What Can One Say but … Awesome!

Am I sorry I missed this.

A blistering comedy “tribute” to President Bush by Comedy Central’s faux talk show host Stephen Colbert at the White House Correspondent Dinner Saturday night left George and Laura Bush unsmiling at its close. …

… Colbert, who spoke in the guise of his talk show character, who ostensibly supports the president strongly, urged the Bush to ignore his low approval ratings, saying they were based on reality, “and reality has a well-known liberal bias.”

He attacked those in the press who claim that the shake-up at the White House was merely re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. “This administration is soaring, not sinking,” he said. “They are re-arranging the deck chairs–on the Hindenburg.”

Colbert told Bush he could end the problem of protests by retired generals by refusing to let them retire. He compared Bush to Rocky Balboa in the “Rocky” movies, always getting punched in the face—“and Apollo Creed is everything else in the world.”

Turning to the war, he declared, “I believe that the government that governs best is a government that governs least, and by these standards we have set up a fabulous government in Iraq.”

He noted former Ambassador Joseph Wilson in the crowd, as well as ” Valerie Plame.” Then, pretending to be worried that he had named her, he corrected himself, as Bush aides might do, “Uh, I mean… Joseph Wilson’s wife.” He asserted that it might be okay, as prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald was probably not there.

Colbert also made biting cracks about missing WMDs, “photo ops” on aircraft carriers and at hurricane disasters, and Vice President Cheney shooting people in the face.

Observing that Bush sticks to his principles, he said, “When the president decides something on Monday, he still believes it on Wednesday – no matter what happened Tuesday.”

Video at Crooks & Liars

A couple of bloggers (example) have noted there wasn’t a lot of laughing. Heh.

A couple of rightie bloggers said that Colbert “bombed” and was “embarrassing.” Clearly, these people have no sense of humor.

Update: This makes up for the atrocity that occurred at the 2004 Radio and Television Correspondents’ dinner — the infamous “where are those WMDs?” video. But even when the jokes aren’t about an “oopsie” that caused countless deaths, there’s something obscene about a black-tied and begowned audience sitting at dinner and laughing at George W. Bush’s charming little foibles. Obscene, I say.

Atrios and Co.
say the President was drunk last night. If I were him, I’d be living in a bottle, too.

Freud and the Fascists

In 1938 Sigmund Freud was 81 and close to the end of his life. He lived long enough to see Hitler’s troops roll into Vienna, and in some of his final writing he addressed the question of why people flock to dictators like Hitler. You can read about this in “Freud and the Fundamentalist Urge” by Mark Edmundson, in this Sunday’s New York Times magazine.

(Be sure you read Edmundson before tackling “The Rehabilitation of the Cold-War Liberal” by Peter Beinart, also in the NYT Sunday magazine. Beinart would have benefited from reading Edmundson also, I suspect.)

I’m going to skip the historical background and also the explanation of Freud’s concepts of Id, Ego, and Superego in the assumption you’re acquainted with ’em (if not, click the link). Let’s plunge directly into the juicy parts:

Freud had no compunction in calling the relationship that crowds forge with an absolute leader an erotic one. (In this he was seconded by Hitler, who suggested that in his speeches he made love to the German masses.) What happens when members of the crowd are “hypnotized” (that is the word Freud uses) by a tyrant? The tyrant takes the place of the over-I [superego], and for a variety of reasons, he stays there. What he offers to individuals is a new, psychological dispensation. Where the individual superego is inconsistent and often inaccessible because it is unconscious, the collective superego, the leader, is clear and absolute in his values. By promulgating one code — one fundamental way of being — he wipes away the differences between different people, with different codes and different values, which are a source of anxiety to the psyche. Now we all love the fatherland, believe in the folk, blame the Jews, have a grand imperial destiny. The tyrant is also, in his way, permissive. Where the original superego has prohibited violence and theft and destruction, the new superego, the leader, allows for it, albeit under prescribed circumstances. Freud’s major insistence as a theorist of group behavior is on the centrality of the leader and the dynamics of his relation to the group. In this he sees himself as pressing beyond the thinking of predecessors like the French writer Gustave Le Bon, who, to Freud’s way of thinking, overemphasized the determining power of the group mind. To Freud, crowds on their own can be dangerous, but they only constitute a long-term brutal threat when a certain sort of figure takes over the superego slot in ways that are both prohibitive and permissive.

