Sunday, November 27, 2005
First of all, this piece, from The New York Times, on Judge Samuel Alito. If ever there was a nomination that Senate Democrats should filibuster - yes even if it does draw down the "nuclear option", this is the one. As most of my readers may remember, I urged caution on Justice Roberts' nomination. Although he was a Conservative, he was well-qualified, moderate in temperment and there just wasn't anything so beyond the mainstream that justified all out warfare. And he was replacing another judge who was just as conservative as he was.
That's not true with Sam Alito. He would be replacing a centrist who was often the swing vote on a divided court. Also, Alito's whole record - and unlike Roberts, he has a long paper trail - is one that has favored a corporate status quo over the interests of women and minorities. His decisions make it harder to prove discrimination and make it easier for schools, businesses and even the government to discriminate. He has voted for decisions that lessen the rights of ordinary employees and strengthened business privilege at their expense. And he has sided with police even when some of their activities have violated suspects' rights. And what's more, many of Alito's decisions have been overturned by higher courts, including the Supreme Court.
And now, it turns out that he was involved with an ultra-conservative alumni group at Princeton University, the Concerned Alumni, that openly opposed Princeton's affirmative action program while, at the same time, defending favored treatment of legacy students. Concerned Alumni also defended snobbish eating clubs and other Princeton institutions that encouraged snobbery and segregation.
Samuel Alito is not a man who should serve on the Supreme Court. Period. If the Democrats don't oppose him, it's going to be hard for them to convince anybody that they stand for anything. However, opposition cannot, just cannot simply be based on his position on Roe v. Wade. That's what the media wants to make it about. That's what Republicans hope the debate turns on. But it has to be based on an across the board opposition to all of this man's stands. And it must be a carefully laid out debate on why those views hurt ordinary people from all walks of life.
And while we're on the topic of policies that hurt people from all walks of life, let's get to why academic economists are so reluctant to serve the Bush Administration This article, also from the NY Times, describes how many of Academia's most respected and highly credentialed economists just don't want to be part of this administration. Although the article doesn't come out and say it directly, it could be for the same reason that many scientists are so reluctant to leave professorships at prestigious institutions to come work in Washington, DC. This administration practices junk science, junk intelligence and junk economics. It's never about the facts or about respecting what these disciplines can actually teach us. It's all about defending the ideology of the base. And that is impacting important policy decisions from addressing the problem of global warming to fixing Social Security for future generations (and no, the President's privatization plan wasn't a fix, it was gift to Wall Street)
Monday, November 21, 2005
Basically, Senator Graham calls Bush a liar in this essay from Sunday's Washington Post "Outlook" section.
Here's the money quote:
The thing about Bob Graham is that he once considered a run for president back in the 90s and was mentioned for vice president in 2000. The press at the time, and many voters, thought there was something strange and obsessive about the fact that he kept these extremely detailed diaries. I mean, he'd record what he ate for breakfast, what he said to his wife, Adele, and when. It made the public sort of queasy, became the object of jokes, and pretty much killed off Graham's presidential and vice presidential aspirations.
"As chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence during the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, and the run-up to the Iraq war, I probably had as much access to the intelligence on which the war was predicated as any other member of Congress.
I, too, presumed the president was being truthful -- until a series of events undercut that confidence.
In February 2002, after a briefing on the status of the war in Afghanistan, the commanding officer, Gen. Tommy Franks, told me the war was being compromised as specialized personnel and equipment were being shifted from Afghanistan to prepare for the war in Iraq -- a war more than a year away. Even at this early date, the White House was signaling that the threat posed by Saddam Hussein was of such urgency that it had priority over the crushing of al Qaeda.
In the early fall of 2002, a joint House-Senate intelligence inquiry committee, which I co-chaired, was in the final stages of its investigation of what happened before Sept. 11. As the unclassified final report of the inquiry documented, several failures of intelligence contributed to the tragedy. But as of October 2002, 13 months later, the administration was resisting initiating any substantial action to understand, much less fix, those problems.
At a meeting of the Senate intelligence committee on Sept. 5, 2002, CIA Director George Tenet was asked what the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) provided as the rationale for a preemptive war in Iraq. An NIE is the product of the entire intelligence community, and its most comprehensive assessment. I was stunned when Tenet said that no NIE had been requested by the White House and none had been prepared. Invoking our rarely used senatorial authority, I directed the completion of an NIE.
Tenet objected, saying that his people were too committed to other assignments to analyze Saddam Hussein's capabilities and will to use chemical, biological and possibly nuclear weapons. We insisted, and three weeks later the community produced a classified NIE.
There were troubling aspects to this 90-page document. While slanted toward the conclusion that Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction stored or produced at 550 sites, it contained vigorous dissents on key parts of the information, especially by the departments of State and Energy. Particular skepticism was raised about aluminum tubes that were offered as evidence Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program. As to Hussein's will to use whatever weapons he might have, the estimate indicated he would not do so unless he was first attacked.
Under questioning, Tenet added that the information in the NIE had not been independently verified by an operative responsible to the United States. In fact, no such person was inside Iraq. Most of the alleged intelligence came from Iraqi exiles or third countries, all of which had an interest in the United States' removing Hussein, by force if necessary."
But the thing about those diaries and Bob Graham's obsessive nature is that if he claimed he had a conversation with Tommy Franks or asked George Tenet about something, it's bound to be absolutely accurate. Unless you're prepared to call him a liar, and Graham also has a spotless record of honesty. But you cannot accuse him of not remembering what happened. Because, everything Bob Graham ever did he recorded in those weird little diaries of his. And he's known for it. If Bob Graham said that Tommy Franks said the war effort in Afghanistan was being compromised back in February 2002, by God, he told it to Sen. Graham in February 2002. You can take that to the bank.
Bob Graham was also one of the few senators who did not vote to invade Iraq. In fact, he made a second brief run for the presidency largely just to oppose Bush's war effort. Although he doesn't go into this in the above article, he implied, during that brief run in 2004, that Iraq was not only not a security threat to us, but another country likely was. Citing the fact that he had access to classified material and therefore couldn't discuss it without compromising his security clearance and possibily going to jail, he refused to discuss the details or to name the country. But it was generally believed that he was referring to Saudi Arabia.
Given that several prominent Saudis, including the wife of Prince Bandahar, were caught red handed donating money to charities that were known as fronts for terrorist organizations and that so many of the hijackers and members of al Qaeda were Saudi citizens, this was not a leap. Also, much of the money that funded the Islamic religious schools around the world that served as recruitment centers for the terrorists came from Saudis as did the clerics who taught in those schools. In fact, even the religious ideology that fuels the terrorist cause comes from Wahhabiism, an extreme and puritanical brand of Islam founded and practiced almost exclusively in Saudi Arabia.
Yet in a breathtaking game of political three card monte, the Bush administration managed to divert us from going after Osama bin Laden or the Taliban in Afghanistan and kept our attention off the genuine threat of extremism and terrorism coming from Saudi Arabia. The truth is we will never win the war against terrorism until we go to its spiritual home, which is precisely Saudi Arabia. Something Bob Graham can't come out and say, but which he tried so hard make us aware of indirectly in the 2004 primaries. And something that we will never be able to do as long as all of our money, our men and women and our resources are going into Iraq, which was never a threat until we got there. Now it is one more danger. If we pull out now, yes it could well be overrun by terrorists who will launch attacks from there. But that wasn't the situation we went in there to fix. It's the one we created when there was no threat.
This is not the blame game. Many defenders of the Bush administration want you to think that rehashing the past is useless and that we've got to concentrate on what to do now. But that's bogus.
As has been quoted before, those who don't remember the past are doomed to recreate it. It is important to know what went wrong. And the main reason this administration doesn't want us to examine it is because if we do, we'll discover that it wasn't entirely an accidental misreading of botched intelligence but a concerted effort to go after Iraq and to make the facts fit. Paul O'Neill and Richard Clark both told us so in their books in 2004.
We've got to do more than just find a solution to the present problem in Iraq. We do have to know why it happened and who is culpable so that there will be no more Iraqs, just as for many years there were no new Vietnams. We didn't dare bungle into a country and a ten year commitment with no exit strategy because for years we had learned not to. We have to relearn that hard lesson again. So, yes we do need to examine what happened, how it happened and who knew what before it happened. It's called history. It can teach you something.
Friday, November 11, 2005
As anybody who reads a newspaper knows, Virginia just elected its second consecutive Democratic governor. And this is one of the most reliably red states around. It handed Bush a 12-point victory state wide in 2004. In fact, the last time Virginia voted Democratic in a presidential election was back in Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 landslide.
However, Virginians gave its present Democratic governor, Mark Warner, high marks for performance. He now enjoys a 70 percent approval rating. And he threw his support and prestige on the line for Tim Kaine, who just became governor-elect on Tuesday. I guess Mark had some political capital and he spent it.
