Now it's the Bushies who are blaming federalism!

Now it's the Bushies who are blaming federalism!

Now it's the Bushies who are blaming federalism!

A mostly political Weblog.
Sept. 11 2005 9:08 PM

Now, the Bushies Blame Federalism!

Plus--Judy Miller, looking for an out?

Instapundit's Katrina Relief donation list. 

ABC News has word of the Al Qaeda threat against Los Angeles. ...  Drudge has word of the Al Qaeda threat against Los Angeles. ... Brady Westwater's L.A. Cowboy has word of the Al Qaeda threat against Los Angeles! ... But five hours after it hit the Reuters wire you won't find out about it on the home page of the bloated, slow-moving, dinosaur-like monopoly newspaper of ... Los Angeles.  ...Update: Finally listed on the LAT's little AP scroll box as of noon, according to Westwater. ... Stark contrast: Melbourne, Australia, also threatened in the same Al Qaeda tape, has a newspaper that at least knows a front page story when it sees one. Meanwhile (as of 6:05 P.M.) the LAT is still listing the Al Qaeda threat in the "More News" box. ...  [Thanks to reader D.T.]11:45 A.M.


Obit writers are paying much too much attention to the actor who played "Gilligan" and too little attention to Maynard G. Krebs. Novelist Meghan Daum corrects the error, and makes some, yes, larger points (e.g., about beatniks vs. hippies vs. slackers). ... 11:45 A.M. 

Federalism, Fingered! Here's  our peculiar federalism problem in a nutshell  (from the NYT):

Interviews with officials in Washington and Louisiana show that as the situation grew worse, they were wrangling with questions of federal/state authority, weighing the realities of military logistics and perhaps talking past each other in the crisis.

To seize control of the mission, Mr. Bush would have had to invoke the Insurrection Act, which allows the president in times of unrest to command active-duty forces into the states to perform law enforcement duties. But decision makers in Washington felt certain that Governor Blanco would have resisted surrendering control of the military relief mission as Bush Administration officials believe would have been required to deploy active-duty combat forces before law and order had been re-established. While troops can conduct relief missions without the legal authority of the Insurrection Act, Pentagon and military officials say that no active-duty forces could have been sent into the chaos of New Orleans on Wednesday or Thursday without confronting law-and-order challenges. [Emphasis added]


In fact, the story notes, Blanco did resist surrendering control. But why should the president have to invoke the Insurrection Act to send troops to save American citizens who are dying of thirst? Active duty troops were ready to move out on Sunday, the day before the storm hit, according to an Army officer. But thanks in large part to federalist sensitivity, the order never came. ..

Sure, the Bushies are using the federalism issue, and Louisiana's potentially bruised feelings, as an excuse--especially when they talk about how "it would have been perceived" if Bush had seized control of the relief effort "from the female governor of another party." (It would have been perceived as such a power grab that ... people would have put their heads out their windows and cheered.) Maybe there are other, more permissive intepretations of the relevant laws. But why should the Bushies even have the federalist excuse? Why should there be any doubt that the President can take command of a relief effort within our own country? Other countries, I suspect, don't have this hangup. Nor does private industry. Again, does UPS need to meet a special legal standard in court before it can take control of one of its branch offices? ...

P.S.: Ann Coulter says I should use the U.S. Postal Service, rather than UPS, as my example. Three responses: 1) USPS does manage to collect tax returns on April 15 and deliver lots of Christmas packages. Yes, there are lines. But if the Katrina relief effort had operated with the embarrassing inefficiency of the U.S. Postal Service--as opposed to the embarrassing inefficiency of the freeform federal/state/local legal seminar and negotiating session that actually took place--lots of people in New Orleans would still be alive today. 2) Does Coulter want to somehow privatize disaster relief? How does that work? Aren't there some things the government just has to do itself? The 82d Airborne, for example. Would a privatized relief agency be free to tell the governor of Louisiana to get lost in a way that President Bush can't? 3) Even if FEMA's work could be contracted out to Halliburton, that's no argument for putting unnecessary legalistic obstacles in the way of the government if we choose not to privatize. Yet that's what our federalism fetish does.

P.P.S.: Lets be clear about this--today, it's not me blaming federalism. It's "administration, Pentagon and Justice Department officials." What the Bushies themselves are fingering as the cause of the Katrina debacle is precisely the machinery of 'states rights' that so entrances conservatives (and that was revived dramatically by the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist). Will Bush follow through on the current White House line of thinking and denounce hyperbolic assertions of state prerogatives (such as those embedded in a narrow interpretation of the unfortunate commerce clause)? Will he nominate someone to fill the vacant Supreme Court seat who rejects the Rehnquist view?


