Friday, September 16, 2005


Left Behind: Bush's Holy War on Nature

From The Nation:

Chip Ward

Hurricane Katrina showed us how difficult it has become to distinguish between natural disasters and man-made ones. First, the Army Corps of Engineers decides it can build a better river than Mother Nature and in the process deprives the Mississippi Delta of storm-absorbing wetlands and barrier islands, while allowing the ground under New Orleans to subside into a suicidal bowl. Then a storm hits and... well, you know the rest of the story.

The lesson is simple: We are embedded in natural systems, and whether we acknowledge that or not can be a matter of life and death. What follows next you've heard a hundred times: The Bush Administration's environmental record is lousy. More than lousy, it is potentially disastrous. But why?

Philosophically, Republicans believe in the power of the marketplace to shape behavior. Their animosity toward government regulation is longstanding. They emphasize the rights of private-property owners over any notion of the commons, and so are comfortable letting corporations pursue profit at the expense of air or water quality.

The Bush Administration's assault on environmental quality has, however, been so deliberate, destructive and hostile that the usual explanations--while not wrong--are hardly adequate. During their time in power, Bush's officials have worked systematically and energetically to undo half a century of environmental law and policy based on hard-learned lessons about how to sustain healthy environments. Strikingly, they have failed to protect the environment even when they could have done so without repercussions from special-interest campaign contributors. Something more is going on.

The notion that the environment matters is ingrained in Americans, even those of us who do not think of ourselves as environmentally inclined or sympathetic. Democrats and Republicans alike have learned the hard way that the decisions we make about what we allow into our air, water and soil get translated into our blood and bones. As polls regularly indicate, most Americans agree that it is wise and prudent to collectively practice restraint and precaution when making environmental decisions. This is one of the great accomplishments of the environmental movement.

The environmental policies of the Bush Administration are hard to fathom because they fly in the face of these shared values and beliefs. Take toxins: Most of us already carry "body burdens" of mercury, dioxins and lead that are close to or above what sound science considers safe. Today, one in six American women has so much mercury in her womb that a child she carries is at risk for a grim inventory of afflictions, including blindness, mental retardation, kidney disease and possibly even autism. These are expensive problems to treat and we all share the costs. All fish in nineteen states are now unsafe to eat because of mercury contamination and at least some fish in forty-eight states are unsafe. We know where most of the mercury comes from--coal-fired power plants--and we know how to clean it up. The technology is available and affordable. But the first thing Bush did when he entered office was to dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency's mercury-emissions rules.

As with mercury, so it goes with a long list of other environmental toxins. Bush-appointed bureaucrats now allow into our drinking water higher levels of arsenic, twenty times the levels of perchlorates that the EPA recommends using the best science available and twelve times the levels of contamination allowed by law for the herbicide Atrazine. The chemical Captan, which is typically found in household pesticides and fungicides, has been downgraded from a "probable" human carcinogen to "not likely"--without any new evidence being produced. Standards have been relaxed for the release of selenium, which we know causes massive deformities and deaths in waterfowl. Fertilizers that grow our food can now contain much higher levels of toxic residues.

By rewriting the New Source Review provision of the Clean Air Act, the Bush Administration has permitted industrial polluters to pump additional ozone and particulates into the air that aggravate millions of cases of asthma and cause thousands of deaths each year. Creative environmental regulators have become an endangered species under this President. Federal watchdogs have turned into lapdogs, so Superfund sites--lands contaminated by enough hazardous waste to pose a risk to human health--no longer get cleaned up; old coal-fired power plants are not fixed; SUVs belch smog; and polluters cheat. New environmental problems are not identified, researched or targeted.

The best example of this is global climate disruption. In the West, erratic, quick-melting snowpack results in record spring floods that are becoming as common as the massive wildfires we now expect during our increasingly parched summers.

Perhaps the most lasting legacy of the Bush Administration will be its undermining of environmental and conservation science itself. Cases of silenced government scientists and experts, censored reports, disbanded scientific advisory panels and withheld evidence abound. (The National Resources Defense Council has listed dozens of examples on its website.) No Administration has ever shown such levels of contempt for science as a means for informing and guiding policy and law.

Elected on the premise that government is ineffective, incompetent and wasteful, the Bush Administration has devoted its time in office to proving its own point--something Hurricane Katrina brought home to Americans with a resounding bang. But the Bush record on the environment is in a category all its own. Only when we begin to grasp that those who are driving Bush environmental policies do not share the most basic values and beliefs that have guided such policy-making for over half a century does their behavior start to make sense. This much is clear: The Bush Administration does not respect a broad American consensus that the quality of our lives is directly linked to the integrity and health of the environment.

Differences in philosophy about property rights, the role of government and the best means to change self-destructive behaviors will translate into different approaches to environmental policy--for example, whether to curb pollution by creating market incentives or by passing tough laws. But until now Republicans did not reject the need for environmental policy altogether. What happened? The answer is a familiar one: Bush's righteous base, the right-wing fundamentalist Christians, are having their way. The zealots who think the Book of Revelations is the only guide to foreign policy and that nature is a mere stage for their personal salvation drama--men like House majority leader Tom DeLay--who have publicly proclaimed that they do not believe in evolution, or other Republican Congressional leaders who got 100 percent ratings from the powerful Christian Coalition, including House speaker Dennis Hastert, presidential hopeful Bill Frist, policy chair Christopher Cox, national leadership chair Rob Portman, powerful senators like Mitch McConnell, Kay Bailey Hutchinson, Rick Santorum, George Allen and many more who are, environmentally speaking, the American Taliban.

Bush himself recently declared that "the jury is still out" on evolution. The Administration's push to satisfy its base by devaluing and discrediting evolutionary theory has profound implications for environmental policy and law. If you don't believe in the evolutionary sciences, chances are you also don't heed or trust the ecological sciences that underlie environmental law and policy. When conservation biologists talk about keystone (or endangered) species, fundamentalists are far more likely than most Americans to listen skeptically. The value of biodiversity as a measure of ecosystem health is going to be of little concern to those who do not understand or accept the critical role that species interaction plays in keeping ecosystems resilient in the face of disturbance and stress. In fact, some fundamentalist Christians have only contempt for ecological science, which they view as nothing more than the cover pagans use to push a godless, nature-worshiping agenda.

If you believe that God made the world for you and instructed you to dominate it and be fruitful, then you are likely to see yourself as above and beyond the natural world. If you are God's chosen, then how can you fear that He will not provide for you no matter how large your numbers grow or what you do to your surroundings? God, after all, can change nature's laws, which are part of His "intelligent design" in the first place. So you are unlikely to fret about practicing environmental restraint or worry about environmental toxins--righteousness being the best prophylactic against disease in a world where God's will is done.

If you believe that the world's end is imminent, then why not use it before you lose it? If you believe that when the world-ending moment arrives, you will be "raptured" away and Christ will return to rule at last, then, hey, bring it on! Those who are "left behind," as fundamentalist Tim LaHaye describes it in his bestselling novels, deserve to suffer because they failed to accept Christ as their personal savior. So the President's fundamentalist base favors the present over a future they disown.

According to Bush's political base, the future is theirs; nature was put here for us to use as we please; God will provide; and foolish unbelievers will be abandoned, like those desperate refugees at the New Orleans Superdome, in a trashed and shredded world. We had our chance but decided to listen to scientists, believe in dinosaurs, hug trees and wring our hands over pupfish, spotted owls and the odd centipede or two. While our jaws drop at their arrogant and reckless behaviors, they just shake their heads and chuckle condescendingly at all of our "liberal whining."

It's a holy war, after all, and they are most righteous. Bush's assault on the environment makes perfect sense once you see the bargains that drive it. Fundamentalists give Bush political power, his corporate cronies get free rein to plunder the land for their profit and the fundamentalists get the heads of nature-worshiping enviros on an arsenic platter. The rest of us, of course, get left behind.


The Prattle of New Orleans

from Billmon:

There's no point in parsing every point in Shrub's big speech last night -- not when we've learned, through bitter experience, that there's rarely a connection between the real world and the text on his teleprompter.

Bush said all the things he was expected to say, and very few that he wasn't. He ran down the laundry list of relief supplies provided and federal agencies mobilized. He heroically declared that New Orleans would rise again. He promised to open up Uncle Sam's checkbook and keep writing and signing checks until his fingers were worn down to bloody stumps. And of course, his text was sprinkled with the obligatory heartwarming anecdotes about the courage, generosity and plucky optimism of the local residents -- none of whom were raped, spent three days sitting in their own shit, or had shots fired over their head as they tried to escape to the white side of the Mississippi River.

Naturally, a lot of it was self-serving spin (what does a "normal" hurricane look like, anyway?) and a lot of it sounded like a Heritage Foundation seminar on enterprise zones. Also as predicted. The acceptance of presidential responsibility sounded even more insincere than it did the first time around -- probably because he's been practicing how to say it without staring off into the middle distance, like a sullen teenager ordered to apologize to his father.

In the end, there were only three points about the speech that seemed significant to me -- two of them being things Bush said, and one being something he didn't talk about at all.

The first was Bush's admission that race is an issue, both in the disaster and the recovery:

As all of us saw on television, there's also some deep, persistent poverty in this region, as well. That poverty has roots in a history of racial discrimination, which cut off generations from the opportunity of America. We have a duty to confront this poverty with bold action.

Would I have liked to heard more -- such as an acknowledgment that most folks who failed to evacuate stayed behind because they were too poor or too scared to leave, not because they "lacked native judgement"? Yes. Do I think Bush was sincere about confronting poverty with "bold" action? No. Saying that "we" have a duty doesn't say much. "We" could be anybody or everybody. When Bush says clearly the federal government has an obligation to fight poverty -- or at least to make sure that others have the tools to fight it -- then I'll believe him. Maybe.

