Saturday, September 17, 2005
I have bought two in Europe. They cost about four Euros each, and are covered with lovely little "emerald flowers". It takes time to get used to having rings on ones toes but I like to look at my bare feet under the desk and see the glitter in the semi-darkness.
Of such things is the human self-decoration made. Sometimes we just like to play with our bodies and the impact they have on the world. Other times it is the world that tries to tell us how to present or not to present ourselves, and here we step into much darker areas of debate and feminist analysis. But my toe rings are wholly innocent of any attempt by anybody else to influence me and nobody else even sees them. They are just fun.
I heard some talking head on the radio this morning discuss the need to get over hating Bush. According to this man the democratic base (or us extreme moonbats, really) is too wound up in the Bush-hating to practise good political moves. We should all look ahead to the next Republican president, House and Senate, and ignore Bush whose reign is already essentially over.
This is a misperception. The base hates what Bush is doing to this country and what the wingnuts are planning to do in the future. The so-called Bush-hating is not some odd psychological tic which makes people scream because of the way Bush pretends to have a Texan twang or because of the way he pretends to be a fireman or a working stiff or because he appears to have no brain whatsoever. True, all these little bits of Bush are annoying, but they are not the reason just naming the guy causes rashes in so many of us. The reasons are in the policies the Bush administration has pursued, is pursuing and will pursue. Getting rid of Bush will not get rid of these policies, and all us Bush-haters (so-called) know this.
Besides, I really hate being lectured to by some talking head whose information may be acquired in inside-the-beltway cocktail parties. I hate being othered in this way, and I hate the fact that there was no response to this man's assertions. Maybe I suffer from the "hates-the-talking-heads" syndrome? Yet another reason to ignore all I write.
Friday, September 16, 2005
Remember that the last director of the Office of Women's Health, Susan Wood, quit in protest of the decision not to let the morning-after pill be available over the counter? Now her place has been filled. By a man whose experience is on veterinarian science:
Wood's acting replacement is Norris Alderson. Alderson has a bachelor's degree in animal husbandry from the University of Tennessee and graduate degrees from the University of Kentucky. He has worked at the FDA for more than 30 years, more than 20 of which he spent in the agency's Bureau of Veterinary Medicine.
ADDENDUM on Saturday:
This decision has been changed. Maybe the publicity helped with the change? Nah. Thanks to dancinfool in the comments.
The radical right calls me an America-hater almost every day. The idea that anyone criticizing this administration hates America and plots treason is spread all over the net and the traditional media. The intention is to make us critics ashamed and fearful of saying anything. The intention is approving silence, the only love that is acceptable to the most extremists on the right.
But it is we, the noisy and complaining ones, who really love America, love her as she is, a gangly teenager with acne and furious dreams and occasional bad mistakes which she then corrects. Love her beautiful mountains and rivers and prairies and wetlands and deserts and cities and all the people that inhabit these, even the ones who think differently. It is we who love what America was, what she had grown to, her promises and her frailties, her ability to learn from errors, to become better, to promise to try, her genius, her optimism, her determination to follow the arc of justice, ultimately.
Yes, we would complain about her teenage fads, about her shallowness, about the serious problems which she didn't know how to correct: the role of race, the role of poverty and the role of violence in a society. But she tried, however unclearly sometimes, and all the voices, even the conservative ones, participated in this trying and made the country ultimately better, closer to maturity, without any loss in the optimism and sunniness that we all prized.
This is the America that was and still is, at least partly, and this is the America that the current administration and the radical right want to destroy. We love her too much to want to see this young country clad in a burkha, to want to see her bent over to carry the heavy moneybags of a few greedy capitalists. We love her too much to want to see her poisoned by mercury and arsenic in her beautiful oceans and lovely lakes. We want her to learn and to grow, not to be forced to sit in a solitary silence, reading over and over the same "thou-shalt-nots" of the conservative bibles.
