Browsing the blog archives for August, 2006.


Before I Forget

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Bush Administration, economy, workers

I had planned to blog about this Harold Meyerson column on the devaluing of labor from yesterday’s Washington Post and ran out of time. But be sure to read it. In a similar vein — “America Eats Its Young” by Garrison Keillor in Salon.

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Long Live the King

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Bush Administration, entertainment and popular culture

A fictional docudrama made for British television features the assassination of President Bush in October 2007.

Death of a President, shot in the style of a retrospective documentary, looks at the effect the assassination of Bush has on America in light of its ‘War on Terror’.

The 90 minutes feature explores who could have planned the murder, with a Syrian-born man wrongly put in the frame.

Peter Dale, head of More4, which is due to air the film on October 9, said the drama was a “thought-provoking critique” of contemporary US society.

He said: “It’s an extraordinarily gripping and powerful piece of work, a drama constructed like a documentary that looks back at the assassination of George Bush as the starting point for a very gripping detective story.

“It’s a pointed political examination of what the War on Terror did to the American body politic.

“I’m sure that there will be people who will be upset by it but when you watch it you realise what a sophisticated piece of work it is.

“It’s not sensationalist, or simplistic but a very thought-provoking, powerful drama. I hope people will see that the intention behind it is good.”

The film will premier at the Toronto Film Festival in September and was written and directed by Gabriel Range.

Before Michelle Malkin sees this and uses up the world’s supply of exclamation points blogging about it, let me say that I sincerely do not want President Bush to be assassinated.

I’m not saying it was wrong to make “Death of a President,” which of course I haven’t seen (and don’t expect to anytime soon, as I sincerely doubt it will be shown on American television). The work may or may not be good drama and may or may not make some excellent points about American political culture. I’m just saying I don’t want Bush to be assassinated. Really, truly. Here are the top ten reasons why:

10. Regular television programming would be pre-empted for days, except maybe for the Super Bowl.

9. News coverage of the assassination and state funeral would shine the rosiest light possible on the President’s memory, causing some viewers to think maybe he wasn’t so bad, after all. (In fact, this might be the only way Bush could get his approval numbers over 50 percent again.)

8. Darryl Worley would record a song about it.

7. For the next several months you wouldn’t be able to pass a supermarket tabloid rack without seeing pictures of Bush and Jesus — together forever.

6. You’d have to listen to your wingnut father-in-law rant about it all through Thanksgiving dinner.

5. The Right collectively would become even more paranoid than it is already.

4. For the rest of your life, you’d have to listen to people referring to Bush as a “martyred president.”

3. The assassination would fuel a whole new generation of conspiracy theorists.

2. Bush wouldn’t live long enough to see what historians will write about his presidency.

1. Dick Cheney.

Need I say more?

Update: Gracious, poor Rick Moran of Right Wing Nut House came down with the vapors over my post, above, which I figured even a rightie would recognize as mere silliness. (Some people have no sense of humor.)

He also says “Malkin has a tour de force roundup of the history of lefty assassination fantasies.” So I took a look and was stunned to see the first entry: “Sarah Vowell’s best-selling murder travelogue of assassinated Republican presidents, Assassination Vacation.”

Wow, talk about distortion! Vowell’s book describes her travels — something of a pilgrimmage — visiting monuments, museums, and myriad historical sites connected to the first three presidential assassinations — Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley. As it happens these guys were all Republicans, but it is hardly Vowell’s fault that no Democratic presidents were assassinated in the 19th century. Vowell’s schtick is to find little-known or fogotten places and facts and dredge them out of the history memory hole, and Kennedy’s assassination is too recent — and still too much discussed — to have given her much to write about. It’s funny but also thoughtful and respectful — affectionate, even — toward the presidents she discusses. This book is especially recommended for history nerds.

If this is the best Malkin can come up with in the way of “lefty assassination fantasies,” that pretty much proves Dave Neiwert’s contention that righties express wishes for death or physical harm of their political opponents much more often than lefties do.

Her other examples were :

* A novel I never heard of by an author I never heard of — Nicholson Baker’s Checkpoint. I cannot comment as I have not read the novel. I googled “Nicholson Baker” but found no clues about his political opinions.

* Something Randi Rhodes said in 2004.

* A comment by a Guardian columnist, Charlie Brooker, also from 2004:

On November 2, the entire civilised world will be praying, praying Bush loses. And Sod’s law dictates he’ll probably win, thereby disproving the existence of God once and for all. The world will endure four more years of idiocy, arrogance and unwarranted bloodshed, with no benevolent deity to watch over and save us. John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, John Hinckley Jr – where are you now that we need you?

I’ll let that stand without comment. The rest of Malkin’s “evidence” consists of four examples of “art” — a poster, a T-shirt, a button, and a hand-drawn protest sign — wishing violence on the President. I have never seen these anywhere but on Malkin’s blog.

And that’s it. Hell, you can get more examples of rightie assassination fantasies from Ann Coulter alone.

Have I mentioned before that righties are pathetic? I believe I have.

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Fantasy Fascists

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Bush Administration, War on Terror

If you’re as steamed as I am about Donald Rumsfeld’s remarks to the American Legion yesterday, see Keith Olbermann for a damn good rebuttal. [Update: Video at Crooks & Liars]

While I’m keyboarding this I’m listening to Keith Olbermann explain the new name for the Iraq misadventure — “The War We Didn’t Start.” Also on Countdown — Brian Williams interviewed the President, who still says we went to Iraq because of 9/11 — “fundamentalists” attacked us, he said. It cannot be true that the Iraq War is helping recruit new jihadists, according to Bush, because we were attacked by jihadists before we invaded Iraq. (Like there can’t be more jihadists now?) Bush also claims he never even thought about attacking Iraq until after 9/11, which contradicts what Paul O’Neill told Ron Suskind.

And how pathetic is it that Bush is refusing to take responsibility for a war the whole world knows he started? And which was utterly unnecessary?

In his speech Rumsfeld continued the “Islamo-fascism” theme being promoted by the White House lately. Katha Pollitt writes in the current issue of The Nation about the Bushies sudden fondness for the word fascism.

If you control the language, you control the debate. As the Bush Administration’s Middle Eastern policy sinks ever deeper into bloody incoherence, the “war on terror” has been getting a quiet linguistic makeover. It’s becoming the “war on Islamic fascism.” … The move away from “war on terrorism” arrives not a moment too soon for language fussbudgets who had problems with the idea of making war on a tactic. To say nothing of those who wondered why, if terrorism was the problem, invading Iraq was the solution. (From the President’s August 21 press conference: Q: “But what did Iraq have to do with September 11?” A: “Nothing.” Now he tells us!)

The term Islamo-fascism isn’t new, Pollitt writes, nor is it accurate. But it sure is useful.

“Islamo-fascism” looks like an analytic term, but really it’s an emotional one, intended to get us to think less and fear more. It presents the bewildering politics of the Muslim world as a simple matter of Us versus Them, with war to the end the only answer, as with Hitler. If you doubt that every other British Muslim under the age of 30 is ready to blow himself up for Allah, or that shredding the Constitution is the way to protect ourselves from suicide bombers, if you think that Hamas might be less popular if Palestinians were less miserable, you get cast as Neville Chamberlain, while Bush plays FDR. “Islamo-fascism” rescues the neocons from harsh verdicts on the invasion of Iraq (“cakewalk…roses…sweetmeats…Chalabi”) by reframing that ongoing debacle as a minor chapter in a much larger story of evil madmen who want to fly the green flag of Islam over the capitals of the West. Suddenly it’s just a detail that Saddam wasn’t connected with 9/11, had no WMDs, was not poised to attack the United States or Israel–he hated freedom, and that was enough. It doesn’t matter, either, that Iraqi Sunnis and Shiites seem less interested in uniting the umma than in murdering one another. With luck we’ll be so scared we won’t ask why anyone should listen to another word from people who were spectacularly wrong about the biggest politico-military initiative of the past thirty years, and their balding heads will continue to glow on our TV screens for many nights to come. On to Tehran!

RJ Eskow has a similar take on the fondness for fascism.

The term “Islamic fascism” is demonstrably inaccurate in describing the threat we face. It’s been ginned up to stifle any genuine debate about how best to defend ourselves, and for partisan political gain. But that’s not the worst of it: it also weakens us. It uses a false historical analogy to confuse us, leaving us less able to analyze and react to the genuine dangers around us. …

… IF [Islamic Fascism] is a propaganda creation in the classic sense of the term. Anyone with a grasp of history knows that “fascism” entails intense nationalism and collaboration with large corporations, both of which Islamists reject. They do practice intense control of individual behavior, which is hateful but not limited to fascist movements.

So why use the term? For one thing, it evokes our Second World War enemies. There was clarity of purpose in WWII – we all knew the enemy and were united in our intent. Opposing the allies’ military strategy was tantamount to undermining the war effort. And the President’s judgment was never questioned.

Lastly – and most importantly – the appeasement strategy of Neville Chamberlain has echoed down the years as one of history’s tragic mistakes. Calling Islamism “fascism” allows purveyors of a failed military strategy – most recently Donald Rumsfeld – to try hiding their ineptitude behind the charge that their critics are Chamberlains.

In short, it’s subliminal sucker bait.

Yesterday Donald Rumsfeld dangled plenty of sucker bait in front of the American Legion.

… 1919 was the beginning of a period where, over time, a very different set of views would come to dominate discourse and thinking in the west.

Over the next decades, a sentiment took root that contended that if only the growing threats that had begun to emerge in Europe and Asia could be appeased, then the carnage and destruction of then-recent memory of World War I might be avoided. It was a time when a certain amount of cynicism and moral confusion set in among the western democracies. When those who warned about a coming crisis — the rise of fascism and Nazism — were ridiculed and ignored.

Indeed, in the decades before World War II, a great many argued that the fascist threat was exaggerated — or that it was someone else’s problem. Some nations tried to negotiate a separate peace — even as the enemy made its deadly ambitions crystal clear.

It was, as Churchill observed, a bit like feeding a crocodile, hoping it would eat you last.

There was a strange innocence in views of the world. Someone recently recalled one U.S. Senator’s reaction in September 1939, upon hearing that Hitler had invaded Poland to start World War II. He exclaimed:

“Lord, if only I could have talked with Hitler, all this might have been avoided.”

And that Senator was a Republican.

“Can we truly afford to believe that somehow vicious extremists can be appeased?” Rumsfeld continues, without providing examples of anyone suggesting any such thing.

“There was clarity of purpose in WWII,” says Eskow. “We all knew the enemy and were united in our intent.” Erich Fromm wrote that authoritarians seek escape from freedom by submerging themselves in a group or cause. At least some of our current crop of righties have adopted the conceit that they are all soldiers in a great war; their service (bloviating?) is just as vital to the cause as that of uniformed troops under fire for their country. They’ve got the world divided up into the bright, glorious Us and the dark, depraved Them, and they are warriors on the side of Goodness. This conceit gives them the illusion of clarity of purpose. True clarity would, of course, require understanding the Middle East in all its complexities, as-it-is. But this righties cannot and will not do.

If you can put yourself in a rightie’s place for a moment (don’t stay too long), it becomes clear why they see us lefties as traitors — we’re not following the script. We’re not playing our proper role in their drama. We’re telling them that their dearly beloved fantasy life is all bullshit.

