Singing the Bite Me Song


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September 29, 2005

I'm not allowed to read this, but I think "Find the Brownie" is a great game

The New York Times has seen fit to take its own columnists out of circulation, a move of such peculiar logic that the columnists themselves must be dumbstruck at the 16 people each day who are actually paying just to read their words.

My bet is that they will become virtually invisible in the link-currency of the Internet within two weeks, and [PREDICTION ALERT] the Times will suspend the ridiculous policy due to its utter stupidity by Halloween. I pick Halloween not because I really think it will take that long for the company to realize the depths of its blunder, but because I think pride on business/shareholder/management side will force the editorial folks to suffer the humiliation long enough for some bean-counters to make doubly sure they won't be vindicated on a cold day in hell. As if anyone else has any doubt.

Meanwhile, I have no intention of paying retail. Nor will I ever give those bogus newspaper personal info-harvesting machines masquerading as "free registration" ANY honest personal information. I just LOVE messing with data, and those papers are selling that aggregate bogus info to spam marketers and making probably five whole cents on each registration. I hope that helps them sleep better.

So do I even want to give Paul Krugman credit for the "Find the Brownie" meme? To be more accurate, it appears he cribbed it from Monty Python's "Spot the Loony."

Still, as a viral idea, unbound from the absurdities of TimesSelect firewalls, the enterprise has legs. I can see some future web site, totally devoted to an expanding roll call of embedded "Brownies" unearthed in Bush administration political appointments.

No offense to the Girl Scouts of America, but a "Brownie" is named for Michael Brown, the criminally incompetent director of FEMA who clearly owes his appointment, along with those in several of the positions under him, to political patronage.

Krugman and many others believe that the ranks of the Bush administration are filled with many "Brownies." It remains to be seen if the actual "Brownie Count" approximates the notorious Chicago machine politics under the first Mayor Daley, or other exemplars from the era known for its "boss politics." Or perhaps the count will reach the levels of the righteous "fascists" as the movement was taking off in Europe, the people like Franco and Mussolini who had the gall to champion the corruption of crony capitalism. Now that would be something to be proud of, eh?

I must be feeling my oats today because Tom DeLay was indicted today. Ooh, I was doing the Snoopy dance, yes indeedy.

Krugman, this will probably be the last time I quote you, until after Halloween or so. Don't get too cold in that icebox, OK? Watch the DVD of "The Invisible Man" over and over again, if it makes you feel better.

Link: Star-Telegram | 09/28/2005 | Folks, we've got games for the whole family.

Posted on Wed, Sep. 28, 2005

Folks, we've got games for the whole family

By Paul Krugman
The New York UN-Timely Times

For the politically curious seeking entertainment, I'd like to propose two new trivia games: "Find the Brownie" and "Two Degrees of Jack Abramoff."

The objective in Find the Brownie is to find an obscure but important government job held by someone whose only apparent qualifications for that job are political loyalty and personal connections. It's inspired by President Bush's praise, four days after Katrina hit, for the hapless Michael Brown, the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency: "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job." I guess it depends on the meaning of the word heck.

There are a lot of Brownies. As Time magazine puts it in its latest issue, "Bush has gone further than most presidents to put political stalwarts in some of the most important government jobs you've never heard of." Time offers a couple of fresh examples, such as the former editor of a Wall Street medical-industry newsletter who now holds a crucial position at the Food and Drug Administration.

[...]

OK, enough joking.

The point of my games -- which are actually research programs for enterprising journalists -- is that all the scandals now surfacing are linked. Something is rotten in the state of the U.S. government. And the lesson of Hurricane Katrina is that a culture of cronyism and corruption can have lethal consequences.

September 29, 2005 at 02:02 AM in Best Essays, Current Affairs, Democracy, Favorite Links, Games, Intellectual Property, Media & Journalism, News to Note, Politics, Singing the Bite Me Song | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 25, 2005

Would be nice to have this handy dandy guide on a laminated card to keep in one's pocket...

Neat advice from the American Civil Liberties Union. The PDF version is that handy card format. Heh, the PDF file is named "dwb bust card." DWB, Driving While Black. Although many of us could use this advice, these days. I don't think they even read the Miranda rights anymore. There was a time when we'd all heard them so many times on cop shows we could recite them by heart.

Go download the file! I just had to grab a few of my favorites.

Link: American Civil Liberties Union : Know Your Rights: What to do if You're Stopped by the Police.

Know Your Rights: What to do if You're Stopped by the Police

July 30, 2004

What to do if you're stopped by The Police

To fight police abuse effectively you need to know your rights. There are some things you should do, some things you must do and some things you cannot do. If you are in the middle of a police encounter, you need a handy and quick reference to remind you what your rights and obligations are.

You can photocopy this and carry it in your wallet, pocket or glove compartment to give you quick access to your rights and obligations concerning police encounters.

Click here if you'd like a downloadable version in PDF format.

Think carefully about your words, movement, body language, and emotions.

Don't get into an argument with the police.

Remember, anything you say or do can be used against you.

Keep your hands where the police can see them.

Don't run. Don't touch any police officer.

Don't resist even if you believe you are innocent.

Don't complain on the scene or tell the police they're wrong or that you're going to file a complaint.

Do not make any statements regarding the incident. Ask for a lawyer immediately upon your arrest.

Remember officers' badge & patrol car numbers.

[...]

IF YOU ARE STOPPED FOR QUESTIONING

1. It's not a crime to refuse to answer questions, but refusing to answer can make the police suspicious about you. If you are asked to identify yourself, see paragraph 2 above.

2. Police may "pat-down" your clothing if they suspect a concealed weapon. Don't physically resist, but make it clear that you don't consent to any further search.

3. Ask if you are under arrest. If you are, you have a right to know why.

4. Don't bad-mouth the police officer or run away, even if you believe what is happening is unreasonable. That could lead to your arrest.

[...]

We all recognize the need for effective law enforcement, but we should also understand our own rights and responsibilities -- especially in our relationships with the police. Everyone, including minors, has the right to courteous and respectful police treatment.

If your rights are violated, don't try to deal with the situation at the scene. You can discuss the matter with an attorney afterwards, or file a complaint with the Internal Affairs or Civilian Complaint Board.

Produced by the American Civil Liberties Union.


September 25, 2005 at 12:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 20, 2005

Is message-massage failing for the Bush Administration?

Frank Rich seems to think so. Some well-turned phrases below, observations worth keeping, unflinchingly so.

Link: Message: I Care About the Black Folks - New York Times.

September 18, 2005

Message: I Care About the Black Folks

By FRANK RICH

ONCE Toto parts the curtain, the Wizard of Oz can never be the wizard again. He is forever Professor Marvel, blowhard and snake-oil salesman. Hurricane Katrina, which is likely to endure in the American psyche as long as L. Frank Baum's mythic tornado, has similarly unmasked George W. Bush.

The worst storm in our history proved perfect for exposing this president because in one big blast it illuminated all his failings: the rampant cronyism, the empty sloganeering of "compassionate conservatism," the lack of concern for the "underprivileged" his mother condescended to at the Astrodome, the reckless lack of planning for all government operations except tax cuts, the use of spin and photo-ops to camouflage failure and to substitute for action.

In the chaos unleashed by Katrina, these plot strands coalesced into a single tragic epic played out in real time on television. The narrative is just too powerful to be undone now by the administration's desperate recycling of its greatest hits: a return Sunshine Boys tour by the surrogate empathizers Clinton and Bush I, another round of prayers at the Washington National Cathedral, another ludicrously overhyped prime-time address flecked with speechwriters' "poetry" and framed by a picturesque backdrop. Reruns never eclipse a riveting new show.

[...]

Taking responsibility, as opposed to paying lip service to doing so, is not in this administration's gene pool. It was particularly shameful that Laura Bush was sent among the storm's dispossessed to try to scapegoat the news media for her husband's ineptitude. When she complained of seeing "a lot of the same footage over and over that isn't necessarily representative of what really happened," the first lady sounded just like Donald Rumsfeld shirking responsibility for the looting of Baghdad. The defense secretary, too, griped about seeing the same picture "over and over" on television (a looter with a vase) to hide the reality that the Pentagon had no plan to secure Iraq, a catastrophic failure being paid for in Iraqi and American blood to this day.

