Irene and Uncle Sam, and other short notes

Natural disasters like Hurricane Irene demonstrate the usefulness of government. Where would we be without the National Weather Service, the Coast Guard, FEMA, the National Guard, and local first responders?

Everybody pays taxes and everybody gets services — that’s the efficient way when everything hits the fan. If you’re sitting on your roof or hanging onto a piece of floating debris, you don’t have to keep your Rescue Services Corporation membership card handy or remember the PIN they gave you. Just wave at the helicopter.

Of course, there are free-market alternatives, like the one ancient Rome had. The real estate mogul Crassus, trained his slaves to put out the kinds of fires that were common in the Roman inner city, where multi-family wooden structures leaned against each other.

When Crassus saw smoke, he and his slaves came running, just like fire engines do now.

And then they stopped — until Crassus found the owners of the nearest buildings that hadn’t caught fire yet and made well-below-market-rate offers to buy their properties. After they accepted, his slaves put out the fire.

It was a great system, and it made Crassus the richest man in Rome.

Some people would like to go back there — the Crassus wannabees, of course, and also the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which authored this call to eliminate the National Weather Service.

And Ron Paul, who picked this moment to reaffirm his position that FEMA should be eliminated. It’s fascinating to dig into the comments section of articles like this one and watch how Paul’s fans defend his point: by pointing to how badly FEMA handled Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.

Let’s review: FEMA was doing fine under President Clinton. Then President Bush screwed it up by appointing inexperienced cronies to run it. And the subsequent failure of FEMA to handle Katrina is now proof that government doesn’t work.

The real lesson is: Don’t let people run an agency if they don’t believe in its mission. And people who don’t believe in any government mission shouldn’t be in the government at all.


Yet another investigation into the ClimateGate emails has concluded with no finding of wrong-doing, least of all anything that would justify Rick Perry’s allegation (discussed last week) blaming the global-warming theory on a “substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data”.

The NSF’s Inspector General’s office concludes:

Finding no research misconduct or other matter raised by the various regulations and laws discussed above, this case is closed.

Why do I believe we haven’t heard the end of this? Because powerful fossil-fuel corporations want to keep the data-manipulation charge alive, and they have lots of money to do it.


Ahh, freedom! New Hampshirites are now free to work for less money. The repeal of our minimum wage took effect Sunday. The federal minimum wage ($7.25) still applies, but (like Michele Bachmann) repeal-sponsor Rep. Carol McGuire would like to eliminate all minimum wage laws so that the market could set wages “particularly for young people. They’re not worth the minimum.”


Jay Rosen is my favorite journalism critic. In this talk in Australia, he says that political coverage should try to separate appearance from reality and arguments from facts.

That sounds so obvious it makes you wonder: What are they doing now? Rosen sees three destructive ideas dominating current coverage:

  • Politics as an inside game. Rather than try to educate the public, journalists cover political insiders’ strategies for manipulating an ignorant public.
  • The cult of savviness. “This is what’s so odd about savviness as a political style performed for the public. It tries to split the attentive public off from the rest of the electorate, and get us to join up with the insiders.”
  • The production of innocence. Journalists are supposed to be nonpartisan and agenda-free. But what if an established fact becomes part of the dispute? “He said, she said journalism … is neutral on where the reality is, but reality is not something journalists can afford to be neutral about!”

If you’re tired of the country being run by and for big corporations, and you want to promote yourself from disgruntled citizen to activist, AlterNet’s Bruce Levine has a reading list for you.


Now you or your corporation can make unlimited contributions to a political action committee pledged to support a single presidential candidate. Thanks, Supreme Court!


Grist’s David Roberts examines why the environmentalist movement isn’t more powerful:

the decline of the left’s power is closely connected to the decline of institutions that used to create leftists and give them a sense of common purpose. I’d put two in particular foremost among them: unions and liberal churches.

The only institutional source of liberals he (or I) can think of is academia, which is a poor place to generate a populist message.

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  • By Truth Among Friends « The Weekly Sift on August 29, 2011 at 9:54 am

    […] Irene and Uncle Sam, and other short notes. Natural disasters underline the importance of government, unless you’re Ron Paul. […]

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