Friday, September 02, 2005

Where were all the first responders? How about the second responders? Third?

Watching the events as they unfold in New Orleans and many other parts of the Gulf Coast of the United States is horrifying. I am glad I waited a few days to right this because I have allowed my anger and outrage subside a bit. As such there will be far less blood-spitting vitriolic language in this post then there likely should be.

I am on a weekly e-mail group where a friend of mine from college sends out an e-mail with a question for everyone to ponder. We do and then some people each week reply to all with their opinions on the question. Today my friend wrote her weekly question asking what people could do to help from far away. I responded by saying that it is difficult for people in far off States to be of much help. And speaking as someone in the far off State of Hawaii that is very frustrating. I guess I moved here for that remote, detached feeling, but at times it can make you feel isolated in a bad way.

What the people in the Southeast need is money, money and more money. People who want to help should donate to the United Way, Red Cross, or other reputable charities (this is not the time to try out a new charity).

We also need to pressure our government to put more money into our own country and less into others (namely Iraq). This is not George W. Bush's fault, or Congresses for that matter, but it is a fact that our infrastructure is neglected. Bridges, roads, railroads, harbors and transit systems, sewers, water mains, landfills and power lines, our country neglects the details because it is the stuff that no one thinks about until something major happens, and then a policy window opens, as my old public policy Professor Juliet Musso might say.

More money to the Army Corp of Engineers would not have stopped the levees from breaking, those levees were built to withstand a tidal surge of 15 feet maximum, and by all accounts the surge from Hurricane Katrina was 20-25 feet. More money for Homeland Security (and not for searching backpacks in Grand Central Station, and other important anti-terrorist measures, I mean more money for HOMELAND security) would have gotten Federal boots on the ground faster. It is unbearable to watch as people wait for help that simply isn’t coming. I was glad to see that the Tulane University football team arrived safely in Houston last night, but what about the 30% of the population of New Orleans that lives in abject poverty? What about them? We need to get money on the ground faster.

In the days after the disaster I was really angry that people were looting and taking "advantage" of the situation, but I have reversed myself. It is clear now that in the absence of outside help, people have to help themselves. I don't blame the looters, most are just trying to survive. There are reports that some parts of the disaster areas have not even been visited be relief officials. These people have lost everything that they have spent a lifetime building. They need help and our government is FAILING them.

We need to get money to aid organizations to get them on the ground pronto. Why were we so fast in Banda Aceh and Phuket but so slow in Shreveport and Biloxi? It is outrageous. This is the reason we have a Federal government. All the other stuff is icing on the cake, this is why we have a Federal government. And Homeland Security is failing its first test miserably. I am afraid for the next terrorist attack.

Of course, the reason we got money to Banda Aceh and Phuket and other tsunami stricken areas so quickly was because it was clear who was in charge and who was running the show. In the United States, when it comes to delivering public policies efficiently and quickly, we have way too many levels of Government. In the immediate aftermath it was clear that nobody in Government knew who should be doing what. There were individual city and State efforts being undertaken along with federal efforts, but no one was talking to anyone else. We have too much government (never thought you’d hear the freak blogger say that, did you?). We needed the federal government to come in, federalize the Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama (as well as the Florida and Texas) National Guards, they needed to take control on the ground. But our Homeland Security Department, brand new and touted as a rapid response ready department, failed to take clear and decisive action either before or after this event. It should not have been a surprise; the Army Corp of Engineers has gamed out this scenario years ago.

Homeland Security are not to blame for what happened, but they are to blame for react so poorly to it. They should have been prepared in advance. If there are not enough National Guards personnel to handle this, then some need to be pulled out of Iraq to deal with it. That is, after all, why we have a “National” Guard in the first place.

Our President’s Press Secretary tells us it is not time to politicize this event and point fingers. He is half right, we shouldn’t politicize it. The President should steer clear of this area and let his federal government handle to situation on the ground. But Scott McClellan is also half wrong. We should point fingers. We should be trying to figure out how we were so completely ill-prepared to deal with this situation. It is the only way we will ever be ready next time.

So the synopsis answer to my friend’s question: Send money! Oh, and voting next time would be a good idea too. Not for any particular Party, but voting for candidates who think we should invest as much in the real American democracy as we do in fictitious Iraqi democracy.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Ahh, the good ol' days

I received this e-mail from forwarded to me...

Quotes from when Clinton committed troops to Bosnia:

"You can support the troops but not the president."--Rep Tom Delay (R-TX)

"Well, I just think it's a bad idea. What's going to happen is they're going to be over there for 10, 15, maybe 20 years."--Joe Scarborough (R-FL)

"Explain to the mothers and fathers of American servicemen that may come home in body bags why their son or daughter have to give up their life?"--Sean Hannity, Fox News, 4/6/99

"[The] President . . . is once again releasing American military might on a foreign country with an ill-defined objective and no exit strategy. He has yet to tell the Congress how much this operation will cost. And he has not informed our nation's armed forces about how long they will be away from home. These strikes do not make for a sound foreign policy."--Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA)

"American foreign policy is now one huge big mystery. Simply put, the administration is trying to lead the world with a feel-good foreign policy."--Rep Tom Delay (R-TX)

"If we are going to commit American troops, we must be certain they have a clear mission, an achievable goal and an exit strategy."--Karen Hughes, speaking on behalf of George W Bush

"I had doubts about the bombing campaign from the beginning. I didn't think we had done enough in the diplomatic area."--Senator Trent Lott (R-MS)

"I cannot support a failed foreign policy. History teaches us that it is often easier to make war than peace. This administration is just learning that lesson right now. The President began this mission with very vague objectives and lots of unanswered questions. A month later, these questions are still unanswered. There are no clarified rules of engagement. There is no timetable. There is no legitimate definition of victory. There is no contingency plan for mission creep. There is no clear funding program. There is no agenda to bolster our over-extended military. There is no explanation defining what vital national interests are at stake. There was no strategic plan for war when the President started this thing, and there still is no plan today"--Rep Tom Delay (R-TX)

"Victory means exit strategy, and it's important for the President to explain to us what the exit strategy is."--Governor George W. Bush (R-TX)

Funny thing is, we won that war without a single killed in action.

But there is no oil in Bosnia...

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The Poor Get Forgotten Again…

It seems every time we turn around we see a new study talking about the poor in this country. Today I was on a Webcast put on by the U.S. Census Bureau. It dealt with “Poverty, Income, and Health Insurance” in the United States. The Census Bureau never ceases to amaze me with the data that they present. I, of course, would have no idea if they were pulling the wool over my eyes, but it looks good to me.

The statistics that they presented were staggering. The median household income in the United States in 2004 was a $44,400/year. Does anyone else think that is way too little to be caring for a family with, even in Wichita, let alone New York City or Los Angeles? 12.7% of the people in the United States lived in poverty in 2004. That amounts to approximately 37 million people, up only very modestly from 2003. Why is that we hear nothing but how well our economy is doing and yet over a million more people are “officially” poor from one year to the next? Does someone smell rotting fish?

37 million people exist in this country in poverty, and I would consider our measure of poverty far too laissez-faire. 37 million people is approximately the population of Argentina. Does anyone think that a country that has split the human genome, harnessed the atom and “successfully” prevented inflation for nearly twenty years, think that it is atrocious that 37 million people live in poverty in this country. And that the true number of people struggling not only month to month, or week to week, but day to day is probably far higher.

The saddest statistic is that the percentage of children in poverty is higher than the national average (17.8%). In this Webcast it was presented that 11.2% of children do not have health insurance. 18.9% of children living in poverty have no health insurance in spite of the fact that programs like Medicaid and State Childrens Health Insurance Plans (SCHIPs) are designed to cover the poor. I cannot abide people denied health coverage, I find it especially shameful when children are denied.

Poverty is a natural by-product of the economic system that we have selected for ourselves. I do not mean capitalism, you neo-con slugs! I mean a self-serving, self-centered and self-interested variety of capitalism. Until several years ago ethics classes were not part of standard business school curricula. It took the Enron and WorldCom scandals to get those classes taught.

As for corporate social responsibility, that has absolutely not caught on in this country. There is no incentive to help working people struggling to make a bit more money. Paying people a fair wage is antithetical to our profit-driven business model. I am, of course, laying down vast generalizations. Not all business owners are awful, and many truly cannot afford to pay more, particularly small business owners. But why does it always seem to fall on the little guy; the mother working multiple jobs, the father who has taken a menial laborers job because a plant was moved overseas to make a company more profitable? I don’t see a lot of out of work CEOs or executive salaries lagging?

A raise in the minimum wage or other labor friendly regulations are slammed as typical liberal, anti-business shenanigans. John Kenneth Galbraith said it best in a speech in 1998: "Who is hurt, then, by a rise in the minimum wage? I'm enough of an economist to believe that people are rational, and that therefore workers are rational when they favor a rise in minimum wages, and that certain employers are rational enough when they oppose it. Who are they? The most predatory, the most abusive, the least desirable employers in our economic system, those who thrive on low-wage shops and who use the lever of low wages to drive other businesses to the wall. If a rise in the minimum wage hurts such businesses and helps some others, in my view so much the better." We need to become better at argue that these are not anti-business but pro-employee.

Not all American businesses have taken this approach towards labor costs. If one looks historically, Henry Ford, generally considered a vicious competitor and typical capitalist businessman, the founder of the Ford Motor Company and father of assembly line manufacturing said; "There is one rule for the industrialist and that is: Make the best quality of goods possible at the lowest cost possible, paying the highest wages possible." The $5-a-day minimum-wage scheme he voluntarily implemented in 1914, the first in the nation, came at a time when the average wage in the auto industry was $2.34 for a 9-hr. shift.

Ford not only doubled that, he also shaved an hour off the workday. This all happened before the government mandated a minimum wage. Ford, for all his personal flaws, was model of corporate social responsibility. But instead of being praised Ford was scorned by the business world. The Wall Street Journal called his actions "an Economic Crime". Henry Ford got the last laugh. The critics were shortsighted and unable to see that in lowering his "costs per car", the higher wages didn't matter — except for making it possible for more people, including his employees, to buy his cars.

Henry Ford understood a theory that has come to be known as the Labor Theory of Value. That is that paying employees a livable wage will improve morale, it will increase productivity, it will inspire "pride of ownership" in employees. After all, as John Locke pointed out, in the workplace all a worker owns is his labor.

So, how and when does it all change? It isn’t easy (it never is, is it?). People must make a conscious decision to take a stand against companies that do not practice corporate social responsible behavior. We need to not support sweatshop businesses. We need to take a stand against predatory businesses that drive down costs at the expense of worker salary and benefits. (Wal-Mart, I’m looking at YOU!) We need to decide that the lowest possible cost to us isn’t necessarily the best deal. Ironic isn’t it that so many poor people shop at Wal-Mart and yet it is Wal-Mart style businesses that are driving the cost-cutting craze that prevents poor people from getting a leg up.

It isn’t just Wal-Mart, it isn’t just their business practice of strangling suppliers to cut costs, but they are a huge part of the problem. Identify companies in your community who treat their employees well, who provide them with good benefits and a fair wage. Support those businesses and urge your friends to do so too. You might just be the mouse that roared.

Monday, August 29, 2005

The Plame Game...

In the on-going saga of the White House leak of the identity of Valerie Plame, there is really no new information to present. But this week the Los Angeles Times printed an excellent summary of the events that have transpired to date. It goes through all the events in the order they transpired and give a bit of an assessment of them. I think the best point that this article makes time and time again is that answers are severely lacking in this incident.

The administration made a huge mistake, intentional or not, in leaking the identity of Ambassador Joe Wilson’s wife to the press. The administration made even more colossal mistakes in assessing the evidence against Iraq when trying to justify the war. And yet, we aren’t having a debate about why we went to war. We are having a debate about the legality of divulging the name of a covert operative.

Where the hell are our priorities? I am quite fully aware that the leak of Valerie Plame’s identity was an incredible lapse of judgment by this administration, possibly a criminal one. But it is the type of hardball tactics that are to be expected when doing political battle with a Rottweiler like Karl Rove. But in the mix, we have allowed the administration to succeed in its mission. That mission, as undertaken by Karl Rove, Scooter Libby and a number of other buffoons in the Bush administration, was to distract the American people’s attention away from the reality that we found no Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq.

Let me repeat that for all you Republican numb skulls. We found NO Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq.

Oh Mr. Blogger, why is that so significant? We went into Iraq to deliver democracy and liberty to the Iraqi people. And clearly, they were a haven for terrorists. Hogwash! Do not forget the fact that our sole and entire rationale for invading the sovereign nation of Iraq was because we believed that Saddam Hussein was in violation of a gaggle of United Nations Security Council resolutions dealing with Weapons of Mass Destruction. We were particularly fearful that he might be a weak link in our efforts to prevent the proliferation of these weapons to some of the most undesirable hands.

Make no mistake about it, Saddam Hussein is a pig. In fact, that is an insult to pigs. He is a disgusting megalomaniac, but that in and of itself is simply not sufficient justification for violating the sovereignty of an independent nation. Unfortunately our entire legitimate rationale rested on the fact that this man and his Bathist buddies were in violation of rules set up as a result of the Gulf War. They were the terms of his surrender in 1991. We were convinced that this guy was pulling a fast on the weapons inspectors placed in Iraq by the UN. We were so convinced that we went around the UN and invaded anyways. In so doing we destroyed the goodwill of the international community that came about as a result of the terrorist attacks of September 11th.

The Plame Game goes on, but don’t be distracted. There were no Weapons of Mass Destruction, there was no tie between Saddam Hussein’s Bathists and Al Qaeda, and if our intention was to build a stable democracy in Iraq, I think we should quit while we’re behind and sinking. Our administration lied to us, they distracted us and stalled to get their puppet re-elected, and now they have us bogged down in this Karl Rove leak investigation. Who cares! Karl Rove is a big fat (and I mean rotund) ZERO. The people we need to investigate are Vice President Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld, President Bush and then National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice. These are the people who perpetrated the alleged fraud against the American people and against the world as a whole.

Don’t be distracted.