Friday, September 30, 2005

Humiliation, Mr. DeLay?

House Representative DeLay's lawyer is negotiating with the authorities to avoid the humiliation of Tom DeLay being handcuffed, fingerprinted, and photographed, like a common criminal.

During the Republican National Convention, the largest mass arrests in US history occurred, and many, many innocent people were caught up in sweeps and handcuffed, fingerprinted, and photographed, like common criminals. They didn't have the option to surrender to the police at a reasonable time of their choosing; they didn't have the opportunity to negotiate to avoid unnecessary detention or humiliation.

I must have missed DeLay's angry protests that American citizens were treated in such a terrible manner. Surely he made such protests... if he didn't, he would have to be the worst type of hypocrite, a public servant who thinks he deserves special privileges that the common folks don't.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

When you're in a hole...

As for the title, it's the beginning of some advice for Micheal Brown. Go here and scroll to the section labelled "Brown 'happy to be a scapegoat'".

Go down to the fourth paragraph and you find this little gem:

Brown testified he had been "tired and misspoke" when he told television interviewers September 1 that he learned of the convention center situation only that day, saying that he actually had learned of it one day earlier.


Tired and misspoke? Okay, so he had an additional 24 hours warning, and still lied about the people at the convention center being fed up to two meals a day, when they'd been without food for up to four days?

That goes beyond inexcusable, and it's a perfect example of two things that went wrong with the entire federal response. They weren't doing the things they could, and should, have done... and they were doing their damnedest to make it look good anyway.

If this is why Bush will say that "Brownie" is doing a heck of a job, we should ponder about why he praises other subordinates.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Michael Brown, there ain't no words...

Michael Brown claimed that FEMA was fine after hurricane Katrina. It was all the fault of Mayor Nagin and Governor Blanco. They hadn't miraculously found the manpower, shelter, and security to evacuate more than 100,000 people inside of two days.

(I talked about this more earlier. Maybe Nagin and Blanco could have evacuated more people, but not too many more. They did run busses to the Superdome, which was the only emergency shelter they had.)

Well, "Brownie" also said that people at the convention center, who'd been without food for four days, had been getting at least one, and up to two meals a day, because of FEMA's intervention.

We know he'll tell the most despicable of lies to make himself look good. We shouldn't trust him now.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

New allegations...

As I mentioned in my other blog, For The Dream, there's a new story about prisoner abuses in the military. The story is here.

It's a captain, and two seargents, claiming they witnessed the abuse. The captain tried to go through his chain of command for a long time, and went to Human Rights Watch and some Republican Senators only after he was unable to get anything done through his superiors.

Now, the last time this came up, it was blown off as a few bad apples, and any suggestion that there was a policy of mistreatment of detainees was said to be liberals trying to score political points on Bush.

This isn't about points.

The Bush administration set up Guantanemo Bay in a manner that they thought left the detainees out of the reach of US courts... and loudly stated that they did not believe the detainees were covered by the Geneva Conventions.

Forget the Geneva Conventions for a moment. My feeling is, why on earth would you go to this much effort to hide something, if you haven't got something to hide? Why put it on foreign soil, that is nevertheless under US command, if everything you're going to do is legal?

Now, lets talk about the Geneva Conventions. We were assured that it was okay that these people were not accorded POW status, because they were the worst of the worst... and then, it turns out, some of them have been released. Why? Well, gee, it turns out that they weren't all the worst of the worst, after all. Oopsie, someone made a mistake, locked some folks up, and did who-knows-what to them, trying to get them to give up information that they never actually had.

The Geneva Conventions state that we are not supposed to make declarations about who is or isn't a POW unless judged by a competent tribunal. First, you made double-damn sure that a person is an unlawful combatant, and then, only then, do you say the person does not deserve the protections of a POW or civilian. Clearly, since we had to release scores (maybe hundreds) of prisoners from Guantanemo, that wasn't done.

Now, remember the torture memos, which the Bush administration claims to have repudiated... repudiated or not, they were written, and they weren't written for no reason.

So we have two things to consider now. Either the military, acting alone, came up with policies of mistreating prisoners. This violates everything I know about the military. Or, this West Point graduate, and these two seargents, are lying. That isn't impossible, but it doesn't seem all that likely.

Or the policy has come from above, from the Bush administration.

