October 08, 2005
Outsourcing Disaster Relief?
Reading David Leonhardt's piece on the instantly adaptive nature of today's transportation and business systems in today's NYT reminded me of an excellent idea a neighbor suggested for dealing with Katrina-type natural disasters: outsource it to the private sector. He meant, of course, having FEMA contract with large national firms like Walmart, UPS and FedEx to stockpile and distribute relief supplies.
The advantages are obvious. These firms already have the transportation and logistical support assets needed to deliver huge volumes of supplies throughout the US. Even more important, they train and practice using these assets in a timely and cost-effective manner every day of the year. What is more, they already own (at their own expense) substantial inventories of the supplies most likely to be needed during the early phases of mass disaster relief: food, drinking water and first aid supplies.
The major advantage of using the private sector to handle this type of vital humanitarian aid, however, is the effectiveness of their management and control systems. Unlike FEMA, bound by the iron shackles of government bureacracy, private sector managers are daily held accountable for results. Is the inventory there or not? Were the percentage of ontime deliveries above or below target?
There is also precedent for this type of arrangement. For many years, the Air Force's Military Airlift Command has contracted with major airlines to participate in the Civil Reserver Air Fleet (CRAF). This program pays airlines (largely through guaranteed annual volumes of traditional freight and passenger business) to contracturally commit specific aircraft and their crews to the military within 48 hours.
Given the demonstrated lack of proficiency of our governmental systems (at the local, state and federal level), maybe it's time to think outside the box -- particularly when lives are at stake.
October 06, 2005
Going to the birds
Today's NYT has a front page story by Gina Kolata on recent research linking the 1918 influenza epidemic (which killed an estimated 50 million people throughout the world) to an avian virus that jumped directly to humans. Given the increase in human populations since 1918 and the vastly greater speed of transmission likely (due to the development of frequent international air travel, among other things), who knows how many people would die in a similar epidemic today?
As Glenn Reynolds noted on Tuesday, President Bush is alert to the danger posed by bird flu, but it would be helpful if the media began to focus on the issue.
September 02, 2005
Would a Reconstruction Corps Have Made a Difference in New Orleans?
As many of you know, I have written many posts about the need for a new branch of the military -- a Reconstruction Corps -- that would be designed and trained to perform less than combat military operations. Chief among these would be disaster relief, rebuilding damaged infrastructure and peacekeeping. These forces would be under military discipline, and part of the Department of Defense, but would focus entirely on their mission of humanitarian aid and reconstruction. Unlike nearly all other aid organizations, they would have their own, dedicated (the military term for this is "organic") logistical resources, including airlift, heavy transport equipment that could travel on unimproved (or damaged) roads, and construction equipment.
My original thoughts about the need for this new type of military force were prompted by the situation in Iraq, where our military quickly demolished conventional military resistance, but stumbled badly in managing the reconstruction of Iraqi infrastructure and civil society. However, the current disaster in New Orleans illustrates the important role that such a federal agency could play in terms of protecting lives and property here in the US.
The main advantage of a dedicated branch of the armed services devoted to reconstruction and emergency aid is that career officers in this field would continually plan and train for likely crisis situations, either at home or abroad. When an actual disaster occurred, the several days (or weeks) needed to 1) assess the situation, 2) identify assets that are needed (and available) to help, 3) sequence and prioritize transportation of assets and supplies to the effected area, and 4) develop an appropriate command and control structure to coordinate all of the above would be compressed dramatically. Instead, officers would dust off the latest version of the plan for responding to, say, a massive earthquake in a Japanese city, or a hurricane strike on a US city, or a massive terrorist attack using radiological weapons, and then go to work making it happen. In each case, the difficult and time consuming task of figuring out what you need, where to get it, and in what order to send it would have been already accomplished. Even more important, the units and individuals needed to implement this plan would have already practiced their tasks, and identified any potential problems that would be likely to arise.
Sure, FEMA is supposed to be responsible for this type of activity in the US, but they are primarily bureaucrats whose main focus is on sending in teams to fill out forms for federal disaster aid payments after the fact. They don't have their own fleets of vehicles (or a prearranged system for calling on vehicles and equipment belonging to other parts of the federal government or private contractors), and they don't have an experienced staff that is trained and equipped to manage the huge logistical challenge of feeding and caring for hundreds of thousands of people in a disaster area.
Similarly, National Guard units have limited training schedules (because, after all, they are part-time soldiers) and nearly all of this training time is devoted to practicing the roles their units would play if they were mobilized into the active duty military for combat operations. They have vehicles and trained men and women to operate and maintain them, but they lack a dedicated planning function and officer corps tasked with the single mission of coping with natural or man-made disasters. (And as we have seen in New Orleans, planning and speedy execution are critical to saving lives in a major crisis that overwhelms civilian or local resources.)
You can read more details of how a Reconstruction Corps might work in these posts: Nov02, Apr03, Jul03, and May05. Maybe one of the positive legacies of the Katrina disaster may be the development of an organization that can effectively mitigate future catastrophes..