When things screw up, these days, we hold the president and the federal government responsible. It follows that the president and the federal government should have the power to stop things from screwing up. ... 11:58 P.M. link

Judy Looking for an Out? Arianna unburies the lede in a Reuters story, supplements it with "a source with inside knowledge," and concludes that jailed NYT reporter Judy Miller is now negotiating to get a "proper release from her promise by her source.'" ... Why negotiate now? Because Floyd Abrams' disastrously self-righteous legal advice has been supplemented by some "very different" legal advice, says Arianna's source. ... Have Bill and Pinch learned the lesson of Posada  (i.e., 'Avoid Floyd, avoid the slammer'!)? ... P.S.: I'd also guess two other factors are at work: 1) Miller utterly failed to become a cause celebre in any signficant segment of the populace; and 2) Katrina closed off any possibility that she could break through onto the front pages anytime soon. ... Plus maybe the Times brass leaned on her ever so slightly! ... 11:18 P.M. link

Katrina Ate My Homework, II:  Any thoughts that maybe the teachers' union wasn't using Katrina to try to get out from under the accountability provisions of No Child Left Behind turn out to have been excessively charitable. Blogger Mike Antonucci got hold of another National Education Association post-Katrina letter--this one to Congress, accompanied by bullet points with some of the details too ... explicit to include in the more euphemistic "for show" letter the NEA printed on its web site. In particular, the NEA wants the administration to:

Suspend sanctions under the No Child Left Behind Act in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama and in school districts accepting evacuated students.  Waive deadlines for highly qualified teachers and paraprofessionals in those states.  Deem displaced teachers who were highly qualified in their home states as highly qualified in the states to which they have evacuated. [Emphasis added]


In other words, no more accountability for lousy schools in three entire states and in any other district in the entire nation that accepts displaced students. Take some Katrina Kids, get out from under the NCLB!  Ineffective teachers in mediocre schools who fear losing their jobs can't say their union is not going to bat for them in Washington. ... 11:50 A.M.

NBC's Campbell Brown on actual, existing federalism:

Watching the power struggles play out between New Orleans officials and the state and federal government has been beyond frustrating. ... They let the bureaucracy get in the way of saving lives," said Brown, the anchor on NBC's weekend Today show, who grew up in Louisiana.

[via TVNewser] 1:34 A.M.


The Storm Ate My Homework: Eduwonk charges that the teachers' union (NEA) is using Katrina as an excuse for "suspending" the accountability provisions of the No Child Left Behind law in vast swaths of the South, including Texas. That was certainly the impression left by today's New York Times story. ... P.S.: The NEA president's actual letter the the secretary of education-- text here--seems more limited. Here are the key sentences:

Until these children, their teachers, districts and families gain their footing under these extremely difficult circumstances, I encourage you to implement the provisions in NCLB that deal with the impact of natural disasters on testing and AYP.

We would also ask that states such as Texas and others who are not physically affected by Hurricane Katrina, yet are receiving these children, be granted the same levels of flexibility and not be adversely affected or otherwise penalized for accepting these children and students into their school systems.

Maybe this means the NEA will ask that all of Texas be exempt from the law's "Annual Yearly Progress" (AYP) requirement--Eduwonk knows more than I do about what weasel words like "flexibility" mean. ... Update:kf hears there was a second NEA letter dealing with the touchy AYP issue--a letter the NEA has conspicuously not posted on their site. ... P.P.S.: If accepting even one Katrina refugee kid into your school district gets the whole district a free pass on meeting the NCLB's requirements, those are going to be some highly sought-after kids! ... 12:48 P.M. link

The U.S. should take Fidel Castro up on his post-Katrina offer to send over 1,586 doctors from Cuba. It could be a PR victory--how many do you think will go back?  12:58 A.M. link

Open Source Health Studies? Here's an idea that undoubtedly is not original, and may or may not be good.** You tell me:

A friend of mine, a non-doctor, was thinking about the surge of lung cancer among women who've never smoked. Was it maybe related to all the mammograms women now get? This might be a crazy suggestion. It might be a brilliant suggestion. But it should be an easily checkable suggestion. Just look at the women who got lots of mammograms and see if they have a higher incidence of lung cancer.

My friend has been trying to get a health reporter interested in the idea--a reporter who, in turn might get someone else with access to the data to run the numbers. But with modern computer and search technology, shouldn't there be a simpler way--an open database of longitudinal medical histories, searchable by anyone with a modem and a hunch. Get a sufficiently large cohort of people to record everything about their health--what diseases they get, what procedures they have done, what allergies they have, medicines they take, lifestyles, basic socio-economic info, etc. Get them to sign all the necessary waivers and put all this data online (giving them numbers, of course, instead of identifiable names). Once that's done--and I'm sure such private research databases exist--it shouldn't be hard to construct a Web page that lets a visitor to the site compare, say, the percent of women who've had more than 8 mammograms who get lung cancer with the percentage of women in the whole sample who get lung cancer.

Yes, such correlations are tricky. They don't imply causation. People who do X (which seems to be linked to bad outcome Y) may also tend to be people with unhealthy lifestyles, or poorer people, and those things--rather than X--could be the cause of the bad outcome. But that's why we have academics. A correlation is at least a start.

