Saturday, September 10, 2005

Don't Worry

We are in good hands. Thank the Lord that the disaster relief and reconstruction work will go largely to Bush's good friends! Who needs open bidding! If the good Lord had wanted us to have open bidding he wouldn't have sent us George and his friends.

I read this and my teeth grind each other to white dust:

Companies with ties to the Bush White House and the former head of FEMA are clinching some of the administration's first disaster relief and reconstruction contracts in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

At least two major corporate clients of lobbyist Joe Allbaugh, President George W. Bush's former campaign manager and a former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, have already been tapped to start recovery work along the battered Gulf Coast.

One is Shaw Group Inc. and the other is Halliburton Co. subsidiary Kellogg Brown and Root. Vice President Dick Cheney is a former head of Halliburton.

Bechtel National Inc., a unit of San Francisco-based Bechtel Corp., has also been selected by FEMA to provide short-term housing for people displaced by the hurricane. Bush named Bechtel's CEO to his Export Council and put the former CEO of Bechtel Energy in charge of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation.

Experts say it has been common practice in both Republican and Democratic administrations for policy makers to take lobbying jobs once they leave office, and many of the same companies seeking contracts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina have already received billions of dollars for work in Iraq.

Halliburton alone has earned more than $9 billion. Pentagon audits released by Democrats in June showed $1.03 billion in "questioned" costs and $422 million in "unsupported" costs for Halliburton's work in Iraq.

Just the firms I would have picked up for further payments from the American taxpayers, especially now that Bush has abolished the rule that required federal contractors to pay prevailing wages. And just the reminder we all needed that nothing this administration does is ultimately about anything else than how to grab the most cash.

Saturday Waffling

(For more of my political posts, check out American Street (in the links on the right) today)

I've been so focused on the hurricane unrescue efforts that I haven't had time to write rubbish at all, and I really miss it. Rubbish writing, I mean. Reading it may not be so fun, but writing it is a blast. But disasters make this very hard to do. Still, if I quit now I might never get back in the saddle.

It is a lovely autumn morning here, the sun seeping down between the dark green leaves in rays of pale gold, and it is once again possible to smell the earth and not just its flowers and leaves. I have an autumn switch which seems to have turned on, and suddenly I'm a ball of energy, cleaning and planning and just enjoying the feeling of ripening all around me. I go out and buy the fruit and the vegetables just for their colors and shapes and the kitchen looks glorious. Earthmotherly. This is as close as I ever get to being earthmotherly.

The snakes aren't especially affected by autumn but the dogs are. They get all edgy and even more eager to run, and then they change from spring shedding to fall shedding. Slightly different type of hair can now be found in the corners of the Snakepit Inc.. This morning Hank jumped into the stream and got stuck quite deep in the mud. I had to pull her out (with a slurp sound), and then we were both smelly and brown. Don't give me any wise-cracks here! It wasn't fun to walk back past the popular local soccer game, but luckily Henrietta was as clean and noble-looking as usual, to show that the smelly browniness didn't extend to all of the household.

I'm thinking of painting all the walls brown. This would save on cleaning time. What could I use to cover the pungent smell of boggy water in the mud?


New definition (erase the old ones): Anything proposed by wingnuts and supported by Joseph Lieberman.

Friday, September 09, 2005

And Then The Dogs?

It seems that stray pet dogs in New Orleans are now being shot.

A Little Economics Lesson in Wingnuttia

Courtesy of John Stossel. Excuse me for the long quote but it is needed:

Politicians and the media are furious about price increases in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. They want gas stations and water sellers punished.

If you want to score points cracking down on mean, greedy profiteers, pushing anti-"gouging" rules is a very good thing.

But if you're one of the people the law "protects" from "price gouging," you won't fare as well.

Consider this scenario: You are thirsty -- worried that your baby is going to become dehydrated. You find a store that's open, and the storeowner thinks it's immoral to take advantage of your distress, so he won't charge you a dime more than he charged last week. But you can't buy water from him. It's sold out.

You continue on your quest, and finally find that dreaded monster, the price gouger. He offers a bottle of water that cost $1 last week at an "outrageous" price -- say $20. You pay it to survive the disaster.

You resent the price gouger. But if he hadn't demanded $20, he'd have been out of water. It was the price gouger's "exploitation" that saved your child.

It saved her because people look out for their own interests. Before you got to the water seller, other people did. At $1 a bottle, they stocked up. At $20 a bottle, they bought more cautiously. By charging $20, the price gouger makes sure his water goes to those who really need it.

The people the softheaded politicians think are cruelest are doing the most to help. Assuming the demand for bottled water was going to go up, they bought a lot of it, planning to resell it at a steep profit. If they hadn't done that, that water would not have been available for the people who need it the most.

According to "Professor" Stossel, the black market profiteers in Europe during the WWII did a real favor. They saved all the red meat, cream and eggs and guaranteed that it went to the neediest.

The mistake Stossel makes is not distinguishing the need for water (dehydration and thirst) from the ability to pay for water (wealth). He assumes that everybody has the twenty dollars in their pack pockets, and that those who won't pay the necessary twenty are the ones who are less thirsty, rather than being the ones who are poorer.

Stossel is correct that hoarding can be a problem during disasters. But he advocates more hoarding (by the sellers) as a solution. This is a cruel and unethical solution, making some very rich and causing lack of water elsewhere. What is usually done during disasters of this kind is some kind of rationing. The rationing guarantees that as many people get the water as possible and makes hoarding less likely.

But rationing means intervening with the holy markets, Stossel might grumble. Indeed. There are many reasons for interfering with markets and the economic consequences of disasters are good ones. Those who worship the markets (rather than see them as one tool among many in our economic toolkit) think that markets would function well even if the market distribution would leave all but the wealthiest dead of thirst. Which it would in the case of disasters like Katrina if water became extremely scarce. So remember this when you interpret Stossel's argument that "price gougers save lives".

Today's Bumper Sticker

I saw my first Rapture-sticker today! I'm so excited. It said:"There is no speed limit during rapture". The van with this sticker was parked in the driveway of a very nice suburban house. First dibs on the house!

Friday Dog Blogging


And lots of mess in the background.

Define "Enemy Combatant"

A federal appeals court has ruled that the U.S. government had the authority to order the detention of Jose Padilla, an American citizen, based on him qualifying as an enemy combatant, despite the fact that he has not been accused of any crime.

What this means depends crucially on how the courts define an enemy combatant. What is required for one to be viewed as such? Writing a blog critical of the current administration? I hope not.


Michael Brown has been quasi-fired from his FEMA job:

Michael Brown, the embattled head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, was removed today from a direct role in running the relief and recovery efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Michael Chertoff, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, announced.

Brown, whose agency has been criticized for imposing bureaucratic obstacles to relief efforts even before the winds and rain died down, was being sent back to Washington from Louisiana, where he had been the top on-scene commander of the federal operation.

Why wasn't he kicked out on his arse? Because Bush never makes mistakes in his hiring decisions? Because Brown got him lotsa votes in Florida? Because of what, exactly?

We are all expected to make sacrifices because of Katrina. We are supposed to give to charities, conserve gas, and the workers don't have to get paid prevailing wages in the hurricane-affected areas, not to even mention the much more horrific sacrifices some have made already. But Bush's cronies get a cushy office job as a punishment for being totally incompetent.

And Yet More Incompetency

The Time magazine has done some research on Michael Brown's resume. The FEMA director appears to have padded his achievements a tiny bit. For example:

Under the heading of "Professional Associations and Memberships" on FindLaw, Brown states that from 1983 to the present he has been director of the Oklahoma Christian Home, a nursing home in Edmond. But an administrator with the Home, told TIME that Brown is "not a person that anyone here is familiar with." She says there was a board of directors until a couple of years ago, but she couldn't find anyone who recalled him being on it. According to FEMA's Andrews, Brown said "he's never claimed to be the director of the home. He was on the board of directors, or governors of the nursing home." However, a veteran employee at the center since 1981 says Brown "was never director here, was never on the board of directors, was never executive director. He was never here in any capacity. I never heard his name mentioned here."

And this is the man George Bush appointed to take care of our country, while Joe Lieberman cheered him on.

Then there is this New York Times editorial, sputtering with anger:

The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced this week that it didn't want the news media taking photographs of the dead in New Orleans. A FEMA spokeswoman talked unconvincingly about the dignity of the dead. But the bizarre demand, a creepy echo of the ban on news media coverage of the coffins returning from Iraq, is simply the latest spasm of a gutted federal agency.

Too little, too late.
Link to the Time article via Daily Kos.

And Still More Unrescue

This made me really angry, not that everything else hasn't already. But this is so petty, so greedy, so horribly unempathetic:

President Bush issued an executive order Thursday allowing federal contractors rebuilding in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to pay below the prevailing wage.

In a notice to Congress, Bush said the hurricane had caused "a national emergency" that permits him to take such action under the 1931 Davis-Bacon Act in ravaged areas of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi.

Bush's action came as the federal government moved to provide billions of dollars in aid, and drew rebukes from two of organized labor's biggest friends in Congress, Rep. George Miller of California and Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, both Democrats.

"The administration is using the devastation of Hurricane Katrina to cut the wages of people desperately trying to rebuild their lives and their communities," Miller said.

It's the contractors who will benefit if they can find people desperate enough to work for very little money. And what did Bush sign to curtail the contractors' profits from the hurricane? As far as I know, nothing at all.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

The Ones Who Said No

To the proposed federal aid package intended for the victims of Katrina:

Rep. Joe Barton - TX

Jeff Flake - AZ

Virginia Foxx - NC

Scott Garrett - NJ

John Hostettler - IN

Steve King - IA

Butch Otter - ID

Ron Paul - TX

James Sensenbrenner - WI

Tom Tancredo - CO

Lynn Westmoreland - GA

All are Republicans.

The Day's Philosophical Question

Would it be better if the cockroaches took over from humans?

I'm not sure. If I was a cockroach I'd know what their sense of humor is. I like humor, and I fear that I wouldn't get the cockroach jokes. They'd be all about silly humans suddenly bursting out of the woodwork, all saying that it wasn't their fault. Whatever the "it" might be. I also am too large to find lovers among the cockroaches unless they agree to collaborate.

On the other hand, it wouldn't be that difficult to overperform the humans. Not that difficult, at all. But then there are the beautiful works of human art and the acts of kindness and the sudden lightning strokes of understanding and feeling...the universe. Can cockroaches do that?


This is the blog of a physician who is in Louisiana trying to help with the rescue.
A snippet:

Two NOPD dogs drank from flood water--dead within hours. Cops have chemical burns on exposed skin.

From Daily Kos

An Eyewitness Account

This one is interesting as it records the experiences of paramedics who were stranded in New Orleans while attending a conference. Because of their backgrounds, the writers have a very clear-sighted grasp of the rescue efforts they witnessed and the many blunders they observed.

Just For (Sarcastic) Laughs

Some time ago Rick (the Dick) Santorum said this about the people of New Orleans:

Some prominent Republicans made remarks that fed Democrats' accusations. Asked about the disaster last weekend on Pittsburgh's ABC affiliate WTAE-TV, Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) suggested a law-and-order approach to evacuations. "There may be a need to look at tougher penalties on those who decide to ride it out and understand that there are consequences to not leaving," he said. He later said he was not referring to the one-fifth of people in the disaster area who reportedly did not own automobiles.

I'm so happy that Santorum defined carefully the groups that should be treated harshly if they don't leave. Like this one, perhaps:

"The green expanse of Audubon Park, in the city's Uptown area, has doubled in recent days as a heliport for the city's rich -- and a terminus for the small armies of private security guards who have been dispatched to keep the homes there safe and habitable. Mr. O'Dwyer has cellphone service and ice cubes to cool off his highballs in the evening. By yesterday, the city water service even sprang to life, making the daily trips to his neighbor's pool unnecessary. A pair of oil-company engineers, dispatched by his son-in-law, delivered four cases of water, a box of delicacies including herring with mustard sauce and 15 gallons of generator gasoline."

Mr. O'Dwyer has stubbornly refused to leave, you see.

Getting to the Bottom of It

Aren't you glad to hear that there will be an inquiry into the unrescue effort after Katrina? So good to find out exactly who caused several unnecessary deaths and much suffering. There is just one little snag:

House and Senate GOP leaders announced the "Hurricane Katrina Joint Review Committee," which will include only members of Congress, with Republicans outnumbering Democrats by a yet-to-be-determined ratio. The commission, which will have subpoena powers, will investigate the actions of local, state and federal governments before and after the storm that devastated New Orleans and other portions of the Gulf Coast.

No independents. Given what the recent polls have shown us Republicans appear to believe (without evidence) that Bush did a great job after Katrina. So prepare for the same findings.

More Poll Results

Rasmussen Reports have one out. It says that 45% of the respondents thought the federal government had done a poor job responding to hurricane Katrina. Still,28% think that this job was done excellently or well. So the wingnuts are nearly 30% of all Americans...(assuming the sample is representative, of course).

But this is most interesting:

Even among Republicans, there are significant doubts about the federal response to Katrina. Just 47% of those in President Bush's party say the federal response has been good or excellent. Fifty-one percent say fair or poor.

My faith in humanity is a little restored. For a while there I thought that I had somehow landed in a parallel reality where the heads of people are mostly hollow and there just to have something to hang the eyes and the mouth on.

Unrescue Effort Continues, Relentlessly

Louise Slaughter's office sent me this in an e-mail:

Washington, DC - Tonight, after five weeks vacation, in the wake of what is quickly becoming the worst natural disaster in American history, the Republican Leadership in the House of Representatives made the decision to limit floor consideration of the Federal response to Hurricane Katrina to just forty minutes.

Rep. Louise M. Slaughter (D-NY), Ranking Member of the House Rules Committee, led Democratic opposition to a Rules Committee vote this evening that makes the $52 Billion Supplemental Appropriation bill, a Suspension Rule that will prevent any amendments from being offered and allow for a grand total of 40 minutes of consideration. The bill, which enjoys broad bipartisan support, is expected to pass on the House floor tomorrow.

Republicans on a party line voted to deny Rep. Slaughter's amendment that would have allowed for a modest 2 hours of discussion and opened up the measure to be amended.

Democrats on the Rules Committee and in attendance at the hearing passionately implored the Republicans to allow amendments, which would enable consideration of critical and urgent measures, such as which areas and to which agencies relief dollars were most needed and how to restructure FEMA so that it would be more effective. Members also noted that no one had yet to even see a copy of the legislation.

Note the bit about "no-one having seen a copy of the legislation". So we don't actually know what it contains! Isn't modern politics marvelous in this one-party country.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

More Incompetency Or Unrescue Efforts

In late August the White House had this to say about the hurricane Katrina:

The President today declared an emergency exists in the State of Louisiana and ordered Federal aid to supplement state and local response efforts in the parishes located in the path of Hurricane Katrina beginning on August 26, 2005, and continuing.

The President's action authorizes the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to coordinate all disaster relief efforts which have the purpose of alleviating the hardship and suffering caused by the emergency on the local population, and to provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures, authorized under Title V of the Stafford Act, to save lives, protect property and public health and safety, or to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe in the parishes of Allen, Avoyelles, Beauregard, Bienville, Bossier, Caddo, Caldwell, Claiborne, Catahoula, Concordia, De Soto, East Baton Rouge, East Carroll, East Feliciana, Evangeline, Franklin, Grant, Jackson, LaSalle, Lincoln, Livingston, Madison, Morehouse, Natchitoches, Pointe Coupee, Ouachita, Rapides, Red River, Richland, Sabine, St. Helena, St. Landry, Tensas, Union, Vernon, Webster, West Carroll, West Feliciana, and Winn.

Good, huh? Except that the list of parishes doesn't include the ones that were really hit by Katrina, the coastal ones, you know. If you don't believe me look for Jefferson Parish in that list or check out this map of Louisiana:

Props for the White House report to easy rider on Eschaton threads.
Added: It seems that this is not necessarily incompetency. There is a separate statement for the omitted parishes a few days later. But it is still odd that the safer parishes are covered in the first notice. Thanks for dave in Rubber Hose's comments for the link.

A Gallup On Public Opinions About The Unrescue Operation

It tells us that 42% of the respondents think Bush has done a "terrible" or a "bad" job, while 35% think that his response was "good" or "great". Some of the latter group would have voted Nero the Best Emperor Ever.

And 63% of the respondents think that nobody should be fired for this fiasco. These are much nicer people than yours truly. I'd love to see practically everybody fired, starting with Georgie Porgie. But then I'm a vicious goddess and I also follow the news. Most Americans are kindly people and are fairly oblivious about currrent events.

It could also be that the respondents don't want to assign blame when the country is still suffering greatly. Sadly, this is likely to lead to more suffering in the future. The time for some new brooms is right now.

In California

a bill that would allow same-sex marriage has passed in the California Assembly. But the battle is not over with this victory:

Opponents of gay marriage aim to place a measure on next year's ballot that would amend the state Constitution to include a ban.

The opposition of same-sex marriage has a bunch of arguments which fall, one after the other, like a house of cards, when they are responded to. This makes no difference at all. It just leads to a new round of presenting the same arguments which then again can be refuted. This makes me believe that the real reason so many oppose same-sex marriage is one of those hidden subconscious things. Nothing can be said that would affect the underlying premise of those scared of all change, even when the change has no direct impact on their own lives.

But the California decision must be included in the category of good news. It is the beginning (not counting Masssachusetts's legal decision to the same effect) of many similar decisions, albeit probably only after some decades have passed.

The Real Katrina Timeline

Courtesy of Think Progress. This is good to read, because the wingnut spin consists of an altered timeline; one in which the local and state authorities do nothing and valiant George finally steps in. The real timeline begins like this:


GULF COAST STATES REQUEST TROOP ASSISTANCE FROM PENTAGON: At a 9/1 press conference, Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, commander, Joint Task Force Katrina, said that the Gulf States began the process of requesting additional forces on Friday, 8/26. [DOD]
Saturday, August 27

Read the whole timeline at the link. It's well worth your time.

Understanding FEMA

This Salon article is quite thought-provoking in explaining how FEMA was destroyed:

Indeed, the White House's new response to the political disaster prompted by Katrina -- one in which officials are attempting to blame authorities in Louisiana, rather than in Washington, for the slow aid -- underscores the Bush philosophy. According to Haddow, instead of working with local officials to try to minimize the impacts of an impending storm, the White House has decided its best strategy is to keep its distance from people on the ground. That way if anything goes wrong, the White House can "attack, attack, attack."

We began to see some of these attacks over the weekend. Sunday's Washington Post cited an anonymous Bush administration official who explained that one reason that the federal government didn't intervene more quickly in Louisiana was because Kathleen Blanco, the state's Democratic governor, failed to declare a state of emergency there, a necessary step for federal help to flow. An article in Newsweek repeats the same claim.

But there's a problem with the White House's excuse: It's patently false. As Josh Marshall points out, Blanco declared a state of emergency on Aug. 26 -- a day before Bush declared a federal emergency in Louisiana. (You can see Blanco's official declaration in PDF format here; the Washington Post has corrected its article.) On Aug. 28 -- the day before Katrina made landfall -- Blanco followed her declaration with an official letter (PDF) to Bush that requested all manner of emergency supplies her state would need for the aftermath.

Haddow says that these requests should have been enough -- more than enough -- to prompt a full-scale federal response. Under the Clinton administration's FEMA, with Witt as the head, a storm of Katrina's magnitude would have prompted federal and state officials to actually meet in order to coordinate their response. "You were all working together to anticipate needs," Haddow says. "You're all sitting in the same room when the things happened -- the Midwest flood, the Northridge quake, the Oklahoma City bombing and all the disasters we responded to. We were in the same room together and nobody had to point fingers."

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Some More Unrescue News

You might be glad to learn that contractors interested in post-disaster jobs don't have to worry about open bidding:

The vast majority of emergency contracts are being awarded outside of the centralized posting system that is normally required. Indeed, on its home page, FedBizOpps states, "Due to the immediacy of emergency opportunities, it is unlikely that opportunities dealing with the hurricanes will be advertised through the FedBizOpps system."

Understandable, perhaps. But which firms will be informed about these opportunities? And what prices will be set? Who monitors this? Anyone?

Then there is the internal FEMA memo which according to Josh Marshall shows that:

Michael Brown, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, sought the approval from Homeland Security Secretary Mike Chertoff roughly five hours after Katrina made landfall on Aug. 29. Brown said that among duties of these employees was to "convey a positive image" about the government's response for victims. Before then, FEMA had positioned smaller rescue and communications teams across the Gulf Coast. But officials acknowledged Tuesday the first department-wide appeal for help came only as the storm raged."

Michael Brown isn't the only FEMA director without any relevant work experience. It turns out that his number three is equally inexperienced:

Before joining FEMA in 2001, Brown, a protege of longtime Bush aide Joseph Allbaugh, was commissioner of the International Arabian Horse Association and had virtually no experience in disaster management.

An official biography of Brown's top aide, acting deputy director Patrick Rhode, doesn't list any disaster relief experience.

The department's No. 3 official, acting deputy chief of staff Brooks Altshuler, also does not have emergency management experience, according to FEMA spokeswoman Natalie Rule.

Scott Morris, who had been the agency's third in command until May, also lacked a background in disaster preparedness, according to his official FEMA biography.

Business Boom After Katrina

Yes, my title is sick, but I feel sick. The one business that will be doing well is the mortuary business:

A co-owner of Shelbyville-based Gowen-Smith Chapel has been deployed to Gulfport, Miss., to help with recovery since Hurricane Katrina, and his business partner here has described the grim task there.

"DMort is telling us to expect up to 40,000 bodies," Dan Buckner said, quoting officials with the Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team, a volunteer arm of Homeland Security.

From Aladdinslamp on Eschaton threads.

Some Good News

From Talk Left:

In the chaos that was Causeway Boulevard, this group of refugees stood out: a 6-year-old boy walking down the road, holding a 5-month-old, surrounded by five toddlers who followed him around as if he were their leader.

They were holding hands. Three of the children were about 2 years old, and one was wearing only diapers. A 3-year-old girl, who wore colorful barrettes on the ends of her braids, had her 14-month-old brother in tow. The 6-year-old spoke for all of them, and he told rescuers his name was Deamonte Love.

Maybe he could be the next head of FEMA?
Props to w00t on the Eschaton threads.

The Deep Question of the Day

Why does Michael Brown, the ex-commissioner of the International Arabian Horses Association, still have the job of running FEMA?

The White House is rejecting calls to fire the nation's top disaster chief in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
Critics are questioning whether Michael Brown is qualified to head up the Federal Emergency Management Agency -- which is being blamed for a slow federal response to the storm.
White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan says "enormous progress" has been made since the storm hit eight days ago.

The Blame Game Begins

Kos has the e-mail that has been circulating this morning, with the wingnut plan set out clearly. The blame is going to be put on bureaucracy (which somehow miraculously has nothing to do with Bush), the local and state authorities in Louisiana (because they are Democrats), on political correctness (???) and the socialist (!!!) government of New Orleans. The heroes are going to be FEMA and our fearless leader. Sorry, I have no brown vomit bags.

Kos also points out that all right-wing talk shows had the script this morning. Shows some mighty hierarchical authority. Too bad it wasn't rolled out to fight Katrina.

Disrespectful to the President?

I just received this in an e-mail. It argues that the Fox network turned down a political ad as disrespectful to the president:

Today, Brian Ellner, a former School Board President and candidate for Manhattan Borough President, responded to Fox network's decision to ban his campaign commercial.

Although Fox refuses to submit a formal defense of its censorship, network representatives have informed the Ellner campaign that the ad was rejected because Fox views it as disrespectful to the president. All other networks have accepted the ad.

"Fox claims that this ad is disrespectful to the President. What is truly disrespectful to Manhattan voters is to deny them the chance to hear a serious message from a candidate for public office," Ellner said. "This is censorship and it's un-American."

The commercial can be viewed at Manhattan voters will still have the opportunity to see it on other networks as well as many cable channels. Ellner's media buy of nearly $300,000 is by far the largest in the race for Borough President.

The ad received national praise when it was released last week as the first political television spot in America in which a gay candidate appears with his or her partner. In the 48 hours following its release, the Ellner campaign received a flood of contributions from across the nation.

Ellner, a former President of the District 2 School Board in Manhattan, has dedicated his career as an attorney to standing up for equal rights and civil rights. As Borough President, he will be Manhattan's most forceful advocate for progressive values like affordable housing, neighborhood preservation and real education reform. He will also fight for marriage equality, stem cell research and to protect a woman's fundamental right to choose.

The Heretik has a picture which certainly would qualify as disrespectful:

To Marie Antoinette at least.

The Bright Side of Life After A Hurricane

From New York Times:

HOUSTON, Sept. 5 - Perhaps no city in the United States is in a better spot than Houston to turn Katrina's tragedy into opportunity. And businesses here are already scrambling to profit in the hurricane's aftermath.

Oil services companies based here are racing to carry out repairs to damaged offshore platforms in the Gulf of Mexico; the promise of plenty of work to do sent shares in two large companies, Halliburton and Baker Hughes, soaring to 52-week highs last week. The Port of Houston is preparing for an increase in traffic as shippers divert cargoes away from the damaged ports of Pascagoula, Miss., and New Orleans.

Owners of office space here are witnessing a surge in leasing as New Orleans companies, including that city's oldest bank, scramble to set up new headquarters in Houston, helping to shore up its sagging property market. With brio that might make an ambulance-chaser proud, one company, National Realty Investments, is offering special financing deals "for hurricane survivors only," with no down payments and discounted closing costs.

All this, of course, is capitalism at work, moving quickly to get resources to where they are needed most. And those who move fastest are likely to do best.

Meanwhile, even small businesses and cheap hotels are benefiting from the population surge, which could total up to 250,000 people. Some hardware stores have sold out their entire supply of gasoline cans and generators to people preparing for an eventual return to the devastated region.

"It feels like the only things left in south Louisiana are snakes and alligators," said John E. Olson, co-manager of Houston Energy Partners, a hedge fund that operates out of a skyscraper downtown. "Houston is positioned for a boom."

Long known for its commercial fervor, Houston is the largest city in the South and has a metropolitan population of more than four million. It has one of the nation's busiest ports and remains unrivaled as a center for the American energy industry.

Halliburton, for instance, moved its headquarters to Houston from Dallas in 2003, joining dozens of companies based here that provide services for oil and natural gas producers.

Halliburton differs from many oil services companies in that it also does significant business with the federal government. The company, which has contracts in Iraq, has a contract with the Navy that has already kept it busy after Hurricane Katrina. The company's KBR unit was doing repairs and cleanup at three naval facilities in Mississippi last week.

Halliburton was also planning to go to New Orleans to start repairs at other naval facilities as soon as it was considered safe to do so, Cathy Mann, a spokeswoman, said.

(Bolds mine.)

Those Halliburton boys must have been born covered in Teflon. Nothing sticks to them. Doesn't matter how they have performed in Iraq, for example. The sun always shines on them. So does the federal government.

Monday, September 05, 2005


His latest blog entry is well worth reading, though you may not want to do so if your anger quotient has been exceeded.

The Culture of Affluence

Via Eschaton, I learned about this little interview with Barbara Bush, the mother of our fearless leader:

In a segment at the top of the show on the surge of evacuees to the Texas city, Barbara Bush said: "Almost everyone I've talked to says we're going to move to Houston."

Then she added: "What I'm hearing is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality.

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

The silver-foot-in-the-mouth disease appears to be herited.

I don't usually blog about the family members of politicians, because they are private individuals, not politicians, and it seems wrong to me to expose them to the harsh limelight of my viper tongue (what an idiom!). But I'm going to make an exception this time. Barbara Bush is such a good example of the consequences of "the culture of affluence", that dire disease that makes its members phlegmatic, smug and self-satisfied, despite the fact that they know nothing about how the rest of humanity lives.

Perhaps for her everything about life is money. Else how to interpret her assumption that individuals who have been forcibly separated from their family, their friends and the place they called home should be happy because now they are somewhere like a football arena? After all, their houses could never have been that big! And food is just being carried to their cots!

It is funny, for someone who suffers from the "culture of affluence" syndrome. Too bad that we can't help Barbara. We don't have the resources for that.

Roberts Nominated for Chief Justice

That was quick, quicker than Bush's response to the hurricane. Let us be thankful for small mercies.

Why so quick? Could it be because:

Getting a new chief justice of Bush's choosing in place quickly also avoids the scenario of having liberal Justice John Paul Stevens making the decisions about whom to assign cases to and making other decisions that could influence court deliberations. As the court's senior justice, Stevens would take over Rehnquist's administrative duties until a new chief is confirmed.


And Even More on the Unrescue Effort

From Washington Monthly:

NORTHCOM AND KATRINA....Last time I checked, naval officers aren't in the habit of criticizing their commander in chief no matter how many punches they have to absorb in the process. It appears, however, that Lt. Commander Sean Kelly, a Pentagon spokesman for Northern Command, didn't get the memo. Asked why Northcom hadn't reponded to Hurricane Katrina more quickly, he accidentally told the truth:

Northcom started planning before the storm even hit....We had the USS Bataan sailing almost behind the hurricane so once the hurricane made landfall, its search and rescue helicopters could be available almost immediately So, we had things ready.

The only caveat is: we have to wait until the president authorizes us to do so. The laws of the United States say that the military can't just act in this fashion; we have to wait for the president to give us permission.

For your information.

On Race And Disasters

New Orleans is a predominantly black city and most of the poor who stayed behind are black. So are most of the armed looters we see on television. This has opened a crack for the old (but always present though suppressed) discussion on race. The wingnuts are getting more and more courageous in offering the explanation that it's the race of the sufferers that is the problem, not their poverty or the ineptitude of the rescue effort:

Many conservative thinkers espouse a race-neutral analysis. Racism doesn't cause poverty, they say, poverty is the result of a pattern of dependency that has set in among poor blacks.

In New Orleans, "you are dealing with the permanently poor -- people who don't have jobs, are not used to getting up and organizing themselves and getting things done and for whom sitting and waiting is a way of life," says Linda Chavez, president of the Center for Equal Opportunity and a former head of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.

"This is a natural disaster that is exacerbated by the problems of the underclass. The chief cause of poverty today among blacks is no longer racism. It is the breakdown of the traditional family."

John McWhorter, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, cautions against the use of the "nasty, circular, unprovable" argument of race because "this is a matter of the incompetence of the American infrastructure. It's not a matter of somebody in Washington deciding we don't need to rush [to New Orleans] because they're all poor jungle bunnies anyway."

Indeed, there are poor people who just sit and wait. There are even rich people who just sit and wait, for their trust funds to mature, say. And there is a lot of crime among the poor, although there is crime among the rich, too, though then it is named "white collar crime" and punished less often and less heavily. Lack of education goes with lack of money, and lack of education makes it a lot harder to make informed decisions about anything.

A long time ago I read our favorite crackpot, Charles Murray, pontificate on the topic of poverty. He argued that anyone who is poor could at least keep his or her family clean and reading Shakespeare. This is one of the Victorian arguments about poverty, the idea that the poor could otherwise be like us, the wealthy, if they only tried. That they don't try shows that they are not like us and probably deserve to be poor.

Murray's argument is a naive one as anyone who has ever been without food for a while knows. Lack of food tends to do things to the body and the mind which cause fatigue, and fatigue causes frayed nerves and bad decisions. And more fatigue. Anyone who has worked two jobs at the same time knows that keeping the house clean isn't going to happen, that reading Shakespeare is not very likely. Energy is limited in its total amount, and the more of it we need for mere survival the less of it remains for all the little niceties of life that Murray so values.

So New Orleans isn't about how blacks are somehow intrinsically different from whites or how the poor somehow are causing their own poverty and violence. But New Orleans definitely is about race, about our inability to provide adequate education and opportunities for all children, about our segregated neighborhoods, about lack of will which feeds back to racial perceptions.

I happen to believe that there is something like "a culture of poverty", just as there is something like a "culture of unearned wealth". Neither is wholly pretty, but both have their purposes: to help a person survive in the environment in which he or she is stranded. But these cultures are not some independent thing sprouting from the genetic memories of their participants; they are a consequence of the societal arrangements and they can be influenced. In France, it is the Muslims who have "a culture of poverty" because it is the Muslims who are the underclass, the recent immigrants, the ones who stand out in their difference. In other countries these cultures are sometimes attached to people of the same race and religion as the rest of the society, but they are set apart by the poverty of the group itself. In short, "a culture of poverty" is not an explanation for what we see. For that we need to dig deeper.

But it isn't necessary to dig very deep to find the "culture of racism" (my term) that permeates so much of the discussion of the conservative right. It is nowadays expressed in careful terms, with nary a whiff of actual racist terms, but it is still offered as an excuse, an explanation that will allow the majority to continue ignoring the plight of the minorities. Because anything that is intractable or caused by something in the minorities cannot be affected by the rest of us. Which allows us to keep our money and our gated communities and so on. And our neat and clean consciences.

Time Running Out

So reports CNN:

Time is running out for thousands of people awaiting rescue six days after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, rescuers say.

Officials say they do not have the manpower, the resources or enough time to save everyone.

"My guys are coming back and telling me, 'Sir, I went into a house, and there are three elderly people in their beds, and they're gasping, and they're dying,' " Coast Guard Capt. Bruce Jones said.

"And we got calls today, 'We need you ... to go to a place in St. Bernard Parish. It's a hospice, ... and there are 10 dead and there are 10 dying.' But those people were probably alive yesterday or the day before."

Though pilots, rescue crew members and maintenance workers are red-eyed and exhausted, they're refusing to rest, CNN's Karl Penhaul reported.

For every person plucked from the flood, there are hundreds still waiting, rescuers say. (Watch a report on rescue efforts -- 3:10)

"There's simply not enough resources," Jones said.

"It's an awful feeling to know you've not got everybody in time," rescue swimmer Chris Monville said. "You're trying to get everybody out. But in these temperatures the weak and the sick expire first, and it tears at your heart."

Monville said he has rescued 126 people in a single day.

This is terrible if true. What about employing volunteers who have the necessary skills? What about asking foreign nations for their teams trained in similar rescues? Are we really this short of personnel that we are going to let people die? Where are all the skilled rescue teams?

The Real Rescue Effort

This will cover how to rescue George Bush's skin. The plan seems to be as follows:

1. Rewind the machines so as to make Bush look like he cares. Send him back to Louisiana on Monday, even if that stops all real rescue efforts for the duration.

2. Blame Louisiana governor Blanco for the ineptitude. She's a Democrat and a woman, so this is an excellent strategy. Find out later if she had any blame to share, actually.

3. Don't talk about the past. Talk about what is happening right now: "Look! All those military people are going into New Orleans! Isn't that wonderful!"

Or in slightly different words:

Mr. Bush is to return to Louisiana and Mississippi on Monday; his first visit, on Friday, left some Republicans cringing, in part because the president had little contact with residents left homeless.

Republicans said the administration's effort to stanch the damage had been helped by the fact that convoys of troops and supplies had begun to arrive by the time the administration officials turned up. All of those developments were covered closely on television.

In many ways, the unfolding public relations campaign reflects the style Mr. Rove has brought to the political campaigns he has run for Mr. Bush. For example, administration officials who went on television on Sunday were instructed to avoid getting drawn into exchanges about the problems of the past week, and to turn the discussion to what the government is doing now.

"We will have time to go back and do an after-action report, but the time right now is to look at what the enormous tasks ahead are," Michael Chertoff, the secretary of Homeland Security, said on "Meet the Press" on NBC.

One Republican with knowledge of the effort said that Mr. Rove had told administration officials not to respond to Democratic attacks on Mr. Bush's handling of the hurricane in the belief that the president was in a weak moment and that the administration should not appear to be seen now as being blatantly political. As with others in the party, this Republican would discuss the deliberations only on condition of anonymity because of keen White House sensitivity about how the administration and its strategy would be perceived.

In a reflection of what has long been a hallmark of Mr. Rove's tough political style, the administration is also working to shift the blame away from the White House and toward officials of New Orleans and Louisiana who, as it happens, are Democrats.

This rescue will be run very competently. You will see. But it shouldn't work, because the hurricane of incompetence is still totally uncontained in Washington, D.C..

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Passing the Buck

It has started. The White House is blaming the state and local authorities for the mess. The Washington Post reports this:

Behind the scenes, a power struggle emerged, as federal officials tried to wrest authority from Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D). Shortly before midnight Friday, the Bush administration sent her a proposed legal memorandum asking her to request a federal takeover of the evacuation of New Orleans, a source within the state's emergency operations center said Saturday.

The administration sought unified control over all local police and state National Guard units reporting to the governor. Louisiana officials rejected the request after talks throughout the night, concerned that such a move would be comparable to a federal declaration of martial law. Some officials in the state suspected a political motive behind the request. "Quite frankly, if they'd been able to pull off taking it away from the locals, they then could have blamed everything on the locals," said the source, who does not have the authority to speak publicly.

A senior administration official said that Bush has clear legal authority to federalize National Guard units to quell civil disturbances under the Insurrection Act and will continue to try to unify the chains of command that are split among the president, the Louisiana governor and the New Orleans mayor.

Louisiana did not reach out to a multi-state mutual aid compact for assistance until Wednesday, three state and federal officials said. As of Saturday, Blanco still had not declared a state of emergency, the senior Bush official said.

"The federal government stands ready to work with state and local officials to secure New Orleans and the state of Louisiana," White House spokesman Dan Bartlett said. "The president will not let any form of bureaucracy get in the way of protecting the citizens of Louisiana."

Then, at the top of this article the Post has added a little correction which states this:

Correction to This Article
A Sept. 4 article on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina incorrectly said that Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D) had not declared a state of emergency. She declared an emergency on Aug. 26.

She also accepted help from other states last Monday:

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson offered Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco help from his state's National Guard on Sunday, the day before Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana. Blanco accepted, but paperwork needed to get the troops en route didn't come from Washington until late Thursday.

And she asked for federal help before the hurricane hit.

I don't know how Blanco's performance should be evaluated, but this whole thing is clearly an attempt to make her the scapegoat of all that has gone wrong, including the mistakes of the FEMA. This is just wrong, even if it is sweet to the ears of the wingnuts who dislike women in power and root for them to fail. In this particular case there are plenty of good ole boys failing.
Thanks to bg in the comments for the WaPo link.


We need those, too. I just went out and had a sundae which I created myself. Here's the recipe: one scoop of chocolate ice-cream, one slurp of chocolate sauce, as many M&Ms as fit into the bowl. Eat with a spoon or your tongue.

It was good.

My Labrador retriever no longer dances on three legs. All the four are functional now and tomorrow she will be allowed off-leash for the first time in ten days. She has most likely gained a pound or two as I didn't have the heart to cut back her food as much as her exercize has been cut, but as she's hell on wheels, usually, she will probably lose them tomorrow in the chase for her George Bush chewtoy or the many tennis balls she finds in the park. About once a month I re-seed the park with twenty or so tennis balls, and then Hank goes back to collecting them. Doesn't cost anything, either, as they were never my tennis balls to begin with.

And one day, soon, I will even clean the house. Right now I only clean those bits that keep staring at me with blameful eyes, but once some peace returns to the blogosphere I will be out there with a blowtorch and a pressure washer and the Snakepit Inc. will shine again. Who am I kidding here? But it sounds good.

Deaths On A Bridge In New Orleans

From the Associated Press, apparently the New Orleans police shot at eight people carrying guns on the Danziger bridge, killing five or six of them.

There is a rumor that these people were contractors, but I have so far been unable to verify or falsify the rumor.

Update: It seems that the people shot at were not contractors, but those who had shot at the contractors:

As authorities struggled to keep order, police shot and killed at least five people Sunday after gunmen opened fire on a group of contractors traveling across a bridge on their way to make repairs, Deputy Police Chief W.J. Riley said.

Fourteen contractors were traveling across the Danziger Bridge under police escort when they came under fire, said John Hall, a spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers. None of the contractors was killed, Hall said.

The bridge spans a canal connecting Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi River.
No other details, including whether any of the gunmen were killed, were immediately available.

Body Count

Will we get one? And when will we get it? Will it be done objectively?

This administration has made me into the goddess of the paranoid, and I am now fearing that we will never know how many died because of Katrina and the ineptitude that followed and preceded her monsterous passing through Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

But we have to demand an objective count. It is important to know what the price has been.

News About The Unrescue Effort

Today's Meet the Press was full of them. Here is the president of Jefferson parish:

MR. BROUSSARD: Sir, they were told like me, every single day, "The cavalry's coming," on a federal level, "The cavalry's coming, the cavalry's coming, the cavalry's coming." I have just begun to hear the hoofs of the cavalry. The cavalry's still not here yet, but I've begun to hear the hoofs, and we're almost a week out.

Let me give you just three quick examples. We had Wal-Mart deliver three trucks of water, trailer trucks of water. FEMA turned them back. They said we didn't need them. This was a week ago. FEMA--we had 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel on a Coast Guard vessel docked in my parish. The Coast Guard said, "Come get the fuel right away." When we got there with our trucks, they got a word. "FEMA says don't give you the fuel." Yesterday--yesterday--FEMA comes in and cuts all of our emergency communication lines. They cut them without notice. Our sheriff, Harry Lee, goes back in, he reconnects the line. He posts armed guards on our line and says, "No one is getting near these lines." Sheriff Harry Lee said that if America--American government would have responded like Wal-Mart has responded, we wouldn't be in this crisis.

But I want to thank Governor Blanco for all she's done and all her leadership. She sent in the National Guard. I just repaired a breach on my side of the 17th Street canal that the secretary didn't foresee, a 300-foot breach. I just completed it yesterday with convoys of National Guard and local parish workers and levee board people. It took us two and a half days working 24/7. I just closed it.

MR. RUSSERT: All right.

MR. BROUSSARD: I'm telling you most importantly I want to thank my public employees...

MR. RUSSERT: All right.

MR. BROUSSARD: ...that have worked 24/7. They're burned out, the doctors, the nurses. And I want to give you one last story and I'll shut up and let you tell me whatever you want to tell me. The guy who runs this building I'm in, emergency management, he's responsible for everything. His mother was trapped in St. Bernard nursing home and every day she called him and said, "Are you coming, son? Is somebody coming?" And he said, "Yeah, Mama, somebody's coming to get you. Somebody's coming to get you on Tuesday. Somebody's coming to get you on Wednesday. Somebody's coming to get you on Thursday. Somebody's coming to get you on Friday." And she drowned Friday night. She drowned Friday night.

MR. RUSSERT: Mr. President...

MR. BROUSSARD: Nobody's coming to get us. Nobody's coming to get us. The secretary has promised. Everybody's promised. They've had press conferences. I'm sick of the press conferences. For God sakes, shut up and send us somebody.

Britain is offering us help for the victims of Katrina. And we? What are we doing? Here's the answer:

British families trapped in New Orleans last night claimed that US authorities had refused to evacuate them as Hurricane Katrina approached the city.

Although assistance was offered to US residents, British nationals were told they would have to fend for themselves. According to those who remain stranded in the stricken city, police had visited hotels and guest houses on the eve of the hurricane offering to evacuate Americans, but not Britons.

And then there is the story of the eighteen-year old who took a bus in New Orleans and filled it with evacuees. He then drove the bus to Texas and thus saved about a hundred people. What is he getting for his efforts? Supposedly he is in prison, waiting a court visit:

Eighteen-year-old Jabbor Gibson jumped aboard the bus as it sat abandoned on a street in New Orleans and took control.

"I just took the bus and drove all the way hours straight,' Gibson admitted. "I hadn't ever drove a bus."

The teen packed it full of complete strangers and drove to Houston. He beat thousands of evacuees slated to arrive there.

"It's better than being in New Orleans," said fellow passenger Albert McClaud, "we want to be somewhere where we're safe."

During a long and impatient delay, children popped their heads out of bus windows and mothers clutched their babies.

One 8-day-old infant spent the first days of his life surrounded by chaos. He's one of the many who are homeless and hungry.

Authorities eventually allowed the renegade passengers inside the dome.

But the 18-year-old who ensured their safety could find himself in a world of trouble for stealing the school bus.

"I dont care if I get blamed for it ," Gibson said, "as long as I saved my people."

Well, it seems like you will be blamed for it, Jabbor.

Everything points out to an effort to keep order and to keep property safe. Human lives (and animal lives) are worthless, troubling, something that shouldn't be mentioned at all. A bus is more important than one hundred, mostly black and poor lives. But a bus doesn't have a soul, can't suffer, doesn't feel pain. It's worth some money, though, and these people appear to be worth nothing.

What has been missing from the powers-that-be in FEMA and the federal government in general is empathy. I see not one speck of it anywhere.

Chief Justice Rehnquist Died

According to Los Angeles Times:

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist died Saturday evening at his home in suburban Virginia, said Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg.

A statement from the spokeswoman said he was surrounded by his three children when he died in Arlington.

"The Chief Justice battled thyroid cancer since being diagnosed last October and continued to perform his dues on the court until a precipitous decline in his health the last couple of days," she said.

Rehnquist was appointed to the Supreme Court as an associate justice in 1971 by President Nixon and took his seat on Jan. 7, 1982. He was elevated to chief justice by President Reagan in 1986.

His death ends a remarkable 33-year Supreme Court career during which Rehnquist oversaw the court's conservative shift, presided over an impeachment trial and helped decide a presidential election.

The death President Bush his second court opening within pour months and sets up what's expected to be an even more bruising Senate confirmation battle than that of John Roberts.

I don't know what to say. This will be a most interesting fall season, I guess. Possibly also the beginning of the imperial era of the United States. Nothing good will come out of this, that is certain. The Vichy Democrats are not going to be of any help, either.