April 03, 2004
NYT writes about possible liberal bias in academia
Of course, the article was stuffed in the Arts section on a Saturday, but it is a start.
But, carping aside, the piece by Yilu Zhao was pretty even-handed and fairly summarized the ongoing controversy over the proposed Academic Bill of Rights. Like I said, its a start.
December 18, 2003
The Green Inquisition - Overruled
The Danish scientific review body that censured Bjorn Lomborg, the Danish statistician and author of the Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World, last January for "objective scientific dishonesty" and publishing work "clearly contrary to the standards of good scientific practice" was itself overturned by the Danish Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation yesterday.
You can read all about this shameful collusion between political correctness and junk science on Lomborg's webpage here (including links to all the original materials, many in english). Hat tip to Metafilter.
November 07, 2003
President Bush speaks out on democracy and human rights, and their influence on US policy towards the middle east
President Bush's speech in honor of the 20th Anniversary of the National Endowment for Democracy was truly impressive, and is not receiving the attention it deserves. You can read the full text (including Bushisms) at the White House web page. (For the Arabic version of the speech, click here.) Here are a selection of the highlights as I see them:
...Our commitment to democracy is also tested in the Middle East, which is my focus today, and must be a focus of American policy for decades to come. In many nations of the Middle East -- countries of great strategic importance -- democracy has not yet taken root. And the questions arise: Are the peoples of the Middle East somehow beyond the reach of liberty? Are millions of men and women and children condemned by history or culture to live in despotism? Are they alone never to know freedom, and never even to have a choice in the matter? I, for one, do not believe it. I believe every person has the ability and the right to be free. (Applause.)Go read the entire text. It is inspiring. To those on the left who denigrate Bush as a corrupt nitwit, are there any among you who would object to any part of this speech? If so, why? And what would you propose in the alternative?
Some skeptics of democracy assert that the traditions of Islam are inhospitable to the representative government. This "cultural condescension," as Ronald Reagan termed it, has a long history. After the Japanese surrender in 1945, a so-called Japan expert asserted that democracy in that former empire would "never work." Another observer declared the prospects for democracy in post-Hitler Germany are, and I quote, "most uncertain at best" -- he made that claim in 1957. Seventy-four years ago, The Sunday London Times declared nine-tenths of the population of India to be "illiterates not caring a fig for politics." Yet when Indian democracy was imperiled in the 1970s, the Indian people showed their commitment to liberty in a national referendum that saved their form of government.
Time after time, observers have questioned whether this country, or that people, or this group, are "ready" for democracy -- as if freedom were a prize you win for meeting our own Western standards of progress. In fact, the daily work of democracy itself is the path of progress. It teaches cooperation, the free exchange of ideas, and the peaceful resolution of differences. As men and women are showing, from Bangladesh to Botswana, to Mongolia, it is the practice of democracy that makes a nation ready for democracy, and every nation can start on this path.
It should be clear to all that Islam -- the faith of one-fifth of humanity -- is consistent with democratic rule. Democratic progress is found in many predominantly Muslim countries -- in Turkey and Indonesia, and Senegal and Albania, Niger and Sierra Leone. Muslim men and women are good citizens of India and South Africa, of the nations of Western Europe, and of the United States of America.
More than half of all the Muslims in the world live in freedom under democratically constituted governments. They succeed in democratic societies, not in spite of their faith, but because of it. A religion that demands individual moral accountability, and encourages the encounter of the individual with God, is fully compatible with the rights and responsibilities of self-government.
Yet there's a great challenge today in the Middle East. In the words of a recent report by Arab scholars, the global wave of democracy has -- and I quote -- "barely reached the Arab states." They continue: "This freedom deficit undermines human development and is one of the most painful manifestations of lagging political development." The freedom deficit they describe has terrible consequences, of the people of the Middle East and for the world. In many Middle Eastern countries, poverty is deep and it is spreading, women lack rights and are denied schooling. Whole societies remain stagnant while the world moves ahead. These are not the failures of a culture or a religion. These are the failures of political and economic doctrines.
As the colonial era passed away, the Middle East saw the establishment of many military dictatorships. Some rulers adopted the dogmas of socialism, seized total control of political parties and the media and universities. They allied themselves with the Soviet bloc and with international terrorism. Dictators in Iraq and Syria promised the restoration of national honor, a return to ancient glories. They've left instead a legacy of torture, oppression, misery, and ruin.
Other men, and groups of men, have gained influence in the Middle East and beyond through an ideology of theocratic terror. Behind their language of religion is the ambition for absolute political power. Ruling cabals like the Taliban show their version of religious piety in public whippings of women, ruthless suppression of any difference or dissent, and support for terrorists who arm and train to murder the innocent. The Taliban promised religious purity and national pride. Instead, by systematically destroying a proud and working society, they left behind suffering and starvation.
