September 2005, Part 3
Jim Miller on Politics
Worth Reading: Rita Kepner blames broadcasters for Katrina deaths.
Politicians are not the only ones to blame after Hurricane Katrina. National broadcast managers are guilty, too. They did their job but not the right one.That didn't have to happen, Kepner says, and goes on to describe how local broadcasters warned people before a massive tornado struck Oklahoma City in 1999, saving many lives.
That the death toll from Katrina would have been lower if ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox, and NBC had been more responsible seems entirely plausible. Unfortunately, because of guild solidarity, that question is unlikely to get much media attention, even from print journalists. Eventually, I hope there will be formal studies; until then, I will be looking for blog posts on the subject.
- 8:55 AM, 24 September 2005 [link]
Mountain Blogging: Here's still another picture of Mt. Rainier, taken on a hike this last summer.
The flowers in the foreground are mostly lupines. If you look closely, you can also find bistorts, with their cylindrical white flowers.
(Unlike the other pictures of Rainier I have posted, this one was taken with a Minolta 35 mm, rather than one of my digital cameras. I scanned the Kodachrome slide using an Epson 4180 scanner and then reduced the picture so that it would fit on the screen.)
- 2:18 PM, 23 September 2005 [link]
Those Evacuation Traffic Jams In Texas? Beldar says they are most likely the fault of . . . . the local media.
IMHO, local media have done a very bad job of distinguishing between "mandatory evacuation" areas (truly coastal counties, storm-surge areas) and elsewhere. Some of the adjacent coastal county officials are already bitching (publicly and unproductively) at Houston/Harris County officials for "ignoring the plan," which was to get the coastal zones evac'd first. Since so many Houstonians are also on the road ("early," in the view of those adjacent county folks), congestion is much worse for everyone. But I think the "fault" for that, if fault there be, can be laid more at the feet of the breathless media rather than Houston/Harris County officials. And ordinary folks are hyper-receptive to the hype because of Katrina.Seems plausible to me. If Beldar turns out to be right, I am sure the media will be taking responsibility for their errors within days, or at worst, weeks. (Just a little joke, there. I won't say I have never seen the media admit errors, but it doesn't happen as often as one would like.)
- 2:00 PM, 23 September 2005 [link]
Talk Like A Pirate Day didn't do anything for me, but it did inspire another blogger to publish a set of pirate laws, authentic, he says. I was struck by their egalitarianism and impressed by their provision for disability insurance, something that might be of interest to many pirates.
If . . . any man should lose a limb, or become a cripple in their service, he was to have 800 dollars, out of the public stock, and for lesser hurts, proportionately.Natalie Solent, who tipped me off to this post, was pleased that pirates protected musicians from overwork, and surprised by the pirates' attitude toward the fairer sex. Disney, it seems, had it wrong.
- 1:38 PM, 23 September 2005 [link]
Remember Miguel Estrada? President Bush nominated him to the DC Court of Appeals in May, 2001. Estrada had a powerful personal story and a stellar record, but was blocked by Senate Democrats, in part because they worried that he might strengthen Bush's appeal to Hispanics, especially if Estrada were nominated to the Supreme Court. (There is no denying that motive, since it appeared in an internal Democratic memo that a Senate Republican staffer found with some unethical but not illegal computer snooping.)
The Democrats did not have enough votes to defeat him on the floor, but they did have enough to sustain a filibuster, and so they blocked a vote and Estrada stayed in limbo. Finally, he asked President Bush to withdraw his name. And, now, with the change in party control of the Senate, some thought he might be named directly to the Supreme Court. But he is, as this New York Times article notes, not interested.
The Times doesn't say why Estrada is no longer interested, but there may be an explanation in this conversation between presidential advisor Karl Rove and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid.
For Rove, the most painful example was Miguel Estrada, who had worked in the Solicitor General's office, and who was Bush's first appellate-court nominee, in 2001. Estrada withdrew his name twenty-eight months after being nominated. During the confirmation struggle, Estrada's wife miscarried; in November, 2004, she died, of an overdose of alcohol and sleeping pills. The death was ruled accidental by the medical examiner. Rove said that Mrs. Estrada had been traumatized by the nastiness of the process.Orrin Judd, whose post reminded me of this part of the Estrada story, notes dryly that the New York Times does not mention any of that sad personal history.
