By Ryan McMaken
Nowadays, references to the New Orleans flooding of 2005 often speak of the disaster as if Hurricane Katrina was the only reason the city flooded. Rarely mentioned is the failure of the levees built by the Army Corps of Engineers. In fact, incompetently built and poorly maintained government infrastructure was a major contributing factor in the severity and ultimate cost of the disaster. For good reason, more honest observers have called the failure of the levees one of the most disastrous engineering failures in U.S. history. And yet, this government-caused disaster is often invoked as evidence of the need for more robust government — to save us from the disasters it causes.
Today, the Oroville Dam in California is near the point of failure. More than 150,000 people have been ordered to evacuate, and California officials are desperately attempting to fix what is a crumbling and poorly maintained dam.
However, if the dam fails, how will the disaster be remembered? Will future commentators admit the role of the California and federal governments in laying the groundwork for this disaster? Or will the cause of the likely-deadly Great Oroville Flood of 2017 simply be listed as "rain"?
Build Now, At Any Cost
The Oroville Dam (completed in 1968) is one of many very-large dams built in the American West during the mid-twentieth century using immense amounts of state and federal funds. Such dams include the Hoover Dam (finished 1936), Grand Coulee Dam (finished 1942), and the Glen Canyon Dam (finished 1966). Like these dams, Oroville is one of the tallest dams in the United States, and also forms one of the largest reservoirs in the nation.
Dam building became something of an obsession for government agencies from the 1930s to the 1960s with the US Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation competing with each other to build more dams and bigger dams, most of which would have been impossible without federal dollars and federal control of vast swaths of Western land. The power to tax allowed governments to take on large debts at low interest rates. The dams offered huge risks and huge costs no private party could afford.
While these projects in the West were largely federal in nature, California has long been different in that its irrigation systems and dam operations have offered a more prominent role to state-level agencies. Nevertheless, the methods and politics have been similar: present every new dam as an absolutely necessary and urgent infrastructure project that must be built as soon as possible, with little regard for present or future cost.
Oroville Dam was no different, and from the very beginning, proponents of the dam lied about its full cost.
In a lengthy analysis of the political battle to win approval for the dam, historian Marc Reisner recounted how Governor Pat Brown — father of the current governor — repeatedly fabricated numbers about the dam's true cost in order to hoodwink the voters into approving the enormously expensive project through a bond issue in 1959.
Reisner showed that more honest estimates concluded the dam would cost approximately 3 billion dollars — more than 20 billion in 2016 dollars — so Brown simply invented a number of 1.75 billion. Reisner concluded that Brown knew that "not one" state would vote for such a huge bond issue, so Brown hid the real cost. To get it passed, Brown did what politicians always do — he engaged in fear-mongering and suggested to Southern California voters that they'd run out of water without the new dam.
But even these methods nearly failed to get the dam approved. 48 of 50 counties in the state voted against the dam.1 The measure only passed because southern Californians, long used to cheap, subsidized water, were happy to see the rest of the state go into debt to pay for even more water.
Dams Need Maintenance
While everyone likes to see a shiny new dam or railroad or bridge, the problem with infrastructure projects is that they require maintenance.
Unfortunately, while it's fun to build new dams and promise cheap water to many voters and powerful special interests, maintaining those projects is less exciting.
As The Mercury News has reported, 12 years ago, both California and federal officials refused to consider a demand that California heighten precautions and maintenance standards at the Oroville Dam. In response to the demands, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) said the dam's emergency features were perfectly fine and that the emergency spillway "was designed to handle 350,000 cubic feet per second and the concerns were overblown."
But, in a development reminiscent of the Army Corp of Engineers' failure in New Orleans, state officials began ordering evacuations when flows over the spillway reached a mere "6,000 to 12,000 cubic feet per second" or "5 percent of the rate that FERC said was safe."
Basically, thanks to poorly maintained spillways — and perhaps other oversights — the dam itself is being eroded away, and may soon face total failure.
If it does fail, the dam will have failed less than 50 years after its initial — and very, very expensive — construction.
The "experts" assure us that this sort of thing has never happened before, of course, and it's the fault of global warming or it's just a fluke.
