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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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Monday, 12 September 2005

Topic: Backgrounder

Race: Here we go again…

Our columnist Bob Patterson, last Sunday, in his World's Laziest Journalist column approached the issue of how much race seemed to have played a part in the response of the Federal response to the hurricane that devastated New Orleans and much of the Gulf Coast. Bob's style is often more forceful than analytical - perhaps it's the Irish in him - and it might be time to investigate, in some detail, what seems to be shaping up to be a reopening of a racial divide in America, or perhaps more accurately, an uncovering of a divide that has always existed and now has been exposed, one more time.

First there is public opinion. Two new polls show President Bush's approval ratings at all-time lows. No news there, even if Suzanne Malveaux and Wolf Blitzer on CNN on Monday, September 12, claimed that Bush's poll numbers are going up. (See this on Blitzer saying, "Bush's stepped-up response to the Katrina disaster may be helping to push up his poll numbers." He either doesn't understand statistics, or he's lying to make someone or other feel better.") The facts? The AP-Ipsos poll has Bush at a thirty-nine percent job approval rating, and the Newsweek poll has him slightly lower - at thirty-eight percent. Newsweek also points out this is the first time since 9/11 that a clear majority of Americans disapprove of how Bush is handling terrorism and homeland security. Why? Perhaps the slow, disorganized federal response to Katrina has blemished his image - and that of the whole Republican Party. Its seems the AP-Ipsos poll notes that a full sixty-five percent of us think the country is on the wrong track while Newsweek notes that only thirty-eight percent of registered voters now say they would vote for a Republican if the Congressional elections were held today. Exactly fifty percent of registered voters say they would vote for a Democrat. But the most interesting nugget in the AP-Ipsos poll - while there fifty-two percent disapprove of Bush's handling of hurricane relief, seventy-eight percent of blacks blamed the president for the poor response, compared with forty-nine percent of whites.

What's up with that?

The New York Times' Elisabeth Bumiller on Monday, September 12, explains in Gulf Coast Isn't the Only Thing Left in Tatters; Bush's Status With Blacks Takes Hit

Bumiller has a reputation for writing puff pieces on how cool George is, and such a fine guy, but she knows trouble when she sees it, and she cites a third poll:
From the political perspective of the White House, Hurricane Katrina destroyed more than an enormous swath of the Gulf Coast. The storm also appears to have damaged the carefully laid plans of Karl Rove, President Bush's political adviser, to make inroads among black voters and expand the reach of the Republican Party for decades to come.

Many African-Americans across the country said they seethed as they watched the television pictures of the largely poor and black victims of Hurricane Katrina dying for food and water in the New Orleans Superdome and the convention center. A poll released last week by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center bore out that reaction as well as a deep racial divide: Two-thirds of African-Americans said the government's response to the crisis would have been faster if most of the victims had been white, while 77 percent of whites disagreed.

The anger has invigorated the president's critics. Kanye West, the rap star, raged off-script at a televised benefit for storm victims that "George Bush doesn't care about black people." Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said in Miami last week that Americans "have to come to terms with the ugly truth that skin color, age and economics played a significant role in who survived and who did not."
Of course the White House says this is so very unfair, and kind of unseemly. Bumiller refers to Laura Bush in an interview with the American Urban Radio Network: "I think all of those remarks were disgusting, to be perfectly frank. Of course President Bush cares about everyone in our country." (Covered here by the Associated Press - "And I know that. I mean, I'm the person who lives with him. I know what he's like and I know what he thinks and I know how he cares about people.")

She's selling. Is anyone buying?

Bumiller also quotes Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the administration's most well-known African-American - "Nobody, especially the president, would have left people unattended on the basis of race." And Rice said that while on her way to where she grew up - Alabama - to attend a church service, of course.

Heck, Condoleezza Rice also told the New York Times on Monday that "the hurricane disaster that disproportionately struck poor blacks in New Orleans 'gives us an opportunity' to rectify historic injustices that she experienced as an African-American growing up in the South."

Heck, she's black, isn't she? And it's a great opportunity.

As they said over at Wonkette: "Finally an opportunity to rectify those injustices. The administration had been brainstorming on this for years."

Meanwhile, back at the ranch - actually the White House (Crawford Texas East) - Bumiller paints a different picture:
But behind the scenes in the West Wing, there has been anxiety and scrambling - after an initial misunderstanding, some of the president's advocates say, of the racial dimension to the crisis.

One of Mr. Bush's prominent African-American supporters called the White House to say he was aghast at the images from the president's first trip to the region, on Sept. 2, when Mr. Bush stood next to Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi and Gov. Bob Riley of Alabama, both white Republicans, and praised them for a job well done. Mr. Bush did not go into the heart of New Orleans to meet with black victims.

"I said, 'Grab some black people who look like they might be preachers,' " said the supporter, who asked not to be named because he did not want to be identified as criticizing the White House. Three days later, on Mr. Bush's next trip to the region, the president appeared in Baton Rouge at the side of T. D. Jakes, the conservative African-American television evangelist and the founder of a 30,000-member megachurch in southwest Dallas.

Bishop Jakes, a multimillionaire and best-selling author, is to deliver the sermon this Friday at the Washington National Cathedral, his office said, where Mr. Bush will mark a national day of prayer for Hurricane Katrina's victims. The bishop's style of preaching is black Pentecostal - he roars and rumbles in performances that got him on the cover of Time magazine as "America's best preacher" in 2001. More important to Mr. Rove, he has become a vital partner in the White House effort to court the black vote.
Ah, but can the preacher deliver for Karl, or will Karl have to Swift-Boat the preacher if he says the wrong things?

He won't say the wrong thing. These guys have received millions of dollars for their churches through Bush's programs to support religious-based social services. Heck, Bumiller notes that helps. There's Bush's increase in support among black voters - it jumped from nine percent in 2000 to eleven percent in 2004. Money talks.

And pressing the flesh helps:
On Tuesday in the Roosevelt Room, Mr. Bush met with black preachers and leaders of national charities, and sat next to Bishop Roy L. H. Winbush, a black religious leader from Louisiana. On Thursday, two senior White House officials, Claude Allen and James Towey, held a conference call with black religious leaders to ask what needed to be done. Mr. Towey is the director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, and Mr. Allen, who is African-American, is the president's domestic policy adviser.

One Bush supporter, the Rev. Eugene F. Rivers III, the president of the National Ten Point Leadership Foundation, a coalition that represents primarily black churches, said last week that something positive might come out of the crisis. "This is a moral and intellectual opportunity for the Bush administration to clearly articulate a policy agenda for the black poor," Mr. Rivers said in an interview.

Ken Mehlman, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, who has made reaching out to black voters a priority, put it simply. "We're going to work with them," Mr. Mehlman said. "This disaster showed how important it is that we do these things."
"We're going to work with them." Translation: "We're going to work them."

First job? Denial.

Bush Denies Racial Component to Response
Jennifer Loven, Associated Press, Monday, September 12, 2005 4:35 PM ET
President Bush denied Monday there was any racial component to people being left behind after Hurricane Katrina, despite suggestions from some critics that the response would have been quicker if so many of the victims hadn't been poor and black.

"The storm didn't discriminate and neither will the recovery effort," Bush said. "The rescue efforts were comprehensive. The recovery will be comprehensive."

Bush made the remarks to reporters beneath a highway overpass at the end of a tour that took him through several flooded New Orleans neighborhoods. Occasionally, Bush had to duck to avoid low-hanging electrical wires and branches.

It was Bush's first exposure to the on-the-ground leadership of his new hurricane relief chief, Vice Adm. Chad W. Allen of the U.S. Coast Guard.

The trip came as the White House is eager to show the president displaying hands-on, empathetic leadership in the storm effort. ...
Empathy is nice, even if you're not good at it. You get points for even faking it, even if you do it badly. At least you're trying. No one can be like Bill Clinton, and who would want to be?

And it makes denial of any racism a tad more conceivable. Maybe.

That's going to be hard work, given incident like this:

Police in Suburbs Blocked Evacuees, Witnesses Report
Gardiner Harris, New York Times, September 10, 2005
Police agencies to the south of New Orleans were so fearful of the crowds trying to leave the city after Hurricane Katrina that they sealed a crucial bridge over the Mississippi River and turned back hundreds of desperate evacuees, two paramedics who were in the crowd said.

The paramedics and two other witnesses said officers sometimes shot guns over the heads of fleeing people, who, instead of complying immediately with orders to leave the bridge, pleaded to be let through, the paramedics and two other witnesses said. The witnesses said they had been told by the New Orleans police to cross that same bridge because buses were waiting for them there.

Instead, a suburban police officer angrily ordered about 200 people to abandon an encampment between the highways near the bridge. The officer then confiscated their food and water, the four witnesses said. The incidents took place in the first days after the storm last week, they said.

"The police kept saying, 'We don't want another Superdome,' and 'This isn't New Orleans,' " said Larry Bradshaw, a San Francisco paramedic who was among those fleeing.

Arthur Lawson, chief of the Gretna, La., Police Department, confirmed that his officers, along with those from the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office and the Crescent City Connection Police, sealed the bridge.

"There was no place for them to come on our side," Mr. Lawson said. ...
Of course this was all over the news - even Shepherd Smith and Geraldo Rivera on the ground for Fox News were screaming about it to Sean Hannity back in the studio - and Smith pretty much told Hannity, who was saying it was no big deal, to stuff it. In fact, you could listen to a first hand account with much more detail on National Public Radio on Ira Glass' "This American Life" - Saturday, September 10, 2005 After The Flood. It's worse than the Times suggests. The person there was white, and amazed. Being white counts. She got across.

The coming race war? Or is it just class?

Note this from Christopher Cooper, of The Wall Street Journal -
Despite the disaster that has overwhelmed New Orleans, the city's monied, mostly white elite is hanging on and maneuvering to play a role in the recovery when the floodwaters of Katrina are gone. "New Orleans is ready to be rebuilt. Let's start right here," says Mr. O'Dwyer, standing in his expansive kitchen, next to a counter covered with a jumble of weaponry and electric wires.

More than a few people in Uptown, the fashionable district surrounding St. Charles Ave., have ancestors who arrived here in the 1700s. High society is still dominated by these old-line families, represented today by prominent figures such as former New Orleans Board of Trade President Thomas Westfeldt; Richard Freeman, scion of the family that long owned the city's Coca-Cola bottling plant; and William Boatner Reily, owner of a Louisiana coffee company. Their social pecking order is dictated by the mysterious hierarchy of "krewes," groups with hereditary membership that participate in the annual carnival leading up to Mardi Gras. In recent years, the city's most powerful business circles have expanded to include some newcomers and non-whites, such as Mayor Ray Nagin, the former Cox Communications executive elected in 2002.

A few blocks from Mr. O'Dwyer, in an exclusive gated community known as Audubon Place, is the home of James Reiss, descendent of an old-line Uptown family. He fled Hurricane Katrina just before the storm and returned soon afterward by private helicopter. Mr. Reiss became wealthy as a supplier of electronic systems to shipbuilders, and he serves in Mayor Nagin's administration as chairman of the city's Regional Transit Authority. When New Orleans descended into a spiral of looting and anarchy, Mr. Reiss helicoptered in an Israeli security company to guard his Audubon Place house and those of his neighbors.

He says he has been in contact with about 40 other New Orleans business leaders since the storm. Tomorrow, he says, he and some of those leaders plan to be in Dallas, meeting with Mr. Nagin to begin mapping out a future for the city.

The power elite of New Orleans - whether they are still in the city or have moved temporarily to enclaves such as Destin, Fla., and Vail, Colo. - insist the remade city won't simply restore the old order. New Orleans before the flood was burdened by a teeming underclass, substandard schools and a high crime rate. The city has few corporate headquarters.

The new city must be something very different, Mr. Reiss says, with better services and fewer poor people. "Those who want to see this city rebuilt want to see it done in a completely different way: demographically, geographically and politically," he says. "I'm not just speaking for myself here. The way we've been living is not going to happen again, or we're out." ...
That's pretty clear. And helicoptering in an Israeli security company to guard the Audubon Place house - and those of his neighbors - is a nice touch.

Maybe it's just class, but Digby over at Hullabaloo says the obvious - there is a great desire to pivot the conversation to poverty rather than race because people believe that we will then be able to create a class argument that can appeal to working class whites and blacks alike.

Dream on.
Racism informs many Americans' ideas about poverty. It is also one of the darker philosophical underpinnings of our vaunted American individualism. From the beginning we had problems because government programs often had to help blacks as a last resort. It is why today many people believe that welfare has a black face even though far more welfare recipients are white. It is why we have developed the idea that the poor (pictured in our minds' eye as black and brown) are lazy and shiftless rather than unfortunate. (Europe, with its long history of class division doesn't see poverty this way.) It's why certain people made the assumption that the poor and black in New Orleans were all on welfare rather than the truth, which is that many of them are members of the urban working poor.

There are certainly many conservatives who hold a philosophy of small government for different reasons than racism. They may believe that power corrupts or that big government is inefficient. But there is no sense of economic self-interest in working class whites being against high taxes for millionaires and corporations and there is no reason that they should be worried about big government takeover of healthcare when thiers is terrible if it exists at all. And yet many of them vote against the party that promises to tax millionaires and corporations and provide national health insurance.

The sad fact is that in that great sea of Republican red, there are many whites who would rather do without health care than see money go to pay for programs that they believe benefit blacks to the detriment of whites. Their prejudice overwhelms their economic self-interest and always has. They vote for the party that reinforces their belief that government programs only benefit the undeserving African American poor.

That is why liberals have to accept that race must be part of the argument. We are making progress. Things are better. But progress requires staying focused on the issue and ensuring that there is no slippage, no matter how difficult and cumbersome this debate feels at times. The liberal agenda depends upon forcing this out of the national bloodstream with each successive generation not only for moral reasons, which I know we all believe, but it also depends upon forcing it out of the bloodstream for practical reasons. Until this knee jerk reaction to black poverty among certain whites (and Pat Buchanan), particularly in the south, is brought to heel we are fighting an uphill battle to muster the consensus we need to create the kind of nation that guarantees its citizens a modern, decent safety net regardless of race or class.
Again, dream on.

Note this from the Chicago tribune back on September 4 -
BATON ROUGE, La. - They locked down the entrance doors Thursday at the Baton Rouge hotel where I'm staying alongside hundreds of New Orleans residents driven from their homes by Hurricane Katrina.

"Because of the riots," the hotel managers explained. Armed Gunmen from New Orleans were headed this way, they had heard.

"It's the blacks," whispered one white woman in the elevator. "We always worried this would happen."
Compare and contrast this from CNN:
I am stunned by an interview I conducted with New Orleans Detective Lawrence Dupree. He told me they were trying to rescue people with a helicopter and the people were so poor they were afraid it would cost too much to get a ride and they had no money for a "ticket." Dupree was shaken telling us the story. He just couldn't believe these people were afraid they'd be charged for a rescue.
Two America, it seems.

But really, as Newsweek points out in their September 19 issue, the Federal response itself wasn't racist, really. It was just systematically incompetent (emphases added below):
It's a standing joke among the president's top aides: who gets to deliver the bad news? Warm and hearty in public, Bush can be cold and snappish in private, and aides sometimes cringe before the displeasure of the president of the United States, or, as he is known in West Wing jargon, POTUS. The bad news on this early morning, Tuesday, Aug. 30, some 24 hours after Hurricane Katrina had ripped through New Orleans, was that the president would have to cut short his five-week vacation by a couple of days and return to Washington. The president's chief of staff, Andrew Card; his deputy chief of staff, Joe Hagin; his counselor, Dan Bartlett, and his spokesman, Scott McClellan, held a conference call to discuss the question of the president's early return and the delicate task of telling him. Hagin, it was decided, as senior aide on the ground, would do the deed.

The president did not growl this time. He had already decided to return to Washington and hold a meeting of his top advisers on the following day, Wednesday. This would give them a day to get back from their vacations and their staffs to work up some ideas about what to do in the aftermath of the storm. President Bush knew the storm and its consequences had been bad; but he didn't quite realize how bad.

The reality, say several aides who did not wish to be quoted because it might displease the president, did not really sink in until Thursday night. Some White House staffers were watching the evening news and thought the president needed to see the horrific reports coming out of New Orleans. Counselor Bartlett made up a DVD of the newscasts so Bush could see them in their entirety as he flew down to the Gulf Coast the next morning on Air Force One.

How this could be - how the president of the United States could have even less "situational awareness," as they say in the military, than the average American about the worst natural disaster in a century - is one of the more perplexing and troubling chapters in a story that, despite moments of heroism and acts of great generosity, ranks as a national disgrace.

President George W. Bush has always trusted his gut. He prides himself in ignoring the distracting chatter, the caterwauling of the media elites, the Washington political buzz machine. He has boasted that he doesn't read the papers. His doggedness is often admirable. It is easy for presidents to overreact to the noise around them.

But it is not clear what President Bush does read or watch, aside from the occasional biography and an hour or two of ESPN here and there. Bush can be petulant about dissent; he equates disagreement with disloyalty. After five years in office, he is surrounded largely by people who agree with him. Bush can ask tough questions, but it's mostly a one-way street. Most presidents keep a devil's advocate around. Lyndon Johnson had George Ball on Vietnam; President Ronald Reagan and Bush's father, George H.W. Bush, grudgingly listened to the arguments of Budget Director Richard Darman, who told them what they didn't wish to hear: that they would have to raise taxes. When Hurricane Katrina struck, it appears there was no one to tell President Bush the plain truth: that the state and local governments had been overwhelmed, that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was not up to the job and that the military, the only institution with the resources to cope, couldn't act without a declaration from the president overriding all other authority.
The bubble had been built years ago and no one was going to burst it.

But was it racist? No -
Liberals will say they were indifferent to the plight of poor African-Americans. It is true that Katrina laid bare society's massive neglect of its least fortunate. The inner thoughts and motivations of Bush and his top advisers are impossible to know for certain. Though it seems abstract at a time of such suffering, high-minded considerations about the balance of power between state and federal government were clearly at play. It's also possible that after at least four years of more or less constant crisis, Bush and his team are numb.

The failure of the government's response to Hurricane Katrina worked like a power blackout. Problems cascaded and compounded; each mistake made the next mistake worse.
So it seems to be a systemic management problem.
Bad news rarely flows up in bureaucracies. For most of those first few days, Bush was hearing what a good job the Feds were doing. Bush likes "metrics," numbers to measure performance, so the bureaucrats gave him reassuring statistics. At a press availability on Wednesday, Bush duly rattled them off: there were 400 trucks transporting 5.4 million meals and 13.4 million liters of water along with 3.4 million pounds of ice. Yet it was obvious to anyone watching TV that New Orleans had turned into a Third World hellhole.

The denial and the frustration finally collided aboard Air Force One on Friday. As the president's plane sat on the tarmac at New Orleans airport, a confrontation occurred that was described by one participant as "as blunt as you can get without the Secret Service getting involved." Governor Blanco was there, along with various congressmen and senators and Mayor Nagin (who took advantage of the opportunity to take a shower aboard the plane). One by one, the lawmakers listed their grievances as Bush listened. Rep. Bobby Jindal, whose district encompasses New Orleans, told of a sheriff who had called FEMA for assistance. According to Jindal, the sheriff was told to e-mail his request, "and the guy was sitting in a district underwater and with no electricity," Jindal said, incredulously. "How does that make any sense?" Jindal later told NEWSWEEK that "almost everybody" around the conference table had a similar story about how the federal response "just wasn't working." With each tale, "the president just shook his head, as if he couldn't believe what he was hearing," says Jindal, a conservative Republican and Bush appointee who lost a close race to Blanco. Repeatedly, the president turned to his aides and said, "Fix it."
But it was too late to fix it.

Newsweek warps up with this:
Late last week, Bush was, by some accounts, down and angry. But another Bush aide described the atmosphere inside the White House as "strangely surreal and almost detached." At one meeting described by this insider, officials were oddly self-congratulatory, perhaps in an effort to buck each other up. Life inside a bunker can be strange, especially in defeat.
So, not racist - just clueless, by design.

Time Magazine the same week adds more : Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco's attempts to get help from Washington:
The day the storm hit, she asked President Bush for "everything you've got." But almost nothing arrived, and she couldn't wait any longer. So she called the White House and demanded to speak to the President. George Bush could not be located, two Louisiana officials told Time, so she asked for chief of staff Andrew Card, who was also unavailable. Finally, after being passed to another office or two, she left a message with DHS adviser Frances Frago Townsend. She waited hours but had to make another call herself before she finally got Bush on the line. "Help is on the way," he told her.
Yep, she had to leave a message.

But what is this help that is on the way. See this other item in Time:
By late last week, Administration aides were describing a three-part comeback plan. The first: Spend freely, and worry about the tab and the consequences later ... The second tactic could be summed up as, Don't look back. The White House has sent delegates to meetings in Washington of outside Republican groups who have plans to blame the Democrats and state and local officials.

... The third move: ... Advisers are proceeding with plans to gin up base-conservative voters... focused around tax reform... no plans to delay tax cuts... veto anticipated congressional approval of increased federal funding for embryonic-stem-cell research.
When in doubt, cut taxes for the rich and play to your base. Race is not an issue.

This is what to do:
Private contractors, guided by two former directors of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other well-connected lobbyists and consultants, are rushing to cash in on the unprecedented sums to be spent on Hurricane Katrina relief and reconstruction.

From global engineering and construction firms like the Fluor Corporation and Halliburton to local trash removal and road-building concerns, the private sector is poised to reap a windfall of business in the largest domestic rebuilding effort ever undertaken.

Normal federal contracting rules are largely suspended in the rush to help people displaced by the storm and reopen New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. Hundreds of millions of dollars in no-bid contracts have already been let and billions more are to flow to the private sector in the weeks and months to come. Congress has already appropriated more than $62 billion for an effort that is projected to cost well over $100 billion.

Some experts warn that the crisis atmosphere and the open federal purse are a bonanza for lobbyists and private companies and are likely to lead to the contract abuses, cronyism and waste that numerous investigations have uncovered in post-war Iraq.
That is from the New York Times, and this is from the Washington Post -
The Bush administration is importing many of the contracting practices blamed for spending abuses in Iraq as it begins the largest and costliest rebuilding effort in U.S. history.

The first large-scale contracts related to Hurricane Katrina, as in Iraq, were awarded without competitive bidding, and using so-called cost-plus provisions that guarantee contractors a certain profit regardless of how much they spend.
These guys are not racists. The locals may be, but not the feds.

They're just careful with our tax money. As in this:

Bush Suspends Pay Act In Areas Hit by Storm
Thomas B. Edsall - Washington Post - Friday, September 9, 2005; Page D03
President Bush yesterday suspended application of the federal law governing workers' pay on federal contracts in the Hurricane Katrina-damaged areas of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi. The action infuriated labor leaders and their Democratic supporters in Congress, who said it will lower wages and make it harder for union contractors to win bids.

The Davis-Bacon Act, passed in 1931 during the Great Depression, sets a minimum pay scale for workers on federal contracts by requiring contractors to pay the prevailing or average pay in the region. Suspension of the act will allow contractors to pay lower wages. Many Republicans have opposed Davis-Bacon, charging that it amounts to a taxpayer subsidy to unions.

In a letter to Congress, Bush said he has the power to suspend the law because of the national emergency caused by the hurricane: "I have found that the conditions caused by Hurricane Katrina constitute a 'national emergency.' "

Bush wrote that his decision is justified because Davis-Bacon increases construction costs, and suspension "will result in greater assistance to these devastated communities and will permit the employment of thousands of additional individuals."

AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney denounced the Bush announcement as "outrageous."

"Employers are all too eager to exploit workers," he said. "This is no time to make that easier. What a double tragedy it would be to allow the destruction of Hurricane Katrina to depress living standards even further."

Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, accused Bush of "using the devastation of Hurricane Katrina to cut the wages of people desperately trying to rebuild their lives and their communities."

Miller said: "In New Orleans, where a quarter of the city was poor, the prevailing wage for construction labor is about $9 per hour, according to the Department of Labor. In effect, President Bush is saying that people should be paid less than $9 an hour to rebuild their communities." ...
So why would he do this?

You see, suspending this Davis-Bacon Act will mean no one will exploit the situation. And we have this federal deficit of course. At nine dollars for each hour's work these fat cat construction workers would be pulling in 18,900 a year - and now they'll get much less. We'll all be safe from the greedy bastards, and keep our economy sound after all - they will pay income tax on each of those less-than-nine dollars. Of course the "poverty Line" figures according to the "2003 Poverty Guidelines" from the Department of Health and Human Services? For a family of four that works out to this - anything below 18,400, and 15,260 for a family of three, puts you in what the feds themselves define as poverty. Oh well, just so long as no one gets rich.

But it gets better. Note this: now that the president, by executive order, has suspended Davis-Bacon, now the plan is to suspend wage rules for service workers:
Labor Department and White House officials are examining a similar move for service workers covered by the McNamara-O'Hara Service Contract Act, which extended prevailing wage rules to service workers. Administration officials are concerned that workers on demolition and debris removal jobs could protest that even with construction wage supports lifted, they should be paid prevailing wages because their work is more service-related than construction-related.
The only problem seems to be Davis-Bacon has a specific provision allowing the president to suspend it during a national emergency - "The Service Contract Act does not, and its suspension may be unprecedented, labor experts say."

Let's see. This could go to court. The president does not have the authority under the McNamara-O'Hara Service Contract Act to suspend it. What will the administration lawyers offer as an argument if challenged in a lawsuit? Suspending the act may be illegal but this is a national emergency? Worked for detaining citizens without charges, legal advice or even a hearing - and worked for allowing torture. Call the McNamara-O'Hara Service Contract Act "quaint." That might work. Second line of defense? No one should get rich off the reconstruction. No - even they don't have the balls to redefine "rich" as being paid below their own poverty line benchmarks. (Well, maybe they do.) A "let the marketplace decide" argument might be just the ticket. If people choose to pay less than minimum wage and others accept the jobs at those wages, well, that's the invisible hand at work, making things better for everyone. And the PR campaign would be just like the one out here that Arnold Shwarzenegger has going on - Don Sipple, Shwarzenegger's media consultant, has this strategy "based on a lot of polling" to create a "phenomenon of anger" among voters toward firefighters, police officers, teachers and others of that sort - greedy bastards who want your money. Let the market decide.

Well, Laura Bush is half-right about her husband. He doesn't hate black folk. He's all business - and ill-informed if not detached from reality, petulant, willful, sneering and childish. But he doesn't seem to be a racist. That's just the net effect.

Posted by Alan at 22:17 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 14 September 2005 17:19 PDT home

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

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