24 September 2007

Rumsfeld belongs at the Hoover Institute

Students at Stanford University are protesting Donald Rumsfeld being made a visiting fellow at the university’s Hoover Institute on War, Revolution and Peace, saying that he contradicts the university’s standards of morality, personal honor and the rights of others. He may contradict the university’s standards, but Rumsfeld is really a Hoover Institute kind of guy: impressive, experienced and almost always wrong.

What I find amazing is that with all his vast experience, Rumsfeld consistently made the wrong choices. He botched a necessary war (Afghanistan) so that he could start and botch an unnecessary war (Iraq) while squandering America’s hard-earned reputation as a country that truly believes in human rights by setting up torture camps in Cuba and Iraq.

His choices, however, were pretty much in line with the Hoover Institute’s political philosophy. Indeed, the Bush administration has largely been the Hoover Institute’s chance to put their ideas into practice, with disastrous results. Condoleeza Rice was a Hoover fellow and former provost of the university and Rumsfeld was on the Hoover Institute’s board of trustees before W.

As a foreign policy team, Rice and Rumsfeld have made consistently atrocious decisions. They ignored the White House’s chief counter-terrorism advisor Richard Clarke’s repeated warnings that Al Qaeda was dangerous and planning something in the US before September 11. They ignored just about everyone in deciding to invade Iraq under false pretences. Then, after lying their way into an invasion of Iraq, they failed to do any contingency planning if things didn’t go according to their post-conflict predictions that were so rosy they could only have been dreamed up by a fantasist on happy pills. To maintain that fantasy, Rumsfeld fired a whole slew of generals who showed their disloyalty by telling the truth while under oath at Congressional hearings. That barely scratches the surface of the folly perpetrated by the Hoover alumni.

Let’s look at a few of Rumsfeld’s eye-wateringly stupid decisions:
*Invade Afghanistan with too few troops to hold the country or hunt down Al Qaeda and Taliban forces.
*Invade Iraq under false pretences.
*Invade Iraq with too few troops to occupy or pacify the country.
*Seize the oil fields but leave the museums unprotected.
*Dismiss the Iraqi Army and all Bath Party officials leaving no one to maintain law and order or running water or electricity or any other function of government.
*Bring in private companies to do what the military should and could do and for much less money.
*Set up torture camps in Iraq and Cuba and probably in Afghanistan.
*Refuse to send military aid to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina until his decision was overridden by Bush.

There are plenty more, such as pissing off the UK by refusing to share technology in joint military research and development programs, such as the Joint Strike Fighter.

But all of that is really par for the course for Hoover. In general, on any given policy issue, the Hoover Institute can pretty much be counted on getting it wrong. So is it really any surprise that they would like Rumsfeld back? I’m pretty sure that Rice will be back there in 2009.
Don’t believe me about the Hoover Institutes? Here are a few examples of the Hoover Institutes pearls of wisdom:

On current extinction rates:

“The loss of thousands of species per year? About 1,600,000 species have been identified. Estimates of the actual number of species range from 2,000,000 to 80,000,000. No one knows the rate of extinction or the rate at which new species are arising. The best current estimate based on actual observations, and using an extremely high estimate of the likely increase in the extinction rate, is that about seven-tenths of 1 percent of species may go extinct over the next 50 years.” See for yourself here.

Actually, scientists who spend their lives studying the issue disagree by many orders of magnitude. New York’s American Museum of Natural History polled 400 scientists. According to the museum’s press release: “The majority (70%) polled think that during the next thirty years as many as one-fifth of all species alive today will become extinct, and one third think that as many as half of all species on the Earth will die out in that time.” See for yourself here.

On Enron and disclosure of conflicts of interest:
A Hoover Institute policy feature by Robert Hahn, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (a deeply and dogmatically right-wing think tank) concluded that full disclosure of conflicts of interest is a laudable goal but not really achievable and would likely do more harm than good. For good measure it smears economist and New York Times editorial writer Paul Krugman’s character, but avoids his trenchant and compelling arguments and advocates school vouchers, which most education experts see as a way of taking money from cash-strapped state schools and giving it to Christian fundamentalist schools. Hahn, despite being an economist of some note, fails to recognize that his arguments really chip away at the fundamental structure of a market economy — reliable information. See for yourself here.

On defense spending:
Hoover Institute fellow Bruce Berkowitz argues that the US can and should maintain or increase defense spending. See for yourself here.

He illustrates his point with graphs of historical defense spending, never noting that in inflation adjusted dollars, US defense spending is greater than it’s ever been except during Second World War. In real, inflation adjusted dollars, the US is spending more on defense right now than it did during Korea or Vietnam. The hitch is the US isn’t getting what it’s paying for.
Put this into perspective with the following figures that compare what the US bought in 1970 for its defense budget:, which was smaller than recent budgets.
US population
1970: about 200 million.
2004: about 300 million.
Active military:
1970: nearly 3 million.
2004: about 1.3 million.
Deployed forces including National Guard and Reserve:
1970: 475,000, down from 535,000 two years earlier (Vietnam)
2007: 180,000 (Iraq and Afghanistan)
In short, the US is spending more on defense but is deploying fewer people in both absolute numbers and relative numbers. Spending more on defense is not going to help nearly as much as spending smarter. The US defense establishment is addicted to overpriced equipment. For instance, the F-22 fighter is more than $300 million a copy. While it is a great aircraft, is it really worth six F-16s? Can one aircraft be in six places at once? Similarly, a C-130H transport aircraft costs about $37 million, but the new C-130J is about $81 million. I’ve seen the Lockheed Martin sales pitch and they try to justify the cost through the new model’s better range and payload and electronics. But when it comes to doing lots of missions, some of which are not at capacity, it’s better to have more than better.
I could give a lot more examples, but the short version is that the US spends vast amounts of cash to buy wildly overpriced kit and pays for it by scrimping on training. When the US really got into a couple of wars, what everyone else found was what many people had been saying for years: what really matters is reliable, tough basic equipment like radios, armored trucks and body amour and lots and lots of high quality training. Berkowitz, like Rumsfeld, believes in shiny new toys but doesn’t understand that throwing money at defense contractors is not the way to help the military. Just look at the US Marine Corps. They are one of the world’s best fighting forces and they have been overtaxed and starved for funds for their entire history. What the US military really needs right now, in addition to body armor and armored trucks, is soldiers who can speak Arabic and Pashto.
So, the boys at Hoover get it wrong again and again and again. I say let Rumsfeld into the Hoover Institute. As an academic he can’t do any more harm. But just to be sure, wrap a big chain around the institute, lock it tight and then destroy the key in the fires of Mordor.

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03 September 2007

Back from the Fringe

Sorry to all the readers who may have been wondering why I haven't posted anything recently. I've been at the Edinburgh Festival performing four to six shows a day, every day for a month, so I haven't really had time. The flyer is of the main show. Here are some of the reviews:
ThreeWeeks:"When you're given a song sheet at the start of the show, you kind of expect the titles of said songs to be themed around God, Jesus and tales of yore, and not threesomes, chat-up lines and sex accidents. Which means watching merry men have such a good time singing about the naughty business will make you either a, sing along, or b, crawl under your seat and die. Though if the latter is the case you probably shouldn't have gone to this show in the first place - the clue is kind of in the title. If the former is you, then you'll find this show good fun. It's a great hour to pass the time with, if you know what I mean - wink wink."
Fresh Air FM (The festival radio station):"Comedians Kate Smurthwaite and David Mulholland present an hour of songs and laughs about sex, relationships and err..sex! David and Kate tell their tales and sing songs about cheesy chat up lines, things learned about sex after you leave school, threesomes and other such practices in a way that leaves you wanting more.
The songs are actually funny and truthful, and Kate’s ability to speak fast yet clearly (she does voiceovers for banks, insurance etc) is put to the test on the final song when they cram in everything they couldn’t fit into the show proper! Song sheets are provided for the audience and singing is actively encouraged: you’ll be singing along in no time.
Wonderful laugh out loud and sing-along fun. Go and see them and discover the song they cut out from ‘My Fair Lady’, you’ll never look at Audrey Hepburn in the same light again!****"
And the public (on edfringe.com, everyone who reviewed us gave us 5 stars, these were a couple of the ones I liked best):
Best thing I've seen and it's free! *****
25 Aug 2007 reviewer: Karen Richards, United Kingdom
"I've paid good money to watch shows with a lot let professionalism and a lot less laughs than this. We were singing along in no time - when we could manage it between laughing our heads off. The music is great too, Kate has an exceptional voice."
Great start to the night. *****
15 Aug 2007 reviewer: Dot , Australia
"This is a brilliant show, better than a lot you'll pay to see. It's funny, relaxed and personal and even has lyric sheets so you can join in. What more could you want?
What a brilliant show and its FREE!!! *****
14 Aug 2007 reviewer: Nicola Smith, United Kingdom
"Took a gamble with the title and was plesantly surprised. This show was FAB!!! Two people singing dodgy songs they'd written about sex and at certian points getting us to join in with them - it was a great start to our evening and went very well with our drinks!!! Go see it, it would be a crime to miss it!!!"