Friday, September 30, 2005

In Defence of Jim Hoagland

OK OK it is obvious that I am pathetically trying to get the attention of someone half my age and, therefore commenting on every post by Matt Yglesias. He is rather hard on Jim Hoagland here.
Basically he claims Hoagland contradicts himself, because Hoagland has lost interest in the actual meaning of statements and writes on automatic pilot.

However I would like to point out in Hoagland's defence that

[crickits chirp sun rises sun sets]

OK I can't do it. Defend Bill Bennett. Check. Defend John Abizaid. Check. Defend Jim Hoagland. Even I have my limits.
In Defence of John Abizaid or
Matthew Yglesias seems to have a bad case of amnesia.

Matthew Yglesias is rather hard on the general here

General Abizaid seems to have a bad case of doublethink:

Because the American presence itself provokes antagonism, he said, Americans would need to "reduce our military footprint in the region," but could do so only after stabilizing Afghanistan and Iraq, deterring Syria and Iran, and protecting the flow of oil.

Obviously, the extent to which the American military presence in the Middle East does more to provoke violence than to prevent it is controversial. Indeed, in some ways Abizaid is to be congratulated for breaking the taboo on discussions of this point in mainstream circles. On the other hand, if you do think it's provocative, then surely you can't think we should start doing something about it after we stabilize Iraq, deter Iran and Syria is some unspecified way, and complete the amorphous mission of "protecting the flow of oil." Especially if our deployments themselves are terrorgenic, then this is a set of things we're going to be finished doing a week or so after never.

Abizaid is an army officer and is not allowed to speak freely. In particular he can't explain what mistake he is arguing against. I would say it is reasonably clear that he is basically saying that it would be useful to convince Iraqis that the US does not seek a permanent pressence in Iraq and that one necessary step to achieving that goal is to "you know not seek permanent military bases in Iraq."

This reasonable argument is perfectly consistent with all of Abizaid's statement. Thus Abizaid is not contradicting himself or engaging in double think. His position appears to be "counterinsurgency yes, permanent bases in Iraq no, permanent bases somewhere else to protect the oil lanes yes."

Now I think the bit in quotation marks is a quote of someone making exactly the same argument that I think Abizaid made. I tried to google here, but there were too many hits of Matthew Yglesias saying more or less exactly the same thing that Abizaid said for me to be willing to spend the time to find the exact quote even assuming it was at TPM cafe and not one of his three or four or whatever other blogs.
The Defence of Bill Bennett and the Half Blood Prince

Brad DeLong and Matthew Yglesias note that Bill Bennett's outrageous statement is clearly true and that his point was to argue against considering consequences and not rights when debating abortion. Yglesias writes

"But I do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could -- if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down."

Not only is Bennett clearly not advocating a campaign of genocidal abortion against African-Americans, but the empirical claim here is unambiguously true. Similarly, if you aborted all the male fetuses, all those carried by poor women, or all those carried by Southern women, the crime rate would decline.

OK that's good Matt but if you want a reductio ad absurdam so absurd that it is clear even to US Senators of Bennett's reductio ad absurdam why stop a quarter measures. It is clear that if all babies were aborted, the crime rate would plummet in about 16 years. At least it is reasonable to surmise this, since older teenagers and young adults commit many more crimes than middle aged and elderly adults.

There would, of course, be presumably undesirable side effects such as the extinction of humanity, but the crime rate sure would drop.

Of course, to be fair to Senator Reid, he clearly understands what Bennett said, understands how closely the public is parsing Bennett and is playing hard ball. Finally to be totally fair to Bill Bennett, when I think of Bill Bennett I do wonder whether extinction of humanity which would give evolution another chance to produce intelligent decent life forms would be a bad thing.
Rove is in trouble

Judith Miller has agreed to talk. This means that Fitzgerald and the grand jury might consider the investigation completed and issue indictments. More importantly, Miller's "source" was Scooter Libby. One way in which Rove might have avoided breaking the intelligence identities protection act (and maybe even the espionage act) is by learning Valerie Plame Wilson's true employer from a journalist hence not via his security clearance. The legal significance of this possibility is controversial, but Rove clearly hopes to use that loop hole, since he claims he learned that Plame was a CIA agent from a journalist whose name he doesn't remember.

That journalist was not named Judith Miller. Thus the defence would appear to be a simple assertion by Rove which is furthermore rendered totally incredible by his inability to add details like, for example, the name of any journalist who won't deny under oath that he told Rove.

If Rove wants to use the argument he will have to give at least one name of a journalist who is willing to co-operate. Miller was a candidate. Now who is he going to name ? Jeff Gannon or Jim Guckert I guess.
On “Dove Tale” by Jonathan Chait The New Republic September 12 2005-09-30

I subscribe to the dead tree New Republic even though I live in Rome. It arrives well after the official date and about 3 weeks after it was written. I actually enjoy this, since three weeks is usually long enough for the forecasts made with arrogant certainty to be proven wrong. However, it means I don’t blog about TNR, since it is usually out of date when I get it. Jonathan Chait wrote this article on an evergreen issue, was he wrong to advocate the invasion of Iraq. I actually think quite highly of Chait, probably because I usually agree with him, so I was shocked at the level of his argument.

I think part of the problem is that I spend much (too much) time reading Atrios, Josh Marshall, Kevin Drum, Brad DeLong, Matthew Yglesias, KOS, the poor man, Billmon etc etc etc and so hold paid journalists to the impossibly high standard of doing their job as well as people who make it a hobby. I also think that Chait is psychologically unwilling to admit that, knowing what was known March 2003, he was wrong. Thus he resorts to pathetically obvious rhetorical tricks in his effort to refute a statement of interest only to Jonathan Chait and me “Jonathan Chait screwed up”. requires subscription and I’m enough of a bozo not to know if my print subscription gives me the right to TNR online and, if so, how to exercise that right. I will quote sparingly.

The tone of the article is pleasant. Chait does criticize the Nation and un named moderate doves, but he frankly admits that he has a lot of explaining to do and doesn’t expect to be accepted as an unbiased arbiter of the question (sad to say this disclaimer is necessary given the current standards of arrogance of columnists and bloggers).

The outline of the argument is simple. The Iraq fiasco is, indeed, a fiasco. It might be the fault of Bush and Rumsfeld, since they sent too few troops. How could
Chait have guessed that they meant it when they said they were going to send few troops ? Well yes it was obvious that they were total bozos and so an invasion to democratize Iraq would likely be a disaster but …
Well that’s all besides the point because he supported the war because of the WMD that weren’t.

Thus Chait argues that Democritization might have worked out tolerably if enough troops had been sent. He admits that this is irrelevant to the question of whether he screwed up, since you go to war with the President you have. Others have noted that the irrelevant argument about what might have been is pretty feeble even if we had had President Chait. The US military is seriously strained by Iraq as it is. Saying send more troops makes no sense if you don’t have more troops to send. The examples of successful peace keeping are in countries much smaller than Iraq. In those cases peace keepers came in after a civil war when one side essentially conceded. Also what about Somalia not to mention Haiti isn’t doing so great either. Anyway, as Chait cheerfully concedes, since he has no excuse for not understanding what the Bush administration is what maybe might have been (or maybe couldn’t have been) doesn’t matter. This raises the question of whether anyone edits the New Republic. It seems to me that Chait was writing an argument about how Iraq might have been expected to turn out fine, realised that his argument was not good, admitted it and left it in because who cares about wasted words anyway. That’s certainly the way I write for this blog, but I don’t kill trees.

Chait’s second try. He supported the war because of WMD.
1) We now know there were no WMD,
2) but there was no way he could have known that,
3) an amount of WMD consistent with the evidence in March 2003 would have justified the invasion,
4) there was no alternative to invading to get rid of it.

1 is of course true. I personally can’t throw the first stone at claim 2. I too thought there were WMD in Iraq. I considered this (and consider this) to be an excellent reason to not invade. I reconsidered my opposition to the invasion when I discovered that there were no WMD.