This also explains why they refuse to understand Middle Eastern people and politics. Their fantasies demand demonic (and ethnically Middle Eastern) forces united in single purpose against Us. Reality is a lot more complicated.

Over in Britain, Mark Seddon wonders why Americans are so worked up over Muslims when it wasn’t so long ago that a federal building in Oklahoma City was blown up by a home-grown terrorist.

The Oklahoma bombing was dwarfed by the September 11 outrage in New York and Washington DC – and despite the best attempts of the museum and its staff to provide both a memorial to its victims and to study terrorism – its effects and causes – the federal caravan has moved on. Though McVeigh and his supporting cast of survivalist desperadoes had the federal government and all this it stands for in their sights, the same government and much of the media seem only interested to foreign terrorists now. McVeigh, sadly, was from the extreme end of a not insubstantial group of Americans, who believe in nihilist religious sects, despise all forms of government, and believe themselves to be the real patriots who defend the American constitution.

I still think it’s a damn shame they fried McVeigh before 9/11. He didn’t live long enough to experience becoming a has-been.

In Oklahoma City I met a Republican member of the state senate who, while condemning the act that disfigured his city, wanted to explain how this home grown act of terror came about, what motivated the survivalists and why they felt aggrieved. But that was because the Oklahoma bombing came from within, rather than from without. It is difficult to imagine many American politicians, who while condemning foreign terrorists, try to understand what motivates the killers and in so doing redress some of the larger injustices those same terrorists use to feed violence thereby separating the small minority from the vast majority who seek justice through peaceful means.

Beside the fact that McVeigh was white — it’s so much easier to think of Middle Eastern terrorists as crazed, noncognitive animals. (The flip side of that, of course, is thinking of Middle Easterners as simple brown people who will greet us with flowers and gratitude when we invade them.)

Or else their strategy is not about fighting terrorism; Mark Seddon continues,

Those who advocate a “permanent war on terrorism” may deliberately, or inadvertently, be seeking to justify that old Foster Dulles fear-instilling maxim that in order to persuade a people to carry a great burden it is important to create a threat. In other words, a climate of fear suits them politically. There is of course a major threat out there, but it is neither permanent nor unassailable, and neither should it be exaggerated.

Like Olbermann said — “This country faces a new type of fascism – indeed.”

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Why Are Righties So Pathetic???

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Terrorism

So a fella named Omeed Aziz Popal inexplicably went on a rampage in San Francisco and deliberately ran down fourteen people with his car. Half are critically injured. Popal is suspected to have killed a man in a hit-and-run incident earlier the same day.

Naturally, the righties are shrieking that we’re under a terrorist attack.

You can get to Michelle Malkin’s site through Tbogg; I’m not giving her another link. But, damn, that woman is a riot. She’s got ***updates***!!! And why isn’t the MSM covering this??? (Guess: No cute sexually exploited little white girls involved?) And you know what caught Malkin’s eye? — oops, sorry, forgot the multiple question marks — ???Two of the fourteen people were run down in front of a Jewish Community Center!!! And the killing spree ended only one-half mile from that same center!!!

Coincidence??? Michelle doesn’t think so.

(Somebody should check to see if the guy was within one-half mile of a bakery. His voices might have told him that sourdough bread is the work of the devil.)

Hugh Hewitt shows more typographic restraint:

When a man named Ohmeed Aziz Popal runs over 14 people over an hour or two, the best thing to do is think terrorism.

So where is the MSM? The attacks began five and half hours ago.

The best thing to think? The attacks began? As Tbogg says,

Now if Aziz Popal’s name had been, oh, Bozell or Hewitt, they would just being laughing it off as more wacky antics by those drugged-up California weirdos in that crazy liberal town and thank G-d I live in Septictank, Arkansas where we all we do is keep kidnapped hitchhikers in makeshift dungeons underneath the doublewide and meet for Bible study every Tuesday after COPS!. But Popal has one of those names and this surely means that todays incident must be a Very Honda Pilot Kristallnacht.

Earlier this week I noted that “so many of the loudest drum-beaters for the Right were born in the 1960s and 1970s.” Generally these are people who didn’t become old enough to pay attention to politics until well into the post-Watergate era. There are exceptions — Rush Limbaugh was born in 1951, Hewitt in 1956. But a more typical example of rightiness is this recent Mahablog commenter, who was 19 when he cast his first vote in 1980. He says he was inspired to become a rightie because of the horrors of the Carter Administration.

Yeah, I laughed, too.

I remember when we had big scary stuff to be afraid of, like global thermonuclear war. Back in the day — 1950s to mid-1960s — Americans thought seriously about what they would do when the bomb dropped. Even though the Cold War didn’t end until years later, for some reason by the 1970s most Americans had retrieved the last of the canned soup from their backyard fallout shelters and turned their attention to more clear and present dangers, like Spiro Agnew. But in the 1950s and 1960s, nuclear annihilation seemed just a twitch away.

So the righties are all worked up because Omeed Aziz Popal got a signal from al Qaeda High Command to begin the attacks (!!!). Certainly, ramming people with cars is a new modus operandi for the jihadists .. or is it??? This article says that in 2001, 5,600 pedestrians and cyclists were killed by cars in the U.S. That’s more people than died from the 9/11 attacks (!!!). Maybe we’ve been under attack all this time and didn’t notice (!!!).

Consider that most of New York City’s 12,779 yellow medallion taxicabs seem to have Middle Eastern drivers these days. Are they waiting for the signal to attack Times Square and commence ramming the tourists? Some New Yorkers might think that a few hundred fewer tourists in Times Square wouldn’t be missed, but still … (!!!)

