selenite0: (desire consequence)
One of the minor flurries in Washington DC right now is a line item in the defense budget an alternate engine for the F-35. Not something I'd care that much about if I wasn't working on that plane. The idea is that having a second company making engines for the plane will provide a back-up against problems and cost savings from competition. Given that both the current and previous administrations have tried to kill that piece of the program it's not that widely held an idea. The case against it is pretty simple--why pay for two designs and production lines when you only need one to get the job done?

So various op-eds are appearing extolling the virtues of competition and offering the historical precedent of the competing F-16 engines. Yes, both companies would have a better incentive to improve on cost and quality as they vie for each year's batch of engines. But everybody offering that argument seems to be just fine with the engines going into a single fighter design produced by one partnership. If competition is such a great thing wouldn't more of it be better? In the absence of those arguments it feels like a typical effort to defense Congressional pork barreling.

I'm not even hoping for someone to question whether it's a good idea for a single plane to replace the F-15, F-16, F-117, F/A-18, A-10, and AV-8.
selenite0: (anvil)
I'm keeping this journal politics-free, but anyone interested in local Texas politics might want to check out my report on a meeting of Citizens Against Forced Annexation.
selenite0: (Karl with beard and hat)
I've started a new journal for my political posts at [ profile] libertarianhawk. [ profile] selenite will continue for my posts on my personal life, technology, and gaming.

Plus the occasional silly meme, of course.
selenite0: (Neolibertarian)
The Corps of Engineers is about to release its environmental impact statements on the Trinity Uptown project. They're going to approve it, of course. The impact isn't on endangered critters, it's people getting whacked. Specifically the owners, employees, and customers of the eighty-plus businesses about to be turned into a floodplain.

Of course, that's just necessary for the fancy economic development plan, not flood control. The Corps figured out how to handle floods without ruining anyone's property, but Project backers rejected that alternative because they want to remove the earthen levees that have long obscured river views. And how much of the value of those improved views are going to go to the people getting foreclosed on? Not much, I'd expect. Big businesses with influence on the city and county governments are going to collect a lot of those benefits.

What I'd like to see in this sort of situation is a sort of auction process. Present several options--the default flood cure with no economic improvements, the TRV proposal above, and some other ones with different neighborhoods selected to be the new flood plains. Offer a compensation package for the first neighborhood to vote in favor of being bought out. If nobody goes for it, the city can offer more--if this project is so valuable--and other proponents can put more money in the pot. Either a fair portion of the project benefits will go to the people being displaced, or the backers will have to admit that it's not worth doing at a fair price. Right now it's only moving forward because land is cheap when the government confiscates it.
selenite0: (1st amendment)
Somebody in this is missing brains, and I don't think it's the zombies . . .

There's a review in Slate of a horror show tonight on Showtime. Dead troops from Iraq rise as zombies and start eating Republicans. The reviewer thinks "my guess is that most members of the military would get a kick out of this flick that praises the troops in Iraq". I don't know what he's basing that on--earlier in the review he says "zombies are the perfect metaphor for our soldiers in Iraq: They're shell-shocked, anonymous, and aren't asked to make very many decisions." That ain't praise in my book. He also says of the troops "we don't really have a clue as to what's on their minds." Apparently something as bold as asking them hadn't occurred to that reporter.
selenite0: (Hawk)
I took another look at the Sen. McCain speech I linked last week:
we should at last face facts and increase the standing size of the U.S. Army. It takes time to build a larger army, but had we done so even after our invasion of Iraq, our military would have more soldiers available for deployment now.

I wonder if this translates as "When I'm President I want enough divisions to invade two countries at once, so let's get started." More fodder for 2008 speculation.
selenite0: (Neolibertarian)

I just got a call from Congresswoman Granger's office. They wanted to let me know that next week the house would be voting on a $50-70 billion budget cut, affecting both mandatory and discretionary spending. Granger supports that, but doesn't want to cut the $1m for economic development in Fort Worth next year. The problem with cutting that project is that the money wouldn't be cut from the budget, just transferred to another state that wants it. I complained about that as a "small government conservative" and got some sympathy. Apparently it's the "system" that drives it.

I'd have more respect for that argument if the system for appropriating that money wasn't under the control of the Congress. But they made it and they can fix it. If it's easier for them to go after the entitlements and do across-the-board cuts than give up single projects, great, but I'd like to see some real progress and it's usually easier to tackle small targets than large.

