Recent headlines have offered hope that President Bush may yet do right by the victims of Hurricane Katrina. After the first days of shameful ineptitude, he secured more than $60 billion in relief, named somebody with actual disaster experience to head the Federal Emergency Management Agency (fema), and, rather uncharacteristically, admitted his administration made serious errors in the storm's immediate aftermath. But there is one reason to think the Bush administration hasn't learned from its past mistakes: its plan for housing the people that Katrina has rendered homeless.
IN A CLASSIC EPISODE OF “The Simpsons” that first aired in 1993, Grampa Simpson, the doddering family patriarch, unexpectedly starts receiving checks in the mail. But, rather than ponder the source of his good fortune, he just shrugs and takes the money. Eventually somebody asks, “Didn’t you wonder why you were getting checks for absolutely nothing?” Grampa answers, “I figured ’cause the Democrats are in power again.” No, this was not a ham-handed effort to channel Fox News dogma through the network’s famous cartoon show.
HARVARD UNIVERSITY IS, by some measures, one of the most left-wing institutions on the face of the earth. So you may be surprised to hear that it has endorsed George W. Bush’s proposal for Social Security reform. Literally, of course, that is not true. But the retirement plan Harvard has set up for faculty members like me bears a striking resemblance to what the Social Security system would become under the president’s proposed changes. Harvard’s retirement plan is essentially the nonprofit sector’s version of a 401(k).
ON BULLSHIT By Harry G. Frankfurt(Princeton University Press, 67 pp., $9.95) WHEN I WAS A GRADUATE student at the Rockefeller University, Harry Frankfurt, who was then a professor there, came up to me one day and announced that he had devised the following principle: people naturally gravitate toward the study of that which does not come naturally to them. Thus people who work on ethics typically find it difficult to be good, logicians tend to be muddle- headed, and so on. And he had an explanation for his principle.
If George W. Bush's Social Security reform fails, people may look back at January 18 as the day the wheels really started to come off. That was the afternoon House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas pronounced Bush's plan a "dead horse" that Congress would not pass. Thomas also suggested that any changes to Social Security would involve elaborate tax reform of the sort that can take more than a year, far longer than the few weeks the White House is hoping to devote to Social Security.
It is getting increasingly difficult to find any Democrat who backs President Bush's plan for partially privatizing Social Security. Private accounts are now officially out of favor even among New Democrats, the most obvious source of potential administration support. The Democratic Leadership Council and a new centrist policy shop called Third Way both recently announced their opposition. Over in the House, many have been eyeing Adam Smith, the leader of the New Democrat Coalition, which has 67 members in the House.
The splotch that appeared on satellite photos of North Korea two weeks ago was like a Rorschach blot for foreign policy wonks. A cloud of smoke that would have been considered benign in almost any other country (it being in actuality just a cloud) was immediately feared the result of a nuclear explosion, showing just how anxious national security types have become about Pyongyang's weapons program.
On February 27, 2001, George W. Bush addressed a joint session of Congress. When the president had last ventured to the Capitol for his inauguration 37 days earlier, he had delivered a homily urging the nation to move past the sting of the Florida recount.
Foreign policy is not theology. The only way to make sensible choices in this realm is to weigh costs and benefits. A policy that might have been wise crumbles if the costs become prohibitive. For example, protecting South Vietnam from a communist invasion from the north was a worthwhile goal. The horrendous costs of doing so, however, made it a bad policy. For those of us who supported the war in Iraq, the question is simple--have the costs risen so high that they outweigh any benefit?
The Bush administration's internecine squabbles over Iraq policy have gotten a lot of press, but no issue has divided its foreign policy team more than North Korea. For two years, engagers (who generally favor using diplomacy to get Pyongyang to give up its nuclear program) and hawks (who are suspicious of negotiations and believe rewarding North Korean leader Kim Jong Il could encourage other proliferators) were unable to resolve their differences. "It's as stark as stark could be--we weren't even on the same page," says one American official.