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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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Sunday, 11 September 2005

Topic: Announcements


This will be the only web log entry for the day as I'm off to points south on family matters. But note there is a great deal of new material in Just Above Sunset, the parent site to this one. That was just posted. This weekly, in magazine format - Volume 3, Number 37 for the week of Sunday, September 11, 2005 - contains extended versions of what first appeared here along with a wealth of new material, along with many pages of photographs.

This week? In Current Events you will find six deep items on the crises still unfolding - or five deep items and one odd one – and one a dialog among readers on what we're allowed to see and may not be allowed to see (this will be updated periodically).

Features? Three exclusive columns from the foreign desk – Mike McCahill from London on a really British band, Sylvain Ubersfeld from Tel-Aviv on the Gaza pullout and the nature of politics there, and Ric Erickson from Paris with a slice of late night life. Don Smith, "Our Eye on Paris," as a change of pace, sends us six extraordinary and unusual shots of Normandy. What does Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel have to do with that nun singing in The Sound of Music? Click on the "allegory" link. Or just consider the difference in our Labor Day and all the others celebrated in May.

Bob Patterson is back, and his World's Laziest Journalist column covers the hot issue of race this week, while his Book Wrangler column covers, mainly, Hollywood's most famous rebel.

This issue is also packed with photography from here on the coast - architectural and cultural notes on the famed Getty Center here, with seven pages of photographs (added mid-week), and four new pages of surreal but quite "real" shots from "just below sunset" - Hollywood without the bling. Maybe they're hyper-realistic.

Oh yes, the quotes for the week have to do with competence and responsibility and all that.

Direct links to specific pages -

Current Events ________________

Responsibility: The Status of the Blame Game
Governance: Falling Upward at FEMA
Dialog: On Mixing Inefficiency With Authoritarianism

Late Wire Items: Additions to the Blame Game, Oh, Canada!, and Mismanagement (not hurricane related).

Features ________________

Our Man in Tel-Aviv: God, Allah, and Israeli Politics
Our Man in London: Whitweek Malarkey, and Other Songs
Our Man in Paris: In the rue Fermat
Allegory: The Broadway Musical and Hollywood Film as Modern Christian History
Differences: Labor Day Here and There

Bob Patterson ________________

WLJ Weekly: from the desk of the World's Laziest Journalist - Does a niggardly response mean the Bush team is racist?
Book Wrangler: Being a Rebel for Fun and Profit

Guest Photography ________________

Our Eye on Paris: Unseen Normandy

Local Photography ________________

The Getty Center: Architectural and Cultural Notes with Seven Pages of Photos
Just Below Sunset (Hollywood Without the Bling): Faces, Places, Geometric Pleasantries, Amazing Blooms

And as usual, quotes for the week - Competence and Responsibility and all that -

One of the photos:

Posted by Alan at 08:33 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 11 September 2005 08:34 PDT home

Saturday, 10 September 2005

Topic: Couldn't be so...

Dialog: On Mixing Inefficiency With Authoritarianism

In the middle of last week, September 7, I mentioned the government starting press restrictions in New Orleans to Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, as he was one of the team that founded CNN and still has personal ties to the network. I don't think he believed me, but I was referring to this from Josh Marshall in Talking Points Memo -
At first the evidence was scattered and anecdotal. But now it's pretty clear that a key aim of the Bush administration's takeover of the NOLA situation is to cut off press access to report the story.

First, there were the FEMA orders barring members of the press from photographing anything to do with the recovery of the bodies of the dead. [Reuters news item here.]

Perhaps there could be guidelines about photographs which in any way clearly identified the deceased. No one wants to get first confirmation of the death of a loved one by seeing their body on the nightly news. But a blanket ban serves only to prevent the public from knowing what really happened last week. And the right of FEMA or any branch of the federal government for that matter to issue such a ban on American soil seems highly dubious to me. It's one thing with military casualties: the military operates under its own legal code and not under normal civilian rules. But this is happening on American soil. This isn't a war zone. Nor is it any longer a situation where police or National Guard troops are in the midst of retaking control from mobs or looters. This is a recovery from a natural disaster.

Now comes this post from Brian Williams, which suggests a general effort to bar reporters from access to many of the key points in the city.

Take a moment to note what's happening here: these are the marks of repressive government, which mixes inefficiency with authoritarianism. The crew that couldn't get key aid on the scene in time last week is coming in - in force now. And one of the key missions appears to be cutting off public information about what's happening in the city.

This is a domestic, natural disaster. Absent specific cases where members of the press would interfere or get in the way of some particular clean up operation, or perhaps demolition work, there is simply no reason why credentialed members of the press should not be able to cover everything that is happening in that city.
Our high-powered Wall Street attorney, from his office more than thirty floors above the hole in the ground that used to be the World Trade Center, says this:
It seems that now is the time for the press to forge ahead (in court if need be) and report news not pabulum.

Interesting thought - if this is being done under the presidential use of executive privilege, is this not an impeachable offense (abuse of power)? Just a thought, no legal scholarship behind it.
Far upstate, in Rochester, Dick says it doesn't matter:
Not to be a wet blanket - but Republicans are in control of everything from dog catcher to Pearly Gates. Is there ANYTHING for which W could possibly be impeached?
Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, returns to the main point -
No, it wasn't that I didn't believe it, I just didn't think FEMA had the authority to prohibit pictures of the dead (and I still say they wouldn't have), although there might be the possibility of them not cooperating with media outlets, something they would try only at their peril, especially with the latest polls showing public outrage at the way all this has been handled by government, including the feds, and showing a corresponding approval for news coverage of Katrina.

But we should keep in mind, at least technically, that there are two separate things going on here - first, FEMA saying there is no room on the rescue and recovery boats (no problem, since the media crews can run their own boats), and the "request" not to photograph the dead ("We have requested that no photographs of the deceased by made by the media," in the words of a FEMA spokesperson), which "my" unnamed media source tells me is being taken as just that, a "request," not an "order," and one that will most likely not be complied with.

So once again, I guess we will probably want to put our "hounds of hell" back in their kennels, where they need remain at the ready until an actual impeachment need arises, which I'm sure will be too late to do any of us any good. (Dammit.)
I then told Rick I'd worry about something else, and forwarded all concerned this item from the New York Post -
A request by FEMA that news organizations not photograph dead bodies being recovered in New Orleans is not going to fly with the major newsweeklies.

"I understand the request, but to not take pictures of dead bodies is not something we can heed," said Jim Kelly, the managing editor of Time.

There are several pictures of flood victims in the current issue of Time, but Kelly said victims' faces are deliberately not shown.

"We have a pretty good record of telling the story without being gratuitously graphic," he said.

Mark Whitaker, editor of Newsweek, who also happens to be the reigning president of the American Society of Magazine Editors, opted to show no pictures of the deceased in the Sept. 12 issue now on newsstands. But it does have one graphic closeup of a person identified as a "dying hurricane victim outside the Superdome."

The caption said the unidentified woman, who was being offered an orange, died shortly after the photo was taken.

Whitaker in a statement said, "We are going to do what we think is appropriate journalistically."

As the controversy swirled, the embattled federal agency said it did not intend to enforce its own request.

FEMA officials continue to insist they were concerned that friends and relatives searching for missing persons might be forced to find out from jarring media pictures that their loved ones were deceased.
But then things changed. Anderson Cooper announced, in passing, at the end of his CNN show ("360") Friday evening, that CNN had been granted a restraining order that they be able report on all recovery efforts in New Orleans, cited first amendment stuff. If this is no problem, as Rick says, why did CNN go to court? Will the order be overturned based on national security issues - CNN's coverage damages national interest or whatever? Fox News did not join them in the suit. Is CNN grandstanding? He should know. He's got his sources at CNN.

Australian Broadcasting had this on Saturday, September 10 - stamped 10:22 am (AEST) -
The US military says it will ban journalists and photographers from documenting the recovery of bodies left littering New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina. The military ban follows a request by the Federal Emergency Management Team (FEMA) not to photograph the dead.

The Pentagon has an existing banned photographs of flag-draped coffins returning from Iraq.

Lieutenant General Russel Honore, the commander of the relief operation on the US Gulf Coast, said that while the military had allowed reporters covering the catastrophe free rein, it was now slamming the door shut out of respect for the possibly thousands of victims and their families.

"We've had total access to everything we've done - the good, the bad and the ugly - but that operation (the recovery of corpses) will be conducted with dignity and respect for the families," Lt Gen Honore said.

"There will be zero access to that operation. It would not be good to have pictures of people, the deceased shown on any media," he said, calling for published pictures of corpses to be removed from websites. ...
Then there was this from Digital Spy in the UK -
Attempts to censor the photography of corpses in New Orleans and other areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina have been challenged by CNN.

On Friday, officials at FEMA, the embattled emergency management agency of the American government, requested that the media not take photographs of dead bodies. The agency has also started to reject reporters' requests to travel with rescue boats, now that the waters are receding and the dead bodies become more and more prevalent.

By Friday afternoon, CNN News Group president Jim Walton issued the following email to staff at the network:

"In response to official statements earlier today that news media would be excluded from covering the victim recovery process in New Orleans and surrounding areas on the suggestion that what is reported may offend viewers' or victims' sensibilities, CNN has filed a lawsuit in federal court to prohibit any agency from restricting its ability to fully and fairly cover this story.

"As seen most recently from war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq, from tsunami-ravaged South Asia and from Hurricane Katrina's landfall along the Gulf, CNN has shown that it is capable of balancing vigorous reporting with respect for private concerns. Government officials cannot be allowed to hinder the free flow of information to the public, and CNN will not let such a decision stand without challenge."

A few hours later, a US District Court Judge granted CNN a restraining order preventing emergency officials in the disaster area hindering the media's coverage of the body recovery process. TVNewser reports that this order is temporary; a follow-up hearing will take place on Saturday to establish whether or not the order will be made permanent.
That referred to this from Media Bistro's TVNewser -
Aftermath: CNN Wins Round One; Judge Grants Temporary Restraining Order

"CNN has obtained a restraining order to prevent emergency officials in the Hurricane Katrina disaster zone from preventing the media from covering the recovery of bodies," a message on CNN's internal wires system says.

"... U.S District Judge Keith Ellison granted a temporary restraining order Friday evening. A hearing has been scheduled Saturday morning to determine if the order should be made permanent."
Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, commented with the detailed information:
Sometime after FEMA "requested" that the media not take pictures of dead bodies, someone else (apparently "Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, who is overseeing the federal relief effort in the city, and Terry Ebbert, the city's homeland security director") thoughtlessly tried to add a few guns behind the suggestion, making it a "zero access policy," which in turn sent (or so I understand) the main CNN attorney to Houston, where New Orleans' federal district court had taken refuge, to block it. Possibly much to his own surprise and joy, he succeeded! Forget Fox not joining, it's not their fault; nor did ABC, CBS, and ABC, since there just wasn't time to get them onboard.

Since hearing about this from "my source," I've been trying to find this on the web so I could pass it on to you, but apparently it's too much inside media baseball, so you got it to me before I could get it to you. Congratulations, you friggin' bastard.

Anyway, here's how reported it (look for it buried inside "Katrina aftermath" there, if for some reason you care to chase it):
Judge blocks ban on media access to recovery of bodies in New Orleans

HOUSTON (CNN) -- At the request of CNN, a federal judge in Texas Friday night blocked emergency officials in New Orleans from preventing the media from covering the recovery of bodies from Hurricane Katrina.

Attorneys for the network argued that the ban was an unconstitutional prior restraint on news gathering.

U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison issued a temporary restraining order against a "zero access" policy announced earlier Friday by Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, who is overseeing the federal relief effort in the city, and Terry Ebbert, the city's homeland security director.

A hearing was scheduled for Saturday morning to determine if the order should be made permanent.

In explaining the ban, Ebbert said, "we don't think that's proper" to let media view the bodies.

CNN News Group President Jim Walton said the network "has shown that it is capable of balancing vigorous reporting with respect for private concerns." (Posted 9:00 pm)
I understand, by the way, that a few of the CNN crew boats were "requisitioned" for rescue efforts by some government types, which in fact they apparently have the legal right to do.
Something is up here, and our Wall Street attorney suggests this may come down a press blackout based on claims of Executive Privilege -
If will recall from yesterday's post, invoking executive privilege for national security reasons may be just the ticket. Nixon tried this gambit over thirty years ago and we all know the result. If this is the intent of W, to quote the famous philosopher, "Bring it on!"
Rick in Atlanta:
This celebrated "philosophy major" (just kidding) being W hisself, of course! I predict he will do his best to pretend this never happened.

But even if the administration backs an appeal and loses (which I think would happen if they did), he could always just say his argument didn't prevail. No impeachment in any of that, I would guess.
Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, asks a question:
About the photo ban in NOLA - do authorities, on public land, have ANY right to ban 'news' photos? Just wondering here in Paris -
Our friend who teaches MBA students all they need to know about marketing sends this:
CNN in the streets has been the single eye on the ground for all the world to see - and I applaud them even when they can't help but inflict bias (and personal outrage) into their coverage. They're exposing us to their (modern live media) personal dilemma of role-conflict as reporters who don't have resources to help those around them, when that's not their job. The effect on the individual reporter has been a great lesson in personal and professional responsibility in our electronic news-gathering era.

And I gladly also give them full credit for whatever political catastrophe befalls the spin doctors!
And this from Rick Erickson in Paris:
10.09 - Paris Salutes
RE: NOLA Photo Ban

• Given the strangeness of the United States I was only wondering.
• This BushCo has been doing a lot of manipulating, spinning, outright lying, so why not simply say that news can't cover the disaster of the century?
• Cool move by CNN to find a judge that thinks.
• But remember that BushCo is a master of spin city. These 'little' issues tend to make people forget the main, big issues. There's a high level of noise and chatter, almost like a blizzard of anti-radar tinfoil.
• French news is now reporting that 'Brownie's CV had horse show promoter on it. For the French, this is a bit like having a game show host do the job of the national TV-news anchor (which is the case with TF1).
• Meanwhile France had a bit of rain. The meteo forecast it as a 'red' alert and down it came, the rivers jumped their banks, and towns became under water. The first storm was followed by an 'orange' alert storm 12 hours later, and it dumped half as much rain at the first alert. But residents are sore because the flooding was worse.
• Meteo-France's explanation - the color of the alert is based on how much rain is expected, so the first 'red' alert was not understated. But the second alert, 'orange' for half as much rain, fell on ground already soggy from the first storm - adding up, on the ground, to 'red' again. Meteo-France said it is only concerned with what's in the sky. What's on the ground is somebody else's department.
• Minister of the Interior Nicolas Sarkozy said this was 'not right' and has to be fixed. Meteo-France said it was going to review its storm category rating system. The review was already on its agenda.
• Meteo forecasting is complex enough, requiring the world's best computers. Try adding 30,000 variables of ground conditions to the forecasts and we'll all have to go back to looking out of windows again.
• Meanwhile, on a possibly upbeat note, Jacques 'the Bulldozzer' Chirac was released from the military hospital yesterday. He had been under treatment for an accident to a blood vessel in his brain, characterized as 'not really bad.' Too prove it he waltzed around the hospital parking lot, kissed nurses, shook janitors' hands, and acted like the good-time Jacques we all know and love. Madame Jacques was on hand to steer him into a waiting limo, and the two of them rode off into the afternoon sun, towards their cozy home in the Elysée Palace. TV-news showed old clips of Jacques eating and drinking with both hands at places like the Beautiful Cow Show, to remind us that he has lifelong habits that he will have to overcome if he doesn't want to end up totally gaga.
• Doctors have therefore canceled his trip to the United States. You will have to put up with tall Dominique 'only George Hamilton's tan is tanner' de Villepin and his cunningly smooth speech habits. We have recently learned that De Villepin can jog, trot, semi-run, play with dogs on a beach, and swim - and looks pretty fit for a Frenchman who doesn't chop bushes.
• Since I haven't anything else in mind I may as well be the first to point out that De Villepin looks a bit like the actor, Stewart Granger. Which means better looking than any of your actor presidents or governors. Please remember that De Villepin is French, belongs to France, and you have to give him back. We would exchange him for Sarkozy, but the idea of Sarkozy running the United States is more disturbing than the guy you've got. Better that he gets an appointment as governor of Corsica.
• And of course, the Commies are having a fine time this weekend at their Fête. They thought it wasn't raining - it's traditional! - but now it is. Red, wet joy in La Courneuve, again, by God. And because it's raining, I for one am skipping today's Technoparade and its knock-knock joke of music. The papers are still on strike so the turnout will only be about a quarter-million. • Uh oh, it's lightening outside - it'll be a steambath for the technoloopies.
Ah life goes on elsewhere, but if I have the right, Bush has a this hurricane business making him look bad, the war dragging on, polls showing him dropping to the lowest presidential approval rating ever recorded - thirty-nine percent on Saturday, September 10 - and now Dominique 'only George Hamilton's tan is tanner' de Villepin is coming to visit? The man the righteous right hates?

The powers that be are having a bad couple weeks here.

Posted by Alan at 09:12 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 10 September 2005 09:24 PDT home

Friday, 9 September 2005

Topic: Backgrounder

Late Week Wire Stories: Additions to the Blame Game

These are simply additions to The Status of the Blame Game, items from the news wires, Friday, September 9, as the supporters of the administration maintain Bush acted heroically, and in a timely manner, and appropriately, to events as they unfolded with Hurricane Katrina, the devastation of the Gulf Coast and the flooding and abandonment of New Orleans.

Blame Assigned: The National Weather Service

This comes from ranking senate Republican, Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania. From WTFI in central Pennsylvania, this:
Santorum has critical words for forecasters in the wake of Katrina
Damon Boughamer, Friday, September 9, 2005

(Washington) - U.S. Senator Rick Santorum is suggesting that early mistakes in predicting the path of Hurricane Katrina may be a symptom of lost focus at the National Weather Service.
Santorum, who introduced legislation earlier this year to curb the output of government weather forecasters, says tracking life-threatening weather must be central to what the agency is doing.

Asked about Katrina by WITF, Santorum described weather service warnings for Florida, where the storm first made landfall, as "not sufficient." Santorum's bill instructs the government to abandon weather prediction and data reporting efforts that duplicate private-sector activity. He came under fire when it was revealed that the head of State College-based AccuWeather, which would benefit, has given his campaigns thousands of dollars.
The audio of the interview is here in MP3-QuickTime format.

The National Weather Service, really its unionized members, responds:
The National Weather Service Employees Union issued the following statement today in response to Rick Santorum's misguided comments about the performance of the National Weather Service concerning Hurricane Katrina.

"The bottom line is that we did our job well and everyone knows it. By falsely claiming that we got it wrong, Rick Santorum is continuing his misguided crusade against the National Weather Service. It’s unfortunate that Senator Santorum would try to use this tragedy to push his own agenda. Senator Santorum's comments are aimed at jumpstarting his bizarre stalled legislation to undermine the mission of the National Weather Service, legislation that has failed to garner the support of even one of his colleagues in the U.S. Senate.” said Paul Greaves, President of NWSEO.

The early warnings about Hurricane Katrina issued by the National Weather Service have been praised for their accuracy by news organizations such as NBC News, The New York Times and even internationally by The London Times.

"The fact is that we issued several warnings about the oncoming storm. Sadly, many of those warnings fell on deaf ears.

"We urge Senator Santorum to retract his remarks about the National Weather Service. Senator Santorum would be providing a better service to the nation if he focused his efforts on helping the victims of this hurricane, instead of lashing out against the hardworking men and women of the National Weather Service who prove their worth each day." said Mr. Greaves.
Hey, he just wants to privatize the weather service to make it more efficient, and the AccuWeather folks gave him all that money to help him in that effort.

Did the government weather service deceive Americans and tell them this storm was nothing much? Use your memory, if you hate America, Bush and free enterprise. Otherwise, trust Rick on this.

Blame Assigned: The Press Got All these People Killed

This one comes from Hugh Hewitt, prominent commentator, patriotic defender of the administration. His contention: Reporters are directly responsible for the deaths of all those people in New Orleans because they did not convey the severity of the hurricane before it hit.

Note this from an interview Hewitt gave Jay Rosen of New York University:
Again, I've got a proposition for you, because they [reporters] did not do their homework, because they did not understand the levees were the threat, they ended up killing hundreds of Americans. I'm not going to say thousands, because I don't know the number. But I know hundreds are dead, that they did not communicate the severity of this storm.
Again, use your memory, if you hate America, Bush. Otherwise, trust Hugh on this on this.

Forget this list:
CNN: August 28, 2005 Sunday
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD: The city is preparing for up to 15 inches of rain and a storm surge of up to 28 feet, a wall of water that would overwhelming the city's levee system. Worst case scenarios predict the bowl-shaped city could be submerged under as much as 30 feet of water.

ABC News: Good Morning America: August 28, 2005 Sunday
DAVID KERLEY, ABC NEWS(Off Camera) Good morning, Kate. New Orleans is waking up on this Sunday, realizing it is still the bull's eye for hurricane Katrina. This is Lake Pontchartrain. This is the north side of New Orleans. And this is one of the big concerns, as well as the Mississippi on the south, is that when the storm surge comes, a lot of water and the winds is going to push the water over the dikes and levees and flood New Orleans. That's why residents are being told to leave town.

CBS NEWS: August 28, 2005 Sunday
LEE COWAN: (Voiceover) Now the main worry, Charlie, of course, is the water. The storm surge from Katrina is expected to be anywhere between 15 and 20 feet, with waves on top of that. The levees that were built around this city after Betsy in 1965 are only 13 feet high.

NBC NEWS: August 28, 2005 Sunday
SAVIDGE: For New Orleans, Katrina is the nightmare that's haunted officials for decades.
Mayor C. RAY NAGIN (New Orleans): This is not a test.
SAVIDGE: The "Big Easy" is a giant bowl below sea level, dependent on levees and pumps to keep dry, and water isn't the only thing the city can trap. There are over 100,000 people with no car and no real way out.

NPR: August 28, 2005 Sunday
Dr. SUHAYDA: The reason the Red Cross has elected not to open shelters in the city is that there are hurricane conditions, such as the one we're facing, that everyone knows would overtop the levee, that is the levees are only designed - or are designed - for about a Category 3 storm. This is a Category 5. It's not going to be any surprise if you put 10 tons on a bridge that tells you it can only hold five tons, you know.
That's just a few, from Blogoland, the "radio blogger" monitoring conservative talk radio so you don't have to. There are links to the stories, but Hugh might be maintaining these things were never said. Who do you trust?

But There WAS Looting

Unfortunately, it was done by FEMA contract employees - see this from the New Orleans Times-Picayune:
Three Texas truck drivers under contract with the federal government to bring in storm relief supplies for Plaquemines Parish have been arrested for allegedly looting toys, dolls, women's lingerie and other merchandise from a Belle Chasse Family Dollar store, authorities said.

Booked late Wednesday night with one count each of looting were Gerald W. Thomas, 47, of Tyler, Texas; Thomas Sherman, 39, also of Tyler; and Lasharon Lemons, 36, of Dallas, said Major John Marie with the Plaquemines Parish Sheriff's Office.

Well, there's a silver lining to the whole business. Note this from the Wall Street Journal's "Washington Wire" -
Two shaky House incumbents, Democrat Melancon and Republican Boustany, hope response to hurricane rallies voters behind them. House Republican campaign chief Reynolds touts chance to market conservative social-policy solutions; Rep. Baker of Baton Rouge is overheard telling lobbyists: "We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn't do it, but God did."

Baker explains later he didn't intend flippancy but has long wanted to improve low-income housing.

Blame Assigned: It's Hard Work Figuring Out Who Has What Authority

Digby over at Hullabaloo can explain this one:
Josh Marshall has a full rundown on the various implications of this NY Times article, which seems to indicate that while hurricane victims were dying on national television, the Justice Department was debating the fine points of posse commitatus and worrying about whether it would look good to take command from a female governor. This is the same justice department that has declared torture to be legal and asserted a previously unheard of doctrine that the president has unlimited powers during wartime.

... Leaders prove their mettle in times of crisis. And 9/11 was a fairly simple crisis to manage. It was a terrible tragedy and a shocking act of violence but it happened quickly in one small area and then was over. The primary response required by the federal government was to figure out how it happened and take steps to prevent it from happening again. The only immediate decision the president had to make was an easy one - whether to depose the Taliban and break up al Qaeda. And even that decision didn't have to be made on the spot in the midst of a rapidly changing situation on the ground and ongoing death and destruction. During the event itself and its immediate aftermath he was famously reading "My Pet Goat" and then flying all over the country like a chicken with his head cut off stopping only to make timorous speeches about how we were going to find "these folks" who had done this.

His reputation for great leadership and crisis management consists solely of going before the American people with a bullhorn and saying "... and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear from all of us soon." That's not leadership - that's cheerleading. Bush and his minions have never understood the difference.
Seems so. If it wasn't cheerleading or attacking, well, you had to think things through. Hard work.

Blame Put Aside: The March Will Take Place, As Scheduled

Tight Constraints on Pentagon's Freedom Walk
Event Remembering 9/11, Troops to Be Kept 'Sterile,' Limited to Preregistered
Petula Dvorak - Washington Post - Friday, September 9, 2005 - Page A01
Organizers of the Pentagon's 9/11 memorial Freedom Walk on Sunday are taking extraordinary measures to control participation in the march and concert, with the route fenced off and lined with police and the event closed to anyone who does not register online by 4:30 p.m. today.

The march, sponsored by the Department of Defense, will wend its way from the Pentagon to the Mall along a route that has not been specified but will be lined with four-foot-high snow fencing to keep it closed and "sterile," said Allison Barber, deputy assistant secretary of defense.

The U.S. Park Police will have its entire Washington force of several hundred on duty and along the route, on foot, horseback and motorcycles and monitoring from above by helicopter. Officers are prepared to arrest anyone who joins the march or concert without a credential and refuses to leave, said Park Police Chief Dwight E. Pettiford.

The event, the America Supports You Freedom Walk, is billed as a memorial to victims of the 2001 terrorist attacks and a show of support for those serving in the military, topped off with a concert by country singer Clint Black, known for his pro-troops anthem, "Iraq and Roll." Organizers said they expect 3,000 to 10,000 participants.

Barber said that organizers would rather not have such stringent measures on their event but that police had requested them.

... What's unusual for an event on the Mall is the combination of fences, required preregistration and the threat of arrest.

Park Police officials said security and safety were concerns, especially because Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld will participate in some of the day's events. They said they have approved a permit for a small group of protesters that plans to stand along Independence Avenue.

Barber at first said this week that event organizers would rather not be so strict but that they were complying with police orders. But yesterday she said Park Police offered two options: Screen participants at the Mall, as police did for the Fourth of July fireworks and concert, where bags would be searched and restricted items such as alcohol, weapons, animals or glass bottles would be seized; or screen them at the Pentagon and, by restricting access throughout the march, "make sure the same people who were screened at the Pentagon are the same people going to the concert," she said.

... One restricted group will be the media, whose members will not be allowed to walk along the march route. Reporters and cameras are restricted to three enclosed areas along the route but are not permitted to walk alongside participants walking from the Pentagon, across the Memorial Bridge to the Mall.
What? Are they afraid of something? Blame for most everything has been assigned. What's the problem?

Posted by Alan at 13:10 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 9 September 2005 13:46 PDT home

Topic: Couldn't be so...

Late Week Wire Stories: Not Hurricane Related

As if the administration didn't have enough to worry about, Friday, September 9, the Associated Press is reporting this: Companies Got Unneeded 9/11 Loans - byline Frank Bass and Dirk Lammers. (Someone is really named Dirk?)

What is this about? It seems to be about the press doing its job. The government had set aside five billion after 9/11 as "recovery aid" to small businesses, these would be low interest loans, and because they don't believe in government - that is, they don't believe government should intrude in our lives - they promised banks a "hands-off approach" in overseeing where the money was going. It's a free market thing. The "invisible hand" will take care of things, or the tooth fairy or whatever. The folks at AP were skeptical - which is, perhaps, their job - so they filed one of those Freedom of Information Act things, requesting the records. Oddly enough, they got the records. The records show "numerous loans to companies that didn't need terror relief - or even know they were getting it." This help for "economic victims" of the terror attacks was going to some mighty odd places - Dunkin' Donuts shops and florists and motorcycle dealers and chiropractors, and a South Dakota country radio station, and a Virgin Islands perfume shop and a Utah dog boutique - many now saying they had no idea their small business loans were coming from the low-interest, government-guaranteed September 11 loan program.

In Manhattan?
The pattern of lending left many at New York's Ground Zero seething, especially those who had trouble getting government assistance.

"You have to take it back and give it to us. Even now, I could use it," fumed Mike Yagudayev, who said the government offered him only $20,000 of the $70,000 loan he requested to rebuild the hair salon flattened by the collapse of the World Trade Center's twin towers.
Oops. The Small Business Administration said it first learned of the problems through this AP review - and they are "weighing whether an investigation was needed." And AP reports that SBA officials declined comment on documents showing one of their top officials promised banks back in 2002 that there would be a no-questions-asked approach the these "below market" (really low interest) relief loans. This Supplementary Terrorism Activity Relief effort left banks to determine who should get loans. Why would the government care? Congress originally required that the loans go only to companies that could demonstrate they suffered direct or indirect harm from the terror attacks, but the congress was slapped down. Wachovia and Wells Fargo "declined to say" how many loans they shifted into the terror relief program, saying only that they followed the law. Some law. Heck, they profited from the interest - the government guaranteed up to eighty-five percent of each loan total, leaving them with little or no risk.

What are we talking about here? More than 100 Dunkin' Donuts, Subway and Quiznos franchises all over America getting loans, along with fourteen Dairy Queens. And we have some puzzled small businesses:
Gordie Barnes, who received a $1.49 million loan to buy the Williams Garden Center in New Bern, N.C., said the previous owners had mentioned that business was dropping off, but not necessarily because of the attacks.

"It would be a very big stretch of the imagination to figure out how this store would be impacted by those wackos who flew their planes into the Twin Towers," he said.

Leslie Bair used a $396,000 loan approved in January 2002 to purchase a recreational vehicle campground in Inglis, Fla. "I would hate to think that my money took money away from somebody else who needed it," she said.

Of the 19,000 loans approved by the two programs, fewer than 11 percent went to companies in New York City and Washington.
Oh well, business picked up. And some folks said the loans made sense:
• Karl Grimmelmann, general manager of KBFS-AM "Hit Kickin' Country" in Belle Fourche, S.D., borrowed $135,000 from SBA's disaster program after learning about it from a news release. He said his station was forced to pay more money to cover national news and also lost advertisers.

• Margie Olson, co-owner of the Torii Mor Winery in McMinnville, Ore., said her business needed a $125,000 loan because it couldn't sell high-end pinot noir to restaurants that closed in New York City.

• Melva Kravitz, co-owner of the Little Dogs Resort & Salon in Salt Lake City that offers boarding and grooming services for small dogs, said people stopped taking vacations and boarding their pets after Sept. 11, requiring her $50,000 loan.

• Christine Hilty, co-owner of Violettes Boutique on St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, said the perfume shop lost 60 percent of its business overnight as tourism stopped, and she got a $169,500 loan from the SBA.
Ah, Saint Croix is a wonderful place and maybe Christine has a point. But there is this little problem AP reports - taxpayers have been forced to cover about six hundred "defaulted disaster loans - some approaching one million dollars each - from companies that went bankrupt or closed." And more defaults are expected.

Luckily we have the hurricane damage to fix, and a war that goes on and on, so this story will not have legs.

And how is the war going?

The AP also reports this on September 9 - Pay Dispute Shuts Down Baghdad Airport - byline Sinan Salaheddin.

What's this about?
The Baghdad International Airport, Iraq's only reliable link to the outside world, was closed Friday in an embarrassing pay dispute between the government and a British security company.

The Interior Ministry sent a force to reopen the facility, but withdrew the men after they confronted U.S. soldiers at a key checkpoint along the airport road.

"We ordered the forces to pull back after American forces were deployed at the first checkpoint on the road. We did not want to create a confrontation," acting Transportation Minister Esmat Amer told The Associated Press.

Brig. Gen. John Basilica Jr., commander of the 256th Brigade Combat Team of the Louisiana National Guard, said security remained "intact" at the airport. His unit, some of which has already returned to the United States, had been in charge of security along the militant-plagued airport road.

Otherwise, the U.S. military, in an apparent attempt to play down the problem, said it had no information about the pay dispute or Interior Ministry force movements.
Is the AP picking on the Bush team by using the word "embarrassing" in their text? They admit there are only about fifteen civilian flights each day there - Iraqi Airways, Royal Jordanian Airlines and three companies operating out of the United Arab Emirates - Jobotier, Ishtar and Tigris airlines. This may not be a big deal.

But acting Transportation Minister Esmat Amer has a problem ? he said that Iraqi troops had been sent to reopen the facility because its closure was illegal. "This issue is related to Iraq's sovereignty, and nobody is authorized to close the airport."

Hey, London-based Global Strategies Group provides security and they're not being paid!

The problem?
Global said its workers would continue securing the facility but had suspended other operations because the Transportation Ministry, which owns the airport, was six months behind in payments. All flights in and out of Baghdad were suspended, it said.

"We're in continuing dialogue and we're hoping it'll be resolved as soon as possible," company spokesman Giles Morgan said. He declined to talk about specifics of the dispute.

Amer confirmed Global had not been paid since contract talks resumed around Jan. 1.

In June, Global suspended airport operations for 48 hours for the same reason.
We don't have the troops to take over for Global, and Global also manages security for the Green Zone in central Baghdad. We're doing this on a shoestring.

Well, it's not just the AP picking on Bush and his team on these matters. The day before these AP stories the Los Angeles Times reports another small problem:
The U.S. will halt construction work on some water and power plants in Iraq because it is running out of money for projects, officials said Wednesday.

Security costs have cut into the money available to complete some major infrastructure projects that were started under the $18.4-billion U.S. plan to rebuild Iraq. As a result, the United States is funding only those projects deemed essential by the Iraqi government.
One contractor has stopped work on six of eight water treatment plants they were supposed to get running. And even the Republicans are piling on. The Times quotes representative Jim Kolbe, a Republican representing Arizona, saying the Bush administration's vision for using reconstruction funds to stabilize Iraq "was largely a chimera, a castle built of sand. Reconstruction in Iraq has been slower, more painful, more complex, more fragmented and more inefficient than anyone in Washington or Baghdad could have imagined a couple of years ago." And he's chairman of the house appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations.

Oh my. And there are the fifty-eight investigations into corruption the Times mentions, including those of US contractors.

An often-repeated thing said as the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld era began - it will be good to have the grownups in charge for a change (referring Cheney and Rumsfeld only, one presumes).

Well, there are grownups, and then there are also responsible, careful, thinking adults - a special subset of the first group. We didn't take that into account.

Posted by Alan at 10:08 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 9 September 2005 10:18 PDT home

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

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