That these delays on appointments impose personal prices, sometimes terrible ones, has gotten less attention than it should. That they also handicap a president is something widely accepted among academics who study the appointment process. As of September 11, 2001, there were still many gaps in the Bush administration, largely because of the delays in the Senate, then controlled by the Democrats.
These delays have gotten worse, and senators from both parties are to blame. The conversation between Reid and Rove continued as follows:
Reid told Rove that he empathized with Estrada, but said that the Republicans' treatment of President Clinton's nominees—more than sixty were never voted on by the Judiciary Committee—had created victims, too. Rove, according to Reid, replied, "We need to sit down and talk about this," adding that the ugliness of the confirmation process had reached a new low.And I would agree entirely with what Reid said, though I do think that the Senate Democrats deserve a larger share of the blame.
Presidential nominees, whether to the courts or to other positions, deserve prompt consideration and prompt votes. That is only fair to the nominees and, more important, it is what the country needs. It is hard to hold a president responsible if he is not allowed to staff his own administration.
Prompt consideration of presidential nominees may be what the country needs, but we are unlikely to get it, because it would require senators to give up some of their power. If the Democrats lose a few seats in the Senate next year, that may solve the immediate problems, by making it harder for them to filibuter and by making some fearful of the political costs for this kind of obstruction.
(There are brief biographies of Miguel Estrada here and here)
- 7:22 AM, 23 September 2005 [link]
The Japanese Mafia caused hurricane Katrina, according to Idaho meteorologist Scott Stevens.
A Pocatello, Idaho meteorologist believes Japan's Yakuza mafia used a Russian-made electromagnetic generator to cause Hurricane Katrina to avenge the Hiroshima atomic bomb attack, and will use it again on another U.S. city.Of course his theory is crazy. But is it crazier than some of the other theories about Katrina printed or broadcast by our "mainstream" media?
- 6:06 AM, 22 September 2005 [link]
48 Hours should be enough for a hurricane evacuation, as I argued here, but that doesn't mean you should dawdle now since, according to the current forecast, Rita will hit the Texas coast in less than 48 hours. If you are in its path, you should probably start moving — if you haven't already.
(FWIW, the warning from the Weather Service is not nearly as apocalyptic as the warning they issued before Katrina. Perhaps they think that, after the example of Katrina, they don't need to scare people.)
- 5:51 AM, 22 September 2005 [link]
Lieutenant Colonel Tim Ryan has definite opinions about the coverage of the conflict in Iraq.
All right, I've had enough. I am tired of reading distorted and grossly exaggerated stories from major news organizations about the "failures" in the war in Iraq. "The most trusted name in news" and a long list of others continue to misrepresent the scale of events in Iraq. Print and video journalists are covering only a fraction of the events in Iraq and, more often than not, the events they cover are only negative.If you glance at the brief description of his service in Iraq, you'll see that he has more right to his opinions than most. And, if you read the paragraphs in between the two I quoted, you'll understand why he has come to such harsh judgments.
Ryan is hardly the only officer with such views. From what I can tell, his views are quite common among those who have served in Iraq. Perhaps I don't understand journalism, but I would think the fact that so many officers agree with Ryan would be a big story all by itself. Those are not trivial accusations he is making.
- 5:18 PM, 21 September 2005 [link]
Design Flaws In The New Orleans Floodwalls? After writing the post below, I went out to lunch, picked up a New York Times and found this article on the front page. It is written, mostly, from the point of view of the Army Corps of Engineers, but it still contains these admissions:
But concrete flood walls installed over the last several decades along the drainage and barge canals cutting into New Orleans were built in a way that by Army Corps of Engineers standards left them potentially unstable in a flood, according to government documents and interviews. The walls collapsed in several places during the storm.As the Times says, these admissions raise questions, which is putting it mildly. To take just the last point, would you have guessed that the Corps never tested for something they expected to happen? Not me.
(Will those who have held Bush responsible for the flooding of New Orleans change their minds after they see this information? I'd like to think so, but I wouldn't bet on it.)
