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Consider:

"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"







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Friday, 2 September 2005

Topic: Couldn't be so...

What's With These People? Readers on the administration's response to the storm and flood…

I asked my email group if anyone have an answer to the question at the end of this item from Kevin Drum in the Washington Monthly. This was what Drum posted late on September 1 -
CLUELESS... Could the people in charge of managing the catastrophe in New Orleans possibly be more clueless?

George W. Bush, President of the United States, six days after repeated warnings from experts about the scope of damage expected from Hurricane Katrina: "I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees." [Drum links to this.]

Michael Chertoff, Secretary of Homeland Security, following widespread eyewitness reports of refugees living like animals at the Convention Center: "I have not heard a report of thousands of people in the Convention Center who don't have food and water." [Drum links to this.]

Mike Brown, Director of FEMA, referring to people who were stuck in New Orleans largely because they were too poor to afford the means to leave: "...those who are stranded, who chose not to evacuate, who chose not to leave the city..." [Drum links to this.]

Dennis Hastert, Speaker of the House of Representatives, providing needed reassurance to the newly homeless: "It makes no sense to spend billions of dollars to rebuild a city that's seven feet under sea level... It looks like a lot of that place could be bulldozed." [Drum links to this.]

This is beyond belief. What's with these people?
So the question posed is just that - "What's with these people?"

From Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis:
PARIS, Friday, September 2, 2005 - Last night, Thursday, I took a quick look for the names of Cafe Metropole Club members who gave hometown locations in the area that was devastated by the hurricane. One has a photo gallery in a mall in Waveland, Mississippi. He is a serious photographer and has serious prints for sale, and had customers all over North America and beyond. According to the reports so far I have to wonder whether he's still there, and if Waveland is still there. There are maybe another dozen club members with hometowns around the Mississippi delta. Will they ever be in Paris again?

The people I've talked to so far don't seem to get it. A whole major city, New Orleans, has been wiped out.

Unknown numbers of people have been killed and the ones left alive don't have any homes to return to. Whole towns have been wrecked, destroyed. All the infrastructure is gone. No water, no sewers, no electricity, no roads, no gas, no pipelines, no hospitals, no bridges. It's a war zone.

There isn't any question that simple repairs will put the place back to like it was. New Orleans has to be completely rebuilt, from the ground up. But first the 'ground' has to be created. No God is going to shift a finger to do this; there isn't going to be any snap creation.

It means that there is going to have to be a major imagination found and put to work. The imagination has to conclude that the whole thing has to be entirely rebuilt. Trying to 'fix up' the mess won't work; it isn't the time for spot bandages. Besides, rebuilding is cheaper in the short term, and will have long-term benefits. Has 'historic' New Orleans been destroyed? Rebuild a replica. It'll be faster and cheaper.

'Cheaper' is important because the overall cost will be stupendous, colossal. Whole cities, whole towns need to be replaced. Hundreds of thousands of residents need to be re-housed, as quickly as possible. It's going to require the equivalent determination and organization of a sneak attack war effort. All hands needed.

But not too cheap. The greatest danger is emergency housing; dumping people into tents or tin houses and forgetting them because they are black and poor. The area is going to be hit by new hurricanes someday. It has to be rebuilt so it can withstand the elements. And residents, no matter how poor, have a right to decent housing.

It will be an immense job. It has to be accepted that what was there is gone. Wiped out. 'Fix-it' isn't going to bring it back. Don't waste time quibbling about it. Take a blank sheet and start over right now.

The biggest reconstruction job in the history of the United States will make a lot of people rich, and the country will become a lot richer for making the effort. Except for the dead there could be benefits for everybody.

So long as there is the imagination to DO IT. Mobilize now.

And when it's finished, try to remember that there are places in Africa in states just as sorry. Places devastated by nature.
From Emma in Belgium (yes, she used to be Paris, and yes, she's Australian) -
Sadly watching the awfulness of the Katrina situation from a deluxe presidential aircraft will not mean a thing to Bush and his bunch of fellow assholes.

This is yet again a blindingly obvious example of the total ineptness, isolated "head-in-the-sand" (or is it water?) position vis-a-vis the common man and the overall ignorance of the present American government towards the American populace at large.

And yet... Will this finish Bush and his henchmen? Well there certainly won't be any resignations from the so-called CEO and his bunch or prize pet prats.

Naturally the swarms of inane right-wing religious nutters of the so-called finest country in the world which perceives itself as being the best country globally to set an example in all manner of things (Emergency Rescue Operations being an excellent example - no wonder Iraq is a shit-hole these days) will prevail and win the day in supporting Bush and his team.

Oh and another thing. Surely those terrified, hungry, and thirsty folk (majority being black - what happened to equality, human rights, respect for ones' fellow man - indeed the Good Samaritan is surely a tale which Bush is at this very moment doing his best to emulate) scrambling around in the depths of hopelessness in New Orleans could at least be offered a bed at the White House n'est-ce pas>?

It would make a pleasant change to see the White House full of real people.

Finally, one last thought. Maybe America really now needs its own revolution a la francaise across the whole country to shake everyone up and lead the country to a far closer picture of its own ideals.
Well, maybe the revolution start today, in New Orleans, with Bush being run out of town by the angry mobs - those mobs singing La Marseillaise (they do use a form of French down that way) -

Allons ! Enfants de la Patrie !
Le jour de gloire est arriv? !
Contre nous de la tyrannie,
L'?tendard sanglant est lev? !

Aux armes, citoyens !


But that seems unlikely.

Emma replies - "Surely enough Americans will take to the streets now and demand that Bush be pushed?"

Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta: "Reminds me of a dream I had the other night; it was all about flying pigs."

Then Rick adds this:
I realize that sounded pretty curt. Sorry.

What I meant was that I doubt all those people who voted for Bush are now angry at him about anything at all, and surely not enough to get off their overstuffed Barco-loungers to take to the cul-de-sacs. Even as he was winning that reelection, after all, polls showed most people disagreed with his positions on almost everything.