This White House doesn't hate all pictures, of course. It loves those by Karl Rove's Imagineers, from the spectacularly lighted Statue of Liberty backdrop of Mr. Bush's first 9/11 anniversary speech to his "Top Gun" stunt to Thursday's laughably stagy stride across the lawn to his lectern in Jackson Square. (Message: I am a leader, not that vacationing slacker who first surveyed the hurricane damage from my presidential jet.)

[...]

It was back in 2000 that Mr. Bush, in a debate with Al Gore, bragged about his gubernatorial prowess "on the front line of catastrophic situations," specifically citing a Texas flood, and paid the Clinton administration a rare compliment for putting a professional as effective as James Lee Witt in charge of FEMA. Exactly why Mr. Bush would staff that same agency months later with political hacks is one of many questions that must be answered by the independent investigation he and the Congressional majority are trying every which way to avoid. With or without a 9/11-style commission, the answers will come out. There are too many Americans who are angry and too many reporters who are on the case. (NBC and CNN are both opening full-time bureaus in New Orleans.) You know the world has changed when the widely despised news media have a far higher approval rating (77 percent) than the president (46 percent), as measured last week in a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll.

[...]

It will be up to other Republicans in Washington to cut through the empty words and image-mongering to demand effective action from Mr. Bush on the Gulf Coast and in Iraq, if only because their own political lives are at stake. It's up to Democrats, though they show scant signs of realizing it, to step into the vacuum and propose an alternative to a fiscally disastrous conservatism that prizes pork over compassion. If the era of Great Society big government is over, the era of big government for special interests is proving a fiasco. Especially when it's presided over by a self-styled C.E.O. with a consistent three-decade record of running private and public enterprises alike into a ditch.

What comes next? Having turned the page on Mr. Bush, the country hungers for a vision that is something other than either liberal boilerplate or Rovian stagecraft. At this point, merely plain old competence, integrity and heart might do.

September 20, 2005 at 09:26 PM in Current Affairs, Democracy, Favorite Links, Politics, Rhetoric, Singing the Bite Me Song | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 16, 2005

Bush's Legacy just changed

Sidney Blumenthal lays it out in this Guardian article today. Blumenthal was part of the Clinton administration, so I imagine his understanding of the shift is deep, and the sense of vindication is sweet.

Link: Guardian Unlimited | Guardian daily comment | The petulant president.

Comment

The petulant president

Sidney Blumenthal
Friday September 16, 2005
The Guardian

Bush's America is gone with the wind. It lasted just short of four years, from 9/11 to 8/29. The devastation of New Orleans was the watery equivalent of a dirty bomb - but Hurricane Katrina approached with advance warnings, scientific anticipation and, before it struck, a personal briefing of the president by the director of the National Hurricane Centre, who warned of breached levees. No terrorist attack could be as completely foreseen as was Katrina.

Bush's presidency and re-election campaign was organised around one master idea: he stood as the protector and saviour of the American people under siege. On this he built his persona as a man of conviction and action. In the 2004 election a critical mass believed that, because of his unabashed patriotism and unembarrassed religiosity, he would do more to protect the country.

[...]

On Tuesday, he tried a novel tactic to deflect "the blame game", as he called it. "To the extent that the federal government didn't fully do its job right," he declared, "I take responsibility." "Extent" was the loophole allowing his magnanimity to be bestowed on the distant abstraction of government.

It was easier for Bush to renounce alcohol at 40 than ideology at 60. Bush had radicalised Reagan's conservatism, but never has Reagan's credo rung so hollow: "Government is not the solution to our problem." Social Darwinism cannot protect the homeland. Many thousands, mostly poor black people, were trapped in the convention centre without food and water for days. Poverty has increased more than 9% since Bush assumed office. The disparity between the superpower's evangelical mission to democratise the world and indifference at home is a foreign policy crisis of new dimension. Can Iraq be saved if Louisiana is lost? Bush's credibility gap is a geopolitical problem without a geopolitical solution.

[...]

Sidney Blumenthal, a former senior adviser to President Clinton, is the author of The Clinton Wars

September 16, 2005 at 11:48 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Knight Ridder: Chertoff delayed federal response, memo shows

Link: KRT Wire | 09/13/2005 | Chertoff delayed federal response, memo shows.

Editor & Publisher is already calling this story a "major scoop" for Knight Ridder.

It's pretty incredible, but I'd been wondering how the snafu got so fu'ed without Chertoff being a pretty major contributor. He said too many inane things during press conferences to make me think he had any sense of what was going on in New Orleans.

Posted on Tue, Sep. 13, 2005

Chertoff delayed federal response, memo shows

BY JONATHAN S. LANDAY, ALISON YOUNG AND SHANNON MCCAFFREY

Knight Ridder Newspapers

WASHINGTON - (KRT) - The federal official with the power to mobilize a massive federal response to Hurricane Katrina was Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, not the former FEMA chief who was relieved of his duties and resigned earlier this week, federal documents reviewed by Knight Ridder show.

Even before the storm struck the Gulf Coast, Chertoff could have ordered federal agencies into action without any request from state or local officials. Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Michael Brown had only limited authority to do so until about 36 hours after the storm hit, when Chertoff designated him as the "principal federal official" in charge of the storm.

[...]

But Chertoff - not Brown - was in charge of managing the national response to a catastrophic disaster, according to the National Response Plan, the federal government's blueprint for how agencies will handle major natural disasters or terrorist incidents. An order issued by President Bush in 2003 also assigned that responsibility to the homeland security director.

But according to a memo obtained by Knight Ridder, Chertoff didn't shift that power to Brown until late afternoon or evening on Aug. 30, about 36 hours after Katrina hit Louisiana and Mississippi. That same memo suggests that Chertoff may have been confused about his lead role in disaster response and that of his department.

"As you know, the President has established the `White House Task Force on Hurricane Katrina Response.' He will meet with us tomorrow to launch this effort. The Department of Homeland Security, along with other Departments, will be part of the task force and will assist the Administration with its response to Hurricane Katrina," Chertoff said in the memo to the secretaries of defense, health and human services and other key federal agencies.

On the day that Chertoff wrote the memo, Bush was in San Diego presiding over a ceremony marking the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II.

[...]

And air jamming on a gift guitar, so light-hearted and gay was he while people in New Orleans were dying.

White House and homeland security officials wouldn't explain why Chertoff waited some 36 hours to declare Katrina an incident of national significance and why he didn't immediately begin to direct the federal response from the moment on Aug. 27 when the National Hurricane Center predicted that Katrina would strike the Gulf Coast with catastrophic force in 48 hours. Nor would they explain why Bush felt the need to appoint a separate task force.

Chertoff's hesitation and Bush's creation of a task force both appear to contradict the National Response Plan and previous presidential directives that specify what the secretary of homeland security is assigned to do without further presidential orders. The goal of the National Response Plan is to provide a streamlined framework for swiftly delivering federal assistance when a disaster - caused by terrorists or Mother Nature - is too big for local officials to handle.

Dana Perino, a White House spokeswoman, referred most inquiries about the memo and Chertoff's actions to the Department of Homeland Security.

"There will be an after-action report" on the government's response to Hurricane Katrina, Perino said. She added that "Chertoff had the authority to invoke the Incident of National Significance, and he did it on Tuesday."

[...]

The Department of Homeland Security has refused repeated requests to provide details about Chertoff's schedule and said it couldn't say specifically when the department requested assistance from the military. Knocke said a military liaison was working with FEMA, but said he didn't know his or her name or rank. FEMA officials said they wouldn't provide information about the liaison.

[...]

A former FEMA director under President Reagan expressed shock by the inaction that Chertoff's memo suggested. It showed that Chertoff "does not have a full appreciation for what the country is faced with - nor does anyone who waits that long," said Gen. Julius Becton Jr., who was FEMA director from 1985-1989.

"Anytime you have a delay in taking action, there's a potential for losing lives," Becton told Knight Ridder. "I have no idea how many lives we're talking about. ... I don't understand why, except that they were inefficient."

Chertoff's Aug. 30 memo came on the heels of a memo from Brown, written several hours after Katrina made landfall, showing that the FEMA director was waiting for Chertoff's permission to get help from others within the massive department. In that memo, first obtained by the Associated Press last week, Brown requested Chertoff's "assistance to make available DHS employees willing to deploy as soon as possible." It asked for another 1,000 homeland security workers within two days and 2,000 within a week.

[...]

According to the National Response Plan, which was unveiled in January by Chertoff's predecessor, Tom Ridge, the secretary of homeland security is supposed to declare an Incident of National Significance when a catastrophic event occurs.

[...]

Mike Byrne, a former senior homeland security official under Ridge who worked on the plan, said he doesn't think the new National Response Plan caused the confusion that plagued the early response to Katrina.

Something else went wrong, he suspects. The new National Response Plan isn't all that different from the previous plan, called the Federal Response Plan.

"Our history of responding to major disasters has been one where we've done it well," Byrne said. "We need to figure out why this one didn't go as well as the others did. It's shocking to me."

Chertoff's Aug. 30 memo is posted at www.krwashington.com

To read the National Response Plan, go to: http://www.dhs.gov/interweb/assetlibrary/NRP_FullText.pdf

September 16, 2005 at 01:47 AM in Current Affairs, Favorite Links, Media & Journalism, News to Note, Politics, Rhetoric, Singing the Bite Me Song | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 14, 2005

How Bush Blew It: Don't let this Newsweek story slip under the radar

How the Katrina "timeline" looked from inside the West Wing, from the anonymous aides' points of view.

Some great lines in here. I'm loathe to take anything out, but the best bits are in bold.

Link: How Bush Blew It   - Newsweek: International Editions - MSNBC.com.

How Bush Blew It

After-Action Report: Bureaucratic timidity. Bad phone lines. And a failure of imagination. Why the government was so slow to respond to catastrophe.

By Evan Thomas
Newsweek

Sept. 19, 2005 issue - It's a standing joke among the president's top aides: who gets to deliver the bad news? Warm and hearty in public, Bush can be cold and snappish in private, and aides sometimes cringe before the displeasure of the president of the United States, or, as he is known in West Wing jargon, POTUS. The bad news on this early morning, Tuesday, Aug. 30, some 24 hours after Hurricane Katrina had ripped through New Orleans, was that the president would have to cut short his five-week vacation by a couple of days and return to Washington. The president's chief of staff, Andrew Card; his deputy chief of staff, Joe Hagin; his counselor, Dan Bartlett, and his spokesman, Scott McClellan, held a conference call to discuss the question of the president's early return and the delicate task of telling him. Hagin, it was decided, as senior aide on the ground, would do the deed.

In other words, he drew the short stick.

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

In my book, that kind of ignorance when you hold the kind of responsibility that comes with his office, is simply criminal. It seems clear that when Bush goes on vacation, he doesn't read briefings about "Bin Laden Determined to Strike the U.S." or even eyeball the Weather Channel as if he were a true steward of his nation. "Steward" would be the one word that, as president, will never be applied to George W. Bush. It would mean care-taking and watchfulness, the watchfulness of an earnest baby-sitter, if not a parent, not just a petulant bureaucrat who is mostly wholely concerned, when concerns are allowed to penetrate the indifferent sons of the rich and powerful, with covering his own ass. This kind of unconcern in a president should be an impeachable offense, if utter incompetence counts as such a thing.

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

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

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

[...]

But it is not clear what President Bush does read or watch, aside from the occasional biography and an hour or two of ESPN here and there.

Where I come from that would be called having your head permanently stuck up your ass. Of course, many of us have been suspecting Bush was this out of it for many years now. What a contrast to the high-level policy wonk hyper-awareness of President Clinton, eh?

Bush can be petulant about dissent; he equates disagreement with disloyalty. After five years in office, he is surrounded largely by people who agree with him. Bush can ask tough questions, but it's mostly a one-way street.

[...]

When Hurricane Katrina struck, it appears there was no one to tell President Bush the plain truth: that the state and local governments had been overwhelmed, that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was not up to the job and that the military, the only institution with the resources to cope, couldn't act without a declaration from the president overriding all other authority.

[...]

The failure of the government's response to Hurricane Katrina worked like a power blackout. Problems cascaded and compounded; each mistake made the next mistake worse. The foe in this battle was a monster; Katrina flattened the Gulf Coast with the strength of a vengeful god. But human beings, beginning with the elected officials of the City of New Orleans, failed to anticipate and react in time.

Congressional investigations will take months to sort out who is to blame. A NEWSWEEK reconstruction of the government's response to the storm shows how Bush's leadership style and the bureaucratic culture combined to produce a disaster within a disaster.

Ray Nagin, the mayor of New Orleans, didn't want to evacuate. New Orleanians have a fatalistic streak; their joyful, jazz-blowing street funeral processions are legendary. After many near misses over the years since Hurricane Betsy flooded 20 percent of the city in 1965, longtime residents prefer to stay put. Nagin's eye had long been on commerce, not catastrophe. A former executive at Cox Communications, he had come to office in 2002 to clear out the allegedly corrupt old guard and bring new business to the city, which has not prospered with New South metropolises like Atlanta. During Nagin's mayoral campaign, the promises were about jobs, not stronger floodwalls and levees.

But on Saturday night, as Katrina bore down on New Orleans, Nagin talked to Max Mayfield, head of the National Hurricane Center. "Max Mayfield has scared me to death," Nagin told City Councilwoman Cynthia Morrell early Sunday morning. "If you're scared, I'm scared," responded Morrell, and the mandatory order went out to evacuate the city—about a day later than for most other cities and counties along the Gulf Coast.

As Katrina howled outside Monday morning and the windows of the Hyatt Hotel, where the mayor had set up his command post, began popping out, Nagin and his staff lay on the floor. Then came eerie silence. Morrell decided to go look at her district, including nearby Gentilly. Outside, Canal Street was dry. "Phew," Morrell told her driver, "that was close." But then, from the elevated highway, she began seeing neighborhoods under eight to 15 feet of water. "Holy God," she thought to herself. Then she spotted her first dead body.

At dusk, on the ninth floor of city hall, the mayor and the city council had their first encounter with the federal government. A man in a blue FEMA windbreaker arrived to brief them on his helicopter flyover of the city. He seemed unfamiliar with the city's geography, but he did have a sense of urgency. "Water as far as the eye can see," he said. It was worse than Hurricanes Andrew in 1992 and Camille in 1969. "I need to call Washington," he said. "Do you have a conference-call line?" According to an aide to the mayor, he seemed a little taken aback when the answer was no. Long neglected in the city budget, communications within the New Orleans city government were poor, and eventually almost nonexistent when the batteries on the few old satellite phones died. The FEMA man found a phone, but he had trouble reaching senior officials in Washington. When he finally got someone on the line, the city officials kept hearing him say, "You don't understand, you don't understand."

Around New Orleans, three levees had overtopped or were broken. The city was doomed. There was no way the water could be stopped. But, incredibly, the seriousness of the situation did not really register, not only in Washington, but at the state emergency command post upriver in Baton Rouge.

This part strains my credulity, since most of these people had direct contact with the drill on the fake "Hurricane Pam" the year before. From the hurricane experts I've seen on TV, the most standout issue that surely made even the top paragraph of the executive summary of that report would be "devasting flooding in New Orleans once levees are breached, with massive loss of life." That much seems abundantly clear.

[...]

Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, a motherly but steely figure known by the nickname Queen Bee, knew that she needed help. But she wasn't quite sure what. At about 8 p.m., she spoke to Bush. "Mr. President," she said, "we need your help. We need everything you've got."

Bush, the governor later recalled, was reassuring. But the conversation was all a little vague. Blanco did not specifically ask for a massive intervention by the active-duty military. "She wouldn't know the 82nd Airborne from the Harlem Boys' Choir," said an official in the governor's office, who did not wish to be identified talking about his boss's conversations with the president. There are a number of steps Bush could have taken, short of a full-scale federal takeover, like ordering the military to take over the pitiful and (by now) largely broken emergency communications system throughout the region. But the president, who was in San Diego preparing to give a speech the next day on the war in Iraq, went to bed.