It is nice to get a response. The grassroots pressure must be really building up if they're taking visible action like that. On the other hand, the "Porkbusters" term wasn't recognized so there's not that much impact from the bloggers yet.

Here's hoping those cuts actually get passed next week.
selenite0: (Hawk)
I just discovered a post that eloquently describes a fear I've been grappling with for years now. The level of vitriol the liberals and conservatives are flinging at each other keeps growing. I was worried about that before the 2000 election and it's kept getting worse since. There's less and less tolerance of people in the middle. If these keeps getting worse, where will we end up? Possibly in a civil war, right here in America.

[ profile] rjlippincott thinks cycles of history make this civil war inevitable. I sure as hell hope not. Our system does seem to reward the factions for upping the pressure, so we may need to make some structural changes to fix thing. Proportional representation, instant runoff voting, and none-of-the-above could all adjust elections to give people options other than Good vs. Evil (as defined by whichever circle of friends you've landed in). The other option would be finding a centrist leader who can pull off a win in the current system. There's clearly a hunger for that--the votes for Ross Perot, John McCain, and Arnold Schwarzenegger show that. It's so strong that Kinky Friedman is being forced to take his own campaign for governor seriously, because so many people want him to be the alternative they're looking for. But the way the system is built it'd take a real hero to beat it, and I don't see an obvious one out there.
selenite0: (Neolibertarian)
Last week I mentioned contacting my Congresswoman as part of the "Porkbusters" effort. This weekend I got a form letter discussing relief for Katrina victims but not mentioning my question at all. So I've added the Trinity River Vision project to the Porkbusters database.
selenite0: (Neolibertarian)
Cleaning up after Katrina is going to be expensive, even if we don't try to play King Canute with New Orleans. Adding that on top of all the money Congress is already wasting is going to hurt the budget. Various people are pushing a "Porkbusters" meme, asking Congressmen to cancel their pork projects to compensate for the costs of Katrina repairs.

To do my part I started digging through the web site of our Congresswoman, Kay Granger. So far the best bet for expendable pork looks like the planning funding for the "Trinity River Vision" project. She doesn't seem to have much in the way of specific line-item projects, her announcements are about defense contracts and grants. You'd think someone on the Appropriations committee could bring home more bacon. Possibly she's honest. Or the pork goes to swing states.

Anyway, from what I've heard about the TRV I'm not that fond of it anyway. They're announcing well in advance which areas will be affected, so when they actually try to claim them through eminent domain the "fair market value" will be rock bottom. The picture above is an example. The yellow region is part of Fort Worth near downtown that's slated to be part of the new flood plain. Too bad for anyone who'd invested in property or a business there.

The TRV is mostly future-vision at this point, there's not much going on except some studies. Rep. Granger announced the 2005 budget would have "$500,000 to continue improving neighborhood access to the Trinity River and $725,000 in economic development funds to go towards design and construction. The bill also includes $950,000 for the Corps of Engineers’ Upper Trinity River Basin study. Much of this funding will provide for design, planning, and completing the environmental impact statement for the Trinity Uptown Project." (see 11/30/04 press release at this link).

So I sent this email:

Dear Congresswoman Granger,

I'm very concerned by the damage done by Hurricane Katrina and want to help the victims. At the same time, the expense of the repairs could hurt the economy if it drives the federal deficit up. So I'm one of many people urging that less urgent programs be cut back to offset the cost of Katrina relief.

Would you be willing to sponsor a reduction or postponement of the $2,000,000 FY2005 appropriation for Trinity River Vision design and studies, with the money being shifted to Katrina relief?

Thank you for your time,

Karl Gallagher
Saginaw, TX

No answer yet, though I did get a press release that she's been appointed to the committee investigating the response to Katrina.

Update: Lack of answer here.
selenite0: (Neolibertarian)
Hat tip to [ profile] dbroussa

You are a

Social Liberal
(60% permissive)

and an...