Yes, I'm sure there are plenty of people in this country who would like to see George Bush humbled, but when they peer into his face in hopes of spotting actual contrition about something, they always come up empty. Much of his strength, I think, can be traced to the fact that he was born without a single humble gene in his whole genome, and I doubt he will ever grow a new one before the day he dies.
Perhaps so.

Actually in the news Friday there was some evidence for Rick's contention.

Jeffrey Dubner here quotes the president saying this (linking to the actual White House transcript):
The good news is - and it's hard for some to see it now - that out of this chaos is going to come a fantastic Gulf Coast, like it was before. Out of the rubbles of Trent Lott's house - he's lost his entire house - there's going to be a fantastic house. And I'm looking forward to sitting on the porch. (Laughter.)
Dubner: "I never thought anybody could respond to a tragedy with something more inappropriate and out of touch than Michael Dukakis' rejoinder to the hypothetical rape and murder of his wife, but there you have it."

Then Dubner points to Ezra Klein's readers providing hypothetical historical counterparts:
All of the citizens of New York will have a glorious new Starbucks. Did I mention I love my cappuccino?

The good news - and this is hard for some to see after the Hindenburg - is that the blimps of tomorrow will be even more spectacular. They will be twice as big and travel twice as far and be filled with methane. I'm looking forward to producing some of that methane myself.

The good news is - and it's hard for some to see it now - that out of this chaos is going to come a fantastic Chicago, like it was before. Out of the rubbles of Mrs. O'Leary's barn - she's lost her entire barn - there's going to be a fantastic barn. And I'm looking forward to setting the lantern down by her cow. (Laughter.)
Rick is not alone, it seems, and Rick has more comment:
BUSH: "I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees."

Obviously he never heard of "Hurricane Pam"? Actually, this hypothetical Category-3 storm that directly hits New Orleans, a "tabletop" study that was still being worked on when Katrina roared through, didn't "breach" the levees, but effectively did the same by pushing water OVER them, thusly flooding the city, killing an untold number and stranding folks on top of houses. This levee scenario has been on the minds of everyone who seriously looked at this issue over the years.

Regarding Chertoff: I heard this on All Things Considered! It was amazing!

Excerpt:
[ROBERT] SIEGEL: We are hearing from our reporter, and he's on another line right now, thousands of people at the Convention Center in New Orleans with no food. Zero.

CHERTOFF: I am telling you we are getting food and water to areas where people are staging. And, uh, you know, the one thing about an episode like this is, if you talk to someone and you get a rumor, where you get someone's anecdotal version of something, I think it's dangerous to extrapolate it all over the place. [In this case only, bold emphasis mine -- Rick]

[...]

SIEGEL: But Mr. Secretary, when you say that, uh, we shouldn't listen to rumors, these are things coming from reporters who have not only cover many many other hurricanes, but who have covered wars and refugee camps. These are rumors? They're seeing thousands of people there.

CHERTOFF: I would be... I have not heard a report of thousands of people in the Convention Center who don't have food and water. I can tell you that specifically the Superdome, which was designated staging area for a large number of evacuees, does have food and water and that we have teams putting food and water out at other designated staging areas.

[...]

SIEGEL: And our reporter said two thousand people at the Convention Center, without anything.

CHERTOFF: I understand and I can't argue with you about what your reporter tells you...
But yes, this story was tagged out with mention that Chertoff's spokeswoman later called to say he had since become aware of this Convention Center situation, and they were now working on it.

Regarding FEMA Director Mike Brown's comments, I did hear him mention somewhere (CNN? NPR?) something like "...those who are stranded, who chose not to evacuate, who chose not to leave the city..." But they way I heard it was "...those who chose not to leave the city, and those that couldn't..." When the interviewer called him on it, he sort of backed away from the first part.

Regarding Dennis Hastert: "It makes no sense to spend billions of dollars to rebuild a city that's seven feet under sea level... It looks like a lot of that place could be bulldozed."

Had this particular brand of forward-thinking existed when New York mostly burned down during the Revolutionary War, as did Washington during the War of 1812, and Atlanta in the Civil War, and Chicago in the 1870s, or about San Francisco when it fell down in 1906, we'd never be able to see those cities alive and doing so well today.

The most articulate answer to Hastert's pessimistic "bulldozer solution" I've heard so far comes from New Orleans trumpeter Irvin Mayfield, that city's official cultural ambassador, on NPR's Morning Edition today (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4829486). At the moment, he's a refugee in Baton Rouge. It should be noted that he was apparently not speaking specifically to what Hastert said, although he might just as well have been:

"I mean, we have to rebuild, we have to move forward; cities must be resilient if we're going to show the resilience of our country ... we don't have that option as Americans to look at ANY part of our country in a sense of abandonment ... but this country has endured many things, and the world has also, and, you know, this is another major catastrophe that we are going to have to deal with, and we'll have to endure."

What's with these people?

All I can believe is that conservative politicians, by and large, get somewhat nervous whenever a local catastrophe occurs that calls for help from the community at large. I always imagine that, within their brains, there's this little prancing elf, tap-dancing on the precipice, resisting with all its might the temptation to let forth with another inappropriate lecture on the virtues of "individual responsibility".

"No, now is not the time," they seem to be cautioning themselves, "at least not so soon before the upcoming election."
From Bob Patterson, known to readers here as the World's Laziest Journalist:
I just read one comment where she said the politicians are congratulating each other for a job well done.

As I was reading that, I had the TV on and two governors and the POTUS were congratulating each other on a job being well done.

Who am I supposed to believe - some lady that lives in another country or the President of the United States who was elected by the largest number of votes ever?

What's with this story about the New Orleans police quitting?

When will the troops with the "shoot to kill" orders arrive and restore order?
Bob is referring to Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco warning rioters and looters in New Orleans that National Guard troops are under her orders to "shoot and kill" to end the violence in the city. (CNN here and a spoof here: "Louisiana National Guardsmen were told they must first ask looters to see a receipt for any merchandise they might be floating down the street before shooting them. Training for Guardsmen would be provided by Wal-Mart greeters. 'If no receipt can be produced, they are to take ten steps backwards, and open fire.' Asked if this wouldn't give most looters a chance to swim away, Bush went on to the next question.) Police quitting? See this from the Associated Press wire: "New Orleans descended into anarchy Thursday as corpses lay abandoned in street medians, fights and fires broke out, cops turned in their badges and the governor declared war on looters who have made the city a menacing landscape of disorder and fear."

Bob asks who is he supposed to believe. He knows the answer. He likes being a scattershot provocateur. He drifted from the original question.

Actually there is an answer to the original question. What's with these people?

It's in their approach to what government is supposed to do, even if it were more competent and informed than it seems to be this week.

Grover Norquist is clear - "My goal is to cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub."

Clear enough. That blunt statement is not new. You will find that comment and more here, in The Nation, April 26, 2001. That was discussed in these pages here a year ago, but in regard to the debate about killing the Social Security program. Guess what? New Orleans is the bathtub. (Illustrated here.)

See Kevin Drum again - Ideology and Real Life -
Conservatives fundamentally believe in a limited role for the federal government. They believe in downsizing, privatizing, and placing greater reliance on state and local government to provide essential services. It's easy - too easy - to blame George Bush in hindsight for specific things like cutting the Corps of Engineers budget for the New Orleans district, but the reason this criticism is legitimate is because this wasn't merely a specific incident. As even some conservatives tacitly admit, it was a direct result of George Bush's governing ideology.

... Liberals, by contrast, believe in a robust role for the federal government. We believe in sharing risk nationwide for local disasters. We believe that only the federal government is big enough to coordinate relief on the scale needed by an event like Katrina, and that strong, well-managed agencies like FEMA should take the lead role in making this happen.

Both of these governing philosophies are defensible, but too often they seem like nothing more than opposing sides in an intellectual game. Katrina demonstrates otherwise. It's what happens when a drowning city runs smack into a conservative movement that believes in drowning the federal government in a bathtub.
He does note that some conservatives, like Andrew Sullivan disagree:
Real conservatives believe that the state should do a few things that no one else can do - defense, decent public education, police, law and order among the most obvious - and leave the rest to individuals. Funding FEMA and having a superb civil defense are very much part of conservatism's real core.
But there is the evidence to argue against that. As noted elsewhere, FEMA was reduced to one part of a larger department, Homeland Security, and lost its cabinet access, and then had its budget cut again and again. Is the Norquist governing ideology somehow not "real" conservatism?

That is quibbling about labels. Since the Reagan days of "government is evil" and "less is best" and all that, the country has moved steadily in that direction - buying into that governing ideology which posits, in its purist form, that we lose our personal freedom when we act as a community, that "individual responsibility" is the core virtue in a free society, and helping others causes great harm to them, by allowing those who are helped assume they are owed something and destroying their initiative. Who wants a nation of lazy, whining victims, telling you that you owe them something?

If that is so, then this is what you get. Sullivan sees a middle ground. Some things require a sense of community, and other things do not.

What's with these people? They see no middle ground, and only act when they are shamed into acting. And still they resent it.

Posted by Alan at 16:08 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 2 September 2005 16:21 PDT home

Thursday, 1 September 2005

Topic: Couldn't be so...

News from Lake George: Things Fall Apart

Noted on the morning of the first day of September - how August ended.

It wasn't all "Hurricane News." There was a brief flurry of minor discussion of the war and foreign policy as Francis Fukuyama, one of the original neoconservatives - the fellow who suggested "the end of history" and all that - published an op-ed piece in the New York Times saying the Bush administration had made a mess of everything. Of course, as noted the month before the last election, he said he wouldn't vote for Bush - "I just think that if you're responsible for this kind of a big policy failure, you ought to be held accountable for it." (See this quoting him in "The Neoconservative Moment," his twelve-page contribution to the Iraq debate, published in the Summer 2004 issue of The National Interest, a really conservative foreign–policy journal.)

What he said in the Times -
The Bush administration could instead have chosen to create a true alliance of democracies to fight the illiberal currents coming out of the Middle East. It could also have tightened economic sanctions and secured the return of arms inspectors to Iraq without going to war. It could have made a go at a new international regime to battle proliferation. All of these paths would have been in keeping with American foreign policy traditions. But Mr. Bush and his administration freely chose to do otherwise.
That's a lot of "could haves." None of it was done. Over at American Future you get this:
Fukuyama ... errs by assuming that the U.S. had power to create a "true alliance of democracies" and that tightening economic sanctions and securing the return of arms inspectors to Iraq would have removed the necessity for war. Any "true" alliance of democracies would have to include France. In light of the French fixation on establishing a multipolar international system to constrain American "hyperpower," it's highly doubtful that such an effort would have met with success. As for economic sanctions, it's now well known that the other members of the UN Security Council (except for Great Britain) were already ignoring existing sanctions and advocating their elimination. Finally, an agreement on a new international regime to battle proliferation would have required considerable time to negotiate, and it's highly problematic that Saddam would have abided by it.
Does it matter? People are dying in New Orleans, thousands it seems. And Sterling Newberry here says it doesn't matter - Iraq will disintegrate, "followed by the elevation of a strong man who promises to pump oil so long as no questions are asked," and that will have to do.

The immediate problem is the end of New Orleans. September 1, from the New York Times - Officials Struggle to Reverse a Growing Sense of Anarchy - "National Guard troops by the thousands moved into this storm-ravaged city today as state and local officials struggled to reverse a growing sense of anarchy sparked by reports of armed looters, bodies floating untouched in stagnant floodwaters, and food and water supplies dwindling for thousands of trapped and desperate residents." See also Reuters: New Orleans makes 'desperate SOS' relief plea and all the rest. Just watch the news.

And now New Orleans seems to have turned into "Lake George" - that seems to be what some folks down there are calling it. As least that seems to be the case if this email from an EPA guy is correct: "We're naming it Lake George, 'cause it's his frickin fault."

How can this be George Bush's fault?

Well, here's a summary from Editor and Publisher, reading the New Orleans Times-Picayune so you don't have to. Try this:
On June 8, 2004, Walter Maestri, emergency management chief for Jefferson Parish, Louisiana; told the Times-Picayune: "It appears that the money has been moved in the president's budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that's the price we pay. Nobody locally is happy that the levees can't be finished, and we are doing everything we can to make the case that this is a security issue for us."

