Friday, November 18, 2005

Our Incompetent Government

I read a very good article in The New Republic by federal circuit judge Richard A. Posner that makes some great points about recent events and the blame game.

When something goes wrong, we look for someone to blame, in the hope that by finding and punishing a culpable individual we can prevent a repetition. Sometimes this is little better than scapegoating, which is my reaction to the search for someone to blame for the failure to detect the September 11 plot or to discover that Saddam Hussein had abandoned his weapons of mass destruction. Intelligence failures, even ones that seem gross in retrospect (like the failure to anticipate Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor), are typically the result of the inherent limitations of intelligence rather than of culpable negligence. In the case of the botched response to Hurricane Katrina, however, it is easy to find culpable individuals at all levels of American government. This is fishing in a very well-stocked pond. Yet there is a danger that the excitement of the sport will cause systemic problems to be overlooked that may make the affixing of blame useless, except to vent indignation.

He outlines the many failures of all levels of government to prepare for catastrophe.

We have learned something important from the response to Hurricane Katrina. We have learned that four years after September 11, and two and a half years after the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the federal government had yet to devise an executable plan for responding to a catastrophic event in New Orleans--or, I imagine, in any city in the United States.
This seems incomprehensible. The planning that I have just described would not be costly. It would not step on any big political toes. The need for emergency planning was not only obvious (a series of articles in the Times-Picayune in 2002 had explained the risk of a disastrous flood in New Orleans in detail); it was explicitly acknowledged at every level of officialdom. So why did nothing happen?

He suggests that the government is busy with the wrong things.

Underlying the systemic problems that I have identified is the overextension of the federal government. It is trying to do too much. In the face of formidable challenges to the safety of the nation, of which we have had an abundance of recent warning signs--the latest being the threat of a lethal flu epidemic with which we apparently are not prepared to cope--the government has entangled itself in contentious, emotional, and (it seems to me) distinctly secondary issues. Matters such as abortion, fertility treatments, homosexual rights, affirmative action, religious displays on public property, capital punishment, voluntary euthanasia, and the proper treatment of people in vegetative states are not appropriate issues to engage the federal judiciary, or the other branches of the federal government. (All three branches managed to get involved in the Schiavo affair.) They are not worthy problems for national government in a federal system. The regulation of abortion only became a subject of heated contention when it was nationalized by the Supreme Court in Roe v.Wade.
Federal investigations proliferate. Judicial confirmation hearings become distended and absurd. The federal government continues its quixotic campaign of trying to prevent people from consuming an arbitrary subset of mind-altering drugs. It operates massive programs of re-distributing wealth arbitrarily, mainly to elderly people, many of whom could pay their own way quite nicely. It sponsors space travel, something the private sector can do perfectly adequately. The proper business of a national government is none of those things. It is public safety, which is gravely endangered, and which our government, and our political system, excited and distracted by a bewildering variety of second-order concerns, seems incapable of taking rational measures to protect.


Doctor Rick said...

I couldn't agree more about the government trying to do too much. The people don't realize that they more the government does, they more they are paying to be done.

Although a fervent supporter, the Iraq was is costing us heavily. The payoff in the long run will be when their government is strong and profiting on oil and can sell it to us cheaper and help repay us for getting them there.

Unfortunatly for Bush and the supporters of the war, this process will take some time. The USA wasnt built in 2 years, neither is Iraq going to be.

Gort said...

I'm glad you admit it's all about oil.

Gnarly Erik said...

I agree with Doctor Rick that our present government is trying to do too much:

1. Doing too much for the big corporations (especially those concerned with petroleum energy) while cutting back for crucial society needs;

2. Doing too much for the rich, who already have it made financially, while not leaving even crumbs for the unfortunate poor - who then get blamed for being unfortunate;

3. Doing too much for the politically connected, and especially for the party in power, (both parties are guilty of this), while seeking to shut out those with little or no voice;

4. Doing too much for big campaign contributors while leaving troops in the field with inadequate armor and equipment, and too few troops to do the job;

5. Doing too much for and controlling the media giants with 'embedded' journalists while denigrating and attempting to stifle the bravely independent ones;

6. Doing too much stifling of all dissent of any sort, but especially of critics of this failed administration;

7. Doing too much smarmy smearing of true American military heroes - while cheering the perverted ones who 'had other priorities' than serving their country when needed;

8. Doing far too much calling other Americans 'treasonous' & 'unpatriotic' and far worse for daring to speak out against an illegal war and a failed presidency;

And the list goes on. Yes, the government now in charge has certainly done far too much of all this already!

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