Is some of this sounding familiar?

As the Nazis arrived in Vienna, many gentile Viennese, who had apparently been tolerant and cosmopolitan people, turned on their Jewish neighbors. They broke into Jewish apartments and stole what they wanted to. They trashed Jewish shops. They made Jews scrub liberal political slogans off the sidewalk, first with brushes and later with their hands. And they did all of this with a sense of righteous conviction — they were operating in accord with the new cultural superego, epitomized by the former corporal and dispatch runner, Adolf Hitler.

Freud describes the attributes of a Dear Leader:

In his last days, Freud became increasingly concerned about our longing for inner peace — our longing, in particular, to replace our old, inconsistent and often inscrutable over-I with something clearer, simpler and ultimately more permissive. We want a strong man with a simple doctrine that accounts for our sufferings, identifies our enemies, focuses our energies and gives us, more enduringly than wine or even love, a sense of being whole. This man, as Freud says in his great book on politics, “Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego,” must appear completely masterful. He must seem to have perfect confidence, to need no one and to be entirely sufficient unto himself. Sometimes this man will evoke a god as his source of authority, sometimes not. But in whatever form he comes — whether he is called Hitler, Stalin, Mao — he will promise to deliver people from their confusion and to dispense unity and purpose where before there were only fracture and incessant anxiety.

Dear Leader’s appeal and message is simple and unambiguous. It shines forth with blazing moral clarity. And that moral clarity gives permission to hate, to eliminate, anyone who is not One of Us.

For Freud, a healthy psyche is not always a psyche that feels good. … For Freud, we might infer, a healthy body politic is one that allows for a good deal of continuing tension. A healthy polis is one that it doesn’t always feel good to be a part of. There’s too much argument, controversy, difference. But in that difference, annoying and difficult as it may be, lies the community’s well-being. When a relatively free nation is threatened by terrorists with totalitarian goals, as ours is now, there is, of course, an urge to come together and to fight back by any means necessary. But the danger is that in fighting back we will become just as fierce, monolithic and, in the worst sense, as unified as our foes. We will seek our own great man; we will be blind to his foibles; we will stop questioning, stop arguing. When that happens, a war of fundamentalisms has begun, and of that war there can be no victor.

These guys at Berkeley write that “intolerance of ambiguity” is a common psychological trait of conservatives, which I ‘spect is what makes them susceptible to the charms of our own home-grown Dear Leader — who (with the help of Karl and a good camera crew) seems to embody the image of a completely masterful man, a man with perfect confidence who needs no one and is entirely sufficient unto himself. Now, you and I know that’s a crock, but righties seem to see Bush that way.

I want to skip over to the Peter Beinart article for a moment. Poor Beinart has been struggling for years to explain to liberals how we can make people like us better, but he should go into a quiet place and think things through for a while before he writes articles for the New York Times. But Beinart talks about Reinhold Niebuhr —

Niebuhr was a dedicated opponent of communism, but he was concerned that in pursuing a just cause, Americans would lose sight of their own capacity for injustice. “We must take, and must continue to take, morally hazardous actions to preserve our civilization,” he wrote. “We must exercise our power. But we ought neither to believe that a nation is capable of perfect disinterestedness in its exercise nor become complacent about particular degrees of interest and passion which corrupt the justice by which the exercise of power is legitimized.” Americans, Niebuhr argued, should not emulate the absolute self-confidence of their enemies. They should not pretend that a country that countenanced McCarthyism and segregation was morally pure. Rather, they should cultivate enough self-doubt to ensure that unlike the Communists’, their idealism never degenerated into fanaticism. Open-mindedness, he argued, is not “a virtue of people who don’t believe anything. It is a virtue of people who know. . .that their beliefs are not absolutely true.”