Also that June, with the 2004 hurricane season starting, the Corps' project manager Al Naomi went before a local agency, the East Jefferson Levee Authority, and essentially begged for $2 million for urgent work that Washington was now unable to pay for. From the June 18, 2004 Times-Picayune:

"The system is in great shape, but the levees are sinking. Everything is sinking, and if we don't get the money fast enough to raise them, then we can't stay ahead of the settlement," he said. "The problem that we have isn't that the levee is low, but that the federal funds have dried up so that we can't raise them."
At least nine articles in the Times-Picayune from 2004 and 2005 specifically cite the cost of Iraq as a reason for the lack of hurricane- and flood-control dollars.

Fair? Andrew Sullivan here: "Yes, some would even blame Bush and the war for a hurricane. But blaming Bush and the war for the poor state of New Orleans' levees is a legitimate argument. And it could be a crushing one."

A crushing argument? Maybe.

Is the administration in trouble? He came back and gave a speech to the nation.

That was summarized in the New York Times in their lead editorial: "George W. Bush gave one of the worst speeches of his life yesterday, especially given the level of national distress and the need for words of consolation and wisdom. In what seems to be a ritual in this administration, the president appeared a day later than he was needed. He then read an address of a quality more appropriate for an Arbor Day celebration: a long laundry list of pounds of ice, generators and blankets delivered to the stricken Gulf Coast ..."

Ah, the Times should be discounted? What about this letter in the highly conservative National Review?
... Doesn't he realize that more people may have died from this storm than died on September 11? I don't expect him to say he's gonna get Katrina "dead or alive" for what she's done to America. But for crying out loud, can he put off the laundry list of all the things his wonderful bureaucracy has done so far until the end of the speech and begin by addressing the pain we all feel as this tragedy is unfolding in slow-motion on live TV? We're talking death on a massive scale, and within 2 minutes he's thanking Texas for housing refugees (way to perpetuate that "I'm all about Texas" stereotype).

And don't get me started about how the first image of Bush coming back to Washington as thousands have died in a tragedy was him walking down the stairs of Air Force One with Barney tucked under his arm…

I love President Bush, but that was a pathetic performance and I agree with what Byron wrote about his vacation. And I'm with you: Bring in the troops. Lead! Don't tell me that the federal government will be working "with" state and local governments...
And the highly conservative, pro-Bush Union-Leader up in "Live Free or Die" New Hampshire is forced to print this, on the speech Bush gave the day before, out here in California, saying the man was a day late:
As the extent of Hurricane Katrina's devastation became clearer on Tuesday - millions without power, tens of thousands homeless, a death toll unknowable because rescue crews cant reach some regions - President Bush carried on with his plans to speak in San Diego, as if nothing important had happened the day before. Katrina already is measured as one of the worst storms in American history. And yet, President Bush decided that his plans to commemorate the 60th anniversary of VJ Day with a speech were more pressing than responding to the carnage.

A better leader would have flown straight to the disaster zone and announced the immediate mobilization of every available resource to rescue the stranded, find and bury the dead, and keep the survivors fed, clothed, sheltered and free of disease.

The cool, confident, intuitive leadership Bush exhibited in his first term, particularly in the months immediately following Sept. 11, 2001, has vanished. In its place is a diffident detachment unsuitable for the leader of a nation facing war, natural disaster and economic uncertainty.
Kevin Drum over at the Washington Monthly say the man is oddly detached from reality -
While New Orleans was undergoing a slow motion catastrophe on Monday and Tuesday, Bush was mugging for the cameras, cutting a cake for John McCain, playing the guitar for Mark Wills, delivering an address about V-J day, and continuing with his vacation. Then, on Wednesday, when he finally got around to saying something, it turned out to be a flat, defensive, laundry list of a speech.

These are not the actions of a president in touch with the country - especially a president who usually excels at reacting to tragedies like this. When you put this together with his increasingly robotic speeches about progress in Iraq, his tone-deaf reaction to Cindy Sheehan's vigil, and the continuing meltdown in public support for the war, I think that for the first time in his presidency Bush has found himself in a corner he doesn't know how to get out of. And it's showing.
Of course, he's not alone. See the many links here where we learn Condoleezza Rice, our Secretary of State, spent the last day of August in Manhattan – playing tennis with Monica Seles, buying thousands of dollars worth of snazzy shoes at Ferragamo on 5th Avenue, then attending an evening performance of Spamalot for some good laughs. Reports are that at Ferragamo one of the other shoppers screamed at her - "How dare you shop for shoes while thousands are dying and homeless!" Our Secretary of State had security physically remove the woman.

The peasants can be so bothersome?

Perhaps the administration image people who handle PR took the month off. Rice might have put off her shopping trip to Manhattan. And who would approve the release of this photo, or this one? Let them eat cake?

But the president claims he's not to blame. Thursday, September 1, on "Good Morning America" - an actual live interview with Diane Sawyer - "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees." He is not to blame. No one is to blame. Remember the 9/11 hearings when Condoleezza Rice carefully explained that "no one could have imagined" folks using airplanes as weapons? Sure it was in the reports, bur "no one could have imagined" it. She was not to blame. No one is to blame.

Consider Mike Parker, former Republican congressman from Mississippi who briefly served as head of the Army Corps of Engineers from late 2001 to early 2002 - before he was fired for criticizing administration budget cuts.

From the Jackson, Mississippi Clarion-Ledger of March 7, 2002 -
The assistant secretary of the Army, Mississippi's former U.S. Rep. Mike Parker, was forced out Wednesday after he criticized the Bush administration's proposed spending cuts on Army Corps of Engineers' water projects, members of Congress said.

"Apparently he was asked to resign," said U.S. Rep. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., a member of the House Appropriations Committee's energy and water development subcommittee that oversees the corps' budget.

Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, also said Parker was dismissed.

Parker's nomination to head the corps drew heavy criticism last year from environmental groups pushing to downsize the agency, calling its flood control projects too costly and destructive.

