two good reads

I still haven't subscribed to the New York Times's latest revenue-raising pitch, but a thoughtful wmtc reader has been emailing me columns by Paul Krugman, Bob Herbert and Frank Rich. Unfortunately, I can't share them, as they're in pdf form, but the most recent columns were so good that I took out yet another free trial. (Now I have to cancel free trial subscriptions on three different newspapers before I get billed.)

So now I have to paste in the full text, and not provide working links. Poor blogosphere etiquette, but that's the Times's fault.
For No Good Reason
by Bob Herbert

"You can keep the flowers blooming on their graves forever. It won't change the fact that they died for nothing." - antiwar protester, circa 1969

It's finally becoming clear on Capitol Hill, and maybe even in the White House, that the United States cannot win the war in Iraq. The only question still to be decided is how many more American lives will be wasted in George W. Bush's grand debacle.

The wheels have fallen off the cart in Iraq, and only those in the farthest reaches of denial are hanging on to the illusion of an American triumph over the insurgency.

Air Force General Richard Myers, who retired Friday as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was publicly chastised at an Armed Services Committee hearing last week by Senator John McCain of Arizona, who has always been a strong proponent of the war.

Senator McCain bluntly declared that "things have not gone as we had planned or expected, nor as we were told by you, General Myers."

The general replied, "I don't think this committee or the American public has ever heard me say that things are going very well in Iraq."

The gruesome events throughout Iraq over the past month or so were understandably overshadowed in the American media by the obliteration of New Orleans and other matters connected to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. An apocalyptic tone was set on Aug. 31 when nearly 1,000 people were killed in a stampede on a bridge in northern Baghdad. The stampede was provoked by rumors of a suicide bomber.

Another two dozen Iraqis were killed in attacks by insurgents on Sept. 3. A few days later a taxi blew up outside a crowded restaurant in Basra, killing 16. That attack came just hours after four American contractors in Basra were killed by a bomb that was detonated next to their convoy.

The violence would continue without respite. Nearly 200 Iraqis were killed in just 48 hours in a series of suicide bombings in Baghdad on Sept. 14 and 15.

On the evening of Sept. 17, a Saturday, insurgents used a remote control device to detonate a car bomb in a crowded marketplace on the outskirts of Baghdad. At least 30 people were killed. A dozen Americans, including a State Department aide and eight soldiers, were killed in a series of attacks from the 19th through the 23rd of September.

And so on.

The president who slept through the early days of the agony in New Orleans is sleepwalking through the never-ending agony in Iraq. During an appearance at a naval base in California, Mr. Bush characterized the war that he started in Iraq as the moral equivalent of America's struggle against the Nazis and the Japanese in World War II.

If that's true, the entire nation should be mobilized. But, of course, it's not true. This is a reckless, indefensible war that has been avoided like the plague by the children of the privileged classes.

Even the most diehard defenders of this debacle are coming to the realization that it is doomed. So the party line now is that the Iraqis at some point will have to bear the burden of Mr. Bush's war alone.

Talk about a cruel joke. On the same day that Senator McCain faced off with General Myers, more than 100 people were killed in a series of car bombs in a town north of Baghdad; five U.S. soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb in Ramadi; and the American general in charge of U.S. forces in Iraq, George Casey, admitted before the Armed Services Committee that only 1 of the Iraqi Army's 86 battalions was capable of fighting the insurgency without American help.

The American death toll in Iraq is fast approaching 2,000. If the public could see the carnage close up, the way it saw the horror of New Orleans, the outrage would be beyond belief.

You never want to say that brave troops died for the mindless fantasies spun by a gang of dissembling, inept politicians. But what else did they die for?

And what about all those men and women, some of them barely out of childhood, who are lying awake nights, hardly able to move their broken, burned and paralyzed bodies? What do we tell them as they lie there, unable to curb the pain or fight off the depression, or even begin to understand the terrible thing that has happened to them?

What do we tell them about this war that their country inflicted on them for no good reason whatsoever?
Anyone wondering what's going on with the victims of Hurricane Katrina? Or should I say, some W victims on the mainland.
Miserable By Design
by Paul Krugman

Federal aid to victims of Hurricane Katrina is already faltering on two crucial fronts: health care and housing. Incompetence is part of the problem, but deeper political issues also play a crucial role.

Start with health care, where conservative senators, generally believed to be acting on behalf of the White House, have blocked bipartisan legislation that would provide all low-income victims of Katrina with health coverage under Medicaid.

In a letter urging Senate leaders to reject the bill, Mike Leavitt, the secretary of Health and Human Services, warned that it would create "a new Medicaid entitlement." He asserted that victims can be taken care of by Medicaid "waivers," which basically amount to giving refugees the health benefits, if any, that they would have been entitled to in their home states - and no more.

As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities points out, many needy victims won't qualify for aid. For example, Medicaid doesn't cover childless adults of working age. In fact, surveys show that many destitute survivors of Katrina are being denied Medicaid, and some are going without medicines they need.

Local hospitals and doctors will often treat Katrina victims even if they can't pay. But this means that communities that have welcomed Katrina refugees will, in effect, be financially punished for their generosity - something local officials will remember in future crises. (The administration has offered vague, unconvincing assurances that it will do something to compensate medical caregivers. It has offered much more concrete assurances that it will reimburse religious groups that provide aid.)

What about housing? These days, both conservatives and liberals agree that public housing projects are a bad idea, and that housing vouchers - which help the poor pay rent - are much better. In the aftermath of the 1994 Northridge earthquake, special housing vouchers issued to victims worked very well.

But the administration has chosen, instead, to focus its efforts on the creation of public housing in the form of trailer parks, which have been slow to take shape, will almost surely be more expensive than a voucher program and may create long-term refugee ghettoes. Even Newt Gingrich calls this "extraordinarily bad policy" that "violates every conservative principle."

What's going on here? The crucial point is that President Bush has been forced by events into short-term actions that conflict with his long-term goals. His mission in office is to dismantle or at least shrink the federal social safety net, yet he must, as a matter of political necessity, provide aid to Katrina's victims. His problem is how to do that without legitimizing the very role of government he opposes.

This dilemma explains the administration's opposition to Medicaid coverage for all Katrina refugees. How can it provide that coverage without undermining its ongoing efforts to reduce the Medicaid rolls? More broadly, if it accepts the principle that all hurricane victims are entitled to medical care, people might start asking why the same isn't true of all American citizens - a line of thought that points toward a system of universal health insurance, which is anathema to conservatives.

As for the administration's odd insistence on providing public housing instead of relying on the market, The Los Angeles Times reports that Department of Housing and Urban Development officials initially announced plans to issue rent vouchers, then backed off after meeting with White House aides. As the article notes, the administration has "repeatedly sought to cut or limit" the existing housing voucher program.

This suggests that what administration officials fear isn't that housing vouchers would fail, but that they would succeed - and that this success would undermine the administration's ongoing efforts to cut back housing aid.

So here's the key to understanding post-Katrina policy: Mr. Bush can't avoid helping Katrina's victims, but he doesn't want to legitimize institutions that help the needy, like the housing voucher program. As a result, his administration refuses to use those institutions, even when they are the best way to provide victims with aid. More generally, the administration is trying to treat Katrina's victims as harshly as the political realities allow, so as not to create a precedent for other aid efforts.

As the misery of the hurricane's survivors goes on, remember this: to a large extent, they are miserable by design.
Two great columns, about two sides of the same coin.


James Redekop said...

the administration has chosen, instead, to focus its efforts on the creation of public housing in the form of trailer parks

I saw an article not long ago that pointed out that Bush had ordered something like 125,000 trailer homes ASAP to use as refugee housing from a company whose peak output is 130,000 a year.

Anonymous said...

Off-topic ...

I had to blink when I read the boxscore tonight ... White Sox up 2-0? Where do we send the consolation cards? ;-)

Would have caught the game, but I saw enough lousy pitching with the Jays this year. A dig, yeah, but Theo&Co should have known better last offseason ... this was coming.

On the plus side, hockey was on, at long last ... gotta love the shootout, by the way. Leaf Nation will no doubt complain about it because they lost, but it's good for the game ... and they'd be praising it had they won. But so it goes in Leafland.

laura k said...

A dig, yeah, but Theo&Co should have known better last offseason ... this was coming.

Not so much a dig as simply inaccurate. Pedro wanted a four-year guarantee; letting him go was smart business sense. No one in their right mind would have kept Derek Lowe, despite what announcers currently say. Theo couldn't have anticipated Foulke's injury, or Wade Miller's, and the Sox have been without a healthy Schilling almost all year.

Yet despite all that, the team ERA is middle of the pack - not very different from most of the playoff teams. The TV announcers like to talk about the all-slug, no-pitch Red Sox, but if you look at the actual results of the season, that team does not exist.

As for consolation cards, save your postage - real fans don't give up until the series is over.

Anonymous said...

Pitching isn't defined by ERA ... it's defined by clutch outs. Which the Red Sox haven't been able to consistently get to save their lives in the past month and a half. For other teams, I'd let it slide ... but for a defending World Champ, especially one out to prove it has the potential to compete for the title over the next several years, standards do get raised. As in all sports. As it should be.

Miller's injury was too bad, and that happens. Foulke's injury? He was struggling before that, though. Arroyo has been anything BUT consistent, especially in clutch games, during his career thus far (not terribe but they can't rely too heavily on him). Schilling's looked old, Boomer's been done for the past 5 years, leaving Wakefield as the only trustworthy option.

Again, stats aren't the issue ... it's the games in which they get rocked that's the problem ... the games they need to win, they find a way to lose via pitching ... cue the last month of the season. You saw it ... not a good hint to the playoffs, as we're seeing now. 14-2? 5 runs in the 5th to lose the other game? Against a WSox team whose hitting collapsed during the stretch run, nearly costing them their division? Come on. Mound's got to be addressed. At least one more dependable reliever who can step in and take control - Timlin can't play forever, nor can he do it alone.

laura k said...

Pitching isn't defined by ERA ... it's defined by clutch outs

Not defined, measured.

You're displaying a serious lack of knowledge here. But it's impossible to accurately assess a team that you haven't followed closely all season. It's best not to try.

allan said...

Where do we send the consolation cards? ;-)

The same address you used after the Yankees won last season's ALCS Game 3 19-8. ;-)

Pitching isn't defined by ERA ... it's defined by clutch outs.

Since ERA is "runs allowed" and since winners of games are determined by fewest runs allowed, I'd say ERA is pretty important.

Foulke's injury? He was struggling before that, though.

You don't mean October 2004, do you? Cause that's when he was pitching before he was injured.

The team wanted him to have knee surgery over the winter. He declined. They wanted him to have surgery at the start of spring training. He thought he could pitch through it. He was dead wrong.

Schilling's looked old,

I don't think his age has much to do with it. What he had done during last year's playoffs likely ruined what was left of his career. He had some strong starts in September.

Boomer's been done for the past 5 years

If you look at what he has actually done (here), you can see that he has been above league average for nearly his entire career, including very good seasons in 2000 (Toronto!) and 2002.

And he did much better this season that I expected. He's actually been one of the team's bright spots this year.

Again, stats aren't the issue ...

Stats are simply a record of what goes on in the games, a record of every players' performance ... nothing more than that. Saying they aren't the issue is like discussing an author's work and saying "The words he uses aren't the issue."

the games they need to win, they find a way to lose via pitching ...

Lots of times (way too many times this season, actually) -- like last night -- their bats go to sleep. The pitching has not been the horrific problem the national and out-of-town media paints it as.

14-2? 5 runs in the 5th to lose the other game? Against a WSox team whose hitting collapsed during the stretch run, nearly costing them their division?

Hitters go into slumps, then they start hitting again. Chicago won its last five games of the season (and 8 of the last 10) to put Cleveland (MLB's hottest team in the second half, give them a little credit for closing the gap) to bed.

And the two games Chicago lost were both by one run. They can pitch: in those 10 games, they allowed 1-1-4-3-3-2-2-2-3-1.

And against a starter with nothing (Clement) or a team that gave them some extra outs (last night's fifth) good teams (Boston included) will score.

L-girl: But it's impossible to accurately assess a team that you haven't followed closely all season. It's best not to try.

And that's what the national media does. And that's why relying on them for info about any team is a mistake. They don't follow the team closely, so they rely on generalizations, outdated cliches and what other non-Boston media is saying.

Before long, something that's (easily proven to be) inaccurate is touted as common knowledge.


Come on, G, you admit you didn't even watch the game!

allan said...

One more thing about Schilling:

Prior to his last regular season start against the Yankees, here's how Schilling did in his four previous starts against New York, Oakland, Tampa Bay and Toronto:

29IP, 32H, 13 ER, 7 BB, 24 K

He faced those same four teams 14 times during the 2004 regular season and did the following:

95IP, 105H, 43 ER, 19 BB, 87 K

Let's look at the averages (4 starts in 2005 and 14 starts in 2004):

ERA: 4.03 / 4.07
WHIP: 1.34 / 1.31
K/9: 7.45 / 8.24
HR/9: .93 / .95
BB/9: 2.17 / 1.80

So Schilling's last four outings have been at basically the same level of performance as last year vs those teams.

And then in his start against the Yankees last Sunday, he did better than his averages.

Anonymous said...

Sigh ... never tangle with a Sox fan ...

... but, I accept the corrections ... and I do love getting people so worked up (as you've no doubt seen over on LB)!!! :-)

Still, they've looked awfully similar to our Jays the past month ... blowing leads, getting blown out, not getting key outs, or hits, with men on base. Not the consistency one would expect from a Championship team. Which is too bad - I would like nothing better than to see them beat up the Yanks again and go to the World Series ... be nice to see someone other than Steinbrenner&Co go two straight. At least it's Wakefield pitching today. Which means they likely won't blow it in the fifth again.