Point 3 is not really stated that way in Chait’s essay. I think I am being very very charitable to Chait. In fact, Chait creates a false dichotomy WMD yes or no and thus assumes (without asserting) that one had to believe either that Iraq had no WMD at all or that if things were allowed to continue going the way they were going in February 2003 Saddam Hussein would eventually obtain an atomic bomb. This is, of course, nonsense. It was possible to believe (as I did) that Iraq had gas and biological weapons but did not have an active nuclear program. Chait pretends that there is no way one can claim that Iraq had biological and chemical weapons without also claiming that Iraq had an active nuclear program.

U.S intelligence agencies … believed that Iraq still harbored biological and chemical weapons and a nuclear program. Ted Kennedy believed it. (“The biological and chemical weapons Saddam has are not new. He has possessed them for more than a decade.”)

In the quoted passage “it” stands indifferently for “biological and chemical weapons and a nuclear program” and for “biological and chemical weapons.” I can’t believe that Chait can’t understand the difference. He must be trying to trick his readers (for some mysterious reason). This is important, because he does not consider the possibility that it would have been acceptable to let Saddam Hussein keep his WMD. I admit this view was so rare that he could easily overlook the possibility, but he considers the obvious point that it was unacceptable to let Saddam have the bomb to imply that it was unacceptable to leave things as they were. He does this by not acknowledging any difference between having chemical and biological weapons and eventually getting the bomb.

Now let’s imagine that Saddam Hussein had nerve gas say. I think this means we definitely should not have invaded, since by now Zarqawi would have gotten his hands on some and used it. In contrast, we would be much safer if we didn’t invade so long as Saddam believes we will invade if and only if nerve gas which can’t be proven to have come from some place other than Iraq is used by terrorists. Saddam was deterable, terrorists operating in Iraq now are not. To me it is obvious that stores of nerve gas were a compelling argument against invasion. I made just that argument. I have never heard or read a half way decent counter argument. Chait avoids the whole issue by conflating chemical and nuclear weapons. I don’t know if this is effective rhetoric but I personally find it pathetic. The importance of the distinction has been stressed dozens of times on high traffic blogs. How can Chait hope that readers won’t notice that he is assuming it away ?

This is also very relevant to Chait’s totally dishonest discussion of inspections. Here basically his strategy is to pretend that there was no change in the amount Iraq had been inspected between March 2002 and March 2003. There was a huge difference especially with regard to the Iraqi nuclear program. Following the most invasive inspections in its history the IAEA concluded that Iraq did not have an active nuclear program. Intelligence agencies may have disagreed, but they didn’t know as much and, importantly, had no information useful to the IAEA, which makes it pretty clear that they didn’t have solid evidence. All this was reported before the invasion. The two bits of pseudo evidence for a nuclear program had both been refuted. The forged Niger dossier was known to be an obvious forgery. The fact that the Bush administration had resisted admitting this showed how little evidence they had. The aluminum tubes were obviously not gas centrifuges. The CIA continued to argue but they obviously had no expertise (one semi expert who it later turned out made false claims about the thickness of tubes in a design of a centrifuge that is was not willing or able to read an engineering diagram). The view of the IAEA and the energy department were publicly known. By March 2003 a reasonable person might conclude that Iraq didn’t have an active nuclear program. Another reasonable person might conclude that more inspections were needed to be sure. No reasonable person could conclude that it was necessary to invade Iraq or else Saddam Hussein would get the bomb. Chait simply ignores all the evidence which was available before the invasion. This combines his two feeble tricks eliding the difference between chemical and nuclear and eliding the difference between 2002 and 2003.

On chemical and biological weapons, Chait attempts to convince us to ignore the point that things change.

As Hans Blix, the chief U.N. weapons inspector, reported in January 2003, "Iraq appears not to have come to a genuine acceptance, not even today, of the disarmament which was demanded of it.”

Subsequently, Iraq offered a greater degree of cooperation.

Subsequently Chait still advocated invading. Chaits attempt to enlist Blix in his defence is especially absurd. Note that “appears” is a rather weak word to let loose the dogs of war. More importantly, by March Blix was saying that he needed more time to complete his mission “months not weeks or years” (quoting from memory). Now how could Blix be confident that he could complete his mission ? He certainly couldn’t be confident that he would find WMD. He clearly said he was months away from declaring Iraq WMD free unless inspectors found WMD during those months. Chait can claim that he had no way of knowing that Blix knew what he was talking about, but he must have recognised that Blix knew more than Chait did. Blix’s willingness to speculate about Iraq’s apparent non acceptance, should have made it clear that Blix had not been determined to clear Iraq in January 2001, the fact that he asked for more time in March after accusing Iraq based on essentially nothing in January should have convinced Chait (and me).

Chait also tries to argue that Saddam didn’t “openly” disarm and that, therefore, he called the security councils bluff. This is little better than Bush claiming that he didn’t disarm. Since Iraq didn’t have banned weapons or weapons programs it did clearly disarm. Chait claims that Saddam Hussein is responsible for the war because, although he disarmed he didn’t do so “openly”. This claim too is absurd. Recall the inspections of Iraq were the most invasive arms inspections in world history. No one has disarmed more openly than Saddam Hussein. It is true that, before, 2003 he made Iraq suffer a lot in order to hide the fact that he had nothing to hide, but by March 2003 his behavior in the face of inspections had changed completely and the inspectors said so. Given what we know now, it is clear that Saddam Hussein was doing everything he could to convince the world that he had disarmed. Chait simply asserts otherwise essentially pretending that anything that was true in 2002 must also be true in 2003.

Chait's specific complaints about Iraq’s belated openness about its disarmament are also absurd. Iraq had to be invaded because they did not keep complete records (I sure hope the IRS never audits Chait)

A certain revisionism has taken root in the last couple of years as to just what those inspetions achieved. As most liberals now recall it, Saddam was cooperating with the inspectors, yet Bush short-circuited the process with a precipitous invasion. Nothing of the sort happened. Saddam failed to provide a complete accounting of what had happened to Iraq’s unconventional weapons, denied the inspectors private interviews with scientists and hid crucial documents in private homes.

This is a very short list of very minor misdeeds to be used to justify an invasion. Also, the Iraq Survey Group has not provided a complete accounting of what had happened to Iraq’s unconventional weapons. Such a complete accounting can not be provided since records have been destroyed. Saddam could not provide records to the inspectors if he didn’t have them. The demand for a complete accounting (just like the demand to surrender WMD) could not be satisfied even by a dictator terrified into every effort to comply. Chait insists on pretending that Saddam was willfully witholding information which we now know was not in Iraq. This is relatively trivial but just as irrational as Bush’s insistence months after the invasion that WMD must be in Iraq. Chait must have attempted to provide a complete accounting for something sometime ? He must know that it is possible to fail while making a good faith attempt to do so, and I’m pretty sure his expence account is small compared to Iraq’s WMD program.

I believe the second claim is simply false, or rather it refers to an initial Iraqi position which they abandoned before the invasion. The third claim seems exagerated to me, since I know only of the centrifuge design buried under a rose bush. That would be (broadly speaking) a private home not private homes. There is no way this action could have had any effect on Chait’s beliefs about Saddam Hussein nor did it have any effect on the public statements of the arms inspectors, thus it does not explain in anyway his stubborn refusal in 2003 to understand that he had based his argument for invasion on false beliefs about Iraqi WMD and WMD programs.

I’d say the problem is that, once Chait had argued for invasion and made assertions about WMD in that argument, he was psychologically unable to revise his beliefs in the light of new evidence. I think the rhetorical tricks about time and nuclear vs chemical reflect honest errors made in 2003. Unfortunately, the article proves that Chait still suffers from a pathological unwillingness to admit his mistakes and a need to ignore evidence if it proves that Jonathan Chait screwed up.

Of course this is par for the course among pundits. For some stupid reason I thought that Chait was different. I recognise my error.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

I have read 16 of these bad books.

Kevin Drum has only read 14.

I take puerile pleasure in outreading Kevin in this narrow field and am deeply grateful to whoever stocked the young adults section of the Kensington (MD)public library. Some of the titles seemd both obscure and familiar to me. Familiar, because I found them there and read them, and obscure since I have never found proof that the Kensington (MD) public library didn't own the only copy ever printed.
If he doesn't watch out Duncan Black could give economists a good name

Here he explains how concerns that "sin" taxes, like the tax on gasoline are regressive have nothing to do with whether fiscal policy could be improved.