But, it's not as if the dam has never been under strain before. As Reisner recounted in 1987:
In February of 1980, in the midst of a long spell of wet Pacific fronts, Oroville Reservoir, despite its capacity of something like a trillion gallons, was full, and the dam was spilling — 70,000 cubic feet per second, the Hudson River in full flood, roaring down the spillway at forty miles per hour, sending a plume of mist a thousand feet in the air.
At the time, the dam was only 12 years old. Today, the now-49-year old dam isn't looking nearly as robust.
So, while we can try to blame global warming or bad luck or some other cause invented by government officials, the fact remains that extreme weather has always been a part of life in western North America, and the water going over the dam's spillway right now is well below what government officials have long claimed it could handle. Mother nature hasn't exceeded the dam's limits. The problem is that the government officials in charge of the dam have either failed to maintain the dam properly, or they've been wrong about the dam's capacity all along.
Who Will be Blamed?
In the wake of the failure of the levees at New Orleans, the federal government couldn't even be bothered with launching an independent investigation. We're just told to instead blame global warming, or mother nature and to thank goodness that the federal government was around to throw money at the problem.
If the Oroville dam fails, we'll probably see a similar reaction. Even if the dam fails well below its claimed capacity, we'll be told the dam fell victim to "unprecedented" and "unforeseen" events. FEMA will be sent in, and we'll all be told that this is just another one of those cases that proves just how much we need government in times of crisis.
Never mind, of course, who caused the crisis in the first place.
1. See Reisner's Cadillac Desert, p. 354, Penguin Books.
This article was originally published at The Mises Institute.
It's open warfare in Washington, D.C. with the latest casualty being President Trump's National Security Advisor, Gen. Michael Flynn. Was it his discussion with the Russian Ambassador or something else that was his undoing. Who benefits?
By Ron Paul
Why does the state create religious devotion and violent fervor in its believers? How should Christians think about the state? I'm interviewed by David Gornoski:
By Claire Bernish
In a move that would make Orwell spin in his grave, the CIA presented to the heir to the throne in Saudi Arabia — one of the biggest sponsors of terrorism on the planet — an award for ‘counter-terrorism.’
Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo traveled to Saudi Arabia to award Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef the George Tenet Medal in recognition of his “excellent intelligence performance, in the domain of counter-terrorism and his unbound contribution to realise world security and peace.”
In a statement paraphrased by Arab News, “the crown prince said the award represents international recognition of the Kingdom’s anti terrorism efforts under the directives of King Salman.”
The irony of any Saudi winning an award for combating terrorism is staggering — particularly given revelations found last year in emails leaked by Wikileaks showing the U.S. political establishment has been well aware Saudi Arabia funds and supports the Islamic State.
“While this military/para-military operation is moving forward, we need to use our diplomatic and more traditional intelligence assets to bring pressure on the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which are providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL and other radical Sunni groups in the region,” Hillary Clinton wrote to John Podesta in an email dated August 17, 2014.
“This effort will be enhanced by the stepped up commitment in the [Kurdish Regional Government]. The Qataris and Saudis will be put in a position of balancing policy between their ongoing competition to dominate the Sunni world and the consequences of serious U.S. pressure.”
Perhaps bin Nayef couldn’t have been better poised to win this award from the CIA, given its namesake’s role in the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq — two failed military endeavors undertaken due to fabricated and false claims. Tenet served
According to Al Jazeera, “Bin Nayef, 57, has been interior minister since 2012 and has years of experience in intelligence work.
“He oversaw a crackdown on al-Qaeda, a group that killed security officers and foreigners in the kingdom between 2003 and 2007.”
Bin Nayef vowed Saudi Arabia would continue to fight terrorism, and noted the Kingdom has thwarted a number of terrorist attacks, even against ally nations — though he didn’t elaborate on the nature of these alleged attacks.
Read the rest
Young Americans for Liberty is an organization that focuses on building new generations of like-minded libertarians on college campuses across America. Today special guest Cliff Maloney, President of Young Americans For Liberty, joins us in the studio.
