not, we find that children whose fathers were displaced have annual earnings about 9% lower than similar children whose fathers did not experience an employment shock. They are also more likely to receive unemployment insurance and social assistance. The estimates are driven by the experiences of children whose family income was at the bottom of the income distribution, and are robust to a number of specification checks.

This is an astonishingly large effect. And what is the effect for those whose fathers have bottom-quartile incomes?


From Kevin Drum of the Washington Monthly:

The Washington Monthly: NORTHCOM AND KATRINA....Last time I checked, naval officers aren't in the habit of criticizing their commander in chief no matter how many punches they have to absorb in the process. It appears, however, that Lt. Commander Sean Kelly, a Pentagon spokesman for Northern Command, didn't get the memo. Asked why Northcom hadn't reponded to Hurricane Katrina more quickly, he accidentally told the truth:

Northcom started planning before the storm even hit.... We had the USS Bataan sailing almost behind the hurricane so once the hurricane made landfall, its search and rescue helicopters could be available almost immediately. So, we had things ready. The only caveat is: we have to wait until the president authorizes us to do so. The laws of the United States say that the military can't just act in this fashion; we have to wait for the president to give us permission.

So why didn't the president issue the orders?

There are levels of incompetence that easily clear the "criminal negligence" bar.

Moral Responsibility and George W. Bush's Administration

One of the most interesting conversations I had at Jackson Hole was with someone who says that I am too hard on the Bush administration: that there are a number of issue areas where the Bush administration is on the side of the angels, that it is not the case that they are totally cynical and simply unconcerned with the public interest, and that they should not be subject to severe moral condemnation.

Perhaps, he said, the flaws in policy should be taken to be the result of bad implementation of decisions that were made with a good heart, or at least with a Republican understanding of what a "good heart" is.

For some issues on which the Bush administration is on the side of the angels, consider:

  1. Reform of GSEs like Fannie Mae.
  2. Reform of corporate pension accounting.
  3. CAFTA--although the giveaways in terms of restrictions on imports from China needed to get CAFTA passed may well make CAFTA a net loser.
  4. The Bush administration did not release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in the run-up to the 2004 election (and the Clinton administration did release oil from the SPR in election season).
  5. The Bush administration has been a roadblock in the way of airline bailouts--with the Transportation representative voting "yes" to every bailout, and the Treasury representative voting "no," the deciding vote on the airline loan committee is the Federal Reserve's Ned Gramlich.

But these are small potatoes compared to the other side--Bush administration actions that cannot be read as motivated by anything other than a deeply cynical lack of concern about the public interest or an awesome degree of incompetence. These include:

  1. The steel tariff.
  2. The lack of concern for the Doha round.
  3. The 2005 highway bill.
  4. 2004's corporate tax bill.
  5. 2003's Medicare drug benefit.
  6. The stupendous botch that is Bush administration fiscal policy.
  7. The stupendous botch that is Bush administration foreign policy.

I find this line of argument unconvincing. There is a level of bad implementation that amounts to criminal negligence, and the Bush administration is far past that level--as we have seen in the past week.

Moreover, the fact that there are some--mostly minor--issues on which the Bush administration is on the side of the angels does not lead me to think better of them:

Sokrates: What do we think of those who choose bad actions because they do not know the Good?

Glaukon: Why, Sokrates, we pity them--and we try to teach them.

Sokrates: And what do we think of those who have demonstrated that they know the Good, but who turn away from it and choose Evil instead? We cannot teach them, can we?


Via Cosmic Variance:

Compare and contrast | Cosmic Variance:

Howard Dean, chairman of the DNC, sends an email:

Hurricane Katrina: How to Help: […] Many stayed behind and suffered devastating loss and injuries — nearly a hundred have died that we know of, and hundreds of thousands need our help. America is at its best when we realize that we are one community — that we’re all in this together. That means that each one of us has the responsibility to do what we can to help the relief effort. The Red Cross is a great place to start


We are still learning the full story of the devastation, but there is no time to wait. Please do something now.

Ken Mehlman, chairman of the RNC, sends an email:

When they return from their August recess, Senators will consider a key issue: elimination of the death tax.


Will you help bring tax relief to more hard-working Americans? Call Senator Voinovich today and ask them to eliminate the death tax.

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

Laura at Apartment 11D writes:

11D: Okay, So This is Why I Like David Brooks: He sees the big picture. Brooks comes full circle from his column a couple of weeks ago, which spoke of a new era of virtue.

The scrapbook of history accords but a few pages to each decade, and it is already clear that the pages devoted to this one will be grisly. There will be pictures of bodies falling from the twin towers, beheaded kidnapping victims in Iraq and corpses still floating in the waterways of New Orleans five days after the disaster that caused them.

It's already clear this will be known as the grueling decade, the Hobbesian decade. Americans have had to acknowledge dark realities that it is not in our nature to readily acknowledge: the thin veneer of civilization, the elemental violence in human nature, the lurking ferocity of the environment, the limitations on what we can plan and know, the cumbersome reactions of bureaucracies, the uncertain progress good makes over evil.

As a result, it is beginning to feel a bit like the 1970's, another decade in which people lost faith in their institutions and lost a sense of confidence about the future.

Ya gotta admire a guy who can do a 180 that swiftly.

She's right. Here's Brooks from three weeks ago:

The New York Times > Premium Archive > The Virtues Of Virtue: America is becoming more virtuous. Americans today... are leading more responsible, more organized lives. A result is an improvement in social order... decline in domestic violence... violent crime... drunken driving.... Teenage pregnancy has declined by 28 percent... Fewer children are living in poverty.... I could go on.... I always thought it would be dramatic to live through a moral revival... people have stopped believing in stupid ideas: that the traditional family is obsolete, that drugs are liberating, that it is every adolescent's social duty to be a rebel.... Americans have become better parents....

We in the media play up the negative, as we always do. The activist groups emphasize the work still to be done, because they want to keep people mobilized and financing their work. But the good news is out there. You want to know what a society looks like when it is in the middle of moral self-repair? Look around.

Gail Collins: the credibility of you and your op-ed page has gone negative.

FEMA Administrator Michael Brown Does a Heckuva Job

FEMA Administrator Michael Brown:

Lincoln Journal Star Online: I was here on Saturday and Sunday, it was my belief, I'm trying to think of a better word than typical -- that minimizes, any hurricane is bad -- but we had the standard hurricane coming in here, that we could move in immediately on Monday and start doing our kind of response-recovery effort.

The National Weather Service the Sunday afternoon before Hurricane Katrina made landfall:

The Irish Trojan's blog - Page 2: URGENT - WEATHER MESSAGE








George W. Bush: "Brownie, you're doing a heckuva job."

Impeach George W. Bush. Impeach him now.

In Deepest Anthopologia...

Strange and bizarre ideas these Savage Minders have...


Fred and Deborah at Savage Minds say, I think, that inhabitants of Papua-New Guinea are not allowed to want steel axes, modern medicines, and umbrellas because they are useful in dealing with nature, but only because they are markers in human status games:

Savage Minds: "On cargo and cults — and Yali’s Question" Posted by Fred and Deborah: Yali and other PNGuineans became preoccupied with the refusal of many whites to recognize their full human-ness.... In their efforts to establish... equality... PNGuineans sought, often through magical and ritual means, the European things—-the “cargo”—-that whites so evidently valued.... Deeply resenting their inferiority in colonial society.... [Jared] Diamond, hence, misunderstands what many PNGuineans desired when he explains the background to Yali’s question (about the differences between white and black people).... [H]e presents local resentment as directed not at the nature and use of concerted colonial power so much as at the differential access to goods...

[I]n using the term “goods” Diamond implies that such items were inherently desirable.... Diamond suggests that local people will do whatever it takes to get such things: that in their desire for goods, local people are the agents of their own domination.... [H]e displaces our attention from the nature of colonial power relations.... PNGuineans such as Yali wanted cargo not because of its inherent and instantly recognizable value, but... to transform the relations of inequality between whites and blacks.... They wanted cargo primarily because they objected to... the... colonial governmen... [which] diminished their relative worth...

One might say that the Savage Minders misrepresent Jared Diamond's book. Yali's question is not "about the differences between white and black people." Yali's question is: "Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo and brought it to New Guinea, but we black people had little cargo of our own?"

One should say that the drawing of a sharp distinction between the "nature and use of colonial power" on the one hand and "differential access to goods" on the other would make Karl Marx's head explode. "Power," Marx would say, "is used to create 'differential access to goods'! That's the point the ruling class sees in having power!"

One must say that the Savage Minders' posing of a stark binary opposition between cargo-qua-use-value and cargo-qua-carrier-of-social-status seems badly off. Take it from me: lots of cargo makes life easier, more pleasant, less dangerous, less stressful, and more fulfilling. Take it from me: lots of cargo greatly improves one's bargaining power vis-a-vis others in social and economic situations--there are few unpleasant or laborious situations to which you must submit because there are no better options. For what is status but power over destiny, the ability to say no" coupled with the ability to make others jump? These are inextricably linked: almost always, it is possession or control over important use-values that carries with it benefits in terms of status and bargaining power; almost always, high status and bargaining power are used to gain control over important (because scarce) use-values.

Yet Fred and Deborah want very badly to draw a distinction between a "western" orientation, toward technology, wealth, and use-values, and a very different Papua-New Guinean orientation:

About Yali: Yali... remained largely PNGuinean... concerned less about the material attributes of things themselves than about the social uses to which things were put.... [For Yali] things have value because they can be used in transactions to establish relationships of recognition and respect... more like gifts than commodities. They are exchanged to establish relationships of obligation, alliance, and friendship rather than to get "good deals."...

Once again, the insistence on a binary opposition. Why? Why either-or? Why not both-and? If the deal is not good, the obligation is not established. If what is exchanged is not of significant use-value, its exchange is not an act of friendship and alliance. If the colonial government keeps you poor and without cargo, you have low status and cannot look the white invaders in the eye. If you claim to be of equal status--indeed even if the Australian government formally recognizes that you are of equal status--and yet have so little cargo that you are less able to keep yourself well-fed, dry, and entertained than the lowest-ranking clerk in a government office, your claim to equal status is empty.

Yali was interested in how he could get cargo for his people so that they could do their daily work more easily and efficiently. Yali was interested in how he could help his people stand up so that they could look the western invaders in the eye. Yali thought (correctly) that acquisition of cargo would be a powerful tool to that end. In the course of a long conversation, Yali asked Jared Diamond a question as part of his continuing campaign to learn about how the world worked. Jared Diamond allows Yali his own words and ideas. Diamond, I think, takes some care not to mention aspects of Yali's career that Diamond believes would rob Diamond's readers of their respect for him and his question.

Jared Diamond treats Yali with dignity.

Fred and Deborah enter the scene. They appear to say that were Yali and his people to recognize--as anyone who has spent two days in a Pacific rainforest does--the usefulness of a steel axe, their "desire for [western] goods" would make the "local people... the agents of their own domination." They prefer to construct a Yali who cares only about overthrowing colonial oppression, and not about how access to western technology could improve the material circcumstances of his people.

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

Busy, Busy, Busy writes:

Shorter David Brooks: The Bursting Point: We are witnessing a disastrous failure to perform by America's governing institutions, most of which are administered by a leader, party and philosophy whose names elude me at the moment.

It's twue! It's twue! David Brooks manages to write his entire column on September 4 about Katrina and other "governance failures" without mentioning the name of a single politician or government official other than Rudi Giuliani:

Last week in New Orleans, by contrast, nobody took control. Authority was diffuse and action was ineffective. The rich escaped while the poor were abandoned. Leaders spun while looters rampaged. Partisans squabbled while the nation was ashamed. The first rule of the social fabric - that in times of crisis you protect the vulnerable - was trampled. Leaving the poor in New Orleans was the moral equivalent of leaving the injured on the battlefield. No wonder confidence in civic institutions is plummeting.

And the key fact to understanding why this is such a huge cultural moment is this: Last week's national humiliation comes at the end of a string of confidence-shaking institutional failures that have cumulatively changed the nation's psyche. Over the past few years, we have seen intelligence failures in the inability to prevent Sept. 11 and find W.M.D.'s in Iraq. We have seen incompetent postwar planning. We have seen the collapse of Enron and corruption scandals on Wall Street. We have seen scandals at our leading magazines and newspapers, steroids in baseball, the horror of Abu Ghraib.

Public confidence has been shaken too by the steady rain of suicide bombings, the grisly horror of Beslan and the world's inability to do anything about rising oil prices. Each institutional failure and sign of helplessness is another blow to national morale. The sour mood builds on itself, the outraged and defensive reaction to one event serving as the emotional groundwork for the next...

New Orleans's Hurricane Evacuation "Plan"

Jeebus H. Christ!!

In storm, N.O. wants no one left behind; Number of people without cars makes evacuation difficult By Bruce Nolan, Staff writer, New Orleans Times-Picayne, July 24, 2005:

City, state and federal emergency officials are preparing to give the poorest of New Orleans' poor a historically blunt message: In the event of a major hurricane, you're on your own. In scripted appearances being recorded now, officials such as Mayor Ray Nagin, local Red Cross Executive Director Kay Wilkins and City Council President Oliver Thomas drive home the word that the city does not have the resources to move out of harm's way an estimated 134,000 people without transportation.

In the video, made by the anti-poverty agency Total Community Action, they urge those people to make arrangements now by finding their own ways to leave the city in the event of an evacuation. "You're responsible for your safety, and you should be responsible for the person next to you," Wilkins said in an interview. "If you have some room to get that person out of town, the Red Cross will have a space for that person outside the area. We can help you. "But we don't have the transportation."

Officials are recording the evacuation message even as recent research by the University of New Orleans indicated that as many as 60 percent of the residents of most southeast Louisiana parishes would remain in their homes in the event of a Category 3 hurricane. Their message will be distributed on hundreds of DVDs across the city. The DVDs' basic get-out-of-town message applies to all audiences, but the it is especially targeted to scores of churches and other groups heavily concentrated in Central City and other vulnerable, low-income neighborhoods, said the Rev. Marshall Truehill, head of Total Community Action. "The primary message is that eachperson is primarilyresponsibleforthemselves, for their own family and friends," Truehill said.

In addition to the plea from Nagin, Thomas and Wilkins, video exhortations to make evacuation plans come from representatives of State Police and the National Weather Service, and from local officials such as Sen. Ann Duplessis, D-New Orleans, and State Rep. Arthur Morrell, D-New Orleans, said Allan Katz, whose advertising company is coordinating officials' scripts and doing the recording. The speakers explain what to bring and what to leave behind. They advise viewers to bring personal medicines and critical legal documents, and tell them how to create a family communication plan. Even a representative of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals weighs in with a message on how to make the best arrangements for pets left behind.

Production likely will continue through August. Officials want to get the DVDs into the hands of pastors and community leaders as hurricane season reaches its height in September, Katz said.

Believing that the low-lying city is too dangerous a place to shelter refugees, the Red Cross positioned its storm shelters on higher ground north of Interstate 10 several years ago. It dropped plans to care for storm victims in schools or other institutions in town. Truehill, Wilkins and others said emergency preparedness officials still plan to deploy some Regional Transit Authority buses, school buses and perhaps even Amtrak trains to move some people before a storm.

An RTA emergency plan dedicates 64 buses and 10 lift vans to move people somewhere; whether that means out of town or to local shelters of last resort would depend on emergency planners' decision at that moment, RTA spokeswoman Rosalind Cook said. But even the larger buses hold only about 60 people each, a rescue capacity that is dwarfed by the unmet need. In an interview at the opening of this year's hurricane season, New Orleans Emergency Preparedness Director Joseph Matthews acknowledged that the city is overmatched. "It's important to emphasize that we just don't have the resources to take everybody out," he said in a interview in late May.

In the absence of public transportation resources, Total Community Action and the Red Cross have been developing a private initiative called Operation Brother's Keeper that, fully formed, would enlist churches in a vast, decentralized effort to make space for the poor and the infirm in church members' cars when they evacuate. However, the program is only in the first year of a three-year experiment and involves only four local churches so far. The Red Cross and Total Community Action are trying to invent a program that would show churches how to inventory their members, match those with space in their cars with those needing a ride, and put all the information in a useful framework, Wilkins said. But the complexities so far are daunting, she said.

The inventories go only at the pace of the volunteers doing them. Where churches recruit partner churches out of the storm area to shelter them, volunteers in both places need to be trained in running shelters, she said. People also have to think carefully about what makes good evacuation matches. Wilkins said that when ride arrangements are made, the volunteers must be sure to tell their passengers where their planned destination is if they are evacuated. Moreover, although the Archdiocese of New Orleans has endorsed the project in principle, it doesn't want its 142 parishes to participate until insurance problems have been solved with new legislation that reduces liability risks, Wilkins said. At the end of three years, organizers of Operation Brother's Keeper hope to have trained 90 congregations how to develop evacuation plans for their own members.

Meanwhile, some churches appear to have moved on their own to create evacuation plans that assist members without cars. Since the Hurricane Ivan evacuation of 2004, Mormon churches have begun matching members who have empty seats in cars with those needing seats, said Scott Conlin, president of the church's local stake. Eleven local congregations of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints share a common evacuation plan, and many church members have three-day emergency kits packed and ready to go, he said. Mormon churches in Jackson, Miss., Hattiesburg, Miss., and Alexandria, La., have arranged to receive evacuees. The denomination also maintains a toll-free telephone number that functions as a central information drop, where members on the road can leave information about their whereabouts that church leaders can pick up and relay as necessary, Conlin said.

Bruce Nolan can be reached at

They were going to make a DVD. A DVD saying, "you all are on your own." They didn't even care enough to make the DVD before the hurricane season began.

No. New Orleans did not have a functioning government as of the summer of 2005. This is a catastrophic failure of local governance--much worse than FEMA's failures.

You would think that somebody--somewhere--would have called Washington and said, "You know, New Orleans doesn't have its act together enough to have a hurricane evacuation plan." And that somebody, somewhere--in Washington or in Baton Rouge--would have cared.

Paul Krugman on the Ideological Blinders of the Bush Administration

Why would the Bush administration break FEMA? Paul Krugman proposes an answer:

Killed by Contempt - New York Times: Each day since Katrina brings more evidence of the lethal ineptitude of federal officials. I'm not letting state and local officials off the hook, but federal officials had access to resources that could have made all the difference, but were never mobilized.

Here's one of many examples: The Chicago Tribune reports that the U.S.S. Bataan, equipped with six operating rooms, hundreds of hospital beds and the ability to produce 100,000 gallons of fresh water a day, has been sitting off the Gulf Coast since last Monday - without patients.

Experts say that the first 72 hours after a natural disaster are the crucial window during which prompt action can save many lives. Yet action after Katrina was anything but prompt. Newsweek reports that a "strange paralysis" set in among Bush administration officials, who debated lines of authority while thousands died....

But the federal government's lethal ineptitude wasn't just a consequence of Mr. Bush's personal inadequacy; it was a consequence of ideological hostility to the very idea of using government to serve the public good. For 25 years the right has been denigrating the public sector, telling us that government is always the problem, not the solution. Why should we be surprised that when we needed a government solution, it wasn't forthcoming?... Which brings us to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. In my last column, I asked whether the Bush administration had destroyed FEMA's effectiveness. Now we know the answer.

Several recent news analyses on FEMA's sorry state have attributed the agency's decline to its inclusion in the Department of Homeland Security, whose prime concern is terrorism, not natural disasters. But that supposed change in focus misses a crucial part of the story.... [T]he undermining of FEMA began as soon as President Bush took office. Instead of choosing a professional with expertise in responses to disaster to head the agency, Mr. Bush appointed Joseph Allbaugh, a close political confidant. Mr. Allbaugh quickly began trying to scale back some of FEMA's preparedness programs.... [W]hen Mr. Allbaugh left, Mr. Brown became the agency's director. The raw cronyism of that appointment showed the contempt the administration felt for the agency; one can only imagine the effects on staff morale.

That contempt, as I've said, reflects a general hostility to the role of government as a force for good. And Americans living along the Gulf Coast have now reaped the consequences of that hostility...

I think he's right: if we elect people who don't think a functioning government is very important, we shouldn't be surprised when it turns out we don't have a functioning government.

Why FEMA Was Missing in Action

Peter Gosselin and Alan Miller of the LA Times explain what went wrong with FEMA:

Why FEMA Was Missing in Action - Los Angeles Times: By Peter G. Gosselin and Alan C. Miller, Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON -- While the federal government has spent much of the last quarter-century trimming the safety nets it provides Americans, it has dramatically expanded its promise of protection in one area %u2014 disaster. Since the 1970s, Washington has emerged as the insurer of last resort against floods, fires, earthquakes and -- after 2001 -- terrorist attacks.

But the government's stumbling response to the storm that devastated the nation's Gulf Coast reveals that the federal agency singularly most responsible for making good on Washington's expanded promise has been hobbled by cutbacks and a bureaucratic downgrading. The Federal Emergency Management Agency once speedily delivered food, water, shelter and medical care to disaster areas, and paid to quickly rebuild damaged roads and schools and get businesses and people back on their feet. Like a commercial insurance firm setting safety standards to prevent future problems, it also underwrote efforts to get cities and states to reduce risks ahead of time and plan for what they would do if calamity struck. But in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, FEMA lost its Cabinet-level status as it was folded into the giant new Department of Homeland Security. And in recent years it has suffered budget cuts, the elimination or reduction of key programs and an exodus of experienced staffers.

The agency's core budget, which includes disaster preparedness and mitigation, has been cut each year since it was absorbed by the Homeland Security Department in 2003. Depending on what the final numbers end up being for next fiscal year, the cuts will have been between about 2% and 18%. The agency's staff has been reduced by 500 positions to 4,735. Among the results, FEMA has had to cut one of its three emergency management teams, which are charged with overseeing relief efforts in a disaster. Where it once had "red," "white" and "blue" teams, it now has only red and white. Three out of every four dollars the agency provides in local preparedness and first-responder grants go to terrorism-related activities, even though a recent Government Accountability Office report quotes local officials as saying what they really need is money to prepare for natural disasters and accidents.

"They've taken emergency management away from the emergency managers," complained Morrie Goodman, who was FEMA's chief spokesman during the Clinton administration. "These operations are being run by people who are amateurs at what they are doing."

Richard W. Krimm, a former senior FEMA official for several administrations, agreed. "It was a terrible mistake to take disaster response and recovery... and disaster preparedness and mitigation, and put them in Homeland Security," he said.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff acknowledged in interviews Sunday that Washington was insufficiently prepared for the hurricane that laid waste to New Orleans and surrounding areas. But he defended its performance by arguing that the size of the storm was beyond anything his department could have anticipated and that primary responsibility for handling emergencies rested with state and local, not federal, officials. "Before this happened, I said -- we need to build a preparedness capacity going forward," Chertoff told NBC's "Meet the Press." He added that that was something "we have not yet succeeded in doing." Under the law, Chertoff said, state and local officials must direct initial emergency operations. "The federal government comes in and supports those officials," he said.

Chertoff's remarks, which echoed earlier statements by President Bush, prompted withering rebukes both from former senior FEMA staffers and outside experts. "They can't do that," former agency chief of staff Jane Bullock said of Bush administration efforts to shift responsibility away from Washington. "The moment the president declared a federal disaster, it became a federal responsibility.... The federal government took ownership over the response," she said. Bush declared a disaster in Louisiana and Mississippi when the storm hit a week ago.

"What's awe-inspiring here is how many federal officials didn't issue any orders," said Paul C. Light, an authority on government operations at New York University. Evidence of confusion extended beyond FEMA and the Homeland Security Department on Sunday.

Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt said that conditions in New Orleans and elsewhere could quickly escalate into a major public health crisis. But asked whether his agency had dispatched teams in advance of the storm and flooding, Leavitt answered, "No." "None of these teams were pre-positioned," he told CNN's "Late Edition." "We're having to organize them... as we go." Such an ad hoc approach might not have surprised Americans until recent decades because the federal government was thought to have few responsibilities for disaster relief, and what duties it did have were mostly delegated to the American Red Cross.

"A century ago, no one would have expected a massive federal response. Most people viewed natural disasters mainly as things to be endured on their own or with the help of their neighbors and communities," said Harvard University economic historian David A. Moss, whose recent book, "When All Else Fails: Government as the Ultimate Risk Manager," traces Washington's expanding duties in protecting Americans from all sorts of risks.

In 1927, President Coolidge described the federal role in aiding victims of a devastating flood of the lower Mississippi River this way: "To direct the sympathy of our people to the sad plight of thousands of their fellow citizens, and to urge that generous contributions be promptly forthcoming." But starting with the New Deal of the 1930s and with increasing vigor in recent decades, Washington sought to prevent disasters, both natural and man-made, and to partially compensate state and local governments, companies and even individuals when calamities did strike. The government reacted to Tropical Storm Agnes in 1972 by providing victims with grants and low-cost loans. It responded to a flood of the upper Mississippi in 1993 by approving $6.3 billion in aid. Comparing the federal government's response in 1927 to its efforts in 1993, Moss concluded that Washington made up less than 4% of the estimated losses in the earlier flood, but more than 50% in the later one.

Within 10 days of the Sept. 11 attacks, Congress and Bush had OKd $40 billion in aid, including $15 billion in grants and loans for the staggering airline industry and $4.3 billion to compensate the families of victims. "The federal government has dramatically increased its role in absorbing disaster losses after the fact," Moss said. "Until recently, many may have assumed we'd made similar strides in disaster prevention." FEMA was created in 1979 in response to criticism about Washington's fragmented reaction to a series of disasters, including Hurricane Camille, which devastated the Mississippi coast 10 years earlier. The agency was rocked by scandal in the 1980s and turned in such a poor performance after Hurricane Andrew struck South Florida in 1992 that President George H.W. Bush is thought to have lost votes as a result. But according to a variety of former officials and outside experts, the agency experienced a renaissance under President Clinton's director, James Lee Witt, speedily responding to the 1993 Mississippi flood, the 1994 Northridge earthquake and other disasters.

Witt's biggest change was to get FEMA to focus on reducing risks ahead of disasters and funding local prevention programs. After the 1993 flood, for instance, Witt's agency bought homes and businesses nearest the water and moved their occupants to safer locations. The result in one Illinois town was that although more than 400 people applied for disaster aid after the flood, only 11 needed to apply two years later when the river again jumped its banks. "He got communities to take practical steps like encouraging homeowners to bolt buildings to foundations in earthquake-prone areas and elevate living space in flood-prone ones," said Howard Kunreuther, co-director of the Wharton Risk Center at the University of Pennsylvania. But with the change of administration in 2001, many of Witt's prevention programs were reduced or cut entirely. After Sept. 11, former FEMA officials and outside authorities said, Washington's attention turned to terrorism to the exclusion of almost anything else.

  • Times staff writer Judy Pasternak contributed to this report.

Impeach George W. Bush. Impeach him now.

It Is the Twenty-First Century, After All

Mike Feldgarden thinks we should have a Supreme Court justice who doesn't believe that opposition to apartheid is automatically support of communism:

Mike the Mad Biologist: In other political news, the NY Times reports that Roberts believed opposition to apartheid was based on Marxism and support for communism:

... in 1982, John G. Roberts Jr. wrote a memorandum... in response to a letter to the Justice Department in which TransAfrica's president at the time, Randall Robinson, said he would be providing a free subscription of the organization's policy journal.

TransAfrica was set up to lobby the government on behalf of American blacks on issues relating to Africa and the Caribbean. It had organized a series of successful demonstrations outside the South African Embassy before that country abandoned apartheid.

Mr. Roberts's superior, Kenneth W. Starr, asked him in a memorandum to draft a thank-you note to TransAfrica. Instead, Mr. Roberts wrote on Feb. 16, 1982, that no thank-you note should be sent. "Sometimes silence is golden," he wrote. "TransAfrica is the American lobby group supporting various Marxist takeover attempts in Africa, particularly Namibia."...

Roberts got worked up over a thank you note.

Impeach George W. Bush. Impeach Him Now

Kevin Drum reports on Senator Landrieu:

The Washington Monthly: BEHIND THE CURTAIN....George Bush's photo-op tour of New Orleans yesterday has apparently driven Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu over the edge. Today she blasted FEMA for its feeble response to Hurricane Katrina and Bush for his phony, stage managed promises of action:

I understand that the U.S. Forest Service had water-tanker aircraft available to help douse the fires raging on our riverfront, but FEMA has yet to accept the aid. When Amtrak offered trains to evacuate significant numbers of victims -- far more efficiently than buses -- FEMA again dragged its feet. Offers of medicine, communications equipment and other desperately needed items continue to flow in, only to be ignored by the agency.

But perhaps the greatest disappointment stands at the breached 17th Street levee. Touring this critical site yesterday with the President, I saw what I believed to be a real and significant effort to get a handle on a major cause of this catastrophe. Flying over this critical spot again this morning, less than 24 hours later, it became apparent that yesterday we witnessed a hastily prepared stage set for a Presidential photo opportunity; and the desperately needed resources we saw were this morning reduced to a single, lonely piece of equipment. The good and decent people of southeast Louisiana and the Gulf Coast -- black and white, rich and poor, young and old -- deserve far better from their national government.

Impeach George W. Bush. Impeach him now.

And from the New Orleans Times-Picayune: Times-Picayune Breaking News Weblog: Bush visit halts food delivery: By Michelle Krup Staff writer: Three tons of food ready for delivery by air to refugees in St. Bernard Parish and on Algiers Point sat on the Crescent City Connection bridge Friday afternoon as air traffic was halted because of President Bush's visit to New Orleans, officials said.

The provisions, secured by U.S. Rep. Charlie Melancon, D-Napoleonville, and state Agriculture Commissioner Bob Odom, baked in the afternoon sun as Bush surveyed damage across southeast Louisiana five days after Katrina made landfall as a Category 4 storm, said Melancon's chief of staff, Casey O'Shea.

"We had arrangements to airlift food by helicopter to these folks, and now the food is sitting in trucks because they won't let helicopters fly," O'Shea said Friday afternoon. The food was expected to be in the hands of storm survivors after the president left the devastated region Friday night, he said.

William Rehnquist, 1924-2005

Wikipedia writes:

William Rehnquist: William Hubbs Rehnquist (October 1, 1924-September 3, 2005) was an American attorney, jurist, and political figure. He was a former law clerk and Assistant Attorney General. In 1972, he was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court as an Associate Justice by President Richard Nixon, and in 1986 was appointed by Ronald Reagan to become the Chief Justice.

He died in office in 2005, having served on the court for more than 33 years. He presided over the court as Chief Justice for 19 years, since being elevated to the position by President Reagan in 1986, making him the longest-serving Chief Justice since Melville Weston Fuller, who died in 1910.

A 1954 memorandum from clerk William Rehnquist to his boss, Justice Jackson: "A Random Thought on the Segregation Cases":

One-hundred fifty years ago this [Supreme] Court held that it was the ultimate judge of the restrictions which the Constitution imposed on the various branches of the national state government. Marbury v. Madison. This was presumably on the basis that there are standards to be applied other than the personal predilections of the Justices.

As applied to questions of inter-state or state-federal relations, as well as to inter-departmental disputes within the federal government, this doctrine has worked well. Where theoretically co-ordinate bodies of government are disputing, the Court is well suited to its role as arbiter. This is because these problems involve much less emotionally charged subject matter than do those discussed below. In effect, they determine the skeletal relations of the governments to each other without influencing the substantive business of those governments.

As applied to relations between the individual and the state, the system has worked much less well. The Constitution, of course, deals with individual rights, particularly in the first Ten and the fourteenth Amendments. But as I read the history of this Court, it has seldom been out of hot water when attempting to interpret these individual rights. Fletcher v. Peck, in 1810, represented an attempt by Chief Justice Marshall to extend the protection of the contract clause to infant business. Scott v. Sanford was the result of Taney's effort to protect the slaveholders from legislative interference.

After the Civil War, business interest came to dominate the court, and they in turn ventured into the deep water of protecting certain types of individuals against legislative interference. Championed first by Field, then by Peckham and Brewer, the high water mark of the trend in protecting the majority opinion in that case, Holmes replied that the fourteenth Amendment did not enact Herbert [S]pence[r]'s Social Statios [sic]. Other cases coming later in a similar vein were Advins v. Children's Hospital, Hammer v. Dagenhart, Tyson v. Banton, Ribnik v. McBride. But eventually the Court called a halt to this reading of its own economic views into the Constitution. Apparently it recognized that where a legislature was dealing with its own citizens, it was not part of the judicial function to thwart public opinion except in extreme cases.

In these cases now before the Court, the Court is, as Davis suggested, being asked to read its own sociological views into the Constitution. urging a view palpably at variance with precedent and probably with legislative history, appellants seek to convince the Court of the moral wrongness of the treatment they are receiving. I would suggest that this is a question the Court need never reach; for regardless of the Justice's individual views on the merits of segregation, it quite clearly is not one of those extreme cases which command intervention from one of any conviction. If this Court, because its members individually are "liberal" and dislike segregation, now choose to strike it down, it differs from the McReynolds court only in the kinds of litigants it favors and the kinds of special claims it protects. To those who argue that "personal" rights are more sacrosanct than "property" rights, the short answer is that the Constitution makes no such distinction. To the argument made by Thurgood Marshall that a majority may not deprive a minority of its constitutional right, the answer must be made that while this is sound in theory, in the long run it is the majority who will determine what the constitutional rights of the minority are. One hundred and fifty years of attempts on the part of this Court to protect minority rights of any kind--whether those of business, slaveholders, or Jehovah's Witnesses--have been sloughed off, and crept silently to rest. If the present Court is unable to profit by this example it must be prepared to see its work fade in time, too, as embodying only the sentiments of a transient majority of nine men.

I realize that it is an unpopular and unhumanitarian position, for which I have been excoriated by "liberal" colleag[u]es, but I think Plessy v. Ferguson was right and should be re-affirmed. If the fourteenth Amendment did not enact Spencer's Social Statios [sic], it just as surely did not enact Myrddahl's [sic] American Dilemma.


Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Yet Another New York Times Edition)

The New York Times's credibility has just gone negative. Individual reporters still have their reputations--good and bad--but henceforth the fact that somebody works for the New York Times is a reputational debit.


Here's what New York Times reporters Eric Lipton and Scott Shane say about the background of FEMA Director Michael Brown:

Leader of Federal Effort Feels the Heat - New York Times: Mr. Brown, 50, is a Republican lawyer who worked for the International Arabian Horse Association before joining FEMA in 2001 as general counsel. This week he has become the public face of an agency that critics say has lost focus and clout since it was absorbed in 2003 by the new Department of Homeland Security.

Joshua Micah Marshall calls this reporting "a bit thin." Here's what Josh says about FEMA Director Michael Brown's background:

Talking Points Memo: by Joshua Micah Marshall: August 28, 2005 - September 03, 2005 Archives: The news out today about FEMA Director Michael Brown tells the ugly tale. So let's just review what we now know -- with key new details first from a diarist at DailyKos and now confirmed in more depth in this morning's Boston Herald.

Michael Brown is a lawyer and GOP party activist. Before he came to FEMA in 2001, he had a full-time job overseeing horse-shows as the commissioner of the International Arabian Horse Association. He started with them in 1991. But he was eventually fired because of what the Herald describes as "after a spate of lawsuits over alleged supervision failures." (The Kos diary has some more details.)

But the stars were shining on Brown because President Bush had just been elected. And he appointed his chief political fixer Joe Allbaugh to replace James Lee Witt as head of FEMA. That was a good break for the recently-canned Brown, because, as we learn from the Herald, he and Allbaugh were college roommates. He hired Brown as his General Counsel at FEMA in February. And then, by the end of the year, he promoted him to Deputy Director.

Then, little more than a year later, Allbaugh left FEMA to set up New Bridge Strategies, a consultancy to cash in on the Iraqi contracts bonanza. On Allbaugh's departure from FEMA, Brown became Director, in charge of federal domestic emergency management in the United States.

So, just to recap, Brown had no experience whatsoever in emergency management. He was fired from his last job for incompetence. He was hired because he was the new director's college roommate. And after the director -- who himself got the job because he was a political fixer for the president -- left, he became top dog. And President Bush said yesterday that he thinks Brown is "doing a helluva job".

Impeach George W. Bush. Impeach Him Now

George W. Bush thinks FEMA's leaders are just swell:

Michael Berube: George W. Bush, waving his arms woodenly and stumbling through simple sentences until he gets to that funny little joke about sitting up on Trent Lott’s porch. And let’s not forget the immortal line, “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.” I see a Medal of Honor in Mike Brown’s future...

The Boston Herald is a newspaper: - Business News: Brown pushed from last job: Horse group: FEMA chief had to be `asked to resign': By Brett Arends: Saturday, September 3, 2005: The federal official in charge of the bungled New Orleans rescue was fired from his last private-sector job overseeing horse shows. And before joining the Federal Emergency Management Agency as a deputy director in 2001, GOP activist Mike Brown had no significant experience that would have qualified him for the position. The Oklahoman got the job through an old college friend who at the time was heading up FEMA....

I look at FEMA and I shake my head,'' said a furious Gov. Mitt Romney yesterday, calling the responsean embarrassment.''... Brown - formerly an estates and family lawyer - this week has has made several shocking public admissions, including interviews where he suggested FEMA was unaware of the misery and desperation of refugees stranded at the New Orleans convention center.

Before joining the Bush administration in 2001, Brown spent 11 years as the commissioner of judges and stewards for the International Arabian Horse Association, a breeders' and horse-show organization based in Colorado. We do disciplinary actions, certification of (show trial) judges. We hold classes to train people to become judges and stewards. And we keep records,'' explained a spokeswoman for the IAHA commissioner's office.This was his full-time job . . . for 11 years,'' she added.

Brown was forced out of the position after a spate of lawsuits over alleged supervision failures. ``He was asked to resign,'' Bill Pennington, president of the IAHA at the time, confirmed last night....

Josh Micah Marshall:

Talking Points Memo: by Joshua Micah Marshall: August 28, 2005 - September 03, 2005 Archives: Atrios has a string of posts up today pointing to a common global explanation of what happened last week, a failure not of resources and capacity but coordination and executive leadership.

An article in the Post suggests the US military was ready to begin emergency food drops into New Orleans much earlier in the week. But they were waiting on a request from FEMA.

Lousiana Gov. Blanco accepted an offer of state National Guard troops from New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson on Sunday, just before the storm hit. But the paperwork from Washington, allowing the troops to deploy, didn't come until Thursday.

Impeach George W. Bush. Impeach him now.

Bush Is "Satisfied" with His Administration's Response to Katrina

Bush says that he is "satisfied" with the response his administration made in the first days after Katrina:

Something Requisitely Witty and Urbane: Satisfaction (I Can't Get No):

Reporter: Sir, you talk about fixing what's wrong, and you talk about the results not being acceptable, but there are a lot of people wondering why you weren't fixing the problems yesterday, or the day before and why the richest country on earth can't get food and water to the people who need it.

Bush: Uh, the levees broke on Tuesday in New Orleans. On Wednesday and Thursday we started evacuating people. A lot of people have left that city. A lot of people have been pulled out on buses. It's... uh... you know, I am... I am... satisfied with the response. I'm not satisfied with all the results.

And Bush goes on to say:

Bush: The good news is -- and it's hard for some to see it now -- that out of this chaos is going to come a fantastic Gulf Coast, like it was before. Out of the rubbles of Trent Lott's house -- he's lost his entire house -- there's going to be a fantastic house. And I'm looking forward to sitting on the porch. (Laughter.)

Impeach George W. Bush. Impeach him now.

I'll Stop Calling This Crew "Orwellian" When They Stop Using "1984" as an Operations Manual

I'll stop calling this crew "Orwellian" when they stop using 1984 as an operations manual. Making Light directs us to China Mievelle.

He writes:

The politics of weather 3: the shyness of experts: Remember my earlier point that disaster management in New Orleans had been privatised, the 'catastrophic hurricane disaster plan' having been handed over to Baton Rouge-based Innovative Emergency Management last year? Watching this nightmare unfold, I've been wondering... what exactly IEM got paid for. It's turning out to be very hard to find out.... In my first post on this, I quoted their original press release: "IEM, Inc., the Baton Rouge-based emergency management and homeland security consultant, will lead the development of a catastrophic hurricane disaster plan for Southeast Louisiana and the City of New Orleans under a more than half a million dollar contract with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security/Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)." Don't bother trying the link to that release on the original post. It doesn't work any more....

[Y]ou'll see IEM's page of press releases. Below is what it looked like at 3am on Friday 2nd September... a release on May 25, 2004 and the next one's on July 14, 2004. But... just before Katrina started, y'know, destroying New Orleans... [t]here used to be another press release, between May and July, dated June 3, announcing that 'IEM Team to Develop Catastrophic Hurricane Disaster Plan for New Orleans & Southeast Louisiana'. That's right. The evidence that hurricane-management was privatised and handed over to IEM has been eradicated from the IEM website. It's almost as if someone was trying to evade responsibility for incompetence that's resulted in the deaths of thousands, or something.

For those interested... [y]ou can still find the verbatim copy from the press release in the Insurance Journal... where we learn from IEM Director of Homeland Security Wayne Thomas that his company's 'approach to catastrophic planning meets the challenges associated with integrating multi-jurisdictional needs and capabilities into an effective plan for addressing catastrophic hurricane strikes'. Right. So, the IEM team's approach isn't to siphon off tax money, spout management shit, provide a demonstrably catastrophically inadequate plan, then f--- off like craven f------ caveworms and hide the evidence when the fucking corpses start piling up?

More intriguing information here (pdf), in the Spring newsletter of the Louisiana Emergency Preparedness Association, where we hear all about an exciting hurricane planning workshop organised by IEM. Relevant extract: '[S]ustaining winds of 120mph... destroyed over 75% of the structures in its path, and left the majority of New Orleans under 15-20 feet of water'. That's impressively accurate. '[S]heltering, temporary housing, and temporary medical care' were chosen as areas to focus on, 'functional plans' were put in place, that can be 'implemented immediately'. Result? 'Louisiana is much better prepared for a catastrophic hurricane'....

[B]e proud, IEM! Why so coy? Why so shy of having won this prestigious contract? I think we should help IEM out by telling everyone we can their involvement in this, and bringing to people's attention the company's sudden inadvertent mislaying of its press release...

Impeach George W. Bush., Impeach him now.

The Malthusian Trap

An extra optional reading for Economics 101b: UCLA's Jared Diamond on the invention of agriculture and on the "Malthusian" trap that agriculture creates:

The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race: By Jared Diamond, University of California at Los Angeles Medical School, Discover Magazine, May 1987, Pages 64-66.

To science we owe dramatic changes in our smug self-image. Astronomy taught us that our earth isn’t the center of the universe but merely one of billions of heavenly bodies. From biology we learned that we weren’t specially created by God but evolved along with millions of other species. Now archaeology is demolishing another sacred belief: that human history over the past million years has been a long tale of progress. In particular, recent discoveries suggest that the adoption of agriculture, supposedly our most decisive step toward a better life, was in many ways a catastrophe from which we have never recovered. With agriculture came the gross social and sexual inequality, the disease and despotism, that curse our existence.