- 3:28 PM, 21 September 2005 [link]
Did The New Orleans Levees Break? Apparently not. Much, probably most, of the damage from Katrina in the city came from the flood, rather than the storm itself. News reports almost universally say that the flood was caused by breaches in the levees. But that isn't quite right; as far as I can tell the breaches were not in the levees, but in the floodwalls along three canals.
What's the difference? Here's an explanation from, of all places, NPR.
The canals walls that broke are technically called floodwalls. They are made of concrete and steel, are 6-to-10 feet tall, and about a foot wide at the top and 2 feet wide at the bottom. They stand on top of an earthen base.In this post, I speculated that the failure of the floodwalls had been caused by barges. Thanks to information I received from an emailer, I now think that unlikely for breaches along two of the canals, the 17th Street Canal and the London Canal. Neither has large amounts of barge traffic, unlike the third canal with breaches, the Industrial Canal. And, as far as I know, there was only one report of a barge going through a floodwall.
So a barge may have caused one or more of the three breaches along the Industrial Canal, but we don't know for sure, and we don't know what caused the three breaches along the other canals. And we may never know. According to this story from the Houston Chronicle, authorities in New Orleans did not know that there was a breach along the 17th Street Canal until hours after it began, when the breach was already 200 feet wide.
The Army Corps of Engineers is sticking to its claim that storm surges over the floodwalls undermined them and caused the failures. But some scientists and engineers disagree.
But with the help of complex computer models and stark visual evidence, scientists and engineers at Louisiana State University's Hurricane Center have concluded that Katrina's surges did not come close to overtopping those barriers. That would make faulty design, inadequate construction or some combination of the two the likely cause of the breaching of the floodwalls along the 17th Street and London Avenue canals -- and the flooding of most of New Orleans.(If you read the whole story, you'll see that the LSU experts do think that a storm surge might have caused the breaches along the Industrial Canal.)
The two theories have different political implications. If the Corps of Engineers is right, then the politicians are at fault for not giving them enough money. If the LSU experts are right, then the Corps of Engineers, or its contractors, or both, are at fault. Or perhaps the local levee district is at fault, since, according to this, the levee districts are "are responsible for supplying sand bags and maintaining levees, floodwalls, and floodgates". It is possible that the Corp of Engineers designed and built the floodwalls correctly, but the levee district failed to maintain them.
So we don't know why the floodwalls failed. We don't even know if all six breaches had similar causes. But we need to find out, if possible, so that we have a better chance of preventing similar catastrophes.
Do I have any preferred speculation about the cause or causes of the breaches? I am not a civil engineer, so this is only speculation, but I am struck by two facts about the floodwalls that failed; they were, apparently, designed by the same organization, the Army Corps of Engineers, and they were maintained by the same organization, the Orleans Levee District.
(Note that I said the New Orleans levees, not all levees. I am reasonably sure that levees outside New Orleans failed, though even that is less clear than one would like.
More on floodwalls: If they are along a sea, they are called, reasonably enough, seawalls. Engineers are likely to use floodwalls, rather than levees, in places where space is tight. Excluding the cost of the land, I wouldn't expect floodwalls to be cheaper to build than levees, but I haven't seen any data on the subject.
I copied the map from this Corps of Engineers site, adding red circles for the locations of the breaches, which I took from a map in the 9/14 New York Times. Thanks to an emailer for telling me about the site, which has much of interest.)
- 9:28 AM, 21 September 2005 [link]
Those Enterprising Chinese are putting Bill Clinton's name on a new product.
(Warning: Some parents may not consider the story suitable for their sprogs, especially the youngest.)
- 6:17 AM, 21 September 2005 [link]
George Galloway Versus Michael Medved: Somewhat to my surprise, today Britain's most disgusting politician appeared on the Michael Medved show as part of his American tour.
I had not expected his appearance, to say the least, so I did not make notes from the beginning. (Apparently, no one expected the appearance; Medved said that he had just two hours to prepare for Galloway's appearance.)
