On disaster relief funding
From the Jan. 15 The Washington Post:
On Jan. 15, the House approved another $50 billion for expenses related to Hurricane Sandy. Assuming the Senate signs on, that would bring the total federal lawmakers have authorized for Sandy relief to about $60 billion, and that might not be the last of it.
Americans have all sorts of reasons to be shocked.
They should be shocked at the scale of the storm’s damage, of which this is another reminder. It’s not clear how much human-induced global warming contributed to last year’s superstorm. But seas are rising, and higher seas mean higher surges during big storms. As climate change continues, natural disasters will almost certainly become more common, more severe or both.
We should also be shocked at how much the federal government might spend. Congress just got through a nasty battle over the Bush tax cuts, and the result of that acrimonious debate was about $60 billion annually in new revenue. Now lawmakers are proposing to spend $60 billion outside the normal budget process and, barring a last-minute change, without sacrificing elsewhere to finance it. Despite intemperate howls from Northeastern lawmakers, the House was right to take some time to examine the package and to scrub from it some of the more egregious spending provisions in the Senate version.
Finally, Americans should be shocked that lawmakers still haven’t reformed the slapdash way Congress deals with disasters. The claim that those future big storms have on federal funds is potentially massive. ... Though costs are hard to predict, Congress should at least budget disaster-assistance money upfront to the greatest extent possible and through the normal appropriations process, where the spending trade-offs are clearer and lawmakers don’t have to legislate under the duress of emergency. ...
Lawmakers’ decisions about disaster relief significantly affect lives, property and the federal balance sheet. They can’t pass the Sandy package and forget about it.
On Al Gore
From the Jan. 11 The Greenwood (Miss) Commonwealth:
Al Gore, the former vice president and clean-air advocate, and his co-investors have sold liberal cable channel Current TV to Al Jazeera, the network bankrolled by the emir of Qatar.
The sale exposes an apparent contradiction between Gore’s public stands and private moneymaking.
Gore was one of the early and prominent Washington officials to warn the nation about the dangers of global warming. His crusade to reduce greenhouse gases was turned into a 2006 documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth,” that grossed an estimated $50 million and won two Academy Awards.
Now with the sale of Current TV to a major source of carbon emissions, Gore is being called a hypocrite.
Wall Street Journal columnist L. Gordon Crovitz posed this sarcastic but legitimate question: “How much in carbon offsets does Mr. Gore need to balance his estimated $100 million from the sale to an oil sheik?”
On Wal-Mart and veterans
From the Jan. 15 Chicago Sun-Times:
Like any successful company, Wal-Mart knows a public relations coup when it sees one.
Plans announced recently are textbook perfect: The nation’s largest private employer said it would hire every recent veteran seeking a job, amounting to 100,000 hires over five years.
But dismissing this as a stunt would be a mistake.
Wal-Mart’s commitment to hire such a large number of veterans — and more importantly, its endorsement of their value as workers — is meaningful and one we hope will set an example for others to follow.
Veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have had a tough haul. Their unemployment rates outpace the nation as a whole, with veterans encountering difficulty with a perception among employers that former soldiers are unstable and lack skills that are transferable to the civilian world. ...
We have no illusions that Wal-Mart will erase the veteran unemployment rate or solve all the financial problems for hired vets. Hourly Wal-Mart wages are still too low to support a family and far too many Wal-Mart employees get stuck with part-time hours when they want full-time work...
Wal-Mart has made many missteps for which it must make amends, which is often in the backdrop when big initiatives are announced. That is the gift of advocates and journalists who expose Wal-Mart’s flaws.
They push Wal-Mart, and hopefully all of us, to do better. Today’s beneficiaries are 100,000 veterans who admirably served our country and deserve to be welcomed home with open arms.
On Afghanistan pullout
From the Jan. 14 San Francisco Chronicle:
President Barack Obama is accelerating one of his biggest and riskiest foreign pledges: a withdrawal from Afghanistan that will hand the fighting to Afghan troops by spring instead of summer with nearly all U.S. forces gone by the end of this year.
It’s a stepped-up pace with success hinging on Afghan troops shouldering fighting even as Taliban forces are poised to take control of the southern and eastern parts of the country.
But Obama is clearly ready. The fighting has cost more than 2,100 U.S. lives and $557 billion since it began in the months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
In three days of Washington meetings between Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the future came into focus. By 2014, the U.S. will have only a few thousand military advisers there with Karzai backed up by Pentagon hardware and civilian aid.
The fighting will take on a Pakistan-like feel with missile-equipped drones hovering over disputed areas and American commandos set to swoop in.
Karzai knows that American patience has run out, and it’s time for his military to take over. He believes his stature will grow with promises that the United States will end night raids on homes by American troops and cede control over prisons on military bases.
In announcing the quicker exit, both Obama and Karzai are pinning their hopes on the idea that the resurgent Taliban can be coaxed into peaceful power sharing, a tentative idea at best.
But it’s hard not to miss the major point. A costly war is coming to a close, just as the far larger Iraq conflict did. In Afghanistan’s case, the future remains uncertain and worrisome.