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saturday, september 10, 2005

Another Trifecta?
 
The GOP sees big opportunities in the devastation of Katrina, writes Edmund Andrews in today's New York Times:
Republican leaders in Congress and some White House officials see opportunities in Hurricane Katrina to advance longstanding conservative goals like giving students vouchers to pay for private schools, paying churches to help with temporary housing and scaling back business regulation. ...

The Bush administration has already moved to relax a variety of regulations in areas damaged by the hurricane. Many of the changes are small, like letting people take bigger tax deductions for the miles they drive while doing charitable work. Another change, announced on Friday by Treasury Secretary John W. Snow, will give preference to investment groups from hurricane areas that are seeking tax credits for community development projects.

But other changes are more ideological and more controversial. On Thursday, Mr. Bush issued an order that exempts federal contractors working on disaster relief projects from a longstanding federal requirement that they pay workers "prevailing wages," which are usually pegged to union pay rates.

The exemption strikes at the heart of a requirement that labor unions and Democratic lawmakers have ferociously defended for years.

"There are a lot of opportunities to experiment," said Mr. Snow, who jointed Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao and Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez in a rapid trip to highlight the administration's hurricane-relief operations.

Experiment? Maybe Mr. Snow will want to bring back the Black Codes. Or how about sharecropping? We'll have to call it something else, of course. (Suggestions?) Then, of course, if we combine Bush's "immigration reform" (i.e., guest worker) program with slave wages, the Gulf Coast will turn into one big encomienda.
 
I like this one:

But beyond the immediate needs, Republican lawmakers and administration officials are contemplating tax cuts intended to draw companies and workers back to New Orleans, regulatory changes to speed the expansion of oil refineries and scores of smaller changes to improve the recovery.

You want to draw workers back to New Orleans? How about offering good wages and benefits? What do the Bushies have against people who work for a living?
 
Really, this Katrina thing promises to work out well for the Bush Team. Congress promises to shovel billions of dollars to federal agencies staffed with Bush cronies. And they can be counted on to pass most of these dollars along to other Bush cronies in the private sector, as reported today by Reuters:
Companies with ties to the Bush White House and the former head of FEMA are clinching some of the administration's first disaster relief and reconstruction contracts in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

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

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

Bechtel National Inc., a unit of San Francisco-based Bechtel Corp., has also been selected by FEMA to provide short-term housing for people displaced by the hurricane. Bush named Bechtel's CEO to his Export Council and put the former CEO of Bechtel Energy in charge of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation.
And now that these people have just about been relieved of the onerous burden of paying their employees, sit back and watch those profits roll in!
 
How about their favorite subject, 9/11? After that disaster, the GOP controlled government offered relief via bank loans to those impacted by 9/11. Those silly folks in NYC probably thought that meant them, but loans to NY only made up 11% of the five billion dished out. Instead the money was handed out by banks who just happen to be large campaign donors and who have their tasty chunk of pork coming with the bankruptcy bill next month, to people across the country including the 9/11-needy country radio station KBFS in Belle Fourche, South Dakota and Little Dogs Resort & Salon in Utah.
Expect most of the "Katrina relief" money to end up everywhere on the planet except Louisiana.
 
The GOP seems to be charging ahead on Bush's agenda as if he still had his post-9/11 approval numbers. In this must-read editorial in today's Boston Globe, Robert Kuttner writes,

We face two opposite prospects. The first is that Americans will finally grasp that what connects the catastrophes in New Orleans and Iraq is a witches' brew of self-delusion, deliberate deception, cronyism, and staggering incompetence on the part of the Bush administration. Republicans, meanwhile, will desert a president who is becoming a plain embarrassment even to his staunchest backers.

But there is a darker possibility. The Karl Rove team is gradually getting Republicans back ''on message." The message: There's no point in playing a ''blame game," as Scott McClellan said 15 times at Thursday's press briefing. The New Orleans disaster just proves the unreliability of government in general rather than this feckless president in particular. We should be looking forward to rebuilding -- with the private sector taking the lead.

If we aren't alert, Bush will not only wriggle out of political responsibility for diverting funds from New Orleans's flood defenses, eviscerating FEMA, and bungling the response, just as he evaded responsibility after Richard Clarke's testimony that the administration ignored warnings about Al Qaeda's plans for a 9/11 style-attack. Katrina could even be a political windfall, promoting the campaign to cripple government, permanently displacing some reliable Democratic voters from the swing state of Louisiana, causing the faithful to rally 'round their beleaguered president, and knocking even more unpleasant news off the front pages and network TV.

("Small government" coservatives, take note: the "private sector" won't really be taking the lead if Bush gets his way, because what passes for a "private sector" under Bushonomics amounts to Bush appointments and cronies. Sitting at the top of the power pyramid is a plutocratic elite answerable to neither the people nor the "invisible hand" of the marketplace.)
 
But Bush's approval numbers continue to slide; truly, it's not September 12 any more. Now is the time to fight.
 
I've heard news stories that some Katrina survivors are going to establish an encampment on the Washington mall and call it "Bushville." This could be as effective as Camp Casey if most of the people participating really are Katrina survivors. Stay tuned.
 
There's also the September 24 antiwar protest planned for Washington DC. I've decided to go, even though I have many of the same missgivings expressed by John Aravosis. Anyone want to join me? Any other suggestions?

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12:00 pm | link

thursday, september 8, 2005

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

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

Yeah, who in Louisiana needs money in circulation to rebuild their lives when it can all go into the pockets of Halliburton et al. and Joe Allbaugh?

Maybe they'll get Massah Joe and Massah Dick to oversee the plantation for Massah George, y'think?

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11:48 pm | link

No More
 
True to form, the righties continue to spread lies and lame excuses to exonerate Dear Leader for the failures of the Katrina response, while at the same time they accuse Democrats of politicizing the tragedy.  
 
For example, see how that worthless waste of human protoplasm known as "Michelle Malkin" responded to news of Katrina survivors demanding answers from Bush: She calls it the "Sheehan-izing of Katrina."
 
Those poor peasants evacuees shouldn't complain. Things are working out so well for them, you know. If they don't behave, I'm sure Michelle will suggest herding them into detention camps.
 
BTW, today's excuse is that it was the Corps of Engineers' fault.
 
To help fight the rising flood of lies coming from the Right, be sure to clip & save the following resources:
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
*A conservative site, but several lefties have vouched for it.
 
As I'm sure you gather, people are working hard to document who-requested-what-when, in order to counteract the hard-core Right's lies that place all of the blame for inadequate response on state and local government, exonerating the feds.
 
As I've said many times, and as Kos says in this post, there is no question that officials at all levels, and from both parties, made mistakes. It's still not clear in every case who dropped which ball, which is why there needs to be an honest and INDEPENDENT investigation (rather than the Republican-led whitewash currently planned). And this is not about playing a "blame game"; it's about demanding that government be accountable.
 
Whatever the faults of state and local government, however, it is abundantly clear that the federal response was pathetically, even pathologically, inadequate. And they were the ones who were supposed to have the resources and the expertise to step in when local and state governments are overwhelmed, which was clearly the case. Yet the feds sat around and debated states' rights while people died.
 
Further, I live in New York. The governments of Louisiana and Mississippi are not my government. The federal government is my government. The people of Louisiana and Mississippi should demand accountability from their governments. I demand accountability from my government.
 
And while the Right whines incessantly about a "blame game," please note that it's mostly just them playing it. They're the ones working every spin and stretching reality to the breaking point to be sure that most of the blame lands on Louisiana Democrats but not on Mississippi Republicans or (heaven forbid!) George W. Bush.
 
Yes, the Left is hard on Bush, but that's because his actions and responses since August 28 have been so shockingly and sociopathologically inappropriate. Just because a mayor could have done a better job evacuating people on August 28 doesn't excuse a president from ignoring a crisis for several days (until political damage became a threat). It doesn't excuse telling the hopelessly inept Michael Brown that he's doing "a heck of a job." It doesn't excuse using life-saving resources as political props while people are dying from want (see also this).
 
Even given FEMA's obvious screwups, I could muster some respect for Bush had he come out and showed some anger about what was happening. A normal president would have vowed to rattle some cages and kick some ass to make the feds hop to it. Instead, Bush's entire concern has been his own political image.
 
You've got to be blind not to see that. If you don't, please read by "Adventures in Problem Solving" series from yesterday (parts I through IV).
 
And, to be fair, even some righties are catching on. Hunter quotes Joe Scarborough:
The bottom line is that despite the fact the president was strapped with two governors who bungled this crisis badly, in the end it is the president who sends in the National Guard and FEMA relief. The president's suggestion that the size of this storm caught all by surprise just doesn't get it. His administration was 48 hours late sending in the National Guard and poor Americans got raped and killed because of those mistakes.
Wow, he sounds almost ... liberal.
 
Mere words cannot express my feelings now. I want to scream and stomp and smack things. I want to cover myself in warpaint and charge the White House in a chariot, like Boadicea.
 
However, this morning via a comment at Pandagon I found this outstanding rant by Miss Alli at This Is Not Over. I will defer to it.
 
And take heart--Chimpy's approval ratings are at an all-time low.

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12:40 pm | link

wednesday, september 7, 2005

Shrill

Dan Froomkin was live online today and responded to a comment about the "teflon president," thus:

Ultimately, I don't see how his saying "I'll protect you -- unless of course your local officials fail you, in which case I'll let you die a horrible death on national TV," is going to make him look good.

Last year, Bush and Cheney campaigned on the theme that only they were tough enough to keep us safe; those other guys were soft on national security and possibly French. This year, the theme is "Security? Not our job. Talk to your mayor."

Froomkin also wrote today,

In the wake of a mortifyingly slow government response to the Gulf Coast disaster, the press is demanding answers from the White House with unprecedented vigor.

President Bush and his aides are refusing to provide them -- saying this is no time to play the "blame game."

But as a frustrated Terry Moran of ABC News put it yesterday, during the stonewalling marathon that passed for Scott McClellan's mid-day press briefing: "It's not a blame game. It's accountability! It's accountability!"

That's the slogan I was looking for: It's not a blame game. It's accountability! 

The White House press corps is sensing a political sea change caused by Katrina. Bush and his aides are finding it impossible to wave off the incontrovertible facts and heart-rending images emerging from the lake that was once a great American city. They're finding it harder to set the news agenda. And the scathing criticism is becoming increasingly bipartisan, freeing reporters from the obligation to make every White House story sound like one with two sides equally based in reality.

Bush may be paying the price for the years during which his rhetoric and reality have been at times irreconcilable. After all, this post-Katrina press awakening is not the result of reporters expressing their personal or political opinions so much as it is about their asking tough questions based on what they, and others, have seen with their own eyes.

But the Republicans are moving swiftly to provide Bush with political cover. Today House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist announced there would be a "bipartisan" House-Senate commission to investigate government response to Katrina.  Democrats were not consulted and had not agreed to this when the announcement was made. The Dems want an independent commission, such as the one eventually convened to investigate 9/11.
 
Somethng tells me the Left Blogosphere had better gear up for a fight.
 
There are a number of worthy rants in the papers today. For example, Tom Friedman almost gets shrill.