By Ron Paul
Last month marked 44 years since the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision declaring a constitutional right to abortion. Roe remains one of the Supreme Court’s most controversial decisions. Even some progressive legal theorists who favor legalized abortion have criticized Roe for judicial overreach and faulty reasoning.
Throughout my medical and political careers, I have opposed abortion. I believe abortion is the killing of an innocent human life and, thus, violates the non-aggression principle that is the basis of libertarianism. Unfortunately many libertarians, including some of my close allies, support legalized abortion. These pro-abortion libertarians make a serious philosophical error that undermines the libertarian cause. If the least accountable branch of government can unilaterally deny protection of the right to life to an entire class of persons, then none of our rights are safe.
While I oppose abortion, I also oppose federal laws imposing a nationwide ban on abortion. The federal government has no authority to legalize, outlaw, regulate, or fund abortion. Instead of further nationalizing abortion, pro-life Americas should advocate legislation ending federal involvement in abortion by restoring authority over abortion to the states.
Congress should also end all taxpayer funding of abortion and repeal Obamacare’s abortion mandates, along with the rest of Obamacare. Forcing pro-life Americans to subsidize what they believe to be murder is, to paraphrase Thomas Jefferson, “sinful and tyrannical.” That is why I was glad that one of the first actions of the new House of Representatives was to pass legislation ending all taxpayer support for abortion. Hopefully the bill will soon pass in the Senate and be signed into law by President Trump. Congress should follow this action by passing legislation allowing antiwar taxpayers to opt out of funding the military-industrial complex as well.
The House-passed bill also repeals Obamacare’s mandates forcing private businesses to cover abortion and birth control under their health insurance plans. Of course I oppose these mandates. But, unlike many other opponents of the mandates, I oppose them because they violate the rights of property and contract, not because they violate religious liberty.
Opposing the mandates because they violate the religious liberty of a few, instead of the property rights of all, means implicitly accepting the legitimacy of government mandates as long as special exemptions are granted for certain groups of people from certain groups of mandates.
President Trump has already protected pro-life taxpayers (and unborn children) by reinstating President Reagan’s Mexico City policy. The Mexico City policy forbids US taxpayer money from being used to support any international organization that performs abortions or promotes abortions. Using taxpayer money to perform and promote abortions overseas is not only unconstitutional and immoral, it also increases resentment of the US government. Unfortunately, as shown by the recent Yemen drone strikes, President Trump is unlikely to substantially change our militaristic foreign policy, which is responsible for the deaths of many innocent men, women, and children.
Ending taxpayer support for abortion is an important step toward restoring limited, constitutional government that respects the rights of all. However, those who oppose abortion must recognize that the pro-life cause’s path to victory will not come through politics. Instead, pro-lifers must focus on building a culture of life through continued education and, among other things, support for crisis pregnancy centers. These centers, along with scientific advances like ultrasound, are doing more to end abortion than any politician. Anti-abortion activists must also embrace a consistent ethic of life by opposing foreign policy militarism and the death penalty.
By Jason Ditz
According to officials familiar with the process, President Trump is expected to quickly approve massive weapons sales to both Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, deals which had been on hold over growing concerns about human rights abuses by both nations.
The White House did not discuss the matter directly, saying the final announcement isn’t made yet, but the reports say that a $300 million Saudi missile technology sale and a multi-billion dollar warplane deal for Bahrain are both expected to get imminent clearance from the administration.
Human rights groups had been attacking the Obama Administration for years over such sales, calls which grew with the Saudi war in Yemen and the huge civilian death toll that followed. In the final few months of his administration, Obama was slowing some of the sales.
The expectation now, however, is that the Trump Administration is interested in getting the large sales on the books quickly to talk up their ability to keep getting large weapons contracts for key US arms makers. This could force human rights groups trying to limit the use of US weapons in committing war crimes to start from square one with the new administration.
This article was originally published at Antiwar.com.
By Ron Paul
I love tax cuts and want the biggest tax cuts ever.
However, government is very good at giving with one hand, while it clandestinely takes with the other. Tax cuts never "have to be paid for." That defeats the whole purpose of the tax cut. I discuss below: