Friday, September 23, 2005

Penguin Family Values...Except With People

Perfect example of the misplaced priorities of conservatives vis a vis their penguin family values:

A 14-year-old student was expelled from a Christian school because her parents are lesbians, the school's superintendent said in a letter.

Shay Clark was expelled from Ontario Christian School on Thursday.

"Your family does not meet the policies of admission," Superintendent Leonard Stob wrote to Tina Clark, the girl's biological mother.

Stob wrote that school policy requires that at least one parent may not engage in practices "immoral or inconsistent with a positive Christian life style, such as cohabitating without marriage or in a homosexual relationship."

Look, it's a private school, they can do what they want, but depriving the girl of an education for the relationship her parents engage in seems pretty fucking outrageous to me. Especially the fact that the school's policy considers their relationship as immoral simply because it's homosexual, even though:

Clark and her partner have been together 22 years and have two other
daughters, ages 9 and 19.

Sounds like real family values to me.

Democrats On Roberts

It was nice to see that both Harry Reid, Senate Minority Leader, and Dianne Feinstein, the more moderate of my two Senators, intend to vote NO on Roberts when the vote goes to the full Senate next week. It's especially good news from Feinstein whom I'd e-mailed with concern about her coddling of Roberts's possibly signifying her going soft on abortion rights.

Now, as I've said before, I see Roberts as a shoo-in and I can't get fired up about a nominee whose gravest sin appears to be being a conservative. The time to win this fight was in November and we didn't. But having said that, I do understand the value of opposing Roberts on principle, especially in view of the imminent and arguably more important next nominee. And hell, Democrats actually opposing Republicans does actually go a long way to showing us that they have some backbone and stepping up to the opposition party plate is appreciated.

This pep talk from Howard Dean is encouraging as well:
But how will we win any battle if we don't stand up for what we believe and speak the truth? More importantly, how will Americans know what to expect from a Democratic Congress and Democratic president if we don't fight for our values at every opportunity?

Democrats can disagree with Democrats in good faith -- and many do on this issue. But when political calculations silence our conscience, we have abandoned our true values. We cannot let that happen.

Our party must speak plainly and fight for the values of equality, opportunity and security that bring our party -- and the vast majority of Americans -- together.

The various reasons Democratic Senators have for voting one way or the other was outlined nicely on dailyKos today and I the main points were worth repeating:

Any Democrat considering a run for President in 2008 is going to vote "No". No one wants the next Howard Dean nipping at their heels.

Any Democrat seriously considering leading a filibuster of the next nominee and planning to keep the gang of fourteen on board is going to vote "Yes". Voting "No" on Roberts would allow, in fact almost require, the Republican G14 members to break ranks under pressure ("Come on, de Wine, this guy even voted "No" on Roberts!"). Conversely, voting "Yes" on Roberts strengthens the Democrat's argument with the seven Republicans who will matter ("Listen guys, I'm reasonable, I even voted for Roberts. But Judge Hitler really is an exceptional circumstance!").

That accounts for Clinton and Biden voting "No", and for Byrd and possibly Leahy voting "Yes" (Byrd being one of the G14, and Leahy the ranking member on the Judiciary committee, both well positioned to lead a filibuster).

Any senator genuinely concerned about Senatorial process and commity is likely to vote "Yes". That's because Roberts did appear, did answer questions (if not as specifically as some would have liked), and nothing has emerged to disqualify him from the post. The reasons for voting him down are that you believe he lied under oath (always a possibility) or you believe there is some skeleton in the missing Bush administration papers that would disqualify him but that hasn't been leaked in some form already. Those are positions that can be held by a partisan player, but not by a collegiality-oriented Senator concerned about maintaining the integrity of senatorial process. I put Feingold, and possibly Leahy in this camp.

Senators from Red States will likely vote "Yes" -- why lose their jobs over a symbolic vote?

Penguin Family Values

I was interested to hear that conservatives were singing the praises of March of the Penguins as a film that promotes conservative values.

Some excerpts:
"March of the Penguins," the conservative film critic and radio host Michael Medved said in an interview, is "the motion picture this summer that most passionately affirms traditional norms like monogamy, sacrifice and child rearing."
Rich Lowry, the editor of National Review, told the young conservatives' gathering last month: "You have to check out 'March of the Penguins.' It is an amazing movie. And I have to say, penguins are the really ideal example of monogamy. These things - the dedication of these birds is just amazing."
Richard A. Blake, co-director of the film studies program at Boston College and the author of "The Lutheran Milieu of the Films of Ingmar Bergman" said that like many films, "March of the Penguins" was open to a religious interpretation. "You get a sense of these animals - following their natural instincts - are really exercising virtue that for humans would be quite admirable," he said. "I could see it as a statement on monogamy or condemnation of gay marriage or whatever the current agenda is."

Well, I finally saw the film and was even more fascinated by the revelation that conservative values have suddenly come to mean men looking after the kids while the women provide for them; having a child with a different partner every year; and abandoning the kids forever once they're old enough to fend for themselves.

Putting myself in the mind of a conservative for a moment (scary, I don't recommend it), I think what they mean by their praise is that March of the Penguins promotes that classic conservative family values notion that a family is defined first and foremost by the act of procreation -- a family in its most pure form is man, woman and child. You'll recall it from such conservative classics as Dan Quayle's condemnation of Murphy Brown and their fervent opposition to gay marriage.

The problem as I see it is that if they oppose gay marriage based on the inability of two people of the same gender to procreate, don't they have to also oppose marriage between two heterosexuals who are either unable to procreate or disinclined to? Progressives prefer love and commitment to be the only pre-requisites for the formation of a family rather than the restrictive criterion of procreation. Again, it seems to me that it would be in the interest of conservatives to expand their definition of family and to loosen gay adoption laws -- if they want people to give up children to adoption rather than abortion, one would think they would do what they can to increase the demand.

Ultimately though, it's refreshing to hear conservatives praising a movie since they trash Hollywood for sport. If they took the time to actually study mainstream Hollywood films instead of demonizing them out of hand, they'd find that most actually promote values of right and wrong that they would endorse.

As a side note, I was pleased to learn recently from a friend's father that the lead character of The Great Raid, the WWII film that came and went this summer despite heavy promotion on such conservative blogs as Michelle Malkin's (no doubt as an example of the triumph of US military might), ran for Congress as a young a Democrat.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Real Time With Bill Maher

Here's Bill's latest "open letter" to the President:

Mr. President, this job can't be fun for you any more. There's no more money to spend--you used up all of that. You can't start another war because you used up the army. And now, darn the luck, the rest of your term has become the Bush family nightmare: helping poor people. Listen to your Mom. The cupboard's bare, the credit cards maxed out. No one's speaking to you. Mission accomplished.

Now it's time to do what you've always done best: lose interest and walk away. Like you did with your military service and the oil company and the baseball team. It's time. Time to move on and try the next fantasy job. How about cowboy or space man? Now I know what you're saying: there's so many other things that you as President could involve yourself in. Please don't. I know, I know. There's a lot left to do. There's a war with Venezuela. Eliminating the sales tax on yachts. Turning the space program over to the church. And Social Security to Fannie Mae. Giving embryos the vote.

But, Sir, none of that is going to happen now. Why? Because you govern like Billy Joel drives. You've performed so poorly I'm surprised that you haven't given yourself a medal. You're a catastrophe that walks like a man. Herbert Hoover was a shitty president, but even he never conceded an entire city to rising water and snakes.

On your watch, we've lost almost all of our allies, the surplus, four airliners, two trade centers, a piece of the Pentagon and the City of New Orleans. Maybe you're just not lucky. I'm not saying you don't love this country. I'm just wondering how much worse it could be if you were on the other side.

So, yes, God does speak to you. What he is saying is: "Take a hint."

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Bush Wants It Both Ways

Conservatives are in serious damage control mode, not used to the media not spreading their talking points without question. What is going on, they wonder. They knew they didn't have the New York Times editorial page, but now it appears they've even lost Tim Russert, John McLaughlin, Matt Cooper and Chris Matthews as well. Hey, guys, at least you still have Fred Barnes and [insert attractive female blond FoxNews anchor here.] The conservative spin machine is faithfully questioning the competency and readiness of the Mayor of New Orleans and Governor of Louisiana, and to be honest that's perfectly appropriate. I too would like an answer as to why hundreds of school buses that were allotted for evacuation in such a situation as Katrina were not used to get those that could not leave on their own the hell out.

But the idea that anyone would seek to shift blame from Bush to the local authorities...that Bush and the federal government in all its manifestations can somehow be said to be blameless...might actually exceed the level of absurdity I've come to expect in the era of Bush. What is the only thing that Bush ran on in 2004? Protecting the homeland. Republicans all across the nation sang Bush's praises as a strong leader in an era of unprecedented danger to our citizens at home. The Republican National Convention was a big ole circle jerk in which Republican after Republican assured us that Bush and Bush alone will protect local authorities, no state authorities, and certainly no Democrats (John Kerry least of all)...only Bush. So now that Bush has had his first test of his homeland protection mettle, suddenly he's off the hook -- it's the state and local authorities who are responsible for protecting the people...big bad federal government shouldn't be relied upon for things like that...Bush is merely the president after all.

Of course conservatives will point to the outrage at the lack of federal response to Katrina in the media and claim liberal bias. What they really need to look at is the true root of the media coup that is taking place against the administration. The delayed response by the federal government at its core represents a broken covenant with the American people and the media is simply calling the president out on it. They are giving voice to millions of Americans who, if they could, would say to the president "You said you would protect us, Mr. President, and you let us down." After making such a promise, how dare conservatives now claim that protecting those that needed protection in New Orleans last week is out of the scope of the president's command or that of his reports. Clearly I never bought into Bush's claims that we'd be safer under his leadership, but even I felt a profound sense of disappointment last week. Maybe part of me did start to believe it, or at least hoped it was true.

You can't have it both ways, Mr. President. How dare you even try.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Classic (and Sad) Statement From Barbara Bush

On a tour of hurricane relief centers in Houston with her husband, Barbara Bush had this gem to offer about those that have been displaced from their homes:
What I’m hearing which is sort of scary is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality...And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this--this [she chuckles slightly] is working very well for them.

MSNBC's Keith Olbermann's Two Cents

[N]ationally, these are leaders who won re-election last year largely by portraying their opponents as incapable of keeping the country safe. These are leaders who regularly pressure the news media in this country to report the reopening of a school or a power station in Iraq, and defies its citizens not to stand up and cheer. Yet they couldn't even keep one school or power station from being devastated by infrastructure collapse in New Orleans — even though the government had heard all the "chatter" from the scientists and city planners and hurricane centers and some group whose purposes the government couldn't quite discern... a group called The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

And most chillingly of all, this is the Law and Order and Terror government. It promised protection — or at least amelioration — against all threats: conventional, radiological, or biological.

It has just proved that it cannot save its citizens from a biological weapon called standing water.

Mr. Bush has now twice insisted that, "we are not satisfied," with the response to the manifold tragedies along the Gulf Coast. I wonder which "we" he thinks he's speaking for on this point. Perhaps it's the administration, although we still don't know where some of them are. Anybody seen the Vice President lately? The man whose message this time last year was, 'I'll Protect You, The Other Guy Will Let You Die'?

I don't know which 'we' Mr. Bush meant.

For many of this country's citizens, the mantra has been — as we were taught in Social Studies it should always be — whether or not I voted for this President — he is still my President. I suspect anybody who had to give him that benefit of the doubt stopped doing so last week. I suspect a lot of his supporters, looking ahead to '08, are wondering how they can distance themselves from the two words which will define his government — our government — "New Orleans."

For him, it is a shame — in all senses of the word. A few changes of pronouns in there, and he might not have looked so much like a 21st Century Marie Antoinette. All that was needed was just a quick "I'm not satisfied with my government's response." Instead of hiding behind phrases like "no one could have forseen," had he only remembered Winston Churchill's quote from the 1930's. "The responsibility," of government, Churchill told the British Parliament "for the public safety is absolute and requires no mandate. It is in fact, the prime object for which governments come into existence."

In forgetting that, the current administration did not merely damage itself — it damaged our confidence in our ability to rely on whoever is in the White House.

Politics of Katrina part 2

Those of us on the left who hold this president in contempt for many documented words and deeds will be accused of merely playing politics with our criticism of the lack of federal action last week, and that's too bad. Such wearing of blinders might cause those that hold us in contempt to miss the real story, which is that our government let us down. The fact that Bush's lack of leadership was perfectly consistent with what we've come to expect of someone whose incompetence we see as epic and incontrovertible is unsurprising but, more importantly, it is truly tragic. We did not wish for this, we do not revel in this. We hold our country to a high standard and this president has failed time and time again to rise to that standard. To be honest, most people do lay blame at Bush's feet, on both sides of the political aisle. That's not to say that the left doesn't play politics and put on its own set of blinders from time to time, I just wish I could truly communicate to Bush supporters what Bob Herbert said in his column on Monday:
...this is not about politics. It's about competence.

Who's To Blame?

Many people, whether administration apologists or those who merely refuse to abandon faith in their president, place blame squarely on the Mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, and/or the Governor of Louisiana, Kathleen Blanco, both Democrats. Certainly I did not see a lot of leadership coming from them either in this whole ordeal, especially prior to the levee breaking, in other words, when it came to evacuating the thousands of people our leaders knew were not able to leave. Unfortunately for the Feds, however, this blame the locals game is based on false claims.

The first myth is that Governor Blanco didn't declare a state of emergency, which would have made New Orleans eligible for emergency federal assistance. Sunday's Washington Post printed the following li(n)e:

As of Saturday, Blanco still had not declared a state of emergency, the senior Bush official said.
Which is worse, that this is something being spread by an administration official or that the Post ran it not as a fact, but as a claim by an official as though it were fact? The truth is, a bit of responsible journalism would have uncovered the fact that Blanco had declared a state of emergency. In fact The Washington Post ran a retraction later that day:
A Sept. 4 article on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina incorrectly said that Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D) had not declared a state of emergency. She declared an emergency on Aug. 26.

The second myth was that the local officials alone were responsible for getting people out of New Orleans, more than simply declaring a mandatory evacuation as they did, prior to the levee breach. In this letter from Governor Blanco to the President it is clear that she requested supplemental federal aid as early as August 28 in anticipation of Katrina and her aftermath:

Pursuant to 44 CFR § 206.35, I have determined that this incident is of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capabilities of the State and affected local governments, and that supplementary Federal assistance is necessary to save lives, protect property, public health, and safety, or to lessen or avert the threat of a disaster ...
But even prior to this letter, as early as August 27, in response to the Governor's declaration of a state of emergency on Aug. 26, the following statement was released by the White House authorizing FEMA to assist Louisiana:
The President's action authorizes the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to coordinate all disaster relief efforts which have the purpose of alleviating the hardship and suffering caused by the emergency on the local population, and to provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures, authorized under Title V of the Stafford Act, to save lives, protect property and public health and safety, or to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe ... Specifically, FEMA is authorized to identify, mobilize, and provide at its discretion, equipment and resources necessary to alleviate the impacts of the emergency.
An example of what the federal government could have done? Paul Krugman tells us of one such example:
The Chicago Tribune reports that the U.S.S. Bataan, equipped with six operating rooms, hundreds of hospital beds and the ability to produce 100,000 gallons of fresh water a day, has been sitting off the Gulf Coast since last Monday - without patients.

Thanks to Talking Points Memo for the links and timeline.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

NY Times Op Ed Page Nails It

The outrages over the past week have been numerous, top among them, of course, has been the unpreparedness of this administration, an administration that we are told holds homeland security among its top priorities. It's four years since 9/11 and we're not prepared for what amounts to an attack on our homeland? What has he been doing all this time? Frank Rich draws some parallels between post-9/11 and post-Katrina.
As always, the president's first priority, the one that sped him from Crawford toward California, was saving himself: he had to combat the flood of record-low poll numbers that was as uncontrollable as the surging of Lake Pontchartrain. It was time, therefore, for another disingenuous pep talk, in which he would exploit the cataclysm that defined his first term, 9/11, even at the price of failing to recognize the emerging fiasco likely to engulf Term 2.

After dispatching Katrina with a few sentences of sanctimonious boilerplate ("our hearts and prayers are with our fellow citizens"), he turned to his more important task. The war in Iraq is World War II. George W. Bush is F.D.R. And anyone who refuses to stay his course is soft on terrorism and guilty of a pre-9/11 "mind-set of isolation and retreat." Yet even as Mr. Bush promised "victory" (a word used nine times in this speech on Tuesday), he was standing at the totemic scene of his failure. It was along this same San Diego coastline that he declared "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq on the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln more than two years ago. For this return engagement, The Washington Post reported, the president's stage managers made sure he was positioned so that another hulking aircraft carrier nearby would stay off-camera, lest anyone be reminded of that premature end of "major combat operations."

Well, Bush did finally make it to the scene of the disaster on Friday. And how did he do? Well, judging from one morning talk show, it may have been a little too little a little too late. On The McLaughlin Group, the panel, made up of two commentators on the left and two on the right, as well as Mr. McLaughlin, ranked the negative political fallout of Bush's delay in action last week (10 being the worst) as ranging from a low of a 7 to a high of a 9. I think Bob Herbert puts his performance last week in perspective:
Mr. Bush flew south on Friday and proved (as if more proof were needed) that he didn't get it. Instead of urgently focusing on the people who were stranded, hungry, sick and dying, he engaged in small talk, reminiscing at one point about the days when he used to party in New Orleans, and mentioning that Trent Lott had lost one of his houses but that it would be replaced with "a fantastic house - and I'm looking forward to sitting on the porch."

Mr. Bush's performance last week will rank as one of the worst ever by a president during a dire national emergency. What we witnessed, as clearly as the overwhelming agony of the city of New Orleans, was the dangerous incompetence and the staggering indifference to human suffering of the president and his administration.

And it is this incompetence and indifference to suffering (yes, the carnage continues to mount in Iraq) that makes it so hard to be optimistic about the prospects for the United States over the next few years. At a time when effective, innovative leadership is desperately needed to cope with matters of war and peace, terrorism and domestic security, the economic imperatives of globalization and the rising competition for oil, the United States is being led by a man who seems oblivious to the reality of his awesome responsibilities.

Media Unhinged

As I flew JetBlue Friday night, I was blessed (or was it cursed?) with constant news coverage of the Katrina aftermath thanks to the DirecTV that the airline provides at each seat. It's actually sponsored by Fox so I was not surprised to see CNN missing from the line-up (although MSNBC and Headline News were represented). I found myself watching Fox for most of my coverage because, despite its political leanings, they're quite good at actual news coverage and Katrina has been no exception.

One thing that particularly startled me was Geraldo Riveira, whom I recall drawing war plans in the sand in Iraq during the initial invasion and being decked out in a bulletproof vest during the elections there earlier this year, bawling at the sight of the hundreds of apparently abandoned evacuees. In fact, he was among them, he spoke to them, and memorably, tears running down his face, he held up a baby and shouted at Sean Hannity demanding that these people be allowed to leave. Apparently, as an equally outraged Shepard Smith would explain to Sean moments later, a checkpoint was set up preventing people from leaving the location (no doubt in the interest of security) and passing into another parish where food and water might be available to them. Reveira and Smith, usually reliable mouthpieces of the administration, had thrown the network off message, beautifully, by doing their job.

They were in the field and, as so many other journalists who were on the scene over the past week, could not maintain an ounce of the objective detachment (or in the case of these two, the right-leaning detachment) that they were supposed to have as journalists. So Sean Hannity was left alone to try to restore the good name of the administration that essentially employs him. You thought Sean Hannity came off as cold and heartless on a given night of Hannity and Colmes, in comparison to his devastated correspondents, he was downright villainous. He kept asking that they "put things in perspective", "let's get some perspective", "keep this in perspective", in other words his usual apologist bullshit, but Smith was having none of it. "Look at these people, Sean, look at these people, this is all the perspective you need!"

Watching Fox News a day later, I was interested to see Reveira again in tears, but this time at the image of military helicopters airlifting the very people he covered the night was joy this time that reduced Reveira to a quivering mass, and perhaps at the idea that his very breakdown the night before may have partially motivated the powers that be to get those very people out of there as fast as possible. In its outrage at the delayed response to the victims of Katrina, it seems the media has re-discovered its power, to affect change, to move people emotionally and to action. What's occured seems to me to be nothing short of a coup on the part of a media that up to now had, for the most part with few exceptions, treated the administration with kid gloves. Let's hope this newfound boldness will carry over long after New Orleans is dry and its former residents disappear into new and once again invisible lives.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Ray Nagin, New Orleans Mayor

In an interview with Garland Robinette of WWL Radio, New Orleans Mayor Nagin had the following to say:

GR: You and I must be in the minority, because apparently there's a section of our citizenry out there that thinks because of a law that says the federal government can't come in unless requested by the proper people, that everything that's been going on to this point has been as good as it can possibly be.
RN: Really?
GR: I know you don't feel that way.
RN: Well... did the tsunami victims request? Did they go through a formal process to request? Did Iraq -- did the Iraqi people request that we go in there? Did they ask us to go in there? What is more important? I tell ya man, I'm probably going to be in a whole bunch of trouble, I'm probably going to be in so much trouble it ain't even funny. You probably won't even want to deal with me after this interview is over.
GR: You and I will be in the funny place together.
RN: But -- we authorized $8 billion to go to Iraq, lickety-quick. After 9/11, we gave the president unprecedented powers -- lickety-quick -- to take care of New York and other places. Now you mean to tell me that a place where most of the oil is coming through... a place that is so unique, when you mention New Orleans anywhere around the world, everybody's eyes light up... you mean to tell me that a place where you probably have thousands people that have died, and thousands more that are dying every day, that we can't figure out a way to authorize the resources that we need? Come on, man.

You know I'm not one of those drug addicts, I am thinking very clearly. And I don't know whose problem it is. I don't know whether it's the governor's problem, I don't know whether it's the president's problem. But somebody needs to get their ass on a plane, and sit down, the two of them, and figure this out right now."

Even Bill O'Reilly Gets It Right Sometimes

I may disagree with Bill O'Reilly on most things political, but he sometimes veers into liberal territory, especially when it comes to speaking out for the common man and expressing outrage at abuse of power. Sometimes O'Reilly puts politics aside, and sometimes even do I. From his Talking Points Memo from Wednesday:
Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman should inform American oil companies not to profiteer. In fact, I think their profits should be cut back by 20 percent to spare America's pain. Any oil company that does not voluntarily comply with that should be exposed.

President Bush should ask OPEC to drop the price of oil $15 a barrel tomorrow. It costs OPEC about $4 a barrel to produce and market the crude. They're getting $70 a barrel on the open market. Do the math. This is a gouge.

Diane Sawyer asked Bush about the former proposal on Good Morning America on Thursday. This was his response:
What I'd like to see is corporate America make sure they contribute to help with these victims, that there be an outpouring of contributions for these relief efforts.
Lest we forget the oil man roots of this president.

National Geographic Saw It Coming

Frighteningly prescient:

It was a broiling August afternoon in New Orleans, Louisiana, the Big Easy, the City That Care Forgot. Those who ventured outside moved as if they were swimming in tupelo honey. Those inside paid silent homage to the man who invented air-conditioning as they watched TV "storm teams" warn of a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico. Nothing surprising there: Hurricanes in August are as much a part of life in this town as hangovers on Ash Wednesday.

But the next day the storm gathered steam and drew a bead on the city. As the whirling maelstrom approached the coast, more than a million people evacuated to higher ground. Some 200,000 remained, however—the car-less, the homeless, the aged and infirm, and those die-hard New Orleanians who look for any excuse to throw a party.

The storm hit Breton Sound with the fury of a nuclear warhead, pushing a deadly storm surge into Lake Pontchartrain. The water crept to the top of the massive berm that holds back the lake and then spilled over. Nearly 80 percent of New Orleans lies below sea level—more than eight feet below in places—so the water poured in. A liquid brown wall washed over the brick ranch homes of Gentilly, over the clapboard houses of the Ninth Ward, over the white-columned porches of the Garden District, until it raced through the bars and strip joints on Bourbon Street like the pale rider of the Apocalypse. As it reached 25 feet (eight meters) over parts of the city, people climbed onto roofs to escape it.

Thousands drowned in the murky brew that was soon contaminated by sewage and industrial waste. Thousands more who survived the flood later perished from dehydration and disease as they waited to be rescued. It took two months to pump the city dry, and by then the Big Easy was buried under a blanket of putrid sediment, a million people were homeless, and 50,000 were dead. It was the worst natural disaster in the history of the United States.

When did this calamity happen? It hasn't—yet. But the doomsday scenario is not far-fetched. The Federal Emergency Management Agency lists a hurricane strike on New Orleans as one of the most dire threats to the nation, up there with a large earthquake in California or a terrorist attack on New York City. Even the Red Cross no longer opens hurricane shelters in the city, claiming the risk to its workers is too great.

- Oct. 2004

Thursday, September 01, 2005

A Right-Wing Perspective on New Orleans

This could set a dangerous precedent but I said I'd post a Republican friend's response to Blumenthal and the question "How could our leaders have let the New Orleans situation get so of hand?" See below (get ready, you're entering a no-accountability zone.)

Because there isn't enough money on the entire planet to armor the entire Atlantic and Gulf coasts against a hurricane like Katrina. And armoring the entire coast WOULD be necessary ... wanna know why? Because the minute you armor New Orleans against a Cat 5 storm you have to go and armor Galveston. And Houston. And Corpus Christi. And Tampa, Key West and Miami. And Savannah. And Charleston. And Wilmington. And Norfolk. And Baltimore. And Atlantic City. And New York City. And probably Newport, Boston and Portland too.

If you really look at the sources that Blumenthal relies on, the level of his deceptive selective presentation becomes very clear. The US government had spent 10 years (starting back under Clinton, when Blumenthal was helping to run things) and half a billion dollars armoring New Orleans. A quarter of a billion dollars of projects remained, but at the rate the money was being burned (~$45 million per year) that translates into six additional years of projects.

Funding was cut in 2004 ... so we are to believe that a year and a half and $67 million would have protected NO from this storm? That's insane ... if you don't believe me go ask a civil engineer if a year and a half/$67 million would be enough to raise the protection of a sub-sea level city like NO from Cat3 to Cat5.

Couldn't See It Coming, eh?

Sidney Blumenthal, former Clinton advisor, fills us in as to the warnings the administration had that just such a disaster would occur in New Orleans:

A year ago the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed to study how New Orleans could be protected from a catastrophic hurricane, but the Bush administration ordered that the research not be undertaken. After a flood killed six people in 1995, Congress created the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project, in which the Corps of Engineers strengthened and renovated levees and pumping stations. In early 2001, the Federal Emergency Management Agency issued a report stating that a hurricane striking New Orleans was one of the three most likely disasters in the U.S., including a terrorist attack on New York City. But by 2003 the federal funding for the flood control project essentially dried up as it was drained into the Iraq war. In 2004, the Bush administration cut funding requested by the New Orleans district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for holding back the waters of Lake Pontchartrain by more than 80 percent. Additional cuts at the beginning of this year (for a total reduction in funding of 44.2 percent since 2001) forced the New Orleans district of the Corps to impose a hiring freeze. The Senate had debated adding funds for fixing New Orleans' levees, but it was too late.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune, which before the hurricane published a series on the federal funding problem, and whose presses are now underwater, reported online: "No one can say they didn't see it coming ... Now in the wake of one of the worst storms ever, serious questions are being asked about the lack of preparation."

Difference Between Republicans and Democrats

Republican concerns today:

For the last four years, President Bush and Republicans in Congress have championed a pro-growth agenda that has brought tax relief to millions of Americans. Historic legislation in 2001 and 2003 put America on the track to economic growth, and today our economic outlook is bright. There is more work to do, however, to ensure that tax-paying Americans can keep more of their own hard-earned income.

When they return from their August recess, Senators will consider a key issue: elimination of the death tax. The death tax is an unfair double taxation of income, which hurts America's small businesses and farms and
threatens job growth. Unfortunately, Senate Democrats are working hard to oppose our efforts to eliminate this unfair tax.

Will you help bring tax relief to more hard-working Americans? Call [your elected officials today] and ask them to eliminate the death tax.

Democrat concerns today:
Rep. John Conyers, Jr., Rep. Mel Watt, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee announced today that when Congress returns next Tuesday, they will introduce legislation to protect the thousands of families and small businesses financially devastated by Hurricane Katrina from being penalized by anti-debtor provisions contained in the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005, scheduled to take effect on October 17, 2005.

Reps. Conyers, Nadler, and Jackson Lee released the following joint statement:"We are concerned that just as survivors of Hurricane Katrina are beginning to rebuild their lives, the new bankruptcy law will result in a further and unintended financial whammy. Unfortunately, the new law is likely to have the consequence of preventing devestated families from being able to obtain relief from massive and unexpected new financial obligations they are incurring and by forcing them to repay their debt with income they no longer have, but which is counted by the law.

Thanks to dailyKos for bringing this to our attention.

What The Hell Is Going On?!?!

How can our leaders be allowing such chaos to reign in New Orleans? Are they truly powerless? CNN reports that sniper fire is now impeding the evacuation of victims from a New Orleans hospital. New Orleans's Mayor Ray Nagin has issued a "desperate SOS." CNN further reports:

"There are multiple people dying at the convention center," Lawrence said. "There was an old woman, dead in a wheelchair with a blanket draped over her, pushed up against a wall. Horrible, horrible conditions.

"We saw a man who went into a seizure, literally dying right in front of us."

In a statement Thursday, Nagin said that "currently the convention center is unsanitary and unsafe and we are running out of supplies for (15,000 to 20,000) people."

People were "being forced to live like animals," Lawrence said, surrounded by piles of trash and feces.

He said thousands of people were just laying in the ground outside the building -- many old, or sick, or caring for infants and small children.

Widespread looting and random gunfire have been reported across New Orleans. Police told CNN that groups of armed men roamed the streets overnight.
Officers told CNN they lacked manpower and steady communications to properly do their jobs -- and that they needed help to prevent the widespread looting and violence now prevalent in the city.

A police officer working in downtown New Orleans said police were siphoning gas from abandoned vehicles in an effort to keep their squad cars running, CNN's Chris Lawrence reported.

Congress intends to return to session prior to the Labor Day weekend, a few days earlier than originally planned. I wonder how they'll explain to their constituents how they allowed New Orleans flooding prevention funds to be cut and for all the pleas by Mary Landrieu over the years for levees to be fortified to go unheeded. And I wonder if Democrats will speak up about it and against the president who attempted some truly shameful pre-emptive damage control this morning on Good Morning America:
I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees.

Uh, yeah they did and you know it.

Where Is The Help?

Anderson Cooper, reporting from the ground in Mississippi, had this moving plea:
Person after person came up to me today and they were angry. Where is the federal government?... Where is the army? Where is the National Guard? It is a desperate situation down here. There is no food, no water, no electricity, no ice and it is deteriorating rapidly. There is looting, not only in New Orleans but even in a small town like Bay St. Louis. Where is the help?

New Orleans Disaster Editorials

Well, Bush did finally make a statement about the devastation yesterday but does anyone else get the sense that his words and his demeanor and his timing perhaps most of all render him just completely irrelevant in this time of crisis?

Editorial boards across the country, right wing and left wing alike, seem to agree.

Thanks to Rachel Maddow for bringing the following to my attention:

The New York Times on the vacuum of leadership:

George W. Bush gave one of the worst speeches of his life yesterday, especially given the level of national distress and the need for words of consolation and wisdom. In what seems to be a ritual in this administration, the president appeared a day later than he was needed. He then read an address of a quality more appropriate for an Arbor Day celebration: a long laundry list of pounds of ice, generators and blankets delivered to the stricken Gulf Coast. He advised the public that anybody who wanted to help should send cash, grinned, and promised that everything would work out in the end.
The Washington Post on the failure of the political leaders in this country to prepare for such a disaster:

This administration has consistently played down the possibility of environmental disaster, in Louisiana and everywhere else. The president's most recent budgets have actually proposed reducing funding for flood prevention in the New Orleans area, and the administration has long ignored Louisiana politicians' requests for more help in protecting their fragile coast, the destruction of which meant there was little to slow down the hurricane before it hit the city.
The Manchester Union Leader on Bush's poor leadership:

Katrina already is measured as one of the worst storms in American history. And yet, President Bush decided that his plans to commemorate the 60th anniversary of VJ Day with a speech were more pressing than responding to the carnage.

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

The cool, confident, intuitive leadership Bush exhibited in his first term, particularly in the months immediately following Sept. 11, 2001, has vanished. In its place is a diffident detachment unsuitable for the leader of a nation facing war, natural disaster and economic uncertainty.