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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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Wednesday, 7 September 2005

Topic: Backgrounder

The Status of the Blame Game

One more obscure web site entry adds little to the ongoing discussion of what seems to be the second of the two twin big stories of the decade. This an attempt to get a feel for what is happening in the nation's ongoing debate about who we are and what we're doing, and why. It was never so much in dispute, or at least never so openly disputed. This seems to be what's happening.

The two twin big stories of the decade? The first was 9/11 of course - America attacked by a stateless group of fanatics associated with a militant strain of Islamic fundamentalism, demanding America leave the Middle East and Palestine to be freed from Israeli oppression and all the rest, to which we responded by going to war in Afghanistan and then Iraq, two nations we still occupy. Bombings followed in Morocco, Bali, Madrid and London. The new governments we formed to replace those we eliminated are struggling at getting organized. The occupation continues - nearly two thousand combat deaths, ten to fifteen thousand wounded, hundred of billions spent, all with no end in site. Also, the federal government reorganized itself to some extent due to 9/11 - all intelligence operations nominally under one command now, and a new Department of Homeland Security formed, charged with securing us from any further terrorist attacks and, should one somehow occur, organizing the civil response to such a disaster.

As a bookend to the first event, four years later, on the Monday after the last weekend of August, a hurricane pretty much destroys the city of New Orleans and much of the Gulf coast - a major city abandoned and three states in deep trouble. The new Department of Homeland Security and its agency FEMA - formerly a separate cabinet-level department but now a minor part of the whole - is criticized for its slow and ineffective response to this natural disaster. In particular, the president is widely criticized for a four-day delay in making much comment or doing anything at all to take charge of the situation that spins on still - with a death toll that may exceed ten thousand, with tens of thousands of those who were evacuated homeless, jobless, penniless and in need of at least shelter and food, with the economy in trouble and gulf states' oil industry a mess (a quarter of domestic production), and of course, being criticized for the war in Iraq as that required, and requires, vast resources and was a preemptive war of choice, fought for reasons that have proved to be unfortunately mistaken, from one point of view, or manipulative lies, from another point of view.

The war divided the county, and continues to do so, and now this. In the case of the war, the question was the appropriate response to the threat, and just what was the threat, and whether preemptive war - getting the bad guys before they did bad things - was wise. Some felt that is not how we do things - it was like taking care of criminals before they commit crimes, or before they were even criminals. But many bought into the concept, saying that even if we went after the wrong people for the wrong reasons, well, something good could come if it - folks would know we take no crap and we might get a democracy in Iraq. The former would mean we'd get worldwide respect and the latter would mean we'd get a pro-Western secular capitalistic free-market democracy right in the middle of the Middle East that would change the world. It's not working out on either of those counts - and no one is feeling much safer - but we tried.

But if the war split the country on these "conceptual issues" - how we as the richest and most powerful nation on earth should deal with a hostile world - the Great Hurricane of 2005 is splitting the country on even deeper issues. Those would be what we expect of government, what we expect of our leaders, and what we expect of our citizens. Should government provide for the common welfare, or does such support destroy people's initiative and create a nation of whining victims who expect others to take care of them? Is then, government, as a concept, harmful to people? The corollary on leadership - is anyone to blame for the post-storm chaos and death? What are the leaders supposed to have done? And then, what do we expect of our citizens? Are they responsible for their fate if they stupidly chose to be poor, not doing enough for themselves and relying on others - and then, of all things, stupidly chose to remain in a dangerous place? Other poor people have risen to fame and fortune - black folks who rap or play basketball, even "poor white trash" (that's why we have a thriving country music industry with its millionaires) - so what's wrong with these people? Are we supposed to take care of the poor, or should we really take care of them with "tough love" - forcing them to take "personal responsibility" for their lives in the "real world" where you sink or swim and no one gets a free ride on the backs of those who have made it? Those questions are bubbling up now.

LEADERSHIP

The top-level question is leadership - is anyone to blame for the post-storm chaos and death? What are the leaders supposed to have done? This is the criticism of Bush and those he has appointed under him.

See Political Hurricane from John Dickerson - Tuesday, September 6 -
George Bush is finally on the case. Criticized for his administration's slow response to Hurricane Katrina, he and his aides are anxious to show that they've taken the wheel and that their knuckles are white from steering. The president has now visited the soggy Delta landscape twice. The vice president is headed there Thursday. The first lady will visit schoolchildren again. Bush's schedule today was clotted with Katrinalia - he met with his Cabinet, volunteer organizations, displaced students, and congressional leaders. Tonight, Cabinet officials will brief Hill leaders. More quietly, White House surrogates are talking about failures at the state and local levels. Several Bush allies have e-mailed me pictures of the unused buses soaking in New Orleans.

Bush has even pledged to lead an investigation into what went wrong. This is no small matter. Such backward-looking is out of character for a president who believes that leadership means moving forward. Under less fraught circumstances, he's known to mock Monday morning quarterbacks: the media, the professors, the French who moan opinions about what he or his administration should do. "Oh no, here come the hand-wringers," he sometimes jokes to aides he thinks listen too much to the "echo chamber."

Bush allies and administration aides still dispute the notion that they are at fault. They claim that state officials had told the federal authorities that they were on the case after the storm hit. Any sluggishness was the result of unfortunate events, not bad management. "I don't care what anyone says," insists a White House ally. "People thought those levees were going to hold." Much of the criticism they write off to the usual suspects: biased media, political opponents, and turf-conscious politicians who didn't do their jobs. An investigation may bolster the Bush team's case that Homeland Security can only act if the local response is minimally competent and take away some of the appearance that it took CNN to get FEMA to do its job.
And that started up the weekend after the storm. As reported in hundreds of places, simultaneously with saying this is not time to assess blame, the White House is saying, "not our fault, it's the locals." See this, one of many:

Many Evacuated, but Thousands Still Waiting
White House Shifts Blame to State and Local Officials
Manuel Roig-Franzia and Spencer Hsu, Washington Post, Sunday, September 4, 2005; Page A01

Sample: "Louisiana did not reach out to a multi-state mutual aid compact for assistance until Wednesday, three state and federal officials said. As of Saturday, Blanco still had not declared a state of emergency, the senior Bush official said."

This, allegedly, had prevented a more rapid federal response.

As many have pointed out (as here), an actual state of emergency was declared August 26th, 2005. That is available on the State of Louisiana website here. The Washington Post issued a correction, apologizing for false information, but will not name their sources. Newsweek - burned by the same administration sources - runs with the same story but posts no correction.