In fewer words, tax codes are not as progressive as they could be, so a rational legislature could align private interest more closely with the public interest at the cost of making the tax code less progressive then make further changes to restore the current level of progressivity. If you want a clear explanation, click the link.

Atrios begins by noting that he doesn't usually waste his time with optimal or improving or such silly concepts as rational legislators. I think he is right to keep Conner Black PhD far away from his blog most of the time.

I would like to make a slightly more specific proposal.

Raise the tax on gasoline. Divide the money by the population. Give poor households with no employed members their share. Use the rest of the money to increase the earned income tax credit.

Gasoline consumption rises with income (even though it rises less than proportionally). This means that if one assumes no change in behavior my proposal would move income from the richer to the poorer. This is good. The proposed policy would change incentives in two ways. First, of course, an increased tax on gasoline would encourage conservation. This is obviously good as Black explains in a way even economists can understand. Second the tax would increase incentives for the non employed to seek employment thus fighting the culture of poverty.

So in a static model, in which we ignore incentive effects, my policy would be an improvement. All the incentive effects are good. No one who believes in economics can doubt that my proposal would make the world a better place. I don't believe in economics and it still sounds reasonable to me.

I think my proposed policy reform has no costs for society. The only problem for the well meaning politician who proposes it is that he or she would have to look for a new line of work.

As Atrios stresses in his introduction, current policy is so awful that it is easy to see how to improve it. The problem is politics not policy.

update: It seems I have been reading Atrios for years including months after it went nonymous without getting the Bloggers first name right. Thanks to David Weman for lots including pointing it out.
Has a distant relative of mine been hanging out with bad company ?

I wonder when I read this in The Washington Post
years ago, Abramoff, Kidan and former Reagan administration official Ben Waldman of Springfield, purchased SunCruz from Boulis, 51, the millionaire founder of the popular Miami Subs sandwich shop chain. Abramoff and Kidan have been friends since their days together as College Republicans in Washington.


In October 2000, in the midst of the infighting with Boulis, Kidan turned to a friend of 15 years, Moscatiello, who began visiting Kidan's condominium and golfing with Kidan and Waldman. Moscatiello in 1983 was indicted on federal heroin-trafficking charges along with Gene Gotti, brother of John Gotti, then the head of the Gambino crime family.

I have the greatest respect for the Gambino family and no inclination to find a horse's head in my bed, but college Republicans yuck.

I remain your humble Blogger Robert Waldmann

Friday, September 23, 2005

Dealing with Dear Leader the pygmy tyrant.

Billmon is brilliant as always here

Amazingly he has something (relatively) positive to say about the Bush administration.

"Appeasing North Korea


Even if Son of the Agreed Framework didn't eliminate Kim's nuclear arsenal, it would at least help contain it, while the presence of inspectors on the ground would make it more difficult for the North Koreans to refine any remaining warheads and the missile technology needed to deliver them."

I have one suggestion. I think that the phrase "son of" is offensive to Kim Jong Il who doesn't like to be reminded that he was once the worlds first (and I hope last)communist crown prince. I think it would be more diplomatic to refer to the new "let's see" if it's an agreement as

Dear Framework

Billmon discusses the similarity of the Neo Cons and the underpants gnomes. This has become a common refrain on the web. Kindly he links to an explanation of what said gnomes are.

"The Underpants Gnomes have a three-phase business plan, consisting of:

1. Collect underpants
2. ???
3. Profit!

None of the gnomes actually know what the second phase is, and all of them assume that someone else within the organization does."

Indeed this sounds like the NeoCons approach to dealing with evil dictatorships

1. Declare that Regime change is our aim
2. ???
3. Take credit for the spread of Freedom and Democracy

I have been wondering about how the underpants gnomes took over our foreign policy.
To me the strangest episode was in late 2002 when the Bush administration declared that disarmament of Iraq was regime change. At the time, I hoped this was an extraordinarily clumsy climb down (jump down, fall down, collape, cave in). I think others hoped so too and that this prevented much discussion of the total weirdness of the statement.

In "Plan of Attack" which is useful enough to justify all the fluff in "Bush at War" which was required to obtain total access, Bob Woodward explains that Bush really meant it. That he had this idea that disarmament and UN inspections would humiliate Iraqi generals enough that they would overthrow Saddam. Or maybe that Saddam backing down would puncture his aura of invincibility (based on his unbroken record of defeats) so he would be overthrown.

I took this to be simply further proof the Bush is not a grown up and ought not to be allowed around sharp knives or pointed scissors.

I now see a connection with the NeoCon fantasy.

The idea seems to be that firmness, refusal to negotiate and vocal denunciation will cause a totalitarian regime to collapse. How could they convince themselves of such a silly idea ?

They are old cold warriors. The main event in their lives is the collapse of the Soviet Union. This is highly problematice to the committee on the present danger, team B, Richard Pipes et al hawks, because they were arguing up to the last minute that the USSR was much stronger than generally perceived when in fact it was much weaker. They also denounced more than just about anything the idea that there were "moderates in the Kremlin". The utter disconnect between their confident assertions and reality should have ended their careers.

Instead they were triumphant, because it began to happen while Reagan was in office.
To claim credit and to explain the total utter failure of all of their predictions, they had to conclude that the collapse was the result of Reagan's policies. Of course the did. It is also clear in retrospect that the key event was the election of Gorbachev as general secretary in 1985. Thus either the neocons were totally wrong about everything or a few years of calling the USSR an evil empire caused it to change fundamentally.

This fantasyworld interpretation of the period 81 to 85 is politically, intellectually and psychologically necessary for the people who were running US foreign policy until at the latest yesterday. They have to believe in the miracolous powers of "resolve" and rhetoric, because the only alternative is to recognise that everything they ever argued was false.

If you imagine that the USSR would have continued on the path forecast by neocons in 1979 if Reagan had not been elected, then you have to believe in miracles. The argument over credit for the democratic transition of the ex soviet bloc is not just a matter of vanity. It also involves the effort to maintain sanity.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Can Michael Brown lower my opinion of Michael Brown ?

Sounds impossible but he rises to the challenge in this interview with the New York Times
But as the hurricane approached early on Sunday, Mr. Brown said he grew so frustrated with the failure of local authorities to make the evacuation mandatory that he asked Mr. Bush for help.

"Would you please call the mayor and tell him to ask people to evacuate?" Mr. Brown said he asked Mr. Bush in a phone call.

As everyone knows, Nagin "asked people to evacuate" (to put it mildly) Saturday the 27th). The remaining issue was whether he should use the word "mandatory" which was just a word, since New Orleans police obviously didn't have the resources to force people to leave.

According to Brown, Brown was unaware of these details and, thus, missinformed the President.

Now given that he is telling obvious lies, it is hard to understand why he is no longer working for the Bush administration.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

All national emergencies are, by definition, incidents of national significance according to the 2005 national response plan. Thus the claim that, before Brown and FEMA were free to act it was necessary for Chertoff to declare Katrina an "incident of national significance" days after Bush declared it to be a national emergency and major disaster is false. A feeble effort to shift the blame.

Knight Ridder made a mistake (no one is perfect).

The claim is spreading throught the internet like avian flu. Outbreaks here here here and here.

Note the irony of correcting claims in TPMcafe by linking to TPM.

update: See post below. Digby is earning a salary he isn't getting by typing from the pdf of the report from the congressional research service to Rep John Conyers.
I notice a passage relevant to this post

* All necessary conditions for federal relief were met on August 28. Pursuant to Section 502 of the Stafford Act, "[t]he declaration of an emergency by the President makes Federal emergency assistance available," and the President made such a declaration on August 28. The public record indicates that severa additional days passed before such assistance was actually made available to the State;

Note well before Chertoff's finding that Katrina was an "incident of national significance."

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

John Conyers is earning his salary

The Bush administration has generated a lot of smoke about legal restrictions on federal assistance to Louisiana and alleged omissions by governor Blanco. John Conyers asks the Congressional Research Service to look into the relevant law -- the Stafford Act. They conclude that the President had, under the law, all authority he might need and that Blanco successfully crossed every t and dotted every i.