We critics don't want our America to rampage across this globe, grabbing money and power and leaving behind destitution and death. It is not good for the world and it is terrible for the young country we still are. We are like the parents who love their children, yet see clearly where their frailties lie, and as good parents we tell how to fix those frailties and how to grow stronger while retaining the essential greatness of the child, the teenager, this glorious country of many songs.
How to be mature.
The radical right wants none of this. It wants a country with no kindness, no shelter, no common squares where people can meet. It wants a country in perpetual war, a country where mercenaries and corporations are cared for, where America is but their feeding ground, the silent congregation in some monsterous church for money.
We critics are needed, because we indeed love this country. Our tough love is needed, because it sees with clear eyes. Our patriotism is needed, because it is untainted with false beliefs and childish assertions of how much greater America is than the rest of this earth. We are needed for the very love that makes us named the haters of America.
Hank and the Loch Ness Monster
These are quite lovely pictures. I hope they come across the same on the blog. Hank is enjoying the early morning sunrise in one, and in the other one it looks like she has just spotted the Loch Ness Monster in the waters. Though it's the dog on the beach she spotted, and then went to play with the same dog who bumped into her and caused her bad leg. But the Monster story is better.
Thursday, September 15, 2005
I'm not going to write about it. You can hear the wingnut interpretations all over the so-called liberal media. The wingnuts like George when he has taken his tie off and rolled up his sleeve to look just like one of them, like someone who works with his hands. Oh, were it only true.
But one thing I will say. Watch the money. Keep an eagle's eye on it. Because what this will be is a big feast for all Bush's friends, unless we all watch and count and remember.
This comes from the National Women's Law Center, and you can find out what to do about John Roberts by clicking on their action page.
The current progressive/liberal near-consensus on Roberts seems to be that he is as good a candidate as we can expect from Attila the Hun, and that with the exception of abortion (which he will help to outlaw) he is actually quite a charming man. Naturally only some of us can view the question in this "cool and detached" way, but then some of us are lumbered with uteri and so on. Sigh. I haven't slept enough.
This is a summary of Roberts's views on those of use saddled with wombs:
Title IX -- John Roberts has repeatedly argued for a narrow interpretation of Title IX, but his testimony today attempted to hide the ball on his real positions. For example, in a 1982 Supreme Court case (Franklin v. Gwinnett County), he filed a brief arguing that no victim of sexual harassment should be allowed to sue for damages under Title IX. His response to the committee did not acknowledge that his interpretation of the law would have left students without any remedy for sex discrimination. Roberts also denied any responsibility for his "strong agreement" with recommendations to restrict the coverage of Title IX. According to Roberts, he was merely parroting administration positions on this issue – an assertion at odds with the very language of his recommendations.
Gender Discrimination -- John Roberts wrote in a 1980s memo of a "perceived problem" of gender discrimination. When asked about this memo, he responded that gender discrimination is "a particular concern of mine and always has been." But the question is not whether he cares about gender equity. It is whether he will apply the laws of this country to provide effective protection against discrimination. His past record and his testimony provide no reassurance.
Equal Protection -- In another memo, John Roberts wrote that sex discrimination is not subject to "heightened scrutiny" under the Constitution. He told members of the Judiciary Committee that he actually meant "strict scrutiny," a standard that applies to racial discrimination – not gender. It's hard to believe a lawyer of Roberts's caliber would misuse legal terms in this way. And this is no mere semantic dispute -- levels of scrutiny affect how the Supreme Court reviews discriminatory policies and often make the difference between condoning or invalidating discrimination.
Roe v. Wade -- As Deputy Solicitor General, John Roberts asked the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade. During the hearings, he has refused to give senators straightforward answers about his views on whether the Constitution protects a woman's right to choose and whether he would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. For example, when he was asked whether the right to choose embodied in Roe v. Wade is sufficiently embedded in our national culture that it should not be eliminated, he flatly declined to answer. When he was asked for his comments on Justice Ginsburg's confirmation testimony that a prohibition on abortion is unconstitutional, he would not respond. And when asked whether the right to privacy applies to the beginning of life and the end of life, John Roberts again refused to answer.