An administration whose tax policy has been dominated by the toweringly selfish Grover Norquist - who has been quoted as saying: "I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub" - doesn't have the instincts for this moment. Mr. Norquist is the only person about whom I would say this: I hope he owns property around the New Orleans levee that was never properly finished because of a lack of tax dollars. I hope his basement got flooded. And I hope that he was busy drowning government in his bathtub when the levee broke and that he had to wait for a U.S. Army helicopter to get out of town.

The Bush team has engaged in a tax giveaway since 9/11 that has had one underlying assumption: There will never be another rainy day. Just spend money. You knew that sooner or later there would be a rainy day, but Karl Rove has assumed it wouldn't happen on Mr. Bush's watch - that someone else would have to clean it up. Well, it did happen on his watch.

Besides ripping away the roofs of New Orleans, Katrina ripped away the argument that we can cut taxes, properly educate our kids, compete with India and China, succeed in Iraq, keep improving the U.S. infrastructure, and take care of a catastrophic emergency - without putting ourselves totally into the debt of Beijing.

So many of the things the Bush team has ignored or distorted under the guise of fighting Osama were exposed by Katrina: its refusal to impose a gasoline tax after 9/11, which would have begun to shift our economy much sooner to more fuel-efficient cars, helped raise money for a rainy day and eased our dependence on the world's worst regimes for energy; its refusal to develop some form of national health care to cover the 40 million uninsured; and its insistence on cutting more taxes, even when that has contributed to incomplete levees and too small an Army to deal with Katrina, Osama and Saddam at the same time.

As my Democratic entrepreneur friend Joel Hyatt once remarked, the Bush team's philosophy since 9/11 has been: "We're at war. Let's party."

In WaPo, Harold Meyerson almost sounds like a leftie blogger.

By which measures, precisely, do we lead the world? Caring for our countrymen? You jest. A first-class physical infrastructure? Tell that to New Orleans. Throwing so much money at the rich that we've got nothing left over to promote the general welfare? Now you're talking. ...

... Even if we'll never win the national-greatness sweepstakes for solidarity, though, we've long been the model of the world in matters infrastructural, in roads, bridges and dams and the like. But the America in which Eisenhower the Good decreed the construction of the interstate highway system now seems a far-off land in which even conservatives believed in public expenditures for the public good. The radical-capitalist conservatives of the past quarter-century not only haven't supported the public expenditures, they don't even believe there is such a thing as the public good. Let the Dutch build their dikes through some socialistic scheme of taxing and spending; that isn't the American way. Here, the business of government is to let the private sector create wealth -- even if that wealth doesn't circulate where it's most needed. So George W. Bush threw trillions of dollars in tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans, and what did they do with it? Did the Walton family up in Bentonville raise the levees in New Orleans? Did the Bass family over in Texas write a tax-deductible check to the Mennonites for the billions of dollars they would need to rescue the elderly from inundated nursing homes?

Even now, with bedraggled rescuers pulling decomposed bodies from the muck of New Orleans, Bill Frist, the moral cretin who runs the U.S. Senate, wanted its first order of business this week to be the permanent repeal of the estate tax, until the public outcry persuaded him to change course. The Republicans profess belief in trickle-down, but what they've given us is the Flood.

The world looks on in stunned amazement, unable to understand how a once great nation has grown so indifferent not just to its poor and its blacks but even to the most rudimentary self-preservation. Some of it is institutional racism, but the primary culprit is the economic libertarianism that the president still espouses whenever he sells his Social Security snake oil. It's that libertarianism, more than anything else, that has transformed a great city into an immense morgue.

Moral cretin? Wow. Pretty shrill.

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4:17 pm | link

Adventures in Problem Solving, Part IV
 
 "We've got to solve problems. We're problem-solvers."--President George W. Bush, while contemplating his next move in the Blame Game. 
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
While writing this post I got an email from Bob Brigham of Swing State Project, who says: 

We are in Jefferson Parish, just outside of New Orleans. At the National Guard checkpoint, they are under orders to turn away all media. All of the reporters are turning they're TV trucks around.

Things are so bad, Bush is now censoring all reporting from NOLA. The First Amendment sank with the city.

Bob has been blogging from  www.RebuildTheSouth.com, but right now this link isn't working for me. Maybe it will work for you.
 
I flipped on MSNBC and CNN, but they're covering the Rehnquist funeral at the moment.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
I believe I am seeing more "blame the locals" coverage today on television and on the Web, so Karl Rove's blame-deflection campaign must be taking hold.
 
As I've said several times already (trolls, do take note) I'm sure every level of government failed to do many things that might have been done. However, I do not buy into the rightie argument that the shortcomings of local government somehow exonerates the feds.
 
An editorial in today's Boston Globe informs us that, last year, federal state and local officials took part in a simulation exercise to determine the impact of a major hurricane hitting New Orleans. "It predicted that the levees would be swamped," the Globe says. "One million people from the area would be evacuated in time, but 300,000 or so residents, mostly the poor without transportation, would be left behind."
 
So much for "no one could have anticipated" last week's disaster.
 
The New York Post and the Associated Press both say that FEMA chief Michael Brown sat on his hands while Katrina raged. From the AP:
The top U.S. disaster official waited hours after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast before he proposed to his boss sending at least 1,000 Homeland Security workers into the region to support rescuers, internal documents show.

Part of the mission, according to the documents obtained by The Associated Press, was to "convey a positive image" about the government's response for victims.

Acknowledging that such a move would take two days, Michael Brown, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, sought the approval from Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff roughly five hours after Katrina made landfall on Aug. 29....

...Brown's memo to Chertoff described Katrina as "this near catastrophic event" but otherwise lacked any urgent language. The memo politely ended, "Thank you for your consideration in helping us to meet our responsibilities."

But those federal problem-solvers are sure on the job now. For example, read "U.S. Agency Blocks Photos of New Orleans Dead" from Reuters.