Galloway began with a double attack, criticizing Medved's harmless slogan, "the greatest nation on God's green earth" and attacking Medved for having some material from the MEMRI web site, which Galloway would not refer to by name but kept calling an Israeli web site. Galloway was patronizing about his worldly experience and claimed that the Pacific coast was "insular", an odd insult coming from a man who lives in an island kingdom. (For the benefit of those who do not know this area — which definitely includes George Galloway — the Pacific coast is one of the least insular parts of the United States, and, most likely, the world. He may, or may not have heard of two small companies that have facilities here, Boeing and Microsoft, but he has certainly used some of their products, since they are exported all over the world.
As the encounter went on, I began to see why Galloway can be effective. He mixes personal insults with the lines from the far left in a most aggravating and dishonest way. It would be easy to get distracted, as Medved seemed to be for a moment, by the insults and the dishonesty. And Galloway showed no integrity at all, which can be a great advantage in debate. When Medved challenged him on his support for the terrorists in Iraq, he claimed to opposed their murder of civilians as part of some general principle. Coming, as this did, from a long time supporter of the Soviet Union, that was a little hard to take.
And his attack on MEMRI, calling it again and again, an "Israeli web site", is also effective — for a certain kind of audience. Although fewer people in the United States are likely to see Israel as evil than in some other countries, there are some who do, and Galloway was clever to appeal to this group. Note, too, the dishonesty of the implied argument. Galloway did not say that MEMRI was misquoting him when it recounted his speeches in the Arab world; he simply tried to discredit the source. Ad hominem is not exactly the right phrase for this kind of attack, since MEMRI is not a person, but it catches the spirit of his attack.
I suppose that one could say that Galloway is helpful to Bush and to Blair because he discredits everyone associated with him. But we need an intellectually responsible left, and the rise of Galloway and similar figures tends to crowd out those on the left who are not driven by hatred for the West. And it tends, also, to encourage the terrorists, who understand that Galloway is supporting them and hope than many more in the West will come to do so as time goes on.
The Left is damaged most by Galloway, but we all lose from the activities of this disgusting man.
- 3:02 PM, 20 September 2005 [link]
Paul Greenberg makes a sad observation.
And do you know the most amazing and depressing thing about all those commentaries? They all agree: Whatever Katrina hath wrought, whatever has been wiped out or saved, whatever good and evil mixed may have been thrown up by this catastrophe, it all proves . . . exactly what each commentator had been saying all along!Greenberg is referring to the commentaries that come in by email, but I am afraid we must admit that most other commentaries followed that same pattern.
I hope the commentaries here have been an exception to his generalization, but if you don't think so, let me know.
- 10:43 AM, 20 September 2005 [link]
The New York Times Favors Vote Fraud: As you can see in this editorial, which reacts to election reform proposals from a commission led by Jimmy Carter and James Baker, III.
The commission makes helpful recommendations. It favors requiring electronic voting machines to produce paper records, and opposes partisan activity by state election officials. It fails to address other problems, like not counting provisional ballots cast at the wrong precincts.And why does the Times oppose one of the principal checks on vote fraud? Because, they say, requiring photo identification will "prevent large numbers of poor, black and elderly people from voting". The idea that a large number of adults, however poor, elderly, or black, do not have or can not get photo identification is absurd. To believe this, we would have to believe that people in these groups never rent an apartment, never cash a check, including a social security check, or do any of the other routine transactions that require photo identification.
So the idea that requiring photo identification for voting would cut down on turnout among these groups is silly — and I think the editors at the New York Times know that. But it would cut down on some kinds of vote fraud — and I think the editors of the New York Times know that, too.
Consider two examples from the Florida 2000 election. We now know — no thanks to the New York Times — that thousands of felons voted illegally in Florida. We now know — again, no thanks to the New York Times — that thousands voted illegally in both New York and Florida in the same election. Since both groups are heavily Democratic in their registration, we know, in short, that illegal votes almost tipped Florida and the 2000 election to Al Gore.
And there are more recent, and closer examples
The joke has long been that dead people vote in Hudson County, New Jersey's legendary enclave of machine politics. But now the joke may be on New Jersey, according to a new analysis of voter records by the state's Republican Party.(And, yes, Hudson County is heavily Democratic.)
Would requiring photo identification cut down on these kinds of vote fraud? Of course, for the same reasons that requiring photo identification cuts down on fraudulent checks.
It is understandable, if not admirable, that hyper-partisan Democrats oppose common sense measures to cut down on vote fraud, such as requiring photo identification. They believe, correctly in my opinion, that reducing vote fraud will hurt Democrats, net. But it is disgusting to see a once great newspaper take the same position.
(Voter matching studies, such as the one done by the New Jersey Republicans are not perfect, since two people can share names and even birth dates. But although they do turn up a few false positives, they also miss many illegal voters.
The population of Hudson county is about 600,000, so those illegal voters are a significant fraction of the total vote in the county.)
- 9:56 AM, 20 September 2005 [link]
Where Do British Missionaries Go Now? Their most common destination is quite close.
The traditional image of the British missionary simmering in a cannibal's cooking pot or trekking through the African bush can finally be laid to rest.No word in the article on what French authorities think of this trend.
- 4:04 PM, 19 September 2005 [link]
It Was A Good Story For The Democrats: And for the "mainstream" media. But it wasn't exactly true. The head of Jefferson Parish, Aaron Broussard, told an emotional story on Meet the Press about how President Bush had let a man's mother die in a nursing home after Katrina.
Except that the woman died during the hurricane and the man blamed the nursing home and local authorities, not President Bush. Why did Broussard say this? Here's a hint:
Aaron Broussard's crocodile tears came at the tail-end of a tirade against FEMA, in response to a question from Tim Russert asking whether the mayor of New Orleans and the governor of Louisiana could have been "more forceful, much more effective and much more organized in evacuating the area."So Broussard was blaming FEMA and Bush in order to escape answering Russert's question. And, according to this account, Russert let him get away with it.
"Wuzzadem" notes that Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times called Broussard's outburst, "One of the defining media moments of all the hurricane coverage". Roeper may be right, but not for the reason he thought.
The selection from the Almanac that I quoted in the post below says that politics in Louisiana is marked by "no-holds-barred conflict and demagoguery". I'd say Broussard's faked outburst is a fine example of both.
By way of the Instapundit.
(Here's MSNBC's admission of error. And I will definitely have to watch Tim Russert this Sunday to see what he says about this — assuming he does say anything.)
- 3:37 PM, 19 September 2005 [link]
What Kind Of State Is Louisiana? Here are some bits from the 2004 Almanac of American Politics.
Louisiana often seems to be America's banana republic, with its charm and inefficiency, its communities interlaced by family ties and its public sector sometimes laced with corruption, with its own indigenous culture and its tradition of fine distinctions of class and caste. It is a state with an economy uncomfortably like that of an underdeveloped country, based on pumping minerals out of soggy ground and shipping grain produced in the vast hinterland drained by its great river, an economy increasingly dependent on businesses typical of picturesque Third World countries — tourism (now the second largest industry, hard hit by September 11) and gambling. Its politics too has a third world quality, with its own peculiar election laws and its heritage of no-holds-barred conflict and demagoguery no other state can match: what other state has produced a Huey Long or an Edwin Edwards?Knowing all this, we should not be surprised that money sent to Louisiana for studies of hurricane evacuation was redirected, or that officials in Louisiana's emergency planning agency may not have been as careful as they should have been with our tax money.
Senior officials in Louisiana's emergency planning agency already were awaiting trial over allegations stemming from a federal investigation into waste, mismanagement and missing funds when Hurricane Katrina struck.Sixty million dollars could have bought a lot of flood protection.
It may seem mean to mention it after the losses from the hurricane, but I hope the Bush administration sends extra auditors (and some aggressive prosecutors) along with the post-Katrina aid money.
- 10:56 AM, 19 September 2005 [link]
What Is Pork? It is, as the ad men tell us, the "other white meat". It is also a common term for wasteful government spending, at least in the United States. But what makes a project pork? How do we distinguish, for example, a much needed highway from a wasteful road to nowhere?
