Mascot Fight

Even though I'm a Cougar... I found this great.

Although it could have been much worse...


I knew it!!! This is why Grim is on the lam:

Men are worse for the environment than women, spending more on petrol and eating more meat, both of which create greenhouse gas emissions. These are the conclusions of a new report by the Swedish Foreign Ministry.

"Three out of four cars in Sweden are today driven by men. Around ten percent of all drivers, mainly men, account for 60 percent of car journeys,"
report author Gerd Johnsson-Latham told Svenska Dagbladet.

And isn't that just like a man? Running off and leaving us all to face the music?

Not so big and brave are we NOW, Big Guy...

Uh-huh. Yeah, well don't let the screen door hit you on the way out. And take your big carbon footprint with you!

/flouncing away
Crocodile Tears and Conspiracies.

So. Two of the soldiers that co-wrote a New York Times editorial basically saying the war in Iraq was lost, were killed Monday in Iraq in what is described as a vehicle accident.

It was the top item for a while over at memeorandum today.

What I find curious however is that all of the various blogs commenting (at the time--it may have since changed) are all liberal/left wing/progressive/whatever sorts of blogs.

I guess they only really notice when soldiers die when it is those that they agree with.

Further, I took a look at what a couple were saying, and in and among the 'ultimate sacrifice' and 'wives and children left behind' comments, lo and behold, I find that the dead soldiers must have been 'fragged'.

I don't think that anything could more demonstrate the wretched world those people inhabit.


Vacation Time:

I'm going to try that vacation again, since it fell apart last month. I'll be gone for a bit. Here's a picture from my last vacation, by the way.

Government Sucks

The Decline of Government:

In The Chronicle of Higher Education, E. J. Dionne Jr. has a piece that proclaims a new 'liberal moment' in American politics. It wants to be a serious piece, and I want to treat it seriously. Before I can begin to do so, however, I have to deal with a deep-seated infection that poisons the whole body of work: a hysteria against the Bush administration that prevents real insights in many places.

Dionne views the Bush administration as a "catastrophe" that has destroyed conservatism in American minds, and made ready the way for a new liberal rise. You have to read the whole piece to understand the real flavor here. Nearly everything tracks to Bush and the Bush administration. Even the larger problems facing liberals profiting from Bush, are also Bush's fault: for example, the fact that Americans now distrust government remedies to problems (because, Dionne says, of Bush "incompetence" at running the government re: Katrina and so forth).

This page has often defended Bush, and often clashed with him and his administration on specific issues. As a veteran of the Clinton administration clashes, however, I would warn those on the left to rethink their certainties about Bush. Unless they can do that, they will not understand the seriousness of the problems facing the American government. "Bush" is not even the tip of the iceberg.

Even at this short remove in time, when one thinks of the 1990s, during the Clinton administration, one rarely remembers the figure of Bill Clinton at all. At the time he seemed to loom large to those of us alarmed by his penchant for gun control, cronyism, and right-wingers; but in retrospect, he was really not terribly important. He was a better man than he seemed to be, that is, he had good qualities as well as the faults that focused out attentions.

Since 2001, this page has praised Bill Clinton's manners; also, we have defended Clinton from outrageous attacks; and wished him good health. As hard as it may be to conceive, writers from the left may find themselves doing the same thing for Bush in the near future.

The truth about Clinton and also Bush is that the office of the Presidency envelops them in an illusion of power, as well as with some actual power. Nevertheless, they have nothing like the capacities we imagine for them. Men are only men, and our system of government is most greatly hampered by its bureaucracies, which are incompetent in the way that large organizations always are and cannot but be; and by its design, which hampers the power of the branches on purpose, in order that liberty may exist in the tension between the various powers.

The vision of what "a good President would have done" instead of what Bush/Clinton actually did only rarely conforms to the reality of what a president can do. I was deeply embittered by Clinton's return of Elian Gonzales to the Cuban state, for example. The boy's mother had died getting him to a land of freedom; and now he would be sent back to tyranny. The Communists in Cuba would subject him to all sorts of brainwashing to make him a model spokesman for their state; and in order to do so, would have to demonize his mother in his mind. The seizure of a young boy from his family at gunpoint was an awful image, and one that ought still to haunt us.

There was probably never a moment at which I was angrier at the government of the United States. I still feel it was the wrong decision, badly wrong; but at this remove, I can see by what forces Clinton was being driven. For one thing, there were interest group politics at work, and he needed their support. For another, the Elian matter required making an exception to the usual processes of law; and while I think an exception was justified, and the role of the President includes making exceptions when necessary, it is always a difficult thing for a President to advocate.

Meanwhile, an idle comment he had made about refugees from Haiti had started a deluge on his assumption of office; how much more would his actual granting of asylum drive refugees to swarm Florida? How many of them might drown in the perilous crossing? Clinton partisans have also suggested he had a more noble consideration: if all the democratic-minded Haitians or Cubans fled the island, how much harder would the processes of democratization be when the current governments fell? That was an ongoing process in Haiti during Clinton's tenure, and could have happened with Castro's death at any time in Cuba.

So it is with Bush and many of the things that it is currently popular to lay at his feet. Dionne makes much of Katrina, for example. Without defending the Bush administration at all, it does not take much to see that the disaster in New Orleans was caused by forces far greater than any President or his administration.

For one thing, FEMA is not the chief agency for disaster relief; it intends to supplement and reinforce state and local efforts. The state and local efforts in NOLA were simply not there. JHD can tell you about how he hotshotted a truckload of relief supplies in right after the hurricane, and was supposed to hook up with state/local government to see where they were needed. When he got there, the radio was dead silent. It wasn't until the Federal government showed up -- the Coast Guard, as I recall -- that there was anyone to contact him.

Which brings us to the second matter: the Coast Guard and US military efforts in NOLA -- also directed by the Bush administration, at least in theory -- were far better than is generally recognized. People have a lot to say about FEMA, but little about the Navy SEALs.

For a third, the awareness of the problems with the levees had extended back through the Clinton administration. The problem is mirrored in the recent bridge collapse in Minnesota -- and in the thousands of similar bridges around the country, which are already overdue for repair.

For a fourth, problems such as the 10% "matching" requirement of the Stafford act required Congressional action, not just Administration action -- and Congress took its time.

It is possibly correct to say, "Bush should have done more," or that his priorities should have been more on Katrina and less on Iraq; however, with the benefit of time, it will become clear that even if he had done all he could do, and even if it had been his chief priority, the state and local failures and the inattention of a previous decade would have made the results more similar than not to what we've actually gotten.

The conceptual project of "rebuilding New Orleans" is one that has gotten a lot of attention on the left, because it's the sort of project that excites them -- the idea of using government to effect major changes for the better in people's lives. It's nobly intentioned, but it isn't about FEMA incompetence. It's about the failures of government and government bureaucracy, at every level.

It's not that the system didn't work as it should. It's that a system this large and complex can't be expected to work any better. There are too many rules and too many agencies and parties involved. There are so very many rules, in fact, that it takes all a man's mind to understand the ones pertaining to his own agency and those directly interacting with it. When he hits a roadblock two agencies out -- say, he needs money from FEMA, but FEMA has to get approval from someone in his state government -- it's like trying to understand a chess problem when you can't see the board.

Worse, the problem can be more than two agencies out. It can be more than one problem at once. The problems can be self-reinforcing, as either laws or bureaucratic interests force two agencies into competition for who can have control, or who has to pay.

Until you are willing to come to grips with that basic reality, you can't do more than say, "We'd do it better." That's fine; but it's an article of faith. There's no reason to believe that, even if you were perfect, the results on the ground would be substantially better.

We've talked recently about the Social Security / Medicare / Federal pension debacle that is impending. It is an example of a problem that is distributed across society: caring for the "Baby Boom"-now-"Aged Boom" will affect every family in America, at the same time that government is having to pay out benefits that are currently not figured into our budget forecasts. It cannot meet its existing promises. American families will be left holding the bag, caring for their own as well as they can with what they have, but remembering that government promised to do more.

This basic distrust of government is not Bush's fault. It will not be repaired by some future administration, no matter how wonderfully "competent" it may be.

The truth is that the system itself has exceeded its capacity. New government-based programs are doomed before being written; they may be enacted by some Congress of 2009, but they will fail. Our system is already too big and too complex to function coherently. It may stagger on, until the financial crises posed by the pensions and Social Security force a scaling back of Federal activity. Once that happens, no one will trust government with anything on which they might actually depend for survival. They will remember how it handled the last things they entrusted to it.

For the future, we will be looking more and more to private actors. This is good, in the sense that it means an end to the system that produces Americans accustomed to being treated like children instead of responsible adults. It is bad, in that it means serious challenges for our society in the medium and long term.

"Bush" is currently serving as a magic talisman for those on the left who don't want to face this reality about government, about its destructive size and complexity. That talisman protects them from thinking deeply about the issue: they can pick out two or ten things they think he should have done differently, and say that would have made all the difference.

The real problems are far starker, and far larger, than any man or his administration.

UPDATE: I'd like to point out that the Katrina example is only an example. The problems extend to all areas of government operation. Consider Iraq, which Dionne also does.

It is normal to blame Bush here as well, and Dionne follows the usual script. We've all heard how there was no "Phase IV" planning, etc. And in fact, Bush is really responsible, but not (or not only) for the reasons normally cited. The problem appears to be that State and DOD had competing visions for postwar Iraq, and their attempts to plan and devise were derailed mostly by competition between different branches and factions within the government. As a result, we got a cobbled-together CPA in which it wasn't terribly clear -- even while it was running -- who was really in charge.

It has taken years for this to improve, and only through painful experience has it done so. Major General Cone in Afganistan says that things are finally ironed out there, through the building over years of personal relationships that allowed them to establish memoranda of understanding between the agencies.

Bush is personally responsible for not forcing an interagency settlement before the Iraq war; but we see it was also a problem in Afghanistan. It is also a problem in the Katrina case. It's a problem everywhere the government tries to do anything -- or rather, it's two problems, the ones described above. It's the problem of agencies that are either in bureaucratic competition, or are legally forced to insist on requirements before they can consider cooperation; and, it's the "chess-problem without the board" problem. You find yourself blocked at several points, and you can't quite see what the problems are, or talk to exactly the right person who can straighten it out.

This is not a function of incompetence, or of bad behavior as such -- it exists even when everyone is trying their best to work together. It exists even when citizens, who aren't necessarily bound by the tangle of regulations, are trying to help the government do its job.

In the linked article on Katrina, above, there is this line:

"We're working ourselves close to death," says Scott Darrah, a New Orleans civic activist. "But we can't move it past further than what we have today. The government needs to step up."
I can sympathize with that position. One of the most promising examples of interagency cooperation in both Iraq and Afghanistan is the State-led Provincial Reconstruction Teams. As someone who cares about American success in these endeavors, I've been doing my best to help them help them find the people they need. On 13 August, I had an interview with Philip Reeker, of State, who talked about some recruiting problems for the PRTs. (It's an interesting subject for those interested in the question of how and whether State may need internal reforms, in order to address nation building problems like Iraq.)

From the beginning, I wanted to find out how the PRTs were reaching out to Americans, and to help them do so. It took weeks to get an answer to a pair of questions that any corporation could answer in minutes: How do you do your recruitment? Where are jobs posted?

I don't mention that to criticize State, which is standing up a PRT program highly praised by our military commanders, in spite of the serious difficulties facing that program. There was and is no hostility involved. Everyone wants the program to work; we're all trying our best to make it happen. I only mention it to explore the problems facing government. This is the nature of the beast. Government is too complex, with too many rules and regulations, too many agencies, and too many jobs to handle.

Even with a facilitator -- me, in this case -- who is outside the regulations and can simply "make things happen" if he can get the information, it still takes weeks. When the facilitator has authority within the bureaucracy, he can demand answers faster -- but he also then adds to the complexity of the problem. There is another layer of authority pushing and pulling; in addition to your direct boss, you now have a "dotted line" boss who can give orders.

That creates another set of competitions internally, between your "real" and your "dotted line" bosses. It may help one problem, but it creates new problems -- problems that echo throughout the system. Consider the question of the guy two agencies away who needs a ruling or an action from you, so a second agency can take an action, which will free his agency to move forward. Does he try to contact your real boss, or your dotted-line boss? Both? What does the competition between them do to the request? Does he instead just ask the guy the next level up -- the boss of both of them -- for an answer? What will going over their heads do to the request?

Americans are coming to understand that there are strict limits on what government can accomplish. We are scaling back our expectations and hopes for government in light of those problems. Some of the problems may be susceptible to computer and processing based solutions, so that real improvements can be made in efficiency. Others may be "competence" based, and better leadership might help. Many or most, however, are hard limits.

The government has overreached. It isn't capable of doing what it has set out to do. This just isn't the time for a new, expanded role for government: it's a time to scale it back, and pass off some of these problems to smaller, private entities that can actually maneuver well enough to solve those problems. These may be families; they may be churches; they may be corporations. They have the freedom to do what government simply cannot.