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saturday, september 17, 2005

Disaster Plan, Step One: Read the Plan
 
In the week following Hurricane Katrina, as chaos was overtaking New Orleans, some on the Right were hooting that Mayor Ray Nagin and other state and local officials didn't follow their own disaster plan. For example, Captain Ed wrote,
Mark Tapscott, one of the best crossover bloggers and a fierce researcher, turned up an interesting document yesterday: the New Orleans comprehensive hurricane disaster plan. The plan exists on line and has a high level of detail, and yet the Exempt Media has given no coverage of its contents. The most obvious reason is that it shows that New Orleans and the state of Louisiana didn't follow their own plan.
Now we learn that the feds didn't follow their own plan. In fact, there are homeland security experts who wonder if Michael Chertoff had even read the plan.
 
Here's the story: Drew Brown, Seth Borenstein and Alison Young write for Knight Ridder that the Bush Administration was inexplicably slow to issue the proper orders to deploy active-duty troops.
Two days after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, President Bush went on national television to announce a massive federal rescue and relief effort.

But orders to move didn't reach key active military units for another three days.

Once they received them, it took just eight hours for 3,600 troops from the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C., to be on the ground in Louisiana and Mississippi with vital search-and-rescue helicopters. Another 2,500 soon followed from the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, Texas.

"If the 1st Cav and 82nd Airborne had gotten there on time, I think we would have saved some lives," said Gen. Julius Becton Jr., who was the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency under President Reagan from 1985 to 1989. "We recognized we had to get people out, and they had helicopters to do that."

It has long been understood that "active-duty military is the only organization with the massive resources and effective command structure to handle a major catastrophe." Calling in the troops is not extraordinary; it's been done many times before for other disasters. Yet the Bushies approached this measure as if it were something new and controversial.

Addressing the nation on Thursday night in a speech from New Orleans, Bush said the storm overwhelmed the disaster relief system. "It is now clear that a challenge on this scale requires greater federal authority and a broader role for the armed forces, the institution of our government most capable of massive logistical operations on a moment's notice," he said. ...

... "To say I've suddenly discovered the military needs to be involved is like saying wheels should be round instead of square," said Michael Greenberger, a law professor and the director of the University of Maryland's Center for Health and Homeland Security.

Most amazing of all, the timely deployment of troops is part of the National Disaster Plan Michael Chertoff's successor, Tom "Orange Alert" Ridge, released with much fanfare in 2003. The feds didn't follow their own disaster plan.

"Unless it can be credibly established that a mobilizing Federal resource ... is not needed at the catastrophic incident venue, that resource deploys," the plan says. The plan and a 2003 presidential directive put Chertoff, as Homeland Security secretary, in charge of coordinating the federal response.

Chertoff, who aides said has been engaged in the response to Hurricane Katrina, went to Atlanta the day after the storm hit for a previously scheduled briefing on avian flu. Aides also concede that Washington officials were unable to confirm that the levees in New Orleans had failed until midday on Aug. 30. The breaches were first discovered in Louisiana some 32 hours earlier.

Greenberger, the Maryland homeland security expert, said he wonders whether Chertoff and other top federal officials understand the National Response Plan or even had read it before Katrina.

"Everything he did and everything he has said strongly suggests that that plan was never read," Greenberger said of Chertoff.

President Bush continues to make noises about applying lessons of Katrina to future disasters.  "This storm will give us an opportunity to review all different types of circumstances to make sure that, you know, the president has the capacity to react." 
 
The fact is, these lessons were learned by previous administrations. The Bushies appear to require remedial class work.

Former FEMA Director James Lee Witt, who served under President Clinton, believes that the Bush administration is mistaken if it thinks there are impediments to using the military for non-policing help in a disaster.

"When we were there and FEMA was intact, the military was a resource to us," said Witt. "We pulled them in very quickly. I don't know what rule he (Bush) talked about. ... We used military assets a lot." ...

..."They're trying to say that greater federal authority would have made a difference," said George Haddow, a former FEMA deputy chief of staff and the co-author of a textbook on emergency management. "The reality is that the feds are the ones that screwed up in the first place. It's not about authority. It's about leadership. ... They've got all the authority already."

A Sheehan Misstep 
 
I admire Cindy Sheehan's efforts to call attention to the debacle of Iraq. But today righties are snickering about something she wrote for MichaelMoore.com, and I have to admit the righties have a point.
One thing that truly troubled me about my visit to Louisiana was the level of the military presence there. I imagined before that if the military had to be used in a CONUS (Continental US) operations that they would be there to help the citizens: Clothe them, feed them, shelter them, and protect them. But what I saw was a city that is occupied. I saw soldiers walking around in patrols of 7 with their weapons slung on their backs. I wanted to ask one of them what it would take for one of them to shoot me. Sand bags were removed from private property to make machine gun nests. ...
 
... George Bush needs to stop talking, admit the mistakes of his all around failed administration, pull our troops out of occupied New Orleans and Iraq, and excuse his self from power.
There is an overwhelming consensus that the horrific and dangerous aftermath of Hurricane Katrina didn't begin to turn around until the troops got there. And my understanding is that the troops have been considerably more respectful of the citizens of New Orleans than the cops and various mercenaries have been. Equating the rescue mission of New Orleans with Iraq undermines everything Sheehan is trying to do. I hope somebody takes her aside and tells her to chill out about the troops in New Orleans.
 
As I said above, the real problem with the troops in New Orleans is not that they are there, but that they didn't get there fast enough.  And they didn't get their fast enough because George W. Bush has the leadership qualities of spinach. That's the plain truth, and that's the message we need to stay on.

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7:27 am | link

friday, september 16, 2005

Be Afraid
 
Is the era of big government back? Tom Raum of the Associated Press writes,
The era of big government is back. President Bush is presiding over the most expensive government relief and reconstruction operation in U.S. history, casting aside budget discipline.
 
Bush and his Republican allies in Congress are deferring — for now — vows to finish the Reagan revolution against big government and turning to some of the same kinds of public health, housing and job assistance programs they once criticized as legacies of the Democrats' New Deal and Great Society. 
For the moment, let's overlook the fact that Bush never exhibited any budget discipline to cast aside. Several pundits evoked Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson while discussing last night's speech. Predictably, promises of Big Gubmint Programs to he'p po' folks were not well received on some parts of the Right. Others dutifully lauded the President and pretended that Big Gubmint Programs to he'p po' folks is a courageous and original idea. And they wonder why some of us don't take them seriously.
 
Is it possible Bush was struck by lightning and became a born again New Dealer? Oh, stop giggling. I don't believe it, either. Dan Froomkin writes,
* Either Bush is being entirely forthright, in which case he's talking about something reminiscent of the biggest liberal government programs of the 20th century. That scares some conservatives, certainly fiscal conservatives, to death.

* Or maybe it's just a plan to transform the Gulf Coast into a big test bed for conservative social policy, where tax breaks flow to big business and tax money flows to Halliburton, churches and private schools. That utterly terrifies liberals.

Anyone who thinks the first scenario is even remotely possible gets to sit in the corner wearing a dunce hat. Karl Bleeping Rove is in charge. Duh!
 
The Era of Small Government may be over (I could argue it never actually started), but that does not translate into a Golden Age of Progressivism. The Big Gubmint has been and will continue to be in the hands of conservative, anti-progressive ideologues who will support corruption and keep our nation marching along on the path of Banana Republicanhood.
 
In today's New York Times, Paul Krugman explains why Bush's programs are not the New Deal.
F.D.R. presided over a huge expansion of federal spending, including a lot of discretionary spending by the Works Progress Administration. Yet the image of public relief, widely regarded as corrupt before the New Deal, actually improved markedly.

How did that happen? The answer is that the New Deal made almost a fetish out of policing its own programs against potential corruption. In particular, F.D.R. created a powerful "division of progress investigation" to look into complaints of malfeasance in the W.P.A. That division proved so effective that a later Congressional investigation couldn't find a single serious irregularity it had missed.

This commitment to honest government wasn't a sign of Roosevelt's personal virtue; it reflected a political imperative. F.D.R.'s mission in office was to show that government activism works. To maintain that mission's credibility, he needed to keep his administration's record clean.

Bush, on the other hand, is the anti-FDR. The Bush Administration, Krugman writes,
... which has no stake in showing that good government is possible, has been averse to investigating itself. On the contrary, it has consistently stonewalled corruption investigations and punished its own investigators if they try to do their jobs.

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

So, the Gubmint is about to borrow $200-bleeping-billion for the "reconstruction" (possibly not a good word to use in the South) of the Gulf Coast. And you know that when the dust settles or the water drains, as the case may be, those billions will be in the pockets of Bush cronies and K street lobbyists and the po' folks will be worse off than they were before the hurricane. And you and several generations of your descendents will be stuck paying for it all. God bless America.

Nobody explains the inner workings of BushCo better than Billmon. Yesterday he wrote, 

If Cheney had his way, there wouldn't be any government left to disinvent -- just a service desk for the pipeline companies to call when they need to get the power back on. And Halliburton could easily handle that.

Rove, on the other hand, recognizes that government agencies [have] their uses, especially now that "to the victor go the spoils," has been firmly reestablished as the operative principle of the federal personnel management system. Let dweebs like Al Gore worry about making government work, the Rovians understand that the important thing is to make it work for them.

Billmon points to another must-read essay by Mark Schmitt at TPM Cafe.  He argues that a strong bureaucracy can function well even if the guy at the top is an incompetent political appointee.  The institutional structures, the career profressional staff, the established procedures, continue to function around the incompetence. But during the Bush II Regime career people are leaving federal agencies like FEMA, the FDA, Interior, and EPA in droves, and are being replaced by right-wing bleepheads who can't find their butts with both hands and a flashlight. And eventually any resemblence to competence breaks down.

According to Bush-Rove philosophy, however, it doesn't matter--

There was a terrifying quote in Mike Allen's story about the administration: "Katrina has shown the incredible weakness of the notion that you can have weak players in key spots because the only people who matter are in the White House" -- quoting a Republican lobbyist.

It would make sense to say, "you can have weak players in key spots because the people who matter are the operational bureaucrats." That's a familiar concept of government, it's how you survive an Ed Meese. But the idea that it's White House staff who would compensate for the weakness of individual cabinet officers -- that is really something new. And it's absolutely crazy. It shows a total disdain and disregard for what government does. White House staff can sometimes do the broad-brush development of a policy initiative. But even the most seriously qualified White House staff -- let's say the Program Associate Directors at the Office of Management and Budget -- can't manage an agency or implement an initiative or help it survive.

That's why it's so important to forget about Michael Brown or Chertoff or the individuals involved and focus some attention on the system that made it all possible -- a radical, unprecedented system of centralized, politicized control that is guaranteed to fail.

And now the main architect of that "system," Karl Rove, is in charge of the biggest and most expensive government relief and reconstruction operation in U.S. history. We're doomed.

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2:33 pm | link

Liberty and Justice for All
 
A couple of letters to the Los Angeles Times:
As a Christian, I do not say the Pledge of Allegiance because: (1) I cannot pledge to a flag; (2) I cannot pledge any allegiance to an earthly kingdom without substantial caveats, and (3) I resent a country presuming an association with God or God's mission.
 
These are all biblical principles, and they would be true for me in any country. It therefore remains a puzzle as to why it is not the Christians who are bringing these lawsuits.

Fundamentalists seem to have a strong impetus toward a "God and country" mentality. This attitude demeans their faith and complicates life for their countries. It's not a major issue. I won't be filing suit any time soon. I can continue to pray silently. But I am really quite puzzled by the Christians who will pledge their allegiance to any country or flag. I am just as puzzled by their desire to impose their views on others.

CRAIG A. REPP

Rancho Santa Margarita

 

I am old enough to remember reciting the Pledge of Allegiance without the added religious overtones. And when the new recitations began in 1954, I clearly remember being forced to stand in the hall at school as punishment for deleting "under God."

So it was in first grade that I was forced to ponder the meaning of "liberty and justice for all" in the pledge, as I bore the taunts and jibes of my classmates for innocently reflecting the views of my agnostic parents in my new role as 6-year-old apostate.

STEPHEN C. LEE

La Habra

No doubt Mr. Lee's classmates grew up to be righties. They show all the attributes. Only a rightie would persecute someone for his opinions while swearing allegiance to liberty and justice for all.

"They [the clergy] believe that any portion of power confided to me, will be exerted in opposition to their schemes. And they believe rightly; for I have sworn upon the altar of god, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man." -- Thomas Jefferson

Update: Hunter on the Apocalypse. Absolutely brilliant; must read!

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8:33 am | link

thursday, september 15, 2005

The Speech
 
I guess if I'm going to watch the fool speech I might as well live blog it.
 
I'm watching on CNN, but I will probably flip around. If you aren't interested in the speech, via James Wolcott is an essay by James Wallerstein that's worth reading.
 
OK, he's starting out by telling us how awful it was, and now he's saying that Americans are real compassionate and generous and do nice things for each other.
 
So where were you, bleephead?
 
I think he's trying for an "I feel your pain" effect while being optimistic about how much "spirit" and "strength" Americans have.
 
New Orleans will rise again, he says.
 
Now he's telling us all the hard work people are doing to clean up the city and get people moving.
 
Gawd, this speech is boring. Yeah, stuff is bad. We knew that before you did.
 
Now he's saying he signed an order to provide immediate benefits to evacuees. We'll have to watch to see how quickly it comes.
 
An unprecedented response to an unprecedented crisis, which demonstrates the resolve of the American people, or something like that. Even more, it demonstrated the decline of the United States.
 
Blah blah blah.
 
From the Wallerstein essay:
But it is the image of the U.S. that will be the most affected. When El Salvador has to offer troops to help restore order in New Orleans because U.S. troops were so scarce and so slow in arriving, Iran cannot be quaking in its boots about a possible U.S. invasion. When Sweden has its relief planes sitting on the tarmac in Sweden for a week because it cannot get an answer from the U.S. government as to whether to send them, they are not going to be reassured about the ability of the U.S. to handle more serious geopolitical matters. And when conservative U.S. television commentators talk of the U.S. looking like a Third World country, Third World countries may begin to think that maybe there is a grain of truth in the description.
You know the money Bush is getting from Congress is going to go into the pockets of Bush cronies. Corruption, thy name is Karl Rove.  
 
He's going to start up a "Gulf opportunity zone." He's going to "take the side of entrepreneurs." Translation: Pork-a-looza, here we come. 
 
Something about handing out lots by lottery. Huh? 
 
Money is going to go to local houses of worship, to reimburse their expenses.
 
This speech is all about posturing. Bush is trying to give the impression he's getting out in front of the crisis. (He's calling on Boy Scout troops? )
 
The government needs to be prepared for disaster, he says. He considers emergency planning to be a national security priority. So what have you been doing the past four years, bleephead?
 
"This was not a normal hurricane, and the normal disaster relief system was not equal to it." The system was not well coordinated. A challenge on this scale requires greater federal authority. "I as president am responsible." There will be a government review. They weill make necessary changes.
 
Listen, genius, your people are the flaming idiots who trashed FEMA and created a Homeland Security Department that doesn't know it's ass from spinach. Why do you think they can investigate themselves?
 
They can't, of course. But I'm sure they will work up some creative excuses. 
 
Speech over. I flipped over to MSNBC and caught Whozits Crosby, whom I generally find annoying, and she's saying the people watching the speech with her were skeptical. They laughed at the 800 number for help displayed during the speech. 
 
Oo, Chris Matthews mentioned carpetbaggers.
 
Howard Fineman thinks the Bushies have to show people why the reconstruction effort will be different from business as usual.
 
On CNN, Mark Whitaker of Newsweek says that the reconstrucion money will all be borrowed. From the Bank of China, no doubt.
 
Gergen: No call for sacrifice. No call for accountability. We need an independent investigation, like the 9/11 commission, he says.
 
From blogs--John A. at AMERICAblog says Bush's shirt was buttoned wrong.
 

As we suggested last night, and as President Bush has now put us on notice, the Gulf Coast reconstruction effort is going to be run as a patronage and political operation.

That's not spin or hyperbole. They're saying it themselves.

The president has put Karl Rove in charge of the reconstruction, with a budget of a couple hundred billion dollars.

(A local black businessman being interviewed on MSNBC is saying the contracts so far have gone to big, out of state companies. He seems skeptical that local businesses are going to be helped much by federal money.)

Billmon:

Not surprisingly, the post-Katrina autopsy is focusing fresh attention on the Cheney administration's bold "disinventing government" initiative -- although in this case I probably should call it the Rove administration's initiative, since it's been more Karl's pet project than the veep's.

If Cheney had his way, there wouldn't be any government left to disinvent -- just a service desk for the pipeline companies to call when they need to get the power back on. And Halliburton could easily handle that.

Rove, on the other hand, recognizes that government agencies has their uses, especially now that "to the victor go the spoils," has been firmly reestablished as the operative principle of the federal personnel management system. Let dweebs like Al Gore worry about making government work, the Rovians understand that the important thing is to make it work for them.

Read all of  Billmon's post--fascinating.

A white local guy on MSNBC says they are whipping through money at a tremendous rate, and Bush's federal programs are going to require transparency and accountability. Fat chance. Oh, it's Senator Vitter of Louisiana (R).

The consensus seems to be that the speech was OK, but forgettable. Right.

Here's a transcript.

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8:54 pm | link

Bush's 40 Percent
 

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

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

That is Rove's hallmark.

What's good for New Orleans is, of course, not a major concern.
 
Froomkin writes that Bush's speech tonight will be televised from Jackson Square, with St. Louis Cathedral as a backdrop. There will be no live audience. Reporters covering the speech must stay in their vans. The point of the speech will be to recast Bush as the heroic leader Americans thought he was after September 11.
 
Will it work?
 
First off, will people be watching? My local listings say CBS is not showing it. If you have cable, you can watch WNBA basketball finals on ESPN2 and major league baseball on TBS. Other than that the competition is mostly reruns and movies. So, maybe. As I remember, Bush's recent speeches did not pull in big ratings, however.
 
Second, will Bush's speechwriters be able to give him a speech that will do the trick? Sidney Blumenthal wrote in Salon that the 9/11 schtick is over.
So long as Bush could wrap himself in 9/11 his image was shielded; he could even justify Iraq by flashing the non sequitur to his base. But once another event of magnitude thundered over his central claim as national defender, the Bush myth crumbled. It would take another event of this scale to begin to restore it. But it would also require a different set of responses from Bush. Now his evocation of 9/11 only reminds the public of his failed promise.
I agree with Blumenthal here. Outside of the 40 percent or so who still approve of Bush's job as president (most of whom would still support Bush if they caught him in bed with a sheep), I think evoking 9/11 tonight will just make Bush look pathetic to most Americans. That pooch is screwed.
 
Clearly, the objective for Bush will be to persuade Americans that he is taking charge of Katrina relief. But according to Maureen Dowd, this also makes Bush look pathetic.
 President Bush continued to try to spin his own inaction yesterday, but he may finally have reached a patch of reality beyond spin. Now he's the one drowning, unable to rescue himself by patting small black children on the head during photo-ops and making scripted attempts to appear engaged. He can keep going back down there, as he will again on Thursday when he gives a televised speech to the nation, but he can never compensate for his tragic inattention during days when so many lives could have been saved. ...
 
... The president should stop haunting New Orleans, looking for that bullhorn moment. It's too late.
Katrina represents a very different leadership challenge. As horrible at it was, 9/11 was a great disaster from a political perspective. Mayor Giuliani actually did little but speak to television cameras, and he became a hero. Bush pranced around on the ashes of the dead and hollered boasts through a bullhorn, and suddenly he was the heir of Churchill. But Katrina is not so accommodating.
 
If 9/11 allowed Bush to show off his "strengths," the actions required of Bush now reveal his biggest weaknesses. For example, Katrina throws a spotlight on Bush's fiscal wastefulness. Most Americans are ambivalent about his tax cuts, and in recent months increasing numbers of Americans have become alarmed at the money being sunk into Iraq. Now, hundreds of billions more dollars will be thrown at the Gulf Coast to save Bush's political ass. Bush and his cronies insist finding the money is not a problem; I think even some of the 40 percent must know better.
 
Another big weakness for Bush is his inability to kick butt when it counts. The "Brownie, you did a heck of a job" moment is just part of a pattern. Richard Cohen writes,

Why should we believe that Bush will take names and boot buttocks about Katrina when he has not done so over Iraq? On the contrary, the principal architects of the inadequate military plan remain in the Pentagon -- Rumsfeld and his crew. Others have gone on to plushy appointments -- the World Bank for Paul Wolfowitz, for instance, or the entire State Department for Condi Rice. Still others have been given the once-hallowed Presidential Medal of Freedom, now as tainted as a pardon from Bill Clinton.

If anyone at the top has been held responsible for an intelligence debacle without precedent, then his name is unknown to me -- or, for that matter, to the president. Only the hapless Michael Brown failed to understand Bush. If he had hung on to his FEMA job, in another month or two Bush would surely have honored him on the White House lawn. ("Brownie, you did a heck of a job.")

Last week, regarding the hapless Michael Brown, television reporters must've said "Bush hates to fire people" dozens of times. When someone so obviously needs to be relieved of duty, this just makes Bush look weak.
 
I have no doubt the 40 percent will be overjoyed at whatever Bush says tonight, including those who don't bother to watch. And Bush is taking advantage of Katrina to push the GOP agenda. He suspended rules requiring contractors to pay prevailing wages and waived some affirmative-action rules for contractors in the Gulf Coast states. Republicans are working on legislation that would limit the victims' right to sue, provide parochial school vouchers to misplaced students, and ease environmental regulations on refineries, for example. The 40 percent will love it. 
 
But can Bush win back any of the 60 percent? I doubt it. Too much water over the levee, so to speak.
 

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2:42 pm | link

Ask a Zennie
 
I would really be curious to hear the opinions of actual Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists about the pledge, as opposed to the opinions of lawyers speculating about them. [Link]
As I'm not a registered user at Volokh I could not respond to the question but, hey--I've got a blog.
 
"Under God" doesn't work in Buddhism for myriad reasons that I will explain as simply as I can.
 
It's a common misunderstanding that Buddhists worship the Buddha as a god. Sorta kinda, but not really. Buddhism is nontheistic, meaning the religion isn't based on belief in a god. Notice I don't say atheistic; the Buddha taught that gods are irrelevant to the realization of enlightenment, not that there aren't any gods. 
 
A Buddhist can mean several different things by the name "Buddha." The Buddha is the founder of the religion, a guy who lived (and died, and remained dead) 25 centuries ago and who made it clear to his followers that he wasn't a god. The title "Buddha" loosely means He Who Woke Up.
 
But "the Buddha" also represents the principle of enlightenment. This is best understood not as a quality or condition that one can "have" or not "have," but absolute reality; the Ground of Being; the primordial "what it is." All beings are already enlightened, meaning that This is the foundation of our lives and existence whether we know it or not.
 
By extention, all beings are Buddha. Monks at the Zen monastery where I studied years ago liked to point to the Buddha figure on the main alter and say, "That's you. When you bow to the Buddha, you are bowing to yourself." (See also the Genjokoan.)
 
This gets us into the doctrine of relative and absolute, which teaches that in  relative reality, I am you and you are me; in the absolute, you and I and everything else are the same being. (Whether we like it or not.) These two realities co-exist and depend on each other.
 
The Great Reality is not a person or being, but is. It is isness. It permeates space and time. There is nothing that is not It. An "enlightenment experience," or satori, or whatever you want to call it, is understood to be an intimate experience of the Absolute. Realizing the Absolute is a life-changing experience, and the religion of Buddhism emphasizes practices that enable one to realize enlightenment and experience the Absolute as clearly as you experience breathing. However, just believing in the Absolute plus enough pocket change gets you something on the McDonald's dollar menu, maybe.
 
There are sects of Buddhism that practice devotion to the Buddha, but this is understood to be a upaya, or skillful means, for realizing enlightenment. Also, in Asia there has developed a kind of "cultural" Buddhism in which Buddhist icons have been adapted as objects of worship, but strictly speaking that's not Buddhism. It just looks like it.
 
In some sects, qualities such as compassion and wisdom are represented in art and in meditation practice by "deities." The point of the tantric deities is not to pray to, for example, the goddess of compassion to do you a favor, but to meditate on the goddess in order to become more compassionate yourself. Think Jungian archetype.
 
Back to "under God." Since the Great Reality permeates time and space, nothing can be under or over it, or beside it, or outside it.*  I can say from experience that Zen students get their noses rubbed in this point quite vigorously. And "God" as the word is generally understood by people of the monotheistic religions has no part in Buddhism. (Buddhist teachers sometimes use the word "god," but they mean something else by it.)
 
*If you believe in an omnipresent God, seems to me the same principle would apply.

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1:28 pm | link

You Can Trust a Rightie--To Be a Rightie
 
William Saletan explains why John Roberts will vote to overturn Roe v. Wade as soon as he gets a chance.

On Monday, Roberts told the Senate Judiciary Committee, "Judges have to have the humility to recognize that they operate within a system of precedent."

On Tuesday, Roberts demonstrated how a clever judge, veiled in humility, can operate within a system of precedent to overturn precedents.

Roberts was asked about Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the 1992 opinion that reaffirmed Roe v. Wade based on precedence. He called Casey "one of the precedents of the court, entitled to respect like any other precedent." Five times he repeated the phrase "like any other precedent."

Why couch the point this way? Because if Casey deserves no more respect than any other precedent, all you need to overturn it is a contrary precedent. That's what happened to some of the court's other landmark opinions, according to Roberts: The court decided that "intervening precedents had eroded the authority of those cases." So, the recipe for overturning Casey, and ultimately Roe, is to create intervening precedents, starting this fall with Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood.

So what about the constitutional right to privacy John Roberts claims to support? Never mind...

Saletan again:

On Monday, Roberts told the committee, "President Ronald Reagan used to speak of the Soviet constitution, and he noted that it purported to grant wonderful rights of all sorts to people. But those rights were empty promises, because that system did not have an independent judiciary to uphold the rule of law and enforce those rights. We do."

On Tuesday, Roberts demonstrated how our own judiciary can purport to grant rights while leaving them nearly empty.

Roberts was asked to locate the right to privacy in the Constitution. He quoted parts of the Bill of Rights pertaining to military occupations and invasions of citizens' homes. Does the right to privacy extend beyond those contexts? Roberts offered one addition: "I agree with the Griswold court's conclusion that marital privacy extends to contraception." Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., pressed him about the extension of contraceptive rights to unmarried people. "I don't have any quarrel with that conclusion," he allowed. What about Lawrence v. Texas, the 2003 case that interpreted Griswold to bar prosecution of private sex between consenting adults? Roberts ducked the question, citing "the difference between the issue that was presented in Griswold and its ramifications." In other words, any claim of privacy beyond the specific "issue" in Griswold—the right to marital contraception—is a "ramification" Roberts might reconsider.

In other words, Roberts thinks people have a right to privacy from government interference in their personal lives, as long as they are not engaging in behavior to which Roberts objects. But if Roberts objects to your behavior, whether you are hurting anyone else or not, the "right" flies out the door. Saletan:

Privacy is a principle so general that its assertion against any "particular restriction" unspecified in the Constitution, aside from a ban on married people using birth control, is a mere "ramification" or "application" open to review. By refusing to define privacy's "scope," Roberts eviscerates it.

Some are trying to be optimistic--in the Boston Globe, Thomas Oliphant writes,

President Bush may have made no bones about his admiration for Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, offering them as his models for the Supreme Court. But in nominating Roberts, and off his diligent performance in the confirmation process, Bush has ended up disquieting his conservative supporters more than antagonizing progressives. The guy is coming off like a judge who happens to be conservative as opposed to a conservative judge.

Charles Lane of the Washington Post writes that Roberts is less extreme than Scalia or Thomas:

Scalia has said that courts should avoid basing their interpretations of laws on the history behind them; Roberts said there is a role for legislative history. Thomas has embraced an approach to constitutional interpretation that relies heavily on his view of the original intent of the framers; Roberts said that is not always possible.

But let's not kid ourselves. Roberts is a long-time Washington insider with considerable ties to the Bush family. It doesn't matter what he says his principles are. He can be trusted to side with the powerful against the weak, the rich against the poor, and corporations against individuals. And he can be trusted to at least weaken, if not overturn, Roe.

That said, I don't think there's a snowball's chance in hell he's not going to be confirmed. Roberts comes across as personable, and the media has been tripping over itself praising his qualifications and smarts. If the Dems block him, it will appear to be on ideological grounds. And I disagree with Oliphant that the choice of Roberts is "disquieting" conservatives. Maybe Oliphant has witnessed disquiet righties, but the ones I've seen are all winks and nudges. He's our guy, and he's gonna get in! 

The real fight is going to be over the next nominee. On cases dealing with Roe, the next nominee will be the tiebreaker.  

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10:29 am | link

wednesday, september 14, 2005

Michael Newdow Is a Right Wing Shill
 
I'm serious. Newdow's managed to get another federal court to say that having children recite the Pledge of Allegiance in classrooms is unconstitutional.
 
Please note that I don't disagree with the decision. But of all the many serious church-state issues we face today, the Pledge issue seems too picayune to spin one's wheels over. And the timing of such a decision couldn't be worse.
 
Newdow had lost an earlier case because the court ruled he didn't have standing to file the suit. So he got some other parents who did have standing to file the suit. Coming at this particular moment--when the failures of federal response to Hurricane Katrina is the story that won't die, and two SCOTUS seats are empty--the decision gives the hard-core Right an issue to get worked up over. They can howl that liberals hate God and hate America and hate children and activists judges are destroying America, even though (I gather from the news stories) today's decision was based on precedent.
 
The usual droolers of the Right are already screaming about a judge taking away the "right" to recite the Pledge. But, of course, the issue is not about taking away a freedom of speech, since the kids are still free to recite the Pledge whenever the spirit moves them, and inside the schoolhouse, as long as it doesn't disrupt class. The issue is that government should not be forcing religious beliefs on children.
 
Don't hold your breath for the droolers to grasp this distinction.
 
If this case is appealed to the Supreme Court, it would not be the first time the Court ruled on the constitutionality of coercing children to mouth state-sponsored religious belief. For example, note West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943). In this case, a public school board decided to require all students to participate in the "flag salute," meaning the Pledge of Allegiance. Some Seventh-Day Adventist families refused to allow their children to recite the Pledge, because they equated the Pledge with bowing down to a graven image. Instead of allowing the Seventh-Day Adventist children to opt out of the Pledge, the school board expelled the students and threaten to prosecute their parents.
 
The Court ruled that school boards could not require students to recite the Pledge against their will. From the concurring opinion offered by Justices Douglas and Black:

... we cannot say that a failure, because of religious scruples, to assume a particular physical position and to repeat the words of a patriotic formula creates a grave danger to the nation. Such a statutory exaction is a form of test oath, and the test oath has always been abhorrent in the United States.

Words uttered under coercion are proof of loyalty to nothing but self- interest. Love of country must spring from willing hearts and free minds, inspired by a fair administration of wise laws enacted by the people's elected representatives within the bounds of express constitutional prohibitions. These laws must, to be consistent with the First Amendment, permit the widest toleration of conflicting viewpoints consistent with a society of free men.

Neither our domestic tranquillity in peace nor our martial effort in war depend on compelling little children to participate in a ceremony which ends in nothing for them but a fear of spiritual condemnation. If, as we think, their fears are groundless, time and reason are the proper antidotes for their errors. The ceremonial, when enforced against conscientious objectors, more likely to defeat than to serve its high purpose, is a handy implement for disguised religious persecution. As such, it is inconsistent with our Constitution's plan and purpose.

While I am no constitutional scholar, I suspect that an appeal of the Newdow case will hinge on how much pressure might be put on students to participate. If students can opt out of the Pledge without penalty, I doubt today's ruling will stand.  And that would be OK with me. On the other hand, if Newdow et al. can demonstrate students are coerced or bullied or pressured into saying the Pledge, that's another matter.

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7:42 pm | link

August 30
 
Knight Ridder reporters Jonathan S. Landay, Alison Young and Shannon McCaffrey report that Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff is at least as guilty as former FEMA head Michael Brown for the delays in federal Hurricane Katrina response 

The federal official with the power to mobilize a massive federal response to Hurricane Katrina was Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, not the former FEMA chief who was relieved of his duties and resigned earlier this week, federal documents reviewed by Knight Ridder show.

Even before the storm struck the Gulf Coast, Chertoff could have ordered federal agencies into action without any request from state or local officials. Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Michael Brown had only limited authority to do so until about 36 hours after the storm hit, when Chertoff designated him as the "principal federal official" in charge of the storm.

The memo suggests Chertoff was confused about his role and responsibilities. He seemed to think the role of the Department of Homeland Security was only to assist the Administration with its response to Hurricane Katrina. In the memo--written 36 hours after the disaster struck--Chertoff assured other federal agencies he would be meeting with White House officials the next day to "launch" the federal response.
 
Chertoff wrote the memo on August 30. According to the handy-dandy Think Progress timeline, on August 30 mass looting was already underway.
“The looting is out of control. The French Quarter has been attacked,” Councilwoman Jackie Clarkson said. “We’re using exhausted, scarce police to control looting when they should be used for search and rescue while we still have people on rooftops.” [AP]  
Meanwhile, the U.S.S. Bataan--stocked with food, water, doctors, hospital beds, and helicopters--sat offshore, waiting for orders from the President.
Bush, however, was having a fine old time pretending to play guitar with country singer Mark Willis and didn't issue any orders to the Bataan.
 
But it gets wierder. Via Josh Marshall, Nikki Maute of the Hattiesburg American reported that, also on August 30, Dick Cheney's office called the manager of a power company in south Mississippi. The Big Dick wanted power restored to an oil pipeline that sends fuel to the northeast. However,
That order - to restart two power substations in Collins that serve Colonial Pipeline Co. - delayed efforts by at least 24 hours to restore power to two rural hospitals and a number of water systems in the Pine Belt. ...
 
...Compton said workers who were trying to restore substations that power two rural hospitals - Stone County Hospital in Wiggins and George County Hospital in Lucedale - worked instead on the Colonial Pipeline project.

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

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

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

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

Cheney's office called twice, once on August 30 and next on August 31. On August 31, Mississippi Public Service Commissioner Mike Callahan got a call from the U.S. Department of Energy, which said opening the fuel line was a national priority.  So, the hospitals waited.
 
Although the article doesn't explicitly say, it doesn't sound as if anyone died as a result of the delay to restore power to hospitals. And under some circumstances restoring infrastructure may be more critical to national security than individual safety. Maybe restoring the pipeline really was a national priority. However, Josh writes, 

Is this how the national disaster response system works? Calls go out from the Vice President's office to local electric power utility operators giving national security directives on which power lines to get running first? Aren't things a bit more systematized than that?

This is also pretty early in the crisis, August 30th, the day after the storm hit. The Veep's office seemed really proactive about getting that pipeline flowing again. I trust it won't seem too persnickety to note a certain contrast between the urgency of this response and that to the rest of the crisis in the region?

This is particularly weird considering that one of the reasons the federal response was slow is that federal officials were dithering about states' right constitutional issues. The Constitution doesn't give the Vice President any extraordinary authority in regard to national security.
 
Blame Game
 
Today, the Right still screams about the "blame game" and insists state and local officials (and only Democratic officials, at that) are the only ones at fault for slow Katrina relief. But Raw Story reported yesterday that  

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) issued a report Tuesday afternoon asserting that Louisiana governor Katherine Blanco took the necessary and timely steps needed to secure disaster relief from the federal government, RAW STORY has learned.

The report, which comes after a request by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) to review the law and legal accountability relating to Federal action in response to Hurricane Katrina, unequivocally concludes that she did.

"This report closes the book on the Bush Administration's attempts to evade accountability," Conyers said in a statement. "The Bush Administration was caught napping at a critical time."

For my part, I do not doubt that an in-depth, independent investigation would show that officials at all levels made mistakes and failed to do as much as possible to mitigate suffering. However, much of the Right still refuses to acknowledge the failures of the federal response and screams about "blame games" when anyone dares criticize Dear Leader.

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10:40 am | link

Department of Flaming Troglodyte Idiots
 
"And the truth is that men and women are profoundly different. One of these differences is that women generally have a more difficult time transcending their emotions than men." Dennis Prager, TownHall.com

"Males were almost 10 times more likely than females to commit murder in 2002." U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics 

I never realized that a tendency to become homicidal is a byproduct of "transcending" one's emotions.

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7:51 am | link

tuesday, september 13, 2005

John Roberts
 
I didn't watched the John Roberts hearings this morning, and now I'm sorry. Some righties are liveblogging and getting mightily annoyed at Joe Biden, which suggests Biden scored some points. Chris Bowers of MyDD, also liveblogging, has the same impression.
 
Here's a transcript of this morning's hearings.
 
The surprising development, far better discussed at Kos, is that Roberts says he upholds a right to privacy (see here, here, here and here).
 
Answering questions from Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Roberts also said he believes the U.S. Constitution protects a right to privacy and repudiated a view expressed more than two decades ago in a memo in which he referred to a "so-called" right to privacy in the charter.
Part of Roberts's testimony from this morning:
The right to privacy is protected under the Constitution in various ways. It's protected by the Fourth Amendment which provides that the right of people to be secure in their persons, houses, effects and papers is protected. It's protected under the First Amendment dealing with prohibition on establishment of a religion and guarantee of free exercise. It protects privacy in matters of conscience. It was protected by the framers in areas that were of particular concern to them. It may not seem so significant today: the Third Amendment, protecting their homes against the quartering of troops. And in addition, the court has -- it was a series of decisions going back 80 years -- has recognized that personal privacy is a component of the liberty protected by the due process clause. The court has explained that the liberty protected is not limited to freedom from physical restraint and that it's protected not simply procedurally, but as a substantive matter as well. And those decisions have sketched out, over a period of 80 years, certain aspects of privacy that are protected as part of the liberty in the due process clause under the Constitution.
Does this mean Roberts would not vote to overturn Roe v. Wade? I wouldn't make that assumption. Armando reminds us that Clarence Thomas lied about his positions during his confirmation hearings, a phenomenon called "confirmation conversion." But it's an interesting development, nonetheless.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Did hell freeze over? The real jaw-dropping news du jour is that Bush actually said the words "I take responsibility." Whether his lips dropped off or not I cannot say.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Mad Kane has some audio clips from the Saturday night blogger pizza party. I was not actually tipsy. Really.

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1:39 pm | link

End of an Era
 
The righties haven't realized it yet, but the Bush Era is over. According to E.J. Dionne in today's Washington Post [emphasis added]--

The Bush Era did not begin when he took office, or even with the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. It began on Sept. 14, 2001, when Bush declared at the World Trade Center site: "I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you. And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon."[*] Bush was, indeed, skilled in identifying enemies and rallying a nation already disposed to action. He failed to realize after Sept. 11 that it was not we who were lucky to have him as a leader, but he who was lucky to be president of a great country that understood the importance of standing together in the face of a grave foreign threat. Very nearly all of us rallied behind him.

If Bush had understood that his central task was to forge national unity, as he seemed to shortly after Sept. 11, the country would never have become so polarized. Instead, Bush put patriotism to the service of narrowly ideological policies and an extreme partisanship. He pushed for more tax cuts for his wealthiest supporters and shamelessly used relatively modest details in the bill creating a Department of Homeland Security as partisan cudgels in the 2002 elections.

He invoked our national anger over terrorism to win support for a war in Iraq. But he failed to pay heed to those who warned that the United States would need many more troops and careful planning to see the job through. The president assumed things would turn out fine, on the basis of wildly optimistic assumptions. Careful policymaking and thinking through potential flaws in your approach are not his administration's strong suits.

And so the Bush Era ended definitively on Sept. 2, the day Bush first toured the Gulf Coast States after Hurricane Katrina. There was no magic moment with a bullhorn. The utter failure of federal relief efforts had by then penetrated the country's consciousness. Yesterday's resignation of FEMA Director Michael Brown put an exclamation point on the failure.

The source of Bush's political success was his claim that he could protect Americans. Leadership, strength and security were Bush's calling cards. Over the past two weeks, they were lost in the surging waters of New Orleans.

[*]And somewhere in the Middle East, Osama bin Laden is saying, "Hello? I can't hear you...."
 
Lest someone try to argue that Dionne's column is a study in wishful thinking--the polls agree with Dionne. Richard Morin wrote in yesterday's WaPo,

President Bush's public standing has hit record lows amid broad support for an independent investigation of the federal response to Hurricane Katrina and calls for postponing congressional action on $70 billion in proposed tax cuts to help pay for storm recovery, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

President Bush's overall job approval rating now stands at 42 percent, the lowest of his presidency and down three points since Hurricane Katrina savaged the Gulf Coast two weeks ago. Fifty-seven percent disapprove of Bush's performance, a double-digit increase since January.

Although about half of the country still approve of Bush's handling of the war on terror (and I bet that same half couldn't tell you what the "war on terror" is), a substantial majority disapprove of Bush's handling of Iraq and of the Katrina relief response. Bush has even lost ground among Republicans, and increasing numbers of Americans no longer see him as a "strong leader."
 
Morin continues,
Together, the poll portrays an increasingly unpopular president who is under siege at home and abroad. It also suggests that the public is growing impatient with an administration that once seemed so sure-footed but now seems unable to deal effectively with crises at home and abroad.
I doubt the Bush culties will ever appreciate that 9/11 was the kind of crisis that would make any president look good. It doesn't take "leadership" to make boastful (but, we now know, empty) threats over a bullhorn. It just takes vocal chords. The real test of leadership was Katrina. Bush flunked. And the nation saw him flunk.
 
Dionne goes on to say that there were signs of the end before Katrina.
The president's post-election fixation on privatizing part of Social Security showed how out of touch he was. The more Bush discussed this boutique idea cooked up in conservative think tanks and Wall Street imaginations, the less the public liked it. The situation in Iraq deteriorated. The glorious economy Bush kept touting turned out not to be glorious for many Americans. The Census Bureau's annual economic report, released in the midst of the Gulf disaster, found that an additional 4.1 million Americans had slipped into poverty between 2001 and 2004.
And sometime in the next few weeks, Patrick Fitzgerald's traitorgate grand jury should be finished with its work ...
 
Yet the bleepheads in Washington can be expected to continue to operate as if it were 9/13/2001 for a while. The three most critical issues on our plate--Iraq, Supreme Court nominations, and Katrina--will still be handled by Republicans under the direction of Karl Rove. And many of the Dems will continue to mince around and appease the Right.
 
If there was ever a time to make some noise and kick some ass, this is it.
 
Later today I'll be posting about John Roberts, but when I do so I want to place the nomination hearings in the context that we are not powerless any more. The American people are turning against the Rethugs. We're the majority, so let's start acting like it!
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Yet the cluelessness continues--the headline of a Mark Steyn column reads, "Bush Kept His Head, and the Danger's Past."
 
But he kept his head in his ass, dear, while people were dying. Steyn is an ass, however, which is why he is full of ...
 
Sorry; the headline was just too funny.

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8:37 am | link

monday, september 12, 2005

Workin' Hard
 
So what does a President do? Bush made some remarks today that may tell us what he thinks his job is ...
Q Can you tell us, have you accepted the resignation of Michael Brown, or have you heard about it?

THE PRESIDENT: I haven't -- no, I have not talked to Michael Brown -- or Mike Chertoff; that's who I'd talk to. As you know, I've been working. And when I get on Air Force One, I will call back to Washington. But I've been on the move.

Q Our understanding is he has resigned, he's made a statement. Would that be appropriate --

THE PRESIDENT: I haven't talked to Mike Chertoff yet, and that's what I intend to do when I get on the plane. You know, I -- you probably -- maybe you know something I don't know, but as you know, we've been working, and I haven't had a chance to get on the phone.

` I just came from an extraordinary event. When I say I've been working, what I've been doing is thanking people. We just came from a church that's feeding people in need, that need help, and there were people from all over the country there. It was unbelievable. And so I was spending time thanking them and lifting their spirits. So I can't comment on something that you may know more about than I do. So don't ask me again about a subject that --

Q Can you say -- we're you disappointed in the job that he did?

THE PRESIDENT: We went through this this morning, as you know, and I've said this -- so I haven't changed my mind since you asked that question -- or somebody asked the question about it --

Q This is a little bit different -- we're asking specifically about him.

THE PRESIDENT: It's the same spirit, and that is, is that there will be plenty of time to figure out what went right and what went wrong. And the reason why it's important for us to figure that out at a national level is that, if a major event were to come -- another major event -- we want to make sure that there's an appropriate relationship between the state and the local government. And so it's appropriate that we step back and take a look. ...

... Q One more question. With all your focus on foreign policy the next couple of days, what -- have you put in place to keep your --

THE PRESIDENT: I can do more than one thing at one time. That's what -- I hope you -- by the time I'm finished President, I hope you'll realize that the government can do more than one thing at one time, and individuals in the government can. And so I'll be in constant touch with -- I have a hurricane recovery briefing every morning, for example. I'll be in touch with Mike Chertoff. Andy Card, on my staff, will be in touch with the appropriate people. And so if I'm focusing on the hurricane, I've got the capacity to focus on foreign policy, and vice versa. But I thank you for asking that question.
Let's review. The president's job today was to thank people and lift their spirits. He gets a hurricane briefing every morning. He can do more than one thing at once. How much are we paying this guy?

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10:09 pm | link

The Shit Heard Round the World
 
They didn't fire him, but Michael Brown resigned, MSNBC says.

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2:59 pm | link

W Stands for Weenie
It's a standing joke among the president's top aides: who gets to deliver the bad news? Warm and hearty in public, Bush can be cold and snappish in private, and aides sometimes cringe before the displeasure of the president of the United States, or, as he is known in West Wing jargon, POTUS. The bad news on this early morning, Tuesday, Aug. 30, some 24 hours after Hurricane Katrina had ripped through New Orleans, was that the president would have to cut short his five-week vacation by a couple of days and return to Washington. The president's chief of staff, Andrew Card; his deputy chief of staff, Joe Hagin; his counselor, Dan Bartlett, and his spokesman, Scott McClellan, held a conference call to discuss the question of the president's early return and the delicate task of telling him. Hagin, it was decided, as senior aide on the ground, would do the deed.
Yesterday I read this first graf of Evan Thomas's Newsweek article, "How Bush Blew It," and for a while I could read no further. I had to stomp around the house and let off steam. I wanted to smack somebody and break china and howl. However, I made do with stomping.  Then I continued to read:
Bad news rarely flows up in bureaucracies. For most of those first few days, Bush was hearing what a good job the Feds were doing. Bush likes "metrics," numbers to measure performance, so the bureaucrats gave him reassuring statistics. At a press availability on Wednesday, Bush duly rattled them off: there were 400 trucks transporting 5.4 million meals and 13.4 million liters of water along with 3.4 million pounds of ice. Yet it was obvious to anyone watching TV that New Orleans had turned into a Third World hellhole.
This was the speech the New York Times called "one of the worst speeches of [Bush's] life," btw.
 

A related factor, aides and outside allies concede, is what many of them see as the President's increasing isolation. Bush's bubble has grown more hermetic in the second term, they say, with fewer people willing or able to bring him bad news—or tell him when he's wrong.

Bush has never been adroit about this. A youngish aide who is a Bush favorite described the perils of correcting the boss. "The first time I told him he was wrong, he started yelling at me," the aide recalled about a session during the first term. "Then I showed him where he was wrong, and he said, 'All right. I understand. Good job.' He patted me on the shoulder. I went and had dry heaves in the bathroom."

His aides are scared to death of him, in other words.
 
Mike Allen writes that former aides describe "enormous pressure on White House officials to take only the most vital decisions to Bush and let the bureaucracy deal with everything else." A "highly screened information chain" keeps Bush in a happy-news bubble. 
"His inner circle takes pride in being able to tell him 'everything is under control,' when in this case it was not," said a former aide. "The whole idea that you have to only burden him with things 'that rise to his level' bit them this time."  
Show me a boss who flies off the handle and gets verbally abusive when someone brings him bad news, and I'll show you a staff that tip-toes around the boss and hides problems from him until there's a full-blown disaster. I've seen this many times.
 
Evan Thomas provides another glimpse into the Bush management "style":
The denial and the frustration finally collided aboard Air Force One on Friday. As the president's plane sat on the tarmac at New Orleans airport, a confrontation occurred that was described by one participant as "as blunt as you can get without the Secret Service getting involved." Governor Blanco was there, along with various congressmen and senators and Mayor Nagin (who took advantage of the opportunity to take a shower aboard the plane). One by one, the lawmakers listed their grievances as Bush listened. Rep. Bobby Jindal, whose district encompasses New Orleans, told of a sheriff who had called FEMA for assistance. According to Jindal, the sheriff was told to e-mail his request, "and the guy was sitting in a district underwater and with no electricity," Jindal said, incredulously. "How does that make any sense?" Jindal later told NEWSWEEK that "almost everybody" around the conference table had a similar story about how the federal response "just wasn't working." With each tale, "the president just shook his head, as if he couldn't believe what he was hearing," says Jindal, a conservative Republican and Bush appointee who lost a close race to Blanco. Repeatedly, the president turned to his aides and said, "Fix it."
"Fix it." Yes, that's useful. But I suspect if the aides could have fixed "it," they would have.
 
What are we looking at, here? A president whose staff is afraid to bring him problems to solve, and when he finally is confronted with a problem, his "solution" is to order other people to solve it.  
 
What exactly do we need a president for, exactly? Ribbon-cutting ceremonies?
 
There's something fundamentally screwy about a president who won't read newspapers or watch television news, but instead relies entirely on his staff to tell him what's going on in the world. This is not normal. Imagine a CEO who pays no attention to his company or industry in general until someone on his staff works up the courage to tell him the company is losing money. Granted, a lot of corporate heads are oblivious, but not that oblivious.
 
(According to legend, John Kennedy used to speed-read six newspapers every morning while he ate breakfast. As I recall, Kennedy usually had a clue what was going on in the world.)
 
Second, what is the point of an executive who gives no direction? Many's the time I've attended "crisis" meetings in which staff and managers and maybe a couple of vice presidents dealt with a serious problem. After thorough discussion of the goals and obstacles, and after questions are asked and suggestions are made, the big shots decide on a plan of action. They don't just sit there and yell, "fix it!"
 
According to former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, even in non-crisis times Bush is weirdly non-participatory.

He O'Neill] says there was a lack of real dialogue at cabinet meetings with Mr Bush so detached that he was "like a blind man in a room full of deaf people".

"I went in with a long list of things to talk about and, I thought, to engage [him] on," said Mr O'Neill recalling the first meeting.

"I was surprised it turned out me talking and the president just listening... It was mostly a monologue."

A BBC correspondent in Washington says the White House has refused to address the remarks directly but aides have often said the president sets the tone and broad principals of the administration's policies, while delegating the details to his advisors.

Hey, Condi, I need me a foreign policy. Work one out for me, OK? Be sure it makes me look good.

Judging by the ongoing Katrina debacle, Bush's hand's-off tone is being copied throughout the Bush Administration. This Knight Ridder article says "review of official actions in the days just before and after Katrina's landfall Monday, Aug. 29, reveals a depth of government hesitancy and a not-my-job attitude that may have cost scores of people their lives."  

Hesistancy (remember The Pet Goat moment?). Not-my-job attitude. That's the Bush management style.

Memo to Bush: Lead, follow, or get out of the way. That last choice would be my preference.

The fawning news media plus Karl Rove's brilliant use of carefully managed "public" events and photo ops presented George Bush as a bold, decisive leader. Events of the past couple of weeks pulled down the facade and revealed, to all willing to open their eyes and see, that Bush is no leader at all. Today, while the GOP whines about a "blame game," they continue to be the only ones playing a blame game. Today, for example, they're blaming the media for their own bad performance:

At some point before he was sent packing back to Washington last week, FEMA Director Michael Brown sent a woe-is-me email message to family and friends. "I don't mind the negative press (well, actually, I do, but I try to ignore it) but it is really wearing out the family," Brown wrote in the message, a copy of which was obtained by the Rocky Mountain News. "No wonder people don't go into public service. This country is devouring itself, the 24-hour news cycle is numbing our ability to think for ourselves."

It's a strange comment coming from someone who seemed so tragically unaware of what that 24-hour news cycle was reporting. But be that as it may, Brown's email message is typical of what we've come to expect in the right's post-Katrina blame game. First it was all the fault of the poor New Orleans residents who didn't have the good sense to fire up their shiny new SUVs and evacuate. Then it was all those looters who were disrupting the law and order that would otherwise have prevailed. Then it was the mayor of New Orleans and the governor of Louisiana and anyone else they could find who didn't work directly for the president of the United States.

And all along, underlying it all, it has been the media's fault. If Brown wasn't doing his job in the early days of Katrina -- or even if it was just that the public didn't think he was doing his job -- well, it's all because the media was "numbing our ability to think for ourselves."

It's not the first time we've heard that line. As ThinkProgress has noted, members of the Bush administration have claimed repeatedly that they responded so slowly to Katrina because newspapers -- "most" of them, according to Joint Chiefs Chairman Richard Myers -- reported on Tuesday, Aug. 30, that New Orleans had "dodged a bullet." Myers said the military started its work with "those words . . . in our minds." Of course, most newspapers weren't reporting that day that New Orleans had dodged a bullet. Some of the headlines we've seen from that day: "Hurricane Slams Into Gulf Coast," "Storm Thrashes Gulf Coast," "Death, Destruction," "Devastated," "Devastated," "Complete Devastation" and, from the New Orleans Times-Picayune, "Catastrophic: Storm Surge Swamps 9th Ward, St. Bernard; Lakeview Levee Breach Threatens to Inundate City." [Salon]

Weenies. The lot of them.

Update: Via Josh Marshall--the "it's not my job" president speaks:

QUESTION: Mr. President, there is a belief that we've been hearing for two weeks now on the ground that FEMA let the people here on the ground down. And perhaps, in turn, if you look at the evidence of what it's done to your popularity, FEMA let you down. Do you think that your management style of sort of relying on the advice that you got in this particular scenario let you down? And do you think that plays at all ...

PRESIDENT BUSH: Look, there will be plenty of time to play the blame game. That's what you're trying to do.

QUESTION: No, I'm trying to ...

PRESIDENT BUSH: You're trying to say somebody is at fault. Look -- and I want to know. I want to know exactly what went on and how it went on. And we'll continually assess inside my administration. I sent Mike Chertoff down here to make an assessment of how best to do the job. He made a decision; I accepted his decision. But we're moving on. We're going to solve these problems. And there will be ample time for people to look back and see the facts.

Now, as far as my own personal popularity goes, I don't make decisions based upon polls. I hope the American people appreciate that. You can't make difficult decisions if you have to take a poll. That's been my style ever since I've been the President. And, of course, I rely upon good people. Of course, you got to as the President of the United States. You set the space, you set the strategy, you hold people to account. But yeah, I'm relying upon good people. That's why Admiral Allen is here. He's good man. He can do the job. That's why General Honore is here. And so when I come into a briefing, I don't tell them what to do. They tell me the facts on the ground, and my question to them is, do you have what you need.

QUESTION: Did they misinform you when you said that no one anticipated the breach of the levees?

PRESIDENT BUSH: No, what I was referring to is this. When that storm came by, a lot of people said we dodged a bullet. When that storm came through at first, people said, whew. There was a sense of relaxation, and that's what I was referring to. And I, myself, thought we had dodged a bullet. You know why? Because I was listening to people, probably over the airways, say, the bullet has been dodged. And that was what I was referring to.

Of course, there were plans in case the levee had been breached. There was a sense of relaxation in the moment, a critical moment. And thank you for giving me a chance to clarify that.

QUESTION: Mr. President, where were you when you realized the severity of the storm?

PRESIDENT BUSH: I was -- I knew that a big storm was coming on Monday, so I spoke to the country on Monday* morning about it. I said, there's a big storm coming. I had pre-signed emergency declarations in anticipation of a big storm coming.

QUESTION: Mr. President ...

PRESIDENT BUSH: -- which is, by the way, extraordinary. Most emergencies the President signs after the storm has hit. It's a rare occasion for the President to anticipate the severity of a storm and sign the documentation prior to the storm hitting. So, in other words, we anticipated a serious storm coming. But as the man's question said, basically implied, wasn't there a moment where everybody said, well, gosh, we dodged the bullet, and yet the bullet hadn't been dodged.

Well, sir, no. There was no such moment. Only in your own head.

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11:32 am | link

sunday, september 11, 2005

If You Could Use a Laugh
 
Go here.
 
Also, Elayne Riggs reveals what I was up to last night.

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4:14 pm | link

Four Years
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I don't want to write about September 11 today. I don't want to think about it.
 
I flipped on the TV this morning and saw Condi Rice at a podium in some 9/11 commemoration ceremony.  She was the National Security Adviser who failed to heed copious warnings and did nothing to prevent the 9/11 skyjackings. Featuring her at a 9/11 commemoration is a bit like asking Philippe Pétain to commemorate the French Resistance. It's an obscenity. I flipped off the TV.
 
And while I fully appreciate that those who lost friends and loved ones on 9/11 need to come together in remembrance, for the rest of us it seems wrong to indulge in a 9/11 nostalgia wallow while there are still unrecovered bodies in New Orleans.
 
My first anniversary remembrance of that terrible day is still here.

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11:14 am | link


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Ben Merens, "Conversations with Ben Merens,"
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"To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public." --Theodore Roosevelt, 1918

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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."

·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·

It was believed, afterward, that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.

[Mark Twain, 1905]

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Copyright 2003, 2004 by Barbara O'Brien

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