The assistance which was requested and granted included "emergency protective services" which are repeatedly mentioned. I think this refers not only to search and rescue but also to policing, that is the keeping order.

The Stafford act is very explicit that DOD resources are among the federal resources that the President can make available. I think the following clause is meant to amend and restrict the Posse Comitatus act of 1878 (recall I'm not a lawyer).

I quote from the act (in italics)

5170b Essential assistance

(c) Utilization of DOD resources
(1) General rule
During the immediate aftermath of an incident which may ultimately qualify for
assistance under this subchapter or subchapter IV A of this chapter, the Governor
of the state in which such incident occurred may request the President to direct the
Secretary of Defence to utilize the resources of the Department of Defence for the
purpose of performing on public and private lands any emergency work which is
made necessary by such incident and which is essential for the preservation of life
and property. If the President determines that such work is essential for the
preservation of life and property, the President shall grant such request to the
extent the President determines practicable. Such emergency work may only be
carried out for a period not to exceed 10 days.

(6) Definitions
for the purposes of this section
B)Emergency Work
the term "emergency work" includes clearance and removal of debris and
wreckage and temporary restoration of essential public facilities and services.

So what does that mean ? First it is clear that the Governor must specifically request DOD resources even after requesting a declaration of a national emergency. The Stafford act does not explicitly say if asking for "everything you have got" counts, but the Governor later specifically requested 40,000 actice duty military personel.

The Stafford act does not explicitly say that the part I quoted amends, restricts and partially repeals the Posse Comitatus act. Nonetheless I see no other reason that the resources of DOD (and no other department) would be specifically mentioned after the President has been given broad authority to send what is needed (I didn't quote all that). Also the sensitivity of this part of the law is made clear by the 10 day restriction. This restriction makes it clear that the DOD resources may be used for the sort of things people in Democracies are not at all used to their defence departments doing. If the resources in question were say a humvee loaned to the Governor or a satellite cell phone, there would be no reason for the 10 day limit.

Clearly neither the Posse Comitatus act nor the Insurrection act can be considered without taking into account the more recent Stafford act which seems to this non lawyer to have included an effort to anticipate and pre-emptively refute the arguments of DOD lawyers who nonetheless managed to delay relief and the restoration of order in New Orleans.

The Bush administration's alleged concern for the letter of the law always seemed strange. The fact that the argument was only possible, because the lawyers neglected to quote the relevant law brings us back to business as usual. No surprise there, but I do have an every higher opinion of Conyers and am impressed at Stafford's foresight.
Thomas Nephew, American hero, makes a convincing claim that he was the demonstrator arrested at the "'Freedom' walk." I like his calm prose style. The event was even more blatantly unfree than I imagined. Comforting really that Rumsfeld et al can't fake it.

Via Jim Henley

Sunday, September 11, 2005

The Washington Post has a huge story on the Katrina relief fiasco.

It is gripping reading but much of it is lightly sourced and some is sourced to anonymous Bush administration officials (clearly worse than no source). It is clear that FEMA was unprepared and that state and local governments were overwhelmed partly because their assets were destroyed or flooded. The story is long, so I will excerpt some key points.

A key problem was the collapse of communications.
The federal disaster response plan hinges on transportation and communication, but National Guard officials in Louisiana and Mississippi had no contingency plan if they were disrupted; they had only one satellite phone for the entire Mississippi coast, because the others were in Iraq

They had ONLY ONE SATELLIGHT PHONE ON THE ENTIRE MISSISSIPPI COAST BECAUSE THE OTHERS WERE IN IRAQ !!!! I dare anyone anyone to claim that the Iraq adventure didn't kill American civilians by crippling disaster responce. How many lives would have been saved if the Bush administration had been willing to buy replacement phones so the guardsmen left behind in the unimportant USA could communicate.

At 8:14 a.m. [Monday], the National Weather Service reported a levee breach along the Industrial Canal, and warned that the Ninth Ward was likely to experience extremely severe flooding.

days later Chertoff claimed the levees were breached Tuesday or in the night between Monday and Tuesday. The Post does it's best to help. They even write "dodged the bullet" just after noting that the bullet hit. Still I would say that the 8:14 AM is the end of the "dodged the bullet" spin which has been hit right between the lies.

"We're facing the storm most of us have feared," Nagin told an early-morning news conference, the governor at his side. Katrina was now a Category 5 hurricane, set to make landfall overnight.

Minutes earlier, Blanco had been pulled out to take a call from the president, pressed into service by FEMA's Brown to urge a mandatory evacuation. Blanco told him that's just what the mayor would order.

This totally unsourced assertion implies that, say Powerline, was half right. Bush called Blanco requesting a mandatory evacuation. She said that Nagin had already called the press to announce one. I would have guessed that Blanco had called Bush to inform him. As it is a strange coincidence. The day earlier Bush had been informed that the voluntary evacuation was proceeding and Nagin had discussed the possibility of using the word mandatory that morning. Anyway rare for powerline to be even half right, so I thought I should note it.

Out of public view, the White House was considering an outright federal takeover of the emergency efforts, escalating a partisan feud with the Democratic governor as Bush aides questioned her ability to manage the crisis. Despite days of pleading, the White House argued that her plea for more troops had come in only at 7:21 that morning. [Wednesday August 31]

Translation: Even if one allows that "everything you have" does not imply "everything you have including active duty military personel," the White House acknowledges that they were discussing whether they could send the 82nd airborn even if the governor had not requested active duty military personel hours (and days) after the governor made that request in words so explicit that they can not pretend that they were misunderstood.

"7:21 that morning" is the final blow to the Posse Comitatus spin. They have added their last epicycle and their story has been destroyed by the facts. The Posse Comitatus act does not bind if there is a national disaster and a request from the governor, the governor had declared a state of emergency (Friday), the governor had declared that state resources would be overwhelmed and requested Federal assistance (Saturda), the Governor had requested "everything you have" and the governor had specifically requested active duty military personel after someone had finally explained to her that the Bush administration does not understand the word "everything."

Also note the number 40,000 on another page of the story "Blanco publicly pleaded for 40,000 National Guard troops." See post below. I think the New York Times, on the 9th, misreported this plea as a request for 40,000 active duty military personel. That would explain why the NYTimes story on the 11th did not include the number 40,000. They should print a correction. I will check if they have and, if so, update the post below.

As has been noted FEMA was significantly worse than worthless blocking aid rather than speeding it.

But assistance that was available was often blocked. In the Gulf, not 100 miles away from New Orleans, sat the 844-foot USS Bataan, equipped with six operating rooms and beds for 600 patients. Starting Wednesday, Amtrak offered to run a twice-a-day shuttle for as many as 600 evacuees from a rail yard west of New Orleans to Lafayette, La. The first run was not organized until Saturday. Officials then told Amtrak they would not require any more trains.

I assume the officials are FEMA officials.

Anger was also rising at federal officials, who often seemed to be getting in the way. At Louis Armstrong International Airport, commercial airlines had been flying in supplies and taking out evacuees since Monday. But on Thursday, after FEMA took over the evacuation, aviation director Roy A. Williams complained that "we are packed with evacuees and the planes are not being loaded and there are gaps of two or three hours when no planes are arriving." Eventually, he started fielding "calls from airlines saying, 'Well, we are being told by FEMA that you don't need any planes.' And of course we need planes. I had thousands of people on the concourses."

I think the effort to blame Blanco, for not agreeing to a total federal take over of the relief efforts, might end up getting the first woman President elected. Imagine how many people would have died if she had let FEMA take over and mismanage everything ?

More striking snippets.
there was a strange sense of inaction, as if "nobody's turning the key to start the engine," said one team leader, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. For his group, Friday was a day to sit around

The government of the city of New Orleans did mess up big time on Saturday and I mean big time.

In fact, while the last regularly scheduled train out of town had left a few hours earlier, Amtrak had decided to run a "dead-head" train that evening to move equipment out of the city. It was headed for high ground in Macomb, Miss., and it had room for several hundred passengers. "We offered the city the opportunity to take evacuees out of harm's way," said Amtrak spokesman Cliff Black. "The city declined."

So the ghost train left New Orleans at 8:30 p.m., with no passengers on board.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

New York Times September 11 2005


Paul McHale, the assistant secretary of defense for homeland security, explained that decision in an interview this week. "Could we have physically have moved combat forces into an American city, without the governor's consent, for purposes of using those forces - untrained at that point in law enforcement - for law enforcement duties? Yes."

But, he asked, "Would you have wanted that on your conscience?"

New York Time September 9 2005 Page A1 lead paragraph.

and THOM SHANKER Published: September 9, 2005

WASHINGTON, Sept. 8 - As New Orleans descended into chaos last week and Louisiana's governor asked for 40,000 soldiers, President Bush's senior advisers debated whether the president should speed the arrival of active-duty troops by seizing control of the hurricane relief mission from the governor.

OK I understand that Mssrs Drew Shane and Rohde can't be expected to read the lead paragraph of every singly article in their own paper which concerns the story on which they are reporting, but Mr Lipton is an author of both articles. Did he read what he wrote ? Why did he allow a MCHale's claim that the governor did not "consent" to the deployment of active duty military personel pass unchallenged two days after noting that the governor had specifically requesting deployment of 40,000 soldiers ? I guess it's habit, since the same glaring contradiction between the claims of the Bush administration and reality passed unmentioned in the September 9 article.

In general the September 11 article is excellent. However, reporters should not let lies pass uncontested.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Habeus Corpus RIP

Born Runnymeade 1215
Died Richmond 2005

There is still one last line of defence between the USA and absolute power unrestricted by any law or statute whatsoever and justified by the war on terror. The supreme court including 2 to be nominated by the US Constitution's most deadly enemy ever.
Lakatos and Lake George

Imre Lakatos came up with the idea of a "degenerative research program." The classic example was Ptolomaic astronomy in the Renaissance (Ptolomy was the first scientist to come up with a mathematical model precise enough to be false and thus was the antithesis of later Ptolomaics just as Aristotle was the antithesis of the schoolmen).

In a degenerative research program is that there are core beliefs which are invulnerable to data (e.g. circular orbits around the earth). When a model which is part of this program is refuted by the data, new auxiliary hypotheses are added (e.g. new epicycles). These new auxiliary hypotheses serve only to protect the core belief from reality. They are not taken seriously in the sense that researchers consider the implications of the new auxiliary hypotheses.

I think that contemporary economic theory is the very model of a modern degenerative research program. It as if Lakatos had rational expectations and was therefore able to forecast the sort of articles which appeared in Economics journals decades after he wrote. I am an economist so I am relieved to have found another example -- the Rovian spin machine. I confess that I am lead to this idea by a pun, we now have spin cycles and spin epicycles (also I am doing my laundry).

Thus consider the Rovians deal with Katrina as the Ptolomaics dealt with Mars.
The core belief, of course, is that George Bush can do no wrong.

Cycle 1 "No one anticipated that the levees would be breached"
Problem 1 there are many many forecasts of massive failure of the levees.
epicycle 1 it was anticipated that the levees would be overtopped. In fact,
it was anticipated that they would be overtopped but not breacked.
Problem 2 the levees which were breached are earthen berms topped by
concrete walls. When they are massively overtopped the earth is
eroded and the wall falls. They are not the sort of thing that can be
massively overtopped without being breached.
epicycle 2 no no they weren't overtopped and breached. They were breached
without being overtopped due to "design flaws" -- McClellan
Problem 3. There is no evidence supporting the claim that they weren't
overtopped. In contrast, there are multiple reports that they were
overtopped. There is also a conceptual problem. The claim is that
something strange and unexpected happened. If no one anticipated this,
one should not conclude it happened without evidence. How did people
come to this strange hypothesis with no evidence ?
That is the defining characteristic of a degenerative spin program.

Cycle 2 Blame the victims. Digby notes that this is an official talking point, since Chertoff and Brown made the same offensive idiotic absurd argument on the same day.
Problem 2.1 many people couldn't evacuate because they didn't have cars and public
transportation for evacuation (60 buses and 10 vans or so) was totally inadequate.
Furthermore this was a finding of the Hurricane Pam exercise so Chertoff
and Brown's statement display ignorance that can only be caused by criminal

Note the press was on this one instantly so we will never know if the Rovians would have tried "no one anticipated that poor people couldn't evacuate the city" and then a prolonged discussion of the exact meaning of evacuate (or city or poor).

Cycle 3 Blame Blanco. She still hasn't declared a state of emergency.
Problem 3.1 she did on Saturday August 27 [update: She did so on Friday August 26]
epicycle 3.1 Allow me some fantasy here. Fiction in itallics.
Rove "OK so she declared a state of emergency but that doesn't mean she asked *us* to do anything."
Piss Boy "actually she requested that POTUS declare a state of emergency on Sunday, and, by the way sir, he did.
Rove: Damn well that doesn't mean she told us that state and local personel couldn't handle the problem.
Piss Boy "actually it does. To request declaration of a national emergency she has to say just that and she did just that."
Rove "Damn it help me out here. What about the Posse Comitatus law. I studied that when I was writing about the sanctity of states rights (before 2000 of course). Didn't that prevent us from doing anything."
Piss Boy "Actually sir there is an exception if there is a national emergency and the governor requests that the President send active duty military personel."
Rove "Ha she asked for help but she didn't specifically ask for active duty military personal. Got her.
Piss Boy "But on Monday she asked Bush to send everything he had. Everything is a pretty clear word."
Rove As in you owe everhything to me and if you don't want to get thrown out on your ass you better get with the team. Everything means what I want it to mean. She didn't specifically ask for active duty military personel"
Piss Boy (pissing his pants by the way) Uhm well uhm you know Sir, on Wednesday she did actually specifically request 40,000 active duty military personel."
Rove "Damn it boy this is impossible. All hell was breaking loose down there. How could Blanco have dotted all the i's and crossed all the t's ? She must have made some slip, something anything. Did you check her emergency declaration for typos ?
Piss Boy "The only thing she hasn't done is transfer control of the Louisiana National guard to the President."
Rove "All right now we're cooking. Clearly the President couldn't send active duty military personal, since she didn't do that. I knew there was something. Someone from down there abouts said "there is always something"
Piss Boy (faints with fear)
Assistant Piss Boy Uhm Sir we have sent active duty military personel down there. Are you saying the President broke the law ?
Rove: "Of course not. Everything has changed... so what has changed. You mean that bitch still hasn't rolled over ?
Assistant Piss Boy "No her position is exactly the same as it was when we were claiming the law forbid the President from doing what he has since done.
Rove: "Damn it lots has changed. I mean they managed to evacuate New Orleans with the Lousiana National Guard. The Posse Comitatus act clearly says that active duty military personel can do some police work just not a whole lot. I mean they can police a city with 10,000 people in it but not one with over 50,000. It says that right in the law and don't you dare look it up."
Really stupid Piss Boy III "But Sir we didn't even ask Blanco for control of the national guard until this week [update: This guy is so dumb that he doesn't know they asked Friday the 2nd your apologetic correspondent was equally ignorant until he read this]. I mean how can we explain why we didn't do anything last week based on what she said this week. We didn't even ask.
Rove; You idiot don't you know about rational expectations ? No one could have anticipated that the levees would be breached but any idiot could anticipate that Blanco would have said no and that means that her saying no this week paralised us last week."

At this point the spin has reached hyperurania. Reality based life forms can't even understand what the hell the Rovians are trying to assert. Thus Rove wins another one. Current score reality 0 Rove more than the epicycles of the Ptolomaic and Copernican models combined.

update: The piss boys weren't well informed. I have made some corrections to statements about when things happened based on this timeline.
I'm going to try a briefer post on "Political Issues Snarled Plans for Military Help After Hurricane" By ERIC LIPTON, ERIC SCHMITT and THOM SHANKER in the NYTimes

I think that this is a terrible article devoted to retailing spin from anonymous Bush administration sources. Josh Marshall notes that it *still* makes the Bush administration look bad. Lipton Schmitt and Shanker certainly don't bury the lede. I think a little editing makes matters very clear.

