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Volume 7, Issue 40: October 3, 2005
- The Disaster of Politicized Disaster Relief
- The Case against Rove and Libby
- HOT Lanes on I-680?
- Lula's Demise
1) The Disaster of Politicized Disaster Relief
The controversy surrounding Michael Brown -- the former FEMA chief and horse-show judge who resigned after sharp criticism of his agency's handling of disaster relief coordination in the wake of Hurricane Katrina -- has sensitized many voters to the danger of unqualified political appointments. But when it comes to politicizing disaster relief, the case of "Brownie," as President Bush calls him, is only the tip of the iceberg: presidents as well as Congress have long used FEMA to hand out taxpayer funds to favored constituents.
This should come as no surprise. "Disaster declarations provide a unique opportunity for government officials to push pork to constituents without the usual scrutiny," writes Independent Institute Adjunct Fellow Matt Ryan in a new op-ed.
Ryan summarizes a study of federal disaster relief confirming this problem. The study's authors found that from 1991 to 1999: presidents declared natural disasters more often in states that were politically important to them; disasters were declared, on average, 66 percent more times in election years than in non-election years; states with congressional representation on the FEMA oversight committees received about $31 million in excess disaster spending; and nearly half of all federal disaster spending during those years was devoted to furthering political goals.
Ryan suggests that disaster relief could be drastically improved by replacing FEMA with private organizations, such as the non-profit groups that FEMA prevented from moving into New Orleans after Katrina had struck.
"The outpouring of private charity has been remarkable and Americans should be proud. What has been shameful is our government's catastrophic handling of disaster relief," Ryan concludes.
See "Take the Politics Out of Disaster Relief," by Matt Ryan (9/30/05)
"Quitemos a la Política de la Asistencia ante los Casos de Desastres"
THE VOLUNTARY CITY: Choice, Community, and Civil Society, ed. by David T. Beito, Peter Gordon, and Alexander Tabarrok
2) The Case against Rove and Libby
With the testimony of NEW YORK TIMES reporter Judith Miller, President Bush now has enough information to justify firing both Karl Rove and Lewis Libby for their roles in "outing" CIA officer Valerie Plame. Plame, of course, is the wife of Joseph Wilson, whose CIA-sponsored trip to Niger failed to turn up evidence corroborating the administration's claim that Iraq had tried to procure uranium from that country.
"At minimum even talking to reporters about Wilson's wife in more general terms indicates that Rove and Libby lied to White House spokesman Scott McClellan, who passed on their categorical denial of being involved in any part of the affair," writes Ivan Eland, senior fellow and director of the Independent Institute's Center on Peace & Liberty.
"By their identical and clever defenses, both of these high level officials are attempting to skirt the relatively short reach of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act," Eland continues. Rove and Libby have potentially jeopardized the lives of many of Plame's overseas contacts. Even if Rove and Libby manage to beat or evade indictment, their actions should not go unpunished by Bush.
"The conventional wisdom is that President Bush never fires anyone. That is not true. Unfortunately, he usually fires the truth tellers that stray from official White House spin -- for example, Gen. Edward Shinseki, the Chief of Staff of the Army, for saying that hundreds of thousands of troops would be needed to occupy Iraq and Larry Lindsey, the president's chief economist, for his estimate that the war in Iraq would cost a $200 billion. This time the president should fire some unpatriotic liars."
See "Time to Fire Karl Rove and 'Scooter' Libby," by Ivan Eland (10/3/05)
"Es Tiempo de Echar a Karl Rove y a 'Scooter' Libby"
To purchase THE EMPIRE HAS NO CLOTHES: U.S. Foreign Policy Exposed, by Ivan Eland, see
To purchase PUTTING "DEFENSE" BACK IN U.S. DEFENSE POLICY, by Ivan Eland, see
Center on Peace & Liberty (Ivan Eland, director)
3) HOT Lanes on I-680?
Traffic officials in Alameda County, California, will meet publicly this Wednesday in the city of Fremont, to assess support for an innovative proposal to ease congestion on fourteen miles of freeway. The proposed HOT lanes (short for "High-Occupancy or Toll") would be open only to high-occupancy vehicles or vehicles that can pay tolls electronically, via a credit-card-sized unit mounted on the windshield.
HOT lanes offer a huge advantage over standard freeways. They enable transportation managers to charge a variable toll to help prevent excessive congestion during peak hours. The result, argues Research Fellow Gabriel Roth in a new op-ed, is a benefit for road users who choose HOT lanes, as well as for road users who don't, because the HOT lanes help traffic move freely in all lanes. Also, they enable road managers receive more revenue that can be used to improve the roads.
"Some object to HOT lanes because they 'unfairly' benefit those with high incomes," writes Roth. "This objection seems misplaced, for two reasons: First, HOT lanes speed up buses and vanpools, and their low-income patrons. Second, people of all income classes benefit from the choice of congestion-free travel, because all of us sometimes cannot afford to be late. Indeed, it is possible that low-income workers have more to lose from being late for work than their bosses."
Roth also argues that the present proposal could be improved upon by eliminating any exemption of car pools from the toll requirement. Currently, there is no reliable method of counting the number of passengers in a car, and creating a favored group of exempt vehicles could put pressure to raise tolls on non-exempt vehicles.
See "HOT Lanes on I-680," by Gabriel Roth (SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, 10/3/05)
"Los Carriles HOT en la Carretera I-680"
For more on transportation, see
Center on Entrepreneurial Innovation (Benjamin Powell, director)
4) Lula's Demise
Brazilian voters are indignant over the vote-buying scandal plaguing the administration of President Lula da Silva. Some critics on the left blame Lula's troubles on his "betrayal" of his radical Marxist roots, in favor of a softer model similar to Europe's social democracies.
But the true cause is just the opposite, according to Senior Fellow Alvaro Vargas Llosa. By not reforming Brazil's legal system or pruning its overlapping layers of bureaucracy, Lula's regime is as prone to corruption as that of President Collor de Mello, whose impeachment paved the way for Lula's election.
"The corruption of Lula's government, therefore, should be seen more as a symptom than a cause," Vargas Llosa writes in a recent op-ed. "If laws are burdensome and costly to follow, and there is no reliable system for enforcing contracts, corruption becomes a sort of insurance policy."
The tax burden facing Brazilians is also huge: "An average domestic company with fewer than 100 employees in Brazil would have to pay 148 percent of its annual profits in order to comply with all its taxes," Vargas Llosa continues. "How ironic that man who was to save Latin America from old-style socialism is helping revive it."
See "Lula's Demise," by Alvaro Vargas Llosa (9/22/05)
"El Eclipse de Lula"
Also see, "Be Radical, 'Lula,'" by Alvaro Vargas Llosa (GLOBAL ECONOMIC VIEWPOINT, 11/11/02)
"Se Radical, 'Lula'”
For information about LIBERTY FOR LATIN AMERICA: How to Undo Five-Hundred Years of State Oppression, by Alvaro Vargas Llosa
Center on Global Prosperity (Alvaro Vargas Llosa, director)