Economic Conservative
(80% permissive)

You are best described as a:


Link: The Politics Test on OkCupid Free Online Dating

Nice quiz, actually. Open about its bias and (unlike can apparently tell the difference between a libertarian and an anarcho-syndicalist. I think of myself as a little more "socially permissive" than that, but the questions were vague between "I think people should be legally allowed to do X" and "Doing X is really stupid." One nice feature they had was showing where Bush and Kerry voters were on their coordinates:

That's Bush voters in red and Kerry ones in blue, for those fortunate to have purged their memories of the "red-blue" maps. Not surprised to find myself on the border.
selenite0: (Freedom)
What's the best thing we can do for poor people in the Third World? How about buying what they grow or make:

Bush Urges End of Trade Tariffs, Subsidies

That's also a really bold move on the domestic front. The various farm subsidies an inexcusable drain on the budget, but nobody's ever had the clout to eliminate them. It's a classic "tragedy of the commons" problem. The benefit of a subsidy goes to a few people who'll fight hard. Canceling it would benefit everyone else, but not enough for it to be worth the work to make it happen. Wiping out all of them at once, that might be doable. Especially with a global agreement hanging on it.

On the global level, not only will this let people work themselves into prosperity, but with luck free trade will support the trend toward other freedoms as well.
selenite0: (deserve life)
Katrina Will Shape Military Debate
Army Has Resisted Proposal For Guard Disaster Units; Short of People, Equipment
By GREG JAFFE, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, September 12, 2005; Page A5

WASHINGTON -- Before Hurricane Katrina, the Army fiercely resisted the idea that it should set aside big National Guard units that would specialize in homeland security and disaster relief.

But that resistance will be tested by the government's tepid initial response to Hurricane Katrina. So will some new ideas on how National Guard units might move closer to the front lines of disaster response. Both will be part of a seemingly inevitable debate that is almost certain to be fierce.

The wrenching pictures of hurricane victims pleading for help may have raised the issue for most Americans, but in some circles the search for a broader military role has been under way much longer. Earlier this year, the Rand Corp., a government-funded think tank, proposed that the Pentagon create 10 new 900-soldier battalions from the National Guard that would focus exclusively on homeland defense.

Instead of training for war, these units would train with state and civilian authorities. They would be positioned in each of the 10 regions into which the Federal Emergency Management Agency has divided the nation. They would craft disaster relief plans and help ensure communication systems were robust enough to survive catastrophes. When disaster hit, these soldiers would be the first to flow into the stricken areas, providing the core of a headquarters for other National Guard units to link up with and build on.

"The Army's view was that they wanted Army combat units to be trained, ready and available for all things," says Lynn Davis, a senior analyst who played a role in developing the Rand concept. "We argued that the problem with that is many units may not be [trained] and ready quickly enough to do things at home."

The response to Hurricane Katrina could change that thinking.

[snip discussion of the Army wanting to focus the NG on overseas combat duty, equipment shortages among non-deployed units, and Pentagon resistance to using active-duty units for disaster work]

In recent months, the National Guard has carved out some very small units for homeland defense missions. It recently formed 55 Weapons of Mass Destruction civil-support teams whose mission is to help state authorities if there is a chemical or biological attack. Each of the units has only about 25 soldiers. But siphoning off more soldiers solely to the homeland defense mission would create big strains on the active force, say Army officials.

[ profile] daveamongus proposed solving this problem by creating a separate organization. Doesn't look like the government is headed that way yet, but there are some people considering the problem.
selenite0: (deserve life)
One of the bits I heard early on about the disaster was that the helicopter carrier USS Bataan was in position near New Orleans and arrived shortly after the hurricane passed over. Then I didn't hear much more about it, but I figured it just wasn't getting publicized. Nope. A floating power station, fresh water generator, and hospital, carrying a bunch of helicopters and boats, got ignored. I expect a certain level of incompetence in any organization. I know the logistics of getting heavy trucks through an area with damaged bridges is tough. But this pisses me off.

UPDATE: It looks like the helicopter squadron was used, running full out in fact. But the rest of the ship's capabilities, not so much.
selenite0: (couple)
[ profile] celticdragonfly just created an animation of the pictures I posted yesterday so you can really see the change. For those not familiar with the geography, New Orleans is at the bottom center edge of the lake in the middle.
Cut for huge and scary picture )
selenite0: (deserve life)
Let it never be said I think ill of all of NASA's work . . . here's some photos from the Terra satellite's MODIS sensor.

Before and after pictures, cut for size )
selenite0: (Beware the Engineer)
There's going to be a lot of money allocated for the people in New Orleans. I'm all for that--these people are having a hard time and need help. But I want one string attached to the money for the people whose homes were destroyed.


People held back the water for a long time, but it eventually won. There's no sense starting the same fight over again. Build some levees around the historical monuments so the tourists can enjoy them. But for the homes and businesses, it's time to go someplace else. Call it North New Orleans. Or maybe Canuteville.
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