My point is that the Cuban Missile Crisis would have driven these screaming weenies right over the nearest cliff. We were tough back in my day, buckaroos. That’s how I remember it, anyway.

Update:
Steve M. connects the dots!!!

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Junk Email

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Bush Administration, Immigration, Latin America

I just got this —

You are invited to join this discussion group:

The Second Mexican-American War

[URL]

This group is to discuss the forthcoming Second Mexican-American War. We acknowledge the following points:

1) America is being invaded by Mexico
2) Mexicans are aiding Islamic terrorists to sneak into the United States
3) Mexicans intend to reclaim the Southwestern United States

We also acknowledge that many of our leaders have committed treason and impeachable offenses by:

1) Refusing to secure the border
2) Supporting the “Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America” and the NAFTA Super-Highway, and thus undermining the independence and sovereignty of the United States
3) Refusing to deport illegal aliens
4) Catering to international corporations and international multicultural organizations at the expense of American wages, American interests, American security and American independence.

The Second Mexican American War is inevitable. Stop the invasion!

At this group we shall engage in polite scholarly discussions regarding when, if and how war with Mexico will take place.

To join, send an email to: [email address]

Reminds me a bit of the old John Birchers, updated.

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The Quintessential Bush

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Bush Administration, FEMA, Hurricanes

Anne Kornblut and David Stout in today’s New York Times:

On the eve of the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, President Bush returned to the devastated Gulf Coast today promising to continue federal assistance, and eagerly pointing out signs of progress.

“It’s amazing, isn’t?” he told a gathering under a sweltering sun. “It’s amazing what the world looked like then and what it looks like now.”…

… Mr. Bush delivered his remarks at an intersection in a working-class Biloxi neighborhood against a carefully orchestrated backdrop of neatly reconstructed homes. Just a few feet out of camera range stood gutted houses with wires dangling from interior ceilings. A tattered piece of crime scene tape hung from a tree in the field where Mr. Bush spoke. A toilet seat lay on its side in the grass.

Kinda sums it all up, don’t it?

Mr. Bush praised the optimism and grit of the people of Mississippi, and he reaffirmed his belief in neighborly cooperation as well as government help. “A year ago, I committed our federal government to help you,” he said. “I said we have a duty to help the local people recover and rebuild. I meant what I said.”

For truly effective rebuilding, he went on, “there has to be a partnership with the federal government and the state and local governments. Here’s my attitude about the partnership. You know better than the people in Washington the needs of your communities. I’d rather listen to local mayors and county commissioners than folks sitting in Washington, D.C., about what this part of Mississippi wants.”

That sounds grand, but the President’s attitude about “partnership” seems to me to resemble King George III’s relationship with his North American colonies. As I wrote here, the feds wrote the big contracts for cleanup, often passing up perfectly good local companies in favor of businesses with the right political connections. Jordan Green at CounterPunch provides some examples:

Other instances of fraud and overcharging appear to have taken place because the government awarded advance contracts to large, out-of-state companies that had little notion of how to do business in areas hit by the hurricane.

Immediately after Katrina struck the Gulf, Paul Adams, a Yazoo City, Miss. businessman who specialized in setting up temporary classrooms, called his suppliers and the Mississippi Department of Education, anticipating that students would be displaced. Told by the department that FEMA would supply temporary trailers to house the students, he eventually discovered that the Army Corps of Engineers was obligated to give the work to Akima, an Alaska native corporation.

Obligated is an interesting word, wouldn’t you say?

Adams alleges in a lawsuit that he tracked down 450 temporary classrooms, and submitted a bid to Akima as a subcontractor, which in turn used the information to win a contract with the Army Corps of Engineers. Later Akima Senior Project Manager Al Cialone went to Florida to inspect the trailers and then purchased them directly, cutting Adams out of the deal, according to the lawsuit.

The deal troubled the GAO. It reported to Congress in May that “the Corps accepted Akima’s proposed price of $39.5 million although it had information that the cost for the classrooms was significantly less than what Akima was charging. … We believe the Corps could have, but failed to, negotiate a lower price.”

David Machado, a staff engineer with Necaise Brothers Construction Co. in Gulfport, Miss., also expressed frustration about getting cut out of reconstruction work in his home state in testimony before the House Government Reform Committee.

“We have all felt the injustice,” he said. “From truck drivers to chainsaw operators, we have had to scrape and claw to be afforded an opportunity to rebuild the very place we call home.”

Necaise Brothers is one of about a half-dozen subcontractors that have filed suit against AshBritt, complaining that the politically connected Florida company withheld payment or “looted” work from smaller firms. AshBritt has been sued for a total of at least $9.5 million by companies that have crossed its path in the hurricane reconstruction zone along the coast of Mississippi. Perhaps that should come as no surprise considering that the company landed contracts valued at more than half a billion dollars from the Army Corps of Engineers between September 2005 and March 2006.

State and local governments have been criticized for failing to come up with timely plans, and I don’t doubt some of that criticism is justified. But it’s also true that the feds rejected some plans for being too expensive and tossed them back to the locals for revision. Apparently the locals are supposed to guess what their spending limits are. Further, requests for funds must creep through a bureaucratic labyrinth before reaching someone who can actually make a decision. This is not partnership. The feds are treating state and local governments as supplicants, not partners.

Some say the way to get around government bureaucracy is to privatize disaster recovery. But there’s a problem with that, too. Naomi Klein writes in today’s Los Angeles Times:

… it’s time to take a look at where the privatization of disaster began, and where it will inevitably lead.

The first step was the government’s abdication of its core responsibility to protect the population from disasters. Under the Bush administration, whole sectors of the government, and particularly the Department of Homeland Security, have been turned into glorified temp agencies, with essential functions contracted out to private companies. The idea is that entrepreneurs, driven by the profit motive, are always more efficient than government.

We saw the results in New Orleans: Washington was weak and incompetent in part because its emergency management experts had fled to the private sector and its technology and infrastructure had become positively retro. In a crisis, government looks frighteningly inept ( “doing a heckuva job”) while the private sector can seem modern and competent, at least by comparison.

In truth, when it comes to reconstruction, contractors are hardly wizards. “Where has all the money gone?” ask desperate people from the Persian Gulf to the Gulf Coast. One place a great deal of it has gone is into major capital expenditures for the private corporations. Largely under the public radar, billions of taxpayer dollars have been spent on privatized disaster-response infrastructure: the Shaw Group’s new state-of-the-art Baton Rouge headquarters, Bechtel’s battalions of earthmoving equipment, Blackwater USA’s 6,000-acre campus in North Carolina (complete with paramilitary training camp and 6,000-foot runway).

This state within a state has been built almost exclusively with money from public contracts, yet it is all privately owned. Taxpayers have absolutely no control over it.

These companies provide their services to the public free of charge as long as Congress is paying their bills. But Klein argues that we are moving in the direction of “user pays” disasters, for reasons she outlines in her Los Angeles Times op ed. (In the future, if you are going to be stuck on a roof during a flood, be sure to have a credit card to pay for the helicopter ride.)

Some on the Right argue that the feds should have no role at all in recovery. This fellow says,

New Orleans will be re-built if the people of New Orleans want to re-build it. And if they do it themselves it will be a New Orleans they can be proud of and love. It will be their New Orleans.

If, on the other hand, they wait around for someone else to re-build their city for them, it won’t be the New Orleans they loved. It will belong to somebody else. And New Orleans will be dead.

And, of course, the fault with his reasoning is that New Orleans is a poor city in a poor state and lacks the money and resources to rebuild. But I believe it would have been better for everyone if the feds had just handed the reconstruction money appropriated by Congress to the local governments of the Gulf Coast and let them get on with rebuilding any way they wanted, with local companies and labor. Sure a lot of the money would have been siphoned off by corruption, but that happened, anyway. At least local corruption would have kept the money local; some of the pilfered profits would have been spent locally, putting more money into circulation in the communities. They’ve got enough dirty money in Washington already.

Instead, as Jennifer Moses writes in today’s Washington Post, the people of the Gulf have had to hurry up and wait.

It is a source of unending perplexity in Louisiana that so far America has spent some $320 billion in Iraq for nation-building, whereas in New Orleans, homeowners have so far seen precisely zero.

Not that there isn’t talk. A federally funded program with the Disneyfied name of “The Road Home” is due to start distributing thousands of dollars to uninsured homeowners . . . eventually. Additional billions have been poured into the coffers of the Army Corps of Engineers, whose design flaws caused the city’s levees to rupture in the first place, and through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which, according to a just-released report, awarded more than 70 percent of its contracts through a no-bid or limited-bid process.

People with flood insurance or enough of their own money are rebuilding; those without, aren’t.

Even for those brave souls who rolled up their sleeves and rebuilt their homes with sweat equity, a larger problem remains: infrastructure. All but a handful of public schools are shuttered; the hospitals are so badly crippled that in case of an emergency most people assume they’ll need to drive to Baton Rouge; the courts have gone from limping along to entirely dysfunctional; the electric grid is so fragile that regular power outages are a non-event; and in many parts of town, water lines still haven’t been laid. Firefighters: Who needs ’em? Police? Oh, well.

According to Collette Creppell, chief architect at Tulane University and a former New Orleans city planner, ever since President Bush faced the nation from Jackson Square a year ago and declared that “the work that has begun in the Gulf Coast region will be one of the largest reconstruction efforts the world has ever seen,” New Orleanians have been holding their breath, waiting for a construction boom. But without delivery of basic services, they might as well wait until doomsday.

Individuals stuck in a limbo of waiting are wearing down from worry and depression. Yet they struggle to put their lives back together as best they can. Tony Freemantle writes in the Houston Chronicle:

The Orleans Parish coroner says the suicide rate in the city, with half the pre-storm population, has tripled. Dentists, the few that are left in the city, are reporting an alarming number of people showing up with grooved or chipped teeth, a telltale sign of grinding. People admit to drinking more, taking more drugs. The billions of dollars promised by the government for rebuilding has yet to translate into billions in building.

But for those who have chosen to cast their lot with its uncertain future, it is also a defiant city.

People freely admit to the psychological trauma they suffered, and are suffering still. They joke about suffering from “Katrina Brain” and the need for antidepressants or drink to combat it. They say things like, “I’ll never get over it.”

But they do so with sweat dripping from their brows as they haul drywall and rusted washing machines onto the sidewalk. They stand in their sweltering, gutted houses and reaffirm their commitment to their neighborhood, their city, their roots.

The American people must realize we are all New Orleanians. New Orleans is our city; the Gulf Coast is our coast. Failure or prosperity in the Gulf impacts all of us. Those who can’t feel empathy should be reminded that a swath of failed communities running across four states is an unproductive swath, a swath not adding to national wealth, a swath that will continue to be a drain on the nation’s resources. We, the People have a financial interest — a patriotic interest, even — in rebuilding the Gulf.

The President is visiting New Orleans today to participate in some events artfully staged to make him look good. They’ll set him up somewhere that looks presentable, and he’ll make little speeches about commitment and grit and that people need to be patient — rhetoric as empty as Karen Hughes’s head, and quintessential Bush. I wonder if he’ll bother to go through this charade again next year, or if (with no midterm election looming) he’ll just blow it all off.

Update: Did you know the U.S. is receiving foreign aid to help with Gulf reconstruction?

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Image and Action

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Bush Administration

Lots of bloggers are linking to this New York Times article by Sheryl Gay Stolberg, “Year After Katrina, Bush Still Fights for 9/11 Image.”

When the nation records the legacy of George W. Bush, 43rd president and self-described compassionate conservative, two competing images will help tell the tale.

The first is of Mr. Bush after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, bullhorn in hand, feet planted firmly in the rubble of the twin towers. The second is of him aboard Air Force One, on his way from Crawford, Tex., to Washington, peering out the window at the wreckage of Hurricane Katrina thousands of feet below.

If the bungled federal response to Hurricane Katrina called into question the president’s competence, that Air Force One snapshot, coupled with wrenching scenes on the ground of victims who were largely poor and black, called into question something equally important to Mr. Bush: his compassion.

A year later, he has yet to recover on either front.

Stolberg goes on to say that Bush’s approval raitings never rebounded. You know the story by now.

Josh Marshall Matt Yglesias:

In particular, the centrality of 9/11 to Bush’s political persona has always struck me as under-analyzed. It’s a strange thing primarily because Bush didn’t really do anything on 9/11 or its immediate aftermath. Terrorists hijacked four planes and sought to crash them into buildings. They succeeded in doing so with three of the planes. Thousands died. The physical destruction was enormous. It was terrible. But it wasn’t quite as bad as it could have been. The passengers on one plane downed it before it could reach its target. Many people were evacuated from the World Trade Center and their lives were saved. But none of the good work that was done on that day — and there was some good, heroic work done — was done by the president or had anything in particular to do with him.

Rather, the good vibes about 9/11 Bush all, in essence, relate to a series of speeches he gave in the days following the event (his immediate evening-of speech was poorly receieved). And I think they were good speeches. The rubble/bullhorn event was a good event. The address to a joint session of congress was great, too. But what does that all really amount to?

IMO you can say the same thing about Rudy Guiliani. All he had to do after 9/11 was be on television.

His popularity skyrocketed because, having failed to foil a serious terrorist plot, he made a series of pleasing remarks about the plot. And ever since that day, I think this dynamic has been infecting our national strategy. The main goal, in essence, is to do things that signify the adoption of an appropriate attitude toward hostile elements in the world rather than to evaluate possible courses of action in terms of their effects.

The debate on Iraq is just awash in this. The war gets discussed as if it’s a metaphor of some kind. A good opportunity to demonstrate resolve or commitment, or else the lack thereof. A place where our stick-to-it-iveness will show how strongly we feel that democracy is good. A shadow theater wherein we send messages to al-Qaeda or Iran or what have you have. But, of course, Iraq is a real place. The soldiers and civilians in that country are real people. They shoot real bullets and detonate real explosives. And so the question has to be, what, actually, is being achieved? What more might realistically be achieved? What are the consequences — not intentions, not desires, not hopes, but consequences — of our policies?

I’ve ranted the same rant many times. This Administration doesn’t know how to do anything except put on an act. What’s pathetic is that so many Americans didn’t notice for so long.

Other comments:

BooMan:

Bush oh so wishes that we would forget Katrina, forget My Pet Goat, forget the August 6th memo, forget his frantic flight to Nebraska, forget his promise to wage a crusade, forget that he didn’t even know the difference between Shi’a and Sunnis before he asked Richard Clarke to find phantom evidence against Iraq…

Yes, if we can forget all of that, then maybe we can see him again standing on the rubble with his bullhorn, talking tough and making us feel better for a half a moment. Never in history has a politician attempted to get more mileage out of a single photo op. For me, Bush will always be reading My Pet Goat.

zuzu:

Katrina gave even those who were supportive of the president and thought he could do no wrong a much-needed dose of reality: with the horribly bungled response to Katrina, they had to admit that there is no there in this presidency. There was a veneer of resolute strength that was blown away for good by Katrina.

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Time and Tides

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Bush Administration

Tomorrow is the big anniversary of the landing of Katrina. Today the President landed in Mississippi; tomorrow he’s supposed to be in New Orleans. I assume that at some point he will take part in some highly stagecrafted representation of an actual presidential administration featuring Black Persons chosen for their ability to show awe and gratitude to massa the President. At some point the President will take off his jacket and roll up his shirtsleeves. He will talk a lot about how much money the feds have appropriated and about the government’s duty to rebuild the Gulf. It will all be bullshit.

You can read Paul Krugman’s column here.

Last September President Bush stood in New Orleans, where the lights had just come on for the first time since Katrina struck, and promised “one of the largest reconstruction efforts the world has ever seen.” Then he left, and the lights went out again.

What happened next was a replay of what happened after Mr. Bush asked Congress to allocate $18 billion for Iraqi reconstruction. In the months that followed, congressmen who visited Iraq returned with glowing accounts of all the wonderful things we were doing there, like repainting schools and, um, repainting schools.

But when the Coalition Provisional Authority, which was running Iraq, closed up shop nine months later, it turned out that only 2 percent of the $18 billion had been spent, and only a handful of the projects that were supposed to have been financed with that money had even been started. In the end, America failed to deliver even the most basic repair of Iraq’s infrastructure; today, Baghdad gets less than seven hours of electricity a day.

And so it is along our own Gulf Coast.

The Bush administration likes to talk about all the money it has allocated to the region, and it plans a public relations blitz to persuade America that it’s doing a heck of a job aiding Katrina’s victims. But as the Iraqis learned, allocating money and actually using it for reconstruction are two different things, and so far the administration has done almost nothing to make good on last year’s promises.