Many Middle Eastern governments now understand that military dictatorship and theocratic rule are a straight, smooth highway to nowhere. But some governments still cling to the old habits of central control. There are governments that still fear and repress independent thought and creativity, and private enterprise -- the human qualities that make for a -- strong and successful societies. Even when these nations have vast natural resources, they do not respect or develop their greatest resources -- the talent and energy of men and women working and living in freedom.
Instead of dwelling on past wrongs and blaming others, governments in the Middle East need to confront real problems, and serve the true interests of their nations. The good and capable people of the Middle East all deserve responsible leadership. For too long, many people in that region have been victims and subjects -- they deserve to be active citizens.
Governments across the Middle East and North Africa are beginning to see the need for change. Morocco has a diverse new parliament; King Mohammed has urged it to extend the rights to women. Here is how His Majesty explained his reforms to parliament: "How can society achieve progress while women, who represent half the nation, see their rights violated and suffer as a result of injustice, violence, and marginalization, notwithstanding the dignity and justice granted to them by our glorious religion?" The King of Morocco is correct: The future of Muslim nations will be better for all with the full participation of women. (Applause.)
...In Iraq, the Coalition Provisional Authority and the Iraqi Governing Council are also working together to build a democracy -- and after three decades of tyranny, this work is not easy. The former dictator ruled by terror and treachery, and left deeply ingrained habits of fear and distrust. Remnants of his regime, joined by foreign terrorists, continue their battle against order and against civilization. Our coalition is responding to recent attacks with precision raids, guided by intelligence provided by the Iraqis, themselves. And we're working closely with Iraqi citizens as they prepare a constitution, as they move toward free elections and take increasing responsibility for their own affairs. As in the defense of Greece in 1947, and later in the Berlin Airlift, the strength and will of free peoples are now being tested before a watching world. And we will meet this test. (Applause.)
Securing democracy in Iraq is the work of many hands. American and coalition forces are sacrificing for the peace of Iraq and for the security of free nations. Aid workers from many countries are facing danger to help the Iraqi people. The National Endowment for Democracy is promoting women's rights, and training Iraqi journalists, and teaching the skills of political participation. Iraqis, themselves -- police and borders guards and local officials -- are joining in the work and they are sharing in the sacrifice.
This is a massive and difficult undertaking -- it is worth our effort, it is worth our sacrifice, because we know the stakes. The failure of Iraqi democracy would embolden terrorists around the world, increase dangers to the American people, and extinguish the hopes of millions in the region. Iraqi democracy will succeed -- and that success will send forth the news, from Damascus to Teheran -- that freedom can be the future of every nation. (Applause.) The establishment of a free Iraq at the heart of the Middle East will be a watershed event in the global democratic revolution. (Applause.)
Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe -- because in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty. As long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place of stagnation, resentment, and violence ready for export. And with the spread of weapons that can bring catastrophic harm to our country and to our friends, it would be reckless to accept the status quo. (Applause.)
Therefore, the United States has adopted a new policy, a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East. This strategy requires the same persistence and energy and idealism we have shown before. And it will yield the same results. As in Europe, as in Asia, as in every region of the world, the advance of freedom leads to peace. (Applause.)
The advance of freedom is the calling of our time; it is the calling of our country. From the Fourteen Points to the Four Freedoms, to the Speech at Westminster, America has put our power at the service of principle. We believe that liberty is the design of nature; we believe that liberty is the direction of history. We believe that human fulfillment and excellence come in the responsible exercise of liberty. And we believe that freedom -- the freedom we prize -- is not for us alone, it is the right and the capacity of all mankind. (Applause.)
Working for the spread of freedom can be hard. Yet, America has accomplished hard tasks before. Our nation is strong; we're strong of heart. And we're not alone. Freedom is finding allies in every country; freedom finds allies in every culture. And as we meet the terror and violence of the world, we can be certain the author of freedom is not indifferent to the fate of freedom.
October 11, 2003
A black blogger, writing about how he shot a burglar in self defense. (I haven't really stumbled across many African-American bloggers in my travels. Something worth looking into...) (From InstaPundit.)
October 02, 2003
If you drop the soap, just forget about it...
This is not really funny. In fact, its not funny at all.
July 22, 2003
Epiphany on the road to DC?
Wow! Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has come out with an OpEd piece in today's WaPo endorsing school vouchers (at least on an experimental basis, in Washington D.C.). Some of our friends in the teachers' unions must be snarling into their bowls of Cheerios this morning.
July 06, 2003
Some pieces of interest
Two-time felon gets two years added to his sentance for shooting a cop three times. DC justice. Read all about it.
Jim Hoagland on Bush's "unilateralism" as the New Gaulism, in WaPo.
Its hard to keep a good man down; Mark Steyn on the surprisingly ribald past of the late Sen. Strom Thurmond.
What I didn't see, and I looked pretty hard, were some articles or opinion pieces linking the appalling murder of more than 50 Shiites in Pakistan to the long presence of Wahabbi madrassas in Pakistan.