George Kennan, architect of the Truman administration’s early policies toward the Soviet Union, called Niebuhr the “father of us all.” And in the first years of the cold war, Niebuhr’s emphasis on moral fallibility underlay America’s remarkable willingness to restrain its power. In the aftermath of World War II, the United States represented half of the world’s G.D.P., and the nations of Western Europe lay militarily and economically prostrate. Yet the Truman administration self-consciously bound America within institutions like NATO, which gave those weaker nations influence over American conduct. “We all have to recognize, no matter how great our strength,” Truman declared, “that we must deny ourselves the license to do always as we please.”

In other words, early Cold War liberals like Truman and Niebuhr believed in a style of citizenship, and patriotism, that denied itself the easy gratification of absolutism and nationalism. But conservatives have had no patience with that. Admitting fallibility seems to them to be self-hatred. Deferring to other nations that we could push around seems like weakness. Tolerance of other values seems like immorality. Above all, communists must not be understood, but demonized.

If different views about moral clarity produced different views about American restraint, they also produced different views on how best to defend democracy, at home and abroad. The Marshall Plan’s premise was that the survival of European democracy depended on its ability to deliver economic opportunity. In “The Vital Center,” his famed 1949 statement of cold-war liberalism, Arthur Schlesinger Jr. compared communism to an intruder trying to enter a house. The American military could keep it from knocking down the door. But if the people inside were sufficiently desperate, they might unlock it from the inside.

To conservatives, this talk of communism’s root causes looked like an effort to rationalize evil, to suggest America’s real foe was not communism itself, but the forces that produced it. “The fact that some poor, illiterate people have ‘gone Communist’ does not prove that poverty caused them to do so,” insisted Barry Goldwater, the first National Review-style conservative to win a Republican presidential nomination.

FDR’s and Truman’s liberal (and mature) approach to foreign policy was the beginning of the meme that liberals were “soft on communism” and weak on foreign policy. In fact there was nothing weak about either guy. But conservatives’ simplistic, black-and-white mode of thinking made the equation clear — communists were absolutely evil; therefore, we should just wipe them out and damn the consequences. Liberals, thinking ahead to those consequences, counseled caution. Ergo, liberals were weenies. Even if our approach turned out to be the right one, we were still weenies.

In the years since 9/11 restored foreign policy to the heart of American politics, these cold-war debates have returned in another form, with the critical difference that only one side knows its lines. Even before the attacks, many conservatives feared America was emasculating itself yet again. In a one-superpower world, they argued, America no longer had to tailor its foreign policy to the wishes of others. And yet, in the conservative view, the Clinton administration had permitted constraints on American power, playing Gulliver to foreign Lilliputians intent on binding it in a web of international institutions and international law. Predictably, conservatives attributed this submission to America’s lack of faith in itself. The “religion of nonjudgmentalism,” wrote William Bennett in the book “Why We Fight: Moral Clarity and the War on Terrorism,” “has permeated our culture, encouraging a paralysis of the moral faculty.”

Beinart goes on to blame liberals for not standing up for the old liberal Cold War principles, rather ignoring the fact that for the past several years we’ve been shouted out of the national conversation. He goes ahead and writes a bunch of stuff that we all know about why America is screwed up. But not so long ago Beinart was one of those who argued liberals should get behind the Iraq War to prove how tough we are. Like I said, Beinart needs to go to a quiet place and think it all through.

I’m not sure if we’re going to survive the American right wing. No matter how badly they bleep up the nation, no matter how many disasters they cause, they remain supremely confident that they hold the keys to truth and that we liberals are morally compromised loonies. We need to address the American people and say, look, we let the righties try things their way, and it isn’t working. Let us explain our way. And hope enough of ’em are capable of listening.

However, as long as “liberalism” is being represented on TV by Joe Klein, it’s not gonna happen.

Update: See David Sirota, “Peter Beinart Has No Clothes.”

Serious About Rummy

Via True Blue Liberal — the Army Times conducted one of those online, not-scientifically-valid polls asking readers this question:

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has come under fire in recent weeks from a variety of retired generals, who say he should resign for his performance in managing the war in Iraq. Do you think the U.S. war effort is grounds for Secretary Rumsfeld to resign?