Now, the last time the issue of prisoner abuse has come up, Senator Durbin complained bitterly that the reports we have from the FBI sound like reports that would come from, for example, Nazi Germany. I admit he overspoke; Nazi Germany did much worse than we've heard from Guantanemo Bay and Abu Ghraib, but the stories I've heard were bad enough. Nevertheless, Senator Durbin was attacked for insulting our soldiers. That's been a common defense when these types of things come up... "how dare you attack the brave men and women defending this country!"

Let me explain something. Our soldiers do not set policy. They follow lawful orders when they are given them.

If the Bush administration has said to start roughing up prisoners, to do things that we'd call torture if they were done to us, and has assured the soldiers that these actions are legal (say, by legal memos written by Bush administration lawyers), then the soldiers will do their jobs.

No, I'm not attacking our soldiers for following orders that they've been told are lawful. I'm attacking the people who I believe gave them their orders... the Bush administration.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Busses and blame...

"Do the math" says Ralph Reiland of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "The busses alone tell the story."

He, an associate professor of economics, does the math in this article:


804 busses, 60 people per bus = 48,240 people per trip, so three trips to evacuate all of New Orleans. Proof positive that mayor Ray Nagin screwed up.

A professor of economics.

Listen: there's a reason that you can point to this and say that Ray Nagin, and Governor Blanco and others, screwed up. But this?

804 busses require 804 drivers. An evacuation requires security, and that probably means more than the entire 1500 police in New Orleans. 804 busses need 804 tanks of fuel, probably 2-3 times over at a minimum. But let's just say that the mayor of New Orleans can find these resources within the 48 hours (absolute, super-generous maximum - he probably had 20-25) he had between recognizing that an evacuation was needed and Katrina hitting.

Let's assume traffic and other problems miraculously resolve themselves.

Here's the question: where do you put 48,240 people (per trip!) that is out of the hurricane's path, or that holds 48,240 people and is hurricane proof? Where is there going to be food, water, and restroom facilities for all those people? Where is there going to be security for that many people? I mean, crowd enough stressed out people together, and there is going to be trouble, that's human nature.

No. People complaining about the busses most certainly have not done "the math". They've done some arithmetic, but math requires knowing what space you're in, and recognizing when you're talking theory, and when you're talking real world.

No, Ray Nagin and Governor Blanco and probably hundreds of other mayors and 49 other governors and the fifty disaster agencies for the states, and the Department of Homeland Security, they all screwed up... but it wasn't the busses. It was the failure to consider the possibility of needing to move that many people that quickly, and figuring out the logistics of what could be done.

Without a safe place to put those people, the busses were useless.

I've said it before: there's a lot of blame to go around for a lot of screwups. "Not using the busses" isn't going to count, until someone can point to already established shelters for even one trip's worth of evacuees.

There are some folks trying to use this to excuse the federal response. "Sure, the feds had a hard time, because someone else had already screwed everything up." Well, the feds are the ones who'd have to coordinate evacuations of 100,000 people who can't evacuate on their own. Such a massive undertaking is going to have to end up crossing state lines, and require action beyond the state level (to say nothing of the cost and resources involved), and you can't do it in a crisis; it needs to be pre-planned, or it just won't happen.

So, yes, Nagin and Blanco both deserve some blame for not forseeing this; they should be able to point to requests for emergency shelter and support.

But the feds aren't off the hook here, either. The need to evacuate a city is an obvious part of homeland security that will require intervention at the federal level.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

A look at market forces...

"Let the market regulate it."

It's almost a knee jerk response to questions about regulating thing. Let the free market decide; people will vote with their dollars, right?

Well, I'm no economist, but I've thought long and hard about economics, and I've decided that the only thing that the market can perfectly regulate is the pricing and distribution of luxuries. If the free market drives the price of beluga caviar to $500 an ounce, oh, well... it's not like anyone is dying from caviar deprivation.

I'm not here to argue economic theory, however. I'm here to give a single example of why I find the notion of market regulation so distasteful.

Imagine this: you had a house in New Orleans, and it was well insured. You're going to get a hefty check from the insurance company, and right quickly, too... they don't want newspapers to claim they were slow settling a legitimate claim from Katrina! In fact, you were on a planned vacation when Katrina hit... you didn't need to evacuate.

What does the free market say you should do?

Why, apply for assistance! Get someone to pay your hotel bill and your food bill, get someone to give you money to help with relocation, and mid-term shelter, and food and clothing in the interim. The only time you wouldn't want to apply for assistance is if you can get more money doing something else.