Mind the president's uncomplicated beauty rest now. The blissful sleep of the criminally clueless.

By the predawn hours, most state and federal officials finally realized that the 17th Street Canal levee had been breached, and that the city was in serious trouble. Bush was told at 5 a.m. Pacific Coast time and immediately decided to cut his vacation short. To his senior advisers, living in the insular presidential bubble, the mere act of lopping off a couple of presidential vacation days counts as a major event. They could see pitfalls in sending Bush to New Orleans immediately. His presence would create a security nightmare and get in the way of the relief effort. Bush blithely proceeded with the rest of his schedule for the day, accepting a gift guitar at one event and pretending to riff like Tom Cruise in "Risky Business."

That didn't stop them from sending the president into an active disaster zone in Florida last year. I heard plenty of complaints then about the presidential entourage disrupting relief efforts, making it harder for folks to get bottled water, having to route all the way around the security zone. And, my memory is bad, but I think that happened within TWO DAYS of the big hurricane hitting last year near Punta Gorda. But then, in that part of Florida, there were votes on the line.

Bush might not have appeared so carefree if he had been able to see the fearful faces on some young police officers—the ones who actually showed up for roll call at the New Orleans Second District police headquarters that morning. The radio was reporting water nine feet deep at the corner of Napoleon and St. Charles streets. The looting and occasional shooting had begun. At 2 o'clock on the morning of the storm, only 82 of 120 cops had obeyed a summons to report for duty. Now the numbers were dwindling; within a day, only 28 or 30 officers would be left to save the stranded and fight the looters, recalled a sad and exhausted Capt. Eddie Hosli, speaking to a NEWSWEEK reporter last week.

[...]

At emergency headquarters in Baton Rouge, confusion raged. Though more than 100,000 of its residents had no way to get out of the city on their own, New Orleans had no real evacuation plan, save to tell people to go to the Superdome and wait for buses. On Tuesday, the state was rounding up buses; no, FEMA was; no, FEMA's buses would take too long to get there... and so on. On Tuesday afternoon, Governor Blanco took her second trip to the Superdome and was shocked by the rising tide of desperation there. There didn't seem to be nearly enough buses, boats or helicopters.

Early Wednesday morning, Blanco tried to call Bush. She was transferred around the White House for a while until she ended up on the phone with Fran Townsend, the president's Homeland Security adviser, who tried to reassure her but did not have many specifics.

What, did she interrupt a game of presidential shuffleboard? What big "situation" in the White House was upstaging a desperate phone call from the region of the country that should have been Priority One? We know the Iraq War has never been Priority One, because the people supposedly running it blythely took a five-week vacation and couldn't really be interupted to have their head in anything else. I mean, he interrupted his vacation for the disaster, so wouldn't the folks in the White House, um, you know, been giving full attention to the disaster?

Hours later, Blanco called back and insisted on speaking to the president. When he came on the line, the governor recalled, "I just asked him for help, 'whatever you have'." She asked for 40,000 troops. "I just pulled a number out of the sky," she later told NEWSWEEK.

The Pentagon was not sitting idly. By Tuesday morning (and even before the storm) the military was moving supplies, ships, boats, helicopters and troops toward the Gulf Coast. But, ironically, the scale of the effort slowed it. TV viewers had difficulty understanding why TV crews seemed to move in and out of New Orleans while the military was nowhere to be seen. But a TV crew is five people in an RV. Before the military can send in convoys of trucks, it has to clear broken and flooded highways. The military took over the shattered New Orleans airport for emergency airlifts, but special teams of Air Force operators had to be sent in to make it ready. By the week after the storm, the military had mobilized some 70,000 troops and hundreds of helicopters—but it took at least two days and usually four and five to get them into the disaster area. Looters and well-armed gangs, like TV crews, moved faster.

Funny thing about Chinooks and Blackhawks and such, choppers that just fly up and then they show up. Mobilization? People were dying and someone was worried about whether they all took off at the same time?! Whether the boots were shined? Hell, dribble the Chinooks and Hueys out, if it gets the fucking job done. The National Guard, if it were actually present and equipped in Louisiana and Mississippi would surely have done that, since they were only missing a "third" of their people who were in Iraq. If that was the case, however, why were ANY numbers of National Guard so MIA all week, until that Friday? My guess is that the third of them that were in Iraq had all the transport equipment there with them. I'm wondering if every state's equipment stores are similarly non-existent.

I am also concerned that for all the media sites publishing "timelines," there aren't any researching side-by-side timelines with Hurricane Ivan, not because they were comparable storms, but didn't that FEMA response occur AFTER FEMA was absorbed into Homeland Security? I want to see an Ivan timeline, and a Charley timeline, and a Frances timeline...

In the inner councils of the Bush administration, there was some talk of gingerly pushing aside the overwhelmed "first responders," the state and local emergency forces, and sending in active-duty troops. But under an 1868 law, federal troops are not allowed to get involved in local law enforcement. The president, it's true, could have invoked the Insurrections Act, the so-called Riot Act. But Rumsfeld's aides say the secretary of Defense was leery of sending in 19-year-old soldiers trained to shoot people in combat to play policemen in an American city, and he believed that National Guardsmen trained as MPs were on the way.

Hmmm, I wonder where they were, and why Rummy didn't know where they were. And why would the federal troops have to "push aside" the state and local relief efforts? In a disaster with all hands on deck, wouldn't more hands be better? What's with all this "we're helping now so you aren't allowed to help" bullshit? The people who snuck in with aid and the firefighters who found a way around the FEMA assholes who were turning back truckloads and aid offers from other states were the folks who actually saved lives. Can we charge those FEMA assholes with murder like they did the nursing home administrators who didn't evacuate and forced those infirm people to die horrible deaths? Why the hell were minor FEMA bureaucrats turning aid back, anyway? It seems so absurd, but it's well-documented. Were the offers coming from people who for some reason didn't have embedded chips under their skin saying they'd already been to the Homeland Security proctologist and were certified not to be harboring terrorist implements up their asses?

If you ask me, those FEMA bureaucrats turning back the aid trucks and rejecting offers from others states WERE TERRORISTS. They were terrorizing the people of New Orleans.

If I were being a real paranoiac, I might say that it appears that FEMA was blockading the city from anything getting in, what in military terms would be called a "siege," in order to manipulate a response from either the governor or the mayor in some kind of extended "turf war." I mean, sure, everyone is crying "incompetence" when it comes to FEMA's non-response, but I seriously wonder if we aren't seeing more method in the FEMA madness that suggests competence, but with goals at cross-purposes with the relief efforts. Was New Orleans being held hostage by a federal agency trying to establish a jurisdictional precedent that would normally be unheard of? Is there any reason why FEMA can't support overwhelmed state and local disaster coordinators who actually know the maps and such, KNOW where the shelters ARE, without having to utterly take over and fuck up royally? When did the disaster response become more about a FEMA power grab and less about helping people?

The one federal agency that is supposed to handle disasters—FEMA—was dysfunctional. On Wednesday morning, Senator Landrieu was standing outside the chaotic Superdome and asked to borrow a FEMA official's phone to call her office in Washington. "It didn't work," she told Newsweek. "I thought to myself, 'This isn't going to be pretty'." Once a kind of petty-cash drawer for congressmen to quickly hand out aid after floods and storms, FEMA had improved in the 1990s in the Clinton administration. But it became a victim of the Iron Law of Unintended Consequences. After 9/11 raised the profile of disaster response, FEMA was folded into the sprawling Department of Homeland Security and effectively weakened. FEMA's boss, Bush's close friend Joe Allbaugh, quit when he lost his cabinet seat. (Now a consultant, Allbaugh was down on the Gulf Coast last week looking for contracts for his private clients.) Allbaugh replaced himself with his college buddy Mike Brown, whose last private-sector job (omitted from his official resume) had been supervising horse-show judges for the International Arabian Horse Association. After praising Brown ("Brownie, you're doing a heck of job"), Bush last week removed him from honchoing the Katrina relief operation. He was replaced by Coast Guard Vice Adm. Thad Allen. The Coast Guard was one agency that performed well, rescuing thousands.