At first, the evidence against this revisionist interpretation will strike twentieth century Americans as irrefutable. We’re better off in almost every respect than people of the Middle Ages, who in turn had it easier than cavemen, who in turn were better off than apes. Just count our advantages. We enjoy the most abundant and varied foods, the best tools and material goods, some of the longest and healthiest lives, in history. Most of us are safe from starvation and predators. We get our energy from oil and machines, not from our sweat. What neo-Luddite among us would trade his life for that of a medieval peasant, a caveman, or an ape?

Continue reading "The Malthusian Trap" »

Paul Krugman on Alan Greenspan

He writes:

Greenspan and the Bubble - New York Times: Most of what Alan Greenspan said at last week's conference in his honor made very good sense. But his words of wisdom come too late. He's like a man who suggests leaving the barn door ajar, and then - after the horse is gone - delivers a lecture on the importance of keeping your animals properly locked up.

Regular readers know that I have never forgiven the Federal Reserve chairman for his role in creating today's budget deficit. In 2001 Mr. Greenspan, a stern fiscal taskmaster during the Clinton years, gave decisive support to the Bush administration's irresponsible tax cuts, urging Congress to reduce the federal government's revenue so that it wouldn't pay off its debt too quickly. Since then, federal debt has soared. But as far as I can tell, Mr. Greenspan has never admitted that he gave Congress bad advice. He has, however, gone back to lecturing us about the evils of deficits.

Now, it seems, he's playing a similar game with regard to the housing bubble. At the conference, Mr. Greenspan didn't say in plain English that house prices are way out of line. But he never says things in plain English. What he did say, after emphasizing the recent economic importance of rising house prices, was that "this vast increase in the market value of asset claims is in part the indirect result of investors accepting lower compensation for risk. Such an increase in market value is too often viewed by market participants as structural and permanent." And he warned that "history has not dealt kindly with the aftermath of protracted periods of low-risk premiums." I believe that translates as "Beware the bursting bubble."...

If Mr. Greenspan had said two years ago what he's saying now, people might have borrowed less and bought more wisely. But he didn't, and now it's too late. There are signs that the housing market either has peaked already or soon will. And it will be up to Mr. Greenspan's successor to manage the bubble's aftermath.

How bad will that aftermath be? The U.S. economy is currently suffering from twin imbalances.... One way or another, the economy will eventually eliminate both imbalances. But if the process doesn't go smoothly - if, in particular, the housing bubble bursts before the trade deficit shrinks - we're going to have an economic slowdown, and possibly a recession...

Krugman's line, "[Greenspan's] like a man who suggests leaving the barn door ajar, and then -- after the horse is gone -- delivers a lecture on the importance of keeping your animals properly locked up," is a very good one.

Let me endorse Krugman's discontent with Greenspan's enabling of the Bush 2001 tax cut. He should have spoken out much more strongly against any possibility of returning to deficits. He should have explicitly warned the Bush administration the Republican congressional leaders that the Federal Reserve cannot in the long run maintain effective price stability if the federal budget is in chaos. I can't endorse Paul 100%, however, because at the time I did not think the tax cut was a huge deal. It had not yet penetrated my mind that the Bush policy was one of huge permanent tax cuts, huge increases in domestic spending aimed at favored groups (drug company lobbyists, farm states, places with Republican House members), and huge increases in military spending to wage wars of choice that would weaken America's strategic position. I thought Greenspan's failure to mightily oppose the tax cut was a mistake, but not a big one--especially if it was Greenspan's judgment that he needed to create a good working relationship with the Bush administration.

My mistake. Paul was right.

I'm less sure--even now--that I want to endorse Paul's criticism of Greenspan on the bubble. There are, broadly speaking, three things that Greenspan could have done when confronted with the dot-com bubble and with the current... um... housing-and-bond-market "conundrum." Alan Greenspan thought that the stock market was overvalued in late 1996--that there was then a bubble. From today's standpoint it looks as though he was wrong: invest in high-tech companies in late 1996 and hold them until today, and your returns have been quite healthy. My view is that Alan Greenspan doesn't think that he is very good at judging whether assets are overvalued or not. That means that he needs to be very cautious, and to say much less than he thinks, because if he is wrong he will do significant damage.

It's an old Bill Brainard point. If you don't have a great deal of confidence in your judgment, you should discount your own point of view. You should only do a small part of what you would do if you were certain that your view of the situation was the correct one. I think--I don't know--that this is what has led Alan Greenspan to hesitate.

That being said, in retrospect it would, I think, have been better had the Federal Reserve been more willing to publicly worry about overvaluations and to impose additional capital requirements on firms fueling purchases of stocks and houses. But should the Federal Reserve have gone further and actually raised interest rates in the absence of inflation to try to cool off asset prices? I don't think so. Raising interest rates reduces employment.

As John Maynard Keynes almost said, in a world of scarcity it is better to give speculators more rope than to deliberately raise unemployment.

I Am Naive...

I really am naive. I did not expect this degree of unpreparedness and incompetence. I did not expect this even though I knew that the Bush administration is worse than you can imagine, even after having taken account of the fact that it is worse than you can imagine.

Paul Krugman more than half expected this. Another sign that he's wiser and more reality-based than I am:

Paul Krugman A Can't-Do Government - New York Times: Before 9/11 the Federal Emergency Management Agency listed the three most likely catastrophic disasters facing America: a terrorist attack on New York, a major earthquake in San Francisco and a hurricane strike on New Orleans.... So why were New Orleans and the nation so unprepared? After 9/11, hard questions were deferred in the name of national unity, then buried under a thick coat of whitewash....

Why have aid and security taken so long to arrive? Katrina hit five days ago - and it was already clear by last Friday that Katrina could do immense damage along the Gulf Coast.... [T]he evidence points, above all, to a stunning lack of both preparation and urgency in the federal government's response. Even military resources in the right place weren't ordered into action. "On Wednesday," said an editorial in The Sun Herald in Biloxi, Miss., "reporters listening to horrific stories of death and survival at the Biloxi Junior High School shelter looked north across Irish Hill Road and saw Air Force personnel playing basketball and performing calisthenics."...

Why wasn't more preventive action taken?... [T]he Army Corps of Engineers... "never tried to hide the fact that the spending pressures of the war in Iraq, as well as homeland security - coming at the same time as federal tax cuts - was the reason for the strain." In 2002 the corps' chief resigned, reportedly under threat of being fired, after he criticized the administration's proposed cuts in the corps' budget, including flood-control spending....

Did the Bush administration destroy FEMA's effectiveness? The administration has, by all accounts, treated the emergency management agency like an unwanted stepchild.... Last year James Lee Witt, who won bipartisan praise for his leadership of the agency during the Clinton years, said at a Congressional hearing: "I am extremely concerned that the ability of our nation to prepare for and respond to disasters has been sharply eroded. I hear from emergency managers, local and state leaders, and first responders nearly every day that the FEMA they knew and worked well with has now disappeared."

I don't think this is a simple tale of incompetence. The reason the military wasn't rushed in to help along the Gulf Coast is, I believe, the same reason nothing was done to stop looting after the fall of Baghdad. Flood control was neglected for the same reason our troops in Iraq didn't get adequate armor.... [O]ur current leaders just aren't serious about... the essential functions of government.... Yesterday Mr. Bush made an utterly fantastic claim: that nobody expected the breach of the levees. In fact, there had been repeated warnings about exactly that risk....

America... has a can't-do government that makes excuses instead of doing its job...

Nor did I expect blame-the-victim to start so early, especially not from federal officials who did nothing to roll a single busload of refugees out of New Orleans before the hurricane hit.

Tim Burke writes:

Tim Burke: Michael Brown, director of FEMA, may or may not be incompetent in technical terms. But blaming people for not evacuating, and that's exactly what he's doing.... It's a kind of whining, an anti-leadership. What, he thinks it is not appropriate to talk now about why megamillions in contingency planning failed so grotesquely but it is appropriate right now to scapegoat people who mostly lacked the means to evacuate and were provisioned with no meaningful assistance in evacuating? Yes, some people just decided to stay, for a variety of reasons. However, look at the people we've been seeing on television: it's plain that many of them could not get out unless someone expressly helped them get out. There was no consistent provision of such assistance....

There's... the ability of political and bureaucratic leaders as well as pundits and ordinary folk to show a kind of common-sense decency in grappling with the situation, in understanding its meaning to us as human beings.... There are many leaders and observers and ordinary folk who are making me proud to be American. Michael Brown makes me feel the opposite. Jonah Goldberg, cracking cheap jokes about Waterworld and then making a non-apology apology that's almost worse, makes me feel the opposite. Whomever the deranged assholes are who are shooting at helicopters and threatening to loot hospitals make me feel the opposite. There are two tests here: can we do better as a society in understanding and solving major problems, and can we be decent, can we demonstrate character...

And here we have FEMA head Michael Brown: - Katrina News Tracker: FEMA's Michael Brown tells Ted Koppel: "We were not prepared" for the thousands of people who did not evacuate the city despite calls to do so. "We move in when its safe to move in, we worked with the state."

Jim Henley is polite in response:

Unqualified Offerings: The Hurricane Pam exercise (discussed downblog) leaves no doubt that federal, state and local agencies recognized in advance that hundreds of thousands of people would remain behind because they were too poor to get out. The White House itself was briefed. So it's beyond unforgiveable for people like Brown and Chertoff to pepper their comments with "people who chose to stay behind"s.

Kevin Drum is a little less polite:

The Washington Monthly: EVACUATING THE POOR.... Why did so many people who lacked the means to evacuate New Orleans get left behind?

Brian Wolshon, an engineering professor at Louisiana State University who served as a consultant on the state's evacuation plan, said little attention was paid to moving out New Orleans's "low-mobility" population -- the elderly, the infirm and the poor without cars or other means of fleeing the city, about 100,000 people. At disaster planning meetings, he said, "the answer was often silence."

It's not that no one had thought of this problem. They just didn't consider it important enough to spend any time on.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden cannot be polite any longer:

Making Light: Another term for it would be "lying sack of shit": The director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency said Thursday those New Orleans residents who chose not to heed warnings to evacuate before Hurricane Katrina bear some responsibility for their fates. Michael Brown also agreed with other public officials that the death toll in the city could reach into the thousands. "Unfortunately, that's going to be attributable a lot to people who did not heed the advance warnings," Brown told CNN. "I don't make judgments about why people chose not to leave but, you know, there was a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans," he said.... Asked later on CNN how he could blame the victims, many of whom could not flee the storm because they had no transportation or were too frail to evacuate on their own, Brown said he was not blaming anyone. "Now is not the time to be blaming," Brown said.

Summing up: If you didn't leave New Orleans before the storm, your problems are your own fault. Not that we "make judgements", of course. And remember, "now is not the time to be blaming."

And the thought briefly, briefly penetrates Jonah Goldberg's lizard brain that he's on the side of the bad guys:

Rising Hegemon: No longer such a joke is it?: Jonah Goldberg has something rare in today's Republican attack of guilt.

So the question is, would the money have been better spent if the Republicans hadn't gotten their way? And, though it sickens me to say so, that is at best an open question. I have the utmost faith in the kleptocratic and dysfunctional governments of New Orleans and Louisiana to waste and steal money. But, we were supposed to be preparing -- at the national level -- for a major terrorist attack for the last four years. I just don't see much evidence of that preparation. Congress re-assembled lickity-split to deal with Terri Schiavo -- a decision that didn't and does not bother me the way it bothers some. But however you define the issues involved in that case, in terms of real human suffering they are very hard to stack-up against what's happened in New Orleans. Congress should have convened yesterday and rescinded the highway bill. It should have broken-open the farm bill like a piñata and reallocated the monies therein.

But the moment is brief. In the next paragraph all sign of intelligent thought vanishes:

For supporters of the war, this spectacle is going to be particularly hard to accomodate because it is in the interests of the political classes to keep their pork and it is in the interests of the antiwar left to frame this as a choice between Baghdad and New Orleans...

Impeach George W. Bush. Impeach him now.


There are a couple of signs that California Hall--Berkeley's High Administrators--are trying to figure out what fraction of Tulane we could house here at U.C. Berkeley for the fall semester...

My back-of-the-envelope guess is 10%: double up in some student residences, double up in some faculty offices, keep the lights on later and repeat lectures (or have Tulane professors give their own lectures), house Tulane faculty in Berkeley faculty's guestrooms with views of San Francisco Bay. The only serious hard, binding constraint I've heard is lab space for basic science courses, which is already stretched near to if not to the max.

Problem Set 1

Economics 101b Fall 2005 Problem Set 1: Basics

A simple problem set to fix some concepts and give some confidence. Due at lecture on Friday September 9:

  • A. Explain whether or not, why, and how the following items are included in the calculation of GDP:

a. Increases in business inventories.
b. Fees earned by real estate agents on selling existing homes.
c. Social Security checks written by the government.
d. Building of a new dam by the Army Corps of Engineers.
e. Interest that your parents pay on the mortgage they have on their house.
f. Purchases of foreign-made trucks by American residents

  • B. Calculating real magnitudes:

a. When you calculate real GDP, do you do so by dividing nominal GDP by the price level or by subtracting the price level from nominal GDP?
b. When you calculate the real interest rate, do you do so by dividing the nominal interest rate by the price level or by subtracting the inflation rate from the nominal interest rate?
c. Are your answers to (a) and (b) the same? Why or why not?

  • C. Suppose that the appliance store buys a refrigerator from the manufacturer on December 15, 2005 for $600, and that you then buy that refrigerator on January 15, 2006 for $1000:

a. What is the contribution to GDP in 2005?
b. How is the refrigerator accounted for in the NIPA in 2005?
c. What is the contribution to GDP in 2006?
d. How is the refrigerator accounted for in the NIPA in 2004?

  • D. In what sense can a line on a graph "be" an equation?

  • E. Why do DeLong and Olney think that the interest rate and the level of the stock market are importnant macroeconomic variables?

  • F. What are the principal flaws in using GDP per worker as a measure of material welfare? Given these flaws, why do we use it anyway?

  • G. Suppose a quantity grows at a steady proportional rate of 3% per year. How long will it take to double? Quadruple? Grow 1024-fold?

  • H. What, roughly, was the highest level the U.S. unemployment rate reached in

    a. the 20th century?
    b. the past fifty years?
    c. the past twenty years?

  • I. Do you think there is a connection between your answer to the qeustion above and the fact that Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan received a five-minute standing ovation at the end of the first of many events marking his retirement last wekend?

  • J. Suppose we have a quantity x(t) that varies over time following the equation: dx(t)/dt = -(0.06)x + 0.36.

a. Without integrating the equation, tell me what the long-run steady-state value of x--that is, the limit of x as t approaches in infinity--is going to be.
b. Suppose that the value of x at time t=0, x(0), equals 12. Once again, without integrating the equation, tell me how long it will take x to close half the distance between its initial value of 12 and its steady-state value. How long will it take to close 3/4 of the distance? 7/8 of the distance? 15/16 of the distance?

  • K. Now you are allowed to integrate dx(t)/dt = -(0.06)x + 0.36.

a. Write down and solve the indefinite integral.
b. Write down and solve the definite integral for the initial condition x(0) = 12.
c. Write down and solve the definite integral for the initial condition x(0)=6.

  • L. Suppose we have a quantity z = (x/y)b. Suppose x is growing at 4% per year and that b=1/4. How fast is z growing if y is growing at 0% per year? If y is growing at 2% per year? If y is growing at 4% per year?

  • M. What is the difference between the nominal interest rate and the real interest rate? Why do DeLong and Olney think that the real interest rate is more important?

  • N. What (briefly!) does Robert Heilbroner think of Karl Marx?

  • O. What (briefly!) does Robert Heilbroner think of John Maynard Keynes?

Who Are You Going to Believe, Me or Your Lying Eyes?

Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff claims that food and water are being provided to refugee concentrations, and that Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia:

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff today on NPR's All Things Considered:

Robert Siegel: We are hearing from our reporter, he's on another line right now, thousands of people at the convention center in New Orleans with no food, zero.

Chertoff: As I said, I'm telling you we are getting food and water to areas where people are staging. The one about an episode like this is if you talk to someone or you get a rumor or an anecdotal version of something I think it's dangerous to extrapolate it all over the place.


Robert Siegel: But Mr. Secretary when you say we shouldn't listen to rumors. These are things coming from reporters who have not only covered many many other hurricanes, they've covered wars and refugee camps. These aren't rumors, they are saying there are thousands of people there.

Chertoff: I would be--I have not heard a report of thousands of people in the convention center who don't have food and water.

On Hurricane Katrina--for Marketplace Radio

I guess I was naive.

I thought that in the wake of Katrina's passing we'd see flotillas of helicopters, fleets of boats, and public health and public safety professionals from all over the country giving booster shots and restoring order within hours. I expected to see rapid, active, and aggressive disaster-recovery response from rescue assets prepositioned nearby but out of the reach of the hurricane.

After all, having a hurricane hit a city is nothing new. New Orleans's vulnerability as a bathtub waiting for the ocean is obvious. Louisiana is crucial to America's oil industry, and New Orleans is--was--an incredibly valuable touristic and cultural jewel.

But it appears that such was not the case. One hospital ship is scheduled to leave Baltimore tomorrow, rather than a week and a half ago.

The effect of the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe on the broader economy is still a question mark. We don't know, yet, how much damage was done to the Gulf Coast oil sector. Refineries are shut. Drilling platforms are missing. And we don't know, yet, what other hurricanes will come roaring through.

Current estimates are that Hurricane Katrina has destroyed something like $100 billion of American wealth. Almost all of these losses will fall on the perhaps 1 and a half million refugees. Figure average wealth losses of $70,000 per affected household. Then figure it'll take several months to begin to rebuild and reknit economic activity in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. That's an extra $10,000 lost per household. Insurance won't cover more than a fraction.

When rebuilding starts--assuming that New Orleans can be pumped out in a reasonably short period of time, and that businesses are willing to risk rebuilding--the lower Mississippi should see lots of work to be done. That is, provided that the federal government, state governments, and businesses are willing to finance it.

If the Gulf Coast oil sector is in good shape, it won't be that many months before measured real GDP is about what it would have been had Katrina never come ashore.

But the GDP number won't count the $100 billion or so of destroyed wealth. The already-poor lower Mississippi Valley will be much poorer for a long time to come. People who were office professionals will be construction helpers. People who were middle class will be working class. People who were working class will be working poor--for seasons if not for years. And that's if the reconstruction effort goes well.

For broadcast September 1, 2005.

Bush gives new reason for Iraq war - The Boston Globe

So the intervention in Iraq was about oil after all:

Bush gives new reason for Iraq war - The Boston Globe: At the naval base, Bush declared, "We will not rest until victory is America's and our freedom is secure" from Al Qaeda and its forces in Iraq led by Abu Musab alZarqawi. "If Zarqawi and [Osama] bin Laden gain control of Iraq, they would create a new training ground for future terrorist attacks," Bush said. "They'd seize oil fields to fund their ambitions. They could recruit more terrorists by claiming a historic victory over the United States and our coalition."...

Praise for Edmund Wilson's "To the Finland Station"

Ozma over at "Savage Minds" waxes enthusiastic about Edmund Wilson's magnificent To the Finland Station:

Savage Minds: As it happens, I've been having an Edmund Wilson sort of summer. At the end of the spring semester I finally read To the Finland Station which was recommended to me years ago by my mom. I am ashamed to say I didn't get around to reading it until I finally realized it was definitely not To the Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf, which did not sound at all like my cup of tea (nor my mom's, which made the recommendation seem all the more dubious and improbable). Result? A boffo point in the mater column and a big zero in the alma mater column. Years of graduate training laden with discussion of Marx and Marxism and nary a mention of Wilson's amazing book on the man and his milieu! It's true that Wilson doesn't quite get Marx the theorist. But so what? Discussions of Marx the theorist are easily come by. What Wilson offers instead (and hoorah for that) is a hugely learned account of the social history from which Marxism emerged (ie, not the intellectual history of Hegel begat%u2026) and of life as Marx and Engels and their families, friends, and lovers lived it.

Adam Smith: Founder of Sociology

Kieran Healy writes:

Teaching Adam Smith: Sources of Sociological Theory.... After a crash course on the state of Europe and America prior to 1780 or so (100% guaranteed to make historians come out in at least hives, and possibly trigger fits), we've started reading Adam Smith. It's always a pleasure to teach Smith as a social theorist. For one thing, he's a clear enough writer (certainly compared to, e.g., Weber) and more importantly his central insight about the possibility of decentralized co-ordination always catches students by surprise. Even though students are all exposed one way or another to the rhetoric of free enterprise, free trade, market capitalism and what have you, in my experience even talented undergraduates have to work a bit to really see the power and elegance of Smith' vision of a complex, co-ordinated division of labor. I do a few classroom exercises (based on ideas from Mitch Resnick and Tom Schelling, amongst others) to bring out the problem of co-ordination, the many ways it can fail, and the distinctive qualities of markets as a solution. (Though, as Schelling notes, not all cases of distributed co-ordination are markets, just as not all ellipses are circles.)

Although Smith is often presented as the champion of the individual, and opposed to thinkers who emphasize social structure or the state, it's immediately clear when you read him that Smith was as much a "discoverer of society"--that is, of the idea that the social world is a human product consisting of myriad interlocking relationships dependent on specific institutions and human capacities--as any of the other theorists typically recognized as founders of modern sociology. His treatment of the problem of the division of labor also provides a platform to understand the others. Marx is much easier to understand once you know a bit about Smith, of course, but so are Durkheim's ideas about social solidarity and the nonrational foundations of contractual exchange. And much of Weber's work on the origins of capitalism was conceived explicitly with Smith in mind.

All I can say is that the only way you'll pry Adam Smith away from us economists is to snatch him from the cold, dead fingers of our invisible hand.

Frank Knight's Favorite Issue

Risk and uncertainty: a Bayesian perspective:

Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science: p=1/2 or E(p)=1/2, or, the boxer vs. the wrestler: In Bayesian inference, all uncertainty is represented by probability distributions. I remember in grad school discussing the puzzle of distinguishing the following two probabilities:

  1. p1 = the probability that a particular coin will land "heads" in its next flip;
  2. p2 = the probability that the world's greatest boxer would defeat the world's greatest wrestler in a fight to the death.

The first of these probabilities is essentially exactly 1/2. Let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that the second probability is also 1/2. Or, to put it more formally, suppose that we have uncertainty about p2, thus a prior distribution, p(p2), and that the mean of this prior distribution, E(p2), equals 1/2.

The paradox: In Bayesian inference, p1 = p2 = 1/2. Which doesn't seem quite right, since we know p1 much more than we know p2. More generally, it seems a problem with representation-of-uncertainty-by-probability. To put it another way, the integral of a probability is a probability, and once we've integrated out the uncertainty in p2, it's just plain 1/2.

Resolution of the paradox: The resolution of the paradox is that probabilities, and decisions, do not take place in a vacuum. If the only goal were to make a statement, or a bet, about the outcome of the coin flip or the boxing/wrestling match, then yes, p=1/2 is what you can say. But the events occur within a context. In particular, the coin flip probability p1 remains at 1/2, pretty much no matter what information you provide (before the actual flipping occurs, of course). In contrast, one could imagine gathering lots of information (such as in the photo above) that would refine one's beliefs about p2. "Uncertainty in p2" corresponds to potential information we could learn that would tell us something about p2.

Uncertainty is a measure of our ignorance. Risk is what remains when we know everything that can be known.

Dan Froomkin on George W. Bush in Action

Remind me: Why did anybody, anywhere, anytime think that George W. Bush would be a good president?

Dan Froomkin writes:

A Dearth of Answers: Diane Sawyer's rare live interview with President Bush this morning on ABC's Good Morning America exposed one of the president's greatest weaknesses: He doesn't have the answers to some of the most important questions. The White House press corps is sort of used to that by now, but the American public... may be less sympathetic. Bush smiled... but much of what he said was not directly responsive to what Sawyer asked....

Sawyer: "Mr. President, this morning, as we speak . . . there are people with signs saying 'Help, come get me'. People still in the attic, waving. Nurses are phoning in saying the situation in hospitals is getting ever more dire and the nurses are getting sick because of no clean water. Some of the things they asked our correspondents to ask you is: They expected -- they say to us -- that the day after this hurricane that there would be a massive and visible armada of federal support. There would be boats coming in. There would be food. There would be water. It would be there within hours. They wondered: What's taking so long?"

Bush: "Well, there's a lot of food on its way. A lot of water on the way. And there's a lot of boats and choppers headed that way. Boats and choppers headed that way. It just takes a while to float 'em! . . . "

Sawyer: "But given the fact that everyone anticipated a hurricane five, a possible hurricane five hitting shore, are you satisfied with the pace at which this is arriving? And which it was planned to arrive?"

Bush: "Well, I fully understand people wanting things to have happened yesterday. I mean, I understand the anxiety of people on the ground. I can imagine -- I just can't imagine what it is like to be waving a sign saying 'come and get me now'. So there is frustration. But I want people to know there is a lot of help coming. I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees. They did anticipate a serious storm. But these levees got breached. And as a result, much of New Orleans is flooded. And now we are having to deal with it and will."...

Sawyer: "The prospect, some people are saying, [is] of a million American refugees in place for a very long time. . . . What are you saying to them about how far the federal government will go to get their lives back? Do you promise jobs? Do you promise that they will be moved back into housing and how soon?"

Bush: "Well, first of all, we've got to get a handle on the situation. In other words, we have to stop the flooding in New Orleans and, you know, rescue the folks. Get them out of harm's way. Get food and medicine to people. Then take a serious assessment about what it is going to need to rebuild New Orleans. And parts of Mississippi."...

About Those Levee "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees," Bush said. Wrong. Just for starters, how about Sunday's New Orleans Times-Picayune... Monday's New York Times.... [A]s Andrew C. Revkin and Christopher Drew write in today's New York Times: "The 17th Street levee that gave way and led to the flooding of New Orleans was part of an intricate, aging system of barriers and pumps that was so chronically underfinanced that senior regional officials of the Army Corps of Engineers complained about it publicly for years."...