As New Orleans descended into chaos last week and Louisiana's governor asked for 40,000 soldiers, President Bush's senior advisers debated whether the president should speed the arrival of active-duty troops by seizing control of the hurricane relief mission from the governor.

For reasons of practicality and politics, officials at the Justice Department and the Pentagon, and then at the White House, decided not to urge Mr. Bush to take command of the effort. Instead, the Washington officials decided to rely on the growing number of National Guard personnel flowing into Louisiana, who were under Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco's control.


"I need everything you have got," Ms. Blanco said she told Mr. Bush last Monday, after the storm hit.

In an interview, she acknowledged that she did not specify what sorts of soldiers. "Nobody told me that I had to request that," Ms. Blanco said. "I thought that I had requested everything they had. We were living in a war zone by then."

By Wednesday, she had asked for 40,000 soldiers.


Justice Department lawyers, who were receiving harrowing reports from the area, considered whether active-duty military units could be brought into relief operations even if state authorities gave their consent - or even if they refused.


On the issue of whether the military could be deployed without the invitation of state officials, the Office of Legal Counsel, the unit within the Justice Department that provides legal advice to federal agencies, concluded that the federal government had authority to move in even over the objection of local officials.

So the Governor has requested military personal according to the ordinary English meaning of the word "everything" and then in detail after idiot lawyers pretened tgat they didn't understand the word and yet Bush administration lawyers are discussing what could be done in the absence of such a request.

What is going on ? Are the anonymous sources lying to the NYT reporters trying to convince them that Blanco did not request active duty military personel ? Or are they confessing to a monumental failure of communication within the Bush administration where action waited on the findings of lawyers who had not been informed of the most basic fact at hand ? Which is worse ?

Aside from that, does anyone expect anyone with a brain to believe that concern about legal nicities would stop the Bush administration from doing something it wanted to do ? And how is it that, while lawyers appear to have been ignorant of the basic facts, they now present an ultrarefined analysis which concludes that Bush did everything he could do under the law and nothing more. That is where in the Posse Comitatus act and where in the insurrection act does it say that it is ok for active duty military personel to perform a bit of police work but not a lot so it is ok to send them now that things have calmed down but wasn't ok before ? I mean the law doesn't usually say you can break this law a little bit but not a lot. Isn't it more likely that the Bushies were using the Posse Comitatus act as an excuse to not send in the 82nd airborn and, when that didn't work and the governor refused to hand over control of the national guard to feds who had demonstrated infinite incompetence, looker around for something, anything, that had changed so they could change their "interpretation" of the law without admiting that they had made a mistake or, more likely, been lying all along.
Back to Business as Usual

Why wasn't the 82nd airborn sent to New Orleans ? Eric Lipton, Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker report in the New York Times. They quote many anonymous administration and pentagon sources trying to shift the blame to Governor Blanco. They never discuss the possiblity that active duty military could be sent to New Orleans even if the Governor did not surrender control of the national guard. Since this happened, one suspects it is possible. They quote discussions of what to do if the governor did not request deployment of active duty military which took place days after the governor had requested it without noting the gross error made by the Bush administration lawyers.

One of the barriers that some thought Katrina breached is that erected between the truth and the public by a press which feels it is obliged to be fair to lies and reach balanced conclusions no matter what are the facts. Sad to say, the barrier imposed by journalists professionalism which prevents journalists from doing their jobs proved stronger than the levee at the 17th street canal.

Already the Washington Post and Newsweek quoted an anonymous source claiming that Blanco had not declared a state of emergency by Sept 2rd when she had declared one 8 days earlier. The Post published a correction. Clearly serious reporters interested in doing their job must have recognised then, if not years before, that informing the public and quoting anonymous Bush administration officials advancing the talking point of the day are inconsistent. Reporters can just say "no don't tell me" if a source asks for anonymity. They can also listen and most thoroughly protect the anonymity of their source by ignoring him or her.

I am trying to get around to discussing "Political Issues Snarled Plans for Troop Aid" by By ERIC LIPTON, ERIC SCHMITT
and THOM SHANKER (from now on LSS) in the New York Times. The article asks why active duty troops weren't sent to New Orleans. In particular why the 82nd airborn, which was standing by, didn't get the order to fly.

One false argument (discussed in a post below) is that the Posse Comitatus act forbids active duty military from acting as police. This argument has long since ceased to be operational, since it is known to be false by basically all military officers. In law and in practice, this is not a barrier if there is a natural disaster and the governor of the state requests assistance. Back to LSS

"I need everything you have got," Ms. Blanco said she told Mr. Bush last Monday, after the storm hit.

In an interview, she acknowledged that she did not specify what sorts of soldiers. "Nobody told me that I had to request that," Ms. Blanco said. "I thought that I had requested everything they had. We were living in a war zone by then."

By Wednesday, she had asked for 40,000 soldiers."

So that's that for the Posse Comitatus act. Note that LSS in the effort to be balanced even if that is unfair present "I need everything that you have got" as a mistake on Blanco's part which she "aknowledged", since the Posse Comitatus act clearly states that the Governor of the state must place her hand on her heart and hop on her right foot to make assistance by active duty military personel possible.

LSS quote anonymous "pentagon officials" who argue "even the 82nd Airborne, which has a brigade on standby to move out within 18 hours, could not arrive any faster than 7,000 National Guard troops," . This begs the question "why not send both?" No argument is made that the Bush administration had to choose between one and the other. No one makes any claim that sending the 82nd Airborn too would have interfered with anything or had any practical disadvantages. It is clear that it would have had huge advantages including probably saving American babies from dying of thirst. Now I understand that LSS are forbidden by the journalistic equivilant of the Posse Comitatus act from just pointing this out themselves, but they could run the argument past some sane human being who is not a shill for Bush and quote the reply as in "Mr x who was passing us on the sidewalk was informed of this argument and said "why the hell couldn't they have sent both". In an effort to be fair and balanced we visited the Washington center for supported work therapy for the profoundly mentally handicapped and Mr Y who has an IQ of 65 said "huh I don't get it. Why send national guard mean can't send 82nd Airborn" I mean if journalistic ethics forbid you to point out the obvious, it can't be hard to find someone to quote noting the obvious.

LSS state in their own voices the absurd argument made by anonymous sources "Officials in Louisiana agree that the governor would not have given up control over National Guard troops in her state as would have been required to send large numbers of active-duty soldiers into the area. But they also say they were desperate and would have welcomed assistance by active-duty soldiers." OK so LSS argue in their own voices that it would be necessary for the Governor to give up control of the National Guard in order to send large numbers of active duty military personel. They neglect to note that the Governor still has not done so and that there are large numbers of active duty military personel in New Orleans. Either it is possible or it isn't, and that the fact that it happened suggests that it is possible. Also what's this about"large numbers" How large is "large numbers". I haven't read the Posse Comitatus act which undoubtably says something like "A governor can get the pres to send up to 7000 active duty military personel without giving up control of the state national guard. If the Governor wants 7001, he (they were politically incorrect back in 1878) must give up the guard." Here LSS must have understood that the legal issues are the same for large numbers and small numbers. Why did the write otherwise. They are not even quoting an anonymous shill.

The reporting becomes surreal. I quote with big snips.

"I need everything you have got," Ms. Blanco said she told Mr. Bush last Monday, after the storm hit.


By Wednesday, she had asked for 40,000 soldiers.

[big snip]

Justice Department lawyers, who were receiving harrowing reports from the area, considered whether active-duty military units could be brought into relief operations even if state authorities gave their consent - or even if they refused.

LSS could have noted that it is odd for Justice Department lawyers to wonder if active duty military units could be sent even if state authorities refused days after the Governor asked for "everything you have got." I mean I know lawyers do hypotheticals but wondering if someone who has been begging for something for days might refuse it is a bit extreme no ? To professional reporters, the contradiction between what they report and what they report must not be noted I guess.

OK now I will edit to story to remove anonymous quotes and bizarre claims made by LSS based on nothing. I won't mark my edits so this is not a quotation of the article.