All you really need to know about the White House's post-Katrina strategy -- and Bush's carefully choreographed address on national television tonight -- is this little tidbit from the ninth paragraph of Elisabeth Bumiller and Richard W. Stevenson 's story in the New York Times this morning:
"Republicans said Karl Rove, the White House deputy chief of staff and Mr. Bush's chief political adviser, was in charge of the reconstruction effort."
My most eloquent post ever.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the Republicans in Washington, D.C., see the hurricane disaster in Louisiana as an excellent opportunity to spread free market principles into this erstwhile den of failed families and big government and so on. The idea, according to Representative Todd Tiahrt (R., Kan.), is to lower the costs of doing business! This raises the profits of the entrepreneurs, natch.
How much all this helps the people in the area, including the workers these businesses might hire, isn't quite so clear. Or perhaps not just very relevant. After all, Bush's executive order allows the contractors to pay less than prevailing wages in the disaster areas (do I hear the trucks bringing immigrant workers already?). And the following extra steps to lower the costs of doing business are being percolated right now:
Now, Republicans are working on legislation that would limit victims' right to sue, offer vouchers for displaced school children, lift some environment restrictions on new refineries and create tax-advantaged enterprise zones to maximize private-sector participation in recovery and reconstruction. Yesterday, the House overwhelmingly passed a bill that would offer sweeping protection against lawsuits to any person or organization that helps Katrina victims without compensation.
Note the attempt to make the disaster area into one where environmental causes matter not at all (especially upsetting considering the role of wetlands destruction in exacerbating the hurricane's effects and the current high rates of toxic substances in the remaining floodwaters). And note the tax advantages offered to the same firms who already enjoy lower wages and now needn't worry about any polluting costs, either.
This is a big division of the spoils after one of the largest natural disasters to strike this country. You can bet anything that those benefiting will be good ole Republican boys and that they will remember the fat wallets they earned when the next election time rolls around. At least some of this money will return to the Republican party. This is what we are paying taxes for, under a one-party government.
A big division of the spoils, yes, but also a wonderful opportunity for the Republican party to make Louisiana into a wingnut state. If only all those who voted for Democrats (the poor black people) could be kept from returning! If enough money could be poured into the right pockets to guarantee more votes in return! Wouldn't it be paradoxical if the greatest leadership blunder of our George actually resulted in such rewards!
As I read this WSJ article I realized that I should be reborn as an oil company. I would get much more attention from the government. I could even pretty much dictate which laws I want to micromanage, and my wishlist would at least appear for discussion in the Congress:
The National Petrochemical & Refineries Association would like lawmakers to reduce the depreciation period from 10 years to five years in order to stimulate investment. Some refineries are talking about reviving an effort to get liability protection for producing the fuel additive methyl tertiary butyl ether, or MTBE. Both were dropped from the earlier energy bill at the insistence of Democrats.
Thanks to kg for the link.
Democratic Senators, people who believe in democracy, anyone not delighted with John Roberts as the next Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Let us use a column in the New York Times to ridicule the process of presenting a candidate for the Supreme Court to the nation. Let us chuckle at the idea that the candidate can't be made to say anything at all revealing.
Let us stick our fingers in our ears and let us stick our tongue out at the enemy. Let us go "Nannannah!" And let us call this political writing.
If we happen to be named John Tierney.
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
Not a writing day, it seems. This is from Daily Kos:
It is worth showing because Grover Norquist really wants to do what he threatened in the statement (contrasted with New Orleans) in the picture, and he should be held accountable for his views.
From Reuters and all over the blogosphere:
U.S. President George W. Bush writes a note to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during a Security Council meeting at the 2005 World Summit and 60th General Assembly of the United Nations in New York September 14, 2005. World leaders are exploring ways to revitalize the United Nations at a summit on Wednesday but their blueprint falls short of Secretary-General Kofi Annan's vision of freedom from want, persecution and war.
It seems to read: I think I may need a BATHROOM break. Is this possible?