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3:32 pm | link

Adventures in Problem Solving, Part III
 
"We've got to solve problems. We're problem-solvers."--President George W. Bush, words engraved on rectal polyp 
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Not long after some 1,000 firefighters sat down for eight hours of training, the whispering began: "What are we doing here?" 

As New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin pleaded on national television for firefighters - his own are exhausted after working around the clock for a week - a battalion of highly trained men and women sat idle Sunday in a muggy Sheraton Hotel conference room in Atlanta.

Many of the firefighters, assembled from Utah and throughout the United States by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, thought they were going to be deployed as emergency workers.

Instead, they have learned they are going to be community-relations officers for FEMA, shuffled throughout the Gulf Coast region to disseminate fliers and a phone number: 1-800-621-FEMA.
Sometimes snarking just isn't enough.
But as specific orders began arriving to the firefighters in Atlanta, a team of 50 Monday morning quickly was ushered onto a flight headed for Louisiana. The crew's first assignment: to stand beside President Bush as he tours devastated areas.
bushandfiremen.jpgAnd here is the fruit of their labor: The publicity photo.
 
A great many bloggers have already gotten to this story, which means I can coast a bit by quoting them. Michael Bérubé says of the photo,
And only the hypercynical among you would dare to suggest that this photo will do its job—that the Mark Steyns and the Hugh Hewitts and the Jonah Goldbergs will dash to their keyboards and begin gushing about their bold, steely leader rolling up his sleeves (note the sleeve!) and getting to work.

I guess this is what Bush was talking about yesterday when he called himself a "problem solver." But one of these days he and the Rovians really ought to take a stab at trying to solve other people's problems.

I'm just surprised they didn't shove some boots and a helmet on Shrub and stick him behind the wheel of a fire engine. Maybe with a big banner on the side: "Lets Roll!"

Using experienced firefighters as PR flacks while fires burn in New Orleans is not a screw up. It was FEMA's plan.

On Monday, some firefighters stuck in the staging area at the Sheraton peeled off their FEMA-issued shirts and stuffed them in backpacks, saying they refuse to represent the federal agency.

Federal officials are unapologetic. 

"I would go back and ask the firefighter to revisit his commitment to FEMA, to firefighting and to the citizens of this country," said FEMA spokeswoman Mary Hudak.

The firefighters - or at least the fire chiefs who assigned them to come to Atlanta - knew what the assignment would be, Hudak said.

"The initial call to action very specifically says we're looking for two-person fire teams to do community relations," she said. "So if there is a breakdown [in communication], it was likely in their own departments." ...

...Louis H. Botta, a coordinating officer for FEMA, said sending out firefighters on community relations makes sense. They already have had background checks and meet the qualifications to be sworn as a federal employee. They have medical training that will prove invaluable as they come across hurricane victims in the field.

Do read the entire Salt Lake Tribune article, by Lisa Rosetta. Read about the search-and-rescue, parametics, and haz-mat certified experts had to sit through a sexual-harassment class (your punch line here). Read about how the firefighters have been warned not to talk to the press. And read about how cities are picking up the tab to fill the firefighters' vacancies while they work 30 days for the federal government and are now not available to respond to disasters anywhere.

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12:05 pm | link

Adventures in Problem Solving, Part II
 
"We've got to solve problems. We're problem-solvers."--President George W. Bush, from a recording made in the president's colon 
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Do not let it be said that our president cannot act decisively when he gets around to it. Now he has boldly called forth the Big Dick himself to go to New Orleans.
 
In today's Boston Globe, Derrick Jackson explains that you know Bush is serious when he whips out the Dick:
For five years now, you could measure how seriously Bush took issues of great magnitude by how deeply Cheney was involved. It was Cheney who ran Bush's super-secretive energy task force. When Bush wanted a drummer to pound the false connection between Saddam Hussein and Sept. 11 into the heads of middle America, Cheney responded on the speech circuit and Sunday talk shows, as he himself likes to say, ''big time."
Dick the Dick has been charged with the job of assessing the government's role in Katrina rescue and recovery operations and remove "any bureaucratic obstacles that may be preventing us from achieving our goals." 
 
In today's New York Times, Maureen Dowd speculates about what those goals might be.

Maybe Mr. Cheney is going down to New Orleans to hunt looters. Or to make sure that Halliburton's lucrative contract to rebuild the city is watertight. Or maybe, since former Senator John Breaux of Louisiana described the shattered parish as "Baghdad under water," the vice president plans to take his pal Ahmad Chalabi along for a consultation on destroying minority rights.

Or, maybe he'll be helping former Bushie FEMA head Joe Allbaugh get his influence-peddling racket off the ground. Josh tells us,

This article from the September 1st edition of the Post noted that Allbaugh was already in Louisiana "helping coordinate the private-sector response to the storm." ...

... I'd been so focused on Allbaugh's Iraq operation, that I had lost track of what he was up to on the domestic rain-making activities.

First, there's Blackwell Fairbanks, the outfit he set up with Andrew Lundquist, the guy who ran Vice President Cheney's energy policy task force. And then of course there's Allbaugh's main shop, The Allbaugh Company, the one Haley Barbour[*] helped him set up along with New Bridge Strategies, the Iraq venture.

I figure he's in Louisiana wearing the Allbaugh Company hat, seeing as how a few months back he signed on as a lobbyist for Halliburton subsidiary KBR to "educate the congressional and executive branch on defense, disaster relief and homeland security issues."

[*]You'll remember that Haley Barbour is the governor of Mississippi at the moment.  

Regarding Halliburton, which just got a $500 million U.S. Navy contract for emergency repairs at Gulf Coast naval and marine facilities, the company  reported being paid $10.7 billion for Iraq-related contracts in 2003 and 2004. Pentagon auditors have questioned tens of millions of dollars of Halliburton charges, however.