Spreading lies? Maybe. Maybe not. One view, Chris Floyd here -
Look, it's really very simple. On Saturday, August 27, 2005 - two days before Hurricane Katrina made landfall - President George W. Bush assumed responsibility for the coordination of "all disaster relief efforts" in the State of Louisiana. This is the specific, undisputed language of Bush's declaration of a State of Emergency, issued that day by the White House, and still available for viewing on the White House website. The responsibility for coordinating all disaster relief efforts in New Orleans clearly rested with the White House. Despite all the post-disaster spin by the Bush Faction and its sycophants, despite all the earnest media analyses, the lines of authority are clear and indisputable. Here is the voice of George W. Bush himself, in the proclamation issued in his name, over his signature on Saturday, August 27, 2005:

"The President today declared an emergency exists in the State of Louisiana and ordered Federal aid to supplement state and local response efforts in the parishes located in the path of Hurricane Katrina beginning on August 26, 2005, and continuing. The President's action authorizes the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to coordinate all disaster relief efforts which have the purpose of alleviating the hardship and suffering caused by the emergency on the local population, and to provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures"

Bush goes on to say: "Specifically, FEMA is authorized to identify, mobilize, and provide at its discretion, equipment and resources necessary to alleviate the impacts of the emergency."
That should be clear enough. It's on the White House information site in a news release here. This sounds like an acceptance of responsibility.

So what to do? Call for an investigation - Bush says, in time, he will himself head an investigation on what he, through his subordinates, did wrong. It worked when the Pentagon investigated prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, didn't it?

But that's for later. Now is not the time.

John Dickerson again:
The president and his head of the Department of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, are right to argue that quick reprisals won't help with the business of digging out and rebuilding. For the moment, people need food and a future more than finger-pointing. But images of rescuers piloting bloated bodies out of soaked houses will fill the news in the coming weeks. Draining the city will take months. The roar of the displaced demanding answers will not die down.

So, what can Bush do to reverse the focus on his own failure? His own sunny optimism, which even he seemed to find unsatisfying, is unlikely to help at this point. "Out of this despair is going to come a vibrant coast," he told residents of Poplarville, Miss., Monday. "I understand if you're saying to yourself, well, it's hard for me to realize what George W. is saying because I've seen the rubble and I know what has happened to my neighbors. But I'd like to come back down here in about two years and walk your streets and see how vital this part of the world is going to be. I can't wait to join you in the joy of welcoming neighbors back into neighborhoods, and small businesses up and running, and cutting those ribbons that somebody is creating new jobs. That's what I think is going to happen."

Bush's ability to empathize, so effective with military families, has seemed off tone on the Gulf Coast. His fantasies about sitting on the fresh timber of Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott's rebuilt porch were no match for footage of stunned faces poking through escape holes torn in rooftops.
Dickerson has some suggestions to fix the political problem here ? like an unscripted public forum to answer questions about the government's response to the disaster, or maybe a town hall thing. Bush should get angry. You can click on the link and read all that. And he should fire someone:
Bush finds it hard to pin the blame on someone who has stood next to him for any length of time. "He has a very strong feeling for anyone who has been in the foxhole with him," says a former aide. "Especially when they're under fire." He refused Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld's two offers of resignation after abuses were discovered at Abu Ghraib. He bestowed the nation's highest civilian honor on the CIA director who told him that the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was a "slam dunk." He continues to stand by Karl Rove though his top aide helped steer reporters to the identity of an undercover CIA agent.

Characteristically, he says he doesn't want to play the "blame game." Here, he should. His own executive style demands it. The president is almost evangelical about his theory of management: Pick good people, give them power, and then hold them accountable. He never designed an administration around mistake-admitting; he did build it on accountability. Delegation without accountability leads to rot.

Will Michael Brown be held accountable? Administration officials defend him. The president offered a typically folksy pat on the back after his first visit to Biloxi. "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job," he said.

Not all the president's allies think so. "Someone has to get fired," says a top aide to a Republican senator, describing the work ahead for GOP leaders in Congress. Right now, he continued, "There are two jobs: writing checks and figuring out who gets fired."
That from his own party?

But firing someone won't fix what's in this - a timeline with links to the original links source documents. Highlights:
Friday, August 26
GOV. KATHLEEN BLANCO DECLARES STATE OF EMERGENCY IN LOUISIANA
GULF COAST STATES REQUEST TROOP ASSISTANCE FROM PENTAGON

Saturday, August 27
5AM - KATRINA UPGRADED TO CATEGORY 3 HURRICANE
GOV. BLANCO ASKS BUSH TO DECLARE FEDERAL STATE OF EMERGENCY IN LOUISIANA: "I have determined that this incident is of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capabilities of the State and affected local governments, and that supplementary Federal assistance is necessary to save lives, protect property, public health, and safety, or to lessen or avert the threat of a disaster."
FEDERAL EMERGENCY DECLARED, DHS AND FEMA GIVEN FULL AUTHORITY TO RESPOND TO KATRINA: "Specifically, FEMA is authorized to identify, mobilize, and provide at its discretion, equipment and resources necessary to alleviate the impacts of the emergency."

Sunday, August 28
2AM - KATRINA UPGRADED TO CATEGORY 4 HURRICANE [CNN]
7AM - KATRINA UPGRADED TO CATEGORY 5 HURRICANE [CNN]
MORNING - LOUISIANA NEWSPAPER SIGNALS LEVEES MAY GIVE: "Forecasters Fear Levees Won't Hold Katrina": "Forecasters feared Sunday afternoon that storm driven waters will lap over the New Orleans levees when monster Hurricane Katrina pushes past the Crescent City tomorrow."
9:30 AM ? MAYOR NAGIN ISSUES FIRST EVER MANDATORY EVACUATION OF NEW ORLEANS: "We're facing the storm most of us have feared," said Nagin. "This is going to be an unprecedented event."
4PM - NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE ISSUES SPECIAL HURRICANE WARNING: In the event of a category 4 or 5 hit, "Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks, perhaps longer. ... At least one-half of well-constructed homes will have roof and wall failure. All gabled roofs will fail, leaving those homes severely damaged or destroyed. ... Power outages will last for weeks. ... Water shortages will make human suffering incredible by modern standards."
AFTERNOON - BUSH, BROWN, CHERTOFF WARNED OF LEVEE FAILURE BY NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER DIRECTOR: Dr. Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center: "'We were briefing them way before landfall. ... It's not like this was a surprise. We had in the advisories that the levee could be topped.'"
LATE PM - REPORTS OF WATER TOPPLING OVER LEVEE: "Waves crashed atop the exercise path on the Lake Pontchartrain levee in Kenner early Monday as Katrina churned closer
APPROXIMATELY 30,000 EVACUEES GATHER AT SUPERDOME WITH ROUGHLY 36 HOURS WORTH OF FOOD [Times-Picayune]