Parker earned the ire of administration officials when he questioned Bush's planned budget cuts for the corps, including two controversial Mississippi projects.

"I think he was fired for being too honest and not loyal enough to the president," said lobbyist Colin Bell, who represents communities with corps-funded projects.

Bell said Parker resigned about noon after being given about 30 minutes to choose between resigning or being fired.
Josh Marshall found that and says, "Pretty much the Bush administration in a nutshell."

Yep.

But FEMA is there to save us. Maybe.

Kevin Drum reminds us than in 1995 Dan Franklin wrote a piece in the about FEMA, and its reputation for poor planning and bureaucratic incompetence in the 80s and early 90s:
FEMA was, in the words of former advisory board member and defense analyst Lawrence Korb, a "political dumping ground," a backwater reserved for political contributors or friends with no experience in emergency management.

... Because FEMA had 10 times the proportion of political appointees of most other government agencies, the poorly chosen Bush [Sr.] appointees had a profound effect on the performance of the agency. Sam Jones, the mayor of Franklin, Louisiana, says he was shocked to find that the damage assessors sent to his town a week after Hurricane Andrew had no disaster experience whatsoever. "They were political appointees, members of county Republican parties hired on an as-needed basis. ... They were terribly inexperienced."
No kidding. In 1986 or 1987 I found myself chatting with the second in command at FEMA - a high-school dropout with a GED who had worked as a psychiatric nurse for a time. How did she get that job? She was the wife of one of the Assistant Secretaries of Defense in the Reagan administration (and my step mother-in-law at the time). Curious.

Drum points out Bush has appointed, to head FEMA, in succession, his 2000 campaign manager and an
Oklahoma lawyer whose only emergency management experience prior to joining FEMA was as an assistant city manager. Laura Rosen puts it this way:
My lord, the guy heading FEMA has no qualifications. What was he doing before getting pulled into FEMA by the Bush administration in 2003? He was an estate planning lawyer in Colorado and of counsel for the International Arabian Horse Association Legal Department. And yes, it is the same Michael D. Brown.
And so it goes. Yep, not much emergency management experience, but I'm sure he means well. And he's going to have a fresh ten billion dollars to manage.

Let's see - anarchy in New Orleans, corpses rotting in the streets, hundred of thousands of refugees to manage - we'll see how he does.

The president didn't get much of a vacation, what with that pesky Sheehan woman, and now this hurricane. When asked why he wouldn't meet the Sheehan woman, he famously said he understood her loss, but he just "needs to get on with his life." And now this hurricane, of all things.

And to add to his woes there's the race issue. Most of those stuck in the bedlam of "Lake George" are not white folks. And, expect for the stranded tourists, they're all poor. All over the right-side commentary sites there's a whiff of "they only have themselves to blame." Everyone was told to get out, but there are more and more news items pointing out that they just couldn't, because they're poor. They didn't have the means.

Jack Shafer, on the last day of August, pointed out even the press has some difficulty with this -
To be sure, some reporters sidled up to the race and class issue. I heard them ask the storm's New Orleans victims why they hadn't left town when the evacuation call came. Many said they were broke - "I live from paycheck to paycheck," explained one woman. Others said they didn't own a car with which to escape and that they hadn't understood the importance of evacuation.

But I don't recall any reporter exploring the class issue directly by getting a paycheck-to-paycheck victim to explain that he couldn't risk leaving because if he lost his furniture and appliances, his pots and pans, his bedding and clothes, to Katrina or looters, he'd have no way to replace them. No insurance, no stable, large extended family that could lend him cash to get back on his feet, no middle-class job to return to after the storm.

... Race remains largely untouchable for TV because broadcasters sense that they can't make an error without destroying careers. That's a true pity. If the subject were a little less taboo, one of last night's anchors could have asked a reporter, "Can you explain to our viewers, who by now have surely noticed, why 99 percent of the New Orleans evacuees we're seeing are African-American? I suppose our viewers have noticed, too, that the provocative looting footage we're airing and re-airing seems to depict mostly African-Americans."
Jack Cafferty on CNN's "The Situation Room" the next day calls the "the elephant in the room" -
The thing that's most glaring in all of this is that the conditions continue to deteriorate for people who are victims and the efforts to do something about it don't seem to be anywhere in sight.

... The questions that we ask in The Situation Room every day are posted on the website two or three hours before we go on the air and people who read the website often begin to respond to the questions before the show actually starts. The question for this hour is whether the government is doing a good job in handling the situation.

I gotta tell you something, we got five or six hundred letters before the show actually went on the air, and no one - no one - is saying the government is doing a good job in handling one of the most atrocious and embarrassing and far-reaching and calamitous things that has come along in this country in my lifetime. I'm 62. I remember the riots in Watts, I remember the earthquake in San Francisco, I remember a lot of things. I have never, ever, seen anything as bungled and as poorly handled as this situation in New Orleans. Where the hell is the water for these people? Why can't sandwiches be dropped to those people in the Superdome. What is going on? This is Thursday! This storm happened 5 days ago. This is a disgrace. And don't think the world isn't watching. This is the government that the taxpayers are paying for, and it's fallen right flat on its face as far as I can see, in the way it's handled this thing.

We're going to talk about something else before the show's over, too. And that's the big elephant in the room. The race and economic class of most of the victims, which the media hasn't discussed much at all, but we will a bit later.
And later he read an email from a viewer saying he'd be tied up in tax audits for the rest of his life - Rove and his crew don't mess around.

The president's cold quasi-leadership? These are unimportant folks. They're not important. Could be racism, but it could just be they're too poor to matter to his constituency.

As for what real leadership might mean, read this from Wesley Clark.

The president's polling numbers sank again Thursday night to a new low - now forty-one percent approve of his work.

What else as August bled into September?

Note this in the New York Times:
The director of the Food and Drug Administration's office of women's health resigned yesterday to protest the agency's decision last week to further delay approving over-the-counter sales of the morning-after pill.

