September 30, 2005

This Old House

Ah, the joys of a 36-year-old house. Both sets of faucets in the upstairs bathroom are starting to leak, and they're both more or less frozen in place. Anticipating that I may break the entire mechanism when I try to remove them, I just went looking for replacements at Home Depot and the local hardware place. Trouble is, they're 8-inch centers, and that's currently out of fashion, it seems; most of the new faucets are the 4-inch center variety. The few 8-inchers are pretty old-fashioned and ugly (and pricey, since they're relatively rare). Pfui.

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September 29, 2005

"Lost" guess

Thesis: that Hurley's friend from the mental institution was an escaped Other.

Evidence: His knowledge of the numbers and their sequence; the recurrence of the numbers as pronounced by Desmond in order to reset the clock in the apartment at the bottom of the hatch.

Discuss.

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The poor don't vote for me

In an article discussing a fight in the Senate about funding Medicaid for Katrina/Rita victims, here's one of the more ludicrous remarks I've seen:

Sununu told senators the time had come to exercise greater caution in the relief effort.

"We need to do much more to try to find ways to cover this additional spending so we do not increase the deficit and leave an unfortunate financial legacy for future generations," he said.

Right. Senator, how did you vote on the Bush tax cuts which have added to the deficit? How have you voted on funding the Iraq War, which has also added to the deficits?

Spare me the hypocrisy. You and your "fiscal conservative" cohorts are all about giving money to the defense industry and your wealthy contributors, and the hell with people who really need it.

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September 28, 2005

Justice maybe not delayed?

Hallelujah! Delay indicted!

I feel a sudden urge to sing the kind of ditty that invokes the spring

So, control your desire to curse while I crucify the verse

This verse Ive started seems to me the "tin pan-tithesis" of melody

So to spare you all the pain, Ill skip the darn thing and sing the refrain

The night is young, the skies are clear

And if you want to go walkin, dear

Its delightful, its delicious, its de-lovely

I understand the reason why

Youre sentimental, cause so am i

Its delightful, its delicious, its de-lovely

You can tell at a glance what a swell night this is for romance

You can hear, dear mother nature murmuring low "let yourself go"

So please be sweet, my chickadee

And when I kiss ya, just say to me

"its delightful, its delicious, its delectable, its delirious,

Its dilemma, its de limit, its deluxe, its de-lovely"

You can tell at a glance what a swell night this is for romance

You can hear dear mother nature murmuring low "let yourself go"

So please be sweet, my chickadee

And when I kiss ya, just say to me

"its delightful, its delicious, its delectable, its delirious,

Its dilemma, its de limit, its deluxe, its de-lovely"

Lyrics by Cole Porter.

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September 27, 2005

That's unusual

I was watching "No Direction Home" last night, and I noticed that Dylan was using a capo on his electric guitar. I don't think I've ever seen anyone use a capo on a Fender before.

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September 26, 2005

Would you believe...?

From the NYT: Bush Calls for Less Driving.

Mr. Bush's comments, while similar to remarks he made shortly after the disruption from Hurricane Katrina pushed gasoline prices sharply higher, were particularly notable because the administration has long emphasized new production over conservation. It has also opted not to impose higher mileage standards on automakers.

I'd take him a lot more seriously if he'd said to Detroit, "Look. I know you guys make thousands per car on SUVs, but your country can't afford to use the amount of gas they require. So figure out how to make them run as hybrids. Oh, and by the way, I'm gonna demand that Congress institute CAFE standards that actually encourage you to build smaller cars. The only people who need Hummers are in Iraq."

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September 25, 2005

Library Thing, updated

George Bush talks about "hard work." Ha! He's never tried to put his book collection into Library Thing! The ISBN system wasn't fully implemented until 1970 or thereabouts, and some of my books are way older than that. That means doing lookups by typing in the title and author name, which slows down the process. Nonetheless, it's an enlightening exercise. I find it very hard to believe, for example, that I'm the only person in the 4,500-user universe who has a copy of "The Complete Works of Shakespeare, with illustrations by Rockwell Kent." So far, though, that's what it tells me. I've got 200 books in there at this point, and I'm not even done with two shelves. You can see my profile here; there's a link to my catalog on that page.

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Score one (or 101)

How does a director work popular music into his/her film? Cameron Crowe explains. Sure, it's partly a plug for his new work "Elizabethtown," but it's still interesting.

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September 24, 2005

What's next?

From the NYT: Torture routine in Iraq, say members of the 82nd Airborne.

Three former members of the Army's 82nd Airborne Division say soldiers in their battalion in Iraq routinely beat and abused prisoners in 2003 and 2004 to help gather intelligence on the insurgency and to amuse themselves.

[snip]

"We would give them blows to the head, chest, legs and stomach, and pull them down, kick dirt on them," one sergeant told Human Rights Watch researchers during one of four interviews in July and August. "This happened every day."

The sergeant continued: "Some days we would just get bored, so we would have everyone sit in a corner and then make them get in a pyramid. This was before Abu Ghraib but just like it. We did it for amusement."

He said he had acted under orders from military intelligence personnel to soften up detainees, whom the unit called persons under control, or PUC's, to make them more cooperative during formal interviews.

One of these guys spent 17 months (!) trying to get his superior officers to take action, and when nothing happened he spoke to Human Rights Watch. Their report is here.

I hate what my country has become.

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September 23, 2005

No, No! Must not expand programs!

When you hear Newt Gingrich sounding like a reasonable individual, you know one of two things: either you've drifted way right, or his party has gone off and left him.

"The idea that — in a community where we could place people in the private housing market to reintegrate them into society — we would put them in [trailer] ghettos with no jobs, no community, no future, strikes me as extraordinarily bad public policy, and violates every conservative principle that I'm aware of," said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Republican.

"If they do it," Gingrich said of administration officials, "they will look back on it six months from now as the greatest disaster of this administration."

He's talking about the Bush Administration's idea to buy thousands of trailers to house Katrina-displaced people, rather than offer them cash to rent ordinary apartments. Why would they want to do this? Why, of course! Doing the latter might prove the worth of already-existing programs that they really really want to cut.

"Once you begin to expand any entitlement, it's very hard to pull back," said Grace-Marie Turner, a health policy analyst and president of the conservative Galen Institute.

Turner raised particular concerns about the bipartisan Senate Medicaid plan, which would expand who could get coverage and require Washington to pay the full cost of the program, including amounts normally covered by states, for up to 10 months. If the plan were adopted, she said, "then every state that has reason to declare an emergency will want full federal funding for Medicaid as well…. It would be very hard to say no."

God forbid you should try to do what's right for the citizens of the country you're supposed to be leading; your ideology is much more important.

Criminals.

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Rita and Houston

The Houston Chronicle has a couple of blogs up pertaining to Rita: Hurricane Rita and Stormwatchers. The first is general info, the second is a group blog of people who are staying behind in the city.

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September 22, 2005

Befuddled

So who watched "Lost" and now has even more questions than before the season started?

(raises hand)

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September 21, 2005

Personal library

Ok, book lovers. This may be the bestest thing yet on the internets. Go over to Library Thing and sign up. You can catalog your first 200 books free and pay $10 for a lifetime (!!) membership to add more than that. Forget those old Excel spreadsheets or Filemaker databases; this is the way to go. All it takes is a username and password, and you can be as anonymous as you like (in case you're embarrassed by the Zane Grey titles you have in your collection). You can browse other collections. You can even determine who else owns the same book you do. Nifty, nifty, nifty.

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September 20, 2005

I got your priorities right here

Osama who? From a WaPo story: "Congress began funding the obscenity initiative in fiscal 2005 and specified that the FBI must devote 10 agents to adult pornography."

Public corruption is fourth on the FBI's priority list. Hmm. Then I suppose it's a good thing they managed to arrest the top procurement guy at GSA before he bought sexually explicit material (is that on Halliburton's product list?).

More evidence of the growing theocracy in this country.

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September 19, 2005

God help us

FEMA still can't perform its principal function on the ground, but by golly it's gonna get its PR act together:

FEMA, realizing the need to shore up its public image, has issued a call for help on the spin front. Butch Kinerney of the FEMA headquarters public affairs office has asked flacks at agencies around the country for help, "especially folks with emergency management backgrounds who can travel quickly to DC and/or to affected areas."

Right now, "FEMA will pay for all of your transportation and lodging, but we can't pay your salary," Kinerney said in his e-mail, adding that perhaps "your agency [might be] willing to donate your time and pay your salary."

Your options, he said, would be to "work in relatively comfy FEMA headquarters and stay in a hotel. Or you can sleep in a tent and work out of the trunk of a car in the most stricken areas."

I'm running out of things to say about that agency that are suitable for a family blog.

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Locust posture

Is nothing sacred? Yoga positions are being patented as intellectual property. How weird is that? Indian gurus are angry, and who can blame them?

"Yoga piracy is becoming very common and we are moving to do something about it," says Vinod Gupta, the head of a recently established Indian government taskforce on traditional knowledge and intellectual property theft.

"We know of at least 150 asanas [yoga positions] that have been pirated in the US, the UK, Germany and Japan. These were developed in India long ago and no one can claim them as their own."

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September 18, 2005

Readiness

Since we have four storms headed in our direction, it seemed like a good time to update/consolidate the in-home survival kit. In one box I now have

  • a single-burner propane stove with 3 cartridges
  • a saucepan
  • a skillet
  • candles
  • flashlights and batteries
  • battery-powered radio
  • a first-aid kit of sorts
  • a can opener and church key
  • spam and beans and saimin
  • dog leash

The personal go kit will contain meds, clothes (especially socks), knife, and important papers (insurance policies in particular). For a better example of this kind of thing, go here.

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September 17, 2005

Burke & Hare, call Sen. Sessions

This is mind-boggling.

In an attempt to resurrect the cause of estate tax repeal, Senator Sessions of Alabama is looking for wealthy dead Katrina victims.

Federal troops aren't the only ones looking for bodies on the Gulf Coast. On Sept. 9, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions called his old law professor Harold Apolinsky, co-author of Sessions' legislation repealing the federal estate tax, which was encountering sudden resistance on the Hill. Sessions had an idea to revitalize their cause, which he left on Apolinsky's voice mail: "[Arizona Sen.] Jon Kyl and I were talking about the estate tax. If we knew anybody that owned a business that lost life in the storm, that would be something we could push back with."

If legislative ambulance chasing looks like a desperate measure, for the backers of repealing the estate tax, these are desperate times. Just three weeks ago, their long-sought goal of repeal seemed within reach, but Katrina dashed their hopes when Republican leaders put off an expected vote. After hearing from Sessions, Apolinsky, an estate tax lawyer who says his firm includes three multi-billionaires among its clients, mobilized the American Family Business Institute, a Washington-based group devoted to estate tax repeal. They reached out to members along the Gulf Coast to hunt for the dead.

It's been hard. Only a tiny percentage of people are affected by the estate tax—in 2001 only 534 Alabamans were subject to it. And for Hill backers of repeal, that's only part of the problem. Last year, the tax brought in $24.8 billion to the federal government. With Katrina's cost soaring, estate tax opponents need to find a way to make up the potential lost income. For now, getting repeal back on the agenda may depend on Apolinsky and his team of estate-sniffing sleuths, who are searching Internet obituaries among other places. Has he found any victims of both the hurricane and the estate tax? "Not yet," Apolinsky says. "But I'm still looking."

From Time magazine via Atrios.

You know, Senator Sessions and his fellow Republicans may squall about looters during the hurricane and its aftermath, but for pure no-class behavior, I think this beats trying to salvage food and diapers anyday.

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Crisis of confidence

dogsandblogsnewyorker.gif
Drawn by Alex Gregory for the New Yorker. Thanks to Kuff.
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September 16, 2005

And so it starts

Damn environmentalists get in the way of bidness, so let's eliminate the rules when reconstructing New Orleans.

The Environmental Protection Agency could suspend any law governing air, water or land in responding to Hurricane Katrina under a measure introduced Thursday by the chairman of the Senate environment committee.

[snip]

Mr. Holbrook added, "As Administrator Johnson indicated yesterday, there are a number of uncertainties remaining, and we, as well as the administration, do not want those uncertainties to delay actions that affect people's health."

Er, last I looked, the whole purpose of environmental laws governing air and water quality was to improve people's health. Does anyone else see a contradiction here?

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Teapot Dome was a molehill

Karl Rove in charge of reconstruction?

If you thought graft and patronage for Republican contributors was out of control in Iraq, you ain't seen nothin' yet.

Update: Paul Krugman agrees with me. What a surprise.

And to date the Bush administration, which has no stake in showing that good government is possible, has been averse to investigating itself. On the contrary, it has consistently stonewalled corruption investigations and punished its own investigators if they try to do their jobs.

That's why Mr. Bush's promise last night that he will have "a team of inspectors general reviewing all expenditures" rings hollow. Whoever these inspectors general are, they'll be mindful of the fate of Bunnatine Greenhouse, a highly regarded auditor at the Army Corps of Engineers who suddenly got poor performance reviews after she raised questions about Halliburton's contracts in Iraq. She was demoted late last month.

Yep. Whistleblowers need not apply in Bush's world.

This may be an opening for the biggest financial scandal this country has ever seen, which is probably only appropriate for the biggest natural disaster it's ever seen.

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September 15, 2005

Nathan's Famous it ain't

Have a little humor.

With mustard.

It's a first-hand account of participating in the Milwaukee Brewers' mid-game sausage races.

Further outrage about the Bush Administration will have to wait.

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September 14, 2005

Minimum wage & health insurance

From a Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights press release:

The Kaiser Family Foundation report [Page 4, footnote 7] found that health care premiums are increasing 2.5 times faster than inflation and 3 times faster than workers earnings. As a result, the cost of family health insurance coverage for one year rose to $10,880 in 2005. Minimum-wage, full-time worker income for one year is $10,712. The report also found that the number of employers that offer health insurance fell to 60 percent -- a 10 percent reduction since 2000.

The Republicans and libertarians always grumble about how much of their income goes to taxes; I wonder if they've ever looked at how much goes to health insurance? Probably not, since they're likely employed by a firm which (so far) still subsidizes that insurance. At some point, that's gonna stop. The day that CATO and Heritage stop paying for their employees' health insurance is the day these people will start to really worry about this problem. Meanwhile, the 43 million or so uninsured can go hang.

Can you say "national disgrace?"

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September 13, 2005

Phew

gasprice.JPG

Could be worse. Fortunately I still have slightly more than half-a-tank, so I may get lucky and not have to fill up until the price (capped at the wholesale level) drops a quarter or so. It jumped 40’ overnight as the cap rose this week.

Other stories about the local prices and the gas cap here.

Photo taken while having my mirror replaced at no cost to me.

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September 12, 2005

We're omnipotent. Didn't you get the memo?

I saw a little bit of the opening statements in the Roberts hearings today, including Senator Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) damn near weeping as he asked his fellow Senators to bring back "civility" to the questioning. This is the same Coburn who, during his campaign, warned his prospective constituents that "lesbianism is so rampant in some of the schools in Southeast Oklahoma that they'll only let one girl go to the bathroom."

If that's the sort of civility he demands, no question about Roe v. Wade should be left unasked; what could be more offensive?

Seriously, I can be civil as all hell while asking pointed questions; I expect that most of the Democratic Senators can do the same. I think what he really means is "Confirm him already because we your Republican masters said so."

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September 11, 2005

You say hegira, I say diaspora

It's difficult to imagine the size of the population which has suddenly been displaced from New Orleans. As far as I can tell, there's been no large-scale movement from the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, but current estimates range from 400,000 to 1,000,000 people who have left the city and its surrounding areas.

Think about that. Not since the Dust Bowl of the 1930s and/or the Mississippi Flood of 1927 has such a number of people moved from one location within the country. We read about a million people displaced in Darfur and it's an abstraction; in this country it's all too real.

The last time this happened it changed entire regions of the country. Farmers left the Great Plains and headed west for California, and the black migration from the South increased the population of cities like Chicago and Detroit several-fold.

Right now we hear stories that Baton Rouge has doubled its population in the past week. Since that city is only miles up the road, I'd expect many current evacuees there to return to New Orleans once rebuilding has begun. But what about the people who've moved much further? The NYT article above describes the landing of folks in Utah. Others have found themselves in Minnesota, Colorado, and other places thousands of miles from Louisiana. How many of those will be financially able to return? New Orleans may be a much smaller city in terms of population when it's reinhabited.

If that happens, the city's tax base will be smaller and there'll be even fewer financial resources available to provide public services and infrastructure than there were before Katrina. That means fewer schools, less public transportation, less money for cops and firefighters. The city may be rebuilt only to slowly succumb to the sort of death we've heard about in Great Plains small towns.

That can't happen. We can't let 300-year-old cities die.

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La chaise-escabeau

We have a kitchen stool which is 20-25 years old and getting rusty, so in a fit of nostalgia we bought one of these to replace it. The manufacturer is in Indiana, the seller was Target, and it got to us very quickly. It came unassembled, but it did have instructions. Unfortunately the instructions were in French. That's it. No English, no Spanish, just French.

Anyone have an explanation for this?

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September 10, 2005

We're OK, they're not so hot

If ever there were an example of how words can say something differently from what's meant, this might be it.

The Under-Secretary of State, Karen Hughes, has defended the way Mr Bush responded to the hurricane.

"I think the President's heart breaks when anyone would ever think that he wouldn't want to do everything humanly possible to get help quickly to those who need it," she said.

"He's the President of all the people that we saw who so desperately needed help.

"He's their President as well as all of our President and he is a wonderfully compassionate human being."

"Our" President means what? President of the white middle and upper classes? "Their" President means President of minority groups and the poor?

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September 09, 2005

Code words

Speaking of the rebuilding of New Orleans, here's one of its long-time residents:

The new city must be something very different, Mr. Reiss says, with better services and fewer poor people. "Those who want to see this city rebuilt want to see it done in a completely different way: demographically, geographically and politically," he says. "I'm not just speaking for myself here. The way we've been living is not going to happen again, or we're out."

Let's see. How badly has Mr. Reiss been living? Well,

He fled Hurricane Katrina just before the storm and returned soon afterward by private helicopter. Mr. Reiss became wealthy as a supplier of electronic systems to shipbuilders, and he serves in Mayor Nagin's administration as chairman of the city's Regional Transit Authority. When New Orleans descended into a spiral of looting and anarchy, Reiss helicoptered in an Israeli security company to guard his Audubon Place house and those of his neighbors.

Hmm. Doesn't seem like too tough a life to me. Do you suppose the people in the 9th Ward might have liked to have private helicopters?

If I embodied one of the "demographics" this guy doesn't like, I might be a little ticked off by his remarks. I might even consider finding a tumbril or two.

Via Making Light.

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Good advice

Somebody in the Democratic Party really ought to read Josh Marshall:

A few things Democrats should stand for and stand up for now.

An independent commission to investigate the preparations for and response to hurricane Katrina at all levels of government. Anything else is just an elaborate cover-up.

An independent, time-limited, publicly-chartered corporation to oversee the reconstruction of the Katrina-devastated regions. Secrecy is an invitation to cronyism and public corruption. Only openness and transparency can prevent the theft and waste of public money on a massive scale.

We've spent the first half of this decade awash in a bath of ideological zeal and public corruption. Democrats say they're for reform, so be for reform. Competent, professional management; hiring and contracting on the basis of expertise and value; openness to public scrutiny at all levels.

Amen, brother. Halliburton already has a contract, Joe Allbaugh is circling, and Blackwater is on the ground in New Orleans. (In case you've forgotten, Allbaugh, now a lobbyist, was Bush's first FEMA director, hired because he was GWB's 2000 campaign manager; Blackwater USA is the security firm which had four employees hanged from a bridge in Fallujah. Do I need to explain what Halliburton is?)

I had a fraternity brother who went to work for Brown & Root when it was an independent engineering firm, long before it was subsumed by Halliburton. I haven't heard from him in years, but I wonder what it's like being employed by one of these outfits nowadays. Can you imagine the cocktail party conversation?

"Who do you work for?"

"Halliburton."

"Ah. Overbilled any good contracts lately?"

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September 08, 2005

More FEMA mismanagement

As if Michael Brown's well-known lack of experience managing disasters wasn't enough, here's a really scary story about FEMA inspectors who have criminal records.

"FEMA's contract inspectors personally inspect and verify the claims. … Our contract inspectors are our first line of accountability," said Dan Craig, director of FEMA's disaster recovery programs.

[snip]

The newspaper [South Florida Sun-Sentinel] found 30 inspectors or managers with criminal records out of 133 it was able to identify through confidential sources, news clips, FEMA applicants and the Internet. A case against another inspector, charged in Mississippi with the attempted rape of a Hurricane Ivan victim, is still pending. The count includes those with at least one misdemeanor offense, such as drunken driving, but excludes traffic citations or infractions.

Of the inspectors and supervisors identified as having records, 17 had criminal histories at the time they were hired. At least four lost their jobs for arrests after they were hired, including one scheduled for sentencing May 6 in California for child molestation, and two convicted of federal bribery charges for promising higher FEMA payments in exchange for money.

These guys were all employees of a subcontractor hired to do the inspections. Privatizing disaster management works real well, doesn't it?

Via Skippy.

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I Blame Ronald Reagan

That man recited the phrase "Government isn't the solution. Government is the problem." Ever since then the Republicans and many Democrats have run campaigns based on that idiotic philosophy. It never made sense to me anyway; if you hate the government, why try so hard and spend so much of other people's money to get into it?

Robert Scheer has a very good column in the LA Times which discusses how that attitude caused the post-hurricane catastrophe.

For half a century, free-market purists have to great effect denigrated the essential role that modern government performs as some terrible liberal plot. Thus, the symbolism of New Orleans' flooding is tragically apt: Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal and Louisiana Gov. Huey Long's ambitious populist reforms in the 1930s eased Louisiana out of feudalism and toward modernity; the Reagan Revolution and the callousness of both Bush administrations have sent them back toward the abyss.

[snip]

None of this is an oversight, or simple incompetence. It is the result of a campaign by most Republicans and too many Democrats to systematically vilify the role of government in American life. Manipulative politicians have convinced lower- and middle-class whites that their own economic pains were caused by "quasi-socialist" government policies that aid only poor brown and black people — even as corporate profits and CEO salaries soared.

For decades we have seen social services that benefit everyone — education, community policing, public health, environmental protections and infrastructure repair, emergency services — in steady, steep decline in the face of tax cuts and rising military spending.

Ain't it the truth. Is there any real need, particularly post-Cold War, why we need to spend $385 billion dollars a year on the military? Is the idea of a social compact among all citizens so terrible that it pales beside the desire for tax cuts for the richest among us?

Who the hell are we?

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September 07, 2005

Weasels fight back

Linda Hirshman is #77 on Bernard Goldberg's list of "100 People Who Are Screwing Up America." She's decided to counterattack by blogging about the folks on Bernie's list. (The book is #22 on Amazon's sales list right now; if you want to see it, search for it there. I don't like Bernie Goldberg and haven't for a long time, so I don't feel like linking to the book.)

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September 06, 2005

Stories from the ground

There's a very illuminating series of posts from a Doctor in the Astrodome, who's given reprint permission to Al at Code the Web Socket. Start here. Here's Day Two. Day Three. Day Four. Day Five.

Those posts give you a real feel for the dedication and frustration that medical personnel are exhibiting in the midst of this.

Also, read this at TPM Cafe. The author was "one of the volunteers who helped greet the busloads of evacuees at the Astrodome." Talking of the news coverage, he says:

Always these stories have a specific purpose: to shut down empathy so that we won't demand action or accountability. They are told because we are a charitable nation, and if these people aren't rapists and murders and looters, then what they are is suffering, and suffering would demand attention that wasn't given. The fact that it wasn't given would demand that someone be taken to task.

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Recipe for a whitewash

The president sidestepped a question on whether he intended to replace anyone who has been responsible for the disaster response. "What I intend to do," Mr. Bush said, "is lead an investigation into what went right and what went wrong."

Er, aren't investigations into incompetence and mis/malfeasance supposed to be done by objective observers, usually from outside the organization being investigated?

Jeebus H. Christopher.

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September 05, 2005

It's funny because it's true

Saturday, after an explanation of the joke behind a question regarding Hurricane Katrina's devastation and the slow response to it, somebody on Wait Wait -- Don't Tell Me! (probably Mo Rocca) said:

The Bush Administration doesn't do aftermaths.

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Lawyers

I'm not one to lawyer-bash, especially since my two lawyer-cousins would take me to task about it, but in light of this paralysis, maybe we shouldn't hire lawyers (Chertoff and Brown) to run the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA?

For days, Bush's top advisers argued over legal niceties about who was in charge, according to three White House officials who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the negotiations. Beginning early in the week, Justice Department lawyers presented arguments for federalizing the Guard, but Defense Department lawyers fretted about untrained 19-year-olds trying to enforce local laws, according to a senior law-enforcement official who requested anonymity citing the delicate nature of the discussions.

It strikes me that this kind of discussion is one that lawyers are eminently suited to do: ensure that no rules, regulations or laws are broken. But when you're faced with a disaster of this magnitude, I'd argue that many of the rules should be set aside. Apparently the lawyer-managers didn't get that.

The entire article is a good overview of how this mismanaged fiasco occurred.

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Pundit outrage

For a slightly more sensitive pundit than Tim Russert was on MTP, try Bob Schieffer (pdf) on "CBS News' Face the Nation" Sunday:

SCHIEFFER: Finally, a personal thought. We have come through what may have been one
of the worst weeks in America's history, a week in which government at every level failed the people it was created to serve. There is no purpose for government except to improve the lives of its citizens. Yet as scenes of horror that seemed to be coming from some Third World country flashed before us, official Washington was like a dog watching television. It saw the lights and images, but did not seem to comprehend their meaning or see any link to reality.

As the floodwaters rose, local officials in New Orleans ordered the city evacuated. They might as well have told their citizens to fly to the moon. How do you evacuate when you don't have a car? No hint of intelligent design in any of this. This was just survival of the richest.

By midweek a parade of Washington officials rushed before the cameras to urge patience. What good is patience to a mother who can't find food and water for a dehydrated child? Washington was coming out of an August vacation stupor and seemed unable to refocus on business or
even think straight. Why else would Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert question aloud whether New Orleans should even be rebuilt? And when he was unable to get to Washington in time to vote on emergency aid funds, Hastert had an excuse only Washington could understand: He had to attend a fund-raiser back home.

Since 9/11, Washington has spent years and untold billions reorganizing the government to deal with crises brought on by possible terrorist attacks. If this is the result, we had better start over.

Yeah, and start by not privatizing disaster relief. (Note that if you go to the company website, the formerly missing press release is back.)

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September 04, 2005

"Shut up and send us somebody"

In case you didn't see Meet the Press, one of the guests was the President of Jefferson Parish (parishes are counties, so he's equivalent to a county manager). Here's part of what he said:

MR. AARON BROUSSARD: We have been abandoned by our own country. Hurricane Katrina will go down in history as one of the worst storms ever to hit an American coast, but the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina will go down as one of the worst abandonments of Americans on American soil ever in U.S. history. I am personally asking our bipartisan congressional delegation here in Louisiana to immediately begin congressional hearings to find out just what happened here. Why did it happen? Who needs to be fired? And believe me, they need to be fired right away, because we still have weeks to go in this tragedy. We have months to go. We have years to go. And whoever is at the top of this totem pole, that totem pole needs to be chain-sawed off and we've got to start with some new leadership.

It's not just Katrina that caused all these deaths in New Orleans here. Bureaucracy has committed murder here in the greater New Orleans area, and bureaucracy has to stand trial before Congress now. It's so obvious. FEMA needs more congressional funding. It needs more presidential support. It needs to be a Cabinet-level director. It needs to be an independent agency that will be able to fulfill its mission to work in partnership with state and local governments around America. FEMA needs to be empowered to do the things it was created to do. It needs to come somewhere, like New Orleans, with all of its force immediately, without red tape, without bureaucracy, act immediately with common sense and leadership, and save lives. Forget about the property. We can rebuild the property. It's got to be able to come in and save lives.

We need strong leadership at the top of America right now in order to accomplish this and to-- reconstructing FEMA.

MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Broussard, let me ask--I want to ask--should...

MR. BROUSSARD: You know, just some quick examples...

MR. RUSSERT: Hold on. Hold on, sir. Shouldn't the mayor of New Orleans and the governor of New Orleans bear some responsibility? Couldn't they have been much more forceful, much more effective and much more organized in evacuating the area?

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.

What the transcript doesn't show is that he broke down while saying that. Video here.

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Analogies

Bush : Competence as

a)1962 Mets : well-played baseball

b)efficiency : any Department of Motor Vehicles

c)compassionate conservatism : empathy

d)staged photo-ops : sincerity

e)all of the above

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Katrina Linkfest

Julia of Sisyphus Shrugged has as comprehensive a set of links to Katrina stories and blog posts as you'll ever find, all conveniently in one place.

Posted by Linkmeister at 02:14 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 03, 2005

Are the shades coming off?

This speaks for itself.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Iraqi insurgency is in its last throes. The economy is booming. Anybody who leaks a CIA agent's identity will be fired. Add another piece of White House rhetoric that doesn't match the public's view of reality: Help is on the way, Gulf Coast.

As New Orleans descended into anarchy, top Bush administration officials congratulated each other for jobs well done and spoke of water, food and troops pouring into the ravaged city. Television pictures told a different story.

"What it reminded me of the other day is 'Baghdad Bob' saying there are no Americans at the airport," said Rich Galen, a Republican consultant in Washington. He was referring to Saddam Hussein's reality-challenged minister of information who denied the existence of U.S. troops in the Iraqi capital.

And that was written Friday night at 11:14pm. Here's a little more:

One reason the public relations effort backfired on Bush is that Americans have seen it before.

On Iraq alone, the rhetoric has repeatedly fallen far short of reality. Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction. The mission wasn't accomplished in May 2003. Most allies avoided the hard work of his "coalition of the willing." And dozens of U.S. soldiers have died since Vice President Dick Cheney declared that insurgents were in their "last throes."

Has Mr. Fournier reached a tipping point? He's not saying anything most of us haven't been saying for months, but his megaphone is a little bigger. Will the rest of the media follow?

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Sauve qui peut

"The magnitude of responding to a crisis over a disaster area that is larger than the size of Great Britain has created tremendous problems that have strained state and local capabilities," said Mr. Bush, slightly exaggerating the stricken land area. "The result is that many of our citizens simply are not getting the help they need, especially in New Orleans. And that is unacceptable."

The president was flanked by his high military and emergency command: Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

As Mr. Bush spoke, Vice President Dick Cheney and Karl Rove, the president's senior political adviser, listened on the sidelines, as did Dan Bartlett, the counselor to the president and Mr. Bush's overseer of communications strategy. Their presence underscored how seriously the White House is reacting to the political crisis it faces.

"Where our response is not working, we'll make it right," Mr. Bush said, as Mr. Bartlett, with a script in his hand, followed closely.

Script in hand, huh?

The headline for this story is "As White House Anxiety Grows, Bush Tries to Quell Political Crisis."

Gosh, Mr. President, there's a humanitarian crisis which, believe it or not, might be of more importance to the country you're supposed to be leading.

Time to bring back that "miserable failure" phrase, methinks.

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September 02, 2005

"Two Americas"

Every single resident will know and care about someone who was lost to this hurricane. But some, ranging from the very poorest to the working class unable to accumulate a cushion of assets to rely upon on a very, very rainy day, will suffer the most because they simply didn't have the means to evacuate. They suffered the most from Katrina because they always suffer the most.

John Edwards at TPM Cafe. He goes on:

The people most devastated have always lived on a razor blade, afraid of any setback, any illness, any job loss that could disrupt the fragile balance they achieved paycheck to paycheck. They didn't leave New Orleans because they couldn't leave. Some didn't leave their homes because they wanted to protect the hard-won possessions that made their lives a little easier.

Meanwhile, Grover Norquist and the Republican National Committee want to press ahead to eliminate the estate tax.

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Criminal

hurricane.jpg


Refugees wade through floodwaters to a chartered bus in New Orleans.(AP)


From the WaPo:
In recent years, Bush repeatedly sought to slice the Army Corps of Engineers' funding requests to improve the levees holding back Lake Pontchartrain, which Katrina smashed through, flooding New Orleans. In 2005, Bush asked for $3.9 million, a small fraction of the request the corps made in internal administration deliberations. Under pressure from Congress, Bush ultimately agreed to spend $5.7 million. Since coming to office, Bush has essentially frozen spending on the Corps of Engineers, which is responsible for protecting the coastlines, waterways and other areas susceptible to natural disaster, at around $4.7 billion.

As recently as July, the White House lobbied unsuccessfully against a plan to spend $1 billion over four years to rebuild coastlines and wetlands, which serve as buffers against hurricanes. More than half of that money goes to Louisiana.

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September 01, 2005

Disbelief

I meant to post this earlier, but I got sidetracked.

Why does FEMA seem so ineffectual? Well, here's an article from September 2004 which gives a hint as to why it's been such a colossal failure so far in Katrina.

Among emergency specialists, "mitigation"--the measures taken in advance to minimize the damage caused by natural disasters--is a crucial part of the strategy to save lives and cut recovery costs. But since 2001, key federal disaster mitigation programs, developed over many years, have been slashed and tossed aside. FEMA's Project Impact, a model mitigation program created by the Clinton administration, has been canceled outright. Federal funding of post-disaster mitigation efforts designed to protect people and property from the next disaster has been cut in half, and now, communities across the country must compete for pre-disaster mitigation dollars.

[snip]

. . .some in-need areas have been inexplicably left out of the program. "In a sense, Louisiana is the flood plain of the nation," noted a 2002 FEMA report. "Louisiana waterways drain two-thirds of the continental United States. Precipitation in New York, the Dakotas, even Idaho and the Province of Alberta, finds its way to Louisiana's coastline." As a result, flooding is a constant threat, and the state has an estimated 18,000 buildings that have been repeatedly damaged by flood waters--the highest number of any state. And yet, this summer [2004] FEMA denied Louisiana communities' pre-disaster mitigation funding requests. (Emphasis mine)

Watching the cable networks, I've come to the conclusion that there has never in the history of this country been such a collision between human need and governmental incompetence. The richest country in the world, and we can't seem to organize a refugee operation for our own people? This humanitarian disaster should be laid directly at the feet of Bush and his tax-cutting warmongering friends.

Via Kevin Drum.

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The consummate screwup

Why does the relief effort for Katrina seem so screwed up? Well, in part because FEMA has been emasculated. Read that timeline and weep for the people in Mississippi and Louisiana.

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Amazon & American Red Cross

If you're a regular Amazon book/electronics buyer, they've got a link up to the American Red Cross Hurricane Relief Fund on the main page. The advantage is that they already have your credit card info on file, so you don't even have to dig into your wallet or purse for the card number and expiration date.

If you're not an Amazon user, the button for the ARC is over on the left.

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