Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The Blame Game

(And Other Indoor Sports)

     Nobody likes a tattletale. Or a whiner. Or a nag. Or a bearer of bad news. Or the guy who says, "I told you so." (OK, some people do) Why? My feeling is that people don't like to hear the Truth. People don't want to confront difficult questions about themselves. Not that everybody who nags or whines or points fingers is right. But hearing harsh criticism can force people to re-examine themselves and the beliefs they hold to be fact. And nobody likes to be wrong. Most people, in fact, like to be wrong so little that they never waver from their original beliefs no matter the evidence to the contrary. And it's enough people that Americans take it for granted that stubbornness and mulishness is a virtue. In 2004, one of GW's favorite words was "steadfast". In fact, when I typed in "Bush" and "steadfast" into Altavista, it returned 1.14 million results. (Of course, it turns out that when you type "Bush" and "idiot" you get 8 million results, so what the hell do I know?)
     Whatever. My point is that Americans passionately hate what Bush has so eloquently named, "The Blame Game". (Well, I guess that's not exactly true either, since I didn't hear very many Republican complaints over the past 15 years while Rush Limbaugh & Co. have blamed Clinton for everything from the recession to 9/11 to Natalee Holloway) And this administration has done an excellent job of playing on that sentiment to keep his head above the political waters. Remember in May when Donald Rumsfeld took "full responsibility" for Abu Ghraib prison torture? By full responsibility did he mean scot free? Bush has successfully kept people from wondering why 1800 American soldiers are dead in Iraq, why Bin Laden is still running around sending audio tapes to reporters, why all the dividend and estate tax cuts haven't produced a boom economy. Now the house of cards is coming down around him. And though I'm not particularly unhappy about that, it's fair to ask if it's right to point the finger at him.
     One of the Right's favorite tools is the straw man. What this means, generally, is that they will either misrepresent what their opponent is saying and attack them for that, or they will find the vilest supporter of their opponent and pretend they are the same. For example, in 2004, instead of attacking Kerry or lauding Bush, the Right wing media attacked Michael Moore, an easy target. "Michael Moore is a fat slob and he hates Bush. If you hate Bush, you're a fat slob too." Stupid stuff like that. They're actually really good at it and are most of the time are a whole lot subtler than that. So now, in the middle of the mother of all screwups (MOAS), the Right has jumped to attack position. The three pronged attack includes 1) Telling people not to play the "blame game", 2) Assigning blame to local (read: Democratic) authorities, and 3) Setting up a straw man, telling Americans that the Moonbats (read: Dems) are "blaming Bush for Katrina". Since the hurricane is obviously not the man's fault, obviously Bush is blameless, right? Of course, nobody on the left (except for the actual moonbats, but this author is slandering politicians and respected columnists) blames GW for the hurricane. But does he deserve blame for the aftermath?
     First, it didn't help that Bush cut funding for levee projects to help pay for Iraq and his tax cuts. New Orleans had to beg for $2 million of promised federal money to finish one project in 2004. Not $100 billion like we're looking at today, but $2 million. Now, there's no guarantee that any of this work would have prevented this disaster. The levees were rated for a category 3 storm, not a category 4. However, like the expiration date on milk, it's not an exact science. All I'm saying is, it didn't help to cut levee protection funding. And for those of you who don't think it's the federal government's job to protect New Orleans, keep in mind that one of the primary reasons the city is in this much trouble is because the Army Corp of Engineers has spent the last 100 years flushing silt that should have been building up storm-surge-protecting wetlands down into the Gulf of Mexico, over the continental shelf. (Where it will turn into oil in 100 million years) And why do they do this? So national commerce flowing down the Mississippi can flow. If anything fell under the Commerce Clause, this is it.
     Second, it didn't help that Bush has elevated cronyism to a fine art. He's not the first President to appoint his friends and donors to important positions and he won't be the last. But it's still a stupid thing to do and this time it came to bit America in the ass. We all know that Michael Brown, the ex-FEMA head, had no business running our national disaster recovery agency. He was completely unqualified, but luckily for him he was college roommates with Joe Allbaugh, the former FEMA head. Joe was Bush's chief of staff in Texas and his 2000 campaign manager, so we're probably lucky a major hurricane didn't hit between 2001 and 2003. Now Allbaugh is a lobbyist for Halliburton, where he lobbies FEMA for contracts. How many other vital organizations are headed by political cronies? (Note to wingnuts: just because someone else did it in the past doesn't make it right)
     Third, at a time when the nation needed to be reassured that the crisis was being handled, Bush was on vacation. I know he probably works very, very hard and deserves more vacation than any other president ever. But he should know better than anyone that the most important place for him to have been was in front of the American public reassuring them. That's what boosted him from an approval rating of under 50% in August 2001 to 90% by September 2001. (Despite the fact that even during the World Trade Center attacks, his advisors had to force him to stop reading to children so he could address the nation) It certainly didn't help that it took him three days to even look at the disaster area, while the press widely reported that he "cut his vacation short" by two days out of the 30-day vacation. When Justice Rehnquist died, Bush was on the scene immediately. So much of this nation's strength comes from it's confidence. Americans lost confidence after Bush dropped the ball.
     Fourth, it didn't help that Bush is allergic to environmental protection. If Louisiana had more wetlands, perhaps the storm surge wouldn't have been strong enough to topple the levees. If we weren't so dependent on oil, perhaps the damage to the oil pipelines and refineries wouldn't be sending the economy into a tailspin. And if we weren't pumping so much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, perhaps we could mitigate the more destructive storms that global warming is certain to produce. Now, of course Bush isn't directly responsible for any of these things. But his actions don't help. Opposing higher fuel standards didn't help. Opposing Kyoto didn't help.
     Fifth, Bush said he deserved blame. "I take responsibility," he said. Being the skeptic I am, I don't really believe those words mean anything. Apparently, the Right agrees with me, because instead of hold Bush responsible, they argue that he was not. They make fun of anyone who does point the finger, and in many cases, attacks them personally. Responsibility isn't just a pretty word. It means bearing the consequences. Taking responsibility for a disaster means admitting failure of sorts. If my kid robs a bank and I say, "I take full responsibility," I don't get a slap on the back and be told I'm a stand-up guy. I'm expected to pay back the money and take a punishment. Treat GW Bush like the adult he pretends to be.
     There's so much to write about this story, which ironically makes it more difficult to do so well. As far as the destruction goes, I don't hold Bush personally responsible. That's silly, and it's the kind of weak argument that Republican attack dogs love. I do think that Bush has been extraordinarily unhelpful towards efforts to prevent and recover from this disaster. The very best you could say is that Bush has had no effect on this situation. And that would be generous. But the President of the United States must do more than be ineffective. We didn't hire him to clear brush or look pretty on TV. We hired him to lead the country. I do blame him for not doing that.


ORF said...

Ok, I have not even read this manifesto yet and already I'm willing to concede defeat in the duel to which I challenged you this morning. Jesus H., Scott. That is some serious research, my man. You are most definitely at a loss for stuff to do at work, aren't you?

Scott said...

I told you, I've been fighting writers block on this for 3 days. There's just too much to write about with Katrina, and too many people already writing it. I bet you get more comments, though.

Ben said...

So basically, except that he didn't immediately fly to New Orleans, and that he had a friend lead FEMA, he did nothing wrong at all. I can accept that since cronyism is rampant in all parts of government, be it when Clinton was in office, or local governments (I'm sure New Orleans is full of nepotism).

I blame voters. Voters who, year after year after year, vote for people who make short-term promises. I can jsut about guarantee that no politician EVER won an election in Louisiana or anywhere else by saying, "I want to cut welfare and other social programs so we have enough to strengthen our levees."

Sylvana said...

Scott, this was a great post. I don't believe that Bush means that he takes responsibility either. His words were chosen very carefully to avoid actual responsibility.

Ben, that was truly shameful. Why does everyone who wants to try and protect Bush place the blame on the poor? Because they are easy targets that don't have the leverage to protect themselves?

Scott said...

No, no, Ben makes a good point. It's not Bush's fault because he can't help it. Why blame the idiot when you can blame the idiots who voted for him. That's very sweet of you to take the blame, Ben.

Ben said...

Look, I'm not just talkiing about welfare. I'm talking about all kinds of popular issues that, in the long run are far less important than things like reinforcing levees. Not just in Louisiana, but everywhere. What should I blame Bush for? For not fixing something that no one before him fixed, either? Why wouldn't it be Clinton's fault, or Reagan's? They've had plans to strenghten those levees since the 60's and it's never gotten anywhere because the people we elect pay attention to issues that get votes, and the voters are the ones that decide which issues they want to inform their vote. Sylvana, when did I say anything about the poor? I was talking about voters, do only poor people vote in your world?

Scott, what exactly are you blaming Bush for, besides appointing Mike Brown? And don't throw Kyoto in to this, you know that has absolutely nothing to do with any of this.

And, BTW, I can find examples from liberals of all the things you accuse conservatives of. That doesn't mean all liberals do that stuff, just as not all conservatives do the thing you accuse them of. I've seen plenty of politicians on both sides of the aisle apologize, as if that fixes everything.

sideshow bob said...

So all we had to do to protect the disproportionally poor hurricane victims was cut the social programs intended to help them out of poverty?

EC said...

I dislike the 'blame game' because the way it is carried out in modern politics is repugnant and doesn't solve any problems. While the Katrina hurricane (or any controversial event) is in the headlines, people will assign blame immediately so they don't miss the news cycle or because once another event happens, their opinions won't get as much coverage.

I think there are plenty of areas in the U.S. government budget that could have and still can be cut to pay for a levee. Why single out tax cuts or war? Is it because you think they are unnecessary? I can name many things that are unecessary, but you highlighted those two in order to blame Bush implicitly even after you denied it was his fault explicitly. Thus the blame game continues.

Your post was quite long, but somewhere I remember reading about fuel standards and Kyoto. I know that everyone who reads this blog is is an outstanding environmental citizen who forgo modern conveniences like air conditioning, heating, electricity, and cars because they consume energy which means coal or gas that form CO2. I know that we all utilize mass transit to commute to work and for shopping, or ride a bicycle, or live close enough to work so that we can walk. In so doing we decrease the amounts of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere. And while I'm at it, we have also all cancelled our subscriptions to newspapers so that we are saving trees. Yes, we have all done this. It's everyone else's fault that we have high levels of greenhouse gases, and only governments can pass laws to make them be environmentally conscious like we are. I would also like to say the words 'Halliburton!' and 'Bush!' because I almost forgot.

P.S. I didn't know Clinton was blamed for Natalee Holloway's disappearance. Do you listen to Rush a lot?

Jody said...

Forgive me for dropping my normal decorum - I'm a little testy as this is an especially vitriolic post that I'm responding to...

1. On the levees - funding went up under Bush as compared to Clinton. So it's a canard to say that funding was "cut". Not getting everything they asked for would be more accurate. Second, the ones that failed were the recently upgraded ones. So a fairer and better question would be what was wrong with the new construction and how can we correct that in the future?

2. Cronyism is ok as a line of attack, but it's not new (as you note) and the man (and the others you didn't mention) had been successfully on the job through several prior hurricanes which implies competence (however, falsifying a resume is grounds for firing in my book).

3. The whole vacation point is just silly on two levels. First, it wasn't til Tuesday that problems in New Orleans (and that's what we're really talking about here, not Mississippi, Alabama, or Florida - first landfall) became apparent. The next day (Wednesday) Bush did his flyover and addressed the nation. Second, vacations for Presidents only mean a change of scenery - the apparatus of the Executive Branch moves with the man whether traveling abroad or domestically.

Further the Rehnquist line apparently wasn't researched as Bush was in D.C. on the 3rd before Rehnquist's death (he died that night).

Also I'm reserving the right to go off on your characterization of "My Pet Goat" for some point in the future - it's just not salient here.

4. On the environment - 1) how much of a difference would Kyoto make in terms of the temperature change? I know and it's not much and would be unmeasurable since implementation. 2) On the wetlands - wouldn't have helped on the storm surge - it came from Lake Pontchartrain (which butts up against the city) which came from the sea. A better environmental point (that you refer to earlier) would've been that allowing the Mississippi to run free instead of being channeled into levees would've allowed for silt to be deposited in New Orleans to help keep it from sinking (however this implies regular small scale flooding and probably the river changing course so that New Orleans would no longer be a port). 3) You're just wrong on Bush opposing higher fuel standards (that's the august 23 announcement by the whitehouse that they wanted higher fuel standards. I, however, oppose hugher fuel standards.). 4) I also think it's a gross miscaricaturization to say that Bush is allergic to environmental protection. I also disagree that Katrina will send the economy into a "tailspin". The Gulf is just not that big a part of our economy and gas prices have already dropped back down.

5. On the blame - Bush took responsibility for any failings in the federal response. I believe those words were chosen carefully as I believe outside of typical bureaucratic nonsense (which I believe is endemic to government), the federal response went rather well.

Sylvana said...

Ben, don't be silly. You were implying that if it weren't for the payments to the poor (WELFARE AND OTHER SOCIAL PROGRAMS) that there would have been enough money to fix the levees properly.

Ben said...

I merely used welfare and social programs as an example in a quote. Sorry I didn't find some all-encompassing quote for you, but I was tlaking about voters in general, you decided to take the implication that I was attacking the poor because I'm conservative so I'm obviously racist and anti-poor.

Jody and Howard, you guys rock. Better analysis than me.

I wonder why Scott never mentioned how the governor would not allow the Red Cross to drop supplies at the Superdome. Talk about a good way to save lives....

Scott said...

Ben, because I did mention that I don't care what the governor did or did not do. She's not my governor. You're just trying to deflect criticism from Bush, whose actions I do care about.
Jody, 1) I was not comparing levee funding to the Clinton administration. In fact, I didn't compare Bush to Clinton at all, only to our own expectations of what Bush's performance should have been. Your characterization that they merely did not get as much money as they asked for is misleading. They did not get as much money as they were told they were getting - money that had already been approved for levee strengthening and studies. 2) Brown did not, in fact, "successfully" or "competently" work through other hurricanes. There were calls to fire Brown after last year's hurricanes because many of the "aid workers" he brought in to peoples' homes and into shelters were violent criminals with easily researchable backgrounds, putting vulnerable victims at risk. 3) I don't believe the whole vacation thing is that silly. People want to know that their elected leaders care. Whether or not Bush did care (and I'm sure he probably did), he had a funny way of showing it. Consider this: he reportedly has a standing policy to be awakened any time an American is killed abroad (although presumeably not for soldiers in Iraq). Why should a disastrous hurricane be less important? At the very least, he could have flown over the city that day to show his support before making his trips out west. He just showed that he's out of touch - which is the same thing that sunk his father in 1992. 4) There's too much to talk about here. I'll just say that of course Kyoto's impact would have been virtually non-existent in this case. But it may affect hurricanes 10 years from now. My point is that he has a record of doing unhelpful things with respect to hurricanes, not that he's personally responsible for the destruction. 5) And as much as Right-wingers are going to spin this as "federal agencies are too mired in red tape to work", the Truth is that they can work, but not when they're kneecapped by incompetent leaders appointed because they were roommates with an old friend of the President.

Sylvana said...

Ben, you can try to deflect attention from your anti-poor stance by claiming that I am just stereotyping you, but I am going by your own words- not stereotypes. You said "I can jsut about guarantee that no politician EVER won an election in Louisiana or anywhere else by saying, 'I want to cut welfare and other social programs so we have enough to strengthen our levees.'"

Whether you want to admit it or not, you are implying in this statement that if it weren't for welfare and other social programs costing so much, there would have been enough to strengthen the levees. These programs are used to protect the poor- especially welfare which you explicitly mention. You are essentially saying that it is the poor people's fault, because if we didn't have to pay into these programs to help them, then the money would have been there to strengthen the levees.

Ben said...

Whatever Sylvana. Change he quote to "I'm going to cut funding for a new football stadium that we were going to use to attract a Superbowl in order to strengthen the levees" and my point still stands. Respond to the substance of an argument, not the semantics.

You know, government failed in some respects at all levels from the mayor to the governor to the federal government. The Army Corps of Engineers messed up, FEMA messed up, the Mayor couldn't even follow his own evacuation plan. If ever there was an argument for smaller government, this is it.

Jody said...

It's almost all opinions in the response so there's little for me to factually refute, so I'll just reword your first three opinions (I believe accurately, but in a less favorable light) and then comment on the last two...

1. You don't think that the fact that funding increased under Bush is relevant to a discussion of Bush's handling (and our expectations) of funding decisions with respect to the levees. I would differ.

2. You criticize Brown for not running background checks (which at best take days for each person) and criticize the slow response when background checks were run this time. I expect problems.

3. You don't see a difference in how a President should respond to deaths in a war he personally ordered and a natural disaster. To tweak you a little bit, does this mean that you think Bush is God? Or just Sir August de Wynter?

Side note: you know that grocery store scanner story for GHW Bush was bogus, right? I bring this up because that was the example bandied about during the 92 election of how out-of-touch Bush was and I'm assuming it had a significant impact on shaping your opinion.

4. Particularly as the previous supporting examples were in error, I think some sort of new supporting examples are in order if you want to make the case that Bush has a record of doing unhelpful (and here I assume you really mean damaging) things with respect to hurricanes.

I also don't think Kyoto would make a hill of beans (pinto - garbanzo beans don't stack well) difference to hurricanes over the next 10 years or for that matter 100 years. Let's be generous and use the highest impact projection for Kyoto's reduction in the increase of temperature increase over the next 50 years - 0.28 C. We can even be really generous to the timeline and assume the entire impact would've occured this year. How much difference do you think 0.28C would make to the frequency and strength of hurricanes over the next 10 or 50 years assuming that we're able to have that impact throughout the period?

5. With just an assertion, you'll have a hard time convincing this libertarian that government (at every level) doesn't stumble from one blunder to the next (I like federalism because, among other reasons, I believe it contains the blunders). I will note that there are certain tasks the government can do well (Hoover dam and the military comes to mind), and certain tasks that the government has to do (e.g., provide for the common defense).

However, the non-political bureaucracies which make up the bulk of government have no competitive incentive to perform and thus tend towards inefficiency over time (heavy unionization doesn't help much either at the individual bureaucrat level). Politicians do have some competitive pressures to perform, although this is expressed in a a duopoly which is not as efficient as a market. :(

Thrillhous said...

Great post!

As far as the vacation thing goes, if Bush truly is able to fulfill his executive responsibilities while in Crawford, why did he bother to cut his vacation short? I think the answer would be either (a) that he actually couldn't fully do his job from the ranch or (b) that he (or his handlers) realized it was important for his image that he appear to be on the job.

If the answer is (a), then there is clearly something wrong with taking frequent and long vacations. If the answer is (b), then the prez and his handlers agree with what Scott and many others have said: in a time of crisis, the president should show that he cares. It's just the president's team was a bit slow on the uptake

ORF said...

Um, Jody, did you borrow that word "miscaricaturization" right out of Dubya's own dictionary?

Scott is really spot on about his assessment that Bush is antithetical to environmental causes. Don't kid yourself, Bush is NOT the steward of the land he so gloriously claims to be. Just because he knows how to properly start a controlled brush fire does not mean he's into saving the environment by any stretch of the imagination. Let's just assess the latest energy bill, shall we: $13.1 billion in tax breaks for greenhouse gas emitting industries, including $4 billion for an oil industry that is already enjoying multi-billion dollar profits. To say nothing of the push to sign ANWR and its measly six-month petroleum supply away at the expense of millions of acres of natural habitat and wildlife. National park spending has been slashed, logging roads in old growth forests re-opened, and clean water protections for 20 million acres of American wetlands and tens of thousands of miles of streams, lakes and ponds have been removed since Bush took office.

As far as Kyoto is concerned, Bush Greenwatch ( published this story today:
"...a study just published in the journal Nature reports that the power--and hence the destructive force--of hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean has more than doubled in the past 30 years, with an unusually strong spike since 1995. "The large upswing is unprecedented and probably reflects the effect of global warming," said MIT climate scientist Kerry Emmanuel, who conducted the study.

Emmanuel's findings echo a 2004 study conducted by NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association) of the U.S. Department of Commerce. NOAA found that "greenhouse-gas induced warming may lead to a gradually increasing risk in the occurrence of highly destructive category-5 storms." It added that, "The strongest hurricanes in the present climate may be upstaged by even more intense hurricanes over the next century as the earth's climate is warmed by increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere." NOAA has also reported that hurricane activity in the Atlantic has been higher than normal for 9 of the past 11 years, and that this year could see as many as 11 hurricanes there, in contrast to the typical six.

The growing consensus on a link between warmer oceans and stronger hurricanes has led to renewed criticism of the Bush administration's refusal to take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. President Bush stated in June, 2001 that "My administration's climate policy will be science based."

But one year later Mr. Bush ridiculed a new study by his own EPA as "a report put out by the bureaucracy," and removed it from a submission to the United Nations. When a 2003 EPA report stated that "Climate change has global consequences for human health and the environment," the White House removed the sentence."

I agree it's a stretch to say if/then about Bush having not signed Kyoto and thus causing the hurricane. However, a few years of emitting greenhouse gasses CAN make a difference and we'd be wise to start considering it pronto!

