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September 30, 2005

over here, over here, send the word, send the word, over here…

There have been suggestions in Washington that the United States military should take a more active and direct role in leading recovery efforts after such natural disasters as Hurricane Katrina.

However, many people are uncomfortable with the idea of federal troops occupying American cities. Imagine if there was an earthquake in Los Angeles and the military was sent in. How long would it be before you’d have Sean Penn and Ben Affleck strapping on suicide vests and heading to Spagos? The downside? Those were only their stunt doubles.

But on a more practical level, is the military really suited to such an effort?

For over 200 years the job of the United States military has been to blow things up.  Where you and I see a building, they see pre-rubble. This is perfectly appropriate. The major deterrence stopping other people from blowing us up is knowing that we can blow them up too.

Now, in the course of blowing things up, the military has become good at taking care of complex logistical matters that provide for the more efficient blowing up of things.  Being able to house and feed the people you have trained to blow things up is helpful. However, we have to be careful not to suggest that this is somehow the military’s core competence. It isn’t. Blowing things up is. 

Therefore, when trying to decide whether the application of the military is appropriate in any given situation you should apply the simple “BOOM!” Test. That is, will your goals be furthered if, in the course of addressing an issue, a BOOM! is somehow involved. 

For instance, let’s say you have a terrorist training camp in which there are scores of jihadists determined to wreak havoc on America. Can this problem be effectively addressed by the military?

BOOM!

Why yes, yes it can. 

How about a situation in which a city is flooded and hundreds of survivors are clinging to rooftops? Think carefully now.

BOOM!

Ouch, no, your approval rating just took a nosedive and your press secretary had to be put on Zoloft.

Now, how about if Paris Hilton just got signed to host her own show on MSNBC?

BOOM!

Okay, this is a gray area at best. 

Rather than saddle the military with yet another obligation for which it is not particularly well suited, perhaps we could provide additional resources to the agencies that already exist and are charged with those very tasks.

But what if those agencies are so irredeemably compromised by bad management and institutional resistance that they may never become effective?

BOOM!

J.

September 30, 2005 at 11:41 AM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 29, 2005

maybe they ran out of desani and really, no one drinks aquafina

There is a growing frustration in the wake of Hurricane Rita with the sluggish response and general lack of preparedness on the part of Gulf Coast residents.

Said one FEMA official, “You’d think after Katrina a few of them would have maybe bought a bottle of water or two? Next thing you’re going to tell me is that they expected the federal government to run around with tanker trucks topping off everyone’s gas tank, I mean that’s… What? They actually expected that? Are you freaking kidding me?!”

Senator Christopher Shays of Connecticut has already begun hearings on the matter. “I expected to hear about the failures of residents in known hurricane zones to properly prepare for disaster and all I got was a lot of finger pointing at FEMA,” the Senator said. “I was so outraged I almost got some color in my face.”

John Owens, emergency management coordinator for Port Arthur, Texas famously described people in his town as “living like cavemen, sleeping in cars, doing bodily functions outside,” suggesting that Mr. Owens may have accidentally wandered into a college football game. 

One resident of Port Arthur standing in front of his devastated home expressed the general sentiment in the region. “Look, it’s been four days since the hurricane struck and I have yet to see FEMA rebuild a single house, not a single one. How long do we have to wait?”

“I mean, if Anderson Cooper can get in here with a cameraman and some lights, then surely the federal government can repair the entire electrical infrastructure of the Gulf Coast in the same amount of time.”

In a related story, the Daily News is reporting that investigators are getting close to the principle source of the government’s disorganized response to Hurricane Katrina: the wanton and deliberate shoe shopping by Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. As one source close to the investigation put it, “We’re still looking into whether the shoes were open toed. But if they were, it’s going to blow the lid off this thing.”

J.

September 29, 2005 at 11:39 AM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 28, 2005

so little time, so many hands out

When you see your fellow citizens faced with tragedy of nearly unimaginable proportions you are naturally moved to action. Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota was so moved by the events along the Gulf Coast that he placed a provision (sub. reqd.) in a current hurricane relief bill to provide money for those farmers most in need.

In North Dakota.

Not to be outdone in this display of compassion, California lawmakers are seeking MREs (Money Ready to Expend) for flood control projects in (this is purely coincidence) California.