"I feel very strongly that this shouldn't be about abortion politics," the director, Dr. Susan F. Wood, who is an assistant F.D.A. commissioner, said in a telephone interview. "This is a way to prevent unwanted pregnancy and thereby prevent abortion. This should be something that we should all agree on."

In an e-mail message to staff members, Dr. Wood wrote that she could no longer serve at the agency "when scientific and clinical evidence, fully evaluated and recommended for approval by the professional staff here, has been overruled."
The letter?
Dear Friends and Colleagues,

I regret to tell you that I am leaving the FDA, and will no longer be serving as the Assistant Commissioner for Women's Health and Director of the FDA Office of Women's Health. The recent decision announced by the Commissioner about emergency contraception, which continues to limit women's access to a product that would reduce unintended pregnancies and reduce abortions is contrary to my core commitment to improving and advancing women's health. I have spent the last 15 years working to ensure that science informs good health policy decisions. I can no longer serve as staff when scientific and clinical evidence, fully evaluated and recommended for approval by the professional staff here, has been overruled. I therefore have submitted my resignation effective today.

I will greatly miss working with such an outstanding group of scientists, clinicians and support staff. FDA's staff is of the highest caliber and it has been a privilege to work with you all. I hope to have future opportunities to work with you in a different capacity." [source]
Enough is enough. And even the American Medical Association says the administration just get its facts, and the science, all wrong, and this on another matter.

Some vacation for the president, no?

And lurking in the background, this:
Number of articles touting the "Bush Boom" on nationalreview.com: 44
Change in median income 2001-2004: -$673
Change in the number of Americans in poverty: +4.1 million
Change in the number of Americans without health insurance: +4.6 million
The wheels really are coming off.

Posted by Alan at 19:05 PDT | Post Comment | View Comments (1) | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 1 September 2005 19:14 PDT home

Wednesday, 31 August 2005

Topic: Photos

Last Word of August from Paris: Unauthorized Water!

Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, says New Orleans and the hurricane is big news there too, and that he has received what he assumes to be the first letter of many, an angry American asking "why the French aren't rushing to help folks in Louisiana like America rushes in to help folks in.…"

Well, they sold us Louisiana and may fear we'll want our money back? Defective goods? Or they severely disapprove of what passes for French from Houma to New Orleans, that Cajun stuff even worse than the French spoken in Quebec? They are so picky about their language. And I drove those long flat miles from Houma to New Orleans a few years back one Sunday morning, listening to the Zydeco music on the radio, and to whatever language that was they were speaking. It wasn't French, even if it started out as French.

Of course the French also might remember that when Parisians were dying from a record-breaking heat wave one summer not too long ago, we were making fun of them with items like this editorial in the Washington Post from Thursday, August 14, 2003 -
To listen to the fuss Europeans are making about their weather, anyone would think that it was actually hot over there. In Paris, shops have experienced a run on electric fans. In Sweden, a male bus driver showed up for work in a skirt after his company informed him that he was not allowed to wear shorts. In Amsterdam, zookeepers are giving iced fruit to their chimpanzees to cool them off.

Okay, so maybe it's a bit warmer than usual. Temperatures across the continent have shot up into the 90s and once or twice have topped 100 degrees in London and Paris. But is this really hot - hot enough to close businesses, hot enough to cancel trains (the tracks might buckle), hot enough to wax nostalgic for the summer rain to which some Europeans, notably residents of the British Isles, are more accustomed?

Last time we checked, the weather here in Washington was in the upper 80s, which is average to low for this time of year. Temperatures in Houston and Dallas in the past couple of days have topped 100, as they usually do in summer. Yet somehow, no one's talking about extraordinary measures being taken by Texans or Washingtonians. On the contrary, President Bush, who qualifies as both, by some measures, is currently mocking the press corps by pretending to enjoy jogging in the Texas heat. Not all Europeans may want to go this far - but maybe they will now at least stop turning up their noses at those American summer inventions they've long loved to mock: The office window that doesn't open, the air conditioner that produces sub-arctic temperatures and the tall glass of water, served in a restaurant, filled to the brim with ice.
When the sick and elderly are dying, that was pretty nasty. But they are, after all, the French.

And now? As you see in the press, French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder sent messages of sympathy to President Bush. Ric says aid will follow. Will Bush refuse it because they thought our get-Saddam-before-he-kills-us-all war was a really stupid idea? Who knows?

But as August closes, note this from Ric:
When it's hot in town and there's no nearby beach - Paris-Plage closed too soon! - clever Parisians simply ignore signs (made of marble) saying they will get blown to smithereens by the 'cannons' and jump right in. Unauthorized water! Not suitable for swimming. Keep out. Foutez nous le paix! Bliss at 32 degrees - and more to come.

Ultra rare. September tomorrow.
The sign (made of marble) saying you will get blown to smithereens by the 'cannons' if you...
















Civil Disobedience:



Posted by Alan at 17:28 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 31 August 2005 17:36 PDT home


Topic: World View

Our Man in Paris: Summer Ends
In the News in France


In another item in these pages - The President's Rentrée: When it rains, it pours… - you will find this comment:
Well, the president's vacation is so over. And it was so very French - five or six weeks off, bicycling with Lance through the fields of poppies. But as in France, it's time for the September rentrée - that time the French "reenter" the real world after their long summer vacations – as Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, puts it, "when the last French holiday-er is supposed to have returned and applied his or herself to the garlic grindstone."

As there, so here. The real world needs some attention.
Ric sends this along on the last day of August:
Paris, Wednesday, August 31 -

Was the president's vacation "so very French?" Bush has taken twenty-eight days - four whole weeks. This used to be normal for French holidays but they probably max at three weeks with two weeks being common these days. While the 35-hour week continues, many take the rest of their allotted time off in short breaks combined with national holidays and long weekends. It spreads the vacation around the calendar, and around the country.

But politicians were hacking away until late July or early August, and now they're back, showing off their suntanned faces. Champion tan goes to Dominique de Villepin, with Nicolas Sarkozy as runner-up. In France most political parties have conventions at the end of August. These are called 'Universite d'Ete,' but they are pure politics. In two weeks the Communists will have their big fête, called the 'Fête d'Humanité,' after the newspaper. Many on the left will take part in this party just outside Paris, for this is to be a hot rentrée. They are calling for the jumbo mother of demos - hoping to put a million on the streets to protest everything about the government.

There are people in France growing their own gasoline. Apparently it is not rocket science. The EU in Brussels has said it is okay to do this, but Paris' tax collectors say that French farmers who put plant gas in their cars are breaking the law. As others have pointed out the price of crude has reached a level where plant gas is cheaper to use. A professor said that sunflower power won't hurt modern motors. Meanwhile, José Bové's gang has been tearing down transgenetic corn again, and fighting with state goons trying to protect it. This is what some people do on their holidays - rip out corn and fight with the police.

Did I say meanwhile? In Paris crummy places where people are lodged while waiting to be assigned less-crummy places to live, are catching fire for mysterious reason. There was the hotel fire six months ago and now there have been two more, within a week. For the first of the two - with about 17 killed, mostly kids - the mayor could not speak. On camera, speechless. Then a few days later it happens again - another shabby temporary lodging breaks out in flames, more kids die. Sarkozy, of course, is on the spot. Says, 'all the crummy places gotta be counted.' Does not say the government is going to have a crash program, to house the 100,000 in Paris on waiting lists. The city has to do it, and is doing it with the means it has. Now the students are returning, all competing for lodgings. Sub-studio rents are hovering around 600 euros a month. A government plan to legalize living spaces the size of broom closets was rejected as inhumane.

All is not somber. On this last day of August the sky is nicely blue and the temperature is about 32 degrees, and there is a little breeze. Of course there's an ozone alert, but so what? It might be the last of the year.
As there, so here.

__

Footnote:

In English from AFP (l'Agence France-Presse):

Tuesday, August 30: Third Fatal Paris Fire Focuses Attention On Immigrants' Plight
Wednesday, August 31: Politicians Swap Accusations Over Paris Fire Disasters

And from Nicholas Long's Internet Press Review in English for Wednesday, August 31, over at RFI - Radio France Internationale:
The front page story in most of the French press is the aftermath of the fire that broke out in a Paris apartment on Monday night, killing seven people, all of African origin. This was the second fatal blaze in a Paris apartment building in four days; the last cost the lives of 27 people, also African, and fifteen others died in a fire in Paris five months ago.

We have a special report coming up in this programme in which Philip Turle talks to some survivors of the latest fire, and asks the question how soon all the unsafe buildings in Paris that need urgent work could be made safe. The papers throw some light on that question. According to LE FIGARO there are some 550 buildings in the capital that the city hall considers so badly degraded that it's set up a company to take them over and repair them by 2007. Half of these buildings are currently undergoing repairs and the building that caught fire on Monday was one of them. The town hall had decided to take it over last year, and had ordered a ban on people living there, and on the landlord collecting rent. The occupants were squatters and the landlord said he had not had access to the building since 1999; he had refused the city hall's offer of 330,000 euros to buy the building, claiming he had had other offers of up to a million euros. A court had ordered the evacuation of the building, but this order had not been carried out by the police.
And so on and so forth...

Trivia: RFI - Radio France Internationale - has its headquarters over in the 16th, on avenue du Président Kennedy, oddly enough.

Posted by Alan at 09:26 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 31 August 2005 09:30 PDT home

Tuesday, 30 August 2005

Topic: Bush

The President's Rentrée: When it rains, it pours…

This site, and the weekly parent site Just Above Sunset, seldom deal in breaking news. They have evolved from whatever they were when the weekly started in May of 2003, and the daily a month later, into places for commentary and analysis, with photography, and comment on music and books and sometimes science, not to mention weekly columns from "Our Man In Paris," and now "Or Man in London," and sporadically, "Our Man in Tel-Aviv" - not to mention the weekly columns from The World's Laziest Journalist and The Book Wrangler (both Bob Patterson), and photo-essays from Phillip Raines and fiction from our MD friend in the Boston area.

We don't do news, as such.

Thus there has not been much of anything on either site about this worst-of-all hurricane that slid across the bottom of Florida, grew strong in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, then slammed into the Gulf Coast, pretty much destroying Biloxi and leaving four-fifths New Orleans underwater, in some places twenty feet deep, and now under marshal law to stop the looting. What's to say? You can go elsewhere for the folks on the left spinning this as a told-you-so about global warming and the right saying baloney, or go to the business-minded folks fretting about what it means to have a quarter of our domestic oil supply offline and multiple refineries flooded and not operable (and what that means to the economy and interest rates and a possible recession and all that). You can find many commenting that a lot of the manpower that would help with recovery - and heavy equipment for the recovery - is now in Iraq. We sent the National Guard there, didn't we? There's also a lot out there on how FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, has been sort of disassembled since it was subsumed under the Department of Homeland Security and its funding cut left and right. Stopping terrorists was more important. Now?

All this may be important, but it seems ghoulish. And it seems, well, just a little wrong to hitch one's political views to all this misery and death. Let the others do it, if they must. But you could send some money to the Red Cross instead. People need help, not polemics.

"When it rains, it pours" actually refers to some odd things in the news on Tuesday, August 30 - political things.

New polling shows a clear majority now supports that woman in Texas, Cindy Sheehan - a clear majority supports protest in that they believe she deserves to ask Bush directly about "the noble cause for which her son died." In contrast, a clear majority disapproves of the way Bush is handling his presidency and objects to the way he's dealt with the war. It breaks down to fifty-three percent supporting Sheehan's efforts to question the war, while fifty-eight percent disapprove of George Bush's efforts to manage the war. All this is discussed in Bush v Sheehan - only one has majority support, which provides links to all the polling data.

Something is changing. The message has been, from the right side (in the political, not logical sense), that she represents a small minority of disturbed people who perhaps ought to be pitied for their personal loss, but certainly ought to be silenced before they give any more "aid and comfort to our enemies," as the statute on treason reads. But the details of the polling? Fifty-two percent of the public says Bush should talk to Sheehan while forty-six percent said he should not. So much for the "small minority." Of course, this is not saying these folks are arguing Bush should agree with her and do what she says, which seems to be to stop the war cold. It reads more like more that half the folks are saying he should just have the common decency to meet with her.

But common decency isn't the man's strong suit.

Of course, to a get a sense of his strong suit it probably would have been a good idea to hop in the car Tuesday and drive out to the San Bernardino area where the president was giving a major address on the sixtieth anniversary of V-J Day. (We actually won that one.)

But it was in the nineties here in Hollywood and out there well over one hundred, and the Just Above Sunset staff car was built in England (Oxford) from a German design and those folks just don't understand what kind of air-conditioning cars need out here. That ninety-minute drive seemed like a really bad idea - and the audiences are screened anyway. A fellow from Hollywood with his artsy, left-leaning web sites wouldn't get in the door.

What the heck, Fox News carried the whole thing, every word. Saw a bit of it. It was more of the same.

But maybe there is a bit of common decency in the fact the White House announced Tuesday afternoon that the president will cut short his vacation so that he can oversee the government's response to this worst-of-all hurricane and what it's done to the lower right quadrant of the country. As the Washington Post explains it, his advisors are "sensitive to the image of a president vacationing amid the hurricane crisis."

Yeah, that looks kind of bad. End the long vacation. Wrong image. The in-your-face now-watch-this-drive sneering isn't polling well. Folks really used to like that - a strong a decisive leader telling the rest of the world to go pound sand. That's now getting old.

But Tim Greive over at Salon has some other questions -
... isn't it also fair to ask, what about Iraq? By our count, 71 Americans have been killed in Iraq since Bush arrived in Crawford on Aug. 2. The president didn't return to Washington on Aug. 3, when 14 Marines were killed near Haditha. He didn't return on Aug. 9, when five National Guardsmen and a soldier were killed in separate incidents. He didn't return when Iraqi negotiators failed to meet a deadline, then failed to meet a deadline, then failed to meet a deadline, then failed to meet a deadline and then failed to reach agreement on a draft constitution.

Instead, the president stayed in Crawford, bicycling with Lance Armstrong and avoiding Cindy Sheehan while making the occasional side trip to Utah, to Idaho, to an RV park in Arizona and finally to an Air Force Base in California. That's where the president was this morning, commemorating the 60th anniversary of V-J Day and talking about the "sacrifice" - he used the word seven times - that Americans have always been willing to make in times of war.

And now the president will make his own sacrifice, albeit for Katrina, not Iraq. The president will squeeze in one more night at Crawford tonight, then he'll fly back to Washington Wednesday.

He'll have spent 28 full days away from the White House, two short of the 30 he had planned.
Well, maybe it's not just the hurricane. Something is changing. He may not know it. His aides seem to.

Even the acerbic and extremely conservative Jack Cafferty over at CNN got into this exchange with Wolf Blitzer on the mid-afternoon news show "Situation Room." -
Cafferty: Where's President Bush? Is he still on vacation?

Blitzer: He's cut short his vacation he's coming back to Washington tomorrow.

Cafferty: Oh, that would be a good idea. He was out in San Diego I think at a Naval air station giving a speech on Japan and the war in Iraq today. Based on his approval rating, based on the latest polls, my guess is getting back to work might not be a terrible idea.
Geez, when you've lost Jack Cafferty...

Well, getting back to work might not be a terrible idea with stuff like this popping up in the Washington Post -
The nation's poverty rate rose to 12.7 percent of the population last year, the fourth consecutive annual increase, the Census Bureau said Tuesday.

The percentage of people without health insurance did not change... Charles Nelson, an assistant division chief at the Census Bureau, said the percentage of uninsured remained steady because of an "increase in government coverage, notably Medicaid and the state children's health insurance program, that offset a decline in employment-based coverage."

... The median household income, meanwhile, stood at $44,389, unchanged from 2003.
Let that sink in.

Questions:
Question 1: what's the point of a strong economy if it produces higher poverty rates, declining private sector healthcare coverage, and stagnant incomes?

Question 2: Whenever there are any nuggets of good employment news, the explanation from various quarters is either (a) tax cuts or (b) welfare reform. Do these two things also get the credit when there's bad news?
Ah, when it rains it pours. One more thing for the administration to explain. Back to work. (Explanation to expect: Tax cuts for the wealthy WILL cause the economy to boom one day, and that will trickle down somehow if you damned peasants will just be patient and accept stagnant wages and higher prices and cuts to welfare and services - and besides, corporate profits are soaring, CEO's are earning more than ever, and THAT is economic health - so quit bellyaching!)

Other issues? Tuesday, August 30, down on Sunset, the price of gasoline for the staff car - 3.20 per gallon and rising fast. With the oil platforms off the Louisiana coast out for a bit and the refineries there underwater, that's just going to get higher - much higher.

That'll need some spin. And spinning that one will be hard work.

Here's an idea:

Why high oil prices are a force for good
Eberhard Rhein, The International Herald Tribune, Wednesday, August 31, 2005

That ends with this:
Politicians should be preparing citizens worldwide for a future in which energy prices will remain high, and policy makers should be ready to keep the oil price near the present level by raising the level of excise taxation when necessary. Unfortunately, most politicians are still too myopic or timid to deliver such a message. This needs to change.

The high oil price is a bonanza for advocates of the Kyoto Protocol, who will probably claim for the protocol what the market has achieved: the decline of carbon dioxide emissions.

If oil prices can be maintained at or above today's high levels, there is less urgency for the extension of the protocol beyond 2012. The market is doing the job - and it embraces all types of energy consumption, which the Kyoto Protocol does not. It becomes therefore almost immaterial whether or not China and the United States will one day join.
Yep, high oil prices may save the plant, but one cannot imagine the president spinning it just that way.

Well, the president's vacation is so over. And it was so very French - five or six weeks off, bicycling with Lance through the fields of poppies. But as in France, it's time for the September rentrée - that time the French "reenter" the real world after their long summer vacations - as Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, puts it, "when the last French holiday-er is supposed to have returned and applied his or herself to the garlic grindstone."

As there, so here. The real world needs some attention.

Posted by Alan at 19:45 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 31 August 2005 08:36 PDT home

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