All that said, I still appreciate the fact that he raised the issue. And the next time some mouth-breather at Free Republic starts ranting about the goddamned welfare queens in New Orleans, or a pseudointellectual twit starts babbling infantile nonsense about "tribes," I hope somebody will let them know their beloved president disagrees with them.

Unfortunately, one of Bush's Heritage Foundation-on-steroids proposals immediately made me wonder if I was being too generous in giving him any credit at all for sincerity. I'm talking about his proposal to resettle poor folks on surplus federal property:

Under this approach, we will identify property in the region owned by the federal government, and provide building sites to low-income citizens free of charge, through a lottery. In return, they would pledge to build on the lot, with either a mortgage or help from a charitable organization like Habitat for Humanity.

Yes, home ownership is a good thing -- although whether Habitat for Humanity or subsidized low-income mortgage programs (like the ones run by Fannie and Freddie) would be able to help more than a fraction of the lucky winners is another story. And if this is going to turn into another scam for the subprime lending industry, well, there isn't a griddle in hell hot enough for Rovian butts.

But the real question is where these "surplus" federal properties are located. Is this lottery idea the thin end of a policy wedge designed to relocate the low-income neighborhoods of the 9th Ward to former Army bases deep in the Louisiana back country? Are the Rovians testing out a Heritage wonk's bright new idea, or clearing the way for the great New Orleans land rush?

If that sounds like rampant paranoia, just remember who we're dealing.

The final thing I noticed was what I didn't notice -- any mention of the destructive environmental policies that are causing South Lousiana to slide into the Gulf of Mexico (or the Gulf of Mexico to slide over South Lousiana).

Amid Shrub's "bold" talk about rebuilding the levees (note that he said the rebuilt system would be "stronger than it's ever been," not "strong enough to survive a direct hit by another Category 4 hurricane") I heard no explanation of how these improvements will protect New Orleans if the city ends up as a polder island in the middle of a shallow lagoon. I'm not sure even the Dutch would be able to stormproof it then.

(Of course, Bush also didn't mention the risk that all that heroic work and all those federal dollars will eventually be washed away by a rapid rise in sea levels caused by global climate change. But then I was expecting a speech, not a miracle.)

Will the speech help the disaster recovery? (Bush's, I mean.) Perhaps -- depending on whether or not the Rovians have correctly read the public mood as supporting a massive federal spending binge to get New Orleans, and the Republican Party, back on their feet.

But even if they're right on that score, they should mind the old Chinese adage about being careful what you wish for. If they convince people that Bush finally has Katrina under control, they may divert their attention to more permanent disasters -- like Iraq.

Posted by billmon at 12:15 AM


The Bush Family Tries to Dispel Rumours of an Environmental Catastrophe in New Orleans.

"For those of you who are concerned about whether or not we're prepared to help, don't be. We are. We're in place. We've got equipment in place, supplies in place. And once the -- once we're able to assess the damage, we'll be able to move in and help those good folks in the affected areas." George W. Bush August 29th, 2005.


Corruption in Kentucky: Republican Governor Ernie "Pardon Me" Fletcher plays the BLAME GAME.

Editor's Note: One has to wonder how you can pardon people because they "did nothing wrong," and then turn around and demand their resignations. Maybe the governor should resign?

September 15, 2005
Kentucky Governor Ousts 9 Officials as Scandal Widens
By JAMES DAO New York Times

Gov. Ernie Fletcher of Kentucky demanded the resignation of nine senior state officials yesterday, asked the chairman of the state Republican Party to step down and abolished a constituent service program in response to a widening investigation into patronage in his administration.

In a hastily called news conference in Frankfort, Mr. Fletcher, who in 2003 was elected Kentucky's first Republican governor in 32 years, asserted that the nine were "well intentioned" but might have been "too eager to please local political constituencies" in their hiring practices.

Since May, Attorney General Greg D. Stumbo, a Democrat, has been investigating accusations first raised by a state employee that the Fletcher administration, particularly the transportation department, had circumvented the state's merit system to hire political supporters of the governor.

A grand jury indicted nine people - including four of those removed yesterday - in the case, but late last month Mr. Fletcher issued a blanket pardon covering those nine and anyone else who might be indicted.

Mr. Fletcher's pardon did not cover himself, and Deputy Attorney General Pierce Whites said on Wednesday that "the door remains open" for the grand jury to indict the governor. The panel is expected to continue reviewing evidence, including internal e-mail messages from the governor's office, for several weeks longer.

The governor's office declined to explain the ouster of the five people who were not facing charges.

Mr. Whites said of the removals, "They know something we don't."


Corruption at the "Justice" Department. Justice Department helping Bush Administration blame Environmental Groups for Hurricane Disaster.

E-mail suggests government seeking to blame groups

By Jerry Mitchell

Federal officials appear to be seeking proof to blame the flood of New Orleans on environmental groups, documents show.

The Clarion-Ledger has obtained a copy of an internal e-mail the U.S. Department of Justice sent out this week to various U.S. attorneys' offices: "Has your district defended any cases on behalf of the (U.S.) Army Corps of Engineers against claims brought by environmental groups seeking to block or otherwise impede the Corps work on the levees protecting New Orleans? If so, please describe the case and the outcome of the litigation."

Cynthia Magnuson, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department, said Thursday she couldn't comment "because it's an internal e-mail."

Shown a copy of the e-mail, David Bookbinder, senior attorney for Sierra Club, remarked, "Why are they (Bush administration officials) trying to smear us like this?"

The Sierra Club and other environmental groups had nothing to do with the flooding that resulted from Hurricane Katrina that killed hundreds, he said. "It's unfortunate that the Bush administration is trying to shift the blame to environmental groups. It doesn't surprise me at all."

Federal officials say the e-mail was prompted by a congressional inquiry but wouldn't comment further.

Whoever is behind the e-mail may have spotted the Sept. 8 issue of National Review Online that chastised the Sierra Club and other environmental groups for suing to halt the corps' 1996 plan to raise and fortify 303 miles of Mississippi River levees in Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas.

The corps settled the litigation in 1997, agreeing to hold off on some work until an environmental impact could be completed. The National Review article concluded: "Whether this delay directly affected the levees that broke in New Orleans is difficult to ascertain."

The problem with that conclusion?

The levees that broke causing New Orleans to flood weren't Mississippi River levees. They were levees that protected the city from Lake Pontchartrain levees on the other side of the city.

When Katrina struck, the hurricane pushed tons of water from the Gulf of Mexico into Lake Pontchartrain, which borders the city to the north. Corps officials say the water from the lake cleared the levees by 3 feet. It was those floodwaters, they say, that caused the levees to degrade until they ruptured, causing 80 percent of New Orleans to flood.

Bookbinder said the purpose of the litigation by the Sierra Club and others in 1996 was where the corps got the dirt for the project. "We had no objections to levees," he said. "We said, 'Just don't dig film materials out of the wetlands. Get the dirt from somewhere else.' "

If you listen to what some conservatives say about environmentalists, he said, "We're responsible for most of the world's ills."

In 1977, the corps wanted to build a 25-mile-long barrier and gate system to protect New Orleans on the east side. Both environmental groups and fishermen opposed the project, saying it would choke off water into Lake Pontchartrain.

After litigation, corps officials abandoned the idea, deciding instead to build higher levees. "They came up with a cheaper alternative," Bookbinder said. "We didn't object to raising the levees."

John Hall, a spokesman for the corps in New Orleans, said the barrier the corps was proposing in the 1970s would only stand up to a weak Category 3 hurricane, not a Category 4 hurricane like Katrina. "How much that would have prevented anything, I'm not sure," he said.

Since 1999, corps officials have studied the concept of building huge floodgates to prevent flooding in New Orleans from a Category 4 or 5 hurricane.

Although the Federal Emergency Management Agency in 2001 listed a hurricane striking New Orleans as one of the top three catastrophic events the nation could face (the others being a terrorist attack on New York City and an earthquake in San Francisco), funding for corps projects aimed at curbing flooding in southeast Louisiana lagged.

U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., has said the White House cut $400 million from corps' requests for flood control money in the area.

In fiscal 2006, the corps had hoped to receive up to $10 million in funding for a six-year feasibility study on such floodgates. According to a recent estimate, the project would take 10 years to build and cost $2.5 billion.

"Our understanding is the locals would like to go to that," Hall said. "If I were local, I'd want it."

E-mail sent to various U.S. Attorney's offices:

SUBJECT: Have you had any cases involving the levees in New Orleans?

QUESTION: Has your district defended any cases on behalf of the Army Corps of Engineers against claims brought by environmental groups seeking to block or otherwise impede the Corps' work on the levees protecting New Orleans? If so, please describe the case and the outcome of the litigation.

District: __________
Contact: _________
Telephone: ________


Gretna not the only home for Racists. Who sets $50,000 bail for a 73 year old woman accused of looting $63 worth of groceries?

Deaconess, 73, Jailed for Alleged Looting

By Kevin McGill and John Solomon / Associated Press

KENNER, La. - Merlene Maten undoubtedly stands out in the prison where she has been held since Hurricane Katrina. The 73-year-old church deaconess, never before in trouble with the law, now sleeps among hardened criminals. Her bail is a stiff $50,000.

Her offense?

Police say the grandmother from New Orleans took $63.50 in goods from a looted deli the day after Katrina struck.

Family and eyewitnesses have a different story. They say Maten is an innocent woman who had gone to her car to get some sausage to eat but was wrongly handcuffed by tired, frustrated officers who couldn't catch younger looters at a nearby store.

Not even the deli owner wants her charged.

"There were people looting, but she wasn't one of them. Instead of chasing after people who were running, they grabbed the old lady who was walking," said Elois Short, Maten's daughter, who works in traffic enforcement for neighboring New Orleans police.

Short has enlisted the help of the AARP, the senior citizens lobby, the Federal Emergency Management Agency legal assistance office, made up of volunteer lawyers, and a private attorney to get her mother freed. But the task has been complicated.

Maten has been moved from a parish jail to a state prison an hour away. And the judge who set $50,000 bail by phone — 100 times the maximum $500 fine under state law for minor thefts — has not returned a week's worth of calls, her lawyer said.

"She has slipped through the cracks and the wheels of justice have stopped turning for Mrs. Maten," attorney Daniel Beckett Becnel III said.

The family has not been able to visit her during her two weeks of confinement and was allowed to talk to her by phone for only a few minutes. The state prison declined to let The Associated Press interview Maten by phone, demanding a written request.

Becnel, family members and witnesses said police snared Maten, a diabetic, in the parking lot of a hotel where she had fled the floodwaters that swamped her New Orleans home. She had paid for her room with a credit card and dutifully followed authorities' instructions to pack extra food, they said.

She was retrieving a piece of sausage from the cooler in her car and planned to grill it so she and her frail 80-year-old husband, Alfred, could eat, according to her defenders. The parking lot was almost a block from the looted store, they said.

"That woman was never, never in that store," said Naisha Williams, 23, a New Orleans bank security guard who said she witnessed the episode and is distantly related to Maten. "If they want to take it to court, I'm willing to get on the stand and tell them the police is wrong. She is totally innocent."

Police Capt. Steve Carraway said Wednesday that Maten was arrested in the checkout area of a small store next to police headquarters.

The arrest report is short and assigns the value of goods Maten is alleged to have taken at $63.50. The items are not identified.

"When officers arrived, the arrestee was observed leaving the scene with items from the store. The store window doors were observed smashed out, where entry to the store was made," police reported.

Williams, one of the witnesses, said Maten was physically unable to get inside the store — even if she had wanted to.

"She is not capable of even looting it the way the store was at the time. You had to jump over a counter, and she is a diabetic and weak-muscled and wouldn't be able to get herself over it. And she couldn't afford to step on broken glass," Williams said.

Williams said she tried to explain that to police but was brushed off.

"They didn't want to hear it. They put handcuffs on her. They just said we were emotional. It was basically, `Just shut up,'" she said.

Maten's husband was left abandoned at the hotel, until family members picked him up. He is too upset to be interviewed, the family said.

Christine Bishop, the owner of the Check In Check Out deli, said that she was angry that looters had damaged her store, but that she would not want anyone charged with a crime if the person had simply tried to get food to survive. "Especially not a 70-year-old woman," Bishop said.

Short, Maten's daughter, did not witness the incident. She said her mother has led a law-abiding life. She is a deaconess at the Resurrection Mission Baptist Church and won an award for her decades of service at a hospital, Short said.

"Why would someone loot when they had a car with a refrigerator and had paid with a credit card at the hotel? The circumstances defy the theory of looting," said Becnel, Maten's lawyer.

Robin Peak, a legal analyst from AARP who assisted Maten's family, declined to discuss the case. She wrote colleagues an e-mail earlier this week about the elderly woman's plight. It was titled, "50K: The Price of Freedom in New Orleans."


Gretna City Council Passes Resolution

From Dailykos:

Fri Sep 16th, 2005 at 07:31:17 PDT

Have the citizens of Gretna, Louisiana had second thoughts about their police chief's decision to block the bridge to fleeing New Orleans evacuees?

Apparently not. In fact, the Gretna City Council has passed a resolution in support of the chief's action.

"This wasn't just one man's decision," Mayor Ronnie C. Harris said Thursday. "The whole community backs it."

More after the jump.

Excerpts from the LA Times story

Paul Ribaul, 37, a New Orleans TV-station engineer from Gretna, said New Orleans and the suburbs have a complicated relationship.

"We say we're from New Orleans, but we're a suburb," he said. "The reason we don't live there is we don't like the crime, the politics."

Ribaul was among Gretna residents who praised the decision to close the bridge. "It makes you feel safe to live in a city like that," he said.

Initially, Gretna officials allowed some evacuees into town and tried to help them.

Itself deprived of power, water and food for days after Katrina struck Aug. 29, Gretna suddenly became the destination for thousands of people fleeing New Orleans. The smaller town bused more than 5,000 of the newcomers to an impromptu food distribution center miles away. As New Orleans residents continued to spill into Gretna, tensions rose.

The turning point came when the local mall caught on fire, an event that was blamed on the evacuees.

Mayor Harris had had enough. He called the state police.

"I said: 'There will be bloodshed on the west bank if this continues,' " Harris recalled. " 'This is not Gretna. I am not going to give up our community!' "

The following morning, Gretna's police chief made his decision: Seal the bridge.


Bill O'Reilly is a Piece of Shit.

As if there wasn't enough evidence that Dildo O'Lielly was a pathetic excuse for a human being. As if there wasn't enough evidence that Dildo is a racist. As if there wasn't enough evidence that Dildo's "working man" claims were bullshit. Here's Dildo O'Lielly's take on those who stayed behind in New Orleans, like those 30 elderly men and women left to die in a nursing home:

"Many, many, many of the poor in New Orleans are in that (drug addict/criminal) condition. They weren't going to leave no matter what you did. They were drug-addicted. They weren't going to get turned off from their source. They were thugs, whatever."

Would somebody please take this blowhard off the air? Isn't it time for real news again, not this piece of shit racist bastard who's trying to prevent people from caring about poor black people who were killed during a Hurricane? Do you really think he would have said this if most of the victims had been white?


As New Orleans flooded, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff discussed avian flu in Atlanta

(Editor's Note: Who picked this guy to be Secretary of Homeland Security? Oh yeah it was George W. Bush.)

By Shannon McCaffrey, Alison Young and Seth Borenstein, Knight Ridder Newspapers
Thu Sep 15,10:01 PM ET

WASHINGTON - Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, the U.S. official with the power to order a massive federal response to Hurricane Katrina, flew to Atlanta for a previously scheduled briefing on avian flu on the morning after the storm swept ashore.

Chertoff's decision to fly to Georgia for a business-as-usual briefing even as residents in New Orleans fought for their lives in rising floodwaters raises new questions about how much top officials knew about what was happening on the Gulf Coast and how focused they were on the unfolding tragedy.

In fact, Chertoff didn't know for sure that New Orleans' life-preserving levees had failed until a full day had passed.

Not until Chertoff was returning from Atlanta on Aug. 30 did he begin writing the memo that declared Katrina "an incident of national significance" and put the full force of the federal government behind the relief and rescue efforts.

Critics charge that the delay in making the designation until about 36 hours after the storm may have been one reason why federal help was slow in coming and why no one seemed to be in charge in the disaster zone.

In a first accounting of Chertoff's activities before and after the storm, Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke portrayed his boss as deeply involved yet not the man in charge.

As the severity of Katrina became apparent on Aug. 26, Knocke said, Chertoff huddled with his staff at Department of Homeland Security headquarters in Washington. Katrina, he said, was a major concern, but not the only thing preoccupying Homeland Security officials.

On Saturday, Aug. 27, Chertoff worked from home and on Sunday, Aug. 28 - with President Bush on vacation in Texas - he spent a long day in his office monitoring the storm's progress, Knocke said. On Monday, Aug. 29, as Katrina made landfall, Chertoff was hobbled by a lack of specific information from officials on the Gulf Coast, Knocke said.

Chertoff's team was unable to confirm until midday on Aug. 30 that the levees had breached even though the flooding was being widely reported on television beginning that morning and officials in Louisiana first reported those breaches in the early morning hours of Monday, Aug. 29.

The Homeland Security chief was "extraordinarily frustrated with some of the scattered information we were getting," Knocke said.

Stung by criticism, Chertoff's aides this week attempted to downplay his importance in managing the disaster relief, saying that former Federal Emergency Management Agency director Michael Brown was in charge. (GOOD THING THEY'RE NOT PLAYING THE "BLAME GAME") Brown resigned this week amid intense criticism about the sluggish and meager initial response to Katrina.

At the same time, Knocke said, Chertoff was deeply engaged in preparing for and responding to the powerful hurricane - ordering U.S. Customs helicopters to the Gulf Coast on Monday, Aug. 29, as the storm bore down and receiving a steady stream of updates from FEMA. Part of his time in Atlanta was spent at the FEMA operations center there receiving updates on the storm.

"There was a real sense of urgency," Knocke said.

Nonetheless, congressional critics and others are questioning how well Chertoff carried out his responsibilities under the National Response Plan - the blueprint for how the nation responds to disasters.

"There are a lot of questions that ultimately now put more light on the Secretary of Homeland Security," said Rep. Bennie Thompson (news, bio, voting record), D-Miss., the ranking minority member on the House Homeland Security Committee.

Thompson said oversight hearings are needed to resolve them.

FEMA's Brown had arrived in Baton Rouge, La., on Sunday, Aug. 28. By Monday night, Aug. 29, he had called Chertoff and either White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card or his deputy Joe Hagin and said that things were spiraling "out of control," according to an interview Brown gave to The New York Times. Knocke said that Chertoff promised Brown "anything he needed."

Despite Brown's phone call, Chertoff went ahead the next day with his previously scheduled visit to the headquarters for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta with Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt for a briefing on avian flu. The disease has killed 57 people worldwide.

Afterward, Chertoff went to FEMA headquarters in Atlanta for an update and it appears that that's when he realized the magnitude of the crisis.

Still critics on Thursday questioned Chertoff's judgment in turning his attention elsewhere, even as the storm damage mounted.

"In the relative scheme of things it (avian flu) needed to be put on the back burner while New Orleans was going under water," said John Copenhaver, a southeastern regional FEMA director under the Clinton administration

Copenhaver found it incredible that Chertoff didn't know water was flooding into New Orleans until Tuesday, Aug. 30.

"He is the Cabinet official of the department that's supposed to know things like this," Copenhaver said.

With the spotlight now on Chertoff, officials at the Department of Homeland Security this week have begun issuing new versions of events surrounding his role in the botched federal response to Katrina.

What they are saying this week contradicts many of their previous statements and actions.

Knocke said Thursday that Chertoff's Aug. 30 memo, first obtained by Knight Ridder, created "an administrative paper trail" for an incident of national significance. He said that the department had been acting "under the auspices of an incident of national significance" since President Bush issued an emergency declaration on Aug. 27, the Saturday before the storm.

But the National Response Plan says that it's the Secretary of Homeland Security who designates an event an incident of national significance. When asked if Chertoff had made the designation earlier than Aug. 30, Knocke refused to answer the question directly.

After Chertoff made the designation in his Aug. 30 memo, federal troops began to file into New Orleans, bringing much-needed supplies to residents. But many people remained stranded on their rooftops seeking help from passing helicopters and boats.

Knocke acknowledged on Thursday that the National Response Plan - which was redrawn after the Sept. 11 attacks and became effective just this year - could be in line for an overhaul.

"We're also going to have to step back and take a look at the playbook," he said.

Thursday, September 15, 2005


Rove -- Yes, Karl Rove -- is in charge of Post-Katrina Rebuilding Effort

From Americablog:

by Joe in DC - 9/15/2005 01:42:00 PM

I wish this was a joke. Clearly, this is nothing but a political campaign to save Bush's butt. Froomkin's column today has the details (and yes, I have become a Froomkin junkie):
All you really need to know about the White House's post-Katrina strategy -- and Bush's carefully choreographed address on national television tonight -- is this little tidbit from the ninth paragraph of Elisabeth Bumiller and Richard W. Stevenson 's story in the New York Times this morning:

"Republicans said Karl Rove, the White House deputy chief of staff and Mr. Bush's chief political adviser, was in charge of the reconstruction effort."

Rove's leadership role suggests quite strikingly that any and all White House decisions and pronouncements regarding the recovery from the storm are being made with their political consequences as the primary consideration. More specifically: With an eye toward increasing the likelihood of Republican political victories in the future, pursuing long-cherished conservative goals, and bolstering Bush's image.

That is Rove's hallmark.
What the hell are Karl Rove's qualifications to rebuild a significant part of America? For Christ sakes, didn't they learn anything about putting political hacks in charge of life and death matters.

Political considerations are the ONLY concern of the Bush White House. These people are so callous and ruthless, it is almost mind boggling. Nothing matters to them. Froomkin asks the key question:
Will it work?
The answer isn't so clear:
Rove has an astonishing track record of success. But at the same time, Bush finds himself today a deeply unpopular president according to the opinion polls, particularly damaged by his lackluster response to the protracted, televised suffering in New Orleans.

And Rove himself has not been at his best of late. Unlike many of Bush's advisers, who have plausible deniability for his initial under-reaction because they weren't with him on vacation, Rove was tagging along with the president, blithely touring the West Coast even as the Gulf Coast drowned. Rove is haunted by the possibility of indictment by a federal grand jury investigating the leak of a CIA agent. And according to Time magazine, he was briefly hospitalized last week with painful kidney stones.
Rove does have a track record of success -- but it's from running nasty, negative, political smear campaigns. Karl Rove also has a track record of lying to the media. Knowing Bush and Rove were together during the initial stages of the hurricane and its aftermath sure helps explain why the GOP doesn't want an independent commission.

So, will it work? Giving a few well choreographed speeches won't change the fact that Bush stayed on vacation while parts of our country were being wiped out. Spinning the media won't change the fact that this country is not safe under the leadership of George Bush. Running a smear campaign won't change the fact that George Bush is a failed President.


What Would Jesus Do? Restore Hospital Electricity, or an Oil Pipeline? Guess which one W chose?

(Editor's Note: This story blows a big hole in that "LOCAL authorities were in charge" defense the Bush Administration has been pushing. Clearly the White House was involved as early as Aug. 30th.)

Article published Sep 11, 2005
Power crews diverted
Restoring pipeline came first

By Nikki Davis Maute

Shortly after Hurricane Katrina roared through South Mississippi knocking out electricity and communication systems, the White House ordered power restored to a pipeline that sends fuel to the Northeast.

That order - to restart two power substations in Collins that serve Colonial Pipeline Co. - delayed efforts by at least 24 hours to restore power to two rural hospitals and a number of water systems in the Pine Belt.

At the time, gasoline was in short supply across the country because of Katrina. Prices increased dramatically and lines formed at pumps across the South.

"I considered it a presidential directive to get those pipelines operating," said Jim Compton, general manager of the South Mississippi Electric Power Association - which distributes power that rural electric cooperatives sell to consumers and businesses.

"I reluctantly agreed to pull half our transmission line crews off other projects and made getting the transmission lines to the Collins substations a priority," Compton said. "Our people were told to work until it was done.

"They did it in 16 hours, and I consider the effort unprecedented."

Katrina slammed into South Mississippi and Southeast Louisiana on Aug. 29, causing widespread devastation and plunging most of the area - including regional medical centers and rural hospitals - into darkness.

The storm also knocked out two power substations in Collins, just north of Hattiesburg. The substations were crucial to Atlanta-based Colonial Pipeline, which moves gasoline and diesel fuel from Texas, through Louisiana and Mississippi and up to the Northeast.

"We were led to believe a national emergency was created when the pipelines were shut down," Compton said.

White House call

Dan Jordan, manager of Southern Pines Electric Power Association, said Vice President Dick Cheney's office called and left voice mails twice shortly after the storm struck, saying the Collins substations needed power restored immediately.

Jordan dated the first call the night of Aug. 30 and the second call the morning of Aug. 31. Southern Pines supplies electricity to the substation that powers the Colonial pipeline.

Mississippi Public Service Commissioner Mike Callahan said the U.S. Department of Energy called him on Aug. 31. Callahan said department officials said opening the fuel line was a national priority.

Cheney's office referred calls about the pipeline to the Department of Homeland Security. Calls there were referred to Kirk Whitworth, who would not take a telephone message and required questions in the form of an e-mail. (Editor's Note: Cheney is a sack of shit.)

Susan Castiglione, senior manager of corporate and public affairs with Colonial Pipeline, did not return phone calls.

Compton said workers who were trying to restore substations that power two rural hospitals - Stone County Hospital in Wiggins and George County Hospital in Lucedale - worked instead on the Colonial Pipeline project.

The move caused power to be restored at least 24 hours later than planned.

Mindy Osborn, emergency room coordinator at Stone County Hospital, said the power was not restored until six days after the storm on Sept. 4. She didn't have the number of patients who were hospitalized during the week after the storm.

"Oh, yes, 24 hours earlier would have been a help," Osborn said.

Compton said workers who were trying to restore power to some rural water systems also were taken off their jobs and placed on the Colonial Pipeline project. Compton did not name specific water systems affected.

Callahan's visit

Callahan is one of three elected public service commissioners who oversee most public utilities in the state. Commissioners, however, have no authority over rural electric power cooperatives.

Nevertheless, Callahan said he drove to Compton's office on U.S. 49 North in Hattiesburg to tell him about the call from the Department of Energy. Callahan said he would support whatever decision Compton made.

Callahan said energy officials told him gasoline and diesel fuel needed to flow through the pipeline to avert a national crisis from the inability to meet fuel needs in the Northeast.

Callahan said the process of getting the pipelines flowing would be difficult and that there was a chance the voltage required to do so would knock out the system - including power to Wesley Medical Center in Hattiesburg.

With Forrest General Hospital operating on generators, Wesley was the only hospital operating with full electric power in the Pine Belt in the days following Katrina.

"Our concern was that if Wesley went down, it would be a national crisis for Mississippi," Callahan said. "We knew it would take three to four days to get Forrest General Hospital's power restored and we did not want to lose Wesley."

Compton, though, followed the White House's directive.

Nathan Brown, manager of power supply for the electric association, was responsible for overseeing the delicate operation of starting the 5,000-horsepower pumps at the pipeline.

Engineers with Southern Co., the parent company of Mississippi Power Co., did a dual analysis of what it would take to restore power and Brown worked with Southern Co. engineers on the best and quickest way to restore power.

Work began at 10 a.m. Sept. 1 and power was restored at 2 a.m. Sept. 2 - a 16-hour job.

Night work

A good bit of the work took place at night.

Line foreman Matt Ready was in charge of one of the teams that worked to power the substations and the pipeline. Ready's shift started at 6 a.m. Sept. 1; he received word about the job four hours later and saw it to completion.

"We were told to stay with it until we got power restored," Ready said. "We had real safety issues because there were fires in the trees on the lines and broken power poles."

Ready described working on the lines in the dark like attempting to clear fallen trees out of a yard with a flashlight and a chain saw.

"Everything was dangerous," he said.

Ready said the crew members did not learn they were restoring power to pipelines until after the job was done.

How did they feel about that?

"Is this on the record?" Ready asked. "Well, then, we are all glad we were able to help out."

Compton said he was happy to support the national effort. But he said it was a difficult decision to make because of the potential impact in the region had the plan not worked and the area's power restoration was set back days.

"It was my decision to balance what was most important to people in South Mississippi with this all-of-a-sudden national crisis of not enough gas or diesel fuel," Compton said.

"In the future, the federal government needs to give us guidelines if this is such a national emergency so that I can work that in my plans."


The Storm That Ate The GOP: Who will pity the soulless Republican Party now that Katrina is mauling their regime?

- By Mark Morford, SF Gate Columnist
Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Can you hear that? That low scraping moan, that painful scream, that compressed hissing wail like the sound of an angry alligator caught in a vise?

Why, it's the GOP, and they're screaming, "No, no it can't be, oh my God, please no, this damnable Katrina thing is just an unstoppable PR disaster for us!"

After all (they wail), who woulda thought dissing all those poor black people and letting so many of them die in filth and misery in the Superdome while our pampered CEO president enjoyed yet another vacation would cause such an ugly backlash, such harsh criticism of the glorious, rich-über-alles GOP creed?

Who knew it would lay bare our deeply inbred agenda of social injustice and civil neglect, and our systematic abuse of the country? This storm thing is so not the thing we need right now because, oh my God look, just look! We've been so golden! We've had the run of the candy store! We have been gods among swine!

Can you hear them? Hastert to DeLay to Frist to Santorum to Rove to Cheney to Bush himself, across the board and all down the snickering party line they keen, "It's not fair! We've been planning this regime, this overthrow for 40 years! We've worked so damn hard to drive a wedge into the culture and an ice pick into the heart of the nation, working like demons on meth to mangle this country's economy and sense of pride so as to boost corporate profits and lock down our wealth and empire!"

And now Katrina. And now a furious backlash we never predicted that could very well spell the death of our wanton free-for-all gluttony. Damn you, Mother Nature! Damn you, uppity female!

Just listen. Isn't that Dick Cheney, lying awake at night as the leeches drain his soul, muttering his woes to a well-narcotized Lynne? "Dammit, Lynney, what went wrong? We've got the House locked up and the Senate locked up and we can cram through any law or any referendum or toxic Patriot Act we like with next-to-zero outcry and no discussion on the floor ..."

We're successfully stuffing the lower courts with hundreds of homophobic neoconservative misogynist appointees and now we even own the Supreme Court -- the Supreme Court, pudding-thighs! -- and even the increasingly impotent California governor is more in our back pocket than we imagined. We've had the whole goddamn country under our thumb for five years, squirming like a stuck rat as we make out like robber barons.

What a run we've had! We've threatened major media into numb compliance and we run the FCC the way a pimp runs a cheap hooker and we've got a loudmouth right-wing pundit manning nearly every ideological outpost in every corner of the media globe while millions of stupefied 'Murkins still believe Fox News is a genuine source of integrity and honesty. Look at us go!

And don't forget, to back it all up and shore up the base, we've got so many hate-spitting pseudo-religious bonk jobs broadcasting their bile across roughly 1,600 militant Christian Midwestern talk-radio shows it would make Jesus himself cringe in pain, and even that soulless cretin Pat Robertson is comfy enough to start suggesting we assassinate foreign leaders who dare to dis BushCo.

Look what we've accomplished! We launched two brutal, devastating, unwinnable wars. We've let Osama bin Laden run happy and free for over four years, and counting. We just passed an obscene $12.3 billion energy bill that ensures our heroin-like dependency on foreign oil for the next two decades while misinformed 'Murkin GIs die in Iraq protecting us from $5 gallons of gas. Damn, we're good!

We torture innocent detainees in Iraq and abuse inmates at Guantánamo and chip away at women's rights and demonize homosexuals, and we strip the forests and gut the Clean Air Act and pollute the water and devastate the economy and cut welfare spending (whew!), and still the lemming people think we're gods because we keep them wrapped in fear and a whole pile of carefully orchestrated Rove-ian lies. We are, in short, f--ing geniuses.

But now, this. Now BushCo's spineless Katrina response and our party's obvious contempt for lazy poor people who don't own SUVs and Lockheed-Martin portfolios means Dubya's ratings have plummeted below 40, as many of his precious pet agenda items head for the Dumpster, including the gutting of Social Security and the gutting of Medicare and even more tax cuts for his wealthy cronies. Damn you, Mother Nature!

Even the media has stepped it up, taken off the kid gloves and begun hurling angry, pointed questions at BushCo for the first time in four years, ever since we muzzled them with one part threat and one part Rove and all parts corporate stranglehold. Hell, the damn media was on the ground in New Orleans within 24 hours of Katrina, beating our untrained monkeys from FEMA by three days. Who the hell do they think they are?

Ain't it a bitch? And now there are those who say the impermeable fortress o' pain known as the GOP might just lose the South next election due to its obvious lack of care for the lower classes, unless we can somehow scare them poor people into not voting again, or tell them if they vote Democrat they won't get any health care or food stamps or relief money or any of Barbara Bush's patronizing rich-grandma cookies. Hey, it worked last time.

So goes the GOP lament. Of course, it's not all bad (they say). Hell, the oil companies are as giddy as schoolgirls at being able to falsely jack up prices to over whopping 70 bucks a barrel, despite a recent (temporary) glut of supply. Halliburton is squealing like Jenna Bush at a kegger at scoring the contract to help rebuild New Orleans' infrastructure thanks to the fact that the former head of FEMA is now a Halliburton lobbyist, and the GOP plan to decimate FEMA and militarize emergency efforts is going -- pardon the pun -- swimmingly.

But something has shifted. Something is ugly and toxic in the water. This is what, I imagine, the GOP overlords are asking each other over cocktails and baby seal kabobs and whale-blood transfusions: Do you think the people are finally beginning to sense it? Are they finally waking up? You think they know that the fact that Bush is finally taking a modicum of responsibility for his administration's failure -- something he never, never does -- is a sign of true GOP desperation? Do you think they recognize that BushCo isn't really spending a dime on Katrina relief, that the $52 billion they just crammed through Congress without any discussion isn't actually going toward repairs and rebuilding at all?

You think people sense that all of it, every single dime, is going toward -- you guessed it -- PR? Spin control? You know it's true. Every government truck and every National Guardsman and every aid package and every miserable FEMA agent you see is merely in place to try and shore up Bush's miserable poll numbers, his dwindling support. Hell, it's the only reason Bush -- or his party -- does anything for the "good" of the nation.

But holy crap, it sure is expensive. It sure is annoying. It sure takes the GOP off its game of warmongering and finger-pointing and padding the pockets of the rich and pulverizing the economy like a ... like a ... yes, OK, like a hurricane. Damn you, Mother Nature.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005


Somebody's Uncle

Photo by Bruce Chambers, Orange County (Calif.) Register


American Shame - The Edgar Hollinsworth Story (Feds Not Permitting Home Searches!)

Wed Sep 14th, 2005 at 09:51:05 PDT

Today is Day 17. Two and a half weeks. Tomorrow President Bush will show up in New Orleans for another photo-op, this time to try to rescue his own sorry, lazy, incompetent, negligent ass with a televised address to the nation.

I don't care if he does a TV address every night live from New Orleans for the rest of his presidency.

It will NEVER -- NEVER -- change the fact that Mr Bush abdicated his sacred responsibility to the American people for five excruciatingly long days.

Yesterday Mr Bush said 'I take responsibility' for the abject failure of the federal government of the world's most powerful and wealthy nation.

Let's put a face to that failure. Please meet Edgar Hollingsworth, age 74, a resident of New Orleans.


First : What I will always call 'The Photo'
Second : My summary and my rant.
Finally : Some excerpts from the news story and a link to the source.

America, 2005

[ update ] Poster chachabowl calls it : "American Pieta"

"...whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto Me."

Mr Hollingsworth was pulled unconscious and emaciated from his home in New Orleans by members of the California National Guard YESTERDAY - Day 16.

While Mr Hollingsworth lay on a couch in his home -- apparently alone, forgotten, without food or water, sinking into unconsciousness -- Mr Bush was doing the following :

The story of Edgar Hollingsworth brings me to tears. This man could be my late father. Did Mr Hollingsworth work his entire life, then retire ? (like my father)

Did Mr Hollingsworth honorably serve his country in the armed forces (like my father) (unlike Mr Bush) ? Did he serve a country in its time of need that failed to serve him in HIS time of need ?

Did Mr Hollingsworth live in the Deep South during the days of segregation, Jim Crow, lynchings, KKK ?

Will Mr Hollingsworth survive ? Or will he die ? ( My father died recently, which is probably one of the reasons why this story tears at me )

The photo alone outrages me. It's from the Orange County Register, and it's also on the front page of my area morning newspaper which gets more and more conservative every year.

In my area morning newspaper it's below the headline 'BUSH TAKES THE BLAME'.

It ought to outrage you.

The story ought to outrage you even more.

Mr Bush MUST resign or be impeached.

Survivor rescued 16 days after the hurricane

The Orange County Register
September 14, 2005

NEW ORLEANS - . . . A human foot arching at an odd angle was visible through the front window of a locked and dark home.

The National Guard team of searchers was about to call in a "DB," or dead body . . . in the Broadmoor district when Lt. Frederick Fell decided to investigate.

In the past few days, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has ordered searchers not to break into homes. They are supposed to look in through a window and knock on the door. If no one cries out for help, they are supposed to move on. If they see a body, they are supposed to log the address and move on.


Fell broke the rules and ordered his men to bash open the door, launching a series of events that would save a man's life and revitalize California Task Force 5 from Orange County.


. . . 16 days after Hurricane Katrina smacked this aging community in the face, an unconscious and emaciated man identified as Edgar Hollingsworth, 74, was rescued. The man is expected to survive.


Medics from California Task Force 5, which had been searching in the same neighborhood, were eventually able to get intravenous fluids through a vein under the man's clavicle in an intricate curbside medical procedure that may have saved the man's life.

The man had been lying on the couch in his locked and sweltering home.


They pulled him out of the house and laid him on the sidewalk. He looked as if he weighed less than 80 pounds.


"They were surprised at the hospital that anyone in his condition would still be alive," Czuleger said. "In 24 hours, he would have been dead.

"I think the young Army guy that found him saved his life."


Hollingsworth had been lying naked on his blue-green couch. It was unclear if he had eaten or drunk anything for several days. He was not surrounded by food or water containers. His house was still in disarray from the storm. A chair had landed on top of the kitchen table.


A pit-bull puppy was also pulled from the house. It appeared to be healthy and was transported to the hospital along with Edgar Hollingsworth.

Earlier, they had been frustrated when FEMA delayed their deployment for four days, housing them in the Hyatt Regency in Dallas.

They were frustrated further when they were given the FEMA order that they weren't allowed to force their way into houses to search them.


Thank you, California National Guard. Too bad that half the Louisiana National Guard -- and their equipment -- were halfway around the world fighting George W Bush's illegitimate war, instead of saving the lives of people like Edgar Hollingsworth.

For shame, Mr Bush. For shame. RESIGN NOW ! ! !

HERE'S THE FULL STORY, WITH THREE PHOTOS ( requires free registration; otherwise use the dailykos/dailykos username/password )


Conservatism R.I.P.

From The Carpetbagger Report, via Crooks and Liars:

We've all heard rumors that conservatism, as a governing philosophy, was on life support. Under Bush, as the federal government embraced massive deficits, a stronger federal role in education, an expansion of Medicare, a stronger federal role in law enforcement (the Patriot Act), and the most bloated, pork-laden transportation bill anyone's ever seen, "conservatism" was just about a goner.

But I didn't believe it was really dead until this morning, when I saw Tom DeLay tell Rev. Moon's Washington Times that the federal government's massive budget is now waste-free.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said yesterday that Republicans have done so well in cutting spending that he declared an "ongoing victory," and said there is simply no fat left to cut in the federal budget.

Mr. DeLay was defending Republicans' choice to borrow money and add to this year's expected $331 billion deficit to pay for Hurricane Katrina relief. Some Republicans have said Congress should make cuts in other areas, but Mr. DeLay said that doesn't seem possible.

"My answer to those that want to offset the spending is sure, bring me the offsets, I'll be glad to do it. But nobody has been able to come up with any yet," the Texas Republican told reporters at his weekly briefing.

Asked if that meant the government was running at peak efficiency, Mr. DeLay said, "Yes, after 11 years of Republican majority we've pared it down pretty good."

There's no indication that he was kidding. Tom DeLay — who has seen federal spending, federal deficits, and the size of the federal government flourish under Republican control — now believes the massive federal budget is just about perfect. No more waste, no more abuse, no more fat to trim.

A few far-right stragglers may still argue that the government should cut spending to help bring the budget back towards balance, but DeLay effectively explained yesterday that this simply can't be done. The Majority Leader has declared "victory."

Someone let me know when the memorial services for conservatism will be held; I'd like to send flowers.


GOP Senate Kills Independent Katrina Panel

From Americablog:

by Joe in DC - 9/14/2005 03:46:00 PM

Find out what went wrong? Not if the GOP has anything to do with it. Cover it up, that seems to be their plan:
Senate Republicans on Wednesday scuttled an attempt by Sen. Hillary Clinton to establish an independent, bipartisan panel patterned after the 9/11 Commission to investigate what went wrong with federal, state and local governments' response to Hurricane Katrina.

The New York Democrat's bid to establish the panel - which would have also made recommendations on how to improve the government's disaster response apparatus - failed to win the two-thirds majority needed to overcome procedural hurdles. Clinton got only 44 votes, all from Democrats and independent Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont. Fifty-four Republicans all voted no.
What are they afraid of? Didn't Bush say he was responsible?


America's Imaginary Frontier

From The Nation:

By Norman Birnbaum

In a recent letter to a European newspaper, an American expressed dismay at one aspect of the catastrophic situation on the country's Gulf Coast. This citizen's problem was not presidential indifference, governmental incompetence or pervasive racism. It was the slowness of foreign governments to express their condolences to the United States. The letter reflected our nation's limitless narcissism, the conviction that the feelings of our citizens are the primordial stuff of world politics. Recall President Bush's demand, after September 11, 2001, that the rest of the world accept his absurdly simplified explanation of the attack. Much public language in the United States ignores the constraints of history, including our history.

Bush shares with many Americans an intellectual world from which institutions and interests have all but disappeared. What matters are only moral sentiments.

The President, for days in a stupor of passivity, called his father and Bill Clinton to the White House to lead a national fundraising appeal for the victims of the hurricane. He said nothing of the federal government's plans to meet the problem. Walking the streets of Biloxi, Mississippi, he reportedly advised citizens who had lost everything, "Go to the Salvation Army."

Perhaps this was an indirect vote of no confidence in the Federal Emergency Management Agency--whose preposterously unqualified head, the now-resigned Michael Brown, Bush nevertheless praised. The President showed a great deal of emotion only when he denounced as criminals those who, starving, broke into closed supermarkets. As for rising prices and shortages of fuel in a society totally dependent upon the roads, he called for restraint in driving. The President cannot envisage public solutions to public problems. He has shown renewed faith in private initiative--indeed, in announcing that he will personally look into the troubling suggestion that his government's response to Hurricane Katrina was just a bit defective.

It is difficult to know where ideologically induced blindness stops and cynical calculation begins. Bill Clinton initially exculpated the President, and finally expressed some reservations about the federal response. Hillary, with a Democratic leadership struggling against its recent affliction--walking in its political sleep--is now quite critical. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice insistently denies that racism caused abandonment of the poorer residents of New Orleans. She derided the protests of the Black Congressional Caucus as "emotional." Before he backpedaled from his insensitive remark, House Speaker Dennis Hastert saw no point in reconstructing New Orleans. He was perhaps anticipating the likely objections of his white Illinois constituents to paying taxes to assist blacks in the South. Lincoln and the Republicans who sought the social reconstruction of the South would not recognize their contemporary descendants.

A substantial number of commentators still have the inhumanity to denounce the victims for not leaving New Orleans in time--regardless of whether they had automobiles, funds for gas and lodging or infirm family members. Television and the newspapers are now full of a journalistic discovery: The United States is a nation divided by class and race. A government report issued just before the storm declared average incomes stagnating and poverty rising, but was hardly noticed.

If a majority of Americans are indeed blind to the facts of social existence, it is a blindness that serves a purpose. In a nation of individuals responsible for their own fates, there is no obligation to assist those who fall or fail--except for entirely voluntary charity. Charity, often, has its price. Those fleeing New Orleans and housed in the Houston Astrodome have been instructed by the matriarch of the Bush clan that they are fortunate to be so well taken care of, since they were in their normal lives "underprivileged." Clearly, in the Bush family's case, there is as much nobility as there is a sense of obligation: none. That deficiency is widely distributed. In a society of bitter competition, those who have to run twice as hard to stay in the same place can compensate for their failures to achieve beauty, fame, riches: At least they do not need social assistance.

There is, then, a connection between the vacuous sentimentality of public speech and social understanding--and the more brutal substratum of American existence.

The connection has been understood by those citizens of the Gulf who, their cities inundated with people fleeing from the devastated coast, have been overcome with anxiety. Many are white, and the black urban masses--descendants of the slaves who once worked the land--frighten them. They have taken out their firearms to defend themselves. Self- help of this kind is also a form of volunteerism, if not of the sort preached in most churches.

It is true that many Americans are experiencing shame about the abandonment of New Orleans. How long this authentically decent response can endure--and whether it will have political consequences--are very open questions. It is asking quite a lot of the nation to abandon the myth of a society that is predominantly middle-class.

It will be difficult to reinvent a fully modern public sphere. But unless a change occurs, we may have to put aside Jefferson and Lincoln and rely solely on the New England Calvinist Jonathan Edwards and his "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." The people of the United States have as yet to decide whether they are citizens of a modern Republic--or are living in an absurdly mythicised past, on an imaginary frontier, with only a wooden church as their shelter.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005


It's easier to vote in Iraq than in Georgia

In 1966, the Supreme Court held that the poll tax was unconstitutional. Nearly 40 years later, Georgia is still charging people to vote, this time with a new voter ID law that requires many people without driver's licenses - a group that is disproportionately poor, black and elderly - to pay $20 or more for a state ID card. Georgia went ahead with this even though there is not a single place in the entire city of Atlanta where the cards are sold. The law is a national disgrace.

Until recently, Georgia, like most states, accepted many forms of identification at the polls. But starting this month, it is accepting only government-issued photo ID's. People with driver's licenses are fine. But many people without them have to buy a state ID card to vote, at a cost of $20 for a five-year card or $35 for 10 years. The cards are sold in 58 locations, in a state with 159 counties. It is outrageous that Atlanta does not have a single location. (The state says it plans to open one soon.) But the burden is also great on people in rural parts of the state.

The Republicans who pushed the law through, and Gov. Sonny Perdue, also a Republican, who signed it, say that it is intended to prevent fraud. But it seems clear that it is about keeping certain people away from the polls, for political advantage. The vast majority of fraud complaints in Georgia, according to its secretary of state, Cathy Cox, involve absentee ballots, which are unaffected by the new law. Ms. Cox says she is unaware of a single documented case in recent years of fraud through impersonation of a voter at the polls.

Citizens who swear they are indigent are exempt from the fee. But since the law does not define who is indigent, many people may be reluctant to swear and risk a criminal penalty. More important, the 24th Amendment, which outlawed poll taxes in federal elections, and the Supreme Court's decision striking down state poll taxes applied to all Americans, not just to the indigent. A Georgian who votes only in presidential elections, and buys a five-year card to do so, would be paying $10 per election. That is no doubt more than many people on fixed incomes, who struggle to get by but are not legally indigent, are willing to pay to vote.

If Georgia's law remains in place, other states are likely to follow. There is also growing concern among voting-rights advocates that a self-appointed election reform commission, led by James Baker, the former secretary of state who played a troubling role in the disputed 2000 election, and former President Jimmy Carter, may be about to propose national voter ID standards that would similarly make it harder for poor people and blacks to vote.

The American Civil Liberties Union is planning to challenge Georgia's law. It will have several strong legal claims, starting with the 24th Amendment. The Supreme Court said in 1966, in striking down the poll tax, that "the right to vote is too precious, too fundamental to be so burdened." It still is.
Uh, not ONE place to get the cards in Atlanta. Not one?

Come on, that's disenfranchisement so obvious that they should just hang the American swastika in front of the polls next year.

I don't even think Scalia and his hand puppet Thomas would defend this.

This has been a bullshit issue for the GOP for years, but only Georgia has had the balls to try it.


We Had To Kill Our Patients

September 12th, 2005 12:38 pm
We had to kill our patients

By Caroline Graham and Jo Knowsley / Daily Mail

Doctors working in hurricane-ravaged New Orleans killed critically ill patients rather than leaving them to die in agony as they evacuated hospitals, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.

With gangs of rapists and looters rampaging through wards in the flooded city, senior doctors took the harrowing decision to give massive overdoses of morphine to those they believed could not make it out alive.

In an extraordinary interview with The Mail on Sunday, one New Orleans doctor told how she 'prayed for God to have mercy on her soul' after she ignored every tenet of medical ethics and ended the lives of patients she had earlier fought to save.

Her heart-rending account has been corroborated by a hospital orderly and by local government officials. One emergency official, William 'Forest' McQueen, said: "Those who had no chance of making it were given a lot of morphine and lain down in a dark place to die."

Euthanasia is illegal in Louisiana, and The Mail on Sunday is protecting the identities of the medical staff concerned to prevent them being made scapegoats for the events of last week.

Their families believe their confessions are an indictment of the appalling failure of American authorities to help those in desperate need after Hurricane Katrina flooded the city, claiming thousands of lives and making 500,000 homeless.

'These people were going to die anyway'

The doctor said: "I didn't know if I was doing the right thing. But I did not have time. I had to make snap decisions, under the most appalling circumstances, and I did what I thought was right.

"I injected morphine into those patients who were dying and in agony. If the first dose was not enough, I gave a double dose. And at night I prayed to God to have mercy on my soul."

The doctor, who finally fled her hospital late last week in fear of being murdered by the armed looters, said: "This was not murder, this was compassion. They would have been dead within hours, if not days. We did not put people down. What we did was give comfort to the end.

"I had cancer patients who were in agony. In some cases the drugs may have speeded up the death process.

"We divided patients into three categories: those who were traumatised but medically fit enough to survive, those who needed urgent care, and the dying.

"People would find it impossible to understand the situation. I had to make life-or-death decisions in a split second.

"It came down to giving people the basic human right to die with dignity.

"There were patients with Do Not Resuscitate signs. Under normal circumstances, some could have lasted several days. But when the power went out, we had nothing.

"Some of the very sick became distressed. We tried to make them as comfortable as possible.

"The pharmacy was under lockdown because gangs of armed looters were roaming around looking for their fix. You have to understand these people were going to die anyway."

Mr McQueen, a utility manager for the town of Abita Springs, half an hour north of New Orleans, told relatives that patients had been 'put down', saying: "They injected them, but nurses stayed with them until they died."

Mr McQueen has been working closely with emergency teams and added: "They had to make unbearable decisions."


Bill Maher on Bush

"New rule: American must recall the president. That's what this country needs – a good old-fashioned, California-style recall election, complete with Gary Coleman, porno actresses, and action film stars. And just like Schwarzenegger's predecessor here in California, George Bush is now so unpopular, he must now defend his job against…Russell Crowe, because at this point I want a leader who will throw a phone at somebody. In fact, let's have only phone throwers. Naomi Campbell can be the vice president.

"Now I kid, but seriously, Mr. President, this job can't be fun for you anymore. There's no more money to spend; you used up all of that. You can't start another war because you also used up the army. And now, darn the luck, the rest of your term has become the Bush family nightmare: helping poor people. Yeah, listen to your mom, the cupboard's bare, the credit card's maxed out, and no one's speaking to you. Mission accomplished.

"Now it's time to do what you've always done best: lose interest and walk away. Like you did with your military service. And the oil company. And the baseball team. It's time to move on and try the next fantasy job. How about cowboy or spaceman? Now, I know what you're saying, you're saying that there are so many other things that you as president could involve yourself in. Please don't. I know, there a lot left to do. There's a war with Venezuela, and eliminating the sales tax of yachts, turning the space program over to the church and Social Security to Fannie Mae, giving embryos the vote.

"But sir, none of that is going to happen now. Why? Because you govern like Billy Joel drives. You've performed so poor, I'm surprised you haven't given yourself a medal. You're a catastrophe that walks like a man. Herbert Hoover was a shitty president, but even he never conceded an entire metropolis to rising water and snakes. On your watch, we've lost almost all of our allies, the surplus, four airliners, two trade centers, a piece of the Pentagon, and the city of New Orleans. Maybe you're just not lucky. I'm not saying you don't love this country, I'm just wondering how much worse it could be if you were on the other side. So yes, God does speak to you, and what he's saying is, 'Take a hint.'"

-Bill Maher, HBO's "Real Time With Bill Maher," Sept. 9, 2005


Bush the Bungler

Now They Tell Us

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Monday, September 12, 2005; 1:33 PM

Amid a slew of stories this weekend about the embattled presidency and the blundering government response to the drowning of New Orleans, some journalists who are long-time observers of the White House are suddenly sharing scathing observations about President Bush that may be new to many of their readers.

Is Bush the commanding, decisive, jovial president you've been hearing about for years in so much of the mainstream press?

Maybe not so much.

Judging from the blistering analyses in Time, Newsweek, and elsewhere these past few days, it turns out that Bush is in fact fidgety, cold and snappish in private. He yells at those who dare give him bad news and is therefore not surprisingly surrounded by an echo chamber of terrified sycophants. He is slow to comprehend concepts that don't emerge from his gut. He is uncomprehending of the speeches that he is given to read. And oh yes, one of his most significant legacies -- the immense post-Sept. 11 reorganization of the federal government which created the Homeland Security Department -- has failed a big test.

Maybe it's Bush's sinking poll numbers -- he is, after all, undeniably an unpopular president now. Maybe it's the way that the federal response to the flood has cut so deeply against Bush's most compelling claim to greatness: His resoluteness when it comes to protecting Americans.

But for whatever reason, critical observations and insights that for so long have been zealously guarded by mainstream journalists, and only doled out in teaspoons if at all, now seem to be flooding into the public sphere.

An emperor-has-no-clothes moment seems upon us.

Read All About It

The two seminal reads are from Newsweek and Time.

Evan Thomas's story in Newsweek is headlined: "How Bush Blew It."

"It's a standing joke among the president's top aides: who gets to deliver the bad news? Warm and hearty in public, Bush can be cold and snappish in private, and aides sometimes cringe before the displeasure of the president of the United States," Thomas writes.

In this sort of environment, Bush apparently didn't fathom the extent of the catastrophe in the Gulf Coast for more than three days after the levees of New Orleans were breached.

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

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

Among Thomas's disclosures: "Bush can be petulant about dissent; he equates disagreement with disloyalty. After five years in office, he is surrounded largely by people who agree with him.....

"Late last week, Bush was, by some accounts, down and angry. But another Bush aide described the atmosphere inside the White House as 'strangely surreal and almost detached.' At one meeting described by this insider, officials were oddly self-congratulatory, perhaps in an effort to buck each other up. Life inside a bunker can be strange, especially in defeat."

Mike Allen writes in Time: "Longtime Bush watchers say they are not shocked that he missed his moment -- one of his most trusted confidants calls him 'a better third- and fourth-quarter player,' who focuses and delivers when he sees the stakes. What surprised them was that he still appeared to be stutter-stepping in the second week of the crisis, struggling to make up for past lapses instead of taking control with a grand gesture. Just as Katrina exposed the lurking problems of race and poverty, it also revealed the limitations of Bush's rigid, top-down approach to the presidency. . . .

"Bush's bubble has grown more hermetic in the second term, they say, with fewer people willing or able to bring him bad news -- or tell him when he's wrong. Bush has never been adroit about this. A youngish aide who is a Bush favorite described the perils of correcting the boss. 'The first time I told him he was wrong, he started yelling at me,' the aide recalled about a session during the first term. 'Then I showed him where he was wrong, and he said, "All right. I understand. Good job." He patted me on the shoulder. I went and had dry heaves in the bathroom.' . . .

"The result is a kind of echo chamber in which good news can prevail over bad -- even when there is a surfeit of evidence to the contrary. For example, a source tells Time that four days after Katrina struck, Bush himself briefed his father and former President Clinton in a way that left too rosy an impression of the progress made. 'It bore no resemblance to what was actually happening,' said someone familiar with the presentation."

Allen has an exclusive look at the administration's "three-part comeback plan."

Part one: "Spend freely, and worry about the tab and the consequences later."

Part two: "Don't look back."

Part three: "Develop a new set of goals to announce after Katrina fades. Advisers are proceeding with plans to gin up base-conservative voters for next year's congressional midterm elections with a platform that probably will be focused around tax reform."

Allen also has this tidbit: "And as if the West Wing were suddenly snakebit, his franchise player, senior adviser and deputy chief of staff, Karl Rove, was on the disabled list for part of last week, working from home after being briefly hospitalized with painful kidney stones."

And remember the storyline of the CEO president who cut red tape and streamlined government?

John Dickerson writes in Slate how the much-celebrated creation of the Homeland Security Department, the embodiment of Bush's management style, is suddenly an epic tale of failure.

"They built an enormous agency from scratch, vowing to create the kind of shiny, swiftly clicking apparatus they envisioned for the government as a whole. Judging by the DHS response to Katrina, we can breathe a sigh of relief that they didn't expand their bureaucracy vendetta further."

Dickerson describes an interview in which White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, who masterminded the reorganization, "described the process of creation with delight: He leaned off the sofa and grinned as he spoke, giddy at having been able to pedal so quickly past the usual government roadblocks. The defenders of the bureaucracy were so virulent, he had to put together a small team and they took their blueprints and drafting tools into the secure bunker underneath the White House."

Dickerson concludes: "We now know the solution has failed. In the coming months we'll have a chance to learn just how, and in how many different ways, that bureaucracy-free, executive-authority-channeling machine sprang its wires, and whether the architects share the blame with the operators."

Poll Watch

Howard Fineman writes for Newsweek: "Katrina's winds have unspun the spin of the Bush machine, particularly the crucial idea that he is a commanding commander in chief. In the Newsweek Poll, only 17 percent of Americans say that he deserves the most blame for the botched early response to Katrina. But, for the first time, less than a majority -- 49 percent -- say he has 'strong leadership qualities,' down from 63 percent last year. That weakness, in turn, dragged down his job-approval rating -- now at 38 percent, his lowest ever -- as well as voters' sense of where the country is headed. By a 66-28 margin, they say they are 'dissatisfied,' by far the gloomiest view in the Bush years, and among the worst in recent decades."

Marcus Mabry has more from the Newsweek poll. "[M]ost Americans, 52 percent, say they do not trust the president 'to make the right decisions during a domestic crisis' (45 percent do). The numbers are exactly the same when the subject is trust of the president to make the right decisions during an international crisis. . . .

"The president and the GOP's greatest hope may be, ironically, how deeply divided the nation remains, even after national tragedy. The president's Republican base, in particular, remains extremely loyal. For instance, 53 percent of Democrats say the federal government did a poor job in getting help to people in New Orleans after Katrina. But just 19 percent of Republicans feel that way. In fact, almost half of Republicans (48 percent) either believes the federal government did a good job (37 percent) or an excellent job (11 percent) helping those stuck in New Orleans."

A new Time poll finds Bush at an all time low 42 percent approval rating, with 52 percent disapproving.

Time's poll is the second one recently to chart a significant drop in presidential approval among Republicans. (See Friday's column about Bush losing his base.)

Accord to Time, since January, Republican approval has dropped from 91 percent to 81 percent; Democratic approval from 25 to 13; and indpendent approval from 46 to 36.

And 61 percent of those polled favor paying for hurricane relief by cutting back spending in Iraq.
The Breakdown

Anna Mulrine writes in U.S. News: "Who screwed up?

"The president's spinners dubbed it the blame game, but given the loss of life, the staggering incompetence at nearly every level of government, and the increasingly dire economic implications for the nation, much more than the usual political one-upmanship is in the offing."

Susan B. Glasser and Michael Grunwald write in The Washington Post: "As the floodwaters recede and the dead are counted, what went wrong during a terrible week that would render a modern American metropolis of nearly half a million people uninhabitable and set off the largest exodus of people since the Civil War, is starting to become clear. Federal, state and local officials failed to heed forecasts of disaster from hurricane experts. Evacuation plans, never practical, were scrapped entirely for New Orleans's poorest and least able. And once floodwaters rose, as had been long predicted, the rescue teams, medical personnel and emergency power necessary to fight back were nowhere to be found."

Eric Lipton, Christopher Drew, Scott Shane and David Rohde all write in the New York Times that " an initial examination of Hurricane Katrina's aftermath demonstrates the extent to which the federal government failed to fulfill the pledge it made after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to face domestic threats as a unified, seamless force.

"Instead, the crisis in New Orleans deepened because of a virtual standoff between hesitant federal officials and besieged authorities in Louisiana, interviews with dozens of officials show. . . .

"Richard A. Falkenrath, a former homeland security adviser in the Bush White House, said the chief federal failure was not anticipating that the city and state would be so compromised. He said the response exposed 'false advertising' about how the government has been transformed four years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks."

The Los Angeles Times reports: "Ultimately, the National Response Plan says the president is in charge during a national emergency, but it leaves it up to the White House to decide how to fulfill that duty. 'The president leads the nation in responding effectively and ensuring the necessary resources are applied quickly and efficiently,' the plan says."

And here's a telling anecdote from the LA Times: "On Friday, Sept. 2, four days after the storm, Bush headed for the disaster area on a presidential trip designed to show leadership and concern.

"At a meeting that morning, one aide said, the president expressed anger about the convention center. Say that in public, one aide reportedly urged. So Bush went out to the Rose Garden and grimly acknowledged for the first time that all was not well. 'The results are not acceptable,' he said.

"But the president appeared uncomfortable even with that much self-criticism. A few hours later, in Biloxi, he softened the message. . . .

" 'I am satisfied with the [federal] response,' Bush said. 'I'm not satisfied with all the results. . . . I'm certainly not denigrating the efforts of anybody. But the results can be better.'

"And Bush, who instinctively defends any aide who has been criticized in the media, made a point of praising FEMA chief Brown.

" 'Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job,' he said."

Time magazine concludes: "Leaders were afraid to actually lead, reluctant to cost businesses money, break jurisdictional rules or spawn lawsuits. They were afraid, in other words, of ending up in an article just like this one."

Advancing Republican Goals

Edmund L. Andrews writes in the New York Times: "Republican leaders in Congress and some White House officials see opportunities in Hurricane Katrina to advance longstanding conservative goals like giving students vouchers to pay for private schools, paying churches to help with temporary housing and scaling back business regulation."

Jonathan Weisman and Amy Goldstein write in The Washington Post: "After the political tidal wave of 1994 swept conservatives into control of Congress, Republicans doggedly tried -- and repeatedly failed -- to repeal a Depression-era law that requires federal contractors to pay workers the prevailing wages in their communities. Eleven days after the deluge of Hurricane Katrina, President Bush banished the requirement, at least temporarily, with the stroke of his pen. . . .

"In another gain for the administration, a $51.8 billion relief bill that Congress passed on Thursday included a significant change to federal contracting regulations. Holders of government-issued credit cards will be allowed to spend up to $250,000 on Katrina-related contracts and purchases, without requiring them to seek competitive bids or to patronize small businesses or companies owned by minorities and women. Before Thursday, only purchases of up to $2,500 in normal circumstances or $15,000 in emergencies were exempt."
The Spoils of Disaster

Yochi J. Dreazen writes in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required): "The Bush administration is importing many of the contracting practices blamed for spending abuses in Iraq as it begins the largest and costliest rebuilding effort in U.S. history.

"The first large-scale contracts related to Hurricane Katrina, as in Iraq, were awarded without competitive bidding, and using so-called cost-plus provisions that guarantee contractors a certain profit regardless of how much they spend."

Reuters reports: "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."
Bush's Trip

Bush is wrapping up a two-day "fact finding" trip to the Gulf Coast today. I'll have more about it tomorrow.

The big question: Will Bush risk an encounter with any angry storm victims?

As Elisabeth Bumiller writes in the New York Times: "One prominent African-American supporter of Mr. Bush who is close to Karl Rove, the White House political chief, said the president did not go into the heart of New Orleans and meet with black victims on his first trip there, last Friday, because he knew that White House officials were 'scared to death' of the reaction.

" 'If I'm Karl, do I want the visual of black people hollering at the president as if we're living in Rwanda?' said the supporter, who spoke only anonymously because he did not want to antagonize Mr. Rove."

One quick note from pool reporter Mark Silva of the Chicago Tribune: While Bush spent last night aboard the USS Iwo Jima, "poolers were assigned to bunks aboard luxury Prevost touring buses. Men in one, women in another. The men's bus is fresh off The Anger Management Tour, which had featured Fifty Cent and Eminem."

Brownie Watch

David E. Sanger writes in the New York Times about just how it happened that White House spokesman Scott McClellan was still praising the work of Michael D. Brown, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, hours after Brown's removal from day-to-day management of the hurricane was pretty much a done deal.

Sanger writes that "how the White House moved, in a matter of days, from the president's praise of a man he nicknamed 'Brownie' to a rare public reassignment explains much about fears within the administration that its delayed response to the disaster could do lasting damage to both Mr. Bush's power and his legacy. But more important to some members of the administration, it dented the administration's aura of competence. . . .

"Mr. Bush, his aides acknowledge, is loath to fire members of his administration or to take public actions that are tantamount to an admission of a major mistake. But the hurricane was different, they say: the delayed response was playing out every day on television, and Mr. Brown, fairly or unfairly, seemed unaware of crucial events, particularly the scenes of chaos and death in the New Orleans convention center."

Race and Poverty

Michael A. Fletcher writes in The Washington Post: "Hurricane Katrina has thrust the twin issues of race and poverty at President Bush, who faces steep challenges in dealing with both because of a domestic agenda that envisions deep cuts in long-standing anti-poverty programs and relationships with many black leaders frayed by years of mutual suspicion."

Bumiller writes in the New York Times: "From the political perspective of the White House, Hurricane Katrina destroyed more than an enormous swath of the Gulf Coast. The storm also appears to have damaged the carefully laid plans of Karl Rove, President Bush's political adviser, to make inroads among black voters and expand the reach of the Republican Party for decades to come. . . .

"But behind the scenes in the West Wing, there has been anxiety and scrambling -- after an initial misunderstanding, some of the president's advocates say, of the racial dimension to the crisis."

What the President Meant to Say

At another contentious briefing on Friday, McClellan addressed Bush's infamous declaration on a live television interview Thursday that "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees."

"What the President was referring to is that you had Hurricane Katrina hit, and then it passed New Orleans. And if you'll remember, all the media reports, or a number of media reports at that time, that Monday -- even all the way to the Tuesday papers, were talking to people and saying that New Orleans had dodged a bullet. So I think that's what the President is referring to, is that people weren't anticipating those levees, after the hurricane had passed New Orleans, breaching. Many people weren't. And you can go back and look at the news coverage at that time."

Internet Humor

Robin Abcarian writes in the Los Angeles Times: "In the picture , residents of New Orleans make their way through waist-deep water as President Bush stands next to his father, grinning and displaying a striped bass that he's just caught. 'Bush's vacation' is the caption of the photographic gag that has made its way around the Internet this week.

"In another doctored photo , the president strums a guitar and appears to be serenading a weeping African American woman holding a baby in front of the Louisiana Superdome.

"Perverse though it might seem, the juxtaposition of Hurricane Katrina's human costs with the perceived sluggishness of the federal government's response has proved to be a boon for political humorists -- particularly those operating in cyberspace, where dissemination is instantaneous."

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