But it is not only politically powerful interests in states hundreds of miles away that need our help. No, it reaches all the way to banks that provided mortgages on insufficiently insured houses.  It is an outrage that a month after disaster struck, not a single Coast Guard helicopter has been by to air drop bags of relief cash for stricken lending institutions. Without help soon, it is quite possible that we will start losing quarterly performance bonuses at an alarming rate.

Member companies of the American Forest and Paper Association are also lining up for federal dollars. Why are losses by private interests the obligation of taxpayers nationwide? Because we all know that when that single mom in Oregon comes home from her second job to tuck her children in at night, the foremost concern on her mind is “what can I do to help the timber industry?”

Louisiana officials, growing concerned that they may be losing out on their fair share of relief, have proposed a $250 billion package that will provide desperately needed funds to fortify fountains that were heavily damaged when the levees broke in New Orleans.

In related news, New Orleans Chief of Police, Eddie Compass, in surveying a devastated city, a police force in tatters, and a citizenry desperate for some return to normalcy, came to the only conclusion possible: “My work here is done.”

J.

September 28, 2005 at 11:25 AM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 27, 2005

it was really more of a nearsighted trust

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has become the subject of multiple investigations over his sale of HCA stock held in a blind trust shortly before a bad earnings report sent the shares tumbling.

What should the senator do? He has a number of options available to him:

  • Plead guilty immediately, do the time, and secure a new “Apprentice” show. “Kevin, I’m sorry, you did not do a good job leading your team. Kevin, ‘you’ve lost the election.’”
  • Take a hard line with the press. “I did not sell stock in that company, HCA, Inc.”
  • Address the perception that HCA shareholders had been abandoned in their time of need by embarking on a series of trips to those institutional holders most affected by the earnings disaster. Note that no one “can imagine an America without HCA, Inc. and its wholly owned subsidiaries and related affiliates.”
  • Play dumb. “C’mon boys, I don’t know about all this complicated financial trust stuff. It’s not like I’m a rocket scientist or anything. Okay, so I’m a brain surgeon, but I’m not a rocket scientist!”
  • Find out from Joe Biden where he got the scary white teeth and smile at reporters until they go away.
  • Play the race card. “You know, this wouldn’t be happening if I were a rich white guy. Well a richer, whiter guy.”

If none of this works he can always blame the whole thing on “moderate wing extremists” who are trying to foist their mainstream agenda on an unsuspecting America!

J.

September 27, 2005 at 12:18 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 26, 2005

peace & justice festival part 2

Over 100,000 people came to Washington DC this past Saturday to attend a protest against the Iraq war. Imagine their surprise when there wasn’t one. In its place was a demonstration about worker’s rights and global warming and racism and Palestinian rights and hanging chads and Halliburton and New Orleans and every now and then a brief something about a war, possibly Arab in nature.

Much of this can be traced back to the organizers, one of which was, ANSWER, “Act Now to Stop War and End Racism,” which sounds like they came up with a cool-sounding acronym first and only then found some causes that fit it. How about, “Respecting Aboriginal Natives and Diabetics Organized for Medicine,” or “RANDOM.”

The key to understanding ANSWER is in its origins, the Workers World Party. Now, I’m going to start using the word “socialist” here. I preface these remarks because too often people throw around the word as a kind of reflexive epithet for anyone or anything that is remotely liberal. Ted Kennedy pretty much can’t open his mouth, even if only to toss back a vodka and tonic, without being called a socialist.

But it’s okay to label these people socialists because it’s on their banners. And no, it’s not some graffiti perpetrated by members of the Young Republicans. They put it there themselves.

The socialist movement is typically populated by young men who think that if they wear a Che Guevara T-Shirt it might get them in bed with that cute liberal arts chick they met in the student union while waiting for White Stripes tickets, you know, the one with 42 different black tops in her closet. Fewer in number are the bitter old guys with gray hair and pony tails who still hold a serious grudge against Mikhail Gorbachev.

In addition to ANSWER and the Workers World Party (and many others), was the “Party for Socialism and Liberation” which had tables full of glossy magazines for purchase. Presumably they had to put up money to have these made in the hopes that they could then sell them to willing buyers in arms-length transactions so as to recoup their original investment with perhaps a little extra left over that could then be reinvested in additional inventory or fixed assets so as to further their venture. If only there were an economic system of some kind based on this basic principle of property rights and invested capital. But I digress.

