Brecht on Bloomberg

The New York City Council has gone along with Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s urgent and high-pressured request that it overrule two votes of the people and allow him to serve another term. The council’s joint project with the mayor to ignore the will of the people puts me in mind of Bertolt Brecht’s famous poem on the East German government, The Solution: 

After the uprising of the 17th June
The Secretary of the Writers Union
Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
Stating that the people
Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?

Damned With Faint Praise

Well, not faint exactly. Indeed, it is pretty hearty. But considering the source, I’m not sure it is an asset.

In an article in today’s Congress Daily, key sugar lobby groups praised Senator Obama’s newfound enthusiasm for the U.S. sugar program. As a senator from the candy-making state of Illinois, he was none too fond of the price supports and import restrictions that raised input prices for factories in his state.

Not anymore. In a letter to sugar groups, Senator Obama gave assurances that while he “has concerns” with the program, he would listen to and work with them to “reward [their] hard work with policies that will keep [their] industry and your communities strong”. Oh dear.

One former lobbyist pointed out that “…the candidate now “represents a broader range of interest” than when he was a state legislator…[and] added that Obama has never voted against the sugar program and supported the 2008 Farm Bill.” McCain, on the other hand, would likely have lost the support of formerly Republican-leaning farmers because “…[he] has consistently opposed the program and agreed with President Bush’s decision to veto the Farm Bill.” Another lobbyist said that “Sen. McCain seems to want to radically alter [the farm safety net].”

Considering the woeful sugar policies of the United States, an honorable person should be ashamed to receive Big Sugar’s support.

Fears of Nuclear Terrorism

Nightmare scenarios of terrorists gaining possession of nuclear weapons might make for good movie plots, but Americans grossly exaggerate the likelihood that an act of nuclear terrorism will occur within the next five or ten years. So says the RAND Corporation’s Brian Michael Jenkins in a new book, Will Terrorists Go Nuclear? (See also some of John Mueller’s writings on this subject here and here.) 

James Kitfield’s interview with Jenkins, posted at The National Journal, is an interesting read. Jenkins focuses on the fear factor surrounding nuclear terrorism, fears that terrorists are happy to exploit, even as their capacity for using such weapons is very, very small. I particularly appreciated Jenkins’ ideas about breaking the “chain reaction of fear” and his advice to American political leaders is worth repeating verbatim:

Rather than telling Americans constantly to be very afraid, we should stress that even an event of nuclear terrorism will not bring this Republic to its knees. Some will argue that fear is useful in galvanizing people and concentrating their minds on this threat, but fear is not free. It creates its own orthodoxy and demands obedience to it. A frightened population is intolerant. It trumpets a kind of “lapel pin” patriotism rather than the real thing. A frightened population is also prone both to paralysis – we’re doomed! – and to dangerous overreaction.

I believe that fear gets in the way of addressing the issue of nuclear terrorism in a sustained and sensible way. Instead of spreading fear, our leaders should speak to the American traditions of courage, self-reliance, and resiliency. Heaven forbid that an act of nuclear terrorism ever actually occurs, but if it does, we’ll get through it.

It is understandable why politicians are reluctant to embrace such recommendations. On the other hand, if they understood that terrorists seek to engender panic, public officials would pay as much or more attention to calming the public’s fears as they do to stoking them.

Today at Cato

Article: “Don’t Expand NATO,” by Benjamin H. Friedman and Justin Logan in World Politics Review

Article: “Nuclear Energy: Risky Business,” by Jerry Taylor in Reason Magazine

Podcast: “Jacob Zuma and the Future of South Africa,” featuring Tony Leon

Op-Ed: “Questions and Answers About Obama’s Health Plan,” by Michael D. Tanner in the McClatchy News Service

Radio Highlight: Adam B. Schaeffer On Education