The advantage of such an "open" database is that it multiplies the number of hunches that can be at least given this initial test by several orders of magnitude. Most of the hunches will turn out to be bunk. But if 1 in 100 turns out to produce an interesting correlation, and 1 in 100 of those correlations turns out to withstand academic scrutiny, I bet the search for medical knowledge would be way ahead of the game.

Maybe such a site exists. I suspect not, probably because the databases involved are closely held. Are they kept private for the good of mankind, or because they provide universities with a sort of monopoly on inquiry--lucrative, if not financially, then in easy routes to tenure?

Still, academics shouldn't be threatened by an open search system--as noted, they wouldn't be out of a job, they'd just have an additional, different job, sorting through the most promising correlations discovered by amateurs.

That job might be like that of the inspector in the old Bob Newhart routine, who's assigned to examine the prose generated by an infinite number of monkeys at typewriters. (He checks in on one that has typed: "To be or not to be, that is the gezortenblatt.")  But I suspect the ratio of misses to hits would be more favorable than that. The Web can be a surprisingly efficient engine of truth--and, more important, it discovers truths that other institutions wouldn't. (See, for example, Elizabeth Liddle's contribution to thinking about exit-poll errors.) Many people would bring to their inquiries a knowledge of their own histories. Even if they didn't come up with any surprising connections, they might get some satisfaction from at least being able to ask a question and get an answer. Anyway, it seems worth a shot.

**--You could do a little bit of research yourself and find out if this is an original idea--ed Why? It just slows the process down. 12:42 A.M. link

All According to Plan? Here's a semi-conspiratorial theory about behind-the-scenes Bush-administration planning that I actually tend to believe: 1) The plan was always for Roberts to be nominated for the Chief Justice slot; 2) Rehnquist was persuaded to hold off on retiring and let O'Connor retire first; 3) The names of Janice Rogers Brown and others were floated in order to draw fire as being "too conservative"--making the ultimate Roberts nomination seem more reasonable and something Dems could live with. ... The evidence? When Rehnquist died unexpectedly, they did name Roberts awfully quickly, didn't they? Almost as if a preexisting plan were being pulled off a shelf! ...Why would they want Roberts to initially be seen as an O'Connor replacement rather than as a Rehnquist replacement?--ed Seen as a Rehnquist replacement he's not that exciting to conservatives--the Rehnquist/Roberts swap doesn't move the court perceptibly to the right. And it's only the prospect of filling the O'Connor swing-vote seat that terrifies liberals--thereby enabling the scary trial balloons and the ultimate we-can-live-with-him sigh-of-acceptance Democratic attitude toward Roberts. So what's the next step in the plan--i.e. for filling the O'Connor seat?-ed. Good question. Could be that the Right gets screwed, with Bush having given them the impression that he was willing to fill the moderate swing seat with a true conservative (Roberts), even though ultimately after the shell game is over all that has happened is that Rehnquist has been replaced by a younger version of himself. .. After all, if this has been planned, and if Bush wanted to move the court to the right, why wouldn't he save the appealing Roberts for the contentious O'Connor seat? Unless there's another, equally appealing conservative out there--but then why would they have gone through the whole Kabuki act (i.e. why not just save Roberts for when Rehnquist retired?). ... You have no other evidence for this at all, do you?--ed I'm not sayin' I do and I'm not sayin' I don't. ... 11:16 A.M. link

The Curse of Federalism, Part II: Bloggers Faces of G and Brad DeLong, as well as Instapundit, wrestle with the obvious issue any relief effort would face--even in a streamlined federal system with no gratuitous interemediate state  level of authority interposed between cities and Washington. That obvious issue is how does the national government anticipate that a city like New Orleans won't have its act together in a hurricane, so the feds can be ready with troops to take over policing and other duties more or less immediately?

It's not that simple--you can imagine a certain amount of paranoia and hurt on New Orleans' part if every disaster were accompanied by a mobilization of the National Guard in anticipation of unchecked looting (especially if that mobilization were deemed unnecessary in the case of, say, the equivalent disaster in New York).

But it's not that difficult either. My answers are: a) Anyone who knew anything about New Orleans would know that they wouldn't get it together; b) At the myriad meetings that were held on the various emergency plans, high-powered federal officials might ask esoteric, expert questions like "When all these people get to the Superdome, what will they eat and drink? And how will they go to the bathroom?" c) The whole problem would be easier if we had a unitary, hierarchical government in which federal preemption wasn't seen as an invasion of state "sovereignty." When United Parcel Service thinks its Cincinnati division isn't ready to deliver Christmas packages, I imagine it sends a team to find out and takes over the Cincinnati division if it has significant worries. I'm sure there are hurt local feelings--feelings that would be stronger when it's an elected city government's authority that's being preempted. But the whole preeemption problem is immeasurably exaggerated by our unnecessary fears about uncomplicated federal power. We'd be better off if we were more like UPS; d) The federalist complication is clearly responsible for screwups like the following, described by Newsday, in which one "sovereign" layer of government worries if it's going to be reimbursed by the other layer:

One problem: 8,000 National Guard troops from Louisiana and Mississippi are on duty in Iraq. Pentagon officials insisted last week that didn't hinder disaster response, but acknowledged that the bureaucracy for replacing them with troops from nearby states is unwieldy.

At this point, questions about why the troops weren't there quicker seem to be an exercise in bureaucratic finger-pointing. Pentagon officials last week said questions should be directed to the state. But on the ground, local officials like New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin called on Washington for more troops.

The reason, Young said: State governors outside the hurricane zone wouldn't mobilize Guard troops in advance because they weren't sure they would be reimbursed by Washington. [Emph. added]

The whole process by which states have to ask other states for aid wouldn't exist if we didn't have states! [What would you have, again?--ed Local entities covering entire metropolitan areas--SMSAs. The national government. Nothing in between. If you wanted to divide the country into ten numbered sectors for administrative purposes, fine. But there wouldn't be ten extra governments. But what about our 'laboratories of democracy'?--ed Metropolitan areas are fine laboratories of democracy!] ... Con: Jim Tynen thinks unitary states do no better, and points to France. ... 3:16 A.M. link

That ABC/WaPo poll--showing the public not really blaming Bush for Katrina screw-ups--may not capture the ultimate verdict. Mystery Pollster notes a three-day SurveyUSA poll that looks much more ominous for Bush (though it isn't definitive either--it's still a holiday-weekend poll, and an automated one at that). ... 1:48 A.M.

Here's a decent LAT article on the city-specific racial tensions in New Orleans three months before Katrina hit. [Is it worth paying $3.95 for that article?--ed No. It's probably on the Web somewhere for free, though!] Sample:

In March, a jury found the city's first black district attorney guilty of discrimination for firing 42 white employees and replacing them with blacks. ...

Enmity and distrust have grown so deep that some white community activists trying to participate in a recent antiracism demonstration were ordered to leave by black activists.

The article also reports evidence that blacks are in fact price-gouged at area clubs. ... The question is are these a) New Orleans-specific tensions, or b) just the tensions you get in an extreme case of white and middle class flight to the suburbs, leaving behind a ghetto-poor core?  If any city's sui generis, New Orleans is, you'd think. But I still guess (b). ... Backfill: Joel Kotkin blames the city's dependence on tourism, which seems a factor between (a) and (b) since it's a trait N.O. shares with some other cities:

Tourism defines contemporary New Orleans' economy more than its still-large port, or its remaining industry, or its energy production. Although there is nothing wrong, per se, in being a tourist town, it is not an industry that attracts high-wage jobs; and tends to create a highly bifurcated social structure.

Update: Kotkin, racking up those "New America Foundation" bylines (he knows what Ted Halstead  lives for!) has a similar piece in the LAT, calling on New Orleans to shift to a more Houston-like economy. Part-time N.O. resident Harry Shearer is skeptical, and catches an embarrassing goof in Kotkin's pull-out quote. ... 1:19 A.M. link

Decades as the Don Juan of Hollywood and this is the best dirt they have on Warren Beatty? Maybe that's what's embarrassing. The Schwarzenegger dirt was much better. I mean worse. ... 2:18 P.M.

My favorite Paranoid Overblogging on Katrina so far: The White House is sending evacuees to Texas as part of a Rovian attempt to subtly tweak the Electoral College!

Notice how Bush, et al., are shipping the mostly black remainder evacuees from New Orleans et environs to Texas? It practically amounts to gerrymandering of a sort. Since many, if not most, of the evacuees -- certainly mostly Democratic voters -- will remain in Texas, get jobs and homes, and never return to the Big Easy, Louisiana, a purple state (Clinton '92 and '96, Bush '00 and '04) becomes redder, and Texas, a huge very red state, gains yet more population while turning only slightly less red. 

Is it possible these effects are the result of deliberate design on the part of the White House political office and, namely, one Karl Rove? Otherwise, why wouldn't they be evacuating people to Memphis in purple Tennessee? Or Little Rock in purple Arkansas? [Emph. added]

Rove thinks of everything, I tell you. He's another mindermast! [Where did this appear? Kos? Atrios?--ed The GolfChannel.Com discussion board. Where the real Bush-bashers go.] 10:56 P.M.

I just saw Red Eye, the premise of which is that the Director of Homeland Security must be saved! I suspect audience enthusiasm has dropped off rather dramatically this week. ... [Update: "[I]t's the deputy secretary of Homeleand Security who must be saved"--emailer F.K. Wow. For a deputy secretary, he has a lot of security.]  10:29 P.M.

Federalism Strikes Again: As long as we're apportioning blame in the Katrina fiasco, here's another culprit: federalism, by which I mean a) the U.S.'s interpolation of an unnecessary level of government (states) between cities and the national government and b) the non-hierarchical, "sovereign" nature of this unnecessary level, so that the national government can't just give its Louisiana subdivision orders the way, say, General Motors can give its Pontiac division orders. This gratuitous complication of authority clearly crippled effective planning for a New Orleans catastrophe, as each level seems to have assumed that the other level would have a workable plan. ... And federalism is still bolixing up the relief operation, which now seems to have two bristling, competing centers of authority (the Louisiana governor and the Bush administration). From Sunday's WaPo:

Behind the scenes, a power struggle emerged, as federal officials tried to wrest authority from Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D). Shortly before midnight Friday, the Bush administration sent her a proposed legal memorandum asking her to request a federal takeover of the evacuation of New Orleans, a source within the state's emergency operations center said Saturday.