Oh, and Howard, I do not own a car. I recycle. I take public transportation every day and walk when I can. I occasionally bike to places. I don't have air conditioning in my apartment and do my best to conserve electricity, much to my mother's chagrin who is convinced I am born of mole people. I DID happen to cancel my subscription to the Times because I can get it online and at work. And, you forgot to mention this, but it's valid: I take canvas bags to the supermarket, where I buy a lot of organic products. I'm not saying I deserve a metal for being environmentally conscious, but the thing is that it's really easy to do most of those things (public transit is different b/c I happen to live in NYC but a lot of people do not have this option, I realize).

The problem lies in the fact that the government doesn't move a muscle to encourage people to do be environmentally conscious. What about tax cuts for people who opt for public transit or recycle or reduce their electricity usage by a certain number of kilowatt hours per year? Or how about subsidizing transit more heavily to make it a very cheap alternative to driving? Or, taxing cars and gas even more?

Ben said...

For every one scientist that thinks that hurricanes are experienceing a MAJOR boost due to greenhouse gasses, I can find ten that think recent hurricane strength is cyclical and no worse than 30 years ago. And millions of acres in ANWR? Sorry, that's just false. The footprint would be significantly smaller than that.

And don't attack Bush for the latest energy bill. Congress writes that. Maybe if liberals were so concerned about the environment, they'd stop filibustering judicial nominations and start arguing against the energy bill, but they lifted nary a finger. And, just anecdotally, it's hilarious to go to San Francisco, which I think we can all agree has a very liberal populace, yet that doesn't stop the streets from being filled with gas guzzling SUVs.

Incidentally, the HUGE amount of GDP we would lose if we implemented a ridiculous strategy like Kyoto would severely cramp the funding of most left wing nanny programs, all while reducing greenhouse emissions a neglible amount. Let's use that extra money in our GDP to find better solutions to problems than "Everything is Bush's fault."

Thanks for pointing out the logistical nightmare of Katrina-like operations. No emergency manager on Earth has experienced something like what happened, and the results are less than 1000 dead so far, which has got to be pretty damn good considering a city flooded and a category five hurricane wiped out an area the size of the UK. I'm results based, and all your anti-Bush whining won't change the fact that what lives were lost in N.O. could have been saved if the mayor had followed his own evacuation plan.

EC said...

Ohreally factor, you shouldn't correct people's spelling and then write something like 'metal' when you meant 'medal'. And I commend you on your dedication to the environment. I do those exact same things but disagree strongly with your beliefs. I do not think people should be forced to act as we act, and I do think they are ignorant or stupid if they do not.

However, many among us are irresponsible and make bad decisions in our own lives (even though we think we may be brilliant). Our elected officials are no different, but when they are irresponsible or just wrong, they can put you in jail or fine you or worse. And the bureaucrats who we do not elect (and do not know) have as much power. Further they are slow to act on existing legislation (as we have seen at the both local, state, and federal levels) and they are even slower to enact new legislation. Can we wait for them to act before we ourselves act, and are we incapable of making our own decisions without them making us do something we may not want?

You gave a list of things that you do without, but a creative lawmaker can easily come up with many more things that you might not give up as quickly.

How much decrease should there be in CO2 production to prevent some of the doomsday predictions has not been answered by science, nor has there been conclusive evidence (and correlation does not equal causation is the popular saying). The three decade long cooling period between the 40's and 60's contradicts much of the human caused global warming claims (since fossil fuel usage largely began in the late 1800's) and has not been explained to my knowledge. The contradiction between surface and atmospheric temperatures is only recently being addressed by scientists.

EC said...

the last clause in the first paragraph should read:

I do NOT think they are ignorant or stupid if they do not.

Otto Man said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Otto Man said...

And don't attack Bush for the latest energy bill. Congress writes that.

Pete Dominici was the technical author of the bill, but if you think he didn't get direction from the White House -- after Cheney's secret meetings with industry folks, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham's heavy lobbying, etc. -- you're either disingenuous or a little naive.

Here, check out the White House press release on the signing of the bill. Note how many times they refer to it as "the President's energy plan."

Otto Man said...

cronyism is rampant in all parts of government, be it when Clinton was in office

True, but traditionally, political cronies were placed in meaningless government positions -- big donors became the ambassador to Lichtenstein or went to the mother of all patronage sites, the Department of Commerce. Bush broke new ground by putting incompetent cronies in positions where their lack of qualifications could hurt people.

Take FEMA. Clinton put James Lee Witt in there, a man with emergency management experience and a man who staffed FEMA with professionals. Bush put in Allbaugh, his 2000 campaign manager; Brown, fired from the International Arabian Horse Association; and below him, two staff leaders who had "experience" respectively in running advance events for the Bush-Cheney campaign and producing its ads.

Cronyism has always been a part of government, but usually the incompetents were kept in the back room.

Jody said...

Ohreally: Yes miscaricaturization is a neologism and an intentional one at that (i.e., I'm using the word to say that it's an inaccurate cartoonish depiction of Bush).

Now to your points on Bush, the environment and hurricanes.

First, outside of the Kyoto discussion, none of your points relate to Bush "having a record of doing unhelpful things with respect to hurricanes". So let's stay there for a moment. That the # of hurricanes has increased over the last 30 years is every bit as misleading as my saying that hurricanes are down over the last 50. The truth of the matter is there's a longer hurricane cycle and we're in the upswing that was predicted several years ago.