From the Illinois Journal Standard:

Consider the plight of Bunnatine Greenhouse, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lead official for government contracts, whose demotion last week to a position with no influence was obscured by news of Hurricane Katrina. What did the otherwise highly respected civil servant do to earn such harsh discipline from the government she, by all accounts, served admirably throughout her career?

She issued pointed criticism about the awarding of $20 billion in no-bid contracts to Halliburton, the Texas-based oil services company headed by Vice President Dick Cheney prior to his being named to the Bush ticket. Cheney, according to some reports, may still own more than 400,000 shares of Halliburton stock.

And Halliburton and its subsidiaries now own more than half of Iraq reconstruction projects.

Meanwhile, the probe into how billions of Iraq contract money disappeared under Halliburton's watch seems to have stalled.

Mo Dowd reports that in the days just following Hurricane Katrina, Dick the Dick had been shopping "for a $2.9 million waterfront estate in St. Michael's, a retreat in the Chesapeake Bay where Rummy has a weekend home." But now he's got a shot at owning a big chunk of the oil-rich Gulf Coast, and at bargain-basement prices!

Cross-posted to The American Street.

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10:40 am | link

Adventures in Problem Solving, Part I
 
"We've got to solve problems. We're problem-solvers."--President George W. Bush, speaking from somewhere inside his own intestines.  
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Elizabeth Williamson writes in today's Washington Post that among the problems the Bush Administration is solving are ways to prevent offers of foreign aid from reaching people who need it.

Offers of foreign aid worth tens of millions of dollars -- including a Swedish water purification system, a German cellular telephone network and two Canadian rescue ships -- have been delayed for days awaiting review by backlogged federal agencies, according to European diplomats and information collected by the State Department.

Since Hurricane Katrina, more than 90 countries and international organizations offered to assist in recovery efforts for the flood-stricken region, but nearly all endeavors remained mired yesterday in bureaucratic entanglements, in most cases, at the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Just one example cited by Williamson:
Soon after the flooding, the government of Sweden offered a C-130 Hercules transport plane, loaded with water purification equipment, and a cellular network donated by Ericsson.

"As far as I know, it's still on the ground," said Claes Thorson, press counselor at the Swedish Embassy in Washington. He said that along with 20 other European Union nations that have pledged aid, "We are ready to send our things. We know they are needed, but what seems to be a problem is getting all these offers into the country."

So far, Thorson said, the State Department has denied Sweden's request for flight clearance. "We don't know exactly why, but we have a suspicion that the system is clogged on the receiving end," he said. "But we keep a request alive all the time, so we are not forgotten."

The State Department, of course, is headed by our gal Condi, who has been busily handing our press releases thanking other nations for their help, even though the State Department isn't enabling the help to get through.  

New Skies even arranged transport, securing a C-130 cargo plane from the Israeli air force, to pick up the equipment and technicians from Germany and bring them to Louisiana. "With one call, I got an airplane," Hemy said. And then, over four days, she and the owner of Unisat, Uri Bar-Zemer, called contacts at FEMA, the American Red Cross, the State Department, even members of Congress, trying to find someone to accept the gift.

Finally the State Department told them that to receive flight clearance, the gift must have a specific recipient. "I was ringing, ringing, ringing -- and nothing," Hemy said. Finally, yesterday, she got a call from the U.S. Air Force's Joint Task Force Katrina Communication Operations division, thanking the companies for the gift and inquiring about the system's technical specifications.

Is this brilliant, or what? But this is just the beginning. Click back later today for another installment of Adventures in Problem Solving!
 
 
Cross-posted to The American Street.

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8:41 am | link

tuesday, september 6, 2005

Excuses, Excuses
 
Predictably, much of the Right Blogosphere is still in head-up-the-butt mode. Via Memeorandum, I see they are still linking to anything they can find that either (1) blames the victims, (2) blames local government, or (3) exonerates the feds for the ongoing debacle on our Gulf Coast.
 
Today's Head-Up-His-Butt Award goes to John Tierney of the New York Times, who actually wrote that the post-Hurricane tragedy of New Orleans could have been avoided if someone had gone door-to-door before Katrina struck and asked residents to either evacuate or write their Social Security numbers on themselves so their bodies could be identified. (See responses from Steve M. and Armando.)
 
Now, it's a fact there're some people you can't help. Last night on one of the cable shows (Anderson Cooper? I'm not sure) they showed a fellow swimming around in the floodwater who refused to be evacuated because he wouldn't leave his dog. This was a white guy, btw, if that detail interests you. The fact is that without medical assistance he and the dog will likely be dead of disease in a few days. Anyone exposed to the New Orleans floodwater or the mosquitoes breeding therein is in terrible danger of dysentery, Hepatitis A, malaria, and possibly 19th-century scourges like yellow fever and cholera (visit Steve Gilliard for details).
 
But the enormous majority of people left behind in New Orleans were too poor or feeble to get out. Yes, it's possible local government could have done more to get them out. But whose fault is it that people had to wait three, four, five days or more to get help after the hurricane?
 
The fact is that if FEMA had responded promptly and had been dropping food and water and enabling volunteer rescuers and evacuations by last Tuesday, we probably wouldn't be talking about Hurricane Katrina now.
 
Righties simultaneously complain that local government lacked the foresight and resources to better respond to the disaster while excusing the feds because the disaster was so much worse than anything they'd had to deal with before. Fact is, only the feds--meaning the Department of Defense--has the resources to cope with a massive, multi-state disaster like the aftermath of Katrina. And the military sat around waiting for permission to act from their Commander in Chief.
 
Via Josh Marshall, the Department of Homeland Security mission statement:  "Lead, manage and coordinate the national response to acts of terrorism, natural disasters, or other emergencies." That was their job, and they screwed, up big time. End of story.

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12:24 pm | link

monday, september 5, 2005

Oops!
 
Via Kevin Drum--the BBC interviewed a Pentagon spokesman for the Northern Command who accidentally told the truth:

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

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

The video is here; takes a while to load, but it's interesting.
 
Another video, courtesy of Putfile--Keith Olbermann comments. This was on Countdown this evening. He blasts BushCo. Bush is a "twenty-first century Marie Antoinette." Olbermann is da man.
 
Speaking of Marie Antoinette--check out what Queen Mother Babs Bush said of the evacuees in the Astrodome--

"What I’m hearing is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality.

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

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10:25 pm | link

Beyond Incompetence
 
Our take-charge president wasted no time today nominating his boy John Roberts for the position of Chief Justice of the SCOTUS. He has called for Roberts to be confirmed in time for the court's new term in October. As Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's resignation takes effect only when her replacement is confirmed, the Court would have all nine members and Bush can avoid two messy confirmation hearings going on at once.
 
See? The child can act quickly when he wants to.
 
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Meanwhile, the White House's crack team of political advisers sprang into action "to contain the political damage from the administration's response to Hurricane Katrina. 

It orchestrated visits by cabinet members to the region, leading up to an extraordinary return visit by Mr. Bush planned for Monday, directed administration officials not to respond to attacks from Democrats on the relief efforts, and sought to move the blame for the slow response to Louisiana state officials, according to Republicans familiar with the White House plan.

The effort is being directed by Mr. Bush's chief political adviser, Karl Rove, and his communications director, Dan Bartlett. It began late last week after Congressional Republicans called White House officials to register alarm about what they saw as a feeble response by Mr. Bush to the hurricane, according to Republican Congressional aides.

The propaganda catapulted by Rove and Bartlett included:

 Peter G. Gosselin and Alan C. Miller write in today's Los Angeles Times:

Under the law, Chertoff said, state and local officials must direct initial emergency operations. "The federal government comes in and supports those officials," he said.

Chertoff's remarks, which echoed earlier statements by President Bush, prompted withering rebukes both from former senior FEMA staffers and outside experts.

"They can't do that," former agency chief of staff Jane Bullock said of Bush administration efforts to shift responsibility away from Washington. "The moment the president declared a federal disaster, it became a federal responsibility…. The federal government took ownership over the response," she said. Bush declared a disaster in Louisiana and Mississippi when the storm hit a week ago.

"What's awe-inspiring here is how many federal officials didn't issue any orders," said Paul C. Light, an authority on government operations at New York University.

Jim VandeHei writes in today's WaPo that Louisiana ain't havin' none of it.
Louisiana officials pushed back hard against the White House yesterday, sharply criticizing President Bush for offering a tentative and insufficient response to the obliteration of New Orleans and then trying to shift the blame to the state and local governments.

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) accused Bush of failing to fund efforts to fortify the levee protecting New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina hit, and of failing to send troops, supplies and other assistance quickly enough in Katrina's aftermath. "Would the president please stop taking photo-ops, and please come and see what I'm trying to show him?" Landrieu asked on ABC's "This Week." She threatened to "punch" Bush or anyone else who criticizes the response of the local sheriffs, one day after administration officials blamed state and local authorities for missteps in relief and rescue efforts.

Aaron Broussard, president of decimated Jefferson Parish in Louisiana, broke down in tears on NBC's "Meet the Press" as he chided officials. "Nobody's coming to get us," Broussard said, his head sagging. "The secretary has promised. Everybody's promised. They've had press conferences. I'm sick of the press conferences. For God's sake, shut up and send us somebody."

(Spreaking of press conferences -- Stranger at Blah3 has written out the full story of Friday's Potemkin Photo Op. A must-read. Bush is back in Baton Rouge today, and I'm sure we'll see more dazzling displays of stagecraft. Maybe Bush will get lucky and find more black people to hug.)
 
Via Hesiod at The American Street--check out this interview Gov. Blanco gave on August 29:

“STORM: Have you addressed the concerns of flooding in the New Orleans area, and particularly this possibility that it might become, as one expert put it, a toxic cesspool? A lot of pollution concerns.

Gov. BLANCO: Well, flooding, of course, is our main concern. That would–that would create an untenable situation in the city of New Orleans if the levees were to be breached. That would be our biggest problem. We would just deal with that situation. We will evaluate it as soon as this hurricane fury has blown over, and we’ll deal with what we have.

STORM: With the president, in advance of the storm hitting, declaring a state of emergency, how has that specifically helped your efforts?

Gov. BLANCO: Well, Hannah, it allowed FEMA to come in here early. We’ve set the stage for a lot of help for evacuation help, and the federal government is standing by. The president called. He was very supportive of our efforts. He was encouraging evacuation. He was very concerned. We appreciate his concern.

STORM: And what do you have available specifically, in terms of troops and supplies, as soon as this hurricane rolls through, to go in and assess and take care of the damage?

Gov. BLANCO: We’ve got National Guard members standing by, we’ve got airplanes ready to go in and do early assessments as soon as the back of the storm moves further inland. We’ll be knowing in a few hours what we’re dealing with. I know the low-lying areas are going to suffer the brunt of it–the early brunt of it, and we’ll do search and rescue, if necessary.”

It's clear she had asked Bush and FEMA for help and had expected FEMA to take charge, as it is supposed to.
 
But now I'm going to put on my tin foil hat and ask, could the delays have been deliberate? DKos Diarist Karen Wehrstein makes a compelling case that they were.  I am sticking to my rule of thumb--incompetence is more likely than conspiracy--but consider:

1) The delay in federal aid in the form of food, water and meds for the displaced within NO, especially at the Superdome and Convention Center, in air drops or any other form, has been implausibly long, as the media, Ray Nagin, etc., have more or less screamed to anyone who'd listen.

The military was well-prepared beforehand -- they started planning as the storm went over Florida, and had 9 million MREs ready to deliver. But protocol requires they await orders from FEMA or the president (via Terre on DKos).

New Mexico offered its National Guard on Sunday, again, before the storm hit, and Louisiana accepted, but "paperwork needed to get the troops en route didn't come from Washington until late Thursday" (Yahoo via Atrios.)

FEMA director Mike Brown claimed that FEMA didn't know about the Convention Centre situation until Thursday (CNN) -- here we have an example of a).  This simply cannot be true; even for purely partisan operatives, duties include following the networks.

All through, the victims were promised supplies and transportation to safety -- c).  Likewise Ray Nagin was stalled by promises of help from FEMA/Homeland Security: "I keep hearing that it's coming. This is coming, that is coming, and my answer to that today is: B.S." (his kickbutt interview on WWL, quoted everywhere)

2) Before the hurricane hit, Gov. Kathleen Blanco requested Washington provide disaster relief aid, including military personnel and $5 million for evacuation.  No military personnel showed up until Sept. 2; as far as I can tell, the $5 million was not received in time to aid with the evacuation.  No reason given.  The governor now knows to make sure the media sees her requests as well as the president, demands his "personal involvement" viz her presser of yesterday.

3) Rescue operations were suspended by FEMA due to shots being taken at helicopter -- a) -- as many DKos commenters have pointed out, National Guard rescuers shouldn't be discouraged by this. There's some doubt it happened at all, as at the bottom of this ABC story.  In the vast majority of cases this was likely not to be a danger at all.

4) Offers of help were refused:

  • Canadian rescue teams -- held up by Homeland Security (DKos diary)
  • air-boat volunteers required by FEMA to pay for their own gasoline, couldn't afford to (DKos diary), turned down even if they could (South Florida Sun-Sentinel)
  • Al Gore - airplanes -- refused by FEMA (CNN) because he was going to evacuate a private hospital, and FEMA mandate only allows aid to public hospitals
  • 500 boats and 1,000 men from elsewhere in Louisiana -- diaried by pelican here
  • Chicago mayor Richard Daley -- via espo111 on DKos, from Chicago Sun-Times: "Mayor of Chicago Richard Daley offered 36 firefighters and technical rescue teams, 8 emergency medical techs, search-and-rescue equipment, 100 police officers, 2 boats, a mobile clinic and 140 streets and sanitation workers with 29 trucks. All self-sufficient. And the FEMA response?  'Just send one truck.' "

That they accepted one truck rather than turning down all shows a clear intent to appear to be accepting the offer while in effect refusing it -- which is deceptive.

FEMA's refusal to pay for airboat gas came solely through DKos -- suggesting that FEMA isn't saying these things where the media will hear -- b).

More individual cases in this Help Offered-Rejected/Delayed diary by SarahLee.

5) Offers of desperately-needed equipment/supplies were also turned down by FEMA in Slidell, supposedly due to bureaucratic regulations -- a).  Slidell mayor Ben Morris (audio, transcript): "They have turned generators away from us. They´ve turned fuel away from us because they determine, or the driver determined, that it wasn´t the correct spot to put it. The generators ... oh, the site hadn´t been inspected yet. We´ve gotta bring an inspector to see where the thing is going.  ...We have heard that FEMA or some federal agencies are going around seizing equipment from our contractors..."

6) Private relief agencies (Red Cross, Salvation Army) are prevented from working in NO, by FEMA.  Reason given -- a) -- this would keep people from leaving the city.  The idea, apparently, was to make conditions so unbearable people would be forced to leave or face death.  But at the same time, no transportation was being provided them.  This came via Kossack SteveRose who writes that he was cagily asked by his source if he was a member of the media -- b). Red Cross website confirms they aren't allowed to go in.

7) The military is now disallowing people to leave the city on their own via the only way out, at the same time that no transportation is being provided (Shepard Smith and Geraldo Rivera -- Fox News). In these situations the military is directed by FEMA.

The concept that rescuers are not safe due to looters and snipers has been blown way out of proportion, with even Bush himself emphasizing it.  See this LA Times story about a military unit who didn't find anything like what they'd been led to expect.  The purpose here could be not only to discredit/blame the victims, but to serve as an excuse -- a) -- for calling off aid/rescue work, as above.

Now, the central source: note how all of these actions can be traced back to FEMA/Homeland Security, or the President himself (as CoC) in Washington.

These people really are unbelievably incompetent, as we've seen from their "management" of Iraq, so I still vote for incompetence.
 
Here are a few other news stories and editorials worth reading:
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
From blogs:
 
 

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8:36 am | link

sunday, september 4, 2005

No Trust
 
It should've been apparent after the Bernie Kerik debacle that "President" Bush wasn't serious about nominating qualified people.
 
You remember Bernie, nominated to be Secretary of Homeland Security. Bernie came with a lot of assets--
... multiple mistresses, mob ties, $6 million in dubious stock profits on stun guns, an arrest warrant that was never served and, best of all, a "secret love nest" that the New York Daily News reports you used for "passionate liaisons."
Yeah, Bush was real serious about finding just the right guy to be responsible for homeland security, huh? If you think Michael Chertoff is a loser ...
 
And then there's John Bolton, who "would have been fired had he worked for a major corporation," according to Senator George Voinovich. The bright side of Bolton's recess appointment as ambassador to the UN is that it got him out of the State Department.
 
This week, as we watched FEMA's massive and lethal bungling, we learned that, before becoming head of FEMA, Michael Brown's primary career experience was as a commissioner of the International Arabian Horse Association.
 
