It's safe to say that if US President George W. Bush was in his first term, he would now be heading for defeat. Safe, because we will never know: He's in his second term and will never face the voters again.
That quirk in the US system, with its strict two-term rule, makes it hard to read the impact Hurricane Katrina will have on the Bush presidency. Nor is it much easier to tell how the disaster that drowned one of the US' best-loved cities will change the country itself. But both questions matter -- especially for a wider world that has come to learn that what happens in the US affects everyone.
Start with Bush himself. Weekend polls suggested 50-50 that the has once again split down the middle, with Bush opponents disapproving of his abysmal non-performance last week while Bush supporters stay loyal. That's heartened Republicans who were bracing themselves for much worse numbers.
They find further cheer in their belief that Bush bounces back in a crisis. Attacked for his immediate response to Sept. 11, he turned that calamity into the defining moment of his first term. Privately, conservatives also wonder how much sympathy white, suburban US -- the crucial middle ground all politicians covet -- will feel for Katrina's victims.
One close-up observer describes what he suspects is a widely-held -- if rarely articulated -- view of those left behind in New Orleans: "They lived in a silly place, they didn't get out when they should, they stole, they shot at each other and they shot at rescue workers."
If that's the view, then Bush won't suffer too badly.
Pessimistic Bushites see things differently. They reckon the sight of so many black Americans left destitute or dying while Washington idled will embarrass those same white suburban voters who, they say, feel uncomfortable at even a hint of racism. They also believe Bush and chief strategist Karl Rove can consign to the trash-can their long-term dream of peeling at least some African-American voters away from the Democrats.
Bush had scored some small successes in that direction: Now he can forget it. More directly, the charge of incompetence is deadly when applied to the White House: It could instantly diminish Bush, reducing him to a lame duck nearly two years ahead of schedule.
The most immediate test will be in his nominations for what are now two vacancies on the Supreme Court. He has made one choice already; if he feels obliged to nominate a liberal or centrist as his second, rather than the red-meat conservative he would have preferred, that will be proof that Katrina has hobbled him.
What of America itself? Since the country's founding, the US has oscillated between international engagement and isolationism.
Sometimes it wants to look outward, sometimes in. The hurricane may well put Americans in the latter mood. As they look at pictures of US troops toiling away in Iraq, many will surely think: What the hell are we doing there, when we have so much work to do right here at home?
Adrian Wooldridge, co-author with John Micklethwait of an excellent study of conservative America, The Right Nation, anticipates just such a sentiment.
"The big losers among Republicans will be the neocons," he says. "The hubris of thinking America could reshape the world, creating a democracy in hostile territory, when it can't even keep order in an American city -- that hubris has just been punctured in a big way."
Now it will be images of Katrina which are foremost in the public mind, replacing the four-year-old memories of Sept. 11. The "global war on terror" could well lose its place as the all-consuming, No. 1 priority.
Indeed, all previous assumptions are now up for grabs. Since former president Ronald Reagan's election in 1980, conservatives have won the argument for a shrunken state, one that taxes and spends less. That neoliberal model -- with its emphasis on privatization and deregulation -- has spread across the world, often imposed on countries that did not want it. It continues to split the EU, with France and others insisting that their own social model is superior.
Katrina has reopened that debate in neoliberalism's motherland. Suddenly progressive Americans detect an opening, a chance to speak up for active government, even for taxing and spending. The hurricane has made their case immediate and simple: You can only neglect the public realm for so long. Do so for a generation and the levees will break -- and an entire city will be washed away.
Still, it's not obvious that the progressives will prevail. For one thing, Bush is not quite the no-spend conservative we imagine.
The US government has actually expanded more under Bush than it did under former president Bill Clinton. It's not just defense and homeland security: Bush has spent billions in traditional areas, including education -- much to the ire of hardcore Reaganites.
Some of that cash has gone on building projects, usually in the pork-barrel schemes beloved of senators and congressmen keen to show they can bring home the federal bacon. The result, says Micklethwait, is that most of the country's infrastructural needs have been catered for, if only "accidentally." Louisiana may have suffered because its representatives did not have their snouts deep enough into the federal trough.
Advocates of government action have other problems. After Sept. 11, Democrats made a similar demand and won the new Department for Homeland Security as a result. That is the department now blamed for handling Katrina so badly.
The only success story of the last week has been the characteristic American outpouring of generosity from individuals, churches and others keen to help the needy. That has enabled the right to argue that it's these voluntary "armies of compassion" that get the job done, not central government.
The left has another impediment, one that has dogged its opposition to the Iraq war: a lack of leadership. There are few Democrats bold enough to step forward and make the post-Katrina case for an active, caring government. That's partly tactical -- Democrats reckon it's smarter to let Bush hang himself -- and partly because the party remains split, divided into modernizing and traditionalist camps.
The most likely result is that the US won't rethink the size of the state so much as its efficiency. Simple competence could become the key political virtue. Step forward Rudy Giuliani, whose post-Sept. 11 record contrasts so starkly with Bush's errors last week. His chances of winning the Republican presidential nomination for 2008 look better than ever.
There could also be a change in tone, with conservatives obliged to cool down the anti-government, low-tax rhetoric of old. On Wednesday the Senate was due to debate a cut in inheritance tax that would have delighted the super-wealthy: Mindful of the new mood, the Republicans quietly put it on ice.
Hurricanes toss everything into the air; how things settle afterwards is up to the people on the ground. A new political settlement will not come about by a simple act of nature -- it has to be fought for and won. And that process is just beginning.
An outrageous dismissal of the exemplary Taiwanese fight against COVID-19 has been perpetrated by the EU. There is no excuse. I presume that everyone who reads the Taipei Times knows that the EU has excluded Taiwan from its so-called “safe list,” which permits citizens unhindered travel to and from the countries of the EU. As the EU does not feel that it needs to explain the character of this exclusive list, perhaps we should examine it ourselves in some detail. There are 14 nations on the list that have been chosen as safe countries of origin and safe countries of destination for
Filmmakers in Taiwan used to struggle when it came to telling a story that could resonate internationally. Things started to change when the 2017 drama series The Teenage Psychic (通靈少女), a collaboration between HBO Asia and Taiwanese Public Television Service (PTS), became a huge hit not just locally, but also internationally. The coming-of-age story was adapted from the 2013 PTS-produced short film The Busy Young Psychic (神算). Entirely filmed in Taiwan, the Mandarin-language series even made it on HBO’s streaming platforms in the US. It is proof that a well-told Taiwanese story can absolutely win the hearts and minds of hard-to-please
Drugged with sedatives, handcuffed and wearing a bright orange prison tunic, British fraud investigator and former journalist Peter Humphrey was escorted by warders into an interrogation room filled with reporters, locked inside a steel cage and fastened to a metal “tiger chair.” Humphrey recalls: “I was completely surrounded by officers, dazed, manacled and with cameras pointing at me through the bars. I was fighting for my life like a caged animal. It was horrifying.” Footage from the interrogation was later artfully edited to give the appearance of a confession and broadcast on Chinese state media. While this might sound like an
The US House of Representatives on July 1 passed by unanimous consent a bipartisan bill that would penalize Chinese officials who implement Beijing’s new national security legislation in Hong Kong, as well as banks that do business with them. The following day, the US Senate unanimously passed the bill, which was later sent to the White House, where it awaits US President Donald Trump’s signature. The bill does not spell out what the sanctions would look like and Trump has yet to sign it into law, but Reuters on Thursday last week reported that five major Chinese state lenders are considering