March 2004
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Day March 4, 2004

Bush’s former business school prof speaks out

 Thanks to Atrios for the link.  Yoshi Tsurumi, Professor of International Business at City University of New York, and formerly of Harvard Business School) apparently had Bush as a student some thirty years ago.  Here’s what he had to say:

I still vividly remember him. In my class, he declared that “people are poor because they are lazy.” He was opposed to labor unions, social security, environmental protection, Medicare, and public schools. To him, the antitrust watch dog, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Securities Exchange Commission were unnecessary hindrances to “free market competition.” To him, Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal was “socialism.” Recently, President Bush’s Federal Appeals Court Nominee, California’s Supreme Court Justice Janice Brown, repeated the same broadside at her Senate hearing. She knew that her pronouncement would please President Bush and Karl Rove and their Senators. President Bush and his brain, Karl Rove, are leading a radical revolution of destroying all the democratic political, social, judiciary, and economic institutions that both Democrats and moderate Republicans had built together since Roosevelt’s New Deal.

Tsurumi goes on to quote Bill Moyers as saying that Rove has modeled the Bush presidency on that of William McKinley, who was the quintessential big-business robber-baron politican.  It’s so funny – I just had a conversation last night where I was claiming that Bush seemed to want to “roll back the New Deal and return us to the Gilded Age, complete with robber barons.”  It’s so exact an analogy, it hurts to even think about.  

I strongly recommend reading Tsurumi’s full article, it includes a lot of good analysis of economic policies, and the direction things are headed.  

House Select Committee report on Homeland Security

The House Select Committee on Homeland Security recently released its report on the state of security in the U.S., and the performance of the Department of Homeland Security.  The full report is 135 pages, and I read enough to satisfy myself that the executive summary is actually representative of the report.  I’d recommend just reading the summary

The substance is about what you’d expect.  We’re not funding key efforts within the United States, having diverted far more of our effort and dollars to Iraq.  Some highlights:

·         DHS hasn’t yet completed a threat and vulnerability assessment to set priorities for what we can do.  

·         100+ nuclear sites in the former Soviet Union need security improvements.  These sites contain 600 metric tons of nuclear materials, enough for 41,000 warheads (presumably even more if the material is used for multiple-kiloton rather than megaton bombs).

·         Outside Russia, 20+ tons of highly enriched uranium exists at 130 sites in 40 countries, many with little or no effective security.  

·         Without belaboring the details, we are utterly unequipped to deal with a widespread biological attack.  The public health system lacks the staff, laboratory facilities, or funding to handle a major crisis.  

·         Only a tiny fraction of the 7 million cargo containers that arrive in American ports are physically inspected or mechanically screened.  The vast majority of these containers have no tamper resistant seals, and the majority are not screened for radiological materials or nuclear devices.  Less than 100 inspectors are assigned to foreign ports to screen cargo before it leaves for the United States.  

·         The Coast Guard estimates that ports need to spend $1.1 billion this year, and $5.4 billion over 10 years, to meet security standards.  In other words, for the price of about a month in Iraq and Afghanistan, we can implement a ten year program to secure our ports.  The Administration’s budgets for 2002 – 2004 have allocated only $46 million for port security, and although Congress supplemented this strongly, there is a $566 million funding gap in 2004 alone.

·         We won’t even mention border security.  There’s nothing good to report.

·         Air security:  focused mainly on passenger screening, has ignored air cargo screening and airport employee security standards.  

·         Virtually none of our critical infrastructure is secure:  chemical plants, dams, electrical power generation, water systems, pipelines, etc.  There isn’t even a comprehensive risk assessment of our infrastructure, so we don’t really even know what it’ll take or cost to secure it.  Basically, the entire problem has been left to the private sector, with no public incentives for the companies to spend the money needed to secure their assets.  

·         Government IT systems and networks are insecure, with the DHS itself receiving the lowest security rating of any federal agency:  34% compliance.  I find that disturbing, ironic, and not at all surprising.  

·         First responders – whose criticality was amply demonstrated on 9/11 – have received no real assistance in federal budgets since then.  Federal grant programs exist, but aren’t moving quickly and the formulas are all whacked out:  states with high-risk targets like California and New York are getting $6 per capita, while states which probably aren’t on anybody’s hit list are getting over $30 per person.  

That’s enough headlines.  The overall picture that emerges should surprise nobody who (a) has followed the reality of homeland security efforts since 9/11, or (b) is no longer surprised to find that the Administration consistently talks the talk, but never walks the walk.  

I hope Kerry’s staff is reading this report carefully as well.  Frankly, the Homeland Security strategy on Kerry’s website is a bit weak.  The “targeted alert system” and “homeland security corps” ideas are good, but more attention needs to be given to the stuff which is less sexy, as outlined in this report.

Of course, the report also outlines some threats that I have no idea how they could protect against, like shoulder-mounted surface-to-air missiles targeting passenger airlines.  Don’t get me wrong, I fly a lot and I’m kind of hoping somebody finds a way to protect me against this threat, but let’s be realistic about how difficult it is to protect against it…

Selecting a running mate

Wow…Kerry is moving quickly on his running mate.  Yesterday, Kerry himself “leaked” the fact that James Johnson (former Fannie Mae chairman) to lead the search team.  The Washington Post reported this morning that the net will be cast widely:

Kerry is expected to cast a wide net for governors, women, minorities and swing-state political powerhouses. This will allow him to stroke key officials and constituencies and to ensure that no one who might help the campaign effort is overlooked. Among those who may be considered, according to speculation outside the Kerry campaign, are four former rivals for the nomination: Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (Mo.), Sens. John Edwards (N.C.) and Bob Graham (Fla.), and retired Army Gen. Wesley K. Clark. Several swing-state governors, including Iowa’s Tom Vilsack, Pennsylvania’s Edward G. Rendell and New Mexico’s Bill Richardson, could add non-Washington balance to the ticket.

Several women are being talked about, including former New Hampshire governor Jeanne Shaheen, Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, and former health and human services secretary Donna E. Shalala. Rep. John Lewis (Ga.), a civil rights champion, could be included.

Folks outside the campaign have also floated Robert Rubin and Hillary Clinton as possible running mates.  Frankly, I think the chances of Hillary being the running mate are virtually nil – she may be powerful in Democratic politics but she’s going to show ambiguously among the population.  Let’s be honest, the running mate is going to be Southern, it’s going to be male (sadly, I don’t think the campaign is going to take any risks), which means that Edwards and Bob Graham have got to be the front-running candidates.  

Rubin would indeed add economic strength, but he’d be even better as a SecTreas candidate.  Or possibly a replacement for Greenspan at the end of his next term – the guy has got to go.  A good subject for another post, I agree wholeheartedly with Paul Krugman:  the Fed Chair has been dabbling in politics instead of being the trusted neutral party for fiscal policy ever since he endorsed Bush’s original tax cuts.  And his performance lately has sealed the deal.

Clark is an interesting possibility but I think the campaign will ultimately go with somebody higher profile, who can bring some political clout, not just character.  I still maintain that Clark will be considered for a cabinet or high-ranking post.