Salon has this photograph for your education:
It goes with an article which asks some questions about the wingnuts and their funny attitudes towards science. To me the wingnuts appear to fall into two groups: those who believe in God and no science, and those who believe in science as God. Both approaches are unscientific. Science is not some hundred-percent-proof alternative for religion or some panacea that solves every question we might have about life, universe and stuff. Science is one way of studying answers to various questions, a laborsome way, a slow way, and a way that doesn't always proceed correctly. But it has the advantage that the steps the explanation takes are laid out for all to see. This is not true of the religious approach, and neither is it true of the approach which says that if something is called science then it must be true and nobody must ask questions about it.
A simpler way of making the same point is to refresh your memories about the meaning of the scientific method:
The scientific method has four steps
1. Observation and description of a phenomenon or group of phenomena.
2. Formulation of an hypothesis to explain the phenomena. In physics, the hypothesis often takes the form of a causal mechanism or a mathematical relation.
3. Use of the hypothesis to predict the existence of other phenomena, or to predict quantitatively the results of new observations.
4. Performance of experimental tests of the predictions by several independent experimenters and properly performed experiments.
If the experiments bear out the hypothesis it may come to be regarded as a theory or law of nature (more on the concepts of hypothesis, model, theory and law below). If the experiments do not bear out the hypothesis, it must be rejected or modified. What is key in the description of the scientific method just given is the predictive power (the ability to get more out of the theory than you put in; see Barrow, 1991) of the hypothesis or theory, as tested by experiment. It is often said in science that theories can never be proved, only disproved. There is always the possibility that a new observation or a new experiment will conflict with a long-standing theory.
This is a very simple initial definition. Each of these steps may have additional refinements, and as my added bolding of the word "may" is intended to indicate, alternative theories might actually explain the same evidence. Thus, it is not always the case that a hypothesis which appears to predict well is the only one, or even the best one, to explain a particular phenomenom.
Blanco and Barbour, the governors of Louisiana and Mississippi, respectively, are being compared and analyzed in USA Today (via Atrios). Atrios points out this upsetting pair of quotes in the article:
She says that two days after Katrina, desperate for help, she couldn't get through to Bush and didn't get a callback; hours later, she tried again, and they talked.
Barbour hasn't had to wait hours to talk to Bush. In fact, Barbour said in an interview with USA TODAY, the president called him three to four times in the wake of Katrina. "I never called him. He always called me," he said.
Which makes me worried that this government might see its responsibility (the one Bush has now freely accepted) as limited to only those who voted Republican.
The article is fascinating in other ways, as well. The whole tone of the story is really a comparison of the stereotypes of a "traditional woman" and a "traditional man" in a leadership role. We are told that Governor Blanco had many children, stayed at home for several years, cares for her people and takes a nurturing approach. She sounds like the mold from which good wingnut women are supposed to spring. Governor Barbour, on the other hand, comes across as tough as rock, ready to grab bullhorns and eager to shake lots of hands, all the time denying that anything at all has gone wrong. The reader is supposed to draw the obvious conclusions about what works.
It's unfortunate that Blanco would then come across as punished for being the "good woman" and that Barbour would appear to win this game without actually having been a very good governor for his state. So confusing. What is a reader to do?
Well, a good idea would be to read sources which offer somewhat less stereotyped and superficial reports; sources, where one doesn't have to dig and wonder about what was really said. If one is careful with this USA Today story it actually tells that Blanco most likely did a fairly good job and that we don't yet know what sort of a job Barbour did. But the story itself ends with predictions of a presidential ticket for Barbour...
Tuesday, September 13, 2005
For your next conversation with a wingnut. Wingnuts live in an alternate universe, one in which George Bush is the younger brother of Jesus and in which we progressives are the spawns of Satan himself. The more modern section of Wingnuttia reads Adam Smith and books about social Darwinism instead of the Bible but the ideas are otherwise fairly similar. All wingnuts get their information from Fox, so that what they think happened during the hurricane Katrina may sound very odd to you. Don't despair, Think Progress has created a list of wingnut myths with proper corrections to each myth.
Not that you can just offer the corrections and see the air cleared. The same myth will be thrown back at you repeatedly. But at least you can feel calmer knowing that evidence doesn't back the weird stuff you hear, over and over again.
And you will certainly be told that us lefties blame Bush for the hurricane itself. That is one of the myths which is most intriguing: how on earth did they decide that it is us who think Bush is strong enough to steer hurricanes? It's always been the Wingnuttia that believes this.
About federal blunders in the Katrina unrescue effort. The problem with this responsibility-taking is that I have no idea what he might mean. Is he going to resign? Offer compensation? Do public penance? Can we now blame him more openly?
I doubt it. Here are some possible definitions of responsibility that Bush might have used:
Definitions of responsibility on the Web:
* duty: the social force that binds you to your obligations and the courses of action demanded by that force; "we must instill a sense of duty in our children"; "every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity, an obligation; every possession, a duty"- John D.Rockefeller Jr
* province: the proper sphere or extent of your activities; "it was his province to take care of himself"
* a form of trustworthiness; the trait of being answerable to someone for something or being responsible for one's conduct; "he holds a position of great responsibility"
* In moral philosophy, the word responsibility has at least two related meanings: * The obligation to answer for actions. Often this means answering to some specified authority.
* Unless otherwise specified, the vendor shall be responsible for all items covered by this purchase order until delivered at the designated delivery point and the vendor shall bear all risks as to items rejected or requiring correction after notice of such rejection or correction is given.
* A yacht owner/skipper is solely responsible for deciding whether or not to start or to continue to race.
* *. The moral and forward-looking sense of responsibility is the sense in which one is responsible for achieving (or maintaining) a good result in some matter. The idea is that one is entrusted with achieving or maintaining this outcome, and expected to both have relevant knowledge and skills, and to make a conscientious effort. However, despite one's best efforts, the result may not be achieved. For example, patients of responsible physicians may die, and the work of a responsible engineer may result in an accident because the accident was not foreseeable, it was not possible to compensate for the factors
* To be entrusted with or assigned a duty or charge. In many instances responsibility is assumed, appropriate with one's duties. Responsibility is distinct from accountability. A supervisor can assign responsibility but cannot give away his or her accountability: the manager is ultimately responsible.
* Condition, quality, fact, or instance of being responsible; obligation, accountability, dependability, etc.
* a virtue, is a charge, trust, or duty, for which one is responsible. To be responsible means to be correspondent or answerable, accountable to another for something, liable to be called to account, morally accountable for your actions, capable of rational conduct. The Vow of Responsibility: "I am now become responsible for all my own earth life. The spot I occupy now I have made for myself. The work I do now is as a servant of God. All that comes to me is my very own, either Light or Dark, it has been Created by me for myself by
* Neither the company nor anyone on its behalf shall be liable for any death, loss, injury, accident, damage to personal property (including baggage) or delay, illness strike, machinery failure, acts of God, improper documentation or any other causes beyond its control.
* Behavior for which a
* Especially "personal responsibility". Catch-cry of the powerful self-righteous Right who conveniently forget that a lot of other people were responsible for them gaining positions of power. Catherine Kingfisher (Waikato Uni) says the targets - like poor single mothers - are portrayed "as out of control, hedonistic, irresponsible, and dependent." Catherine argues that the personal responsibility dogma "mirrors discourses of colonization, in which the colonized Other is constructed as "savage" -- wild and ungoverned -- and in need of reformation. Poor single mothers, like indigenous populations, thus constitute an internal savage, and welfare reform may accordingly be analyzed in terms of colonizing/reformative
* 1. The obligation to carry forward an assigned task to a successful conclusion. With responsibility goes authority to direct and take the necessary action to ensure success. 2. The obligation for the proper custody, care, and safekeeping of property or funds entrusted to the possession or supervision of an individual. See also accountability. (JP 1-02).
* Manager Contract Management and Project Accounting (CMPA)
* Five types of responsibilities under "Extended Producer Responsibility" are denoted in the inventory:
* An obligation to perform assigned activities.
* Youth accepts and takes personal responsibility.
* Being obliged to answer, as for one's actions, to an authority that may impose a penalty for failure.
* refers to a person attempting to meet the expectations others have of them.
* Cloud Tours, Inc. of 31-09 Newtown Ave, Long Island City, NY acts solely in its capacity as marketing agent on behalf of its suppliers such as air carriers, ground operator, cruise lines and hotels identified on documents supplied in connection with purchase of the tours described herein or other travel services.
* The notion of describing problem space entities in terms of responsibilities is one of the core characteristics of OO development. The notion that publicly an entity is only responsible for knowing or doing something introduces a level of conceptual indirection that is important to OO encapsulation, implementation hiding, and DbC. It allows the "client" collaborating with an object to be protected from knowing anything about the details of how the "service" object actually fulfills its contract. (See category on what OO is all about.)
* literally 'response-ability', the ability to choose and act upon appropriate responses according to context, as an expression of personal power; link-theme between spiritual dimension and physical dimension
* a contract or obligation of a class. What an object knows or does. An object may fulfill responsibilities using its own methods/data or the services of a collaborator.
* Being responsible; being accountable; having a duty.
Monday, September 12, 2005
John Roberts reminds me of the Sleeping Beauty. There he lies, asleep, pristine, surrounded by rose bushes, waiting for the kiss from George Bush that would make him spring alive. But this is as far as the fairy tale goes, as I'm not quite sure what Roberts-awake would look like.
He hasn't been asleep, of course. He has been suave, polished, pleasant, intelligent and most destructive of the right to privacy, civil rights and the Commerce Clause (which matters for the federal government to be able to interfere in the aftermath of a hurricane, for example). In fact, he's so pleasant and nice that most beltway insiders find his appointment very natural. He is one of them. But the real Roberts is hidden somewhere deep inside the Sleeping Beauty, and I want that real Roberts to wake up and speak. Because we will have him around for something like three generations.
So what would Chief Justice Roberts do about Grizwold vs. The State of Connecticut, the famous forty-year-old case which decided that married couples can use contraception if they wish? If we don't have a right to privacy, according to Roberts, what else will fall by the wayside? Our right not to use contraception, say?
I don't know what Roberts plans to do, and it seems it's very bad manners to try to make him tell us:
But Republicans urged Roberts to be cautious in what he tells the committee about how he would rule on certain issues.
"Some have said that nominees who do not spill their guts about whatever a senator wants to know are hiding something from the American people," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. "Some compare a nominee's refusal to violate his judicial oath or abandon judicial ethics to taking the Fifth Amendment. These might be catchy sound bites, but they are patently false."
"Don't take the bait," Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, told Roberts in the hearings. "Don't go down that road. Do exactly the same thing every nominee, Republican and Democrat alike, has done. Decline to answer any question that you feel would compromise your ability to do your job. The vast majority of the Senate, I am convinced, will not punish you for doing so."
The vast majority of the Senate are Republicans, so naturally they wouldn't punish their pal John. I might, though.
And what do we get instead of answers to questions about judicial philosophy? We get an analog to baseball:
"I come before this committee with no agenda, no platform," said Roberts in his brief opening remarks. "I will approach every case with an open mind."
And using a baseball metaphor, he compared his judicial role to that of an umpire, saying, "My job is to call balls and strikes, not pitch or bat."
Right. But what are the rules of the game you are umpiring, John? Are they the same rules the players believe in?
Wake up or go back to sleep.
Jonathan Alter writes about the poverty question in the aftermath of Katrina. I don't agree with everything he says but his article is a good beginning for those who wish to learn more about the roots of the problem. When I have more time I will write something long and boring on the topic here. But the preview is that the solutions ain't easy though not as hard as the wingnuts pretend.
Was there a foghorn this time? I haven't watched the visit, because I firmly and angrily believe that he should not have gone there to cause disruption in the real rescue effort. The only reason for this visit is in the abysmal approval numbers of our George. He's playing the only game this government finds worthy (other than war games): the illusion game.
Part of the illusion game is to shroud everything into words which carry nothing but sound:
A reporter asked Bush about criticism that a racial component was behind the government's slow response to the people left without help after Katrina hit.
"The storm didn't discriminate, and neither will the recovery effort," Bush said. "When those Coast Guard choppers -- many of whom were first on the scene -- were pulling people off roofs, they didn't check the color of a person's skin, they wanted to save lives.
"I can assure people ... that this recovery is going to be comprehensive. The rescue efforts were comprehensive, and the recovery will be comprehensive."
Bush also rejected suggestions that the nation's military was stretched too thin with the Iraq war to deal with the hurricane devastation.
"We've got plenty of troops to do both," the president said.
"It is preposterous to claim that the engagement in Iraq meant there weren't enough troops here, just pure and simple."
So criticism is "preposterous", things are "comprehensive" and "pure and simple". No evidence to support the Iraq argument's preposterousness, no attempt to answer what those who charge racism really refer to. No substance, just a lot of fluff, like happy little Republican clouds floating about in the sky of emptiness. See, I can do the same!
Sunday, September 11, 2005
I embroidered this after 9/11/2001. I have posted it before but this is the context in which it was made. What it means isn't that clear to me. It seems to have the two sides all mixed together. But I know that I wanted release for the souls trapped in the horror of it all when I was working on this.
David Brooks, the wingnut windbag of the New York Times, has returned to his usual liberal-bashing after a couple of fairly thoughtful columns. The most recent one isn't thoughtful: it regards the failure of the Katrina rescue efforts as proof that governments fail. The logical conclusion then is to have as little government as possible. In the (sadly) unforgettable words of Grover Norquist (who is crazy) the government should be shrunk so small that it can be drowned in a bathtub.
Let us take these wingnuts at face value. Let's ask the question:"What would happen in the absence of a government?" The answer is chaos, and then a new government would be created. Because governments are necessary for human cooperation and human cooperation is necessary for survival. It's as simple as that.
In a little more detail, common activity is necessary to get certain types of jobs done. Suppose, for example, that you wish to build levees to protect a low-lying city from hurricanes. Once the levees are built they will protect everyone inside them. It's not efficient for each individual to build his or her own levees. But doing the building together means that one must also solve the question of funding the work. Sometimes the work is done together by the whole community, but mostly someone is employed to do the actual work while others just pay for it.
Now assume that I decide to settle in this city and I see the levees already built. There is then no real (selfish) reason for me to pay anything towards the levees. After all, they will protect me even if I pay nothing! But this same logic applies to everyone else: why would anybody pay for the levees if others can be persuaded to build them free? The outcome would be either no levees at all or the creation of a system where people are forced to pay for the levees. These forced payments are called taxes.
It is the power to tax that distinguishes formal governments from the kind of cooperation I described above. A market solution doesn't allow the power to tax, and can be shown to always produce fewer levees (or military troops) than the optimal level would indicate.
In econo-babble, some goods and services are said to be public in nature. In their purest form public goods and services have these two characeristics: 1) the amount I consume of the service or good does not reduce the amount you can consume, and 2) it is prohibitively expensive to exclude anybody from consuming the product. The usual examples of such pure public goods are lighthouses: the amount of guidance they provide to one ship doesn't reduce the amount they offer other ships and there is no inexpensive way of excluding ships from using the service. At the other extreme, a sandwich is an example of a purely private good. If I eat it you can't, and I can keep you away from my sandwich fairly easily.
Many goods and services have characteristics that are both public and private, but the closer a service comes to the public endpoint the less efficient a market solution will prove to be. Wingnuts who want the government small enough to drown in a bathtub will also drown large chunks of modern civilization, national security and disaster preparedness.
None of this means that governments are necessarily efficient, but then neither are the markets. The wingnut way of always suspecting the government of evil and always giving the markets free pass is stupid, but so would its opposite be. Markets and governments are nothing more than institutions which humans have created, and which to use and in which proportions is an empirical question about what works.