I grabbed a free pamphlet which seemed more in the spirit of the day. I was curious to see what new approaches to socialism the movement had come up with having learned from the setbacks of the last couple of decades. “We fight for socialism, a system where the wealth of society belongs to those who produce it – the working class – and is used in a planned and sustainable way for the benefit of all.” Like Joe Paterno going up the middle, these people never learn. I mean, if you’re going to try to sell leisure suits, at least update the colors and fabrics a bit and ditch the burnt orange in crushed velvet (not that I ever owned such a thing, mine was more of a tasteful tangerine). The pamphlet goes on to blame capitalism for such things as “lesbian/gay/bi/trans oppression” as evidenced by North Korea’s thriving transgender community.

The socialist movement’s long-term goals are as ambitious as its short-term goals are modest. I was handed a flyer from an organization called “The World Can’t Wait” the goal of which is to “drive Bush himself from office.” To further this cause, they are organizing a day of protest called “Resist or Die! No School Nov 2.” In other words they are planning on having students across the country demonstrate their deeply held commitment to “repudiating” the Bush administration by skipping class. Presumably it won’t end there. We look forward to “Pick up a Stranger and have Sex with them Day” and “Do as Many Jägermeister Shots as you Can Day” because it is only through profound personal sacrifice that we can we truly “send a message.”

Aside from the socialists, the other theme running strongly throughout the day was, how can I put this? Let’s just say that if you were looking for some good gefilte fish this probably wasn’t the place for you. The speakers seemed incapable of saying “America out of Iraq” without adding “Israel out of Palestine” like it was a nervous tick. The anti-Israeli sentiment was striking because, you know, hating Jews is so old school. But then, if you want to bring back socialism I suppose it kind of fits. Anyone up for a polio epidemic? Just for old times?

The chants left something to be desired as well. “The people, united, will never be defeated.” Okay, this doesn’t even rhyme. It turns out the Spanish version from an old socialist-themed Chilean song does ("El pueblo unido jamás será vencido!")  but, come on, put a little more work into this than running a chant through some free online language translator. (Although based on my own experience it could have been worse, “Thai peppers, were cited, the recipe derided.”)

The coverage the event received in the Washington Post was interesting in the way that things that are completely wrong are interesting. I’m sure the reporters sold their editor on the idea of covering an antiwar protest. If it turns out to be something else do their expense reports get denied? (Have you seen the price of Evian lately?) That’s the only explanation for statements that described the demonstration as being, “focused on a succinct theme: ‘End the War in Iraq and Bring the Troops Home Now.’" I don’t know, maybe between the neck brace and the ear infection, the author missed a lot.

The Post also reported that, “The masses on the street served up a broad cross section of the United States by age, geography, religion and ethnic group.” That’s true, but only if by “United States” you mean, “Salt Lake City Chamber of Commerce Meeting.” I found the crowd to be lily white. And so did the Post had they taken the time to glance at their own photos published in Sunday’s paper. You can find a face or two that isn’t white but it’s reminiscent of the old “Finding Waldo” series.

Was the crowd disenchanted with the bait and switch? In the few hours I spent there I noticed a notable lack of enthusiasm for the speakers. This makes sense to me. On the Metro ride in, the conversations I overheard included a Viet Nam vet and a mother whose son was being sent to Iraq the next month. Somehow, the subject of a socialist revolution or Israeli occupation never came up. I’m sure if I had stayed on past the Federal Triangle stop it would have  for sure…

J.

September 26, 2005 at 10:17 AM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

September 24, 2005

peace and justice festival part 1 - a pictorial

A written report will follow.  For now, we'll let our camera do the talking:

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September 24, 2005 at 07:21 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

September 23, 2005

"illegal" is so judgmental

The White House is continuing its efforts to promote a "guest worker” program as its solution to the crisis of widespread illegal immigration along the Mexican border. This novel approach courageously goes to the very heart of the problem: The Dictionary.

Immigrants who enter the country illegally have long been unfairly stigmatized by the label “illegal” which strongly suggests that they have broken some kind of law (perhaps immigration-related).

By redefining these alleged “illegal immigrants” as “guest workers” the administration can essentially put an end to the problem of illegal immigrants. Not only is it quick and efficient but it eliminates the costly and difficult work of, say, defending the borders and enforcing what is known in some southwestern states as “the law.”

If successful, this new approach could be applied to similar problems. For instance, the looting in New Orleans that followed Hurricane Katrina could have all but been eradicated by redefining the looters as “guest shoppers.” This would have freed up additional law enforcement personnel who could have then been dedicated to the important task of waiting around for the National Guard.

This does create the question of what to call those immigrants who play by the rules and go through the normal time-consuming channels to secure legal visas. 

"Guest suckers?"

J.

September 23, 2005 at 12:14 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 22, 2005

that which we call a hurricane by any other name would destroy as much

The nation is facing a critical shortage of Hurricane names. With two months left in the hurricane season and only four names remaining on the list used by the National Hurricane Center something must be done quickly.

The existing backup plan is to use letters in the Greek alphabet. There are a couple of problems with this. First, while “delta” may sound sorta cool, it’s really just the letter D. No one wants their home destroyed by a letter of the alphabet. Think of the memorial services, “We will never forget that terrible day, when ‘D’ unleashed her, or his, or its… fury." Second, tragedy would surely ensue as drunk fraternity brothers flock to the site of any Greek-lettered hurricane yelling things like, “Greek unity forever!” and “Show us your boobs!”

In light of this, we offer the following alternatives:

  • Sell the naming rights to corporate sponsors. “Hurricane PowerAde.” Brought to you by the makers of PowerAde. Quench that thirst with hurricane force!”
  • Drum up hurricane awareness by using the catchy names of popular TV personalities such as “Hurricane David Hasselhoff,” and “Hurricane Zachary Braff.”
  • Name the hurricanes after important public service announcements. “Hurricane Men Over The Age of 40 Should Get a Prostate Exam,” and “Hurricane Spay or Neuter Your Pet Today!”
  • Mention the problem to President Bush to ensure it gets the proper attention. And a $20 billion federal program dedicated to addressing the issue.
  • Like stars and planets, let the person who first discovers the hurricane name it. The downside to this will be the number of storms named after ex-wives, pets and favorite Star Wars characters.

J.

September 22, 2005 at 03:54 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

a kind of perfect storm

The White House was blindsided yesterday by the announcements of both Senator Kennedy and Senator Kerry that they were planning on voting against the President’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge John Roberts.

Said one administration insider, “We can’t believe we lost both senators from Massachusetts. One maybe, but both? But as bad as that is, it goes well beyond just those two votes, it’s what that does to the dynamics of the whole process. Now Feinstein and Schumer are in play.”

It would appear that the administration’s strategy of using large deficit spending and a rapidly expanding federal government to shore up the President’s support among liberals has not worked as well as planned. “Good Lord, what do they want from us? Provide funding for on-demand partial-birth abortion benefits to middle school kids?” lamented one frustrated White House Aide.

“Hey, I should jot that down,” he added.

J.

September 22, 2005 at 09:01 AM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 21, 2005

they’re practically giving them away

A 10-foot-wide former tool shed in a desirable neighborhood in Dublin, Ireland was sold recently for $269,100, shocking New York real estate agents. “Did the market crash?” asked one. “Maybe I could find you a place here for that price but it would have to be the top floor of a walk-up, and by the top floor I mean the roof.”

“Let’s just say you wouldn't be doing a lot of entertaining in the winter.”

“Wow, 280 square feet, you could really stretch out in a place like that,” commented one envious Manhattan resident. “I’ve heard you can get that kind of space in some of those middle states, you know, out in East Dakota or Okla-whatever but then you can’t get any French-Canadian-Salvadoran-Thai takeout delivered. Not after midnight anyway.”

“I mean, I wouldn’t mind a little more room but I’m not going to live like an animal to get it.”

“Can you at least catch the A train there?” asked one Realtor. “No?  Well that explains the price. But I can tell you what I can do for you. I have a line on a mausoleum going condo up in the 120s. If you’re interested I could maybe get you on a waiting list for a nice drawer. Sure, it’s a little tight but we’re putting in Baci wall fixtures and some nice African steamed cedar floors.”

“And did I mention all the marble?”

J.

September 21, 2005 at 11:22 AM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack