Friday, September 30, 2005

Quote of the Day


"But I do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could, if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down," said William Bennett, author of "The Book of Virtues."

Schadenfreude

It is hard not to feel a little schadenfreude at the martyrdom of Tom Delay and Bill Frist, cat torturer.


Some choice quotes from Delay, former exterminator and self-proclaimed "best weasel killer in Houston":
    "Allowing the Soviet Union to consolidate a communist stronghold on our mainland (only miles from our Texas border), vis-a-vis the Sandinistas, represents a major threat to our southern flank of security."
    --Letter to a Constituent 2-5-88.

    "The greenies have led us into the crisis in the Middle East... The rabid environmentalists felt it was more important to jeopardize the lives of our brave American servicemen than risk the death of a single snail darter."
    --Quoted in Washington Post 11-4-91.

    and this gem

    "Guns have little or nothing to do with juvenile violence. The causes of youth violence are working parents who put their kids into daycare, the teaching of evolution in the schools, and working mothers who take birth control pills."

But in the spirit of fairness and bipartisanship, I think we should all remember what Tom Delay has done for us


and say a little prayer for him.

The Worthless Mr. Wyden

Our worthless Senator Wyden blithely helps move us just a little closer to The Handmaid's Tale.
    In a speech on the Senate floor, the Oregon Democrat said Roberts would not be the nominee he would choose, but that Roberts is more than qualified for the post.
We are not picking the head of FEMA or an airline pilot here. Pretending that Supreme Court Justice is essentially a technocratic job, and not an ideological one is disingenuous at best. The Republicans have recognized this for a long time. The Democrats are still living in the jaws of make believe. Ideological agenda, what ideological agenda?

Republicans are not appointing an extremist like Roberts because of his skill as a lawyer but because of his loyalty as a consigliere. All Wyden's talk about Roberts' allegedly brilliant legal mind is just a smokesceen for cowardice and indifference. It gives the Bush administration aid and comfort in their drive to establish a theo-corporate state. Roberts perhaps could not be stopped, but there was no need to help legitimize him or the agenda that follows on his heels.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Some Updates

I posted a funny story last week about desperate military recruiters which received a funny response, apparently from an actual military recruiter (who confesses that he is actually not much of a reader). Now they have graduated from crashing kiddy birthday parties to giving away free music on i-tunes if someone would just--please--agree to talk to one of them. They are sooo cool.
---
The story I mentioned on Saturday about New Orleans prisoners who were abandoned in their cells, trapped while water rose up to their chins, has been covered in a really excellent in-depth piece by Democracy Now. More than 500 prisoners are still unaccounted for. Based in part on the original Human Rights Watch reports, the ACLU has filed a series of motions and a Freedom of Infomation Act request to get information on the fate of 6,500 New Orleans prisoners.
---
The Scopes Dover "Intelligent Design" Trial goes on. There is good coverage at the Panda's Thumb, not to be confused with the creationist textbook Of Pandas and People, which is a major exhibit in the trial. It turns out that early draft versions of the textbook contain an evolutionary record of the transition from creationism to "intelligent design."

There is continuing podcast coverage of the trial from the National Center for Science Education.

And Attacks on Evolution State by State

Manufacturing Signs of Progress

At last a sign of progress in Iraq! The US has killed the second-in-command of al-Qaida in Iraq ... again. Bush trumpeted this success in a speech on Wednesday:
    "This guy was a brutal killer," Bush told reporters in remarks that were also carried live on cable TV. "He was one of [Abu Mussab al-] Zarqawi's top lieutenants. He was reported to be the top operational commander of Al Qaeda in Baghdad."

But, as lenin points out, we seem to have heard this one more than a few times before. Now even Newsweek has started to become suspicious.
    ... veteran counterterrorism analyst Evan Kohlmann said today there are ample reasons to question whether Abu Azzam was really the No. 2 figure in the Iraqi insurgency. He noted that U.S. officials have made similar claims about a string of purportedly high-ranking terrorist operatives who had been captured or killed in the past, even though these alleged successes made no discernible dent in the intensity of the insurgency.

    "If I had a nickel for every No. 2 and No. 3 they've arrested or killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, I'd be a millionaire."

    ...In January 2004, for example, the U.S. military announced the arrest in Fallajuh of Husam al-Yemeni, who was described in press accounts out of Baghdad as the '“right-hand man'” of Zarqawi. In November 2004, Iraqi officials announced they had arrested in Mosul a man named Abu Saaed, who was described by the Iraqi national-security adviser as Zarqawi's 'alleged lieutenant.'

    IRAQIS NAB TOP ZARQAWI AIDE read the headline on the Fox News Web site on Jan. 24, 2005, touting the arrest of yet another man, Sami Mohammed Ali Said al-Jaaf, also known as Abu Omar al-Kurdi...

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

In the Twilight of the Real (a continuing series)

Recently it has become harder and harder to separate truth from fiction, satire from mere description, reality from cartoon. Some exhibits:

Katrina releases killer spy dolphins with poison dart guns into the Gulf (true story)
    It may be the oddest tale to emerge from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Armed dolphins, trained by the US military to shoot terrorists and pinpoint spies underwater, may be missing in the Gulf of Mexico.

    Experts who have studied the US navy's cetacean training exercises claim the 36 mammals could be carrying 'toxic dart' guns...
Background music: Submission.

Eating at McDonald's results in dramatic weight loss (a real advertising campaign).
    Ronald McDonald, the garish clown recognised worldwide as the icon of the fast food restaurant chain, has been taken off the menu in Japan.

    In new advertising, he has been replaced by a woman sporting a bikini and high heels, The Times reported. The rebranding exercise is part of a global effort by McDonald's to promote healthy living and to emphasise other products rather than burgers and chips...
The video clips linked here are hard to believe.

President Calls for Less Driving to Conserve Gas (actual headline)

but
    "Mr. Bush promised to dip further into the government's petroleum reserve, if necessary, and to continue relaxing environmental and transportation rules in an effort to get more gasoline flowing...Nor did Mr. Bush propose new policies to encourage conservation."
Translation: blah, blah, blah, blah, shshshshshop as usual ... and avoid panic buying.

And from Richard Dawkins, some satire which gets at the truth.

    Gerin oil (or Geriniol to give it its scientific name) is a powerful drug which acts directly on the central nervous system to produce a range of characteristic symptoms, often of an antisocial or self- damaging nature. If administered chronically in childhood, Gerin oil can permanently modify the brain to produce adult disorders, including dangerous delusions which have proved very hard to treat. The four doomed flights of 11th September were, in a very real sense, Gerin oil trips: all 19 of the hijackers were high on the drug at the time...

Hint--it's an anagram.

And FEMA Rehires Michael Brown as a Consultant (both parody and reality)
    CBS News is reporting that the former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Michael Brown, has been rehired by the agency to serve as a consultant to evaluate its response following Hurricane Katrina. On Sept. 12 Brown announced his resignation saying "it is important that I leave now to avoid further distraction from the ongoing mission of FEMA." The Department of Homeland Security has confirmed that Brown is still on the payroll but claims it is just because his resignation has not taken effect yet.
Finally a bit of pure satire from last Saturday's Onion calendar.
    Pope wins Host-Eating Contest

    Coney Island, NY--Pope Benedict XVI won Monday's 14th annual Host-Eating Contest, as the Vicar of Christ ate 392 sanctified wafers in 12 minutes, edging out his nearest competition, Japanese trencherman Takeru Kobayashi. "His Holiness put on an incredible display of eating, devouring the equivalent of seven and a half full bodies of Christ," said contest organizer and head judge Bishop Thomas Daily. "In the last few seconds, bits of chewed-up wafer started coming out of his nose, but we allowed it because none of it hit the ground." Said third-place finisher Eric "Badlands" Booker: "Hey, that's why he's the pope."

----
UPDATE 9/28: End Times?

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Out of Iraq NOW

Juan Cole has an excellent post on why the US needs to get out of Iraq now. I know that has been obvious to most of us for a while, since before the war started in fact, but his piece is a really good, detailed review of the reasons. It is also a evolution in Cole's own position. He was until recently arguing that US troops needed to stay in to try to fix what we had broken and to stabilize Iraq, a position for which he was widely and rightly criticized on the left. He is right that we are responsible not only for the war but for the consequences for the Iraqi people when we withdraw. Until now he argued that we could and were morally obligated to do something to ameliorate the death, destruction, torture and chaos we have brought about. But he finally seems to have understood that we need to deal with the leadership we have and not the leadership we would like to have.

Bush & co. are incapable of doing anything constructive in Iraq, because they have no interest in helping Iraq or taking the slightest bit of responsibility for the horrors we have visited upon them. George Bush simply doesn't care about the Iraqi people. What our resources might do to help in the presence of good intentions is totally irrelevant since such intentions do not and will not exist. We are utterly responsible, but there is no way to atone.

Even if the Democrats were in power, there is no genuine concern for the welfare of the Iraqi people or democracy or the other idealist rhetoric that neocons like Hitchens are so pompously bandying about. Because that's all it is, just rhetoric. Case in point: an interview with the Democratic governor of New Mexico, former UN Ambassador under Clinton and 2008 presidential hopeful Bill Richardson on Democracy Now earlier this week. Asked about the sanctions against Iraq under the Clinton administration, he said that despite the harm they did, they were worth the cost. Even when Amy Goodman pointed out that the cost was a half million children dead. He said yes, it was worth it.*
    AMY GOODMAN: But the U.N. sanctions, for example, the sanctions led to the deaths of more than a half a million children, not to mention more than a million Iraqis.

    GOVERNOR RICHARDSON: Well, I stand behind the sanctions. I believe that they successfully contained Saddam Hussein. I believe that the sanctions were an instrument of our policy.


What if it were a half million American children? Children from New Mexico? Still worth it? Given this cavalier attitude toward Iraqi lives, it is hardly surprising that neither he nor any prominent Democrat supports immediate withdrawal.

----
*While Richardson and Madeline Albright were quite sanguine about the consequences of the sanctions they supported, Bill Clinton himself has been a bit more evasive.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Unworthy Victims

Human Rights Watch has a report on New Orleans prisoners who were abandoned in their cells, trapped while water rose up to their chins. This horror story has so far gone virtually unreported in the American press (although it was picked up by the Independent of London) because in America, if you are in jail, you must deserve whatever happens to you.
    (New York, September 22, 2005)—As Hurricane Katrina began pounding New Orleans, the sheriff's department abandoned hundreds of inmates imprisoned in the city’s jail, Human Rights Watch said today.

    Inmates in Templeman III, one of several buildings in the Orleans Parish Prison compound, reported that as of Monday, August 29, there were no correctional officers in the building, which held more than 600 inmates. These inmates, including some who were locked in ground-floor cells, were not evacuated until Thursday, September 1, four days after flood waters in the jail had reached chest-level.

    “Of all the nightmares during Hurricane Katrina, this must be one of the worst,” said Corinne Carey, researcher from Human Rights Watch. “Prisoners were abandoned in their cells without food or water for days as floodwaters rose toward the ceiling.” ...

    The sheriff of Orleans Parish, Marlin N. Gusman, did not call for help in evacuating the prison until midnight on Monday, August 29, a state Department of Corrections and Public Safety spokeswoman told Human Rights Watch. Other parish prisons, she said, had called for help on the previous Saturday and Sunday. The evacuation of Orleans Parish Prison was not completed until Friday, September 2.

    According to officers who worked at two of the jail buildings, Templeman 1 and 2, they began to evacuate prisoners from those buildings on Tuesday, August 30, when the floodwaters reached chest level inside. These prisoners were taken by boat to the Broad Street overpass bridge, and ultimately transported to correctional facilities outside New Orleans.

    But at Templeman III, which housed about 600 inmates, there was no prison staff to help the prisoners...

    According to inmates interviewed by Human Rights Watch, they had no food or water from the inmates' last meal over the weekend of August 27-28 until they were evacuated on Thursday, September 1. By Monday, August 29, the generators had died, leaving them without lights and sealed in without air circulation. The toilets backed up, creating an unbearable stench.

    “They left us to die there,” Dan Bright, an Orleans Parish Prison inmate told Human Rights Watch at Rapides Parish Prison, where he was sent after the evacuation.

    As the water began rising on the first floor, prisoners became anxious and then desperate. Some of the inmates were able to force open their cell doors, helped by inmates held in the common area. All of them, however, remained trapped in the locked facility... Some inmates from Templeman III have said they saw bodies floating in the floodwaters as they were evacuated from the prison... Inmates broke jail windows to let air in. They also set fire to blankets and shirts and hung them out of the windows to let people know they were still in the facility. Apparently at least a dozen inmates jumped out of the windows...

    “It was complete chaos,” said a corrections officer with more than 30 years of service at Orleans Parish Prison. When asked what he thought happened to the inmates in Templeman III, he shook his head and said: “Ain't no tellin’ what happened to those people.”

    “At best, the inmates were left to fend for themselves,” said Carey. “At worst, some may have died.”

    Human Rights Watch was not able to speak directly with Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin N. Gussman or the ranking official in charge of Templeman III. A spokeswoman for the sheriff’s department told Human Rights Watch that search-and-rescue teams had gone to the prison and she insisted that “nobody drowned, nobody was left behind.”

    ... Many of the men held at jail had been arrested for offenses like criminal trespass, public drunkenness or disorderly conduct. Many had not even been brought before a judge and charged, much less been convicted.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Offshore Impact

Map of Oil Rigs in the Path of the Storm (via The Oil Drum)

Shop as usual and avoid panic buying

The Greyhound terminal in Houston was closed, but people lined up anyway in the hopes that another bus would arrive.

A nuclear power plant 90 miles SW of Houston and a level 4 biohazard facility in Galveston prepare to ride out the storm.
    The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston has one of a handful of certified U.S. labs handling the world's most infectious, lethal viruses, a biosafety-level 4 facility. The campus is less than a mile from the Galveston seawall...

    The lab's director, Michael R. Holbrook, said workers have already destroyed lab cultures in which viruses were growing and will begin packing the lab up today, putting remaining viruses in sealed and locked freezers. Then, if Rita still threatens Thursday, the lab will be fumigated with formaldehyde.

    "Four hours later, the lab is rendered completely safe," Holbrook said.
Houston's traffic really can get worse. With as many as 2.5 million evacuees fleeing the area, many of them stuck in 100 mile long traffic jams, Houston mayor Billy White is forced to acknowledge that "being on the highway is a deathtrap." And in Louisiana, the governor made a helpful suggestion:
    Noting the difficulty medical examiners have had in identifying the dead from Hurricane Katrina, Ms. Blanco offered morbid advice to those who refuse to evacuate. "Perhaps they should write their Social Security numbers on their arms in indelible ink," she said.
NASA is evacuating the Johnson Space Center and turning over control of the space station to Russia.

And, on a lighter note, Rita is declared a Category 12 storm soon to be a black hole.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Shadow of the Ustashe


The new pope is starting to look a lot like the old pope, not so much JP II as Pius XII. The Vatican is hiding Croatia's most wanted war crimes suspect in one of its monasteries again. Then it was Ante Pavelic and his host of genocidal clerics, now it is Gen Ante Gotovina.

    Gen. Gotovina has been charged with the deaths of 150 Serb civilians in 1995...Forces under Gen Gotovina's command are accused of killing scores of Serbs and expelling up to 200,000 from the Krajina region, now part of Croatia.

    Ms. del Ponte wrote to Pope Benedict XVI in July this year in an effort to secure the Vatican's co-operation, her spokeswoman told the BBC News website.

    The Pope has yet to reply to the prosecutor's request for a meeting, the spokeswoman said.

    Ms. del Ponte earlier told British newspaper The Daily Telegraph she believed Gen Gotovina was "hiding in a Franciscan monastery and so the Catholic Church is protecting him".

    "I have taken this up with the Vatican and the Vatican totally refuses to co-operate with us," she said.

More on the general here.

For more background on the Vatican's support for the fascist Ustashe and genocide in Croatia as well as on JP II's attempt to sanctify those crimes see my essay The Patron Saint of Genocide.

Toy Soldiers

Ron English

The desperate military recruiter is quickly joining the pedophile priest in the lexicon of modern stereotypes. And Chuck E. Cheese is there to lend a hand.
    Is the military targeting the birthday-party set?

    Last week, members of the Park Slope Parents Association were alerted to a new threat: Republicans bearing pizza. The mother of a 3-year-old reported that she was shocked to see “promo films for military recruitment” playing at her local Chuck E. Cheese’s. The 500 franchises of the amusement-park-like pizzeria were screening a two-minute montage of smiling soldiers handing out toys and candy to Iraqi kids (set to “America the Beautiful”). According to Chuck E. Cheese’s VP of marketing Dick Huston, this segment, created from footage donated by the Defense Department, began showing at the chain around July 4. “There was no firing of weapons,” notes Huston. “It was meant to honor our troops and the humanness of what is occurring. It is a nice, innocent piece. It’s pretty warm.” Still, customers complained that this was inappropriate for a child’s birthday party. “I guess people could interpret it as prowar, but we support what our troops are doing over there—helping kids.”

No word yet on how the campaign to recruit the littlest soldiers is going.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Culture Jamming

There is a great new collection of culture jamming at Billboard Front (via Boing Boing).

There is some incredible art linked there including Ron English, False Advertising and the California Department of Corrections, which came up with this:

Look to Heaven for Relief

    "Bush's efforts to chloroform public opinion with superstition and fatalism are meant to distract attention from the actual scientific understanding of events such as Hurricane Katrina."

The author of this excellent article nicely captures the new bread and circuses flavor of the Bush Administration response to the opportunities presented by Katrina.
    The denial of environmental problems has disarmed the population in the face of real dangers. A serious attempt to deal with global warming would require not only a major shift in the sources and methods of energy production, but a massive investment in social infrastructure to guard against disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, something the American ruling elite is unwilling to carry out.

    There is, of course, a more immediate and sordid aspect of the appeal to religion. It is used to justify the funneling of federal monies to religious groups, in particular to right-wing Christian fundamentalist outfits that are close to the Republican Party and serve as a principal base of the Bush administration. Bush announced in his speech that part of the money that is being raised by former presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton will go to religious organizations...

    The administration sees the devastation of Hurricane Katrina as an opportunity to push its efforts to integrate church and state and to promote government financing of “faith-based” groups in place of social programs for those most severely crushed by the workings of the capitalist system.

    Aside from these more immediate political calculations, the administration'’s relentless promotion of religion serves the long-range goal of undermining science and polluting the public consciousness with superstition and backwardness. To the extent that mystification of both natural and social processes gains the upper hand, the masses of people who are victimized by the policies of the government and the financial elite are ideologically and politically disarmed.

    Invocations of God serve to impede a serious examination of the causes of the Katrina disaster, —above all, those which arise not from nature, but from the dysfunctional and socially destructive workings of the capitalist system, and the role of the parties, media organs, and government institutions that uphold that system.

Worth reading in full.

And in Salon last week, The Know Nothings examines the alliance between the pro-business republicans and the religious right based largely on Chris Mooney's new book The Republican War on Science.

Of particular interest is the discussion of the history of the "teach the controversy" strategy currently being deployed by both the creationists and the opponents of global warming. This rhetorical trick is a lot older that I had realized.
    Mooney quotes an internal strategy document from the tobacco company Brown and Williamson, written around 1969: "Doubt is our product, since it is the best means of competing with the 'body of fact' that exists in the mind of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy." B&W and the other tobacco giants achieved no better than a stalemate in their long battle against government regulation, but whatever chain-smoking, skinny-tied executive wrote that memo ought to be beatified by the conservative movement. With those two sentences he became its accidental Karl Marx, launching an antiscientific counterrevolution that rages around us today.

The second leg of the current stategy is the appeal to balance:
    Perhaps most effectively of all, the right's war on science has exploited the mainstream media's fetish for journalistic "balance," regardless of its relevance to reality. Despite the overwhelming consensus of mainstream science on global warming, newspaper articles and TV reports still dutifully call upon the shrinking universe of contrarians like Michaels.

A good analysis of what's wrong with this can be found here. And the attempt to line up enough experts to create a plausible veneer of controversy led to a hilarious response by the National Center for Science Education. NCSE's Project Steve is compiling a counter list of scientists who support evolution and who happen to be named Steve (616 signed up so far). They even have a fine pythonesque theme song!

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Lord of the Penguins


The xian right has found a new role model in the nature documentary March of the Penguins. They are actually organizing leadership seminars around the discussion of the film. Following prinicples of interpretation similar to those used in the examination of bird entrails, the xian right finds in the life of the penguin a parable of family values: monogamy, sacrifice and righteous xian struggle.
    Ben Hunt, a minister at the network, said of the penguins' struggle for survival: 'Some of the circumstances they experienced seemed to parallel those of Christians. The penguin is falling behind, like some Christians are falling behind. The path changes every year, yet they find their way, like the Holy Spirit.'

    A contributor to the Christian Science Monitor wrote: 'The penguins' way of life has illustrated to me some aspects of how God is parenting us.' ... Rich Lowry, editor of National Review, told a conference of young Republicans: 'Penguins are the really ideal example of monogamy...'

The last comment is particularly funny since the species of penguins featured in the film are typically monogamous only for a season.

    As happened with Mel Gibson's Christian blockbuster, churches have block-booked cinemas and organized visits for their members. The 153 House Churches Network in Sidney, Ohio, runs a March of the Penguins Leadership Workshop after screenings of the film. Its website, www.lionsofgod.com, provides a form that can be downloaded and taken to the cinema. It advises: 'Please use the notebook, flashlight and pen provided to write down what God speaks to you.'

If only they would pick (Disney) lemmings as their inspiration instead.



UPDATE 9/19: One Good Move has posted an incredible Daily Show Clip from 2004 about gay penguins.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

A Wee Problem with Respect


The first time I saw this story I thought it was a joke. Now I realize it is an opportunity.

The Sun has the best take on it I've seen (but it is in good company):
    I Fear a Leak Condi

    PRESIDENT Bush ran into an international crisis yesterday— when he urgently needed to go to the LOO during a vital United Nations debate.

    As world leaders searched for ways to revitalise the UN, the embarrassed US leader scribbled a hasty note: "I think I may need a bathroom break? Is this possible."

    He then handed it to his Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, sitting behind him.

    It was not clear why the most powerful man in the world needed Condi's permission to leave the room.

    Mr Bush'’s emergency motion came during the World Summit and 60th General Assembly of the United Nations in New York.

    The three-day summit was meant to focus on UN reform and world poverty but the spotlight was on the fight against terrorism.

    The blueprint drawn up by the leaders falls short of Secretary-General Kofi Annan'’s vision for freedom from want, persecution and war.

It is nice to see the president finally get the respect he deserves.

Has anyone else noticed that other political leaders have started simply ignoring George III's major policy statements as if he were an alzheimers-striken relative. Let's go to Mars. Right. After the speech, no one, not even George himself, mentioned it again except as a joke. And what about his manly commitment to personally lead the investigation into the Katrina disaster? Everybody, including the Republicans in Congress, seems to have just forgotten about that and gone on with their own plans. Now he has this big plan for Katrina relief. The South New Orleans shall rise again. Despite the massive opportunities for pork and cronyism and mad libertarian experiments and ethnic cleansing this offers, it's looking like the party faithful may not be on board.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Child Psychology


A lot of newspapers are carrying headlines suggesting that George Bush apologized for the federal government's incompetent and dithering response to Katrina. Here's what he actually said:
    "Katrina exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government, and to the extent that the federal government didn't fully do its job right, I take responsibility,"

The New York Times, for example, parses this with the headline "President Says He's Responsible in Storm Lapses". Even the normally cynical Billmon seems to think he apologized, with all that entails. But he didn't actually do that. The phrasing of his apology is in fact a childish attempt to continue to evade the responsibility that everybody else seems to think he has.

As Salon puts it:
    "It was a conditional acceptance of responsibility. Bush isn't saying -- and he hasn't really said -- that the federal government didn't do its job right in the aftermath of Katrina. But if it didn't, he'll take responsibility. And even that conditional acknowledgement was itself a dodge."

The reality based community all knows that the government didn't do its job right in the aftermath of Katrina. But George Bush does not. Earlier, when House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's requested that he fire FEMA chief Michael Brown, he replied
    "Why would I do that?.."What didn't go right?''

The conditional phrasing of his so-called apology indicates that he still doesn't get it. In other words, in his own mind it is not an apology at all. And that's all that matters.

Prayers and Loot


Prayers:

Some pious images are available from Jesus of the Week.

And a couple of churches could use some vocabulary lessons. Counago and Spaves explains why "Dogging Christ" might not strike quite the right tone for a sermon.

Loot:
    Halliburton Gets Contract To Pry Gold Fillings From New Orleans Corpses' Teeth
    September 14, 2005 | Issue 41•37

    HOUSTON—On Tuesday, Halliburton received a $110 million no-bid government contract to pry the gold fillings from the mouths of deceased disaster victims in the New Orleans-Gulf Coast area. "We are proud to serve the government in this time of crisis by recovering valuable resources from the wreckage of this deadly storm," said David J. Lesar, Halliburton's president. "The gold we recover from the human rubble of Katrina can be used to make fighter-jet electronics, supercomputer chips, inflation-proof A-grade investments, and luxury yachting watches."

Monday, September 12, 2005

Fair and Balanced


“I think it’s important for them to hear both sides of the debate.”
link

Patriotic Straitjacket


The artist Lisa Charde's (un)Patriot(ic) Act, is part of a new exhibition by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, titled "A Knock at the Door," which explores the effects of the Patriot Act.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Homeland Nepotism


Turns out our local FEMA fuehrer is no more qualified than Michael Brown.

    John Pennington, the official in charge of federal disaster response in the Northwest, was a four-term Republican state representative who ran a mom-and-pop coffee company in Cowlitz County when then-Congresswoman Jennifer Dunn helped him get his federal post.

    Before he was appointed regional director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Pennington got a degree from a correspondence school that government investigators later described as a "diploma mill..."

    Shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, President Bush appointed Pennington to head the Region 10 office of FEMA, overseeing the government's disaster response in Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Idaho. He makes $138,000 a year.

    Just before his appointment, Pennington received a bachelor's degree in business administration from California Coast University in Santa Ana, Calif., which at the time was an unaccredited correspondence school...

    The school is now accredited.

    In testimony before Congress last year, investigators for the General Accounting Office identified California Coast as a diploma mill.

    The investigators were looking into California Coast and two other unaccredited schools that got $169,000 in taxpayer money to pay the tuition of 463 federal employees who enrolled as students.

    That investigation did not involve Pennington, who received his degree before his FEMA appointment and paid for it himself. But GAO special agent Paul DeSaulniers told The Seattle Times this week that his investigation showed that California Coast University sold degrees for a flat fee.

    California Coast obtained its federally recognized accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council only this past January, according to council Assistant Director Sally Welch.

    "It was a pretty questionable school for a lot of years," she said. "They had to make a lot of changes."

(via Atrios)

UPDATE 9/11 More scandal and gossip about our Region 10 FEMA Director.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Moving in the right direction


Have we finally seen the end of Michael Brown?

And some real good news from PETA

September 9, 2005, 7 p.m.: Lt. Gen. Honore’s Staff to Facilitate Companion-Animal Rescues
    In a victory for animals left in harm's way by Katrina and some officials, Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, commander of the First U.S. Army and the official in charge in New Orleans—who PETA asked on September 6 to allow animals to be evacuated with their families—announced this afternoon in a press conference that as his agents evacuate the city's remaining human residents, rescue personnel will have animal carriers to facilitate evacuating cats and dogs as well!

Earlier: No Pets

Gen. Honore was the guy Mayor Nagin cited in his plea for help on September 1st as the only competent person the federal government had sent to New Orleans. On the other hand, Honore was also the guy who instituted a "zero access" policy preventing the media from covering the recovery of bodies in New Orleans. The order went into effect yesterday (Friday 9/9) but was blocked by a federal judge the same day. Where the "zero access" order ultimately came from is not clear.

PETA is running a good ad denouncing FEMA in the Washington Post today.

Christian Charity


The christian ghouls continue to dance on the graves of the vicitms of Katrina (+ video at link above).
    A confrontation this morning between an East Texas church and an evacuee from New Orleans. It centers around a sign out front of Woodland Hills Baptist Church on Old Jacksonville Road in Tyler, about a mile inside the loop..."I drove by that sign and was just horrified when I saw that," says Kelly Jackman who now lives in Tyler but used to live in New Orleans.

    Kelly along with her sister Robin Lafont, an evacuee from New Orleans, showed up this morning at the church to talk to the man who put it up, Pastor Wiley Bennett.

    During a heated discussion, Robin asked, "What's the point of the sign out there?" Pastor Bennett replied, "The point of the sign is New Orleans, Las Vegas, San Francisco, and New York City are some of the most wicked cities in America."...

    Pastor Bennett says, "Anybody that's ever visited New Orleans, the very name itself - Big Easy - denotes that it's easy to find sin there."... "The purpose of the sign is to wake American up to the fact that America is going away from God. New York City's 9/11 was a call of judgment and New Orlean's horrible incident was judgment on a wicked city."

(via Amygdala)

Meanwhile, other xians see Katrina as evidence of god's mercy. (via One Good Move)

Earlier: The Bloody Fingerpainting of god or as Pandagon puts it "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Fetus."

And Democracy Now has a really excellent extended report on FEMA's promotion of Pat Robertson's Operation Blessing. Highly Recommended.

Juan Gonzales of Democracy Now also has a related piece: Disaster Used as Political Payoff

UPDATE 9/11 Texas Governor Listens to Pastor on the Sins of New Orleans

Gov. Rick Perry spoke at two private events this week where a Texas minister wondered if God sent Hurricane Katrina to purify the nation of sins, including homosexuality...The Rev. Dwight McKissic, organizing pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, said he asked only if God sent the hurricane "to purify our nation."

Perry and McKissic addressed the Texas Restoration Project, which seeks to register 300,000 voters.

McKissic said he listed aspects of the Crescent City: "They have devil worship. They advertise 'Sin City' tours. They celebrate Southern decadence. Girls go wild in New Orleans.

"Sometimes God does not speak through natural phenomena," McKissic said. "This may have nothing to do with God being offended by homosexuality. But possibly it does," he said.

Unexpected Backbone

    "How can it be," she asked, "that Mr. Bill was better informed than Mr. Bush?" (US Senator Mary Landrieu on the floor of the Senate Thursday)
    ---
    Congressional Democratic leaders said Thursday that they would not appoint members to a new House-Senate committee to investigate failures in the government response to Hurricane Katrina.

    Back From Her Vanquished City, Lawmaker Takes Senate Floor to Denounce the President"

    Ms. Landrieu, a Democrat who was nearly put out of office in 2002 after Mr. Bush campaigned intensely for her Republican opponent, had mostly held her fire against the president in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. But her tone changed markedly on Thursday, with a 20-minute speech that was at turns poignant and defiant.

    "We know the president said, quote, 'I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees,' " Ms. Landrieu said. "Everybody anticipated the breach of the levee, Mr. President, including computer simulations in which this administration participated."

    The senator went on to describe how the creator of Mr. Bill, the clay figurine whose cry of "Ohh noooo!" was long a staple of "Saturday Night Live," had used the character in public service announcements to warn southern Louisianians of the dangers they would face in an extraordinary storm.

    "How can it be," she asked, "that Mr. Bill was better informed than Mr. Bush?"

    Democratic Leaders Reject G.O.P. Storm Inquiry Plan

    Congressional Democratic leaders said Thursday that they would not appoint members to a new House-Senate committee to investigate failures in the government response to Hurricane Katrina, calling instead for an independent inquiry.

    Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the House Democratic leader, and Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, her counterpart in the Senate, said they would not cooperate because the committee would be controlled by Republicans, would have uncertain authority and was created without consultation with Democrats.

    "Despite all the talk of bipartisanship," Ms. Pelosi said, "they have just on their own, unilaterally, put forth a proposal that will result in a whitewash of what is going on here." She added, "If we are ever going to truly protect the American people, now it is clear to me that we must have an outside independent commission, as we finally arrived at on 9/11."

    Mr. Reid said he would not place any Senate Democrats on the panel "as it is currently described," adding: "The only way to ensure that all levels of our government are held accountable to the people is to take this process out of the hands of politicians with a vested interest in the outcome."

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Genocide by Depraved Indifference


From blackcommentator.com

Class Warfare

They used 9/11 to ram though a widely unpopular partisan agenda. Of course they are going to do it with Katrina too.
    By executive order, Bush suspended the Davis-Bacon Act in areas of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi, allowing federal contractors to pay less than the local "prevailing wage" on construction projects. Rep. George Miller of California, senior Democrat on the House committee that oversees labor law, said the move would allow employers to pay "poverty wages" as they rebuild from the hurricane."The administration is using the devastation of Hurricane Katrina to cut the wages of people desperately trying to rebuild their lives," he said in a statement, noting the prevailing wage for construction in New Orleans was about $9 an hour. "At under $9 an hour, workers certainly won't be able to rebuild their livelihoods," he said.

On a related note, Salon discusses a Wall Street Journal article on the plantation class' plan for revitalizing New Orleans:
    ... the Journal does provide a glimpse into the thinking of some of the other rich white folks who have survived Katrina relatively unscathed. The Journal introduces us to one James Reiss, a man who "helicoptered in" an Israeli security company to protect his New Orleans home from looters. When the city is rebuilt, Reiss says, it should be a very different place than it was before. "Those who want to see this city rebuilt want to see it done in a completely different way: demographically, geographically and politically," Reiss tells the Journal. "I'm not just speaking for myself here. The way we've been living is not going to happen again, or we're out."

    We'll let the Journal handle the translation. What Reiss means, the paper says, is that "the new city must be very different ... with better services and fewer poor people."

The resistance has begun to organize as well:

The Black Commentator's Glen Ford argues for a Right of Return for the poor Black residents of New Orleans.

And Naomi Klein reports on Community Labor United, a coalition of low-income groups in New Orleans, which is calling for a people's reconstruction of New Orleans.

And George III exploits the mourning to promote his theocratic agenda by declaring next Friday "A National Day of Prayer."

UPDATE: 9/9 "Houston for the Underprivileged" Tour

The Environmental Disaster II


It turns out that there was a Love Canal type landfill submerged by the New Orleans floodwaters.

    The Agriculture Street Landfill (ASL)... situated on a 95-acre site in New Orleans... is a federally registered Superfund site...[it] contains not only municipal garbage, but buried industrial wastes such as what would be produced by service stations and dry cleaners, manufacturers or burning. The site was routinely sprayed with DDT in the 1940s and 50s and, in 1962, 300,000 cubic yards of excess fill were removed from ASL because of ongoing subsurface fires. (The site was nicknamed "Dante's Inferno" because of the fires.)...Disturbingly, the site is also very close to the Industrial Canal Levee, a section of which collapsed and allowed flood waters to pour in, almost directly in the direction of the ASL site.


There is a detailed public health assessment of the landfill here and an EPA assessment here. Clean up activities seem to have been limited to the top 2 feet of soil in the areas where the site ovelapped residences. Not much help in this case.

Steve Bell


Earlier: The Environmental Disaster

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

No Pets

They are not letting evacuees take their pets with them on the busses. Here is a link to a video from Oprah. A couple of dogs get out, no thanks to FEMA, which is forcing most pet owners to abandon their companions to certain death.

The Humane Society is putting together an emergency effort to rescue pets, farm animals and captive wildlife thoughout the Gulf Coast disaster zone.

And the Baton Rouge Advocate reports:

    NEW ORLEANS -- David Woodsum poked his head out the attic window of his flooded house on Gladiolus Street on Tuesday and yelled at the men sitting in the flat bottom boat.

    "I'm not leaving," Woodsum said. "I won't leave my two cats." Pets appeared to be the No. 1 reason many of the estimated 10,000 residents still holed up in their flooded homes are refusing to leave.




    "I don't know why the government won't let us take these people's pets out," said Steve Miller of Dutchtown, a volunteer who navigated his flat bottom boat down the flooded streets trying to persuade residents to leave.

    "But FEMA has told us we cannot take the pets. They told that we could not take one cat or dog in our boats," Miller said. "It's a stupid rule. More people are going to die because of that."

    "Please come with us," Duke Ramey, one of the men in Miller's boat, yelled at Woodsum. "No one is going to bring you more food and water. The boats and helicopters aren't coming back. This could be your last chance to get out."

    But Woodsum was steadfast.

    "I'm not leaving my pets here to die," Woodsum yelled at the men in the boat.

    "But if you don't come with us, you might die," Ramey said.

    Woodsum was undeterred by the arguments. He refused to leave and Miller had no choice but to start the boat and move on.

I wouldn't leave my cats either.

And from PETA:
    On August 29, Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast. In addition to the human misery that the storm left in its wake, Katrina left many thousands of animals dead and dying. But the greater problem has turned out to be state and federal governments adding to this toll—and causing the slow and agonizing deaths of many thousands of much-loved dogs, cats, and other animals—through its failure to allow animal protection agents to rescue animals.

    Worse, although the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) guidelines on animal handling in a disaster were carefully crafted years ago in cooperation with PETA and other animal organizations, our government has evidently thrown them out the window, even going so far as to order citizens to abandon their animals under threat of arrest—animals who in many cases were considered members of the family and were all that these people had left.

    Volunteer Steve Miller told The Advocate in Baton Rouge that "FEMA has told us we cannot take the pets" along with the distraught human victims that they are evacuating. "They told [us] that we could not take one cat or dog in our boats," Miller said. "It's a stupid rule. More people are going to die because of that."

And William Shatner makes a plea for people to rescue animals.

Earlier: Criminal Policy

Today's New York Times has a superficial piece about animal rescue Shelters for Pets Fill with Furry Survivors, mentioning the scope of the tragedy without even ever alluding to one of its main causes, the refusal of FEMA to allow people to take their pets with them when evacuating. Of course they also miss the point that people are refusing to leave because of this inane policy. How is it that the reporting in the New York Times lacks the depth of the Baton Rouge Advocate ?

UPDATE 9/8 Most of the animals at the New Orleans zoo were saved.

UPDATE 9/9 Officials are now shooting dogs in Louisiana. (via PETA)

Evolution Schmevolution

    Science vs. Religion. Evolution vs. Creation. It is an age-old battle whose time has come. "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" will gather together all the experts (or at least those who will talk to them), travel to the places that matter in the debate (basic cable budget permitting) and ultimately settle the controversy once and for all. "Evolution Schmevolution: A Daily Show Special Report" will premiere on Monday, September 12 and air nightly at 11:00 p.m. through September 15.

    For one full week, "The Daily Show" goes in-depth, around, through and quite possibly under, one of the hottest hot-button issues facing our nation: evolution. It's the accepted theory on the origin of life by an overwhelming majority of the world's biologists, but maybe they're all wrong. What's so great about the scientific method anyway? (via Pharyngula)


More seriously, there is an excellent article Undoing Darwin in the Columbia Journalism Review analysing and criticizing the quality of coverage of evolution and creationism. They strongly recommend not assigning stories on evolution to scientifically inexperienced writers:

    At the very least, newspaper editors should think twice about assigning reporters who are fresh to the evolution issue and allowing them to default to the typical strategy frame, carefully balancing “both sides” of the issue in order to file a story on time and get around sorting through the legitimacy of the competing claims...With training in covering science-related policy disputes on issues ranging from intelligent design to stem-cell research to climate change, journalists are better equipped to make solid independent judgments about credibility, and then pass these interpretations on to readers. The intelligent-design debate is one among a growing number of controversies in which technical complexity, with disputes over “facts,” data, and expertise, has altered the political battleground. The traditional generalist correspondent will be hard-pressed to cover these topics in any other format than the strategy frame, balancing arguments while narrowly focusing on the implications for who’s ahead and who’s behind in the contest to decide policy. If news editors fail to recognize the growing demand for journalists with specialized expertise and backgrounds who can get beyond this form of writing, the news media risk losing their ability to serve as important watchdogs over society’s institutions.

Searching for signs of sentience



When House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi urged Bush today to fire Michael Brown, the head of FEMA, Bush responded: "Why would I do that?..'What didn't go right?'' Video here.

All this death and suffering just doesn't seem to bother him (via VJ).


And the government is now handing out bribes to disaster victims in the Astrodome:

    Meanwhile, the Associated Press learned that the government planned to distribute debit cards worth $2,000 to victims of the hurricane.

    "They are going to start issuing debit cards, $2,000 per adult, today at the Astrodome," said Kathy Walt, a spokeswoman for Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

    The cards could be used to buy food, transportation, gas and other essentials that displaced people need, according to a state official who was on the call and requested anonymity because the program had not been publicly announced.


You mean the government isn't going to be providing food at the refugee camp?! And exactly what kind of transportation is $2000 going to buy in Houston. There is no functioning public transportation system. Gas? They don't have cars!! What are they going to do? Go shopping at the Galleria?

This is the same strategy as with the tax cuts. Who would turn down $2000? But you can't rebuild a life on $2000. Is this the beginning of an attempt to make the recovery an issue of personal responsibility? Give them some money and let them figure out how to rebuild their lives. How very Houston. More here.

But some Republicans favor a harsher approach:

    In a weekend interview with WTAE-TV about the victims of Hurricane Katrina, Penn. Senator Rick Santorum said: "You have people who don't heed those warnings and then put people at risk as a result of not heeding those warnings. There may be a need to look at tougher penalties on those who decide to ride it out and understand that there are consequences to not leaving."

And Arizona Senator Jon Kyl said:
    “the question is if people know year after year after year a natural disaster occurs in a particular place and people continue to build there and want to live there, should they bear the responsibility of buying insurance or should everyone else bear the responsibility?”

This is compassionate conservatism?

And the attempt to avoid accountability reaches new heights of shamelessness while FEMA attempts to hide the most graphic evidence of their incompetence. More here.

Chris Floyd comments,
    It seems inconceivable that any sentient being could witness the agonizing results of the Bush team's dithering, dilatory response -- an agony played out in the full glare of non-stop media coverage -- and not come away with a sense of towering anger at this criminal incompetence.

But a large percentage of the American sheeple so far have shown little sign of sentience. Only 29% feel that any top official in the agencies responsible for handling emergencies should be fired, while 63% disagree.

UPDATE 9/8: Perhaps things are not quite so dire. The Rasmussen Report poll shows gives the federal government a thumbs down:
    Just 28% of Americans give say that the federal government has done a good or an excellent job responding to Hurricane Katrina. Another 25% say the government has done a fair job while 45% say poor.
    Interest in the story is extraordinarily high. Eighty-eight percent (88%) of Americans say they are closely following news stories about the tragedy, including 59% who are following it "very closely."

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Bush Crossing Canal Street


Martin Rowson in The Guardian

This just in:

Bush to Tap Michael Brown for Supreme Court

And Ask Michael Brown

Disaster Capitalism

There is some very interesting info about New Orleans hurricane preparation in Lenin's Tomb. Apparently. New Orleans' catastrophic hurricane disaster plan' was privatized last year. It was farmed out to IEM, Inc., a Baton Rouge-based emergency management and homeland security consultant under a more than half a million dollar contract with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security/Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). After Katrina struck, it has been a bit harder to research IEM's role in the plans for dealing with the hurricane and what the fuck they got paid for.
(via Joe)

And as a former Houstonian myself, I am hardly surprised that the reaction to the catastrophe has ranged from patrician horror about the influx of refugees (Barbara Bush) to salivating over opportunities to turn it to a profit.

    Perhaps no city in the United States is in a better spot than Houston to turn Katrina's tragedy into opportunity. And businesses here are already scrambling to profit in the hurricane's aftermath..."It feels like the only things left in south Louisiana are snakes and alligators," said John E. Olson, co-manager of Houston Energy Partners, a hedge fund that operates out of a skyscraper downtown. "Houston is positioned for a boom."...Stephen D. DuPlantis, senior managing director at CB Richard Ellis [remarks] "When I talk to owners of office buildings, they say people are not even negotiating. As tragic as it is for New Orleans, it is a boon for Houston."

What a perfectly loathsome city Houston is.


View of Houston from a bus


The Onion gets it right:
    Refugees Moved From Sewage-Contaminated Superdome To Hellhole Of Houston

    HOUSTON —Evacuees from the overheated, filth-encrusted wreckage of the New Orleans Superdome were bussed to the humid, 110-degree August heat and polluted air of Houston last week, in a move that many are resisting. "Please, God, not Houston. Anyplace but Houston," said one woman, taking shelter under an overpass. "The food there is awful, and the weather is miserable. And the traffick't's like some engineer was making a sick joke." Authorities apologized for transporting survivors to a city "barely better in any respect," but said the blistering-hot, oil-soaked Texas city was in fact slightly better, and that casualties due to gunfire would be no worse.


UPDATE 9/7

More info about how Pat Robertson is managing to siphon off relief dollars. Robertson's Operation Blessing, in addition to being run by radical right wing Christians, has a very poor track record in delivering aid. It had previously been exposed diverting planes that were supposed to be transporting refugees away from the civil war in Rwanda to transporting diamond-mining equipment for the African Development Corporation, a Robertson-owned venture initiated with the cooperation of Zaire's then-dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. Robertson's organization only escaped criminal prosecution with the aid of high placed and in some cases bribed political allies.

But now
    With the Bush Administration's approval, Robertson's $66 million relief organization, Operation Blessing, has been prominently featured on FEMA's list of charitable groups accepting donations for hurricane relief. Dozens of media outlets, including the New York Times, CNN and the Associated Press, duly reprinted FEMA's list, unwittingly acting as agents soliciting cash for Robertson. "How in the heck did that happen?" Richard Walden, president of the disaster-relief group Operation USA, asked of Operation Blessing's inclusion on FEMA's list. "That gives Pat Robertson millions of extra dollars."


Greg Palast gives a more detailed background on the many nefarious dealings of Mr. Robertson.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

And on the 7th Day, he spun


The headline of the Times Picayune today reads: 7th Day of Hell.

Meanwhile the Bush spin machine moves into top gear.

Bob Herbert finds an appropriate metaphor.

    Like a boy being prepped for a second crack at a failed exam, Mr. Bush has been meeting with his handlers to see what steps can be taken to minimize the political fallout from this latest demonstration of his ineptitude. But this is not about politics. It's about competence. And when the president is so obviously clueless about matters so obviously important, it means that the rest of us, like the people left stranded in New Orleans, are in deep, deep trouble.

Time for a round of pin the blame on the donkey. The rules of the game.

These attempts to shift primary blame to local officials are already starting to unravel.

    "They can't do that," former agency [FEMA] chief of staff Jane Bullock said of Bush administration efforts to shift responsibility away from Washington. "The moment the president declared a federal disaster, it became a federal responsibility…. The federal government took ownership over the response," she said. Bush declared a disaster in Louisiana and Mississippi when the storm hit a week ago.

The similarities between the Iraq expedition and the response to New Orleans have also become striking.

The problem is not just that Bush is incompetent; he's a bad human being.

    ... a central aspect of the problem that recent events have thrown into relief: Bush is just a bad human being, not just morally bad, but deficient in character, judgment, skill, relevant experience, empathetic capacity, and maturity.

His mom is not such a great person either.

    "What I’m hearing which is sort of scary is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed with the hospitality.

    And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway so this (she chuckled)--this is working very well for them."

And on top of all this, the US simply lacks the basic institutions and community culture that allow people to deal with disasters effectively. Compare Cuba's response to a level 5 hurricane with our own.

Still More Incompetence

(via the White House)

Quote of the day:

"No hint of intelligent design in any of this. This was just survival of the richest." Bob Sheiffer

An impassioned indictment of the Bush administration and FEMA from the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

    ...Despite the city's multiple points of entry, our nation'’s bureaucrats spent days after last week'’s hurricane wringing their hands, lamenting the fact that they could neither rescue the city's stranded victims nor bring them food, water and medical supplies.

    Meanwhile there were journalists, including some who work for The Times-Picayune, going in and out of the city via the Crescent City Connection. On Thursday morning, that crew saw a caravan of Wal-Mart tractor trailers headed into town to bring food, water and supplies to a dying city...

    Yet, the people trained to protect our nation, the people whose job it is to quickly bring in aid were absent. Those who should have been deploying troops were singing a sad song about how our city was impossible to reach.

    Every official at the Federal Emergency Management Agency should be fired, Director Michael Brown especially.

    In a nationally televised interview Thursday night, he said his agency hadn'’t known until that day that thousands of storm victims were stranded at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. He gave another nationally televised interview the next morning and said, "We'’ve provided food to the people at the Convention Center so that they'’ve gotten at least one, if not two meals, every single day."

    Lies don'’t get more bald-faced than that, Mr. President.

    Yet, when you met with Mr. Brown Friday morning, you told him, "You'’re doing a heck of a job.

    That's unbelievable....


And the Mayor of New Orleans implores the feds: "Get off your asses." Later he is pressured to recant.

The incompetent Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff squirms as he tries to weasel out of any accountability. Tim Russert opens by asking him if he plans to resign and the criticisms just keep getting more and more blunt. See Immediate Accountablity parts 1 and 2. The second one is the best.

And the local Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard details some of the incredible fuck up, calls for heads in DC to roll and breaks down recounting the consequences of the failure to respond.

And in a commentary Bob Sheiffer sums things up:
    As the floodwaters rose, local officials in New Orleans ordered the city evacuated. They might as well have told their citizens to fly to the moon. How do you evacuate when you don't have a car? No hint of intelligent design in any of this. This was just survival of the richest."
The video is at Crooks and Liars
-------
The President Responds:

Operation Clusterfuck

    You know, yesterday, as I gazed down from Air Force One at Katrina's destruction, many thoughts flitted through my noggin. First of which was "Hey, them poor folk up to their hips in poo water – they vote for me?" The second thought was, of course, how happy I was to be on a photo shoot thousands of feet up in the air, safely away from The Big Queasy. Stinky smells make me gag like Jenna after six or seven pounders of Smirnoff Ice.

    Apparently, prayer can't hold back the waters of the Mississippi...

    Now I don't believe in Darwinism or evolution, as you well know. But as I read the intel neatly typed up for me about this itty-bitty basement flooding in swampy crawdad country, it seems that Darwin was right about one thing – only the strong survive. Or if not the strong per se, at least the rich. Because look, this disaster ain't really no different from a business going belly up: those at the top of the ladder keep their feet dry, while everyone else can fuck off...

    In closing, I'd like to remind everyone here that I am busy fighting our World War II in Iraq. So though I care about this little rainstorm, I want you to know that I am like FDR – only I can jog.

    In other words folks, "the only thing to fear is freaking out."

And Pharyngula has a good roundup of the very helpful religious response to this act of god.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Beyond Incompetence

A Senator from Louisiana is accusing George III and his entourage of having faked relief efforts as a backdrop to a photo op. This is not satire. This is not a joke. She will be featured on 60 minutes tomorrow and on ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos. I probably should be cautious about this though. Knowing Karl Rove is back on the job, I suspect that some fake outrage will sooner or later be leaked. The accusation will be denied. Debate will grow. Proof that the accusation is unfounded will be discovered. All charges against the president will be equated with this one. The president will be exonerated, his opposition discredited and vilified, and his popularity will rise again. Perhaps I am too cynical. In this case at least, the accusation is coming from a US Senator posted on her US government website. I hope she can back up her claim.



    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
    09/03/2005
    Landrieu Implores President to "Relieve Unmitigated Suffering;" End FEMA's "Abject Failures"
    WASHINGTON -- U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu, D-La., issued the following statement this afternoon regarding her call yesterday for President Bush to appoint a cabinet-level official to oversee Hurricane Katrina relief and recovery efforts within 24 hours.

    Sen. Landrieu said:

    "Yesterday, I was hoping President Bush would come away from his tour of the regional devastation triggered by Hurricane Katrina with a new understanding for the magnitude of the suffering and for the abject failures of the current Federal Emergency Management Agency. 24 hours later, the President has yet to answer my call for a cabinet-level official to lead our efforts. Meanwhile, FEMA, now a shell of what it once was, continues to be overwhelmed by the task at hand.

    "I understand that the U.S. Forest Service had water-tanker aircraft available to help douse the fires raging on our riverfront, but FEMA has yet to accept the aid. When Amtrak offered trains to evacuate significant numbers of victims -- far more efficiently than buses -- FEMA again dragged its feet. Offers of medicine, communications equipment and other desperately needed items continue to flow in, only to be ignored by the agency.

    "But perhaps the greatest disappointment stands at the breached 17th Street levee. Touring this critical site yesterday with the President, I saw what I believed to be a real and significant effort to get a handle on a major cause of this catastrophe. Flying over this critical spot again this morning, less than 24 hours later, it became apparent that yesterday we witnessed a hastily prepared stage set for a Presidential photo opportunity; and the desperately needed resources we saw were this morning reduced to a single, lonely piece of equipment. The good and decent people of southeast Louisiana and the Gulf Coast -- black and white, rich and poor, young and old -- deserve far better from their national government.

    "Mr. President, I'm imploring you once again to get a cabinet-level official stood up as soon as possible to get this entire operation moving forward regionwide with all the resources -- military and otherwise -- necessary to relieve the unmitigated suffering and economic damage that is unfolding."

    Today's aerial tour of the 17th Street levee will be featured tomorrow on ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos. Later, Sen. Landrieu will also appear on CBS's 60 Minutes.


There is some discussion of her statement here. The update, if confirmed, is something else.

But thinking back over the last few years, I wonder if this should seem all that shocking. It fits right in context with the whole shameless Jessica Lynch fakery, the posing in a flight suit Mission Accomplished bullshit, the faked crowd around the pulling down of the statue of Saddam Hussain etc., etc. etc. Just another point in a Potemkin presidency.

Incompetence


"I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees." George III

But even Mr. Bill knew.
(background)

And Mike Brown, the head of FEMA, apparently was totally unqualified for his job. More

    The federal official in charge of the bungled New Orleans rescue was fired from his last private-sector job overseeing horse shows....Brown was forced out of the position after a spate of lawsuits over alleged supervision failures.


His incompetence on display here and here.

And Rep. Wexler urged Bush to fire Brown for incompetence and fraud in January!

But George III continues to sing his praises:
    "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job."

And FEMA is directing donations to Pat Robertson

And only 2 of the 21 charities FEMA urges people to donate to are secular.

And the Red Cross is not allowed into New Orleans.

And Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff can't find his own ass.

And several states ready and willing to send National Guard troops to the rescue in hurricane-ravaged New Orleans didn't get the go-ahead until days after the storm struck.

And the bureaucrats complain that there is too much sympathy for the victims.

And what Jesus has to say about all this.

And what some xian leaders have to say.
    “New Orleans now is abortion free. New Orleans now is Mardi Gras free. New Orleans now is free of Southern Decadence and the sodomites, the witchcraft workers, false religion -- it's free of all of those things now," Shanks says. "God simply, I believe, in His mercy purged all of that stuff out of there -- and now we're going to start over again.

And let them eat bibles.

And a response from the White House:

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Clueless

A must-watch video at One Good Move illustrating the utter utter cluelessness of the FEMA leadership and how out of touch the current Republican talking points are.

And the New York Times gives a strange defense of the picture of George III playing the guitar as Katrina struck New Orleans:
    Bloggers also circulated a picture of Mr. Bush playing a guitar at an event in California on Tuesday to imply that he was fiddling while New Orleans drowned. In fact, the picture was taken when the country singer Mark Wills presented Mr. Bush with a guitar backstage at North Island Naval Air Station in Coronado, Calif., after Mr. Bush gave a speech marking the 60th anniversary of the Japanese surrender in World War II.

The words "in fact" suggest that what follows is a defense, or at least a contrast. But all it is is description, a description that in fact confirms the original interpretation given by "bloggers". The fact that the NYT goes so far out of its way to defend Bush, is simply more evidence of how far to the right it has moved in its efforts to suck up to power.

The Environmental Disaster

A grim assessment of the long term problems.

    This is the worst case," Hugh B. Kaufman, a senior policy analyst at the Environmental Protection Agency, said of the toxic stew that contaminates New Orleans. "There is not enough money in the gross national product of the United States to dispose of the amount of hazardous material in the area...

    Louisiana, a center of the oil, gas and chemical industries, "was known for its very weak enforcement regulations," Kaufman said, and there are a number of landfills and storage areas containing "thousands of tons" of hazardous material to be leaked and spread.

    "On top of that, you have dead bodies that are going to start to decompose, along with the material that was in industrial and household discharge, sewage, gasoline and waste oil from gas stations," he added. "You've got a witches' brew of contaminated water."

    Given New Orleans's desperate straits, recovery teams will not be able to do anything with the toxic mess except pump it into the Gulf of Mexico, ensuring that the contamination will spread to a larger area, he said. "There's just no other place for it."

Erosion of the Public Sphere

The magnitude of the disaster along the Gulf Coast has no doubt been exacerbated by the diversion of resources to the oil war and the lack of federal money and planning for an entirely predictable disaster. But a fundamental failure of American culture is also substantially to blame. The valorization of cowboy individualism, libertarian capitalism and unfettered development reached it zenith in the South. It has enriched the few by ignoring the future and the common good. It is good illustration of what is sometimes called the tragedy of the commons and it is also a very clear example of what's wrong with libertarianism.

Chris Floyd: 'The perfect storm'

    .... as culpable, criminal and loathsome as the Bush Administration is, it is only the apotheosis of an overarching trend in American society that has been gathering force for decades: the destruction of the idea of a common good, a public sector whose benefits and responsibilities are shared by all, and directed by the consent of the governed. For more than 30 years, the corporate Right has waged a relentless and highly focused campaign against the common good, seeking to atomize individuals into isolated "consumer units" whose political energies - kept deliberately underinformed by the ubiquitous corporate media - can be diverted into emotionalized "hot button" issues (gay marriage, school prayer, intelligent design, flag burning, welfare queens, drugs, porn, abortion, teen sex, commie subversion, terrorist threats, etc., etc.) that never threaten Big Money's bottom line.

    Again deliberately, with smear, spin and sham, they have sought - and succeeded - in poisoning the well of the democratic process, turning it into a tabloid melee where only "character counts" while the rapacious policies of Big Money's bought-and-sold candidates are completely ignored. As Big Money solidified its ascendancy over government, pouring billions - over and under the table - into campaign coffers, politicians could ignore larger and larger swathes of the people. If you can't hook yourself up to a well-funded, coffer-filling interest group, if you can't hire a big-time Beltway player to lobby your cause and get you "a seat at the table," then your voice goes unheard, your concerns are shunted aside. (Apart from a few cynical gestures around election-time, of course.) The poor, the sick, the weak, the vulnerable have become invisible - in the media, in the corporate boardroom, "at the table" of the power players in national, state and local governments. The increasingly marginalized and unstable middle class is also fading from the consciousness of the rulers, whose servicing of the elite gets more brazen and frantic all the time.

    When unbridled commercial development of delicately balanced environments like the Mississippi Delta is bruited "at the table," whose voice is heard? Not the poor, who, as we have seen this week, will overwhelmingly bear the brunt of the overstressed environment. And not the middle class, who might opt for the security of safer, saner development policies to protect their hard-won homes and businesses. No, the only voice that matters is that of the developers themselves, and the elite investors who stand behind them.

    The destruction of New Orleans was a work of nature - but a nature that has been worked upon by human hands and human policies. As global climate change continues its deadly symbiosis with unbridled commercial development for elite profit, we will see more such destruction, far more, on an even more devastating scale. As the harsh, aggressive militarism and brutal corporate ethos that Bush has injected into the mainstream of American society continues to spread its poison, we will see fewer and fewer resources available to nurture the common good. As the political process becomes more and more corrupt, ever more a creation of elite puppetmasters and their craven bagmen, we will see the poor and the weak and even the middle class driven further and further into the low ground of society, where every passing storm - economic, political, natural - will threaten their homes, their livelihoods, their very existence.