The administration sought unified control over all local police and state National Guard units reporting to the governor. Louisiana officials rejected the request after talks throughout the night .... [snip]

A senior administration official said that Bush has clear legal authority to federalize National Guard units to quell civil disturbances under the Insurrection Act and will continue to try to unify the chains of command that are split among the president, the Louisiana governor and the New Orleans mayor. ... [snip]

Blanco made two moves Saturday that protected her independence from the federal government: She created a philanthropic fund for the state's victims and hired James Lee Witt, Federal Emergency Management Agency director in the Clinton administration, to advise her on the relief effort.

Wouldn't it be better to have a system with one chain of command? Or is it desirable to have officials working through the night, not to provide help but to defend their turf? ... 2:30 A.M. link

Here's a J-School question: Has the network TV coverage of the N.O. Superdome fiasco a) made the situation seem to be worse than it really was (because TV always focuses on the negative things--the crime, the snafus, the corpses and complaints, etc.) or b) made the situation seem better than it really was (because network TV didn't want to make it look as if a heavily African-American crowd of refugees couldn't behave itself)? ... I was going to guess a) until I read this [via Althousevia Slate ] and this.. 11:38 P.M. link

Faster Recriminations! Frequent kf e-mailer T. makes another good-but-impolite point about the rapidly developing storm of Katrina recriminations:

the authors of the [2002]  times-picayune series, the designers of the government desktop exercise, and all the other authors of studies on the danger facing N.O. are now as a group getting a big thumbs up for prescience from the CW.  But hey, which one of them saw what was developing for 72 hours over Miami and the Gulf and sent up a timely flare last week, warning, "Hey, the levee is going to fail and N.O. will be over 50% inundated!"  If somebody said it, I did not hear it.  That would have been prescient. [ital added]

Maybe they did and weren't heeded. Maybe not. ... The more general, but equally impolite, point is that reporters (like the authors of government studies) are citizens and have an ongoing moral responsibility even after their pieces are published. The treatement of journalism as a "profession"--you do your job, write your article, then it becomes someone else's job--tends to obscure this. ...Backfill: On Sunday, August 28, the AP's Allen Breed was quoting N.O. Mayor Ray Nagin saying, "The storm surge will most likely topple our levee system." [Note: Brendan Loy has him saying "top," not "topple."] Once the town's mayor acknowledges the threat I suppose everyone assumes that all appropriate action is being taken. The previous week, as T. says, would have been the period when truly prescient journos and bureaucrats should have been screaming. ..

Update: Blogger Brendan Loy was screaming  before Sunday, notes  Instapundit, who was linking to him. Loy ragged on Mayor Nagin in real time--this, for example, from last Saturday:

I can't emphasize enough what a bad decision I think it is for New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin to delay the mandatory evacuation order until tomorrow morning.

and a bit later that day:

Okay, so let me get this straight: the governor calls the mayor during dinner, and basically says "HEY, IDIOT, CALL THE F***IN' HURRICANE CENTER!" It took a phone call from the governor to convince him to make this call?!? Well anyway, the mayor calls the NHC, and they basically tell him, "GET EVERYONE OUT OF YOUR CITY NOW!!!" So now, finally, the mayor is apparently planning to order first mandatory evacuation in city history tomorrow morning. About damn time.

And this from a day earlier, on Friday, August 26:

Much of the media seems convinced that this is still exclusively a Florida issue, which is just not true. Drudge's headline is "Katrina could be Cat. 4 at second Fla. strike," which is ridiculous, considering the current expected landfall is along the Alabama/Mississippi border, and that's on the eastern edge of the computer-model guidance. That's not to say a Florida landfall isn't still possible -- it certainly is -- but people need to be making preparations RIGHT NOW all along the northern Gulf coast, especially New Orleans.

UPDATE: Welcome, InstaPundit readers! Also,  click here to read about what the hurricane could do to New Orleans if she's strong enough and makes a direct hit on the city. Bottom line: tens of thousands could die.

Loy's blog for the past week is a pretty extraordinary document. It should maybe be in the Smithsonian, if you can put a blog in the Smithsonian. ... See also this linky  semi-anti-second-guessing post. ... And Loy's most recent anti-Nagin item. ...

P.S.: I'm not saying Bush and the Feds don't clearly deserve major grief  for not getting today's National Guard aid convoy into downtown New Orleans a couple of days earlier. Some people are probably dead as a result. But the commentators on Washington Week in Review seemed a little too happy when proclaiming this a "debacle" that will damage Bush politically for a long, long time. And I don't think they were happy just because Bush has suffered a blow. I think it's because the hurricane and its New Orleans aftermath at least seemed to solve a big problem for anti-Bush commentators and politicians.  Previously, they couldn't grouse about the Iraq War without seeming defeatist (and anti-liberationist and maybe even selfishly isolationist). Even the Clintons never figured a way out of that trap. But nature has succeded where they failed; it has opened up a way out, at least temporarily. Now Bush opponents can argue, in some cases quite accurately, that without the Iraq deployment aid would have gotten to New Orleans faster. And 'if we can [tk] in Iraq, why can't we [tk] in our own South?' They aren't being selfish. They are just asserting priorities! In short, Katrina gives them a way to talk about Iraq without talking about Iraq. No wonder Gwen Ifill smiles the "inner smile."

P.P.S.: We Need a Katrina Witt! Bruce Reed  misses a cheap bad headline. ... 3:25 P.M. link

Thursday, September 1, 2005

The truth is that even on a normal day, New Orleans is a sad city. Sure, tourists think New Orleans is fun: you can drink and hop from strip club to strip club all night on Bourbon Street, and gamble all your money away at Harrah's. But the city's decline over the past three decades has left it impoverished and lacking the resources to build its economy from within. New Orleans can't take care of itself even when it is not 80 percent underwater ...

New Orleans teems with crime, and the NOPD can't keep order on a good day. Former commissioner Richard Pennington brought New Orleans' crime rate down from its peak during the mid-1990s. But since Pennington's departure, crime rates have soared, to ten times the national average. The NOPD might have hundreds of decent officers, but it has a well-deserved institutional image as corrupt, brutal, and incompetent. [Emph. added]

8:27 P.M.

Biden Inside Baseball Bonus: A knowledgeable reader emails, regarding yesterday's Biden item--

All true but you missed Biden's true utility for lots of Democratic money/influence/operative types. He's a parking space!  They support him, knowing he will lose, but then get better seats at the nominee's table than they would have if they had started with the nominee in the first place.

 It's all about negotiating with Hillary's palace guard.  Come in now with Hillary's team and you'll get jerked around and screwed over, no matter how hard you work or how much money you raise or whatever.  Come in in the spring of '08 on a wave of "party unity" and your chances of getting some good real estate are much improved.

The Biden team will be heavy with guys who know how to play the game.

Maybe that's the answer Arianna's question about what Biden has to offer that Hillary doesn't. ... 12:20 P.M.

Anger=Victory? Will relatively greater Democratic intensity (i.e., anti-Bush anger) translate into relatively greater Democratic turnout in the 2006 midterms? Mystery Pollster looks at the question, and notes that anti-Bush voters were more "intense" in 2004 too--but the Dems still lost the turnout battle. But doesn't relative anger count for more in a low-turnout midterm, when mildly satisfied, non-intense voters are apt to just not vote? 2:22 A.M.

kf's "Zeta" Jones: This Autoweek report   suggests GM's decision to cancel its rear drive "Zeta" cars--only to later revive them in another form--has been more damaging than I thought. It's delayed their introduction by three years--from 2007 to 2010 ("at the earliest") in the case of Buick's Roadmaster. But, hey, with a gas crisis looming I bet GM is glad it chose instead to rush its new full-size SUVs to market! ... P.S.: GM also seems to have moved even closer to killing off Saturn. The basic small Saturn sedan--the Ion--will no longer be built at Saturn's innovative Spring Hill, Tennessee plant but at GM's once-infamous Lordstown, Ohio factory, according to Autoweek. ... Update:Why is rear drive more fun? A couple of years ago I claimed that there were actually  five big reasons. I was wrong. There are six! The sixth is the superior steering feel of rear-drive, which Motor Trend attempts to explain here. It involves geometry, the "scrub radius," the "kingpin axis," and the interplay of the mechanical and "pneumatic trail." I'll take their word for it. 1:48 A.M. link

'I Think I Have a Higher IQ Than You Do, Gary!' If you were entertaining the thought that Joe Biden had grown in office since 1988-- when he had to drop out of the presidential race after being caught on C-SPAN telling a voter, "I think I have a much higher IQ than you do"--you should take a look at his performance on last Sunday's This Week. (Free video excerpt  available here.)  Biden's unpleasant and defensive from the start, perhaps because he knows he's in the same bind Hillary Clinton is in, having voted for the Iraq war (and continuing to favor toughing it out) but now facing a Democratic primary electorate that craves a clear antiwar champion. When Stephanopoulos actually plays a clip of former senator Gary Hart calling for "one of those party leaders" who backed the war "to say, I made a mistake," the old C-SPAN Biden reappears:

First of all, for me to defend myself against Gary Hart is kind of ludicrous to begin with. I kind of resent it, to tell you the truth.

Stephanopoulos asks what's so bad about Gary Hart? Biden is so upset (perhaps recognizing that he's in the process of blowing it) that he has to stare down at his microphone to pull himself together. ... [Note: This part is at the end of the ABC video excerpt.]

P.S.: Senators rarely grow in office. Usually they just get more childish and egomaniacal! ...

P.P.S.: Biden's in less of a bind than Hillary, because as a potential presidential candidate he's not counting on the adoration of the party's left wing (or shouldn't be). Why isn't the way out of the Iraq bind, for him, to forthrightly defend the war and whatever tough-it-out strategy he favors? Where his strategy doesn't differ meaningfully from the Bush administration, say that.** It would be more honest than trying to bury his support for the war under scornful, faux-oppositional second-guessing of Bush's conduct of it. ...

P.P.P.S.: Columnist David Ignatius delivered the Beltway CW on Biden a couple of weeks ago:

The Democrats' problem is partly a lack of strong leadership. Its main spokesman on foreign policy has become Sen. Joseph Biden, a man who -- how to put this politely? -- seems more impressed with the force of his own intellect than an objective evaluation would warrant. Listening to Biden, you sense how hungry he is to be president, but you have little idea what he would do, other than talk . . . and talk.

When evaluating senators who live and work and go to dinner parties in Washington, the Beltway establishment is often right, I've found. They know these people better than the rest of us! The Beltway's especially reliable if you discount for its comical biases--e.g., treating respectable fixtures like Howard Baker and Robert Strauss as giants. Here, the obvious Beltway impulse would be to build Biden up into an admired elder statesman, and the fact that Washingtonians still think he's a middleweight blowhard has the credibility of a statement against interest. [Readers are writing to note that Biden doesn't live in Washington. He commutes from Wilmington, Delaware--ed Close enough! Maybe [the commuting] contributes to his unpopularity among the Beltway know-it-alls: he doesn't think their company is worth hanging around for.--reader J.R.  Maybe he doesn't hang around because he senses they can't stand him!]

**-- Here's Biden's big Brookings speech on Iraq. The only substantial difference with Bush, that I see, is Biden's call for establishing a "contact group" with "European and regional partners." They'd be given "a seat at the decision-making table." The payoff would be that Shia politicians could make concessions to the Sunnis and then tell their Shia constituents, "'The international community made me do it.'"  Arguably, that would go over better than, "The Americans made me do it." But Biden's basic strategy--stand up the Iraqi government and military, wean Sunni support away from the insurgents--is the same as Bush's. He should admit it. ...[But he also calls for "clear benchmarks"!--ed Classic makeweight Kabuki Congressional demand. When you have nothing else to say, call for "clear benchmarks" or a "new compact," or a timetable or some other gimmick. Biden has here arguably violated the Benchmark Proliferation Reduction Act by failing to append a Benchmark Proliferation Impact Statement to his speech.] 2:50 P.M. link

Stix Trix? Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and Nebraska each have higher median incomes than New York? I know New York City has lots of low-income workers. Still ... Update: These are figures for household income and I suspect they're affected by differences in average household size in different states. New York's households may have fewer people in them. Still! ...  [You originally dropped the "n" in "median"--ed I've done worse. A 1992 press release for my book emphasized its call for the creation of a "vast pubic sphere." They created that almost immediately! It's called the Web--ed Even outside the Internet, the policy proposal is still being implemented.] 1:54 A.M.

L.A.'s Brady Westwater finds New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin's performance less-than-Giulianiesque. Or even Riordanesque. ... 1:28 A.M.

Katrina Relief List:Instapundit has posted a list of ways to donate to Katrina Relief--including helpful recommendations of efficient aid outfits from trustworthy bloggers (something you almost certainly won't find in your local newspaper). ... P.S.: I'm assuming the American Red Cross has learned the lesson of its 9/11 debacle.   [See also this especially damning TNR article, and this unconvincing, contrarian defense ]... Update: See also N.Z. Bear's relief list. ... Mystery Pollster notes that the  Red Cross has the big advantage of being well positioned to achieve economies of scale. ...  11:26 P.M. link

Feiler never met Google Desktop: I just installed the highly-touted Google Desktop search engine because a friend of mine told me that it will change my life. It will. My computer is now running about half the speed it used to and I'm going to lose my job! I think I will now uninstall Google Desktop. [Update: Google gone. Speed back.] ... P.S.: Good to see Google picking up--i.e. overloading Windows with features it can't handle--where Microsoft is leaving off [$]. Perhaps that's their fiendish strategy for destroying Bill Gates. ... 10:07 P.M. link

"Titan Rain"--isn't that kind of a demoralizing name to give a suspected Chinese attempt to penetrate our computers and steal our military secrets? Is there any hope of resisting something called  "Titan Rain"? It could be the work of an Oriental mindermast. ... 10:58 P.M. link

Why isn't this big news? I must be missing something. It doesn't look like a hoax (though I would have more confidence if it were here). [Via Iraq the Model ]... Update: The article has now vanished, suspiciously, from Al Mendhar's site. It had said what Iraq the Model says it said--that Iraq's Ayatollah Sistani had

dropped a bomb by rejecting federalism and thus rejecting the constitution of the Kurdish-Sheat alliance putting the current ruling parties in a difficult position.
Sistani in his statement said "The Sunnis are your family. Stay by their side this time so that they stay by your side in the coming times…"

I can't find anyone else picking up on this report, so it may be epistemologically challenged. ... Wait! The Al Mendhar article has reappeared  with a new URL. It's listed on the Al Mendhar home page too. But shouldn't it be a banner headline?. ... P.S.: Juan Cole is apparently alluding to that story when he writes:

Despite a poorly sourced English-language report from an Iraqi newspaper, it is certain that Sistani strongly supports the new constitution, which says that the parliament may pass no civil legislation that contravenes Islamic law.

That's not the most iron-clad refutation I've ever read. But we'll see. ... 6:26 P.M. link

Spotty:Andrew Krepinevich's "oil spot" strategy may or may not be a good way to fight the war in Iraq. But Eduwonk thinks it's a good way to pursue education reform:

Instead of just supporting often isolated politicians who are constantly under attack or fighting hopeless guerilla warfare inside bureaucracies, establishing some oil spots in big cities, winning victories, and establishing some proof points ...

Wasn't that what Milwaukee was supposed to be--the "proof point" for school choice? ... In truth, I'm not sure the oil spot strategy works that well when you are confronting geographically pervasive, deeply entrenched bureaucratic interests, as opposed to mere armed insurgents. In manufacturing, for example, the "proof point" that relaxed work rules could produce high quality American goods was supposed to be GM's Saturn subdivision in Tennessee. In fact, Saturn succeeded. But the result wasn't that the Saturn model spread to other GM (or Ford) plants. The result was that the rest of GM--union and management--mobilized to make sure that Saturn got killed off as quickly as possible, a project they've almost completed. ... Similarly, the most successful welfare reform effort of the 1990s was Wisconsin's W-2 plan, with its public jobs component. Have other jurisdictions rushed to emulate W-2--as I, for one, expected? Not that I've noticed (with the exception of Guiliani's New York). ... 2:13 P.M. link

Cheap Dates at The New Yorker: Does Malcolm Gladwell believe that all health care copayments are a bad idea--an inappropriate invocation of the theory of "moral hazard" (i.e. the idea that if you have health insurance you'll consume more health care)? Should we all have first-dollar, no-copay plans like some UAW workers? If so--and Gladwell criticizes copayments as low as a $20 copay for a doctor visit--isn't he making more than an argument in favor of universal health care coverage? He would seem to be making an argument against many, perhaps most, of the universal health care coverage systems that have been proposed, which rely on copayments and deductibles to hold down the cost--including (I'm pretty sure) Hillary Clinton's plan. Gladwell might have a) explained this to his readers and b) either pointed out that this means universal health insurance will cost much more than people currently think, or else described an alternative means of cost control. Plus, even if copayments do discourage people from seeking benefiicial care, shouldn't Democrats be happy to settle for a cheaper universal health system with copays, at least as a start? ... 

On the other hand, why burden New Yorker readers with these complexities when you can just bash Bush's Health Savings Account plan?

P.S.: I'm willing to be convinced that copays discourage necessary care along with unnecessary care. But the assumption that they discourage mainly unnecessary care is not "plainly absurd," the position attributed to John Nyman, the University of Minnesota economist whose book Gladwell is discussing.** If people "go to the doctor grudgingly, because we're sick"--i.e. because we conclude we're sick--you'd think we could also conclude rationally when we're more sick and when we're less sick, when we really need of a doctor's visit (and never mind the copay) and when we have a cold we'll get over soon enough (so let's save the $20).  The anti-copay argument is hardly proven by pointing out that people with full insurance don't spend all their time at the hospital, or that --as Uwe Reinhardt puts it in Gladwell's article, "Moral hazard is overblown." "Overblown" isn't the same thing as "nonexistent." ... 

P.P.S.: Like many New Yorker policy articles, Gladwell's reads like a lecture to an isolated, ill-informed and somewhat gullible group of highly literate children. They are cheap dates. They won't think of the obvious objections. They won't demand that you "play Notre Dame," as my boss Charles Peters used to say, and take on the best arguments for the other side. They just need to be given a bit of intellectual entertainment and pointed off in a comforting anti-Bush direction. [Like highbrow sheep?--ed You said that.]

Supplemental reading: Here are excerpts from a Nyman article that indeed seems to be an argument against any copayment in many circumstances. Nyman also sketches some alternative cost-reduction strategies--including "global budgeting" to "slow the expansion of health care services down to levels closer to inflation and growth of the GDP." Global budgeting, at least as practiced in Canada, was trenchantly criticized in a 1992 WaPo article by ... Malcolm Gladwell. (See "Why Canada's Health Plan is No Remedy for America," Washington Post, March 22, 1992) ... .See also Gladwell's forceful, occasionally quirky defense of the American health care system  in 2000. ("I don't know that young men need health insurance.") [Thanks to Dr. M]

**--Has Nyman never heard of a "gomer"? 

Late hit: This is the second Gladwell article I've read that enthusiastically promotes the ideas in a book without grappling with even the obvious possible criticisms. (The other author given similar treatment was Judith Rich Harris). He's becoming the Cousin Brucie of the bien pensants! 9:59 P.M. link