Second your scorecard on the energy bill is remarkably one-sided. Let's look at the pro-environment side. Just pasting in the bill:

Establishes new energy efficiency standards for a wide variety of consumer products and commercial appliances, and offers tax incentives to encourage their purchase
# Encourages improved efficiency in homes and buildings, establishes new aggressive Federal energy savings goals, and reauthorizes the Energy Savings Performance Contract program to conserve more energy at Federal facilities
# Offers tax incentives to consumers to purchase energy-efficient hybrid, clean diesel, and fuel cell vehicles
# Requires a new, multi-year rulemaking by the Department of Transportation to increase fuel economy standards for passenger cars, light trucks, and SUVs

# Establishes a new Renewable Fuel Standard that requires the annual use of 7.5 billion gallons of ethanol and biodiesel in the nation's fuel supply by 2012
# Extends the existing tax credit for production of electricity from renewable resources, such as wind, biomass, and landfill gas, and creates for the first time a tax credit for residential solar energy systems
# Authorizes full funding for the President's Hydrogen Fuel Initiative
# Provides Federal risk insurance and extends the Price-Anderson Act to mitigate the potential cost of unforeseen delays and encourage investment in a new generation of safer, more reliable, and more proliferation-resistant nuclear power plants...

Working with our international partners - including fast growing nations like China and India - to encourage them to deploy the cleanest and most efficient energy technologies as they develop and grow their economies

So maybe, your thumb is on the scales just a teensy bit? (Also based on some of your comments I'm really interested in your view of whether man serves the environment or the environment serves man. It's a normative question, so there's no objectively right or wrong answer. But I'm curious.)

On the EPA and Bush, you left out the part that the sentence was replaced with this graph.

"The complexity of the Earth system and the interconnections among its components make it a scientific challenge to document change, diagnose its causes, and develop useful projections of how natural variability and human actions may affect the global environment in the future."

Otto Man said...

The administration's efforts towards alternative energy are nice for PR, but won't do much to affect things on the ground.

Which is why the grandiose promises in the president's plan were dismissed as
"bullshit" -- by a leading House Republican, no less.

Sylvana said...

Ben, I'm not trying to demonize you. I'm just telling you how what you are saying sounds outloud. You are accusing the voters of not voting for the right person. The person that would make the right decisions. Like prioritizing the levee above feeding it's people. Those programs are no more frivilous than securing the levees. These things are obviously not a luxury as we have seen. The whole country has been faced with the reality of the plight of the poor in the US. If those programs were cut to fund the levees, well then you might as well tell the poor "Well, you won't die by drowning- just starving to death on the streets." There are many other things that should be cut before even considering those programs. That's why I found it telling that it was the first thing that you thought of. I'm sure you can understand if that is the choice that the voters would be faced with, well, that would put them between a rock and a hard place. I wouldn't blame them for voting for food now instead of levee security from a storm that may never occur in their lifetime.

If you really don't feel that welfare and other social programs are frivolous, to the extent that you would give them up to enforce the levees, then just say that. Doesn't make sense to me, I guess. Now prioritizing above football, OK, I can buy that.

One other thing, Ben. How would smaller government help? The smaller the parts the more chaotic the situation. That's why we as humans create civilizationa in the first place- to gain a more over-all organized structure for better survival. Animals in an organized herd or flock fair better than those left in smaller groups or to fend for themselves. I think, this actually shows that the government isn't well organized. Not so much that it needs to be bigger or smaller, just more organized.

EC said...

Sylvana, I enjoyed your last comment because I think it really points out the differences in opinions between the two sides as i see them in the limited government debate (how we got there starting from the blame game is another story, and we can continue this discussion on another thread on your blog if you would like to).

I believe we establish government to protect our fundamental human rights; these are life, liberty, and property. In the U.S. constitution specifically, our government was given certain powers in order to do it that are spelled out in no uncertain terms. The level of concentrated power that would be required to organize all people's behaviors is not given to our governments, and I would be very fearful of it. People rarely give up power once acquired, and therefore I would wish to limit it and make it very, very difficult to increase.

Taking away from one and giving to another is a power, and a very corruptible one (not one that was originally granted to our government). When I give my own money to another, I do not accrue or give up any power. I do not force anyone to give as much or as little as I give. During hard times, I may give much more, and during bad times, and can give less. These decisions I can make for myself much better than someone who has never met me and has his own life issues to sort out.

A hurricane may cause suffering and destroy property, but it is a short lived event that strikes unpredictably and at limited areas. How can you plan for one? How can one person or even several dozen plan for everyone? But a government with the power to take away property and cause suffering can do so all the time, everywhere and from everyone.

ORF said...

Forgive me Howard, Thursdays are my day to pretend to be like the rest of you. That is: fallible...

Anyway, Jody, I suspected that that's what you were trying to do. Very clever!

As for your clip, I think you're actually pasting in what the White House's spin zone has put on it's public website for consumption. It's not exactly what the bill itself says, but rather how the administration would like to advertise it. And I think we can all agree that they have a penchant for advertising indeed, non? In re the energy bill and Bush’s take on it, here’s some food for thought. The bill includes a provision that Bush opposed: $1 billion to go to states with offshore drilling platforms for coastal improvement work. The bulk of this money, $540 million, is intended to go to Louisiana. Fortunately, although perhaps too late, Congress overruled Bush’s opposition.

Ben, liberals DID fight to prevent the energy bill from containing anything about ANWR. And they won. Repeatedly. PACs and policy offices like the one at Audubon, where I work, fought tooth and nail for nearly two decades to prevent ANWR from being opened and they were successful until it was written into the budget bill at the end of the most recent session. This was a sneaky thing because budget bills cannot be filibustered, effectively tying the hands of environmentalists. Tactics included countless meetings with Senators, mailing campaigns, petitions, encouraging people to call their local officials and grassroots campaigns. I'd say that's lifting quite a few fingers.

Jody said...

Ohreally: The house characterization, the wikipedia characterization and the actual text all line up behind Bush's "advertising".

Ben said...

So the flood revealed that we have a lot fo poor people. Well since I keep hearing that 17% of our country is below the poverty line, I knew we had plenty of poor people. I believe, and feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, that's a higher percentage than before the Great Depression, and thus before so many of these social programs were enacted. Anyway, far less than 17% of New Orleans was left in the city, "too poor to get out," so I guess we really have less poor than people tell us. I see lots of poor people not as people that need more welfare, but less. We've tried adding more and more assistance, and we have more poor people as a result. How about we try the other way, which has never happened. Shrink government and programs and get these people to stop waiting for help from the government and start helping themselves. Your way hasn't worked anywhere, and is currently screwing up the economies of western Europe (which are being spanked by the more free market eastern European countries).

We ought to drill in ANWR. The footprint won't hurt more than a couple of caribou, there's still many millions more acres for them. Just like the Alaskan pipeline, the uproar is overblown.

Jody said...

Since I'm playing fact checker...

Ben, the poverty line is 12.7%. I think it's a silly statistic, but it's not 17%.

Ben said...

I could have sworn I heard 17%, but maybe that was just local or something. I concede.

Sylvana said...

Ben, I couldn't find any poverty rates on the Great Depression. I don't think that those rates were measured until the 60s when the War on Poverty began. But I did find this:

"Has poverty changed over time?

In the late 1950s, the poverty rate for the total U.S. population was 22.4 percent, or approximately 39.5 million individuals. These numbers declined steadily throughout the 1960s, reaching a low of 12.1 percent, or 24.1 million individuals, by 1969. For the next decade, the poverty rate fluctuated between 11.1 and 12.6 percent, but began to rise steadily again in 1980. By 1983, the number of poor individuals had risen to 35.3 million individuals, or 15.2 percent of the population.

For the next ten years, the poverty rate remained above 12.8 percent, and had climbed to 15.1 percent, or 39.3 million individuals, by 1993. The rate declined dramatically for the remainder of the decade, to 11.3 percent by 2000, before rising slightly in 2001, to 11.7 percent." [link]

So while Democrats were in office, the poverty rate fell. While Republicans were in office, the poverty rate rose. So, maybe the liberals know what they are doing as far as reducing poverty.

And during Clinton's run, according to the US Department of Justice, over all crime steadily dropped to a twenty year low. Murder was at a forty year low. While, since Bush has been in office, both of these- crime and poverty- have risen dramatically. And the Republicans have had control of all three branches.

I think I'd rather live in the Democratic world. The statistics look pretty good for everyone.

Sylvana said...

Ben, that might have been a local rate. The poverty rates in different areas can differ dramatically. New Orleans had a 30% poverty rate.

EC said...

The goal of the 'Great Society' was not to reduce poverty. It was to end poverty. And it appears from your link which only reports data from '59 to '01, that poverty was decreasing before Johnson's tenure, and if anything, he slowed down the rate of decrease. I also disagree with your interpretation of the other trends, Sylvana.

I propose that instead of focusing on the perceived 'good' of a program such as welfare, which is prone to confirmational bias, that you also focus on the 'bad'. How much money was taken from people in order to get people out of poverty, and what could have been with that money otherwise. The money could been invested by its owner to create jobs, saved for retirement (making it available for investment), paid for their children's educations, or paid for medical needs.

canis lupus said...

What can I say, Scott. On the head (for most of it). Now I've seen a lot of Rep/right word wrangling about this. Somebody said that they "knew" that 17% of the folks in this country existed below poverty lines. Fair enough. My gripe is, all that "moral value" swagger that was televised for the last 4-5 years was revealled as nothing more than good old fashioned Pharisee-type hypocrisy. When you can tune into the television and see scenes reminiscent of those Third World countries ... right here on American soil, ummm ... there is some moral (and spiritual) deficiencies here. And as to blame, there is enough blame to go around. Feel free to start blaming ourselves for listening to politicians and pundits when we should've stepped out of our "comfort" zones and listen to the plight of our fellow citizens. When a few people object, it's a grudge. When it is millions, it is a problem that needs addressing. Somewhere along the line, we forgot that and revelled in that fact that our "parties" had our back. If we don't get it now, we seriously screwed. There is no way anyone with a shred of decency can "wrangle" their way out of this. Feel free to tear me to shreds.

Jody said...

Sylvana, first you're right that I'm quoting the national rate. New Orleans is probably higher, though I don't know the NO rate off the top of my head.

Second, you've got a pretty loose definition of "dramatically" for the increase in the poverty rate (one point?!?). Also before asserting politics as the cause, it might be an idea to see how the timing of your chosen statistics line up with economic cycles. (12.8 shortly after a recession, 12.7 shortly after a recession... hmmm....)

Then you're just wrong on the crime rate. It has not risen dramatically. In fact it's continuing to fall.

I think a lot of this is attributable to mandatory and tougher sentencing requirements (if you're still in jail, you can't engage in recidivism which naturally reduces the crime rate).

This then leads to the interesting facts that the Clinton admin did lots of conservative things (e.g., mandatory sentencing, welfare reform, NAFTA) and the Bush admin is doing lots of liberal things (e.g., Medicare prescription drugs- a colossally bad idea in my opinion, AIDS in Africa (not that expensive and appears to be with enough oversight), and as I pointed out in this post lots of greenish environmental incentive programs).

Instead of realizing that they were Presidents they could work with, partisans on boths sides demonized (or are demonizing) the men while they were/are in office. Of course, partisans are more concerned with their team winning than actual issues, so perhaps that's not so surprising.

Sylvana said...

Jody, I take back the dramatic crime rate increase under Bush since I can't find my original statistic source and I just found another
that backs up your argument that it didn't increase dramatically. But I stand by that it did go up. While under 8 years of Clinton, there was a steady fall.

As for the poverty not being a dramatic increase- I think the extra 3 million people pushed into poverty since Bush took office would argue with you.

Ben said...

Obviously I was dead wrong about the poverty rates, but I do want to make two unrelated points:

1. Of course New Orleans looked like a 3rd world country. It freaking flooded after a 100 year storm, what did you expect? Anywhere on Earth is going to look like crap after a huge natural disaster.

2. There's another theory about the crime rate falling that y'all didn't mention. Roe v. Wade. The crime rate really began to fall about the time that someone who got aborted that might previously have been born would have turned 20 or so, which I'm pretty certain is prime time for a felony for lifelong criminals. Who was getting aborted? Probably a high percentage would have been born to low income single mothers. Because of Roe v Wade (which I disagree with, it ought to be state by state, though this crime theory makes that look bad), a lot of people who were very high risk to become criminals were never born.

Sylvana said...

I also find it interesting that the recessions in the last 50+ years seem to coincide with Republican presidents in office.

Sylvana said...

Oops, here is that link to the crime statistics.
Or here if the link doesn't take again!:

Sylvana said...

BTW, Scott, you so totally won this duel!!

Jody said...

On Roe v Wade - that's from Freakonomics, and it's just wrong. If abortions (as opposed to sentencing) drove the drop in crime, then you would expect a corresponding drop in the incarceration rate (the assertion is that there would be fewer criminals). However, more sentencing would be consistent (though not proven by) with an increase in the incarceration rate.

So what does the incarceration rate look like> A steady increase until recently.

Also interesting to note is that this increase in incarceration rate begins right around Roe (was flat for decades prior). This would be consistent with the assertion that increased availability of abortions was detrimental to families (particularly urban families).

Jody said...

"I also find it interesting that the recessions in the last 50+ years seem to coincide with Republican presidents in office."

I've heard that before. I imagine you've also heard the rejoinder "But it takes a Democrat to turn a recession into a Depression."
(mmm... cheap points by equating correlation with causation...)

Jody said...

I should also point out that crack had a lot to do with the rise in the 80s, so my explanation shouldn't be treated as the only major factor. That's one of the big problems in sociology - too many variables with ill-defined equations...

Scott said...

I appreciate the props, Sylvana, but I don't really consider this a duel. Not since Mike left, anyhow. I feel very lucky to have people contributing to this conversation, including you and ORF and SSB. I'm very glad to have Jody, whom I usually tend to agree with more often than not, and Howard, both of whom bring good common sense and logical responses to the argument. (And don't take this to mean I don't value the contributions of Ben, Otto, or Thrillhous - and I especially welcome first-time commenters Thrillhous and Howard - we all bring a different perspective to the table. I do try to be inflammatory. CSPAN doesn't get good ratings for a reason, and what good is broadcasting your POV if nobody reads? Besides, if y'all don't comment, then it's just me in an acho chamber.
So does it sound like too much liberal wishy-washy relativistic feel-good rubbish if I say we're all winners?

Jody said...

"So does it sound like too much liberal wishy-washy relativistic feel-good rubbish if I say we're all winners?"

Cue: "The More You Know Music"

Sylvana said...

Oh, yeah. I change my statement. Those recessions don't "seem" to coincide. They really do coincide.

Jody, you are right. Correlation does not equal causation. And I never said that the correlation proved that Republicans caused recessions. I'm just saying it is interesting is all. As any correlation that strong should be.

Sylvana said...

And the longest Depression was under a Republican. 43 months, compared to the Democrats 18 months and 13 months each.

Herbert Hoover spent his whole presidency in a depression. I mean, an economic depression, but who knows? That could have made him depressed.

You can't say that a Democrat created the depression and he just stepped into it, either. He was preceded by two Republicans.

ORF said...

You know, Jody, you're right. We should do away with studying society altogether. Sociology is meaningless. We learn nothing by studying behavioral patterns or how human beings interact. So. Totally. Worthless. TOTALLY!!!!

Oh, and Scott...I totally knew you'd win ;)

Ben said...

I don't think you can really compare Republican Presidencies leading up the Great depression with Republicans today. If you do that then you have to say that all Democrats are racist slaveholders, members of the KKK, or really in to segregation. We all know that's not true.

I think we all know the recession under Bush the Younger was not cuased by him, but instead by the tech bubble and other assorted things. You might be able to argue that lingering effects are his fault, though I'd disagree.

Back to the blame game, what about the millions of dollars of FEMA money that the LA Times reports went missing? This money was given to them for disaster preparedness and evacuation plans. Too bad the local government didn't use it that way.