And he wasn't even an administrative commissioner. "His job was to ensure that horse-show judges followed the rules and to investigate allegations against those suspected of cheating," write Matt Stearns and Seth Borenstein of Knight Ridder
 
According to Brett Arends of the Boston Herald, Brown was forced to resign "after a spate of lawsuits over alleged supervision failures."
 
So how did this jewel get to be head of FEMA? He was Joe Allbaugh's college roommate.

Today the New Orleans Times-Picayne called for Brown to be fired.

Despite the city’s multiple points of entry, our nation’s bureaucrats spent days after last week’s hurricane wringing their hands, lamenting the fact that they could neither rescue the city’s stranded victims nor bring them food, water and medical supplies.

Meanwhile there were journalists, including some who work for The Times-Picayune, going in and out of the city via the Crescent City Connection. On Thursday morning, that crew saw a caravan of 13 Wal-Mart tractor trailers headed into town to bring food, water and supplies to a dying city.

Television reporters were doing live reports from downtown New Orleans streets. Harry Connick Jr. brought in some aid Thursday, and his efforts were the focus of a "Today" show story Friday morning.

Yet, the people trained to protect our nation, the people whose job it is to quickly bring in aid were absent. Those who should have been deploying troops were singing a sad song about how our city was impossible to reach.

The death of Chief Justice William Rehnquist gives Bush another Supreme Court nominee. And as in the past, examination of a nominee's qualifications or ideological twitches touches off a Republican chorus of "The President should be allowed his choice of nominees.” The GOP seems to consider office appointments to be part of the spoils of electoral victory, and the President has a "right" to nominate any bozo he likes. Federal offices and positions on the judicial bench are nothing but patronage plums. Democrats who complain are just mouthing sour grapes.

Of course, these rules only apply when a Republican is in the White House.

Bush has already gotten away with cluttering up the federal courts with whackjobs Janice Rogers Brown and Priscilla Owen. Current Supreme Court nominee John Roberts is, essentially, a far-right political hack and long-time member of Washington's old-boys' network.

Given the power and influence of the Supreme Court, no nominee by any President should ever be waved through. But given Bush's history of recklessness and irresponsibility in his appointments, hence Congress must put all Bush nominees through an extra-fine filter. If the GOP complains, tell 'em that after Kerik and Brown, Bush doesn't deserve the benefit of the doubt.

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3:58 pm | link

Drowning the Beast
 
Via Julie O's They Get Letters, be sure to read this post by P.Z. Myers at Pharyngula.
I agree in part with Mike Dunford, who thinks there is plenty of blame to go around. It's true that the catastrophe in New Orleans is due to many factors—uncontrollable ones, like the probability of a large hurricane striking the city; passive ones, like Democrats and scientists not fighting stupidity hard enough; active ones, like the dedicated work of Republicans to gut government effectiveness. In a sense, yes, we can say that the disaster is the fault of all Americans.
The trolls want to blame Democrats for the failures of Katrina. Nobody is saying that Democrats are blameless. There were failures at all levels of government. But, says Myers,
...  there is one huge, dominant factor that has been operating over decades to culminate now, in this problem and many others: the Republican party. The party of know-nothings, incompetence, greed, bigotry, religious intolerance, and irresponsibility. We now have the government they wanted, and that we allowed them to have.
 
Robert Farley summarizes our situation ...

The Republicans have managed a nifty trick over the last twenty-five years. They have worked ceaselessly to make government less effective, while at the same time deriving political benefit from inadequate government. The Republican attack on good governance involves the cutting of necessary funding, the wholesale transfer of critical government capabilities to the private sector, the stocking of government agencies with inept, corrupt, and obstructionist appointees, and the sellout of regulatory agencies to the industries they're supposed to observe.

In a fair world, all of this would result in the Republican party taking some degree of blame for bad governance. In this world, the exact opposite seems to happen. Government fails by design. Government failure feeds into an anti-statist narrative that allows the Republicans to further slash funding, to further gut federal agencies, and to further cripple the capacity of the government to do anything useful.

Further, 

We have to wake up. Mike is right to blame scientists and Democrats and all American citizens for allowing this leadership disaster to happen, but we have to look to the source of the decisions that led us to this place. We have to recognize what the goals of the Republican party are.

The Republican agenda is to turn the United States into a third-world shithole.

Not by explicit intent, of course, but by neglect, the promotion of incompetence, and short-sightedness. By treating government as a kleptocracy. By governing badly. By pandering to the stupid, by advocating superstition (let's pray and send bibles to New Orleans!), by poisoning our educational system with nonsense, by haring off on destructive wars that enrich corporate cronies, by belittling expertise and favoring ideology, by ignoring freaking reality.

First-rate rant; please read the whole thing.

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The War Prayer

I come from the Throne -- bearing a message from Almighty God!... He has heard the prayer of His servant, your shepherd, & will grant it if such shall be your desire after I His messenger shall have explained to you its import -- that is to say its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of -- except he pause & think.

"God's servant & yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused & taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two -- one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of Him who heareth all supplications, the spoken & the unspoken....

"You have heard your servant's prayer -- the uttered part of it. I am commissioned of God to put into words the other part of it -- that part which the pastor -- and also you in your hearts -- fervently prayed, silently. And ignorantly & unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these words: 'Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!' That is sufficient. The whole of the uttered prayer is completed into those pregnant words.

"Upon the listening spirit of God the Father fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!

"O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle -- be Thou near them! With them -- in spirit -- we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe.

"O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended through wastes of their desolated land in rags & hunger & thirst, sport of the sun-flames of summer & the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave & denied it -- for our sakes, who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask of one who is the Spirit of love & who is the ever-faithful refuge & friend of all that are sore beset, & seek His aid with humble & contrite hearts. Grant our prayer, O Lord & Thine shall be the praise & honor & glory now & ever, Amen."

(After a pause.) "Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! -- the messenger of the Most High waits."

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