Monday, August 29
7AM - KATRINA MAKES LANDFALL AS A CATEGORY 4 HURRICANE
8AM - MAYOR NAGIN REPORTS THAT WATER IS FLOWING OVER LEVEE
MORNING - BUSH CALLS SECRETARY CHERTOFF TO DISCUSS IMMIGRATION: "I spoke to Mike Chertoff today ? he's the head of the Department of Homeland Security. I knew people would want me to discuss this issue [immigration], so we got us an airplane on ? a telephone on Air Force One, so I called him. I said, are you working with the governor? He said, you bet we are."
MORNING - BUSH SHARES BIRTHDAY CAKE PHOTO-OP WITH SEN. JOHN MCCAIN
11AM - BUSH VISITS ARIZONA RESORT TO PROMOTE MEDICARE DRUG BENEFIT
LATE MORNING - LEVEE BREACHED
11:30AM - MICHAEL BROWN FINALLY REQUESTS THAT DHS DISPATCH 1,000 EMPLOYEES TO REGION, GIVES THEM TWO DAYS TO ARRIVE: "Brown's memo to Chertoff described Katrina as 'this near catastrophic event' but otherwise lacked any urgent language. The memo politely ended, 'Thank you for your consideration in helping us to meet our responsibilities.'"
2PM - BUSH TRAVELS TO CALIFORNIA SENIOR CENTER TO DISCUSS MEDICARE DRUG BENEFIT
9PM - RUMSFELD ATTENDS SAN DIEGO PADRES BASEBALL GAME

Tuesday, August 30
9AM - BUSH SPEAKS ON IRAQ AT NAVAL BASE CORONADO
MIDDAY - CHERTOFF FINALLY BECOMES AWARE THAT LEVEE HAS FAILED: "It was on Tuesday that the levee - may have been overnight Monday to Tuesday - that the levee started to break. And it was midday Tuesday that I became aware of the fact that there was no possibility of plugging the gap and that essentially the lake was going to start to drain into the city."
PENTAGON CLAIMS THERE ARE ENOUGH NATIONAL GUARD TROOPS IN REGION
MASS LOOTING REPORTED, SECURITY SHORTAGE CITED
U.S.S. BATAAN SITS OFF SHORE, VIRTUALLY UNUSED: "The USS Bataan, a 844-foot ship designed to dispatch Marines in amphibious assaults, has helicopters, doctors, hospital beds, food and water. It also can make its own water, up to 100,000 gallons a day. And it just happened to be in the Gulf of Mexico when Katrina came roaring ashore. The Bataan rode out the storm and then followed it toward shore, awaiting relief orders. Helicopter pilots flying from its deck were some of the first to begin plucking stranded New Orleans residents. But now the Bataan's hospital facilities, including six operating rooms and beds for 600 patients, are empty."
3PM - PRESIDENT BUSH PLAYS GUITAR WITH COUNTRY SINGER MARK WILLIS [AP]
BUSH RETURNS TO CRAWFORD FOR FINAL NIGHT OF VACATION [AP]

Wednesday, August 31
TENS OF THOUSANDS TRAPPED IN SUPERDOME; CONDITIONS DETERIORATE
PRESIDENT BUSH FINALLY ORGANIZES TASK FORCE TO COORDINATE FEDERAL RESPONSE: Bush says on Tuesday he will "fly to Washington to begin work? with a task force that will coordinate the work of 14 federal agencies involved in the relief effort."
JEFFERSON PARISH EMERGENCY DIRECTOR SAYS FOOD AND WATER SUPPLY GONE
80,000 BELIEVED STRANDED IN NEW ORLEANS
3,000 STRANDED AT CONVENTION CENTER WITHOUT FOOD OR WATER
5PM - BUSH GIVES FIRST MAJOR ADDRESS ON KATRINA: "Nothing about the president's demeanor? ... which seemed casual to the point of carelessness ... suggested that he understood the depth of the current crisis." [New York Times]
8PM - CONDOLEEZZA RICE TAKES IN A BROADWAY SHOW
9PM - FEMA DIRECTOR BROWN CLAIMS SURPRISE OVER SIZE OF STORM: "I must say, this storm is much much bigger than anyone expected."

Thursday, September 1
8AM - BUSH CLAIMS NO ONE EXPECTED LEVEES TO BREAK: "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees."
CONDOLEEZZA RICE VISITS U.S. TENNIS OPEN
STILL NO COMMAND AND CONTROL ESTABLISHED: Terry Ebbert, New Orleans Homeland Security Director: "This is a national emergency. This is a national disgrace. FEMA has been here three days, yet there is no command and control. We can send massive amounts of aid to tsunami victims, but we can't bail out the city of New Orleans." [Fox News]
2PM - MAYOR NAGIN ISSUES "DESPERATE SOS" TO FEDERAL GOVERNMENT: "This is a desperate SOS. Right now we are out of resources at the convention centre and don't anticipate enough buses. We need buses. Currently the convention centre is unsanitary and unsafe and we're running out of supplies."
2PM - MICHAEL BROWN CLAIMS NOT TO HAVE HEARD OF REPORTS OF VIOLENCE: "I've had no reports of unrest, if the connotation of the word unrest means that people are beginning to riot, or you know, they're banging on walls and screaming and hollering or burning tires or whatever. I've had no reports of that." [CNN]
NEW ORLEANS "DESCEND[S] INTO ANARCHY": "Storm victims were raped and beaten, fights and fires broke out, corpses lay out in the open, and rescue helicopters and law enforcement officers were shot at as flooded-out New Orleans descended into anarchy Thursday. 'This is a desperate SOS,' the mayor said." [AP]
CONDOLEEZZA RICE GOES SHOE SHOPPING: "Just moments ago at the Ferragamo on 5th Avenue, Condoleeza Rice was seen spending several thousands of dollars on some nice, new shoes (we've confirmed this, so her new heels will surely get coverage from the WaPo's Robin Givhan). A fellow shopper, unable to fathom the absurdity of Rice's timing, went up to the Secretary and reportedly shouted, 'How dare you shop for shoes while thousands are dying and homeless!'" [Gawker]
MICHAEL BROWN FINALLY LEARNS OF EVACUEES IN CONVENTION CENTER: "We learned about that (Thursday), so I have directed that we have all available resources to get that convention center to make sure that they have the food and water and medical care that they need." [CNN]

Friday, September 2
ROVE-LED CAMPAIGN TO BLAME LOCAL OFFICIALS BEGINS: "Under the command of President Bush's two senior political advisers, the White House rolled out a plan?to contain the political damage from the administration's response to Hurricane Katrina." President Bush's comments from the Rose Garden Friday morning formed "the start of this campaign." [New York Times, 9/5/05]
9:35AM - BUSH PRAISES MICHAEL BROWN: "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job." [White House, 9/2/05]
10 AM - PRESIDENT BUSH STAGES PHOTO-OP "BRIEFING": Coast Guard helicopters and crew diverted to act as backdrop for President Bush's photo-op.
BUSH VISIT GROUNDS FOOD AID: "Three tons of food ready for delivery by air to refugees in St. Bernard Parish and on Algiers Point sat on the Crescent City Connection bridge Friday afternoon as air traffic was halted because of President Bush's visit to New Orleans, officials said." [Times-Picayune]
LEVEE REPAIR WORK ORCHESTRATED FOR PRESIDENT'S VISIT: Sen. Mary Landrieu, 9/3: "Touring this critical site yesterday with the President, I saw what I believed to be a real and significant effort to get a handle on a major cause of this catastrophe. Flying over this critical spot again this morning, less than 24 hours later, it became apparent that yesterday we witnessed a hastily prepared stage set for a Presidential photo opportunity; and the desperately needed resources we saw were this morning reduced to a single, lonely piece of equipment." [Sen. Mary Landrieu]
BUSH USES 50 FIREFIGHTERS AS PROPS IN DISASTER AREA PHOTO-OP: A group of 1,000 firefighters convened in Atlanta to volunteer with the Katrina relief efforts. Of those, "a team of 50 Monday morning quickly was ushered onto a flight headed for Louisiana. The crew's first assignment: to stand beside President Bush as he tours devastated areas." [Salt Lake Tribune; Reuters]
3PM - BUSH "SATISFIED WITH THE RESPONSE": "I am satisfied with the response. I am not satisfied with all the results." [AP]

Saturday, September 3
SENIOR BUSH ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL LIES TO WASHINGTON POST, CLAIMS GOV. BLANCO NEVER DECLARED STATE OF EMERGENCY: The Post reported in their Sunday edition "As of Saturday, Blanco still had not declared a state of emergency, the senior Bush official said." They were forced to issue a correction hours later. [Washington Post, 9/4/05]
9AM - BUSH BLAMES STATE AND LOCAL OFFICIALS: "[T]he magnitude of responding to a crisis over a disaster area that is larger than the size of Great Britain has created tremendous problems that have strained state and local capabilities. The result is that many of our citizens simply are not getting the help they need." [White House, 9/3/05]
As Matthew Cooper of all people, the Plamegate guy (the one who didn't go to jail while Judith Miller did), explains in the latest issue of Time Magazine:
It isn't easy picking George Bush's worst moment last week. Was it his first go at addressing the crisis Wednesday, when he came across as cool to the point of uncaring? Was it when he said that he didn't "think anybody expected" the New Orleans levees to give way, though that very possibility had been forecast for years? Was it when he arrived in Mobile, Ala., a full four days after the storm made landfall, and praised his hapless Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) director, Michael D. Brown, whose disaster credentials seemed to consist of once being the commissioner of the International Arabian Horse Association? "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job," said the President. Or was it that odd moment when he promised to rebuild Mississippi Senator Trent Lott's house - a gesture that must have sounded astonishingly tone-deaf to the homeless black citizens still trapped in the postapocalyptic water world of New Orleans. "Out of the rubbles of Trent Lott's house - he's lost his entire house," cracked Bush, "there's going to be a fantastic house. And I'm looking forward to sitting on the porch."

Bush seemed so regularly out of it last week, it made you wonder if he was stuck in the same White House bubble of isolation that confined his dad. Too often, W. looked annoyed. Or he smiled when he should have been serious. Or he swaggered when simple action would have been the right move.

And he was so slow. Everyone knew on Sunday morning that Katrina was a killer. Yet when the levees broke after the storm, the White House slouched toward action. And this from a leader who made his bones with 9/11. In a crisis he can act paradoxically, appearing - almost simultaneously - strong and weak, decisive and vacillating, Churchill and Chamberlain. This week he was more Chamberlain.

... Bush all but spurned offers of help from allies because of the way it would look. "I'm sure he saw it as a sign of American weakness to be taking aid from other countries," says the former Administration official. A Bush aide countered that his boss "wasn't rejecting offers; he wasn't focused on it."
Something is up. From the Associated Press Wednesday, September 7, via the New York Times there's this:
At a news conference, Pelosi, D-Calif., said Bush's choice for head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency had "absolutely no credentials."

She related that she had urged Bush at the White House on Tuesday to fire Michael Brown.

"He said 'Why would I do that?'" Pelosi said.

"'I said because of all that went wrong, of all that didn't go right last week.' And he said 'What didn't go right?'"

"Oblivious, in denial, dangerous," she added.
That's been running on the national news. You can watch it here with Windows Media Player or here in Quicktime.

Did someone say denial? From the first Friday visit to the scene, via Associated Press, see this:
Later in Biloxi, Miss., Bush tried to comfort two stunned women wandering their neighborhood clutching Hefty bags, looking in vain for something to salvage from the rubble of their home. [Bush] kept insisting they could find help at a Salvation Army center down the street, even after another bystander had informed him it had been destroyed.
Lambert over at Corrente suggests that's the whole problem - "1. He's wrong. 2. Other people tell him he's wrong, and give the evidence. 3. He insists he's right." Sort of sums it all up.

Over at the generally conservative Bull Moose you can find Arrested Development -
We have a man-child as President of the United States. That may seem an unfair characterization, but consider the President's performance last Friday when he ventured to the storm ravaged Gulf Coast. In a revealing moment, he referred to the FEMA Director as "Brownie" and joked about his past good times in New Orleans.

It was inappropriate behavior that one would expect from an adolescent and not the adult leader of the free world. It largely went unnoticed.

But perhaps the clearest demonstration of the President's arrested development is his inability to accept responsibility or accountability. Another revelatory moment was when the President pronounced that the response to Katrina was "not acceptable." Of course, he was the one in charge. It was as if a child passively proclaimed that "the milk was spilt".

Maybe the Moose is unfair. But, within Republican circles it has been known that the President (who was previously known as "Junior") is a bit, well, immature. He was created as a political force by Rove and is minded by Cheney. The country will survive his leadership, but it is striking that so many have protected him with the soft bigotry of low expectations.

Should anyone be surprised that he refused to cut short his mountain bike vacation? Should we really expect that he should be more articulate and more curious? Are we unfair to want him to take charge and responsibility?

America yearns for adult leadership. Unfortunately, we will have to wait until January, 2009.
And here we have the battered wife syndrome argument: "Your man is no good. He treats you like crap, lies to you, abuses you, bullies you, exploits you, takes your money. As a friend I want to tell you that you deserve better. You deserve a person that treats you with respect, cares about your welfare, and your children's welfare, but that's not George and it never will be."

That is followed by this advice:
It all comes down to you, America. I know no one likes other people passing comment on their relationships but this is an extreme situation. You are in very real danger, he is hurting you everyday and he is hurting us, your friends as well. But only you can make it stop. We are all rooting for you, although we don't get to talk to you very often anymore, because he cuts us off from you. We are on your side, we will all be over the moon the day you finally kick him out. You know he really should be thrown in jail for the things he has done to you. Him and all of his gangster friends.

Please, please, do it America, you know I am right. If not for yourself then do it for your brothers and sisters and children. Do it before he kills any more of your family or anyone else's. We are all really worried for your welfare.
And Jack Cafferty on CNN saying this -
Why are we talking about the "blame game" - there are thousands of people dead because government officials failed to do what they're supposed to be doing. That's criminal behavior. I mean, that's no game. There are people dead in the city of New Orleans and up and down the gulf coast because people charged with seeing to their welfare failed to do that. I don't understand this reluctance to say, Mr. Brown, you failed in your assignment. You're out of here. Go away. Go back to Colorado and go back to working for the Arabian Horse Association that we got you from.
Yipes. This is a political hurricane.

And the CNN fellow says we have criminal behavior?

Ellen S. Podgor says this -
Is it criminal to make statements over the wires that are dishonest? If you happen to be a government official does it reach the level of being a scheme to defraud of "honest services"? Is the government a corporation and therefore subject to the collective knowledge of other officials within their midst; the US government holds corporations to this standard? Is it specific intent, recklessness, or negligence, and does it make difference?

I have a lot of questions. The bottom line is that after listening to the CNN video clip on AOL here, reading TalkLeft here, reading the Times-Picayune open letter to President Bush here, and John Lewis' letter in Newsweek http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/9190576/and being horrified by the incompetency and disregard of too many these past few days, one has to wonder if this reaches a level of criminality. And if not, should it?
Podger's bio from Georgia State University here - former deputy prosecutor and defense attorney who teaches international criminal law, white collar crime, criminal law and procedure, and professional responsibility, co-author of books on white collar crime and international criminal law, has written articles on computer crime, international criminal law, lawyer's ethics, criminal discovery, prosecutorial discretion, corporate criminality, and other white collar crime topics - MBA University of Chicago and an law degree from Temple, visiting scholar at Yale Law School and visiting professor at University of Georgia School of Law and George Washington University Law School and more - member of the Board of Directors of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), the International Society for the Reform of Criminal Law (ISRCL) and a member of the American Law Institute (ALI), and an honorary member of the American Board of Criminal Lawyers.

Don't mess with her. And consider criminal defense attorney Jeralyn Merritt here:
Prof. Podgor's comments about the criminal responsibility for politicians' and bureaucrats' lies about Katrina are thought provoking. I previously used the phrase "disregard for human life" because I was thinking in terms of a negligent homicide prosecution (L.S.A.-R.S. ? 14:32 "Negligent homicide is the killing of a human being by criminal negligence."), or at least putting the looting of NOLA's levee projects for the rich within "high Crimes and Misdemeanors" under Art. II, ? 4 of the U.S. Constitution. [see this] More about that later.

How about the basic tort law?

Regretfully, the political judgment defense could keep the federal government from having to pay a dime under the Federal Tort Claims Act. How about the personal and moral responsibility of our "leaders" in their ill-advised or just plain stupid games of playing politics with money that was intended to save lives and property?

Having taken the money away to have prevented, or at least mitigated, the flooding of New Orleans, Congress should step up and admit the federal government's responsibility and pay for it all. But, Congress is dominated by Republicans and the President is a Republican. Republicans have no words in their vocabulary for "I'm sorry" or "I was wrong."

But, they are simply going to have to bite the bullet, recognize the folly of letting George Bush loot the federal Treasury, and pay for New Orleans. Bush's father got Congress to bail out the Savings and Loan industry because the fat cats looted banks. That protected banks, but it became a political precedent where Congress paid for the folly of S&L deregulation done at Reagan's behest for his fat cat friends.

Now, what about American citizens?
Our friend Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis -
Okay, this gives us -
1. Negligent homicide
2. High Crimes (don't bother with misdemeanors) (and screw Tort too)

How about the personal and moral responsibility of our "leaders" in their ill-advised or just plain stupid games of playing politics with money that was intended to save lives and property?

How about criminal negligence? Non-assistance to people in mortal danger? Like drunk driving, stupidity is no defense.

And congress should step up and admit the federal government's responsibility and pay for it all? Hey! The government pays for everything with your money. That means even if 'they' are guilty, taxpayers pay. Find 'them' personally responsible and liable for damages.

Congress is dominated by Republicans and the President is a Republican? Republicans have no words in their vocabulary for "I'm sorry" or "I was wrong?" Words are cheap, and they are probably insincere anyway.

But, they are simply going to have to bite the bullet, recognize the folly of letting George Bush loot the federal Treasury, and pay for New Orleans.

Merritt: "Bush's father got Congress to bail out the Savings and Loan industry because the fat cats looted banks. That protected banks, but it became a political precedent where Congress paid for the folly of S&L deregulation done at Reagan's behest for his fat cat friends."

Yeah, remember who 'paid' for Silverado. Taxpayers did, not Bush.

Now, what about American citizens? Born suckers, sorry chumps, every one.
Maybe so. But former First Lady Barbara Bush said Monday that living in the Astrodome in Houston was working out well for many of the 15,000 hurricane victims there because they were underprivileged anyway. Her exact words - audio here - "And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this - this [she chuckles slightly] is working very well for them."

Silver lining? Positive attitude? (Wednesday the White House said she only spoke for herself and not for the president - a little damage control.)

And those folks need to be taught a lesson. Click here to watch a clip of Senator Rick Santorum on WTAE-TV Channel 4 (ABC) Pittsburgh, on September 4, saying we ought to heavily fine those people who didn't leave New Orleans like the rich white folks did: "I mean, you have people who don't heed those warnings and then put people at risk as a result of not heeding those warnings. There may be a need to look at tougher penalties on those who decide to ride it out and understand that there are consequences to not leaving." Compassionate conservatism - tough love.

There were consequences to not leaving, of course. FEMA made things a tad difficult. Note this list (partial):
Over the past week I've read of the following:

- 1000 folks from the Lafayette area with 500 boats head to New Orleans to aid the rescue get turned back by FEMA.
- Wal-Mart trucks with food and water get turned back by FEMA. ...
- The USS Bataan off the coast of Louisiana ready to help, but underused by FEMA. See also here
- Shipments of diesel fuel being turned back by FEMA
- Firemen from Houston turned away by FEMA
- More firefighters turned away.
- Angel Flight South Central seaplanes getting a run around from FEMA
- DMAT Teams available but still on call.
- Red Cross kept out of New Orleans. Note: this is actually attributed to the state Homeland Security department. More information on who is responsible for this decision would be helpful. See also here
- Northcom ready to act, but not given needed orders.
...
- Morticians turned away.
- Maryland fire fighters blocked by FEMA.
Generators turned away by FEMA in Slidel.
...
- Wisconsin busses turned back by red tape at several levels
- Michigan buses
- Aid from Chicago [refused]
...
- California cautioned by FEMA to go slow in accepting survivors or it might lose funds.
There's more. But no Arabian horse drowned.

Yipes! Even that dinosaur Trent Lott blasts FEMA incompetence. And this from Ben Morris, mayor of Slidell, Louisiana, 3:32 PM Monday, September 5 - "We are still hampered by some of the most stupid, idiotic regulations by FEMA. They have turned away generators, we've heard that they've gone around seizing equipment from our contractors. If they do so, they'd better be armed because I'll be damned if I'm going to let them deprive our citizens. I'm pissed off, and tired of this horseshit." And Aaron Broussard, president of Jefferson Parish (just south of New Orleans) and a former Democratic candidate for governor - "Nobody's coming to get us. The secretary has promised. Everybody's promised. They've had press conferences. I'm sick of the press conferences. For God's sake, shut up and send us somebody." And this - ''It's not just Katrina that caused all these deaths in New Orleans here. Bureaucracy has committed murder here in the greater New Orleans area, and bureaucracy has to stand trial before Congress now.'' Won't happen, but you can read these and more quotes here. It just goes on and on.

From Andrew Sullivan, the conservative Brit who became a US citizen, this -
Americans have already donated a record $404 million to help the victims of Katrina. That's the America I have come to know and love. As an immigrant, the one thing that has always struck me very forcefully about Americans is their willingness to volunteer and their readiness to lend a hand to others in need. Most Americans don't realize how striking this is. I grew up in England and my view of America was often related to their helping people in need and their remarkable hospitality. I know the proportion of foreign aid is not that high compared to other countries, but when you really needed help, America came through with the bulk of the money: from AIDS in Africa to the tsunami victims, and especially with domestic disasters. The ethic may come from the legacy of building a country out of a raw continent (where helping strangers was contingent on their one day helping you), but helping others out when in need is part of the American way. I also associated American government with a kind of benign competence - maybe out of a collective memory of GIs' rescuing Western Europe from Nazism and, eventually, Eastern Europe from Communism. I think part of the collective shame is that this didn't happen this time in America itself - at least quickly enough. It violated a core American value. This is the second basic American value this administration has violated. The other is humane treatment of enemy prisoners in wartime. Perhaps the reason people feel more than simple frustration with Bush - the reason it amounts to anger - is not "Bush-hatred" (although that irrationality exists), but this president's squandering of so much of what is best about America and his pandering to so much that is worst. I don't fully understand it. I don't think it's malevolence. I think it's a mixture of arrogance and incompetence. But the damage it is doing to some of the core meaning of America - that this is a country that rescues people who are in dire straits, and never, ever abuses prisoners in its military custody - is deeply distressing. And it will take time to restore that kind of reputation and, yes, honor.
Honor is for wimps, Andy!

Better this from Kevin Drum:
For what it's worth, I'd like to make absolutely clear why I hold George Bush accountable for the federal response to Hurricane Katrina. First, though, here's what I don't blame him for.

I don't blame him for being on vacation when Katrina made landfall. I don't blame him for a certain amount of chaos in the initial response - that's inevitable no matter how good your plan is. I don't blame him for rolling FEMA into the Department of Homeland Security. I don't blame him for focusing more on terrorism than on natural disasters. That was a natural reaction to 9/11.

Nor do I think that Bush doesn't care about natural disasters. It's not as if he sat down one day and decided that hurricanes were no longer worth worrying about.

Obviously Bush deserves criticism for his listless lack of leadership and life-as-usual politicking in the first three days after Katrina hit. Beyond that, though, what happened was the result of a long series of decisions, all flowing out of Bush's natural conservative governing instincts, that added up to make Katrina more damaging than it had to be and at the same time eroded our ability to react to its aftermath. These decisions were deliberate and disastrous, and that's why I think Bush deserves a large part of the blame for what happened.
And lists the decisions. Go read them. They conclude with this:
A crony with no relevant experience was installed as head of FEMA. Mitigation budgets for New Orleans were slashed even though it was known to be one of the top three risks in the country. FEMA was deliberately downsized as part of the Bush administration's conservative agenda to reduce the role of government. After DHS was created, FEMA's preparation and planning functions were taken away.

Actions have consequences. No one could predict that a hurricane the size of Katrina would hit this year, but the slow federal response when it did happen was no accident. It was the result of four years of deliberate Republican policy and budget choices that favor ideology and partisan loyalty at the expense of operational competence. It's the Bush administration in a nutshell.
Concise and to the point.

Where is it heading? What of these naturally conservative governing instincts? Note this from Wednesday, September 7, in the New York Post - in Liz Smith's gossip column -
Fox News emperor Bill O'Reilly tells us in Katrina's wake that if we - Americans - depend on the United States government for any reason, we are certain to be disappointed. Always. The government of the United States cannot help you. Bill's advice to America (to the poor of New Orleans, especially) is educate yourself and get a well-paying job. Only then can you avoid standing on a "metaphorical rooftop" when the next disaster rolls around. Bill did not give the poor any advice on how one finds a proper education or a job. Remember, the government can't help.

Oh, Newt Gingrich told Bill - in the nicest possible way, because they are friends - that his government theory was, well . . . "un-American."
One wonders. O'Reilly may have it right.

A blunt way of putting here, from Gary Boatwright -
Incompetence, corruption, cronyism, classism, racism and refusal to accept responsibility are all just symptoms of moral failure. Bush is a moral failure as a President, as a man and as a human being.

Contemporary American conservatism is a political ideology built on a foundation of racism and contempt. The callous disregard of the Republican Party for the general welfare of America, and their malice towards poor black Americans, epitomizes everything that is wrong with conservatism and the Republican Party. The same moral failure that led to Abu Ghraib led to the negligent homicide of tens of thousands of Americans following Hurricane Katrina.

New Orleans is the canary in the coalmine. The next community or the next family conservatism kills could be yours.
Yeah, whatever. (And matters of Race and class are discussed elsewhere in these pages.)

Of course, the spin goes on. "We really care." All the Fox News and right-side commentators are saying that in the run-up to the storm, President Bush was really upset with how the New Orleans officials' preparations were so slow - so upset that he personally called Ray Nagin, the city's mayor, to urge an evacuation of the city. He begged him. Bob Williams in the Wall Street Journal and Brit Hume on Fox News said so. Limbaugh said so. Read all about it here. Four days later he said on national television that no one ever thought the levees would not hold. Huh? Aaron Kenny explains here - he called the governor, not the mayor, and the decision had already been made. He was seconding it. But it's a good story - and MSNBC will stick with it - told it was false, and confronted with the documentation - "We just have a different perspective." Cool.

There is no way to wrap this up. No summary. It goes on.

Posted by Alan at 21:10 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 8 September 2005 07:43 PDT home

Tuesday, 6 September 2005

Topic: Oddities

Allegory: The Broadway Musical and Hollywood Film as Modern Christian History

Theo Hobson offers this fascinating off-topic item - Hegel With Songs - very amusing, but apparently not parody. It appeared in The Guardian (UK) on 7 September. For me - a former teacher and history buff, and atheist grandson of a Congregational minister with a burr-in-the-saddle about religion in general and what it has done to us all over all the long centuries - this is so fine. And who hasn't thought Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was full of crap? Well, perhaps there are a few folks who spend little time thinking about "German idealism" in the decades following Kant, and about dialectical reasoning (thesis - antithesis - synthesis) morphing into Marx mucking about with dialectical "materialism" as some way to think about progress - their loss.

This also caught my eye, perhaps, because in the seventies I played in the pit band for far too many performances of The Sound of Music - little did I know!

The core passage from Hobson:
... The Sound of Music offers us our religious inheritance in a form we can all accept. Its plot is a fairytale version of modern Christian history.

The Reformation began with someone leaving a monastery; so does this film. In both cases the motivation for leaving is a conviction that God's grace cannot be confined to a religious institution, but must be expressed in the midst of the world. Because Maria leaves her convent on good terms with her mother superior, we are apt to miss the radicalism of her departure. She is a fantasy-faith version of Martin Luther. The entire plot is a fantasy rewriting of the Reformation, in which the Catholic Church is glad to be supplemented by this alternative vision.

She becomes the governess to an aristocrat's children. This is a representative Protestant/secular identity: her role is now economic. And the nature of her work is characteristically modern: to educate and to discipline. Her employer, a widower, seeks order in rational certainty. He has introduced a cold, militaristic atmosphere into his bereaved home. He symbolises the Enlightenment.

Maria subverts all aspects of her new role. In place of discipline and rationality she offers love and music, even if this means defying her employer, and so jeopardising her new economic identity. She therefore redefines her role, from employee to friend, mother figure and (dare we hope?) lover.

The highlight of the film comes early: the graceful advent of healing song, in the midst of a storm. Maria is the healer, the dispeller of the dark shadows of grief. She is the vicar of Christ who says: "Fear not." When the children confess their fear and rush to her bed, she teaches them a new habit of hope, in the form of a new song. More widely, she teaches them that music has the power to dispel demons. When assailed by terrors ("when the dog bites, when the bee stings"), one has to call to mind one's favourite things, such as raindrops on roses, whiskers on kittens, and brown paper packages tied up with string. The element of chocolate-box kitsch should not distract us from the truly primitive drama of this song. It is exorcistic. Music has the power to expel evil forces.

So she is teaching them not just a new song but a repeatable liturgical practice, as we shall see. She is teaching them religious hope, but by means of art, self-expression. This form of religion is unregulated by the ecclesiastical institution; it is a synthesis of Christianity and Romanticism.

But Maria is not simply a Protestant-Romantic reformer; she remains in touch with her Catholic roots and in need of them. She cannot sustain her independence from the church. When her bosom flutters with love for her master she returns to the nunnery. She loses confidence in her new identity and returns to her Catholic identity of daughter of the church. Her progress is a retelling of Europe's spiritual history in which Catholicism is not left behind but continues to be needed as "base". In this version, the Reformation, the Enlightenment and Romanticism remain explicitly and consciously indebted to their ecclesiastical source.

The children are miserable without her, especially as their father plans to marry the scarlet woman from the city, Maria's antitype. One day, in the garden, the eldest girl suggests that they cheer themselves up by singing the song they learned on the night of the storm. As they sing, Maria suddenly returns, running through the garden, haloed by her hat, guitar case in one hand, suitcase in the other, joining in the chorus. This is a dramatisation of the sacramental force of song: it has the power to make present what it represents, to conjure up the inspiration and protection it seeks. The film is in effect over now, with the resurrection of the resurrected mother.

In the final part of the film the new family defy the Nazis, singing their way to freedom. Some think this intrusion of 20th-century history rather over the top. But the Nazis are a crucial foil. The tension between the church and the world, between Catholic and Protestant, between religion and Romanticism, is now resolved, for all are united against this extreme evil. And of course by this time Maria's own role has stabilised. Before she marries, her identity is split between her Catholic and Protestant selves: nun and single working woman. This painful split is resolved by the new role of "mother" and wife.

The film performs what Europe has always been pining for: the integration of its conflicting religious impulses. It is the fantasy unity of Catholicism, Protestantism and Romanticism. It is Hegel with songs. And what songs!
What songs? When playing in the pit band for The Sound of Music we dissolute and cynical musician types used to mutter alternative lyrics under our breath - "The hills are alive, and they're coming to get you…" and "High on a hill sits a lonely goat turd… " But the far-too-cute Sabrina Boyd played Maria. That helped. I did hear John Coltrane perform "My Favorite Things" live once - 1964, Pittsburgh Jazz Festival - soprano sax. Not much like the musical or film, of course. He stopped in the middle as the news broke and the kids came down the aisles with the "extra" edition of the Post-Gazette - the 1964 Civil Rights Act had just been passed. Music has the power to expel evil forces - it has the power to make present what it represents, to conjure up the inspiration and protection it seeks? Maybe so. "Fear not." John Coltrane knew.

Ah, memories. Hobson here now has me rethinking it all - not Sabrina or Coltrane's variations in Dorian mode. Martin Luther and Hegel. Whatever.

Posted by Alan at 22:29 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 6 September 2005 22:33 PDT home


Topic: Photos

New Photography: The Getty Center

Note, the new architectural column on the Getty Center has been posted - seven nested pages and more than forty high-resolution photos. The "photo album" software lowers the resolution so these are in Just Above Sunset. The first page is mostly text - architectural history and some cultural notes and such - the pages that follow are almost all images.

A sample:



Posted by Alan at 18:03 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
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Monday, 5 September 2005

Topic: World View

Labor Day Here and There

Corinne Maier - the author of "Bonjour Laziness: Jumping Off the Corporate Ladder" - has in the New York Times today, Labor Day, this - Working Hard at Nothing All Day. It is a discussion of how Labor Day is an American invention and the rest of the world celebrates such things on the first of May. Of course, Corinne Maier's call to slackers everywhere to goof off, "Bonjour Laziness," was discussed in these pages last September here. That item was about attitudes toward work her and over in Western Europe, with reader commentary from Montreal, London (the one in Canada) and from our Paris readers.

What Corinne Maier has to say this Labor Day?
... it's you Americans who have invented it. We French thank you for that, even if few of us realize that this paradoxical day comes from across the Atlantic. Nonetheless, it was in America, a decidedly pioneering land, where the idea of a shorter workweek, a notion dear to French hearts, was born.

All that began on May 1, 1886. On that historic day, American workers went on strike to demand an eight-hour day; at that time it was habitual to work 10 to 12 hours - quelle horreur! Alas, the strike resulted in the Haymarket tragedy, and European Socialists, shocked, decided to fix May 1 as the day for demanding better working conditions.

Even though the impetus for the May 1 Fête du Travail comes from America, your Labor Day is not celebrated then, but in September. And this difference in date changes everything. For in France, May 1 announces summer, and we also have a saying, "En mai, fais ce qu'il te plaît" - that is, in May, do as you please. The day is also the prelude to a series of warm-weather events that the French dote on: the Cannes film festival, the French Open tennis tournament and especially the Tour de France, even when it's always Lance Armstrong who wins.
The big difference? There Labor Day is "the beginning of a season of pleasures." Here, it's the end of same, sort of.

Other differences -
Americans have picnics and family gatherings; we have the lily of the valley, brought into the city by rural folk who've gathered it in the woods, and protests. Every year, the famous May 1 protest gathers together union members, militants and leftists. This march, though closely covered by the news media, doesn't usually get a lot of attention from the public. There are exceptions, as in 2002, when the threat of the extreme right's coming to power drove a million Parisians into the streets. ...
This is followed by the usual comments on how our two nationalities don't have the same attitude toward work. "Americans think the French are lazy, and the French think Americans are interested only in money." There's a nod to the issue that French workers have a higher per hour productivity rate than their American counterparts – "proof that you can work better by working less."

But the key is this:
Americans also forget that going to work every day is often more a chore than a pleasure. You seem more and more disillusioned about work: only a third of you say that you love your jobs. In such conditions, it's not surprising that you spend on average two hours of your workday ... not working. Answering personal e-mail messages, shopping online, playing computer games or chatting with co-workers ... it's so much more pleasant than working, really.

My American friends, there you are caught, red-handed, being lazy. Is that enough to reconcile the Americans and the French? United in indolence, a foundation of sloth in which Labor Day is the cornerstone. Will Laziness Unlimited be the future of work?
Ah, we're not so different, after all.

Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, reacting to this, has some more, this Labor Day, in an exclusive, "Put Down that Hot Dog and March!"
PARIS - Monday, September 5, 2005: Today is Labor Day in the United States and Canada. Europe borrowed this day and placed it, for reasons of solidarity, on May 1st. On this day workers are supposed to celebrate, and many do so by having a parade to protest about the latest dumb outrages by stupid management. In Paris something is always wrong so there is never no parade, but there are other years when corks are ready to blow and the mechanics and shopworkers, the bus drivers and the train workers, teachers and scientists, the whole bleeding working world takes to the streets to give the big red finger to the MGT. Here are links to the ugly, the bad and good May Days in Paris from 1996 to 2005, as they appeared in MetropoleParis:

• May Day in Metropole Paris 1996 Red Flags On May Day
• 1997 Hide and Seek May Day Parade
• 1998 May Day at République, also see Eyewitness to Paris in May '68, by Jim Auman and 30 Years Later - A Chronology of 'May '68'
• 1999 A Week Asleep
• 2000 Red Flags, Blue Skies, May Day
• 2001 The May Day Issue
• 2002 Parisians Vote for May Day, Massively
• 2003 Day of club meet, 1st missed May Day
• 2004 Four Parades Instead of One
• 2005 Primo de Mayo

As Marx or Lenin or Willy Brandt used to say, 'Workers of the world, unite! You got piss-all to lose!'
Of interest also, see this book review:

The white-collar blues
'Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream'
Barbara Ehrenreich
Metropolitan Books: 242 pp., $24
Reviewed by Wesley Yang - September 4, 2005 - Los Angeles Times

Excerpt:
… [the book] focuses on the subtler psychological exactions made on the dignity of the middle class. We watch as Ehrenreich posts her résumé at Monster.com and HotJobs, consults "career coaches," labors over her (concocted) résumé and 30-second "elevator speech," attends networking events and "boot camps," and receives a business-professional image makeover.

She skewers the florid inanity of much that she encounters with her characteristic wit, painting a picture of a corporate world "paralyzed by conformity, and shot through with magical thinking." The world she describes demands absolute obedience (in marked contrast to the "rules-breaking" cant of the new economy-era managerial gurus), which it repays with absolute indifference.

The leader of a job "boot camp" dispenses a putrid mélange of New Age mind-cure that dominates the "transition industry" ("Every unit increase in your personal sense of well-being increases your external performance exponentially," expressed in the style of a formula, "EP/PSWB") and turns out to be himself a psychologically broken man. Workers are urged never to blame their employers or the economy for their straitened condition, lest bitterness infect the "winning attitude" they must at all times exude.

The obfuscatory jargon serves a transparent purpose - to present as inevitable and thus beyond politics the one-sided withdrawal of the social contract that used to assign mutual responsibilities to employers and workers. The white-collar job-seeker faces, she notes, "far more intrusive psychological demands than a laborer or clerk." Browbeaten from all sides to display "cheerfulness, upbeatness, and compliance," submissive employees turn out to be the easiest to fire.

Ehrenreich's next foray, into the faith-based job-networking scene, is both sad and farcical. She is enjoined to "network with the Lord" and is exposed to lecture topics such as "how clutter can be an obstacle to God's grace," with a smattering of racism, sexism and homophobia to wash it all down. One wonders what the Jesus Christ who smashed the money-changers' tables in the Temple would have made of all this.

After seven months of searching, only two "jobs" call her back - both sales positions without benefits, offices or guaranteed salaries. One is for Mary Kay cosmetics, the other for Aflac insurance.

It's hard to know exactly how to apply the lesson of her example.
Been there, done that, and got kicked out for bitterness infecting my "winning attitude" that I was, at all times, supposed to exude. Couldn't do it. Fine.

No work today.

Posted by Alan at 10:12 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
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Sunday, 4 September 2005

Topic: Announcements

Redirection

This week's issue of Just Above Sunset - Volume 3, Number 36, for the week of Sunday, September 4, 2005 - is now online and contains, in magazine format, extended versions of what first appeared here, along with much new material.

This week's issue may be the Labor Day issue, or the back-to-school issue, or the hurricane issue, or the Paris and London issue - your choice.

In current events there is a great deal on the hurricane and what it has shown about us, and about those who lead us, along with two item on the ongoing Iraq war - one on the controversial new strategy for winning, and one on war reporting.

This week's "features," so to speak, cover the shift as the new year begins in September - Mike in London explaining what changes there, and Ric in Paris what changes, or doesn't, there. There was no column from Ric, "Our Man in Paris," last week, but this week there are three, two of them with photos of the end of summer in Paris. And for the heck of it, there's a short note on Las Vegas and an exclusive photo of the famous writer, Ray Bradbury, who just turned eighty-five.

More Paris? The week's shots from "Our Eye on Paris," Don Smith, show the Paris some of us remember all too well. David Hockney inspires the local photography, and there's a special botanical shot. The pages on Richard Meier's Getty Center, along with architectural notes, will probably be posted Monday - there are forty of them and building the multiple pages and text are taking a bit more time than anticipated. As some of you know, the Getty Center is that big billion-dollar museum complex that opened a few years ago, high above Sunset. Richard Meier is the architect, and this is sort of Le Corbusier meets Frank Lloyd Wright meets Mies van der Rohe in a monumentally Stalinist thing. Stay tuned for that, or more precisely, log on in a day or two.

Of course Bob Patterson is back, with a column that demands some interaction, and with an unusual roundup of back-to-school book recommendations.

Oh yes, the quotes for the week are tangentially related to events in New Orleans.

Direct links to specific pages -

Current Events ________________

The President's Rentrée: When it rains, it pours…
News from Lake George: Things Fall Apart
What's With These People? Readers on the administration's response to the storm and flood…
Disconnects Noted: And Now They Are Open for Discussion
Iraq: The Blindingly Obvious Strategy of the Day - The Oil Patch
War Status: Who Do You Trust?

Features ________________

Our Man in London: Notes from Westminster
Our Man in Paris: In the News in France as Summer Ends
Our Man in Paris (2): Last Word of August from Paris - Unauthorized Water!
A Photo-Note from Our Man in Paris
Las Vegas: Assessing the Pre-Ridiculous
Book Note: Ray Bradbury

Bob Patterson ________________

WLJ Weekly: from the desk of the World's Laziest Journalist - Between A Rock and a Hard Place
Book Wrangler: Study Hard, Make Us Proud, Get A Solid Script

Guest Photography ________________

Our Eye on Paris: Traditional Paris

Local Photography ________________

Hockney: The Sun-Drenched Color Palette He Devised in Los Angeles
A Rose
Richard Meier's Getty Center (coming soon)

Quotes for the week of September 4, 2005 - Tangentially Related to Events In New Orleans

The rose:


Posted by Alan at 16:18 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 4 September 2005 16:19 PDT home

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