That’s a carefully worded question; note it doesn’t say that Rummy’s performance was bad or hint that the war effort is not going well. Anyway, the results as of this writing (4,339 total votes) are yes, 63.47 %; no, 32.96 %; and no opinion, 3.57 %.

These results don’t prove anything. I have no doubt a scientifically conducted poll would have different results. Still, it suggests some Army Times readers, not known to be loony leftie peaceniks, are really pissed off at Rummy.

Some mid-level officers interviewed last week by New York Times reporters Thom Shanker and Eric Schmitt sounded pissed at both Rummy and the generals who didn’t speak out about him until after they retired.

The discussions often flare with anger, particularly among many midlevel officers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan and face the prospect of additional tours of duty.

“This is about the moral bankruptcy of general officers who lived through the Vietnam era yet refused to advise our civilian leadership properly,” said one Army major in the Special Forces who has served two combat tours. “I can only hope that my generation does better someday.”

An Army major who is an intelligence specialist said: “The history I will take away from this is that the current crop of generals failed to stand up and say, ‘We cannot do this mission.’ They confused the cultural can-do attitude with their responsibilities as leaders to delay the start of the war until we had an adequate force. I think the backlash against the general officers will be seen in the resignation of officers” who might otherwise have stayed in uniform for more years.

In defense of the generals, some of them said they did try to explain reality to the Pentagon, but the exercise proved as fruitful as explaining verb conjugation to a tree stump.

Mo Dowd (via True Blue Liberal) writes of Rummy’s and Condi’s little visit to Baghdad this week:

The former “Matinee Idol,” as W. liked to call him, is now a figure of absurdity, clinging to his job only because some retired generals turned him into a new front on the war on terror. On his rare, brief visit to Baghdad, he was afraid to go outside Fortress Green Zone, even though he yammers on conservative talk shows about how progress is being made, and how the press never reports good news out of Iraq.

If the news is so good, why wasn’t Rummy gallivanting at the local mall, walking around rather than hiding out in the U.S. base known as Camp Victory? (What are they going to call it, one reporter joked, Camp Defeat?)

Very often when us loony leftie peaceniks criticize the war, the righties spin it as a slam on our troops. It’s as if they absolutely cannot fathom that fault may lie with leadership and planning rather than execution. And, of course, the ultimate responsibility for the debacle in Iraq lies with the bleepheads who made the decision to invade for no good bleeping reason.

But let’s brush that aside for the moment.

According to a Virginia businessman named Joseph Robert, Jr., who has been in Iraq, the troops are still dedicated to the mission; it’s everyone else who has screwed the pooch. Robert writes in today’s Washington Post:

First, U.S. forces in Iraq remain focused on their mission. Talking with soldiers and Marines over dinner in their mess halls, it’s easy to see why reenlistment rates among U.S. troops in Iraq are the highest in the military. These men and women understand their mission and believe they are making a difference. Like my son, Joe III, after he returned from a tough mission in Fallujah, the Marines I met said they would be happy to return to Iraq because they believe what they’re doing is important.


… dangerous failures in Iraq’s economic reconstruction are undermining progress on the security and political fronts. …

… This strategic failure is a direct result of something else I observed: Only one element of the U.S. government — the military — seems to be treating Iraq as “the vital national interest” that President Bush declares it to be. Across Iraq, military personnel are heroically managing local reconstruction and development projects for which they lack the proper training or tools. Meanwhile, back in the Green Zone, hundreds of civilian positions — from the departments of State, Justice, Commerce and Agriculture — go unfilled.

U.S. commanders expressed frustration that dozens of Justice Department billets sit empty despite Iraq’s urgent need for help in developing a functioning judicial system. American troops like my son describe risking their lives to arrest suspected insurgents, testifying in Iraqi courts and then watching in frustration as the offenders are tossed back on the streets. In government, as in business, refusing to devote the resources and personnel to a strategic priority is a recipe for disaster.

This reminds me of something George Packer said on The Daily Show awhile back (link to video on this page). Parker spoke of many individuals in Iraq, both Iraqi and American,

Packer: … really pouring their hearts into this project, and meanwhile back in Washington decisions being made on the fly, or not being made at all, being made against all expert advice as if it almost didn’t matter. …

… there was a whole tide of young Republican operatives coming over to staff the occupation, people who had never lived abroad, certainly had no experience in the Middle East, there were maybe three Arabic speakers in the whole coalition provisional authority in the first few few months …

Stewart: You say the more you know about Iraq the more you’d be punished, it seems.

Packer: Yes. It’s a law of the occupation that the more you know the less influence you have, and as you go higher and higher in the Administration, knowledge decreases until at the very top …

… they were unbelievably reckless, and I think it’s going to take time for historians to explain how they could have rolled the dice in such a risky way and not taken it more seriously. Over and over again that’s the thing that I come back to. They didn’t take it very seriously.

As I wrote here, the Bushies seem congenitally incapable of taking anything seriously. Unless it’s a political threat, of course.

Philip Gold writes in today’s Seattle Post-Intelligencer that “Too few are carrying the burden of war.” He discusses a book written by Dr. Ron Glasser titled Wounded: Vietnam to Iraq. Dr. Glasser had been an Army doctor stationed in Japan during the Vietnam war.

When the Iraq war started to sour, Glasser, now a prominent Minneapolis pediatric nephrologist, noticed that new kinds of wounded were coming back. Thanks to improved body armor and lack of enemy artillery and mortars, there were fewer traditional gunshot and fragmentation wounds. But because of the wide use of improvised explosive devices such as suicide bombs, there were far more serious wounds to limbs and closed head injuries. Gone was the “Million Dollar Wound” that got you honorably home but still reasonably intact. Now the military was doing amputations at a rate unknown since the Civil War and dealing with head injuries that could only be described as “polytrauma.” …

… “Wounded” tells it to the American people like it is and warns that these new wounded are going to require expensive lifetime care from a Department of Veterans Affairs that will be struggling with Vietnam vets for the next three decades.

Toward the end, “Wounded” shifts from medicine to note who’s not coming home shattered in body and spirit: America’s more privileged sons and daughters.

Glasser also wrote about the sounded of Iraq in a July 2005 Harper’s Magazine article. Glasser writes that the Bushies aren’t taking the Iraq wounded seriously, either.

“Based on what we should be doing, the VA is simply underfunded,” former Georgia senator Max Cleland, a triple amputee from the war in Vietnam and head of the Veterans Administration under President Carter, told me. “The budgetary constraints put into place by this administration’s tax cuts have proved a disaster for the whole system. The VA can’t handle what they have to do now; how are they going to handle the flood of physical and emotional casualties, many of whom will be the responsibility of the VA for the rest of their lives?”

Ultimately, if the Bush Administration continues its refusal to accept the realities of this conflict, the most enduring images of the Iraq war will be the sight of legless and addled beggars on our street corners holding cardboard signs that read: IRAQ VET. HUNGRY AND HOMELESS. PLEASE HELP.

See also “Coming Home from War on the Cheap” by Judith Coburn.

In other news, Drew Brown reports for Knight Ridder that the cost of the war is skyrocketing. Ewen MacAskill reports for the Guardian that the “US admits Iraq could become haven for terror.”

And the righties complain the press isn’t reporting the good news in Iraq. Such a shame.

But about Rummy? You know we’re living in strange times when something written by William S. Lind, Director for the Center for Cultural Conservatism for the Free Congress Foundation, shows up in the hyper-leftie online mag Counterpunch.

Rumsfeld’s defenders argue that some of his critics are dinosaurs who resent “Transformation” because it disrupts business as usual, they have a point. As anyone who has dealt with the higher ranks of the U.S. military knows, they put the La Brea tar pits in the shade as a dinosaur graveyard. …

But here too the story is not so simple. While Rumsfeldian “Transformation” represents change, it represents change in the wrong direction. Instead of attempting to move from the Second Generation to the Third (much less the Fourth), Transformation retains the Second Generation’s conception of war as putting firepower on targets while trying to replace people with technology. Its summa is the Death Star, where men and women in spiffy uniforms sit in air-conditioned comfort zapping enemies like bugs. It is a vision of future war that appeals to technocrats and lines industry pockets, but has no connection to reality. The combination of this vision of war with an equally unrealistic vision of strategic objectives has given us the defeat in Iraq. Again, Rumsfeld lies at the heart of both.

Lind believes that Rummy’s is the only head that should roll. But seems to me that if the President were serious about the war in Iraq, Rummy’s head would have rolled a long time ago.

Liz Sidoti reports for the Associated Press that many Senate Republicans would like Rummy to be gone, but are resigned to the fact the the President wants him to stay.

And why does the President want Rummy to stay? Because the President can’t admit he made a mistake, that’s why. It’s all about Dear Leader and his glorious ego.

As of this morning, 2398 U.S. troops have been killed in Iraq.

Update: Flaming idiot rightie Mark Noonan of Blogs for Bush linked to the Joseph Robert, Jr., article I link to and quote above, and wrote, “Warning: No Liberal Should Read This! It is positive news about Iraq, and we wouldn’t want to spoil the nice, little anti-Bush fantasy land the liberals live in…”

How stupid are these people?

Busted Rush

I’m deferring to Taylor Marsh:

The bottom line is that Rush, by getting a “deferrred prosecution” will be out $30,000 for court costs and have a huge hit to his overblown ego. But in the end, if he does what he’s supposed to do, the charge will never be on his record and at the end of 18 months it will vanish. Roy Black, Rush’s attorney, deserves a medal. It’s a rich white man’s deal, baby. Now just imagine if Rush was a Democrat.

It Depends on What You Mean by “Safer”

Caroline Drees, Reuters:

The U.S. war on terrorism has made the world safer, the State Department’s counterterrorism chief said on Friday, despite more than 11,000 terrorist attacks worldwide last year that killed 14,600 people.


A pair of Bush administration terrorism reports are due out today. The State Department’s annual terrorism report finds that Iraq has become a safe haven for terrorists and has attracted a “foreign fighter pipeline” linked to terrorist plots, cells and attacks throughout the world. Meanwhile, a National Counterterrorism Threat Center report finds that terrorist incidents and deaths more than doubled in 2005.


The U.S. State Department said the numbers, listed in its annual Country Reports on Terrorism released on Friday, were based on a broader definition of terrorism and could not be compared to the 3,129 international attacks listed the previous year.

But the new 2005 figures, which showed attacks in Iraq jumped and accounted for about a third of the world’s total, may fuel criticism of the Bush administration’s assertion that it is winning the fight against terrorism.

Ya think?

Officials sought to avert any conclusion that the sharply higher statistics on attacks meant the war on terrorism was not working.

“This is not the kind of war where you can measure success with conventional numbers,” Crumpton said.

Cooked numbers are so much more comforting.

9/11 Belongs to All of Us

Chris Bowers has had a beef with the marketers/distributors of “Flight 93.”

I am the manager of the Liberal Blog Advertising Network, which has 86 member blogs that combine for 17.78 million page views per week. It is the second largest advertising network at Blogads. From what I can tell, not a single blog in that network features the Untied 93 advertisement that apparently was purchased on all 103 members of the Conservative Blog Advertising Network. That network was 4.37 million page views per week, just under 25% of our traffic.

Why did the marketers of United Flight 93 decide to only advertise on conservative political blogs? The Liberal Blog Advertising Network is four times as large, and is even a 20-30% better deal per page view (or CPM, to use the relevant industry term). Do they think that attack is only relevant to red America? Do they think that only Republicans were attacked on 9/11? Do they think that only conservatives remember that day? Do they think that the only people who took action on United Flight 93 had voted for George Bush one year earlier?

Chris updates and says the ads will now run on liberal blogs, too.

Congressmen Arrested

This just happened today … Jim Doyle of the San Francisco Chronicle reports,

Five members of Congress, including Rep. Tom Lantos (D-San Mateo) were arrested today when they blocked the front entrance at the Embassy of Sudan in Washington, D.C. Their protest and civil disobedience was designed to embarrass the military dictatorship’s ongoing genocide of its non-Arab citizens.

All told, 11 people were arrested outside the Sudanese embassy on Massachusetts Avenue, including six activists as well as representatives Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Houston), Jim McGovern (D-Worcester, Mass.), Jim Moran (D-Virginia) and John Olver (D-Massachusetts). They were held in a jail cell for about 45 minutes and then released.

Good for them! I boldfaced the names in case you want to email and thank them.

Lantos, 78, was first elected to Congress in 1981. Two years later, he founded the Congressional Human Rights Caucus. As the only Holocaust survivor ever to serve in Congress, he has pressed the Bush administration to take steps to deter the state-sanctioned murder and rape of hundreds of thousands of people in Sudan’s Darfur region.

FEMA Follies; or, Adventures with the Crony Fairy

President Bush was back in New Orleans yesterday, getting his picture taken with disadvantaged black people. It was his eleventh photo-op trip to the Gulf Coast since Katrina.

Bush stopped at a modest bungalow restored by volunteers, situated on a Ninth Ward street still littered with debris and overgrown with weeds. White government trailers that are the main housing for the displaced sat in many front yards. …

… From Williams’ home, Bush’s motorcade took him to a nearby large vacant lot where Habitat for Humanity is building 81 new homes for New Orleans musicians.

Bush, clad in casual blue pants and checked shirt, donned work gloves and a tool pouch as he wandered around the construction site chatting with workers. The president, Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin helped raise roof frames onto one house.

Let me get this straight — the politicians want people to know that they’re working hard to restore New Orleans, so they get themselves photographed alongside volunteers? Is that ’cause the government ain’t doin’ shit? So what do we need the politicians for, exactly?

Meanwhile, the Senate spent seven months investigating FEMA’s response to Hurricane Katrina and came to the brilliant conclusion that the agency should be scrapped. Sort of. Johanna Neuman writes for the Los Angeles Times,

Just weeks before the 2006 hurricane season officially begins June 1, a Senate committee on Thursday called for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to be dismantled and reconstituted as a new, stronger agency within Homeland Security.

Many House members, meanwhile, are pushing to restore FEMA to its pre-2003 status as an independent agency, this time with Cabinet rank and additional funding muscle.

So the Senate and the House disagree, and naturally the White House is resisting any big changes at all.

And as President Bush made his 11th visit to the Gulf Coast since the storm hit Aug. 29, the White House urged a strengthening — but no reshuffling — of current operations.

“Now is not the time to really look at moving organizational boxes,” said Frances F. Townsend, the president’s domestic security advisor, who traveled with Bush to Louisiana and Mississippi on Thursday.

I can’t find an exact quote, but yesterday the MSNBC news team shoved a microphone at Bush’s face and asked for his reaction to the Senate’s FEMA suggestion. He said something to the effect that the White House was conducting its own FEMA investigation, and he thought the answer to the problem was making FEMA work better.

Translation: The Bush Administration hasn’t done a dadblamed thing to see to it federal agencies are better prepared for hurricane season than they were last year.

I wish someone would have pressed him to explain what he has done, personally, to improve the problems in our disaster preparedness response. Has he considered any options for reorganizing FEMA and Homeland Security? Did he demand progress reports from FEMA managers showing what measures they are taking to straighten up their act? Has he rattled any cages? Kicked any butts, other than Michael Brown’s? In fact, other than replacing Brown, has any tangible action been taken by the White House at all lo these many months?

Expect the White House to stonewall whatever reform the House and Senate eventually agree on. Any major overhaul of FEMA would be an admission that the original White House organization chart for FEMA was flawed, a mistake. And you know how it is … Bushies don’t make mistakes.

Joe Lieberman was one of the senators behind the proposal to overhaul FEMA but keep it within Homeland Security (he had a lot to do with the original Homeland Security Department proposal, so I guess Holy Joe can’t admit mistakes, either). Bill Walsh of the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports that Lieberman complained of White House stonewalling of the investigation —

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., accused the White House on Thursday of not only failing to cooperate with the Senate’s Hurricane Katrina investigation, but of telling key federal agencies not to turn over documents that he said could have shed light on the botched federal response to the nation’s worst natural disaster. …

… in a 43-page addendum to the committee’s report, Lieberman described a cat-and-mouse game between committee members and White House lawyers over setting up interviews and getting critical documents.