But, here’s the real story in this election.
It’s that Jerry Kilgore, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, ran a series of negative attack ads put together by the same team that crafted and produced the Swift Boat ads against John Kerry, and this time their efforts failed. Not only did they fail, they produced a voter backlash against Kilgore.
The actual ads were visually stunning. The first one showed a young, pretty widow sitting on a stool in a stark setting, talking about her policeman husband, who was murdered in the line of duty. The widow, with her long blond hair and a tear rolling down her cheek, said that the person who took her husband’s life deserved the death penalty and she just didn’t trust Tim Kaine to administer it. Powerful stuff in a state that favors the death penalty and has some of the harshest laws on the books. Virginia carries out more executions than any other state except Texas.
A second ad with the same stark power depicted a father talking about his son and daughter-in-law being murdered and condemned Tim Kaine for working as the defense lawyer for the person accused of the murders. The father ended with a statement that Tim Kaine would even defend Adolph Hitler.
And that’s when the trouble started for Jerry Kilgore. Firstly, although the father who made the statement was himself Jewish, Jewish groups from the B’nai Brith Anti-Defamation League to local synagogue groups decried the Hitler statement. Kilgore defiantly stood by it, stating that it was the father’s own words not his. Still, the ad was condemned for trivializing Hitler’s genocide and for displaying insensitivity to Holocaust victims. You know, all the stuff Republicans complained about when Dick Durbin likened Abu Gharib to Hitler’s concentration camps. It seems that Republicans are so used to operating with a double standard, complaining when they are slandered but feeling free to do worse to their opponents, that it never occurred to them that they’d be called on it by people who said they couldn’t have it both ways and so they too should leave Hitler out of it.
But then it got worse. The newspapers weighed in with editorials faulting the second commercial. As the editorial boards pointed out in newspapers from all over the state, and of varying political stripes, Tim Kaine, in that particular case, was providing pro bono services which all lawyers are required to do. He was assigned this case to fulfill a professional obligation. The newspapers piled on Kilgore because, as an attorney general, nobody should know this better than him.
And then it got even worse. Within a day or two, Tim Kaine responded with his own ad. He looked into the camera, said, “I’m Tim Kaine and I approved this ad (all candidates in Virginia have to “stand by their ad” which is the name of the law requiring them to do so). Kaine further stated that he is indeed against the death penalty because of his religious convictions but, as governor, he would carry out death sentences because “that’s the law in Virginia.”
In this ad, Tim Kaine sat behind a desk and looked straight into the camera when he said these things. The thing of it is that it looked like he was looking you straight in the eye and talking to you from his heart. And it was the most effective ad he ran. It turned around the campaign.
People turned against Kilgore in droves, citing his negative ads. In poll after poll, moderates and independents told pollsters they thought Kilgore had unfairly attacked Tim Kaine for his religious beliefs. They also said they thought Kilgore was dishonest and would say anything to get elected. And even where they disagreed with Kaine, they found him likeable and honest.
Many pundits are now writing that negative ads did not work and that they turned off voters. But that’s only partly true.
As Bush and others have proved many times over, negative ads can work powerfully. They can deliver an election to a candidate. But if the candidate using a negative ad is discovered to have lied, it can backfire powerfully too and that’s what happened here.
Once voters discerned that Kilgore had distorted Kaine’s record, they never trusted him again.
Compare this to what happened to John Kerry when he was faced with the Swift Boat ads. The reason they worked so well was because Kerry never stood in front of the camera and looked his audience in the eye and called his accusers liars. He never said, "This is not true; here are my Bronze Star, my Medal of Honor, my Purple Heart, and my Silver Star. Here is my official record."
Of course, newspapers eventually pointed all this out. But if Kerry would have stood up with quiet dignity and told the truth and called the liars on their fabrications, the effect would have deflated the accusations like a defective balloon leaking hot air.
The public does not want negative and dishonest attack ads. But it will listen to them, believe them, and be influenced by them unless the victim of the ad stands up and defends himself. And the most powerful defense, as Tim Kaine taught us, is truth. He stood up, looked straight into the TV camera, told his story, and challenged Kilgore’s lies. And that is always how the good guys win elections.
Tuesday, November 01, 2005
Read this account and enjoy. Listen, any time you can get a Republican mad at you and disrupt their power grabs in Congress, it's a good day.
And George Will opines in this Washington Post column that liberals are in an untenable position in trying to stop Alito's nomination. According Will, they will be unable to counter the conservative wing's principled argument in favor of a strict constructionist approach to interpreting law. Will seems think that the liberals' only arguments are that it's unfair to pick a conservative like Alito to replace a moderate like O'Connor or simply that they wouldn't like the outcome of his decisions. And Will is right that the arguments he cites would be specious debating points at that.
However, he fails to consider that there is a very good argument that the Democrats can make, based every bit as much on judicial principle as any conservative argument.
A credible dissent can be made that there are other approaches to interpretation of the law that have nothing to do with attaining a preferred political outcome at any cost of principle. Democrats and liberals can counter the conservatives by stating that the Constitution is a living document that is meant to be interpreted in light of 21st Century realities which our founding fathers might never have considered. Also, too strict an emphasis on a literal interpretation can actually constrict even the intended meaning of those founding fathers. For example, you can argue, as conservatives have tried, that there is no right to individual privacy, laudable as such a right might be, guaranteed in the Constitution because there is no specific language in that document stating it clearly. However, a cursory understanding of the our founding fathers, the historical context in which they operated, and their other writings would convince others, less literal minded, that the intention of a right to privacy is indeed presumred throughout the Constitution, especially in the Bill of Rights.
Taking a more expansive view of interpretation of the law is both a legitimate and principledview that can be argued successfully.
And one thing I do agree with George Will about is that it is indeed time this country had that argument. Debating how we view the Constitution and how we interpret it, in light of the 21st Century, is long overdue. I join him in saying "let the debate begin."
We are not afraid of it.
But soon there'll be a new definition of chutzpah: the conservative Republican who derails Harriet Miers' Supreme Court nomination and then insists that the Democrats owe Bush's second nominee, Samuel Alito, an up or down vote and threatens them with the so-called nuclear option over it. Yeah, you gotta love 'em.
The Republicans have always been an interesting study in double standard politics. They're for states' rights, except when Oregon voted for an assisted suicide law. Then they wanted to federalize the issue to strike down the decision of Oregon voters. Likewise, they were for the rights of the state except when state judges upheld Michael Schiavo's right to terminate his wife's life support or when a state makes abortion easier. In other words, they're for states' rights until any individual state comes into conflict with their wacky rightwing social agenda. Just as they are for limiting government, except when it comes to a woman's right to choice or a gay couple's right to have the same legal protections as hetrosexual married people do. In fact, whenever it comes to an individual's right to privacy, the right suddenly discovers how valuable big government is. It's only their buddies in large corporations who need protection from big intrusive government, the better to price gouge and rack up obscene profits while underpaying workers and gutting pensions.
But the the conservatives' social agenda and their need to tell everybody else how to live their lives always trumps the Bill of Rights and the privacy of the individual.
Only not this time.
I don't think the Republicans can claim with a straight face that Democrats have an obligation to give Justice Alito an up or down vote. Not after the way they behaved when they felt that Harriet Miers was not ideologically pure enough for them.
To be sure, they stood on principle. And I applauded them for it.
But they also opened the door for others to do the same. And they simply can't close it again.
If Harriet Miers wasn't good enough for them because they weren't assured that she'd oppose a woman's right to choice (even though the White House did give assurances that she was pro-life), then Democrats have a right to push back and oppose a nominee who is anti-abortion. After all, senators are elected to represent their constitutents. They would be derelict in their duties if they didn't do that. And most of the Democrats in the Senate were elected because they were pro-choice.
In fact, most Americans still do support a woman's right to choose. And even among those who are ambivelent about on-demand abortion, a large majority would oppose restricting the right of a rape or incest victim or a woman whose life and health were at risk from obtaining an abortion. So it's perfectly fair to argue that Alito and his supporters are out of step with mainstream Americans.
Democrats have to make clear that this fight is not about the culture war. It's Republicans who are waging a culture war to force their religious values on everybody else. Democrats who oppose Alito are simply standing up for what they and most Americans believe. Democratic senators must cast themselves as fighting to defend the rights of the ordinary citizens they represent.
They have to point out that Justice Alito has already made rulings that most Americans wouldn't support. He has ruled that a woman seeking an abortion had to first get her husband's permission, a decision that was struck down by the Supreme Court. He also has ruled against the Family Leave Act, calling it unconsitutional. That too was overturned.
His rulings will affect not only a woman's right to choose but also the rights of workers, minorities, and those seeking justice in the courts from large corporations. He will have the power of life or death decisions in death penalty cases too. He is a hard right ideologue and if the Democrats do not oppose him, even with the filibuster, they are not doing their jobs.
As for the Republicans. Let them invoke the nuclear option. Meanwhile, let's remind people that these were the same people who took up special legislation to interfere with a grieving family's private end-of-life tragedy and intruded where they didn't belong and they are the same people who themselves derailed a Supreme Court nominee because they didn't find her ideologically pure enough. Let them have a temper tantrum that destroys the Senate's comity.
And then let the American people vote in 2006 on whether, like Newt Gingrich and the Republican Congress that shut down the govenrment in 1994, this Republican Administration has gone to far in their extremism.
Saturday, October 29, 2005
Firstly, the fighting in Iraq is going badly and demonstrators all over the country just observed a gruesome benchmark, the 2,000th casualty of that conflict. The vast majority of Americans no longer support the military effort in Iraq. Furthermore, in poll after poll, they express no confidence in Bush’s handling of the war. Indeed, Bush is still experiencing his worst approval ratings, which now seem to be in a free fall.
And FEMAs dismal handling of various domestic disasters has pushed approval ratings even lower. As has the discovery of how many truly unqualified political appointees now hold high-ranking positions in the government. To Bush, cronyism always trumps actual competence.
And Bush’s latest pick for the Supreme Court only highlighted this. Harriet Miers just withdrew her name under pressure from Bush’s base, to whom he usually caters. Principled conservatives were enraged that the President picked somebody based more on personal friendship than qualifications.
Other Republicans are also in trouble. Tom DeLay and his Texas colleagues have been indicted on charges of money laundering and making illegal donations to Texas campaigns. DeLay’s friend and ally, Jack Abramoff, a well-heeled Washington lobbyist, is facing corruption charges for his work on behalf of an Indian tribe and gambling interests. And even Bill Frist, the Senate Majority Leader, is under a cloud of suspicion pertaining to the timing of when he sold stock in his family’s business and whether he had inside information that caused him to sell it when he did.
And now on top of all these other troubles, Vice President Cheney’s top aide has been indicted for lying to prosecutors, the FBI and the grand jury about whether he outed the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson.
As the indictment makes clear, because of Libby’s alleged lies, the cover up of the actual release of this information was successful. Because he lied, prosecutors can’t discover whether Libby or anybody else in the Administration was responsible for releasing Mrs. Wilson’s identity.
So, although he might be found guilty of perjury, we’ll never know whether Libby also violated federal law and released the identity of a covert CIA agent. Also, we may never know whether Karl Rove, Dick Cheney or anybody else also was responsible for this act.
However, whoever did make this information public was not only guilty of breaking federal law. They also violated the public’s trust. These all are people with the very highest top-secret security clearances. They broke all kinds of vows just to retaliate against a political foe.
In addition, they not only risked the life of a CIA agent, compromised her cover and ruined her career (quite a bit actually), but they also risked the lives of any covert contacts who might have aided her. To my mind, they are guilty, at least morally, of high treason.
Mark Twain once observed that patriotism was the last refuge of a scoundrel. And unfortunately, this White House and the Republican Party have had more than their fair share of genuine scoundrels in places of trust and responsibility. So, if it’s a tough week for the White House, it’s an even harder one for those who entrusted this Administration to do the right thing.
Tuesday, October 11, 2005
In the wake of the scandal over cronyism, neither the President's opponents nor his allies trust his choices to be qualified for the positions to which they are nominated. Michael Brown was only the most egregious example of Bush's propensity to pick his pals based more on their loyalty to him than on their competence for their jobs.
Certainly that could be said about Ms. Miers. It's not that people question her basic good intentions or even her intelligence or competence as an attorney. However, she has no judicial experience. And worse than that, she has no experience practicing constitutional law.
A nominee could get by with limited experience on the bench, as John Roberts just did. However, it's more damaging when none of that candidate's practice, even as a lawyer, has been in constitutional law. Chief Justice Roberts, while only serving as a judge for a few years, had an extensive career dealing with constitutional questions, both as part of the Reagan inner circle and in private practice, where he, at least, argued cases before the Supreme Court. It didn't hurt, either, that he once served as Chief Justice William Rehnquist's law clerk.
On the other hand, Harriet Miers was the first woman head of the Texas Bar and she practiced corporate law. Her only qualification for this nomination seems to be her loyalty to the Bush Administration. She just has not had the exposure to constitutional law to qualify to become a Supreme Court judge. This is, after all, a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land.
But the worst thing about this nomination is that the Bush Administration is attempting to persuade its conservative base to embrace this nominee by making the argument that Miers would vote the way they like because of her membership in an Evangelical Christian church. They are using a wink and a nod to reassure their base that she is "one of them."
And most serious conservatives, both within and outside the Evangelical wing of the conservative movement, hate that tactic.
They recognize that basing a nomination on the candidate's personal religion rather than known conservative credentials is a horrible tactic. For years they've argued that a nominee's religion or personal views should be irrelevant. All that should matter is the nominee's judicial philosophy. Serious conservatives are looking for judges who embrace their judicial philosophy of strict constructionism, which means attempting to interpret the Constitution narrowly and by what they believe would be the original intent of the its founders.
Conservatives believe that the right to abortion should not be decided by the courts but by state legislatures. For this reason, they feel that in Roe v Wade, the Supreme Court overstepped its authority. That is the official reason they want to to see Roe overturned. Ok, so in truth, most of them just happen to be pro-life too. But it's the judicial philosophy that they state as their official reason for opposing Roe v Wade, not their personal religious or moral views.
Likewise, much of the affirmative action and other civil rights decisions that came from more liberal courts are opposed by these strict constructionists because they oppose activist courts. They believe those decisions should be made by state legislatures not the federal courts.
These conservatives want the debate. They don't want a stealth candidate who will vote their way without understanding the larger philosophical issues. Like their liberal counterparts, many of these people hold sincere ideals and adhere to an ideology which they want to persuade others to embrace. They believe that their movement will grow stronger if they can have a public discussion, and even a public battle, that airs their ideas to the largest number of voters.
Many of the non-Evangelical conservatives, such as Kate O'Beirne, from the National Review, despite their own pro-life credentials, actually don't want to see litmus tests for the court and think that nominating a candidate based on his or her personal religious views is wildly inappropriate. At least, that's what O'Beirne said last Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press.
Indeed, if a Muslim were nominated and promised that all his decisions would be influenced by the Koran and Shari'a law, most Americans would realize that there is a problem here. Likewise, if an Orthodox Jew were nominated and swore that his allegiance to Torah would be the basis of all his judgments, non-Jews would understandably be concerned.
It is just as worrisome, in a pluralistic society, to reassure people that because HarrietMiers is a devout Christian, she is qualified to sit on the Supreme Court because she will vote their way. That's not what most conservatives want precisely because they realize how quickly such logic could blow up in their faces.
They believe that a strict constructionist, with a good grasp of consitutional law, who would hold to a narrow interpretation of the Constitution, would be sufficient to move their aims forward, including possibly overturning Roe v Wade. They want the same outcome as Miers might want. But they want a judge who can carefully defend it in a well worded opinion based on secular law not religion.
And although I disagree with the conservatives' strict constructionist views, I respect that they are at least willing to make their arguments to a broad swath of Americans based on secular law rather than on religious tradition.
Of course, both secular conservatives and Evangelicals also fear that because they don't know Miers and she has no paper trail of judicial views, she will turn out to be like Justice David Souter.
Justice Souter was nominated by George HW Bush on the recommendation of his Chief of Staff, John Sunnunu, a former governor of New Hampshire who had impeccable conservative credentials. Souter was an unknown entity, but based on Sunnunu's approval, conservatives embraced him. Souter turned out to be one of the most moderate members of the Supreme Court, often voting with the liberals. Conservatives still haven't forgiven Bush I or Sunnunu for that pick.
And they are very afraid that Harriet Myers will turn out to be a "David Souter in drag," as one Evangelical so delicately put it.
Right now, after years of working on behalf of conservative politicians, and when they finally have the ability to get a truly conservative Supreme Court nominee on the bench, instead, the foot soldiers and true believers of the conservative wing of the Republican Party, are being asked to be content with a nominee with no credentials in constitutional law and no known adherence to strict constructionism. Rather than a nominee they can embrace with heads held high, they are being asked to accept a wink and a nod that Harriet Miers will be a good crony who will vote their way on the bench. The sad thing is that after all this time, Bush and Rove just don't get it at all. Real conservatives want the discussion and the debate about their ideals because they still want their movement to go forward in the public square. They don't want a cheap and hollow political victory. They are not hacks.
And they will spend a very cold winter in their season of discontent and betrayal.
Saturday, October 08, 2005
In politics, there is a new demon that is threatening democracy, freedom of thought, and the freedom to buy the books that you want to read. It's time to name this very dangerous demon and start exposing it.
There is no greater danger to America's freedoms right now than the Christian Right. They have been emboldened by the Bush Administration. Because they now believe that one of their own is in power and that they are directly responsible for his victory, the gloves have come off.
From the growing scandal of Evangelicals' coercion of minority students at the Air Force Academy in Colorado to their constant attempts to censor books, this is a dangerous group that is growing bolder by the minute.
Here's an article from lawyer and practicing Wiccan, Phyllis Currott. It was originally posted on Witchvox (The Witch's Voice). And it describes the plight of authors who write about minority religions and whose books are losing shelf space in mainstream bookstores.
To a certain extent, this an economic issue. If a book does not sell, Barnes and Noble, Borders, and other major chains will stop carrying it. And Currott admits this. There's not much of an argument you can make to a business person about their choice of which merchandise to carry as long as that decision is based on market factors. After all, a bookstore, like any shop, is in business to make a profit. And if something genuinely isn't selling, a store owner has got to clear the shelf space for something that his customers will buy.
But a lot of times, businesses are just caving in to the pressure of a very determined and vocal minority and removing items from their shelves that might sell well if given the chance. This is not a business decision. This is buckling under pressure and submitting to mob rule. And that has no place in America.
The thing is, today it's Wiccan books that are being attacked and that are being removed from bookshelves. Whose minority religion book will it be tomorrow? Will it be the Koran? The Torah? Will it be books about Buddhism? And what else will be banned. Most of these Christianist religious fanatics also hate The Catcher In the Rye, The Diary of Anne Frank, and Huckleberry Finn to name just a few beloved classics that they have tried to ban from libraries, schools and bookstores.
So in the future, will Barnes and Noble have as much - or as little - literary selection as your local Wal-Mart?
In honor of National Banned Book Month, which just passed, please think about these things. And I'll have more to say in future posts about the religio-political movement that is behind this new and dangerous phenomenon. It's called Dominionism. And it even has many conservative Christians scared.
And you should be scared silly too. I know I am. I'm scared enough to exorcise that demon from American influence through the ballot box and by letting shopkeepers, advertisers, and the media know how I feel about them when they cave into pressure and deny me my right to buy, read and watch what I like.
Care to join me?
Friday, October 07, 2005
I don't want that to sound more dramatic than it is. None of this is major tragedy, just the accumulated frustrations and disappointments that happen to us all. The facts and small change of life with all it's occasional problems.
On a less personal note, I've made one change to the blog. Now, readers must register to post comments and they also must go through something called word verification to do so.
I hated putting up a wall that makes it inconvenient to post comments because I really do welcome input from readers. But I've been getting far too much blog spam. It's sad that a few bad - and greedy - apples have to spoil a freewheeling medium that should operate like a virtual townhall free for all. But the truth is that I don't have any advertising and I make no money from this blog.
The word amateur comes from the Latin root "amor" which means love. And I am an amateur in many senses, including the sense that I do it for love, not money on this site.
And I certainly don't want those I don't even know exploiting my blog by pushing products and services about which I know nothing. To me, it's not enough to say "buyer beware." I feel a responsibility to do all that I can to protect the integrity of my site and to make sure any readers I have are not misled. So, if you see any comments urging you to link to other sites that advertise lawyer's services or any other products, please know that they are not approved by me and I'm doing all that I can to get rid of the random spam that these folks are generating.
So buyer please be very aware.
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
Mayfield, testifying before Congress, shrugged off claims that global warming might be the cause of the hyperactive hurricane seasons we've been experiencing since the 1990s. In fact, Mayfield told the Senate Commerce subcommittee that active Atlantic storm seasons run in cycles, the last one ranging from the 1940s to the 60s.
It's true that during the 80s, when I lived in Fort Lauderdale, hurricane seasons tended to be mild and to not produce many storms. However, Hurricane David, which did little damage in the U.S., was a huge killer storm that claimed thousands of lives in the Carribbean before it made landfall in Palm Beach on Labor Day weekend of 1979.
I remember David. I spent a scared night in Fort Lauderdale while we all waited out the once ferocious storm (and David packed power before reaching U.S. shores - we just got lucky). Although David didn't live up to his reputation, the Keys were evacuated and my cousin's long planned wedding was cancelled (it was the reason we were all in South Florida).
Then, in the 80s, when I had moved there, myself, we braced for several storms that threatened destruction and then either turned in a different direction, sparing us, or fizzling out. Again, we were lucky. But a pall of doom hung over the air of South Florida as most long term residents muttered direly to newcomers, "we're due for one."
Back then, Ft. Lauderdale had a schizophrenic attitude about hurricanes. We all thought we were due for "the big one." And yet, when actually threatened, we usually made fun of the hurricane. In fact, the night before David hit, I had been out at a Las Olas Avenue nightclub called Mame's. The female impersonators at Mame's all did skits, jokes, quips and songs that had a spit in the Devil's face kind of derring do. No hurricane was going to scare them out of a good party.
I was charmed by that attitude. But then I went home, listened to the weather forecasts, found out about the wedding cancellation and read a CS Lewis book, Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer. Mostly, these were erudite and inspirational letters between the famous Christian apologist and his friend Malcolm about the topic of prayer, just as the title suggests. However, this night, the letter I read was Lewis' explanation of why some prayers are not answered. It's the letter with his famous line, "every deathbed is a testament to a prayer not answered."
So killer storm David was bearing down and Lewis was expounding on when God says no. Thanks a lot. Probably why I'm still losing my religion.
Anyway, I didn't pray that night; I just read. And David missed us, making landfall up in Palm Beach rather than Fort Lauderdale. I woke up to calm, balmy and clear skies that were a gorgeous blue and to soft warm ocean breezes. That's when I learned another truth: After hurricanes make land and bring their destruction elsewhere, sometimes the weather turns heartbreakingly beautiful.
Palm Beach took the hit, but even then, compared to the thousands of lives lost in the small, poor islands in the Carribbean, the damage was minimal. And although David was downgraded, it was a powerful storm that held together and made it all the way up to New York, where it caused flooding and wind damage in Westchester and upstate and then cut a swath of destruction all the way to New England. Oh yeah, I experienced David - now a storm but still powerful - back in New York City too, after a bumpy flight over David in Savannah. So much for the joys of modern transportation. We can fly over some powerful storms, which are sometimes low to the ground, and we can even beat them to their next target of destruction.
I won't even talk about living through Hurricane Juan, Hurricane Hugo, and others whose names I've forgotten. They were also near misses for Florida back in the 80s when the U.S. coasts were luckier.
But for all the times I've waited out anxiously while hurricanes howled their threats in my direction, I have never seen a season with 17 named storms. The record supposedly is 21 hurricanes or storms back in the 30s.
But even in the active Atlantic seasons of the 50s and early 60s, which produced the killers Camille and Donna, never were there 17 named storms. In fact, the killers, which came in September, were only in the C's and D's, not in the R's and possibly S's.
Mayfield may dismiss the threat of global warming and blame it on a natural cycle. But lots of other reputable scientists don't agree with him. In fact, not only are we having more active hurricane seasons that produce more intense storms, but even in the winter, the East Coast has been experiencing an increase in severe and crippling blizzards like the ones in 1996, 2003 and 2004. All of those were dubbed "storms of the century" as they dumped 2 feet of snow over Washington, DC and crippled that city and closed down the federal government for days at a time.
My question is how many times can you call a storm "the storm of century" before the very term ceases to be meaningful? And how many of nature's warnings can you ignore?
This strange and stormy weather may not be caused by global warming. But maybe it is. Reputable scientists on both sides of the issue disagree. Perhaps, erring on the side of caution and making some modest changes to protect the environment, just in case it really is global warming, might not be the worst idea in the world. Because who knows what the storm next time might bring?
Thursday, September 15, 2005
Newman's song recounts the devastating flood of 1927, when armed Louisiana National Guardsman forced the black populace, at gunpoint, to act as human dykes to protect the property of the wealthy. As they drowned in the deluge, pleasure boats filled with wealthy whites sailed out of New Orleans' harbor, while jazz bands played "Bye Bye Black Bird."
While the racism this time wasn't as blatant, it turns out that the song was somewhat more than just a metaphor.
I stumbled across this story in the most recent Washington City Paper. It's an account by two medical emergency workers, Lori Beth Slonsky and Larry Bradshaw, which appeared on the website of the Socialist Workers Party.
Now, I normally would take anything reported by so highly partisan and ideological a socialist website as the one run by the Socialist Workers Party with a healthy grain of salt, just as I would something I found on a far rightwing website. However, this story has been verified by the major media including ABC's Nightline and The New York Times, which ran this account last Saturday.
Here's the basic story:
Lori Beth Slonksy and Larry Bradshaw, who were in New Orleans to attend a convention for medical emergency workers, were trapped in a hotel when Hurricane Katrina hit. When the hotel ran out of food and water and lost its electricity, they and other guests were forced to leave. At first, they tried to get to the Superdome or the Convention Center. But when they heard the dire reports of the chaotic conditions at both places, they attempted to leave New Orleans for higher ground. New Orleans police suggested they walk across one of the bridges to get to a suburb south of New Orleans, Gretna. Buses were supposed to be waiting there to take them out of New Orleans.
However, incredibly, they were turned back by armed Gretna police officers and Sheriff's guards from Jefferson Parrish.
Those who were trapped in New Orleans and who were attempting to flee the flooding, privation and devastation were being forcibly prevented from leaving because, and this is a quote from one of the Sheriff's guards, "We won't allow a Superdome in Gretna."
Blacks were being prevented from going to higher ground and safety just outside New Orleans city limits. Sadly, people in Texas, Washington, DC and throughout the South were giving these evacuees a warmer welcome than their fellow Louisianans.
All that was missing was the jazz band.
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
It is sort of funny.
Here I'm publicly airing my dilemna: Do I allow people to exploit my blog site by posting their commercial ventures just because they are writing all kinds of kudos like "great site" or "very creative, I'm bookmarking it" or do I simply delete them?
After yesterday's post, the response I got was not what I expected. You'd think at least one of those people who had posted (and they might actually be the same person with lots of sites) would have gotten angry and posted a criticism. I truly expected an offended comment calling me a bitch for nailing them with my critical comments about their posts. Approbation was not exactly the response I thought I'd get after I had basically insulted them.
At any rate, to the degree that I'm able to monitor it, from now on, I'll probably delete the spammers, which is how I think of them.
Again, to repeat, I do not mind real commentators leaving their remarks and their views and linking me to their sites. In fact, I encourage it. Just as I encourage and welcome all sincere discussion. Please, disagree with me if you'd like. Controversy is a good think in the blogosphere.
And that's the other thing. Although, a lot of these scammers call their sites blogs, they are, in fact, no such thing. They are not weblogs. They are simply websites set up to sell you something.
So, once again, Caveat Emptor!
Tuesday, September 13, 2005
I am struggling with this because I don't want to accuse anybody of phony flattery. Also, I'm not so insecure that I can't believe that somebody would actually want to simply compliment my posts. I think they're pretty good or I wouldn't keep posting. But I also know I'm no genius either.
Also, I do not ever resent a sincere poster who comments on my opinions and also links to his or her own blog. Indeed, I do the same on other blogs, myself. When I post comments to Daily Kos or even the Democratic Party's blog, I sign myself as AnonymousIsaWoman and link it back here.
So, when Unlawfl Combatant, The Fool, or Sage, or anybody else with a blog comes here to comment on what I've written, I appreciate it and I'm glad to have them link back to their own blogs. Indeed, I've added them to my list of links. None of us are the big fish in the pond, so if we can help each other out, so much the better.
My blog, however, carries no advertisements, except for the little site counter, which is sponsored by the Mesothelioma Society and so links to their site. I support cancer research in any form, so I'm happy both to provide them with the opportunity to advertise and link. In return, they give me the guest counter. And they provide valuable information on lung cancer and asbestos related lung diseases. Other than that, however, my site is advertisement free for a reason. I'm an amateur.
I also don't resent others who have made a different decision. Folks like Daily Kos, Andrew Sullivan, and other bloggers who do it professionally provide an important service. They are trying to make a living at blogging so they can continue bringing all of us the news and opinions that the major media no longer provide. But to do it, they need to have something to live on. You can't do what they do full time and not get some compensation. I couldn't. Kos, Sullivan, Slate, etc, are my sources just as much as the New York Times, Washington Post, and other major newspapers are. I don't have the resources to go out and investigate stories. I am not that kind of professional reporter. And I have another full time job that I like and want to keep. So, the folks who run the above mentioned blogs do the leg work and generate the investigative stuff that people like me can't or choose not to provide on our blogs. And to do that, they must work at it full time and be compensated for it. This is their day job.
However, I am not particularly happy about people who come to my Comments section to post a quick blurb that is only an excuse for free advertising. Again, I don't want to sound ungrateful about sincere praise. But I don't think that's what this is.
I am much happier when people comment thoughtfully on what exactly they liked, what they agreed with, or even what they disagreed with. I know I'm no genius and not everything I believe or assert is the last word on a subject. I would be happier with a thoughtful discussion pro and con than I am with somebody simply writing in "great little blog..." and then posting their Adware ad.
At this point, I am not sure whether I will remove these posts. I am ambivalent about it. I will monitor the situation. But please, readers, be warned that I don't know the people who are posting, so if you go to their sites and do business with them, you do so at your own risk.
Monday, September 12, 2005
Paul Krugman, in this New York Times column asks the same question that those of us in the federal community have been asking, with a great deal of concern, for a long time now.
Be afraid. Be very afraid for America.
Sunday, September 11, 2005
Brown was not fired. He was removed from the Gulf Region’s emergency operations. He is still the Director of FEMA. And presumably, he simply headed home to go to that Mexican restaurant and get his “stiff Margarita,” as has been widely quoted as saying.
Gee, you gotta wonder why he didn’t just go to Disney World.
He wasn't punished, he's been protected, taken out of harm's way and the media's way to hide out and lick his wounds. Meanwhile, he still gets the salary, the perks, and the authority of a director of major federal agency.
Unlike Sullivan, I’ve been a federal employee. So maybe that's why I view Brown's treatment very differently from the way Sullivan does.
I’ve seen the hammering my fellow feds have been taking for many years by this Administration – the color-coded scorecards on how well various agencies were meeting their missions (yup, security threats aren’t the only thing that comes color coded in this Administration – maybe they didn’t get enough crayons when they were young).
The President’s Management Agenda (PMA), as this color coded rating system is called, is a thinly disguised attempt to smear the federal government as inefficient and unresponsive to the public. By extension, it also implied that federal employees were lazy, incompetent, and unwilling to do their jobs effectively. All the better to reorganize the agencies and replace the workers with a top level of appointees politically loyal to Bush and to compete out the jobs of federal employees to private contractors who, it is claimed, can do everything so much better than the feds do it.
Oh, how this crew hates the bureaucracy – the Beast, as Grover Norquist calls it.
But a funny thing happened on the way to FEMA’s first disaster since 9/11.
It’s chief – a Bush political crony – failed miserably to help the people of the entire Gulf Coast.
In fact, after the major reorganization of the federal government, with FEMA losing its cabinet level status and coming under the new Department of Homeland Security, many of the most experienced top career officials departed for other jobs, leaving the less experienced to replace them and the political hacks at the top to flounder in a real-time disaster. This Washington Post article describes in frightening detail the lack of disaster planning experience the top ten FEMA executive level managers, all political cronies of the the Administration, had.
The sad thing is that FEMA is not the only federal agency to lose its best and brightest career professionals because of mismanagement and arrogance by the top level of political appointees. It’s happened throughout the federal government, especially in agencies that depend the most on well-educated and highly skilled professionals. Indeed, in everything from fudging reports on the true dangers of global warning to denying women adequate birth control protection (as recently happened with the FDA denying over the counter status to the “morning after” birth control pill for emergencies) the top tier of respected professional scientists, engineeers, and technical specialists have been departing the federal goverment in droves rather than see their reputations impugned by remaining silent as the Administration practices junk science, junk economics, and junk intelligence.
And Katrina finally ripped the façade off this Administration's pretensions. Their house of cards is being blown apart and torn to splinters like a Gulf Coast fishing shack by this hurricane.
One thing that is certain is that the removal of Michael Brown from all authority for the disaster recovery effort is no victory for those who demand good government and accountability at all levels of government, as Andrew Sullivan seemed to think that it was on Friday
In fact, it’s a defeat for those who actually want good government and true accountability from government employees from the top to the bottom, and for those who care deeply about the security of our nation in a real terrorist attack or natural disaster.
Accountability starts at the top. And the very best way to get good morale and improved performance from those at the lowest levels is to lead by example. But if you are dissatisfied with the government bureaucracy, ask yourself this question: with the examples of leaders like Bush and Brownie, do you really expect it to get better any time soon?
Thursday, September 08, 2005
Indeed, personal responsibility is a Republican and a Bush mantra. Whether you're a poor person in an inner city with a drug problem and a lousy education, or a displaced worker whose job has gone to Bangalore, or a federal employee who is constantly recompeting with a private contractor to keep your job, the refrain is always one of personal accountability.
The government has performance measures, metrics to measure that performance and A-76 competitions to hold government employees responsible for performing their jobs efficiently and to bring down the cost to the public.
In addition, the Bush Administration has been pushing for major overhaul of the civil service system. They want to streamline the appeals process for disciplinary actions so that managers have more flexibility to hire and fire federal workers. And they are proposing a pay banding system that would abolish the old General Schedule that rewards employees for longetivity rather than performance. In its place, the Administration has proposed a system, linked to the performance measures discussed above, that would reward top performers and punish underachievers.
With all this emphasis on personal responsibility and accountability - all of which I support as improvements to the old system - where does Michael Brown fit in? He's a failed lawyer who was forced out of his job at the International Arabian Horse Association before being hired by his old college roomate, Joe Allbaugh, to work for FEMA as Deputy Director. And as director, after Allbaugh's departure, he screwed up last year in Florida by giving money for hurricane relief to people in Dade County, where no hurricane even hit. He was widely criticized by the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel for that and they urged Bush to fire him back then.
And where does the President himself fit? He's a man notoriously incapable of ever admitting to a mistake.
But being George Bush means never having to say you're sorry for anything. And if you're a Bush crony, you never have to worry about personal accountability. To date, none of Bush's glorious failures in the Administration - from Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Bremer (glorious failures in Iraq) to FEMA's director have been held accountable.
I guess responsibility, accountability, and performance measures are for the ordinary chumps like you and me, not the cronies in charge. Unfortunately, there also used to be a concept of leading by example.
God forbid we all follow the Bush-Brown example of personal responsibility. That would be lethal for the rest of America, just as it has been for New Orleans.
So, I want to add my voice to the growing chorus: Fire Michael Brown. Hold this Administration to it's own standard. Demand accountability from them. Demand that they take responsibility for their on-the-job performance. Hell, demand that they apologize to the citizens of the Gulf Coast and to the American public. Demand that they act like grown ups for a change.
Also, here's some great links to other's on the blogosphere, especially my personal hero (although he's to the right of me) Andrew Sullivan, who has covered the devastation in the aftermath of Katrina in incredible depth. And also, a wonderful take on Bush's immaturity from Bull Moose
And this just in. I swear, even as I was finishing off this post, my husband walked in and announced, "Barbara has infected Laura."
Apparently, he heard on NBC News this quote from Laura, "the video that we've seen over and over again is not indicative of what's really been happening."
What is it indicative of? Is the video lying? And are all those eyewitnesses and reporters lying? Or is it just that those underprivileged people aren't as appreciative as they should be?
Tuesday, September 06, 2005
According to Krugman - and I think he's spot on in his analysis - the Bush Administration, and its rightwing cronies, have long held a hostility to the federal government. As Krugman points out, they don't regard the government as an instrument of the public good, regardless of the circumstances.
Here's the money quote:
"But the federal government's lethal ineptitude wasn't just a consequence of Mr. Bush's personal inadequacy; it was a consequence of ideological hostility to the very idea of using government to serve the public good. For 25 years the right has been denigrating the public sector, telling us that government is always the problem, not the solution. Why should we be surprised that when we needed a government solution, it wasn't forthcoming?"
Indeed, as Krugman also reminds us, after 9/11, these same people stubbornly resisted federalizing airport security. Incredibly, after four airplanes from three different airports had all been hijacked, largely due to egregious security lapses that allowed terrorists to get past the gates and the metal dectators with their metal box cutters and other weapons, the major private contractor responsible for providing the security to all the involved airports, Argenbright, had been allowed to continue providing airport security, while a debate was waged in Congress and the Administration as to whether airport security might be an inherently governmental function after all. It was only after Argenbright employees continued to fail to maintain security for months after 9/11 that Bush reluctantly created the Federal Transportation Security Administration with trained professional security inspectors.
Likewise, from almost the beginning of his administration, Bush has been downgrading FEMA's resources. He appointed a Texas political crony, Joseph Allbaugh, as its head. And Allbaugh appointed Michael Brown, his old college roomate, as his deputy. Neither Allbaugh nor Brown had any discernible qualifications to head a disaster recovery agency. And Brown, who turned out to be lethally incompetent, was the director that proved so unpreprepared to lead the FEMA rescue effort.
Indeed, not only did FEMA fail to provide critical aid. In some cases, it actually hindered relief efforts, as this other New York Times article points out. FEMA's top officials got so mired in red tape and in poring over organizational charts and engaging in turf wars with Louisiana's local authorities that it slowed down the rescue efforts.
And all of this, as Krugman so rightly points out, is part of an overarching ideology that is so anti-government that it can conceive of no good purpose for a government. Indeed, virtually all the tax cuts Bush has pushed through Congress have not been simply about rewarding America's richest one percent - although of course they did that too. But to the real ideologues, like Grover Norquist, it's also about "starving the beast." That's how they think of the federal and even state and local governments. For conservative Republicans, this is an historically unprecedented attack on government at all level because even states, cities, and small towns now have Republicans running on anti-tax platforms.
But after the disaster in New Orleans, its fair to ask: If not the federal, if not the state, if not the local government, who will rescue citizens the next time a disaster strikes someplace? And with what resources will they conduct aid efforts if the beast is starved any further?
To a certain extent, the size of government and the degree of its activisim in solving social problems is a legitimate topic for debate. Small government advocates can come up with good arguments for limiting the size and scope of government and encouraging private sector solutions to economic and other social problems. But never in our history has there been a debate about whether it is the role of government, at all levels, is to protect its citizens, and secure and defend our safety both at home and abroad. Certain functions, such as the military, the police, and emergency response forces have always been considered inherently governmental even by conservatives.
But in Iraq, as one example of their unprecendented hostility to any role for government, in any form, more of the war has been taken over by civilian contractors as Rumsfeld has sought to shrink the military. One of the reasons we are failing to secure the peace in Iraq is because we have an inadequate military force, while untrained civilians have been put in harms' way by taking on adjunct functions for the military. The "light force" that Rummy dreamed of did work in the blitzkrieg invasion of the poor and militarily inefficient Iraqi nation. But the light force is no longer effective in securing the occupation in a hostile region, just as the top military command predicted it wouldn't be. But the Pentagon's top military advisers were ignored by this arrogant civilian who sat out the war in Vietnam and cheered from the sidelines.
Just as the federal government's top career civil service experts are frequently ignored and derided by Bush's political appointees with little experience or knowledge.
But who can argue that guarding an airport's security, defending our borders, and providing efficient first response efforts aren't inherently governmental functions? Only an Administration that ignores government experts and truly believes in "starving the beast" while enriching millionaires with more and deeper tax cuts.
For ideological reasons, Bush and his allies have talked a good game of homeland security and taken billions of taxpayer dollars - much of it going to private contactors by the way - and, as Hurricane Katrina proved, left us even more vulnerable to the threat of disaster, whether natural or manmade.
That's the problem when you think of your own government as the beast. It might be a beast in a dictatorship. But ours is a democratically elected government. It reflects the wishes of its citizens. And the government has a vital role to play in truly securing the homeland from the most likely disasters, and those are going to be hurricanes, tornadoes, and blizzards even more often than they are going to be terrorist attacks.
The real beast is not the government but those now in charge who have been raiding its coffers to line the nests of their wealthy friends. But after Katrina, their scam is up. We don't have to starve the beast, but we need to throw these rats out.
Sunday, September 04, 2005
Later, as if right on cue, Tim Russert reduced an official of Jefferson Parish to tears with the same question. Trying to keep control, the man answered that his own mother waited days for promised help from the federal government and finally drowned before aid reached her.
As this article in today’s Washington Post points out, the official Bush Administration line is now to shift blame for the disaster in New Orleans onto Louisiana officials for not being prepared to ride out Katrina and rescue their people on their own. At first glance, there is logic in their argument.
The Louisiana coast is flood prone and vulnerable, and local officials have known for years that a storm of Katrina’s magnitude could hit. So, why weren’t there better evacuation plans? Why wasn’t there an adequate food supply and other resources for those who couldn’t or wouldn’t’ evacuate? And finally, why weren’t local officials better able to cope with the levees and pumps themselves?
For the very same reason that Florida, after Andrew in the 90s and then again after four hurricanes last year, also needed help from the federal government. And for the same reason that the Gulf towns of Gulfport and Biloxi also will need federal aid. And if New Orleans appears to be more hard hit and more incapable of handling it, that’s because it was not a small town beach community but a large major city with much more complex needs.
However, blaming the victims rather than helping them is an unspeakably craven and selfish act. Whether it’s the President or his NBC shills, it’s just plain wrong.
Here’s the logical and pragmatic reason why New Orleans, and many areas along the hard hit Gulf Coast, can’t just pull themselves up by their own boot straps to rescue their own citizens.
Because the same civic leaders, whether it’s the mayor, the sheriff, or the other local officials, are also victims who have been overwhelmed with personal loss in this tragedy. While working overtime, often 24/7, to keep their emergency services functioning as best they could in this tragedy, they too have lost their homes, their worldly goods, and their family members to Katrina. While devoting all their waking moments to directing whatever rescue efforts they could mount for other people, they too were coping – perhaps not perfectly – but coping nonetheless with their personal loss, tragedy and grief. So, for a perfectly made up and coiffed reporter to hit them with a question like that of Campbell Brown or Tim Russert is nothing less than obscene.
Russert, Brown, and whoever else at NBC wants to is certainly entitled to spout whatever they wish in defense of this incompetent administration. But they ought to be honest and go on the White House payroll rather than shilling for the Bush Administration from a major news agency to do it. And I don’t want to tell NBC how to do their jobs – I just want to beg them to do it. Do your job and report the truth. Stop your shilling for the White House now. Every other news agency, including your rival stations, is doing a better, fairer and more objective job in covering this than you are. And you should be ashamed of yourselves for this morning.
As to the White House Administration and their concerted effort to deflect the blame from themselves for this bungling travesty of a rescue effort, they may think it makes good politics to try to shift the blame, but their public relations juggernaut is finally failing them.
This Administration has, in fact, failed at every major crisis since it’s been in office. After Sept 11, they took billions of taxpayer dollars to create a Department of Homeland Security that was supposed to make the U.S safer from threats – not only terrorist threats but also threats from natural disasters precisely like this one.
Instead, through poor planning and the wrong focus, agencies that used to be effective were gutted and rendered unable to respond this time. As this piece, also in The Washington Post, documents, the perfect example was FEMA. After FEMA was criticized for two high profile failures, Hurricane Hugo and Hurricane Andrew, in the early 90s, it was re-organized and strengthened. Ironically, both those failures occurred under the first Bush Administration. Indeed, it was FEMA’s awful handling of Hurricane Andrew in Miami that helped lead to the first President Bush’s defeat as angry Floridians delivered that crucial swing state to Clinton.
And when Clinton came into office, he appointed the very capable James Lee Witt to head FEMA and made it a cabinet level agency. FEMA was widely praised for its handling of natural disasters all through the rest of the 90s under the Clinton Administration.
But after 9/11, when the Department of Homeland Security was created, FEMA was downgraded and shoved under that umbrella with other agencies. Much of its funding was diverted from its mission of aiding natural disaster recovery efforts to defending against terrorist threats. As The Post points out, the entire focus went to defending the infrastructure from outside threat, but no attention was paid to the actual infrastructure itself to make sure that it was still strong and intact.
Just as the Bush Administration took its eye off the ball in Afghanistan, where the true al Qeda attackers were located, and invaded Iraq, which had never attacked us and wasn’t a threat, so they spent millions to protect us from the possible threat of another terrorist attack and totally ignored the real peril of other possible disaster scenarios. I am not going to suggest that there is no real terrorist threat. Of course there is and some of the Administration's focus on outside terrorism is very justified – they just took their focus to an absurd length and ended up with deadly tunnel vision that prevented them from effectively addressing other threats to the homeland.
Everybody knew a hurricane of the magnitude of Katrina was not only possible, but was some day probable. Just as everybody knew that New Orleans was particularly vulnerable. Indeed, while watching the television news last Sunday with friends who were from New Orleans, one of those friends just shook his head and stated, “those levees won’t hold.” Every New Orleanean knew that. And so should the federal authorities that were tasked with disaster aid.
In addition, in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane, the Administration failed to mobilize the National Guard, failed to order in the military help keep order, and failed to aid in evacuation efforts as the situation on the ground grew more dire by the hour.
Nobody could have entirely prevented the devastation caused by Katrina’s initial hit. But a lot of the damage we are witnessing along the Gulf Coast, and especially in New Orleans, was man made and could have been prevented or ameliorated.
For years, safety officials knew about the levees’ vulnerability, yet nothing was done to strengthen them. Or to improve the pumping stations so necessary to get floodwaters out of the below sea level city. In fact, funding for just such flood control projects has been cut time and again to pay for the Bush tax cuts and the Bush War for Oil in Iraq.
And where the federal, state and local governments all truly share culpability was allowing industrial and commercial interests to dredge the coasts. And the levees themselves contributed to the erosion that made New Orleans sink still further below sea level. Also, commercial development destroyed barrier islands that used to act as a firebreak to slow down storm surges.
And, finally, there is the big accusation that every environmentalist and most nations outside of our own are leveling at us with a degree of truth: Our refusal to sign the Kyoto Accords and to begin addressing the issue of global warming is a problem that will ensure still another “storm of the century” that will imperil our Southeastern coast.
Indeed, the Bushies are still in denial that global warming even exists. But every year there seems to be another “storm of the century.” Even Washington, DC has been hit with major freak “blizzards of the century” with an alarming frequency that renders the term “of the century” rather silly. After all, how can you have three “storms of the century” in three consecutive years?
It’s apparent that the effects of global warming are beginning to be felt. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be 90 degrees year round (every time we get a cold winter, I meet some clown in a supermarket check out lane who yucks it up about global warming being a non-existent threat). Global warming means abnormal weather patterns and stronger more powerful storms. This is because hurricanes (and coastal blizzards caused by Nor’easters) draw their energy over warm waters. If the waters heat up even a few degrees, as they measurably have, it will continue to produce “storm of the century” killer hurricanes in the summer and devastating blizzards in the winter in states further south than normal.
It’s here, it’s real, it’s happening. And the Bush folks don’t have a clue. And even worse, they don’t have a plan.
Thursday, September 01, 2005
But here, Brooks’ main point is that natural disasters, like Katrina, do more than devastate cities and populations. They also expose the fault lines in inequitable societies. It’s as if the raging waters that uproot homes and flood streets also sweep away the normal hypocrisy that keeps us from realizing the genuine greed and self-interest of wealthy civic leaders who protect their own class to the detriment of those least able to cope with natural disaster. And in their wake, they bring social and political turbulence as devastating to the political status quo as the storm was to the town or city it destroyed.
He gives concrete historical examples such as the Johnstown flood of 1889, which was partly caused by an artificial pond that wealthy Pittsburgh industrialists built so they could go fishing. In a terrible storm, the pond overflowed into the town, sparking the dreadful flooding that claimed so many lives.
At first, the public’s wrath was focused on Hungarian immigrants – whom Brooks astutely likens to today’s Hispanic immigrants, who are hated because they take jobs that nobody else wants to do anyway. Various newspaper accounts accused the Hungarians of cutting off the fingers of dead women to steal their wedding rings and of singing, dancing, and fighting in the streets in disrespect of the dead. In other words foreigners, then as now, became the first scapegoats that the media lashed out at in the aftermath of disaster.
Those stories were mostly false and were spurred by the prevailing nativism of the population. However, public wrath soon focused on the wealthy industrialists thus leading to the rise of progressive politics and the anti-trust laws that reigned in the hated robber barons’ excesses.
In another bad storm, this time in1927, and ironically also in New Orleans, blacks were forced into work camps and left to die in the floods while a luxury ship filled with wealthy white civic leaders sailed out of the port playing “Bye Bye Black Bird.” And the neighborhoods of poor and middle class whites were deliberately flooded to save wealthier areas.
The rage that people felt led directly to a resurgence of populism and the rise of Huey Long.
Those are just two of the examples Brooks cites to support his argument. The rest of the article is well worth reading.
The amazing thing is that after reading his cautionary essay – which, after all, was written to warn his conservative friends – you can’t come away failing to understand that there is really a class war that has been raging for generations. Only, as I’ve long said, it’s the wealthy that are waging that war in defense of their own selfish interests, while the rest of us usually don’t even realize we’re in mortal combat.
But every once in a while, something so dreadful occurs, as it just did in New Orleans, that it rips the polite façade off the ruling class and even offends a conservative like David Brooks.
Wednesday, August 31, 2005
Back then, I tried to make a point that natural disasters and tragedies were not the wrath of some dyspeptic god, but were random acts with no rhyme or reason. That was in answer to all the many times that a small number of Evangelicals such as Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and Franklin Graham had made silly claims that either their prayer warriors had prevented a hurricane from ravaging their part of the country, or even worse, had claimed that areas which were severly damaged had brought it upon themselves because their citizens were: 1) not proper Christian believers; 2) were tolerant of gays, femininists, and liberals; or 3) had in some other way grievously offended God.
My point, earlier, was that the red-state Bible Belt certainly hadn't been spared by Katrina, while the French Quarter, long an oasis of tolerance to gays, political liberalism, and downright libertine fun had made out better than their more uptight, conservative neighbors.
Although that turned out not to be true, my basic point in that post, which was that nobody, regardless of their belief system or behavior, is immune to random catastrophe is still valid.
So, the only real question now is how do we help the victims in any way we can? Truly, in tragedy of this magnitude, it doesn't matter whether a person is from a blue state or a red state, is aDemocrat or Republican; or is a Christian or non-Christian. All that does matter is the fact that there are some hurting humans out there in desperate need. And the resources of all the major charities are going to be stretched very thin by this catastrophe.
There are many websites out there with information on where to give. And I also want to urge any reader who comes here to please give whatever you can to help others. This is the time to be united because in this international age, where we are connected everywhere by the Internet, we are all global citizens. We all share a basic humanity and that must include compassion.
The very best link that I could find is this one to The New York Times. It's the most comprehensive listing of charities and The Times is continually updating it. It has grown since I first looked at it this morning. So, you'll be able to pick which charity to donate to and know that your money is going to a reputable organization that you feel comfortable with.
Don't skip the first link to Charity Navigator, which gives good advice on how to pick a legitimate charity and avoid getting ripped off. Sadly, there will be a lot of con artists out there seeking to take advantage of others' misery. Giving to a scam artist just wastes your money because it doesn't go to the folks who really need it, so please avoid that by researching and arming yourself with knowledge. And please donate generously. I know I will.
Monday, August 29, 2005
And do you also remember some of the unseemly gloating by some Christianist websites after the tragic tsunami last winter?
Or even the way Pat Robertson claimed that some brush fires in drought-stricken Orlando, Florida a few years ago were caused by Disney World’s pro-gay policy?
Well, I wonder how these televangelists will explain Katrina.
If we were to accept their twisted logic that tragedies of this magnitude are the revenge of a wrathful God on sinners, how would we then explain that Katrina’s worst force was felt in all the red state areas? And even in those red states, the more urbane blue-state cities were spared the worst of the storm’s effects.
In Florida, Fort Lauderdale was brushed and had some power outages but western Broward County, especially the northwest area, which is the bluest of blue state areas in the country, with all its Jewish senior citizens and blacks, had the least damage, while Katrina ploughed into the parts of Miami-Dade that had voted for Bush.
And once Katrina moved into the Gulf of Mexico and regained strength, she headed for New Orleans, only to turn slightly at the last moment; and so it was the rural Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama coastal areas that took the brunt of her fury.
Oh it was bad in the Big Easy too. But that legendary frivolous hard partying, sinners’ town – and blue-state town to boot – didn’t get nearly the disaster that was predicted.
Where is the gloating of the Christianist fundamentalists now?
No, I’m not gloating either. I’ve got good friends in some of the harder hit areas in the suburbs outside New Orleans and in Alabama. In fact, my niece is riding out Katrina right now in Tuscaloosa. And frankly I don’t care what their politics or their religion is, I don’t want to see anybody perish tragically. All the people in those hard hit areas have my heartfelt prayers.
But, now, while it’s fresh in everybody’s minds, it’s important to point out an essential truth.
Storms, bombings, fires, tsunamis, deadly diseases are not necessarily God’s judgment on sinners. They are often random tragedies that affect the innocent and the good as well as the evil among us.
It was, in fact, Jesus who once observed that the “sun and rain fall on the sinner and the righteous alike.”
So do disasters. So, the next time Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell tries to tell you differently, remember Katrina, who was no respecter of righteousness. Katrina was just a dumb, brute, random force of nature, just as the tsunami in Indonesia was last winter. Those people didn’t suffer because they were Buddhists or Muslims. And the people of Alabama and Mississippi and rural Louisiana aren’t victims because they’re red-state Christians. And downtown New Orleans wasn’t spared because the French Quarter is charming and tolerant. The Big Easy just got luckier. This time.
Sunday, August 21, 2005
Roberts attended high school at a prestigious private boarding school in the Midwest. He then graduated from a top Ivy League college and went on to clerk for Supreme Court Justice William Rehinquest. After this, he was one of a cadre of young conservatives who went to work for the Reagan Administration. As a special assistant to Attorney General William French Smith, he often was more conservative in his writings and opinions than his bosses. At that point in his life, he was one of the true believers in the Reagan Revolution. He was definitely part of the group who came to Washington to change the direction of the country.
The portrait painted of him is not that different from either the president who just nominated him or the other members of the conservative elite of the eighties who practiced the politics of resentment. Indeed, this elite mightily resented the barbarians at their gate who threatened their sense of entitlement and privilege by demanding social justice and equal opportunity.
These were the young men who looked at blacks, women, and other disenfranchised groups and saw not a democratic movement to redress past injustice but a mob seeking to crash the gates of privilege where they didn’t belong.
To focus on how Roberts views Roe v Wade to the exclusion of the total picture would be an incredibly short sighted mistake because there are even more troubling aspects of this man’s vision that will affect the lives ordinary Americans as much as Roe v Wade will.
John Roberts spent his whole professional life, with a very few notable exceptions, protecting and extending the rights of the privileged few at the expense of everybody else.
He wrote legal briefs on how to limit access to the courts to prevent groups from suing for discrimination. In fact, he applauded decisions limiting affirmative action and preventing the extension of opportunities to blacks and women. This man of so much privilege opposed laws that he claimed designated those society had often left behind as “privileged groups,” and fought against what he called “reverse discrimination” of whites. By the way, I do oppose genuine reverse discrimination or any discrimination that harms an individual. But too often this opposition was just a ploy to defend the privilege of the elite at the expense of those who had traditionally been excluded from true equal opportunity.
Also, even on Roe versus Wade, Roberts’ personal opinion of abortion rights are not as important as the legal views that helped him to arrive at his opposition to it. In one memo, he wrote about “the so called right to privacy…” Much more important than how he personally feels about abortion is his legal view of the constitutionally protected right of individual privacy. If indeed he does not think such a right exists – as many other strict constructionists don’t – that will impact not only a woman’s right to an abortion, but her right to even use contraceptives. It will impact how he views the rights of two consenting adults when it comes to certain sexual practices. This should be troubling to all gays.
It has been pointed out that he once helped coach some lawyers on a gay rights case. And that is encouraging. But if he truly believes there is no constitutional right to privacy, that legal view could spell trouble for other gay rights cases.
He also favored court rulings that limited the rights of convicted criminals to the appeals process. Given how many men and women on state death rows have recently been exonerated by DNA evidence, do we really want a Supreme Court justice with a bias against the criminal appeals process and one who is deferential to prosecutors, as he has been on the federal circuit court?
These are troubling aspects of the man’s viewpoint to consider during his Senate Confirmation hearings.
And here’s something else that should be troubling to all progressives. Democrats, who may have already resigned themselves to losing the battle over John Roberts’ nomination, aren’t planning to fight it much at all. So far, there have been few commercials on either side of the battle. And whatever opposition may just be perfunctory battles over the release of Roberts’ writings and not a real fight over his legal and personal viewpoint.
That’s the wrong tactic.
As I’ve said before, I don’t believe Senate Democrats should break their previous agreement not to invoke the filibuster. Yes, I realize that means Roberts will ultimately serve on the Supreme Court. Because we are the minority, short of a major scandal (which I don’t foresee) the Democrats will lose the straight up or down vote when his name comes up for a vote.
And that’s okay. Senate Democrats should both honor their previous agreement and allow the straight up or down vote on this particular nominee.
They don’t have to succeed in preventing Roberts from reaching the Supreme Court. But they have to put up a good fight that explains to the American people what it is they oppose, why they oppose it and (even more important) what it is they stand for instead.
In a civil and professional manner, they must be the loyal opposition and make their case to the American people that Roberts may be the most decent man in the world. But his values are not the right values for this nation.
This is the great opportunity for the Democrats to have the discussion they say they want on values, ours versus theirs.
To do this successfully, they have to be willing to spend money and run ads that explain their differences with the Republican Party. They need to illustrate why their values are more in step with the mainstream than those of their Republican opponents.
In addition, they ought to put some of their moderate Republican colleagues on the spot. Are those Republicans such as Lincoln Chafee, Olympia Snow, Susan Collins, and Arlen Spector true moderates? What does being a moderate Republican mean? How valuable is it for feminists and blacks to support those Republican moderates who say they are for abortion rights or affirmative action but then support their own party’s extremists in what is one of the most important votes – that of a Supreme Court judge?
Finally, no Democrat who truly opposes John Roberts should vote for confirmation just because he thinks it’s a done deal or because he thinks it’s a way to restore civility to the Senate. It isn’t
Civility is not rolling over and playing dead on important issues. It’s standing up for what you believe with dignity, restraint and respect. I think it’s possible to oppose the confirmation of John Roberts and to build a reasoned and logical case against him without attacking the man personally. It is possible to respectfully disagree with somebody and to politely decline to support his nomination.
The Democrat who does that will get the attention and respect of his or her fellow Americans and will strengthen his or her party and his or her country.