Friday, September 02, 2005

They Don't Get It

Ken Mehlman, GOP chair, speaking in July to the NAACP:

By the 70s and into the 80s and 90s, the Democratic Party solidified its gains in the African American community, and we Republicans did not effectively reach out.

Some Republicans gave up on winning the African American vote, looking the other way or trying to benefit politically from racial polarization. I am here today as the Republican Chairman to tell you we were wrong.

But if my party benefited from racial polarization in the past, it is the Democratic Party that benefits from it today.

I know it is not in my interest as chairman of the Republican Party for close to 90% of African-Americans to vote for the Democrat every election. But more important, its not in the interest of African-Americans for 90% to vote for the Democrat every election.

And its not healthy for the country for our political parties to be so racially polarized. African-American voters should have the benefit of a two-party system. In recent years, the Democratic Party, in my judgment, has come to take many African American voters for granted.

Just as the Democrats came to this community in 1964 with something real to offer, today we Republicans have something that should cause you to take another look at the party of Lincoln.

Just last month, Bruce Gordon talked about a wider vision of civil rights. "We've got to get the right emphasis placed on economic equality," he said. "I happen to think that when you have economic stability and equality that often becomes an enabler for social equality."

I couldnt agree more.

The next step in civil rights is to build on equal treatment under the law to ensure equal opportunity to pursue the American Dream, equal opportunity in education, equal opportunity in where you live, equal opportunity in making a living, equal opportunity for a secure retirement.



Mehlman's email to the party faithful this week during the worse natural disaster in the country's history:

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 Senator X at XXX-XXX-XXXX and ask them to eliminate the death tax.

Our party's opportunity agenda means allowing families to keep more of the income they earn. This historic tax relief in the president's first term was only the beginning. The Senate needs to do its part by making tax relief permanent and burying the death tax forever.


Report in the September 2004 Independent on Bush and FEMA:

Among emergency specialists, "mitigation" the measures taken in advance to minimize the damage caused by natural disasters is a crucial part of the strategy to save lives and cut recovery costs. But since 2001, key federal disaster mitigation programs, developed over many years, have been slashed and tossed aside. FEMA's Project Impact, a model mitigation program created by the Clinton administration, has been canceled outright.

....[In 2001], President Bush appointed a close aide, Joe Allbaugh, to be the agency's new director....The White House quickly launched a government-wide effort to privatize public services, including key elements of disaster management. Bush's first budget director, Mitch Daniels, spelled out the philosophy in remarks at an April 2001 conference: "The general idea — that the business of government is not to provide services, but to make sure that they are provided — seems self-evident to me," he said.

In a May 15, 2001, appearance before a Senate appropriations subcommittee, Allbaugh signaled that the new, stripped-down approach would be applied at FEMA as well. "Many are concerned that federal disaster assistance may have evolved into both an oversized entitlement program and a disincentive to effective state and local risk management," he said. "Expectations of when the federal government should be involved and the degree of involvement may have ballooned beyond what is an appropriate level."


Will Bunch, writing in Editor-and-Publisher, on the relationship between federal spending, tax cuts, and the defense and security of the Gulf Coast:

New Orleans had long known it was highly vulnerable to flooding and a direct hit from a hurricane. In fact, the federal government has been working with state and local officials in the region since the late 1960s on major hurricane and flood relief efforts. When flooding from a massive rainstorm in May 1995 killed six people, Congress authorized the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project, or SELA.

Over the next 10 years, the Army Corps of Engineers, tasked with carrying out SELA, spent $430 million on shoring up levees and building pumping stations, with $50 million in local aid. But at least $250 million in crucial projects remained, even as hurricane activity in the Atlantic Basin increased dramatically and the levees surrounding New Orleans continued to subside.

Yet after 2003, the flow of federal dollars toward SELA dropped to a trickle. The Corps never tried to hide the fact that the spending pressures of the war in Iraq, as well as homeland security -- coming at the same time as federal tax cuts -- was the reason for the strain. At least nine articles in the Times-Picayune from 2004 and 2005 specifically cite the cost of Iraq as a reason for the lack of hurricane- and flood-control dollars.

Well, Ken, it might not be in yours or your party's interest for Democrats to win 90% of the African-American vote all the time, but if your list of priorities, combined with your administration's response to the biggest disaster in American history are any indication, I don't see your share of the African-American vote increasing anytime soon.

Should the games continue?

I'm a college football junkie and have been eagerly awaiting the start of the new college football season with as much anticipation as for the NFL. But under the circumstances should the games this weekend go on? Maybe it's too late for their cancellation to have any practical effect for the good of the people trapped in New Orleans. If the travel plans for those going to the games have already been made, does it make sense to send the fans back home so that greater room can be opened up for refugees in either stadiums or in surrounding hotels?

From Atrios it appears that the games in at least one college town have prevented the sending of refugees to a city with ample accomodations.

Beyond the practical implications of providing space and resources for the victims, does it make sense to direct as much focus, symbolic or otherwise, to the tragedy in NO rather than expending it on sports entertainment for at least one weekend while the relief of the refugees is presumably, at last, rectified?

One could argue that this week's events have been every bit as tragic and lethal to the country as those occuring on 9-11, albeit without the sinister unnatural causes. It would seem that this week's events are every bit as worthy of focus as those occuring four years ago, which as I speak are apparently still serving as the basis for a "freedom walk" sponsored by the Pentagon in commemoration.

Speaking of which, can we please have someone step up to demand that this Pentagon extravaganza and propaganda display be cancelled?

Although the president's acknowledgement today that the recovery effort has so far been "unacceptable" has been greeted with skepticism on the part of much of the left, I welcome the president's apparently belated recognition whatever its political nature. Admitting that things are not going swimmingly is at least a first step. How about following it up with requests to cancel this weekend's sporting events and to make the resources resulting available for the victims of the tragedy and to those providing relief? And how about following it up with an announcement that the 9-11 "walk" has been cancelled and therefore any further human efforts dedicated to its organization henceforth redirected?

Demanding Accountability

The morning after another night of outrage watching news coverage of New Orleans.

I witnessed two interviews of FEMA head Michael Brown by, first, Brian Williams of NBC News and then later by Paula Zahn of CNN. By now you've probably read of Brown's claim, incredible, that FEMA didn't know about the situation at the Convention Center until Thursday.

Along with the refugee camp being staged at the Superdome, the nearby Convention Center has served as a gathering point for refugees. Apparently, city officials directed residents to the convention center in lieu of going to the overcrowded Superdome but have not provided any semblence of administration there, from security to food, water, medical aid and resting accomodations. Today's NYT reported that armed "thugs" have in effect commandeered the convention center and prevented eight teams of eleven NO police officers from gaining entrance to the area.

This is just mind boggling. Where is the New Orleans city administration on this? Where are the city officials and staff personnel? If NO is like just about any other city, where are it's public health, police, budget, transportation, maintenance, parks/recreation, utility and other workers, staff and managers? They should have been sent to administer the area. How could the city have directed residents to this area and then left it completely unsecured and unsupplied?

And yes, for the third day in a row I am wondering where the federal and NG food and water drops are? I was gratified to see a picture on the front page of today's Wash Post that at least one helicopter is reported to have made such a drop in the area, finally, but how wide spread the aid is now and what other measures are being taken to get the refugees the medical help they need and to get them out of there once these needs are taken care of is unclear.

Where are the refugee camps? They can't stay at the Astrodome in Houston forever. New arrivals are in fact being turned away. Why aren't underused or abandoned military bases being prepared and opened?

Watching the TV coverage has been frustrating in two main ways: one, it begs for help that other than donating to the Red Cross one is unable to provide; and two, all the anecdotal reporting doesn't help in understanding the logistics of it all. How and when were residents directed to the Convention Center? Where are the government officials and staff? Who's in charge? What was the plan? What did the governments responsible know and when did they know it?

The newspaper coverage is a bit better but still much too incomplete and patchy.

On the political, and even less tasteful front, we're beginning to see the outlines of the responses by the administration's apologists. The apologists offer many responses, but all are misdirections, blame the victims, and outright untruths designed to ensure that the administration is not held responsible for any of the problem. Not responsible for the underfinancing of the Army Corps of Engineers Louisiana projects, not responsible for information indicating the levees might brake, not responsible for ensuring that FEMA was adequately staff, managed and funded, not responsible for evacuating the refugees or providing for their needs, not responsible for ensuring that adequate numbers of a state's NG were on hand ready to help in case of emergencies, or that their equipment for combatting flooded conditions were also in Louisiana rather than in Mesopotamia.

Fortunately, and somewhat surprisingly, the usually-patsy media isn't buying it. Anderson Cooper ripped, ripped, ripped LA senator Mary Landrieu for offering up mushy praise for fellow politicians while, in Anderson's words, dead bodies were being devoured by rats. Paula Zahn ripped, ripped, ripped FEMA head Michael Brown for supposedly not knowing about the conditions at the convention center. CNN's resident crabby old guy, Jack McCafferty, ripped, ripped, ripped (scroll down) the federal response to the disaster and the obvious racial and class dimension to the crisis.

This is the administration's (and its media and Internets water carriers) anti-911. Bold words and bullhorns won't cut it. There's no foreign enemy to blame, no axis of evil country to bomb or invade, there's no foreign religion, language or culture to "clash" with. And as for "national security" and protecting the lives of Americans, well, all this crisis does is reveal the fallacy of promoting military ventures and arms expenditures at the expense of real homeland security and disaster prevention. Limbaugh, Hannity, Coulter, Powerrocket, Lileks, Sullivan, LGF, and FreeRepublik all claim they have the interests of American lives at heart. Do they? From their initial responses to the tragedy, it would appear that they don't, or that they at least don't have the value the lives of all Americans equally. Or else their use of 9-11 has been merely window dressing to cover their anti-humanitarian, anti-liberty conservative agenda.

And what of those in higher, elected and appointed places? I want to believe that Krugman is not right here when he says,

I don't think this is a simple tale of incompetence. The reason the military wasn't rushed in to help along the Gulf Coast is, I believe, the same reason nothing was done to stop looting after the fall of Baghdad. Flood control was neglected for the same reason our troops in Iraq didn't get adequate armor.

At a fundamental level, I'd argue, our current leaders just aren't serious about some of the essential functions of government. They like waging war, but they don't like providing security, rescuing those in need or spending on preventive measures.

But whatever the intent and the motivation of today's leadership, the end result has been to ask, in the words of Arianna Huffington,

Are People Dying Over Here Because We're Fighting Them Over There?

And after some initial qualms about this, I have to say I'm with Wolcott,

There is no "next week" when it comes to getting answers and fixing accountability for failure under this president. Next week never comes.

Look at 9/11. There were tough questions about the breakdown of communications at Ground Zero, the lateness in scrambling fighter jets once the hijacked planes were heading toward NY and DC, Bush's strange behavior on that day, etc., and in the aftermath those questions were considered inappropriate, "divisive." We needed to grieve first, heal; and then the tough questions could be raised.

But they weren't. As months passed, the focus was on overthrowing the Taliban and avenging 9/11, and tough questions were taken off the table as the drumbeat was about the Nation Moving Forward. The media fell into zombie lockstep behind the invigorated Bush agenda. It took the 9/11 widows and esp the "Jersey Girls" to push and shame the Congress, the media, and the administration into launching a proper investigation, otherwise it would have all slid into the memory hole apart from the iconic images of the smoking towers before their collapse.

No, this is the time for politics, none better, because I can tell you just from being out of NY a few days that a lot of people in this country are shocked and sobered by New Orleans, but they're also worried and pissed off. They're making the connection between the money, manpower, and resources expended in Iraq and how raggedy-ass the rescue effort has been in the Gulf. If you don't say it now when people's nerves are raw and they're paying full attention, it'll be too late once the waters receded and the media-emoting "healing process" begins.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Remember that Bankruptcy "reform" bill

that passed a few months ago? The one where endless Democratic amendments--such as the one protecting victims of natural disasters--were batted down by the Republican majority?

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.

When the Judiciary Committee considered the Bankruptcy Abuse and Consumer Protection Act earlier this year, Ms. Jackson Lee offered an amendment to protect the victims of natural disaster like those now devastated by Hurricane Katrina. While the amendment was defeated on a party line vote without any debate, we hope that in light of recent events our colleagues will recognize the importance of protecting our most financially vulnerable Americans. The legislation we plan to introduce will prevent new bankruptcy provisions from having adverse and unintended consequences for the hundreds of thousands now facing financial catastrophe by providing needed flexibility for victims of natural disasters in bankruptcy proceedings.

Our common sense bill will insure that we do not compound a natural disaster with a man made financial disaster. We hope to obtain bipartisan support for expedited consideration of this critical legislation."

I would hope this would draw some bi-partisan support for a change.

(thanks to Atrios for the link).

Yes, Why?

Why is the Sept 11 party on the national mall still happening?

Common sense might suggest this would require resources that would be better applied to the Gulf Coast and the victims of Katrina. Not to mention the attitude of pride and glory this "walk" is designed to engender, we'd be better off dumping the "walk of pride" for some good old fashioned saving of lives.

Do the Democrats have an obligation to lead?

I'll return to Katrina-related posting shortly, but I want to memorialize these comments about the need for Democratic Party leadership before I forget them or before they disappear behind the NYT new $ wall of sleep.

First, here's Gary Hart, op-edding at the Washington Post last week:

But what will history say about an opposition party that stands silent while all this goes on? My generation of Democrats jumped on the hot stove of Vietnam and now, with its members in positions of responsibility, it is afraid of jumping on any political stove. In their leaders, the American people look for strength, determination and self-confidence, but they also look for courage, wisdom, judgment and, in times of moral crisis, the willingness to say: "I was wrong."

To stay silent during such a crisis, and particularly to harbor the thought that the administration's misfortune is the Democrats' fortune, is cowardly.

And here's Frank Rich, writing from the NYT:

The Democrats are hoping that if they do nothing, they might inherit the earth as the Bush administration goes down the tubes. Whatever the dubious merits of this Kerryesque course as a political strategy, as a moral strategy it's unpatriotic. The earth may not be worth inheriting if Iraq continues to sabotage America's ability to take on Iran and North Korea, let alone Al Qaeda.

While Hart and Rich are writing in the context of Iraq, the same could be said for Katrina and the economic aftershocks already beginning but which are likely to get worse. And if the posts at the Washington Monthly and by Steve Gilliard are any indication, congress and the executive branch will soon be the justifiable targets of the federal government's failure to both protect the nation's gulf coast as well as to save the lives the area's citizens once the damage was done.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The Stand

For understanding the potential long-term economic effect soon to be wrought by Katrina, there are two very good exposes at MyDD and at Billmon's Whiskey Bar.

Probably most striking are statements such as these:

Billmon: As a living, functioning city, then, New Orleans has ceased to exist.

MyDD: New Orleans as the world has known it will never exist again.

Seems hard to fathom but based on the pictures we're seeing, it's likewise hard to see how this is fixed.

On the cable-TV front, I imagine I'll be glued to the tube again tonight to see what the major networks and cable "news" outlets are letting us know about the catastrophe and which video clips (housetop rescues, looting) they choose to rerun over and over.

Last night, MSNBC's Rita Cosby, a refugee, if you'll pardon the expression, herself from Fox "news" ripped into the looting and (mostly black) looters, whose pictures (again, basically the continual cycling of a short clip) whose replaying nonetheless inspired a great deal of angst and irrighteously feigned outrage. And to an extent, I have to admit I bit on it, too.

But seeing some of the pictures again this morning and reading the insightful analyses of bloggers brighter than myself such as Steve Gilliard and Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon have made me cautious about responding to the media's presentation--designed to draw ratings more than help or being objective--of this tragic event and the people caught up in it.

Nevertheless, as Newsweek's Howard Fineman comments today, the implications of this week's natural disaster may join with other unnatural disasters to create a geopolitical hurricane of its own:

...[you] do get the sense, as President Bush finally arrived here after a month-long vacation, that a political hurricane is gathering force, and its going to hit the capital any day.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Hurricane Katrina

I've spent the last hour and a half watching coverage of the hurricane, and as may be needless to say, the damage is devastating in the coastal portions of Louisiana and Mississippi. New Orleans is reported to be 80% under water and the Mississippi cities of Gulf Port and Biloxi have been nearly flattened. Residents have had to take to the roofs of their homes to escape the rising tides, sometimes having to dig or chop their way through to their roofs in the hopes that helicopters from the Coast Guard and other rescue missions can see and reach them. And unfortunately there appears also to be at least some looting and other potential forms of violence to go with the natural mayhem and loss.

Given these circumstances, I'll put off any more political posting for the time being.

For those of you with loved ones in the stricken areas, our hearts and prayers go out to you.

I'm Just Sayin'

From the NYT, Monday, August 29, 2005

Prime-time average viewers for cable TV "news" stations, first three weeks of August:

MSNBC: 325,000
CNN: 695,000
Fox: 2,000,000

President Bush approval rating: 40%

Sunday, August 28, 2005

All the President's Men

I picked the book up today, a special 30th year commemorative edition Borders had on display for eager readers like me. Oddly enough, I can't remember having actually read this book before, although I did read the Final Days several years ago. I wasn't all that interested when Mark Felt came forward several months ago but for some reason, now, the original version of the story itself seems more interesting to me.

Ah, yes, when there was something approaching real journalisming in this country. I'm just glad Bob Woodward isn't still alive to see what butt-kissers the media's become.

I was struck, however, by some comments by the authors in the first chapter. In it, Bernstein (with his long-hair and college-drop out credentials) is viewed by Woodward as a kind of hippie journalist, the type of person Woodward despises, while Woodward is seen by Bernstein, and apparently by other members of the Wash Post staff as a smug kind of establishment guy. So maybe it isn't surprising how Woodward turned out after all.

The General

As the 2008 Democratic field begins to take shape, it's worth considering the liabilities each may bring to the race.

Although widely regarded by many party followers as the prototypical national security Democrat, General Wesley Clark has come in for criticism regarding his NATO command in Kosovo, and likely will again should he progress very far in the 2008 primaries.

Among those critical of Clark is Andrew Bacevich, a self-described conservative whose recent book The New American Militarism I've discussed favorably on prior occasions in this space for its critique of the Bush administration's military overstretch. Although saving most of his critique for the Republican administration and the conservative forces pushing a messianic American militarism Bacevich disapproved of the Kosovo venture, viewing it as "using limited force in pursuit of less than vital objectives."

Bacevich criticizes Clark for his part in encouraging the bombing campaign, for overestimating the bombing's effects as Serb troops dispersed to villages and forests, and for underestimating the humanitarian crisis spawned by the air attacks as the Serbs accelerated their policy of ethnic cleansing.

Bacevich faults Operation Allied Force and Clark for undermining "the Powell Doctrine" of using overwhelming force (sparingly) for certain completeable national security interests, for discrediting the judgment of military leaders in the eyes of political officials who would thereafter invite themselves to second-guess military strategies and advice, and for reintroducing the mingling of the civil-political with the military when matters of waging war, limited or otherwise, were concerned.

I recite this not to validate or negate Bacevich as a critic of military policy or of Clark as a candidate.

I merely offer it for your consideration, to evaluate and to do with as you wish.

I report, you decide.