I imagine some free-market worshippers will try to explain that no, that's not really what regulation by market forces really is, that this is somehow magically different, but anyone who does that is simply dancing around the truth.

The free market says you do what's best for you, and you don't worry about anyone else. Other people will look out for themselves, and somehow, everyone will be happier. If some suckers are willing to just give you money, just because your previous address was affected by Katrina, you take the money. In fact, to refuse to take the money is the same thing (from an economic perspective) as losing the money.

Now, I won't deny that there are many times when the free market is like democracy, "the worst system of all, except for every other method that's been tried". Too tightly regulated, or too tightly subsidized, a market place can cause problems in ways that are hard to imagine. There really are times when the free market can be cruel, but necessary.

But there are times when its cruelty is simply to the advantage of the haves, and the disadvantage of the have-nots, and the haves are just fine with that, and are glad to try to make the have-nots think it's a good deal for them, too.

And then, there are times when claiming that market forces should regulate something is clearly insanity itself.

Listen carefully when people talk about market forces, and think carefully about when market forces are the best way to handle things... but never trust anyone who pretends that market forces are the answer to (almost)everything.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Listen carefully...

Listen carefully whenever the Bush administration says something.

Today, Bush said that, "To the extent the federal government didn't fully do its job right, I take responsibility".

Did he say "I am to blame"? No.

Did he say "I was responsible, ultimately, for the failures of the federal government"? No... close, but no cigar.

No, he said that he takes responsibility - not blame, but responsibility - for the "extent the federal government didn't fully do its job right". Not even responsibility for the failures, but for places where the government was "not fully doing the job right"

This could mean that he was responsible for the failures, but if so, why wouldn't he say that? He is, after all, praised as a plain speaker, right?

What I think he means is that he is, going forward, going to take responsibility for the situation, and prevent future failures. Words like "I'm sorry", "I was wrong" and "I made a mistake" seem to stick in this man's throat... so he doesn't say them, and we have no reason to suspect he means them.

He's a slick one, this President... he says that the Guantanemo detainees are not covered by the Geneva Conventions - that is, the conventions simply do not apply at all, but then claims they've been treated in accordance with those conventions.

This is like saying you're not speeding under California law, while you're driving in Idaho. California speed limits don't apply in Idaho... you can be driving 120 in a 35 zone, and not be speeding under California law.

Keep your ears and mind open. When listening to any politician - Democrat, Republican, or other - talk is cheap. Look to the actions.

Was Bush saying the Guantanemo detainees were being treated as well as POWs would be, under the Geneva Conventions? No. He carefully avoided saying that.

And did he say "The buck stops here; I was in charge, so I was at fault?"

No.

Now listen to his supporters. I can guarantee you that some of them will lambaste people like me for saying that Bush's "apology" wasn't enough. They'll pretend that I (and people like me) hold Bush to an impossible standard... but all I want to hear is an admission that, yes, there were failures, and yes, George W. Bush was the man who was supposed to prevent those failures.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Is it time to assess blame?

Whether it's time to assess blame or not... it's time for a strong, capable leader to act.

If those words were aptly applied to George W. Bush, we'd already have heard the results...

"I was unaware of the magnitude of the crisis. Those who were supposed to alert me have been severely disciplined. I'm sorry."

For a strong, capable leader in Bush's position, these words would already be true. We wouldn't be hearing, over and over, that it's not time to assess blame. You see, no matter what anyone else did wrong, it's clear that Bush ignored the problem while the waters rose and people died, and it's clear that FEMA was not ready, willing, and able to dive in (metaphorically speaking) and get things done.

Even if everyone else at every level, flubbed everything else, the federal government dropped the ball as well.

Maybe the feds couldn't have helped. The point is, until it was inexcusably late in the game, they weren't even *trying*.

Sure, there's a big blame pie here, and lots of people deserve a heaping big piece of it, but, earmarked somewhere is a piece labelled "federal response", and I hope no one lets the feds try to slip it on to someone else's plate.

Just remember that, and watch this space; as news comes in, I'm more than willing to cut off a big slice of the blame pie (that tastes suspiciously of crow...) for the city response in New Orleans, and the state response in Louisiana... fair is fair.

Nevertheless, it still sickens me that, as people were dying, Presidential aides were debating who had to deliver the bad news, that the Presidential vacation would be cut short. It sickens me more than it took so long to get the feds moving, when they had plenty of warning.

But nothing sickens me quite so much as "let's not assess blame yet".

It takes a man to admit to mistakes. Do we have a man in the White House?

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