WASHINGTON, Sept. 8 - As New Orleans descended into chaos last week and Louisiana's governor asked for 40,000 soldiers, President Bush's senior advisers debated whether the president should speed the arrival of active-duty troops by seizing control of the hurricane relief mission from the governor.

For reasons of practicality and politics, officials at the Justice Department and the Pentagon, and then at the White House, decided not to urge Mr. Bush to take command of the effort. Instead, the Washington officials decided to rely on the growing number of National Guard personnel flowing into Louisiana, who were under Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco's control.

As the water was rising in New Orleans, the governor repeatedly questioned whether Washington had started its promised surge of federal resources.

"We needed equipment," Ms. Blanco said in an interview. "Helicopters. We got isolated."

In a separate discussion last weekend, the governor also rejected a more modest proposal for a hybrid command structure in which both the Guard and active-duty troops would be under the command of an active-duty, three-star general - but only after he had been sworn into the Louisiana National Guard.

Lt. Gen. James T. Conway, director of operations for the military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that the Pentagon in August streamlined a rigid, decades-old system of deployment orders to allow the military's Northern Command to dispatch liaisons to work with local officials before an approaching hurricane.

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales urged Justice Department lawyers to interpret the federal law creatively to help local authorities, those officials said. For example, federal prosecutors prepared to expand their enforcement of some criminal statutes like anti-carjacking laws that can be prosecuted by either state or federal authorities.

On the issue of whether the military could be deployed without the invitation of state officials, the Office of Legal Counsel, the unit within the Justice Department that provides legal advice to federal agencies, concluded that the federal government had authority to move in even over the objection of local officials. [comment why the hell are they asking if the military can be deployed without the invitation of state officials days after the governor invited indeed begged for that deployment]

This act was last invoked in 1992 for the Los Angeles riots, but at the request of Gov. Pete Wilson of California, and has not been invoked over a governor's objections since the civil rights era - and before that, to the time of the Civil War, administration officials said. Bush administration, Pentagon and senior military officials warned that such an extreme measure would have serious legal and political implications.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has said deployment of National Guard soldiers to Iraq, including a brigade from Louisiana, did not affect the relief mission, but Ms. Blanco disagreed.

"Over the last year, we have had about 5,000 out, at one time," she said. "They are on active duty, serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. That certainly is a factor."

By Friday, National Guard reinforcements had arrived, and a truck convoy of 1,000 Guard soldiers brought relief supplies - and order - to the convention center area.

Officials from the Department of Homeland Security say the experience with Hurricane Katrina has demonstrated flaws in the nation's plans to handle disaster.

"This event has exposed, perhaps ultimately to our benefit, a deficiency in terms of replacing first responders who tragically may be the first casualties," Paul McHale, the assistant secretary of defense for domestic security, said.

Michael Chertoff, the secretary of homeland security, has suggested that active-duty troops be trained and equipped to intervene if front-line emergency personnel are stricken. But the Pentagon's leadership remains unconvinced that this plan is sound, suggesting instead that the national emergency response plans be revised to draw reinforcements initially from civilian police, firefighters, medical personnel and hazardous-waste experts in other states not affected by a disaster.

The federal government rewrote its national emergency response plan after the Sept. 11 attacks, but it relied on local officials to manage any crisis in its opening days. But Hurricane Katrina overwhelmed local "first responders," including civilian police and the National Guard.

At a news conference on Saturday, Mr. Chertoff said, "The unusual set of challenges of conducting a massive evacuation in the context of a still dangerous flood requires us to basically break the traditional model and create a new model, one for what you might call kind of an ultra-catastrophe.""

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The Washington Post is tracking links back. I doubt this policy will last. They are laying themselves wide open to track back spam. This is not a confession ... I mean not officially a confession

Actually this is an experiment. I don't know how the trackback works. I wonder if there is human screening and trackbacks to me are deleted as a result of the nonconfession above. Just as a temporar experiment I maDe [this]A link which I [will] removeD [in] after one hour.

update 2: Nothing happened. I don't get it. edits to update in caps deletions in square brackets.
Froomkin must read

I hope he doesn't get in trouble for being fair which means unbalanced.

The press seems to have been shocked into doing their job, but we still have a long way to go. This is a quibble, but I was struck at how Tim Russert has internalised spinmeister's tricks to the point that he contradicts himself without noticing

Here's Tim Russert talking to Matt Lauer on NBC's "Today Show" this morning: [snip]

"Will Katrina and the stumbling of the federal government define his second term? That's why the president has to be bold and assertive in trying to correct that impression."

The second statement asserts that the impression that the government stumbled is incorrect. The First statement asserts that the government stumbled. When spinners try to change an impression they always say they are "correcting" the impression claiming that it is false. Russert is suppposed to be a journalist and he just stated his impression that the federal government stumbled as a fact (as of course it is). To be consistent he would have had to write "fight that impression" or "change that impression". Instead he said "correct" which means he said his own belief is incorrect.

Maybe Russert should take a vacation, ride bike, cut a cake, strum a guitar and stay away from flaks until he becomes familiar with the English language again.

There is also the awesome evidence of the President's resolve (unsourced but fairly credible)
according to USA Today "
An example of the president's loss of patience: 'Bush skipped his usual weekend biking outings'" Think of that probably less than 10,000 dead and he went a whole weekend without biking. Wow what a leader.

Was Anyone in the White House in Charge of Crisis Management ?

There was a very very odd exchange during the ferocious press conference in which McClellan flailed around attempting to find an excuse for refusing to respond to reporters questions. Most questions were very aggressive, but one was very simple and direct and apparently routine. McClellan didn't answer it.

Q There have been suggestions that the initial White House response was delayed somewhat because a number of key people were on vacation last week. During that critical 24-hour period after the levees were breached Monday, who in the White House was in charge of crisis management?

MR. McCLELLAN: Andy Card is the chief of staff, and he was in close contact with everyone. And the President is the one who's in charge at the White House.
Andy Card is indeed the chief of staff but he was not in the White House. He was in Maine

White House chief of staff Andy Card was on line from Maine

I find it impossible to believe that no one in the White House was in charge of crisis management. Still I wonder why the reporter asked the question. I would assume that the answer wouldn't be very interesting. The question is strange. The failure to answer it is very strange. Is it possible that they all went on vacation and left no one minding the store ?

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Witt less Press

James Lee Witt is quite the man of the hour. Louisiana managed to hire him before the federal government did. He is considered almost super human, because, while he was director, FEMA managed to avoid being a dumping ground for incompetents for 8 whole years.

Now let's try to remember what the press thought was important about him back then.

Ah yes Al Gore incorrectly stated that he had inspected the sites of Texan wildfires with Witt when, in fact, he had toured them with his deputy, although he visited many disaster sites with Witt. Bob Somerby provides his usual measured evaluation "Gore said he had been to a Texas fire with FEMA director James Lee Witt, the pundit corps howled about it for a week. (He had actually gone with Witt’s top assistant.) Pundits swore that the troubling misstatement showed us that Gore had a character problem."

Googling ["James Lee Witt" Gore] shows how true this is (there is also a whole section in in "Lies and the Lying liars that tell them, a fair and balanced look at the right) . Basically the press made the issue of remembering which disasters one had visited with Witt seem more important than, well whether you would appoint someone like Witt or someone like Brown. The journalists who covered the 2000 campaign in such an idiotic manner should ask themselves if they share part of the blame for deaths in New Orleans.

Billmon noted the irony before I did.
Experiment in disinformation retrieval.

The Washington Post reports that Brown has disappeard from view. The person who writes headlines for the web page is still at it entitling spin as spin "FEMA Director Singled out by
Response Critics". My ability to detect the spin shows my keen insider instincts and ability to read plain English. I wondered if, after the "White House Shifts Blame" headline, he or she was told less pithy or you will be pithed. The headline would have been even clearer without the disengenuous "by Response Critcs," but it sure aint "Opinions on Shape of Earth Differ."

More remarkably still, the story contains no quote one quote by a "senior Bush official", "White House source" or "administration source." The disappearance of this mysterious and very powerful being is much more important that the disappearance of Mr Brown.

