Congress has been spending, and it's getting worse. Now people are starting to bite back.
Over on my other blog, I started a campaign (background is here) to identify pork spending. Readers were to find a pork project in their home district, then contact their Senators and Representative to eliminate it, or to identify something else they were willing to cut instead. (The PorkBusters Web site that resulted is here.) The project has gotten a fair amount of attention, and there's some sign that Congress is starting to feel the heat. Check out this report:
The Senate was up to its old tricks Monday evening. It prepared to pass, without debate and under a procedure requiring unanimous consent, a federal infusion of $9 billion into state Medicaid programs under the pretext of Katrina relief. The bill, drafted in secret under bipartisan auspices, was stopped cold when Republican Sen. John Ensign voiced his objection.
Fear has enveloped Republicans who see themselves handing the banner of fiscal integrity to the Democrats. The GOP is losing the rhetoric war, even though Democrats mostly push for higher domestic spending, because Republicans, while standing firm against tax increases, have also declined to cut spending. Fearing the worst in the 2006 and 2008 elections, Republican senators who would not be expected to do so are looking to McCain to lead the party back to fiscal responsibility.
President Bush's opposition to the Grassley-Baucus bill was meaningless. Bush could not kill the bill by objecting, but any senator could, and Ensign did. Ensign noted that Congress had appropriated an extra $62 billion in the wake of Katrina.
Video: Porkbusters Let's hear it for Ensign, and hope that more Senators take up his example. Among the Republicans, at least, they'd better. Republican columnist Frank Cagle notes the disillusionment with Tom Delay-style big spending that has set in:
Bush may still be popular with the branch of the Republican Party that only cares about abortion, stem-cell research and displaying the Ten Commandments, but the fiscal-conservative small-government don't-tread-on-me wing of the party has had enough.
He's right, and you don't have to look any farther than the Web site formerly known as CrushKerry.com, now known as AnkleBitingPundits, where Patrick Hynes writes:
The GOP ran against lobbyists. Not specific lobbyists but rather the very idea that "K Street fat cats" (as we called them) were drafting legislation and deciding policy for a decrepit Democrat majority. We ran against corruption, such as Rostenkowski and all that. We were then an anti-Washington party, dismissing the "corridors or power" as a giant piggy bank for the highest bidding special interest groups. Hillarycare was just icing on the cake.
And yet somewhere along the line we became what we despised.
Clearly the Congressional GOP has lost much of its bearings, and is turning into the 1992-1993 version of the Congressional Democrats. And the question arises, what's the point of having a majority if that majority doesn't stand for anything useful?
The last time Americans felt that way, we got Ross Perot and a Democrat in the White House.
Serenity: Building buzz in the blogosphereThis week the motion picture industry tried something different -- building buzz in the blogosphere by setting up advance screenings of the movie Serenity, based on the Firefly TV series.
I took them up on their offer and saw the film, along with quite a few other bloggers. My review is here.
As you can see, I liked the film. But more interesting, to me, is the fact that big movies are now being pitched to bloggers the way they've been pitched to the regular press.
I suspect that we'll see a lot more of that. Lots of people are starting to say that small is the new big, and I've been saying for a while that the secret to the 21st Century will be getting lots of people interested in what you're interested in. It used to be that people looked to a few tastemakers to figure out what they should like. Now -- as things like Amazon's rating system and the blog-PR campaign illustrate -- people increasingly look to each other.
I think that the Serenity movie campaign will be just the beginning. Of course, over the longer term, Hollywood may come to look at ordinary people as competitors...
Where the men aren't
I work on a university campus, and like most universities, we worry about diversity. But higher education is becoming less diverse all the time, as the ranks of male students dwindle.
A recent article in USA Today observed:
Currently, 135 women receive bachelor's degrees for every 100 men. That gender imbalance will widen in the coming years, according to a new report by the U.S. Department of Education.
But the inequity has yet to provoke the kind of response that finally opened opportunities for women a generation ago. In fact, virtually no one is exploring the obvious questions: What has gone wrong? And what happens to all the boys who aren't in college?
I looked at some possible answers to this question in a column over at TechCentralStation today, but I continue to wonder why nobody is paying much attention to this issue. Perhaps men lack the sort of identity-politics lobby groups that women and minorities do.
You certainly don't see much in the way of "Men's Studies" and "Men's Centers" to match the Women's Studies and Women's Centers that you see on most college campuses these days.
Will we see that change, as men become a minority on university campuses?
My guess is yes, and that's because -- at least according to a recent New York Times report that's gotten a lot of attention (including commentaries by Richard Posner and Gary Becker), college-educated women are increasingly abandoning their careers for full-time motherhood. Many people doubt whether this is happening to the degree suggested by the Times, and "trend" stories like this should always be taken with a grain of salt, but to the extent it's true it puts colleges in a bind: Where are their rich alumni to come from in the future, if men don't attend and women don't go on to become high-earners?
Rather than take this chance, I suspect that universities will start looking at ways to attract and retain male students. Concern for the well-being of males may run against the prejudices of the academic classes, but academia is no stranger to self-interest, or to marketing.
Readers speak on disaster planning
Yesterday's post brought some reader comments:
Name: Steve O
Hometown: Hillsborough, NJ
Have enough food and water to sustain yourself for a few days. Good advice. It seems more than a little bit reckless to think that you can show up with nothing, along with another 10,000 people who also have nothing, and expect to not skip a meal. When I took groups of inner city kids on camping trips, I packed for myself. But I made sure I had three extra coats, extra dry socks, extra snacks, extra water, extra aspirin, and so on. Personal disaster planning should advise the same! Have enough to share! That way when you encounter someone in distress you don't have a tough decision on whether to help your fellow man.
Glenn writes: Good point. That's something I've kept in mind.
Name: Calvin Cloud
Hometown: Kennesaw, GA
It's interesting to me that, in my opinion, we do not really know what is causing the upsurge in hurricane activity. And so some say it is due to global warming while others dispute that analysis. But it is apparent to me that in spite of all of our increased knowledge about many things, we do not truly know why and therefore the writer concludes that the change could last for a decade or many decades and finally says that we should be prepared for anything. Hmmmmm. Maybe we aren't as smart as we think we are eh?
Glenn writes: Yes. I'm an agnostic on global warming -- or rather, I think it's pretty clear that the globe is warming, at least somewhat, but it's not clear that it's due to manmade greenhouse gases. After all, Martian ice caps have been shrinking, and Pluto seems to be getting warmer, too, and that's not because of SUVs. Here's a BBC article suggesting that global warming is due to higher solar output, which would seem to be the better explanation. That's not an excuse for poor planetary hygiene, but it's a reminder that just because people on TV say the science is clear doesn't mean that it really is.
Name: Steve Marshall
Hometown: Abingdon, VA
Hey Jethro, this is why you were chosen as the whore for your corporate (oil) sponsors, how you manage to refute global warming embedded in a message supposedly about disaster preparedness, as if you give a rat's. You're a coward and a pig, and that is all you are.
Glenn writes: That's no insult: I liked Jethro, but I always preferred Ellie May. And as Galileo might have said, you can call me Jethro, but that doesn't make the Martian ice cap evidence go away. I don't know how that translates into 17th century Italian...
You are exactly right (AGAIN!)! The government cannot magically appear and protect you from something you could have avoided. As I write this, Louisiana residents are still stupid enough to say they will "ride out" Hurricane Rita, with their weakened levees and still flooded city! Talk about lame! And does Nagin have a plan yet??
Glenn writes: Yes, again. It gets tiresome, I know, which I guess explains why Steve has lost it. An interesting photographic contrast of Houston and New Orleans' approaches can be found here.
Hometown: Port Allen, LA
The reason that so many survived Hurricane Katrina is because they WERE prepared! Over 1 million people evacuated from the New Orleans metro area in 24 hours; I would venture a bet that no other major city in the U.S. could stage such a huge not to mention orderly evacuation in such a short time. As for those who stayed, well, some folks are stubborn and some just didn't have the means to escape. The government's job is to make escape an option when a mandatory evacuation is ordered, and the government sadly failed to do that in this instance. Overall, the evacuation effort was a huge success and saved untold lives, and the wise preparation of the masses is what helped them save themselves, but - as usual - the media is focused only on the sensational story, the one that will get the most readers, rather than showing all sides of the show.
Glenn writes: Newsday's Lou Dolinar makes this argument, too. Things definitely went better than they seemed for a while, and certainly better than we feared, but I think it's an exaggeration to say that they went well.
At any rate, it's a good idea to be prepared on your own -- and if you think that George Bush is a blundering incompetent who will ensure that rescue efforts are bungled, then you really ought to be preparing, rather than denouncing my preparation advice and confusing me with a Clampett. Here's a review of emergency gadgets by the Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg, and here's another post on gadgets from my personal blog. Some people have other suggestions, too.
Get ready for another storm
Hurricane Rita is heading for the Gulf Coast, though it's not clear where it will make landfall yet. I hope that people will be smarter about evacuating earlier, and preparing for disaster, in light of the Katrina experience. (This means people who live in the target zones, and also people like Aaron Brown , who doesn't seem to realize that authorities have been recommending for years that all American be prepared to be on their own for several days to a week in terms of food, water, medicine, etc.)
This is especially important because we're moving into a cycle of active hurricanes after a long lull that gave us a false sense of security:
"This is a cycle we can trace back hundreds of years. Since 1995, we've been in this higher cycle of activity," Goldenberg said.
Goldenberg said that while a warmer Atlantic Ocean contributes to the additional hurricane activity, global warming isn't to blame.
"The main environmental factor is a change in ocean temperatures in the Atlantic. We're not talking about long term global warming, we're talking about a cycle that goes up and down -- a little bit warmer for a few decades and a little bit cooler for a few decades. That's really what we're seeing," he said. . . .
"We do not expect this to switch back soon. We might be in another decade or several more decades of above average activity," he said.
The only thing people can do, Goldenberg noted, is be ready for anything.
"People really need to accept and face reality with this," he said. "I hope that Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita forces emergency managers, government officials and private individuals to reexamine their hurricane preparedness efforts.
"People need to prepare for the worst, because it can happen," he said.
He's right. You need to be ready (and if you don't live near the coast, don't think that gets you off the hook -- you could still face earthquakes, floods, or other disasters) and so do government officials.
It's also worth looking at things like zoning laws, building codes, and other regulations affecting construction near the beach. There's been a lot of vulnerable coastline development since the last peak in hurricane activity, and a lot of that stuff is going to get savaged over the next few years. We should think about whether rebuilding it is a good idea or not.
The unbearable lameness of Aaron Brown
I was scanning across the news channels Friday night, and I came to CNN's Aaron Brown making this statement:
FOREMAN: (voice-over): It may be more important to understand the limits of government help.
FALKENRATH: People thought with all this attention to first responders and to incident management at the federal level that the federal government was really going to be able to respond instantaneously or very rapidly to a disaster. And that's just not the case.
FOREMAN: So the new leader of FEMA is saying get ready. Have water, food, blankets, radios, flashlights, medicine. He says it's not paranoia to be prepared. It's simple prudence. Others put it more bluntly for cities and their citizens.
RANDALL LARSEN, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND: In the first 72 to 96 hours after a big disaster, you're probably going to be on your own.
FOREMAN: Just like so many in Katrina's terrible wake. Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington. (END VIDEOTAPE)
BROWN: I shouldn't say this but when you see the pictures on the ground and you go to these towns in Mississippi and Louisiana and you see what's going on there now, still and you hear the official sound bytes, they sound a little lame.
After uttering these words, Brown went on to a story about "the pets left behind by Katrina," but I'd like to dwell on this subject a bit more.
Brown apparently thinks that it's "lame" for authorities to tell people to be prepared for disasters. I guess as soon as the hurricane winds slack off enough for their tiny translucent wings to function, the FEMA Fairies are supposed to fly through the broken windows and sprinkle pixie dust that turns into bottled water and MREs on contact with the survivors.
But if you look at these aerial photos showing damage to bridges and roads, or read this account of problems with downed trees in Southern Mississippi, it's obvious that in the real world getting disaster aid in takes time. If Brown thinks that government instructions to be prepared are just some sort of new CYA move from FEMA, then he's woefully ignorant of the subject, since in fact FEMA, and other organizations like the Red Cross and the Los Angeles Fire Department, have been saying that for years. (He should be spending more time over here at MSNBC.com! )
Nor is this just an example of American individualism and hard-heartedness. Just ask this blogger from Japan:
I write, of course, from Japan. You know, the Japan that makes social-democrat/third-way types feel all warm and fuzzy? The Japan in which enlightened technocrats, enshrined in the federal ministries in Kasumigaseki and insulated from elections and politicking and evil market forces and stuff, guide the nation toward a bright nationally-insured future? Yeah, the bloom is somewhat off the economic rose, but in social policy terms, a lot of my left-leaning acquaintances still swoon over the degree of ministry control here.
Well, I will tell you as someone who has lived here for a decade: what you hear about disaster preparedness ALWAYS involves local intiatives. Sometimes, municipal governments are involved; other times, it's smaller public institutions. 1 September, the anniversary of the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, was Disaster Prevention Day here. Apparently, over a million people participated in demonstrations and drills and things. Our apartment building's management company distributed leaflets to our mailboxes, outlining what would happen if a quake hit and our building were declared unsafe until inspection. New survival gadgets are always cropping up in human interest features on NHK.
In Japan, what we're told is this: A disaster may render you unreachable. It may cut you off from communication networks and utilities. The appropriate government agencies (starting at the neighborhood level and moving upward depending on the magnitude of the damage) will respond as quickly as they can, but you may be on your own for days until they do. Prepare supplies. Learn escape routes. Then learn alternate escape routes. Know what your region's points of vulnerability are. Get to know your neighbors (especially the elderly or infirm) so you can help each other out and account for each other. Follow directions if you're told to evacuate. Stay put if you aren't. Participate in the earthquake preparation drills in your neighborhood.
If that's the attitude of people in collectivist, obedient, welfare-state Japan, it is beyond the wit of man why any American should be sitting around entertaining the idea that Washington should be the first (or second or fifteenth) entity to step in and keep the nasty wind and rain and shaky-shaky from hurting you. Sheesh.
Sheesh, indeed. What's troubling is that some people may pick up on Brown's attitude, and fail to prepare. That could cost them their lives -- or the lives of rescue workers who have to save them, or the lives of other people whom rescue workers couldn't save because the system was overburdened looking after people who could have prepared to look after themselves, but didn't.
Sorry, Aaron, but that really is lame.
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