It’s true that tens of billions have been spent on emergency relief and cleanup. But even the cleanup remains incomplete: almost a third of the hurricane debris in New Orleans has yet to be removed. And the process of going beyond cleanup to actual reconstruction has barely begun.

Most of you know all this already, but I say you can’t repeat it often enough.

Krugman goes on to outline what President Bush could have done, but didn’t do, to expedite Gulf Coast reconstruction.

It strikes me that another parallel between Iraq and the Gulf Coast is the Administration’s lack of urgency. After being in an all-fired toot to invade Iraq right now, the Bushies seemed to think they had all the time in the world to restore order, utilities and infrastructure. In fact, and I know they were warned about this, the clock was ticking as soon as Bush announced the “mission” was “accomplished.” The Bushies had a small window of time in which to restore order and government services before an insurgency picked up steam. The Bushies acted as if they had all the time in the world, while Iraqis went without water and electricity and basic law enforcement. And got pissed.

Early this year Warren Strobel and Jonathan Landay of Knight Ridder reported that by late 2003 U.S. intelligence agencies were warning the Bush Administration that the insurgency was being fueled by “local conditions” and “deep grievances” against the occupation, and was getting out of control. The Bushies ignored this and continued to believe the violence was all coming from foreign fighters and “dead enders.”

I believe that the Bushies had already pissed away their “victory” then. It is possible that, had order been kept and services restored promptly after the “military phase” of the invasion ended, the White House might have obtained the result they say they want — a stable, democratic and America-friendly Iraq. But they failed to hear that ticking clock.

The same thing is true of the Gulf. The Bushies seem to think that people shouldn’t mind having their lives put on hold indefinitely. Meanwhile, countless small businesses are dead and gone because they couldn’t re-open, or if they did re-open they failed for lack of customers. Other residents and small business owners have permanently re-located. Families and marriages are strained. Jobless homeowners defaulted on mortgages, and now the foreclosures have begun.

Let’s see — how many vacation days has the President enjoyed since this time last year?

Much Katrina commentary has been about the Administration’s failure to address the problems of poverty. While I agree in substance, I think the best anti-poverty program would have been a vigorous and uncorrupted recovery program. You know, the kind of program that contracts the work to be done by local companies as much as possible, instead of by the President’s campaign contributors and cronies. A program that emphasizes employing residents and paying them a living wage, instead of importing illegal aliens and then stiffing them. A program in which most of the money allocated to reconstruction is applied to reconstruction instead of disappearing into the pockets of a pyramid of subcontractors. A program that helps people keep their homes (and the equity they’ve built up over the years) before the bank forecloses. A program to help small businesses ride out the dry spell before the customers came back. That would have helped reduce poverty a great deal.

But the way the Bushies are running Gulf reconstruction, it’s more of a pro-poverty program.

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Dirty State Politics.

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elections

Our local state Senate race is between long-time Republican incumbent Nick Spano and Democratic challenger Andrea Stewart-Cousins. Last week the Spano campaign began to run television ads claiming that Stewart-Cousins was responsible for allowing sex offenders to move into a homeless shelter in a nice residential neighborhood in Valhalla, NY. It’s a bogus charge; details here.

I just got a phone call from someone claiming to be taking a poll; he then asked me if I was likely to vote for Stewart-Cousins knowing she allowed pedophiles to move to Valhalla. I told the guy I certainly would vote for Stewart-Cousins because I hate push polls.

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Second Rate Nation

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economy

Who’s number one? Not the U.S. apparently. David Francis writes in the Christian Science Monitor:

The United States is the world’s only military superpower and has the globe’s largest economy. Yet, by some measures, the US is a second-rate industrial nation – at best.

“Compared to other advanced economies, our market-driven model yields highly varied results regarding the living standards of our citizens,” notes a study by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a nonpartisan think tank in Washington.

It’s an open question as to whether most Americans are better off than most Western Europeans.

“We leave a lot of people behind,” says Sylvia Allegretto, an economist at EPI.

“We are a dynamic economy,” says Timothy Smeeding, an economist at Syracuse (N.Y.) University. “A lot of people are doing well,” he adds. But for those with median incomes ($40,000 a year) or less, it is a “second-rate” economy. They “are not getting much help.”

Conservatives like to brag about numbers — Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and Gross National Product (GNP) and Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) numbers, for example — and toss in some coefficients and price adjustments, and then they say, ah-HAH. The U.S. is the richest country in the world.

This guy is a prime example. After a dizzying display of numbers, he concludes:

If we accept (as I do) that we do, indeed, need to have a social safety net, and that we have a duty to provide for those incapable or unlucky enough to be unable to do so for themselves, we need to set some level at which such help is offered. The standard of living of the poor in a redistributionist paradise like Finland (or Sweden) seems a fair enough number to use and the USA provides exactly that. Good, the problem’s solved. We’ve provided — both through the structure of the economy and the various forms of taxation and benefits precisely what we should be — an acceptable baseline income for the poor. No further redistribution is necessary and we can carry on with the current tax rates and policies which seem, as this report shows, to be increasing US incomes faster than those in other countries and boosting productivity faster as well.

At the bottom of the article, the author’s blurb: Tim Worstall is a TCS Daily contributor living in Europe. (chuckle)

Compare/contrast with Robert Kuttner, who wrote in April 2006:

Census data show median household income fell 3.8 percent or $1,700, from 1999 to 2004, according to economist Jared Bernstein of the Economic Policy Institute (on whose board I serve.) And this drop occurred during a period when average productivity rose three percent per year.

Moreover, as economist Jeff Madrick has observed in his book ”Why Economies Grow,” , the reality is worse because prices of commodities that make us middle class are rising much faster than inflation generally: housing, college education, health care, and also child care. These very rapid price increases are offset by falling costs of consumer electronics, basic food, and clothing, creating misleadingly low inflation measures.

It’s great that shirts are cheaper than a decade ago, and that we all have cell phones. But that doesn’t exactly substitute for a house, an affordable college education, or health care.

According to economist Bernstein, whose study covers the years 1991-2002, households in the middle fifth of the economy increased their incomes (not adjusted for inflation) by 41 percent. Inflation during that period, as measured by the government’s Consumer Price Index, went up 33 percent. That implies real living standards rose by a not very impressive 8 percent during more than a decade.

But hold on. During the same period, housing, healthcare, education, and child care went up 46 percent, or more than incomes. We cannot afford the big things we need and comfort ourselves with gadgets. The cheaper laptop, plasma TV, and GPS screen in your car make it appear statistically that living standards are not falling as much as they are.

The emblem of the new economy might be a 35-year-old, listening to an iPod, living in a house much smaller than the one he grew up in.

To use a favorite word of my grandmother’s, call it the Tchotchke Economy (a Tchotchke is a small trinket): Plenty of nifty, ever cheaper electronic stuff — and ever more costly housing, education, healthcare. An iPod is swell, but it doesn’t exactly make you middle class.

Why does this describe America in 2006? Don’t blame it on immigrants. Blame it on the people running the government, who have made sure that the lion’s share of the productivity gains go to the richest 1 percent of Americans. With different tax, labor, health, and housing policies, native-born workers and immigrants alike could get a fairer share of our productive economy — and still have the nifty iPods.

Righties pooh-pooh standard of living comparisons as so much socialist hocus-pocus; they prefer numbers. But I would really love to see a side-by-side comparison of how average working people live in several industrialized nations. Take some common occupations, both white and blue collar — e.g., truck driver, cashier, teacher, office administrator — and compare how people in those occupations manage in various countries. Take into account what kind of house they live in; how much of their income goes to pay for housing (mortgage, rent, property taxes); what major appliances they own; how they get around on an ordinary day (car, bus, bicycle) and how much time they spend commuting; how many hours a week they spend on the job; vacation and leisure (how much paid vacation they get, and what they do for fun); the quality of health care they receive and how it’s paid for; how much they spend on child care and education; etc.

Take your numbers and shove ’em, in other words. Show me how ordinary working folks live. I suspect the U.S. would look pretty average in such a comparison — better in some ways, worse in others.

Of course, in the United States there are huge disparities from region to region. Housing is a lot more affordable in most of the South and Midwest than it is in the megalopolis northeast, for example. It might take some doing to figure out what the real “average” is in the U.S.

See also this article from the August 19 Guardian: “Balance of power ebbs away from the US.

… the US economy has already slowed, expanding at an annual pace of only 2.5% in the second quarter. With news this week that the 12-member eurozone expanded at an annualised rate of 3.6% in the April to June period, Europe is suddenly growing faster than the US. Britain, too, has recovered from last year’s slowdown and expanded at an annualised 3.2% in the second quarter.

In the last post I wrote about how the nation’s infrastructure is rotting away. This is not from a lack of wealth; certainly we got wealth up the wazoo in America. No, our infrastructure is rotting away because of a lack of will, as well as greed. A small portion of our citizens are sitting on most of the wealth and don’t want to share it. And the politicians are too corrupt or clueless to insist that infrastructure be maintained. Eventually we’ll have more and more power failures and maybe some spectacular and deadly bridge collapses, and then citizens will want to know why.

Face it; the whole nation is being Katrina’ed. The only difference between the Gulf Coast and the rest of us is time. Hurricanes work fast; rot and rust take longer. But they get the job done eventually.

Update:
Via DemFromCT at The Next Hurrah, Steven Greenhouse and David Leonhardt write in today’s New York Times, “Real Wages Fail to Match a Rise in Productivity“:

With the economy beginning to slow, the current expansion has a chance to become the first sustained period of economic growth since World War II that fails to offer a prolonged increase in real wages for most workers.

That situation is adding to fears among Republicans that the economy will hurt vulnerable incumbents in this year’s midterm elections even though overall growth has been healthy for much of the last five years.

The median hourly wage for American workers has declined 2 percent since 2003, after factoring in inflation. The drop has been especially notable, economists say, because productivity — the amount that an average worker produces in an hour and the basic wellspring of a nation’s living standards — has risen steadily over the same period.

As a result, wages and salaries now make up the lowest share of the nation’s gross domestic product since the government began recording the data in 1947, while corporate profits have climbed to their highest share since the 1960’s. UBS, the investment bank, recently described the current period as “the golden era of profitability.”

Here’s an eye opener:

In another recent report on the boom in profits, economists at Goldman Sachs wrote, “The most important contributor to higher profit margins over the past five years has been a decline in labor’s share of national income.” Low interest rates and the moderate cost of capital goods, like computers, have also played a role, though economists note that an economic slowdown could hurt profits in coming months.

Is that saying that corporations are making profits by squeezing workers? I do believe that’s what it says.

The most recent recession ended in late 2001. Hourly wages continued to rise in 2002 and peaked in early 2003, largely on the lingering strength of the 1990’s boom.

Average family income, adjusted for inflation, has continued to advance at a good clip, a fact Mr. Bush has cited when speaking about the economy. But these gains are a result mainly of increases at the top of the income spectrum that pull up the overall numbers. Even for workers at the 90th percentile of earners — making about $80,000 a year — inflation has outpaced their pay increases over the last three years, according to the Labor Department.

I’d like to know what Tim Worstall, TCS Daily contributor living in Europe, has to say about that.

Update: Maxspeak, who understands numbers better than I do, explains why Tim Worstall (TCS Daily contributor living in Europe) is wrong.

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