I wonder if the Post has a new rule to not quote any such entity for a while, or if this new approach is specific to Spencer Hsu. To find out I guess I should just search the Post for those estemed gentlepersons and see if they are still appearing in other stories.

OK the "senior administration officials" are quoted after the jump from page A1 today on September 6th.
I am naive enough to have hoped that they was spending more time with their families.
I begin to Suspect that Mr Hsu had a little talk with his editor who said something like "write a story on how quickly Brown has been buried and, if you want to do some applied research into what it feels like, make sure you quote an anonymous source again."
Brown Thrown to the Wolves

After the immediately refuted slander of Governor Blanco, todays approach to spin control (as reported at Spin Central) is to blame it all on Brown. The new line is that there was a failure on the federal level, but that was just one bad apple. The more time with hi family sentence could not be clearer "Joe M. Allbaugh -- a college friend, former Bush campaign manager and past FEMA director who hired Brown as FEMA general counsel in 2001 -- offered a qualified defense."

This is a no brainer as there is no possible way to defend either Brown's performance or the orginal decision to appoint him head of FEMA.

Just imagine how it might go "Well we know that profiling is controversial and that we have been accused of thinking only of terrorism, but you know he is expert on Arabian horses. "

Or "Well he has to be expert on evacuations in challening circumstances which are accomplished against what should have been impossible odds and Osama Bin Laden managed that on a horse. How were we supposed to know that there aren't 100,000 horses in New Orleans"

I strongly suspect however that the wolves won't be satiated. The current progression is strictly alphabetical -- Blame Blanco, Blame Brown Blame Bu----- Chertoff. My sense is it will be one after the other, like dirt washing off a levee, until Bush's critics come pouring in. OK so I just compared myself to liquid filth from lake Ponchetrain, but I don't care -- "Once more into the breach dear friends"

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Is W a) a hypocrite or b) a total insane moron idiot hypocrite ?

we will find out soon. If he gives Jabbar Gibson, a medal (and by the way an offensively inadequate pardon) the answer is a) if he doesn't we must forgive him for he know not what be his ass and what be his elbow.

I am not willing to bet 10000000 to one that the idiot in the white house knows which is the distal extremity of his humorus and which is the opening left when he gastrulated (last thing he did competently)

updates: I confess I spelled hypocrite hypocrit (typo). The only thing I could ever stand about Quayle was the time he spelled potato p o t a t o e (as was written on the index card by some potatoe hed). My understanding is that Mr Gibson does not need a pardon, as Houston Police finally figured out that they should interpret the law with neither their asses nor their elbows but with that grey stuff.

I second the proposal to make Gibson the new head of FEMA. I would propose President but he won't be old enough for 15 years.

Friday, September 02, 2005

I quote Col. W. Patrick Lang (Ret.)

""Federal military personnel may also be used pursuant to the Stafford Act, 42 U.S.C., section 5121, in times of natural disaster upon request from a state governor. "

This quotation is from a commentary on the "Posse Comitatus Act" of 1878."

I quote the SCOTT SHANE and ERIC LIPTON in The New York Times

"A 1878 law restricts active-duty military forces from performing domestic law enforcement duties."

I don't know the posse comitatus act from an opossum, but I already had the impression that the Shane and Lipton article was repackaged Bush administration talking points added to balance the actual reporting in the same issue (not to mention an editorial or two). the headline "Governement Saw Flood Risk but Not Levee Failure" and the extensive exegesis of the difference between "Topping" and "breaching" made it clear that the point of the article was "it all depends on the definition of breaching" or "Bush said something amazingly ignorant and dishonest on live TV but a really smart spinmeister can obfuscate the issue."

Does the New York Times think that balance requires them to repeat in their own voice demonstrably false claims made by Bush administration flaks ? The question answers itself.

Update: It doesn't depend on the definition of breaching. To refute the legalistic defence of Bush's absurd claim, which defence is based on distinguishing "breaching" and "topping" it is necessary to find an explicit warning that breaching was a threat. I didn't recall the word in the many vivid descriptions of how New Orleans could be flooded which I have recently read.
Eric Umansky quotes "a story last year from the AP, nabbed from Nexis: "Officials have warned that if a major hurricane hits New Orleans, thousands of people could be killed and the city could be flooded for weeks as flood waters breach the levees ringing the city."

Hm the next line of defence might be "It all depends on how you define 'would'." That is people anticipated that the levees could be breached but no one said that given a storm like Katrina they certainly would be breached. After someone with Nexis refutes that, the final line of defence will be "anyone" means "George Bush," which, of course, is the way he sees the world.

Update 2. The distinction between overtopping and breaching of earthen levees is totally bogus. An earthen levee which is overtopped will soon be breached. The levee that failed was a berm of earth topped by a concrete wall. The legalistic defence of Bush's idiotic claim was, unsurprisingly, inconsistent with the facts, not only with the Nexis record but also with current events.

The swollen lake backed into the 17th Street Canal and surged over a section of its earthen levee on the east side, a catastrophic phenomenon known as "overtopping."
"Erosion occurs rapidly," said civil engineer Rick Stephenson of the University of Missouri at Rolla. "You have a concrete retaining wall on top in some areas, and it just collapses the levee as the earth foundation is eroded."

update 2: A rather more thorough critique over at mediamatters

We don't know if Nero fiddled while Rome burned
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But we do know that Bush noodled while New Orleans drowned

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I knew that nose looked familiar. Silly me I never believed in reincarnation.
At least Republicans are Consistent. The worst disaster is for a rich heir to start out on second base when he thought he hit a triple.

The head of FEMA was previously an estate planning lawyer.

Ken Mehlman asks Ohioans to respond to the looming catastrophe by fighting the estate tax.

Not about to let a bit of water distract them.

update: Armando reports that Frist insists on pressing ahead on permenant elimination of the estate tax. You can't make this stuff up. No satirist would dare pretend that Republicans are capable of such depravity.
Experiment in Information Retrieval

Why didn't I think of doing this as Marty Schwimmer did ?

After CNN reported today that helicopters were diverted from plugging the levee breach on Tuesday, in order to rescue individuals on rooftops, I wondered what is involved in securing sufficient helicopters in a national emergency. It took me two minutes of Googling to identify the Erickson Air Crane Company and obtain their email address and phone number. The Air Crane is one of the most powerful helicopters in the world (used for lifting trucks and putting out fires, for example).

Via Brad DeLong

Two minutes, that's fast. Still he may have started knowing he was interested in the "Air Crane." I happen to have known that the Air Crane is a very powerful helicopter for more than 32 years (that is I read about it during the Vietnam war) but you can't really expect a guy who served (most of) his time in the Texas Air National Guard to know that.

To be fair (and compete in googling) I tried to google powerful helicopters. It took me a full ten minutes to get to useful information. Partly I can't spelll and wrote helicoptors (cost 10 seconds till google corrected me). Mostly "powerful" is used for destructive power and google told me about those damn Apaches TM (the helicoptors not the Native American Nation). Also I got science fiction and video games and a lot of sites on debates about what new helicopters to buy for the armed forces. Finally I kept being told about the most powerful hilicopter the MI (I forget the number) Hind. They were made in the Soviet Union and are mostly in Russia and wouldn't have made it to New Orleans by Monday.

I found here that "There are very few "Sikorsky S-64 Skycranes" in existence. Since Erickson purchased the type certificate for the Skycrane in 1992, they have built 12 "E" models (20,000# lift cap) and 6 "F" models (25,000# lift cap) and have renamed the helicopter the "Erickson S-64 Aircrane". Erickson is the only company in the world that owns and operates the "F" models, having manufactured the first FAA certified models in existence." This means that the Skycrane/Aircrane might be in too short supply to have saved New Orleans (take that Marty).

Of course most people would have thought of the Chinook. I would guess the Defence Department has plenty for any eventuality but I guess Bush could have called the CEO of Boeing and demanded a few dozen along with ariel tankers so they wouldn't burn all the gasoline in Louisiana (or he could have called the former chief of procurement for the Airforce who went to work for Boeing).
I don't think anyone anticipated the Bush administration attempting the "I don't think anyone anticipated" defence again.

I didn't predict that they would lie in order to deflect blame for an instant, this means that no one could have anticipated it