I'm glad to hear that the facts about the Coast Guard back up my perceptions as an observer. In all the awfulness, the Coast Guard was, in my mind, both tireless and heroic, and they impressed the hell out of me even without the media telling me what johnny-on-the-spots they were.

Bad news rarely flows up in bureaucracies. For most of those first few days, Bush was hearing what a good job the Feds were doing. Bush likes "metrics," numbers to measure performance, so the bureaucrats gave him reassuring statistics. At a press availability on Wednesday, Bush duly rattled them off: there were 400 trucks transporting 5.4 million meals and 13.4 million liters of water along with 3.4 million pounds of ice. Yet it was obvious to anyone watching TV that New Orleans had turned into a Third World hellhole.

I can't remember where I heard it, but the rumor running around is that some FEMA people are complaining that they were forced to stop doing important things, urgent things, in order to drop everything and run down those fucking statistics for the clueless president to spout off at a press conference.

The denial and the frustration finally collided aboard Air Force One on Friday. As the president's plane sat on the tarmac at New Orleans airport, a confrontation occurred that was described by one participant as "as blunt as you can get without the Secret Service getting involved."

I think this means folks got all up in each other's faces with hard words, nearly coming to blows. Is that how you read it?

Governor Blanco was there, along with various congressmen and senators and Mayor Nagin (who took advantage of the opportunity to take a shower aboard the plane). One by one, the lawmakers listed their grievances as Bush listened. Rep. Bobby Jindal, whose district encompasses New Orleans, told of a sheriff who had called FEMA for assistance. According to Jindal, the sheriff was told to e-mail his request, "and the guy was sitting in a district underwater and with no electricity," Jindal said, incredulously. "How does that make any sense?" Jindal later told NEWSWEEK that "almost everybody" around the conference table had a similar story about how the federal response "just wasn't working." With each tale, "the president just shook his head, as if he couldn't believe what he was hearing," says Jindal, a conservative Republican and Bush appointee who lost a close race to Blanco. Repeatedly, the president turned to his aides and said, "Fix it."

Wow, what a take-charge guy. He has no connection with what must be done TO "fix it," but he can strut around demanding results all day long like a detached banty rooster. Generally, I thought the qualifications of a leader meant seeing that stuff got done when the folks further down the chain of command needed more help or intervention, rather than barking the command back DOWN the faltering chain of command. People went up the org chart to try to find where the buck stopped, where they could get some real help, and when they got to Bush, he just turned around and passed the buck right back down.

According to Sen. David Vitter, a Republican ally of Bush's, the meeting came to a head when Mayor Nagin blew up during a fraught discussion of "who's in charge?" Nagin slammed his hand down on the table and told Bush, "We just need to cut through this and do what it takes to have a more-controlled command structure. If that means federalizing it, let's do it."

A debate over "federalizing" the National Guard had been rattling in Washington for the previous three days. Normally, the Guard is under the control of the state governor, but the Feds can take over—if the governor asks them to. Nagin suggested that Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, the Pentagon's on-scene commander, be put in charge. According to Senator Vitter, Bush turned to Governor Blanco and said, "Well, what do you think of that, Governor?" Blanco told Bush, "I'd rather talk to you about that privately." To which Nagin responded, "Well, why don't you do that now?"

The meeting broke up. Bush and Blanco disappeared to talk. More than a week later, there was still no agreement. Blanco didn't want to give up her authority, and Bush didn't press. Jindal suggested that Bush appoint Colin Powell as a kind of relief czar, and Bush replied, "I'll take that into consideration." Bush does not like to fire people. He told Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff to go down to Louisiana and sort out the various problems. A day later FEMA's Brown was on his way back to Washington.

Another day of people dying because "Bush doesn't like to fire people"? The governor had asked the feds to step in the Saturday before the hurricane hit, but it isn't like they pre-deployed more than seven FEMA teams, and a small number of National Guard troops that were never visible on any video reports I saw. I saw Coast Guard, city police, and lots of people all by themselves, while firefighters were sitting in Atlanta getting sexual harrassment training because they had advance homeland security background checks. See, because its more important to have a background check than to get help for people who are dying.

Late last week, Bush was, by some accounts, down and angry. But another Bush aide described the atmosphere inside the White House as "strangely surreal and almost detached."

What happened, did the "reality-based universe" trump the spinners? Oh, that must have been a sad day at the White House, the utter failure to control spin and manufacture reality into some constructed image. I doubt anyone was sad at the tragedy in New Orleans. They could have been sad about that days earlier, and actually done something about it.

At one meeting described by this insider, officials were oddly self-congratulatory, perhaps in an effort to buck each other up. Life inside a bunker can be strange, especially in defeat.

Sorry Newsweek, but I'm not buying your bizarre ending to this story. Yes, it most certainly was a defeat. And maybe they still aren't monitoring the nation as real stewards in there, and instead sit in silence in the bunker. But I'm more inclined to believe if there were any self-congratulations to be had, any high-fives to be given out (I'm thinking of those goofy scenes in the TV show "The West Wing") it would be because they actually were looking forward to some future scheme or planned victory, perhaps knowing something about Supreme Court Chief Justice nominee John Roberts we don't. I don't know why else there could be glee at this time on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Unless they are so cold toward the tragedy, they don't feel it, and instead just feel happy they survived it. But then you must compare what the White House handlers survived to what the people of New Orleans survived. I don't see the surviors of New Orleans being self congratulatory that they made it.

September 14, 2005 at 01:54 AM in Best Essays, Current Affairs, Favorite Links, Media & Journalism, News to Note, Politics, Rhetoric, Singing the Bite Me Song, Television, War/Terrorism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 10, 2005

Mark Bill Moyer's words...

What a great speech he gave here... I had to point up the best parts.

Link: 9/11 And The Sport of God.

9/11 And The Sport of God

Bill Moyers
September 09, 2005

This article is adapted from Bill Moyer's address this week at Union Theological Seminary in New York, where Judith and Bill Moyers received the seminary’s highest award, the Union Medal, for their contributions to faith and reason in America. Bill Moyers is a broadcast journalist and former host the PBS program NOW With Bill Moyers. Moyers also serves as president of the Schumann Center for Media and Democracy, which gives financial support to TomPaine.com.

At the Central Baptist Church in Marshall, Texas, where I was baptized in the faith, we believed in a free church in a free state. I still do.

My spiritual forbears did not take kindly to living under theocrats who embraced religious liberty for themselves but denied it to others. “Forced worship stinks in God’s nostrils,” thundered the dissenter Roger Williams as he was banished from Massachusetts for denying Puritan authority over his conscience. Baptists there were a “pitiful negligible minority” but they were agitators for freedom and therefore denounced as “incendiaries of the commonwealth” for holding to their belief in that great democracy of faith—the priesthood of all believers. For refusing to pay tribute to the state religion they were fined, flogged, and exiled. In l651 the Baptist Obadiah Holmes was given 30 stripes with a three-corded whip after he violated the law and took forbidden communion with another Baptist in Lynn, Massachusetts. His friends offered to pay his fine for his release but he refused. They offered him strong drink to anesthetize the pain of the flogging. Again he refused. It is the love of liberty, he said, “that must free the soul.”

Such revolutionary ideas made the new nation with its Constitution and Bill of Rights “a haven for the cause of conscience.” No longer could magistrates order citizens to support churches they did not attend and recite creeds that they did not believe. No longer would “the loathsome combination of church and state”—as Thomas Jefferson described it—be the settled order. Unlike the Old World that had been wracked with religious wars and persecution, the government of America would take no sides in the religious free-for-all that liberty would make possible and politics would make inevitable. The First Amendment neither inculcates religion nor inoculates against it. Americans could be loyal to the Constitution without being hostile to God, or they could pay no heed to God without fear of being mugged by an official God Squad. It has been a remarkable arrangement that guaranteed “soul freedom.”

It is at risk now, and the fourth observance of the terrorist attacks of 9/ll is an appropriate time to think about it.

Four years ago this week, the poet’s prophetic metaphor became real again and “the great dark birds of history” plunged into our lives.

They came in the name of God. They came bent on murder and martyrdom. It was as if they rode to earth on the fierce breath of Allah himself, for the sacred scriptures that had nurtured these murderous young men are steeped in images of a violent and vengeful God who wills life for the faithful and horrific torment for unbelievers.

Yes, the Koran speaks of mercy and compassion and calls for ethical living. But such passages are no match for the ferocity of instruction found there for waging war for God’s sake. [...]

[...]

Terrorists plant time bombs in our heads, hoping to turn each and every imagination into a private hell governed by our fear of them. [emphasis mine]

[...]

So over the past four years I have kept reminding myself of not only the horror but the humanity that was revealed that day four years ago, when through the smoke and fire we glimpsed the heroism, compassion, and sacrifice of people who did the best of things in the worst of times. I keep telling myself that this beauty in us is real, that it makes life worthwhile and democracy work and that no terrorist can take it from us.

[...]

The other side of the story:

Muslims have no monopoly on holy violence. As Jack Nelson-Pallmayer points out, God’s violence in the sacred texts of both faiths reflect a deep and troubling pathology “so pervasive, vindictive, and destructive” that it contradicts and subverts the collective weight of other passages that exhort ethical behavior or testify to a loving God.

For days now we have watched those heart-breaking scenes on the Gulf Coast: the steaming, stinking, sweltering wreckage of cities and suburbs; the fleeing refugees; the floating corpses, hungry babies, and old people huddled together in death, the dogs gnawing at their feet; stranded children standing in water reeking of feces and garbage; families scattered; a mother holding her small child and an empty water jug, pleading for someone to fill it; a wife, pushing the body of her dead husband on a wooden plank down a flooded street; desperate people struggling desperately to survive.

Now transport those current scenes from our newspapers and television back to the first Book of the Bible—the Book of Genesis. They bring to life what we rarely imagine so graphically when we read of the great flood that devastated the known world. If you read the Bible as literally true, as fundamentalists do, this flood was ordered by God. “And God said to Noah, ‘I have determined to make an end of all flesh… behold, I will destroy them with the earth.” (6:5-l3). [...]

The flood is merely Act One. Read on: This God first “hardens the heart of Pharaoh” to make sure the Egyptian ruler will not be moved by the plea of Moses to let his people go. Then because Pharaoh’s heart is hardened, God turns the Nile into blood so people cannot drink its water and will suffer from thirst. Not satisfied with the results, God sends swarms of locusts and flies to torture them; rains hail and fire and thunder on them destroys the trees and plants of the field until nothing green remains; orders every first-born child to be slaughtered, from the first-born of Pharaoh right on down to “the first-born of the maidservant behind the mill.” An equal-murderous God, you might say. The massacre continues until “there is not a house where one was not dead.” While the Egyptian families mourn their dead, God orders Moses to loot from their houses all their gold and silver and clothing. Finally, God’s thirst for blood is satisfied, God pauses to rest—and boasts: “I have made sport of the Egyptians.”

Violence: the sport of God. God, the progenitor of shock and awe.

And that’s just Act II. As the story unfolds women and children are hacked to death on God’s order; unborn infants are ripped from their mother’s wombs; cities are leveled—their women killed if they have had sex, the virgins taken at God’s command for the pleasure of his holy warriors. When his holy warriors spare the lives of 50,000 captives God is furious and sends Moses back to rebuke them and tell them to finish the job. One tribe after another falls to God-ordered genocide: the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites—names so ancient they have disappeared into the mists as fathers and mothers and brothers and sisters, grandparents and grandchildren, infants in arms, shepherds, threshers, carpenters, merchants, housewives—living human beings, flesh and blood: “And when the Lord your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them; then you must utterly destroy them; you shall make no covenant with them, and show no mercy to them…(and) your eyes shall not pity them.”

So it is written—in the Holy Bible.

Yes, I know: the early church fathers, trying to cover up the blood-soaked trail of God’s sport, decreed that anything that disagrees with Christian dogma about the perfection of God is to be interpreted spiritually. Yes, I know: Edward Gibbon himself acknowledged that the literal Biblical sense of God “is repugnant to every principle of faith as well as reason” and that we must therefore read the scriptures through a veil of allegory. Yes, I know: we can go through the Bible and construct a God more pleasing to the better angels of our nature (as I have done.) Yes, I know: Christians claim the Old Testament God of wrath was supplanted by the Gospel’s God of love [See The God of Evil , Allan Hawkins, Exlibris.]

I know these things; all of us know these things. But we also know that the “violence-of-God” tradition remains embedded deep in the DNA of monotheistic faith. We also know that fundamentalists the world over and at home consider the “sacred texts” to be literally God’s word on all matters. Inside that logic you cannot read part of the Bible allegorically and the rest of it literally; if you believe in the virgin birth of Jesus, his crucifixion and resurrection, and the depiction of the Great Judgment at the end times you must also believe that God is sadistic, brutal, vengeful, callow, cruel and savage—that God slaughters.

Millions believe it.

Let’s go back to 9/11 four years ago. The ruins were still smoldering when the reverends Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell went on television to proclaim that the terrorist attacks were God’s punishment of a corrupted America. They said the government had adopted the agenda “of the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians” not to mention the ACLU and People for the American Way (The God of the Bible apparently holds liberals in the same low esteem as Hittites and Gergushites and Jebusites and all the other pagans of holy writ.) Just as God had sent the Great Flood to wipe out a corrupted world, now—disgusted with a decadent America—“God almighty is lifting his protection from us.” Critics said such comments were deranged. But millions of Christian fundamentalists and conservatives didn’t think so. They thought Robertson and Falwell were being perfectly consistent with the logic of the Bible as they read it: God withdraws favor from sinful nations—the terrorists were meant to be God’s wake-up call: better get right with God. Not many people at the time seemed to notice that Osama bin Laden had also been reading his sacred book closely and literally, and had called on Muslims to resist what he described as a “fierce Judeo-Christian campaign” against Islam, praying to Allah for guidance “to exalt the people who obey Him and humiliate those who disobey Him.”

Let’s go back to 9/11 four years ago. The ruins were still smoldering when the reverends Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell went on television to proclaim that the terrorist attacks were God’s punishment of a corrupted America. They said the government had adopted the agenda “of the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians” not to mention the ACLU and People for the American Way (The God of the Bible apparently holds liberals in the same low esteem as Hittites and Gergushites and Jebusites and all the other pagans of holy writ.) Just as God had sent the Great Flood to wipe out a corrupted world, now—disgusted with a decadent America—“God almighty is lifting his protection from us.” Critics said such comments were deranged. But millions of Christian fundamentalists and conservatives didn’t think so. They thought Robertson and Falwell were being perfectly consistent with the logic of the Bible as they read it: God withdraws favor from sinful nations—the terrorists were meant to be God’s wake-up call: better get right with God. Not many people at the time seemed to notice that Osama bin Laden had also been reading his sacred book closely and literally, and had called on Muslims to resist what he described as a “fierce Judeo-Christian campaign” against Islam, praying to Allah for guidance “to exalt the people who obey Him and humiliate those who disobey Him.”

Suddenly we were immersed in the pathology of a “holy war” as defined by fundamentalists on both sides. You could see this pathology play out in General William Boykin. A professional soldier, General Boykin had taken up with a small group called the Faith Force Multiplier whose members apply military principles to evangelism with a manifesto summoning warriors “to the spiritual warfare for souls.” After Boykin had led Americans in a battle against a Somalian warlord he announced: “I know my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his God was an idol.” Now Boykin was going about evangelical revivals preaching that America was in a holy war as “a Christian nation” battling Satan and that America’s Muslim adversaries will be defeated “only if we come against them in the name of Jesus.” For such an hour, America surely needed a godly leader. So General Boykin explained how it was that the candidate who had lost the election in 2000 nonetheless wound up in the White House. President Bush, he said, “was not elected by a majority of the voters—he was appointed by God.” Not surprising, instead of being reprimanded for evangelizing while in uniform, General Boykin is now the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence. (Just as it isn’t surprising that despite his public call for the assassination of a foreign head of state, Pat Robertson’s Operation Blessing was one of the first groups to receive taxpayer funds from the President’s Faith-Based Initiative for “relief work” on the Gulf Coast.)

We can’t wiggle out of this, people. Alvin Hawkins states it frankly: “This is a problem we can’t walk away from.” We’re talking about a powerful religious constituency that claims the right to tell us what’s on God’s mind and to decide the laws of the land according to their interpretation of biblical revelation and to enforce those laws on the nation as a whole. For the Bible is not just the foundational text of their faith; it has become the foundational text for a political movement.

[...]

What’s also unique is the intensity, organization, and anger they have brought to the public square. Listen to their preachers, evangelists, and homegrown ayatollahs: Their viral intolerance—their loathing of other people’s beliefs, of America’s secular and liberal values, of an independent press, of the courts, of reason, science and the search for objective knowledge—has become an unprecedented sectarian crusade for state power. They use the language of faith to demonize political opponents, mislead and misinform voters, censor writers and artists, ostracize dissenters, and marginalize the poor. These are the foot soldiers in a political holy war financed by wealthy economic interests and guided by savvy partisan operatives who know that couching political ambition in religious rhetoric can ignite the passion of followers as ferociously as when Constantine painted the Sign of Christ (the “Christograph”) on the shields of his soldiers and on the banners of his legions and routed his rivals in Rome. Never mind that the Emperor himself was never baptized into the faith; it served him well enough to make the God worshipped by Christians his most important ally and turn the Sign of Christ into the one imperial symbol most widely recognized and feared from east to west.

Let’s take a brief detour to Ohio and I’ll show you what I am talking about. In recent weeks a movement called the Ohio Restoration Project has been launched to identify and train thousands of “Patriot Pastors” to get out the conservative religious vote next year. According to press reports, the leader of the movement— the senior pastor of a large church in suburban Columbus—casts the 2006 elections as an apocalyptic clash between “the forces of righteousness and the hordes of hell.” The fear and loathing in his message is palpable: He denounces public schools that won’t teach creationism, require teachers to read the Bible in class, or allow children to pray. He rails against the “secular jihadists” who have “hijacked” America and prevent school kids from learning that Hitler was “an avid evolutionist.” He links abortion to children who murder their parents. He blasts the “pagan left” for trying to redefine marriage. He declares that “homosexual rights” will bring “a flood of demonic oppression.” On his church website you read that “Reclaiming the teaching of our Christian heritage among America’s youth is paramount to a sense of national destiny that God has invested into this nation.”

One of the prominent allies of the Ohio Restoration Project is a popular televangelist in Columbus who heads a $40 million-a-year ministry that is accessible worldwide via l, 400 TV stations and cable affiliates. Although he describes himself as neither Republican nor Democrat but a “Christocrat”—a gladiator for God marching against “the very hordes of hell in our society”—he nonetheless has been spotted with so many Republican politicians in Washington and elsewhere that he has been publicly described as a“spiritual advisor” to the party. The journalist Marley Greiner has been following his ministry for the organization, FreePress. She writes that because he considers the separation of church and state to be “a lie perpetrated on Americans—especially believers in Jesus Christ”—he identifies himself as a “wall builder” and “wall buster.” As a wall builder he will “restore Godly presence in government and culture; as a wall buster he will tear down the church-state wall.” He sees the Christian church as a sleeping giant that has the ability and the anointing from God to transform America. The giant is stirring. At a rally in July he proclaimed to a packed house: “Let the Revolution begin!” And the congregation roared back: “Let the Revolution begin!”

(The Revolution’s first goal, by the way, is to elect as governor next year the current Republican secretary of state who oversaw the election process in 2004 year when a surge in Christian voters narrowly carried George Bush to victory. As General Boykin suggested of President Bush’s anointment, this fellow has acknowledged that “God wanted him as secretary of state during 2004” because it was such a critical election. Now he is criss-crossing Ohio meeting with Patriot Pastors and their congregations proclaiming that “America is at its best when God is at its center.”) [For the complete stories from which this information has been extracted, see: “An evening with Rod Parsley, by Marley Greiner, FreePress, July 20, 2005; Patriot Pastors,” Marilyn Warfield, Cleveland Jewish News, July 29, 2005; “Ohio televangelist has plenty of influence, but he wants more”, Ted Wendling, Religion News Service, Chicago Tribune, July 1, 2005; “Shaping Politics from the pulpits,” Susan Page, USA Today , Aug. 3, 2005; “Religion and Politics Should Be Mixed Says Ohio Secretary of State,” WTOL-TV Toledo, October 29, 2004].

The Ohio Restoration Project is spreading. In one month alone last year in the president’s home state of Texas, a single Baptist preacher added 2000 “Patriot Pastors” to the rolls. On his website he now encourages pastors to “speak out on the great moral issues of our day…to restore and reclaim America for Christ.”

Alas, these “great moral issues” do not include building a moral economy. The Christian Right trumpets charity (as in Faith Based Initiatives) but is silent on social and economic justice. Inequality in America has reached scandalous proportions: a few weeks ago the government acknowledged that while incomes are growing smartly for the first time in years, the primary winners are the top earners—people who receive stocks, bonuses, and other income in addition to wages. The nearly 80 percent of Americans who rely mostly on hourly wages barely maintained their purchasing power. Even as Hurricane Katrina was hitting the Gulf Coast, giving us a stark reminder of how poverty can shove poor people into the abyss, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that last year one million people were added to 36 million already living in poverty. And since l999 the income of the poorest one fifth of Americans has dropped almost nine percent.

None of these harsh realities of ordinary life seem to bother the radical religious right. To the contrary, in the pursuit of political power they have cut a deal with America’s richest class and their partisan allies in a law-of-the-jungle strategy to “starve” the government of resources needed for vital social services that benefit everyone while championing more and more spending rich corporations and larger tax cuts for the rich.

How else to explain the vacuum in their “great moral issues” of the plight of millions of Americans without adequate health care? Of the gross corruption of politics by campaign contributions that skew government policies toward the wealthy at the expense of ordinary taxpayers? (On the very day that oil and gas prices reached a record high the president signed off on huge taxpayer subsidies for energy conglomerates already bloated with windfall profits plucked from the pockets of average Americans filling up at gas tanks across the country; yet the next Sunday you could pass a hundred church signboards with no mention of a sermon on crony capitalism.)

This silence on economic and political morality is deafening but revealing. The radicals on the Christian right are now the dominant force in America’s governing party. Without them the government would not be in the hands of people who don’t believe in government. They are culpable in upholding a system of class and race in which, as we saw last week, the rich escape and the poor are left behind. And they are on they are crusading for a government “of, by, and for the people” in favor of one based on Biblical authority.

This is the crux of the matter: To these fundamentalist radicals there is only one legitimate religion and only one particular brand of that religion that is right; all others who call on God are immoral or wrong. They believe the Bible to be literally true and that they alone know what it means. Behind their malicious attacks on the courts (“vermin in black robes,” as one of their talk show allies recently put it,) is a fierce longing to hold judges accountable for interpreting the Constitution according to standards of biblical revelation as fundamentalists define it. To get those judges they needed a party beholden to them. So the Grand Old Party—the GOP—has become God’s Own Party, its ranks made up of God’s Own People “marching as to war.”

[...]

The corporate, political and religious right converge here, led by a president who, in his own disdain for science, reason and knowledge, is the most powerful fundamentalist in American history.

What are the stakes? In his last book, the late Marvin Harris, a prominent anthropologist of the time, wrote that “the attack against reason and objectivity is fast reaching the proportions of a crusade.” To save the American Dream, “we desperately need to reaffirm the principle that it is possible to carry out an analysis of social life which rational human beings will recognize as being true, regardless of whether they happen to be women or men, whites or black, straights or gays, employers or employees, Jews or born-again Christians. The alternative is to stand by helplessly as special interest groups tear the United States apart in the name of their “separate realities’ or to wait until one of them grows strong enough to force its irrational and subjective brand of reality on all the rest.”

That was written 25 years ago, just as the radical Christian right was setting out on their long march to political supremacy. The forces he warned against have gained strength ever since and now control much of the United States government and are on the verge of having it all.

It has to be said that their success has come in no small part because of our acquiescence and timidity. Our democratic values are imperiled because too many people of reason are willing to appease irrational people just because they are pious. Republican moderates tried appeasement and survive today only in gulags set aside for them by the Karl Roves, Bill Frists and Tom DeLays. Democrats are divided and paralyzed, afraid that if they take on the organized radical right they will lose what little power they have. Trying to learn to talk about God as Republicans do, they’re talking gobbledygook, compromising the strongest thing going for them—the case for a moral economy and the moral argument for the secular checks and balances that have made America “a safe haven for the cause of conscience.”

As I look back on the conflicts and clamor of our boisterous past, one lesson about democracy stands above all others: Bullies—political bullies, economic bullies and religious bullies—cannot be appeased; they have to be opposed with a stubbornness to match their own. This is never easy; these guys don’t fight fair; “Robert’s Rules of Order” is not one of their holy texts. But freedom on any front—and especially freedom of conscience—never comes to those who rock and wait, hoping someone else will do the heavy lifting.

[...]


September 10, 2005 at 09:04 PM in Democracy, Favorite Links, Politics, Religion, Rhetoric, Science, Singing the Bite Me Song, Television, War/Terrorism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Maureen Dowd helps eviscerate "Brownie"

Not that help was needed, but it's always fun to pile on the incompetent boob, especially when the White House spinners still refuse to acknowledge what an incompetent boob he is, just like the fellow who appointed him.

One of the great joys in my life is hearing that Bush sound bite "Brownie, you're doing a heckuva job" getting as much repetitive airplay as the Dean scream.

I do wish more people had enough historical context to draw the direct link between political cronyism and power-brokering with corporations and the stated philosophies of fascism back in its day. It's like deja vu all over again, you know?

Link: Neigh to Cronies - New York Times.

Here are some choice bits:

Op-Ed Columnist

Neigh to Cronies

By MAUREEN DOWD Published: September 10, 2005 WASHINGTON

I understand that politicians are wont to put cronies and cupcakes on the payroll.

I just wish they'd stop putting them on the Homeland Security payroll.

[...]

At least Bill Clinton knew not to stash his sweeties in jobs concerned with keeping the nation safe. Gennifer Flowers said that Mr. Clinton got her a $17,500 job in Arkansas in the state unemployment agency, though she was ranked ninth out of 11 applicants tested. And Monica Lewinsky's thong expertise led her to a job as an assistant to the Pentagon press officer.

Gov. James McGreevey of New Jersey had to resign last year after acknowledging that he had elevated his patronage peccadillo, an Israeli poet named Golan Cipel, to be his special assistant on homeland security without even a background check or American citizenship. Mr. Cipel, however, was vastly qualified for his job compared with Michael Brown, who didn't know the difference between a tropical depression and an anxiety attack when President Bush charged him with life-and-death decisions.

W. trusted Brownie simply because he was a friend of a friend. He was a college buddy of Joe Allbaugh, who worked as W.'s chief of staff when he was Texas governor and as his 2000 presidential campaign manager.

It sounds more like a Vince Vaughn-Owen Wilson flick than the story of a man who was to be responsible for the fate of the Republic during the biggest natural disaster in our history. Brownie was a failed former lawyer with a degree from a semiaccredited law school, as The New Republic put it, when he moved to Colorado in 1991 to judge horse judges for the Arabian Horse Association.

He was put out to pasture under pressure in 2001, leaving him free to join his pal Mr. Allbaugh at an eviscerated FEMA. Mr. Allbaugh decided to leave the top job at FEMA and become a lobbyist with clients like Halliburton when the agency was reorganized under Homeland Security, stripping it of authority. Why not, Mr. Allbaugh thought, just pass this obscure sinecure to his homeboy?

Time magazine reported that Brownie's official bio described his only stint in emergency management as "assistant city manager" in Edmond, Okla. But a city official told Time that the FEMA chief had been "an assistant to the city manager," which was "more like an intern."

[...]

The breakdown in management and communications was so execrable that the president learned about the 25,000 desperate, trapped people at the New Orleans convention center not from Brownie, who didn't know himself, but from a wire story carried into the Oval Office by an aide on Thursday, 24 hours after the victims had been pleading and crying for help on every channel. (Maybe tomorrow the aide will come in with a wire story, "No W.M.D. in Iraq.")

"Getting truth on the ground in New Orleans was very difficult," a White House aide told The Times's Elisabeth Bumiller. Not if you had a TV.

[...]

FEMA was a disaster waiting to happen, the minute a disaster struck. As The Washington Post reported Friday, five of the eight top FEMA officials were simply Bush loyalists and political operatives who "came to their posts with virtually no experience in handling disasters."

While many see the hideous rescue failures as disaster apartheid, Barbara Bush and other Republicans have tried to look on the bright side for the victims. The Wall Street Journal reported that Representative Richard Baker of Baton Rouge was overheard telling lobbyists: "We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn't do it, but God did."

[...]

September 10, 2005 at 12:51 PM in Best Essays, Current Affairs, Democracy, Favorite Links, News to Note, Politics, Singing the Bite Me Song, Television | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 08, 2005

I'm just gonna keep repeating this...

"Why did it happen? Who needs to be fired?"

-Aaron Broussard, president of Jefferson Parish, south of New Orleans
 
This quotation should be printed on T-shirts and bumper stickers and spread all over the U.S.

More than that, I just had another brainstorm. As the absurdities of spin continue, as the anger builds, where's the powderkeg? I'm feeling A LOT of ANGER.

All the spin in the world couldn't stop a major second act to the Civil Rights Movement. Tell me, how much anger is out there? Let's channel it into effective non-violent protests and demonstrations. Let's show solidarity with the survivors and the dead on the Gulf Coast, the New Orleans diaspora.

At the very least, let's print lots of T-Shirts and bumper stickers.

Miasma

September 8, 2005 at 08:35 PM in Best Essays, Current Affairs, Democracy, Favorite Links, News to Note, Politics, Singing the Bite Me Song | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 07, 2005

Operation Photo Op in the disaster zone

Michael Berube is nailing some really good points right up there on the wall...

Link: Michael Berube Online.

Operation Cover Our Asses goes into overdrive

As Billmon and Kos point out, these firefighters have been ordered to appear alongside President Katrina Bush as the White House spares no effort in trying to rescue him from the devastation of New Orleans.  And these aren’t just any random firefighters; according to the Salt Lake Tribune, the guys you see above were flown into Biloxi from Atlanta just so that they could flank President K “as he tours devastated areas.”

Now, some of you might object that this little stunt isn’t really an optimal use of first responders.  Some of you might point out that this little stunt leaves Atlanta and other cities with fewer experienced firefighters, as replacements are called up in their stead.  But unless you’re a really cynical SOB, you probably wouldn’t go so far as to imagine that President Katrina’s administration is sticking cities with the bill for those replacements.  Again, from the Salt Lake Tribune:

Also of concern to some of the firefighters is the cost borne by their municipalities in the wake of their absence. Cities are picking up the tab to fill the firefighters’ vacancies while they work 30 days for the federal government.

And only the hypercynical among you would dare to suggest that this photo will do its job—that the Mark Steyns and the Hugh Hewitts and the Jonah Goldbergs will dash to their keyboards and begin gushing about their bold, steely leader rolling up his sleeves (note the sleeve!) and getting to work. For those of you who just can’t imagine that it will get any worse, I leave you with these words from Peggy Noonan:

This, truly, is a good man. And that is a rare thing. Agree with Mr. Bush’s stands or disagree, there can be no doubting the depth of his seriousness and the degree to which he attempts to do what he is convinced is right, and to lead his country toward that vision of rightness. We have had many unusual men as president and some seemed like a gift and some didn’t. Mr. Bush seems uniquely resolved to be as courageous as the times require and as helpful as they allow. There is a profound authenticity to him, and a fearlessness too.

A steady hand on the helm in high seas, a knowledge of where we must go and why, a resolve to achieve safe harbor. More and more this presidency is feeling like a gift.

[...]

September 7, 2005 at 03:41 PM in Favorite Links | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack