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"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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Thursday, 8 September 2005

Topic: Couldn't be so...

Late Week Wire Stories: Falling Upward at FEMA

The mainstream media catches up. Late Thursday evening, September 8, Time Magazine caught up with what had been all over the web. They published How Reliable Is Brown's Resume? - byline Daren Fonda and Healy, with the subhead "A TIME investigation reveals discrepancies in the FEMA chief's official biographies."

This had been all over the web logs for ten days. But Fonda And Healy add some fresh details, or if you cannot doubt the administration, take some cheap shots:
Before joining FEMA, his only previous stint in emergency management, according to his bio posted on FEMA's website, was "serving as an assistant city manager with emergency services oversight." The White House press release from 2001 stated that Brown worked for the city of Edmond, Okla., from 1975 to 1978 "overseeing the emergency services division." In fact, according to Claudia Deakins, head of public relations for the city of Edmond, Brown was an "assistant to the city manager" from 1977 to 1980, not a manager himself, and had no authority over other employees. "The assistant is more like an intern," she told TIME. "Department heads did not report to him." Brown did do a good job at his humble position, however, according to his boss. "Yes. Mike Brown worked for me. He was my administrative assistant. He was a student at Central State University," recalls former city manager Bill Dashner. "Mike used to handle a lot of details. Every now and again I'd ask him to write me a speech. He was very loyal. He was always on time. He always had on a suit and a starched white shirt."

In response, Nicol Andrews, deputy strategic director in FEMA's office of public affairs, insists that while Brown began as an intern, he became an "assistant city manager" with a distinguished record of service. "According to Mike Brown," she says, "a large portion [of the points raised by TIME] is very inaccurate."
How so? This calls for some major league spinning, particularly with stuff like this:
Under the "honors and awards" section of his profile at - which is information on the legal website provided by lawyers or their offices - he lists "Outstanding Political Science Professor, Central State University". However, Brown "wasn't a professor here, he was only a student here," says Charles Johnson, News Bureau Director in the University Relations office at the University of Central Oklahoma (formerly named Central State University). "He may have been an adjunct instructor," says Johnson, but that title is very different from that of "professor." Carl Reherman, a former political science professor at the University through the '70s and '80s, says that Brown "was not on the faculty." As for the honor of "Outstanding Political Science Professor," Johnson says, "I spoke with the department chair yesterday and he's not aware of it." Johnson could not confirm that Brown made the Dean's list or was an "Outstanding Political Science Senior," as is stated on his online profile.
Oh crap. And then there's this:
Under the heading of "Professional Associations and Memberships" on FindLaw, Brown states that from 1983 to the present he has been director of the Oklahoma Christian Home, a nursing home in Edmond. But an administrator with the Home told TIME that Brown is "not a person that anyone here is familiar with." She says there was a board of directors until a couple of years ago, but she couldn't find anyone who recalled him being on it. According to FEMA's Andrews, Brown said "he's never claimed to be the director of the home. He was on the board of directors, or governors of the nursing home." However, a veteran employee at the center since 1981 says Brown "was never director here, was never on the board of directors, was never executive director. He was never here in any capacity. I never heard his name mentioned here."

The FindLaw profile for Brown was amended on Thursday to remove a reference to his tenure at the International Arabian Horse Association, which has become a contested point.
Trouble here. And it's all over the news, as if this were a breaking story. The Washington Post on Friday, September 9 runs it on the front page with Leaders Lacking Disaster Experience. Reuters runs with it here, but the news they report is that Time Magazine has run this amazing story - they are reporting on reporting.

As mentioned previously here and in so many places, Michael D. Brown, the man who is the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is under fire, in the political sense of course. As Lauren Rosen first put it way back on Spetember 1: "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."

Her item has internal links to the facts, and then there was this additional information - the International Arabian Horse Association (IAHA) Legal Department asked Brown to resign, or be fired, and earlier in the year there were calls for him to resign as head of FEMA, because FEMA seems to have inappropriately distributed thirty million dollars in disaster relief funds to people in the Miami area even though they were not affected by Hurricane Frances, which made landfall more than one hundred miles away - the link has more detail. He takes care of his friends. And there was this from the New Orleans Times-Picayune September 2nd - current issues with breaking agreements.

But now that this is in Time this is "real" news.

But as they say on the television infomercials, "But wait - there's more!"

Late in the week, this appeared in The National Review -
When Brown left the IAHA four years ago, he was, among other things, a failed former lawyer - a man with a 20-year-old degree from a semi-accredited law school who hadn't attempted to practice law in a serious way in nearly 15 years and who had just been forced out of his job in the wake of charges of impropriety. At this point in his life, returning to his long-abandoned legal career would have been very difficult in the competitive Colorado legal market. Yet, within months of leaving the IAHA, he was handed one of the top legal positions in the entire federal government: general counsel for a major federal agency. A year later, he was made its number-two official, and, a year after that, Bush appointed him director of FEMA.

It's bad enough when attorneys are named to government jobs for which their careers, no matter how distinguished, don't qualify them. But Brown wasn't a distinguished lawyer: He was hardly a lawyer at all. When he left the IAHA, he was a 47-year-old with a very thin résumé and no job. Yet he was also what's known in the Mafia as a "connected guy." That such a person could end up in one of the federal government's most important positions tells you all you need to know about how the Bush administration works - or, rather, doesn't.
The legwork on this was done here- with this addition: the Oklahoma City University School of Law did become a member of the American Association of Law Schools in 2003. However, at the time of Brown's hiring in 2001 by the horse people, it was not a member.

Why are these stories coming up now? A blogger in Salt Lake City has a possible answer to that: "Mr Bush is loyal to appointees. But leaks against Mr Brown, about a lack of qualifications for the job - suspected of originating in the White House, suggest he is being lined up as designated fall guy, in an attempt to save the necks of those higher up."

That is echoed here:

Dangling Man
Michael Brown twists slowly in the wind.
John Dickerson - Thursday, Sept. 8, 2005, at 4:16 PM PT – SLATE.COM

Let's be serious. Michael Brown is a ghost. Firing him at this point would not be caving to the finger-pointers; it would merely be an act of compassionate conservatism. McClellan's refusal to give even tissue-thin cover to the embattled bureaucrat is a public signal that the White House is hot-stepping away from him. During his visit to the affected region today, Vice President Cheney singled out Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff for praise, but he did not mention the FEMA head.

In the ongoing relief effort, Brown has already been largely shoved aside. Vice Adm. Thad W. Allen, the Coast Guard's chief of staff, was assigned on Monday to be Brown's deputy and to take over operational control, a move widely promoted as righting the FEMA ship. Administration officials have been saying that operations started clicking along nicely as soon as Brown was neutered.

The only functional responsibility Brown retains is that of chief punching bag...
But he will NOT be fired:
What's different in this administration is how seriously Bush '43 takes loyalty - and how much he resents the consensus view of the permanent government in Washington. When the elites start calling for a firing, the president usually rescues his top aides and allies from the delusion and upset of public limbo. That's why past diagnoses of terminal conditions have so often been wrong. Washington wise men have declared Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld finished many times. They were certain Dick Cheney would never be kept on the ticket in 2004. It was a widespread assumption that John Bolton would never make it to the United Nations.

Bush has often privately told those under fire that such noises from the chattering class are actually a sign that "they must be doing something right." To send the same message in public, he takes the wounded on a stroll before the cameras. When editorial writers were calling for Tom DeLay's head, Bush brought the house majority leader on Marine One and strode in purposeful solidarity with him for the entire world to see. When Karl Rove's role in exposing a CIA agent became public, Bush quieted calls for his political adviser's head by strolling across the back lawn of the White House with him.
He'll stay. Even though you get things like this from Jack Cafferty on CNN, Thursday, September 8 -
Somewhere along the way FEMA became a dumping ground for the president's political cronies with little experience in disaster relief. The agency's first director was Joe Allbaugh. He was president Bush's 2000 campaign chairman. Allbaugh brought in the current failure Michael Brown. His previous work was with Arabian horses. The number two guy, Brown's top deputy at FEMA, is a fellow named Patrick Rhode. He worked for the 2000 election campaign. The number three guy at FEMA is Brooks Altshuler. He used to work in the White House. His job was planning presidential trips. FEMA's long-term recovery director is a guy named Scott Morris. He produced television and radio commercials for the Bush campaign. The federal agency charged with handling national emergencies is staffed at the very top by a bunch of political hacks with virtually no experience that qualifies them to respond to something like Katrina. But I digress.

Where are the qualifications of these people? None of these guys is qualified based on the stuff I'm reading, to head up an emergency management agency. One of these guys worked with Arabian horses. The rest are all off the campaign trial. Planned presidential trips. Produced TV commercials. Don't you need somebody at the top running the organization who has some semblance of an idea of what the hell is required when there's an emergency?
Seems not. And the same day this detail in the New York Daily News -
WASHINGTON - The three top jobs at the Federal Emergency Management Agency under President Bush went to political cronies with no apparent experience coping with catastrophes, the Daily News has learned.

Even if Bush were to fire embattled and suddenly invisible FEMA Director Michael Brown over his handling of Hurricane Katrina, the bureaucrat immediately below him is no disaster professional, either.

While Brown ran horse shows in his last private-sector job, FEMA's No. 2 man, deputy director and chief of staff Patrick Rhode, was an advance man for the Bush-Cheney campaign and White House. He also did short stints at the Commerce Department and Small Business Administration.

Rhode's biography posted on FEMA's Web site doesn't indicate he has any real experience in emergency response.

In addition, the agency's former third-ranking official, deputy chief of staff Scott Morris, was a PR expert who worked for Maverick Media, the Texas outfit that produced TV and radio spots for the Bush-Cheney campaign. In June, Morris moved to Florida to become FEMA's long-term recovery director.
The most pointed reaction? That would be from Aaron Broussard, the president of Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, on the CBS "Early Show." Try this:
Bureaucracy has murdered people in the greater New Orleans area - so I'm asking Congress, please investigate this now. Take whatever idiot they have at the top of whatever agency and give me a better idiot. Give me a caring idiot. Give me a sensitive idiot. Just don't give me the same idiot.
As Bill Montgomery notes, "Clearly, this is a man with realistic expectations."

But wait - there's more!

One of my friends is an executive in the insurance industry. She send this - FEMA Denies Aid to Fla. Katrina Victims - from the September 1 issue of Insurance Journal - not seen in the public press, only in this trade journal.

Note: "South Floridians whose homes were destroyed or heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina will have to look elsewhere for someone to pay their lodging and repair expenses as the Federal Emergency Management Agency has refused their requests."

Note: "The same day FEMA denied individual assistance, the agency expanded the amount it plans to reimburse local governments for repairs to public property in Miami-Dade, Broward and Monroe counties. The assistance to local governments will probably amount to more than $100 million."

Note: "FEMA's individual assistance program would have provided up to $26,200 per household to pay for long-term rentals, repairs and temporary stays in hotels. In some cases, FEMA also pays for funerals for storm victims. While much of the damage in South Florida was nuisance flooding, such as wet carpets, poor neighborhoods were hit hardest, said Frank Kutnick, chief of recovery for the state of Florida. ''To the poorer populations, this is a big deal.'"

This is what FEMA is about. Here's an animated version of what's happening.

And as a side note, see this in the Washington Post - The former head of FEMA, before Brown, Joseph Allbaugh, now head of his own Washington lobbying and consulting firm, was in Baton Rouge "helping his clients get business from perhaps the worst natural disaster in the nation's history." Joe is, by the way, a registered lobbyist for Halliburton, among others.

It seems FEMA is an organization that exists to make corporations and political friends comfortable. And you thought it had another purpose?

Posted by Alan at 19:12 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 9 September 2005 08:53 PDT home

Topic: Couldn't be so...

Late Week Wire Stories: Oh, Canada!

Having lived and worked in Canada for two years in the late nineties, managing the folks who kept the business systems running at a locomotive factory in the middle of rural Ontario - in the other, smaller London - this CBC item caught my eye. After a search-and-rescue team from Vancouver, B.C. "reached St. Bernard parish five days before the US Army got there" a Louisiana state senator says that "we've got Canadian flags flying everywhere."

One of the systems guys who worked for me back then commented:
Kind of fitting - lots of folks there are of Acadian (Cajun) descent.

The sad side to this is this - Who didn't get there before the army, the reserves and all the rest?
Reading that, from Brussels our Australian friend who moved to Belgium from Paris adds -
Yeah, I agree. I even heard a rumor that the almighty evil one himself, Bin Laden, was able to get there for a quick gin and tonic before heading on to another fantastical hideout!

And I would be burning the US flag.
It is a bit of a farce, but not in any funny sense. One doesn't think of Feydeau.

And in cause you had forgotten the connection, those Cajun folks from the bayou are expatriate Canadians. In ninth grade English you may be one of those who suffered though Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's Evangeline (1847), a long narrative poem with the subtitle "A Tale of Arcadie." It deals with the exile -
THIS is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,
Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight,
Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic,
Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms.

Loud from its rocky caverns, the deep-voiced neighboring ocean
Speaks, and in accents disconsolate answers the wail of the forest.

This is the forest primeval; but where are the hearts that beneath it
Leaped like the roe, when he hears in the woodland the voice of the huntsman?

Where is the thatch-roofed village, the home of Acadian farmers -
Men whose lives glided on like rivers that water the woodlands,
Darkened by shadows of earth, but reflecting an image of heaven?

Waste are those pleasant farms, and the farmers forever departed!
Scattered like dust and leaves, when the mighty blasts of October
Seize them, and whirl them aloft, and sprinkle them far o'er the ocean.

See also Experiences of the French Huguenots in America - these Cajuns are the folks who fled to Canada from France during the reign of Louis XIV - Louis went and revoked of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 and they had to go. (Remember the big battle with the forces of Richelieu defeating the Huguenots holed up in the stone fortress at Les Baux, just south of Avignon? No? The town is worth a visit - neat old catapults and all that.) Anyway, tossed out of France, tossed out of Canada, and now stuck in the muck after this hurricane - a bad business. There is a French-Canadian-Cajun connection. The story of the rescue team from Canada shouldn't be that much of surprise.

Also, as mentioned last week, they do use a form of French down that way.

A bit more on that? See Why Do People in New Orleans Talk That Way? from Jesse Sheidlower, editor-at-large of the Oxford English Dictionary in SLATE.COM on 8 September. Along with Bill Kretzschmar of the Linguistic Atlas of America, Connie Eble of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and Joan Hall of the Dictionary of American Regional English, there's this:
Founded by the French in the early 18th century, the city was ruled by Spain from 1763 to 1803; in the 1760s, the Acadians, or Cajuns, arrived from Canada speaking a variety of French quite unlike Parisian French.

In 1803, English-speaking settlers began to arrive in significant numbers, and throughout the 19th century the city saw heavy immigration from Germany, Ireland, and Italy. As the major port city in the South, New Orleans was also a gateway for the slave states, which brought in speakers of a variety of African languages. The slave trade also brought New Orleanians into contact with speakers of Plantation Southern English from the East Coast. And Midland English reached the city through river traffic headed down the Ohio and into the Mississippi River.
So we get a hodgepodge.
There is substantial borrowing from French in banquette for "sidewalk" (now old-fashioned) and gallery for "porch," not to mention a large number of food terms including beignet, étouffée, jambalaya, praline, and filé. French-derived idioms include make the groceries for "to buy groceries; to shop for food" and make ménage for "to clean the house," both from the French faire; for, meaning "at (a specified time)" ("the parade's for 7:00"), is from French pour. A lagniappe, "a small gratuity or gift; an extra" is from Louisiana French but borrowed from Spanish, which itself took it from Quechua, an Indian language of South America. Similarly, bayou is from French but ultimately from Choctaw, and pirogue, a dug-out canoe or open boat used in the bayous, went from the Caribbean-Indian language Carib to Spanish to French to English. Gumbo is from French but ultimately from a West African language. New Orleanians also use many Northernisms, including chiggers for the biting mites that nearby Southerners usually call red bugs, and wishbone for the chicken part more usually known as the pully-bone in the South.
Yep, quite a hodgepodge, with a Canadian mix.

Good to see those little Canadian flags flying there.

Posted by Alan at 17:57 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 8 September 2005 18:00 PDT home

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.


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

Saturday, August 27
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
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

Monday, August 29
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."
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.'"

Tuesday, August 30
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."
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."

Wednesday, August 31
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."
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]
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."
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 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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