There is a standard answer to that question. A project is pork if the expected benefits are less than the expected costs. And there are standard ways to measure those expected benefits, at least for transportation projects. Let's take a nearby example to see how this might work. There are two bridges across Lake Washington between Seattle and the eastside suburbs. The state highway department now wants to replace the northern bridge, part of Route 520, because they believe that it might not survive a major earthquake.
Now we can be certain that the benefits from this bridge are greater than its costs, because it was originally a toll bridge, and the tolls paid for it quickly, in fact even more quickly than the planners had predicted. To calculate whether the benefits of replacing the bridge are greater than the costs, we would have to estimate the costs of losing the bridge and the chance that would happen. That's beyond this brief post, but there is one feature of the proposed new bridge that we can immediately see is pork.
Despite the enormous increase in traffic on the 520 bridge, the proposed new bridge will not add any lanes to the current four. But it will add lanes for bicycle traffic. Will the benefits from these bicycle lanes be worth their costs? No. As I said, the bridge was originally paid for by car tolls. Would it be possible to pay for the bicycle lanes with tolls? Not by any combination of tolls and bicycle traffic that I can imagine.
Proponents of the bicycle lanes will say that I am missing some of the benefits to other people, to those who are not riding the bicycles. And I would agree. Bicycles do add less to air pollution than cars and they may cut health costs. (I say may because, although riding a bicycle helps your heart, it also makes it more likely you will hurt yourself in an accident.) But even adding in very generous amounts for such benefits doesn't raise the total high enough to justify the lanes. So the bicycle lanes on the proposed 520 bridge are pork, green pork perhaps, since their proponents use environmental arguments to justify them.
And I am certain that the highway department knows these proposed bicycle lanes are green pork because the I-90 bridge across Lake Washington does have bicycle lanes — which don't get much use.
Cost-benefit analyses are most often used to judge the worth of transportation projects, but they can be used for almost any kind of government spending. For instance, the government spends vast sums on job training, but these expenditures make sense only if those who receive the training earn enough after the training to pay for costs of the training. (Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't.) And cost-benefit analyses could be applied even more broadly. I suspect, for instance, that entire academic departments at some of our public universities could not pass a cost-benefit test, and so could be considered pork. (That the people in such departments often contribute to Democratic politicians is not entirely coincidental; those who benefit from pork almost always reward the politicians who supply it.)
Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 8:14 AM, 19 September 2005 [link]
"Jane Galt" Was Looking For Book Suggestions: And she got some, including a few from me. If you are looking for some book suggestions yourself, there are worse places to start than this post.
- 1:35 PM, 18 September 2005 [link]
The German Election: For coverage, see David Medienkritik or Ralf Goergens' posts at Chicago Boys, for instance, here, here, here, here, and here.
Both seem to think that either the Social Democrats under Schröder will put together a narrow coalition of parties of the left, or that they will form a grand coalition with the Christian Democrats. Either possibility is dismal, both for German and for German-American relations.
David seems to think that the Christian Democrats failed to get their followers to turn out. That seems plausible, from the little I have read of the campaign. Angela Merkel was offering tough measures and she is not the most sympathetic politician around.
- 1:26 PM, 18 September 2005 [link]
Bill Clinton says he would have met with Cindy Sheehan. Well, sure he would have, and I think that's all I will say about that subject, except that Mrs. Sheehan is an attractive woman.
- 9:03 AM, 18 September 2005 [link]
Tony Blair shares my view about the bias in the BBC's coverage of Katrina.
Tony Blair has complained privately to media tycoon Rupert Murdoch that the BBC's coverage of Hurricane Katrina carried an anti-American bias, Murdoch said at a conference here.And it wasn't just Tony Blair saying that, as Natalie Solent notes.
Even if we add a pinch of salt to the views of Mr Murdoch, a commercial rival to the BBC, here we have the Labour Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and the former Democratic President of the United States, not to mention the former head of a media organisation that has itself been heavily criticised for liberal bias, all criticising the BBC.American news organizations were, as I have said, almost as bad in their coverage. And, as the story of what actually happened seeps out past our journalists, more and more people are beginning to realize just how bad the coverage of Katrina was. Perhaps even some journalists will understand that, in time.
- 8:16 AM, 18 September 2005 [link]