“In too many instances, we faced agencies and departments that saw our efforts as a nuisance — and their response as up to their discretion,” Lieberman wrote. “And the worst offender was the entity that should have stood above the fray and worked hardest with the committee to uncover the government’s failings in Katrina: the White House.”

The White House responded, in effect, that they cooperated a whole bunch and Joe Lieberman is a poopyhead.

Back to the Senate — what the newspapers are calling the Lieberman-Collins proposal calls for FEMA to be dismantled and replaced by a new agency, to be called the National Preparedness and Response Authority. NPRA would communicate directly with the President during a crisis — it’s implied that Michael Brown couldn’t do that because he had to go through NHS director Chertoff — and any big cuts to the budget or staff would have to be approved by Congress. The NPRA would remain under the Department of National Security umbrella, however.

Back to Johanna Neuman

Many in the House, including Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the House Select Committee on Katrina that issued its report in February, favor making FEMA a separate agency, with Cabinet rank. …

… In the Senate, many Democrats — including Frank R. Lautenberg of New Jersey and Daniel K. Akaka of Hawaii, who were on the panel that issued the report Thursday — also want FEMA to stand alone, disagreeing with the Collins-Lieberman approach of taking it apart and putting it back together within Homeland Security.

“Unless FEMA has a direct line to the president, the people of Hawaii and the nation are at risk,” Akaka said in a statement. “FEMA must be restored as an independent agency.”

Just to make it all more fun, some Republican congressional leaders, such as Frist in the Senate and Hastert in the House, are making noises that they plan to stick with what the White House wants, whatever that is.

Conclusion: Nothing’s going to happen with FEMA this year, unless a major hurricane hits Virginia and wipes out the DHS headquarters.

Paul Krugman is not hopeful, either. He writes that the Lieberman-Collins proposal would change the agency’s name but not get to the root of what’s wrong with it.

The U.S. government is being stalked by an invisible bandit, the Crony Fairy, who visits key agencies by dead of night, snatches away qualified people and replaces them with unqualified political appointees. There’s no way to catch or stop the Crony Fairy, so our only hope is to change the agencies’ names. That way she might get confused, and leave our government able to function. …

… The [Senate] report points out that the Federal Emergency Management Agency “had been operating at a more than 15 percent staff-vacancy rate for over a year before Katrina struck” — that means many of the people who knew what they were doing had left. And it adds that “FEMA’s senior political appointees … had little or no prior relevant emergency-management experience.”

But the report says nothing about what caused the qualified people to leave and who appointed unqualified people to take their place. There’s no hint that, say, President Bush might have had any role. So those political appointees must have been installed by the Crony Fairy.


The Senate proposal calls for the new agency to be staffed by professionals with experience in crisis management. “I guess it’s impossible to select qualified people to run FEMA,” writes Krugman. “If you try, the Crony Fairy will spirit them away and replace them with Michael Brown. But she might not know her way to N.P.R.A.”

Krugman gives us a history of FEMA —

In the early 1990’s, FEMA’s reputation was as bad as it is today. It was a dumping ground for political cronies, headed by a man whose only apparent qualification for the job was that he was a close friend of the first President Bush’s chief of staff. FEMA’s response to Hurricane Andrew in 1992 perfectly foreshadowed Katrina: the agency took three days to arrive on the scene, and when it did, it proved utterly incompetent.

Many people thought that FEMA was a lost cause. But Bill Clinton proved them wrong. He appointed qualified people to lead the agency and gave them leeway to hire other qualified people, and within a year FEMA’s morale and performance had soared. For the rest of the Clinton years, FEMA was among the most highly regarded agencies in the federal government.

What happened to that reputation? The answer, of course, is that the second President Bush returned to his father’s practices. Once again, FEMA became a dumping ground for cronies, and many of the good people who had come in during the Clinton years left. It took only a few years to transform one of the best agencies in the U.S. government into what Senator Susan Collins calls “a shambles and beyond repair.”

In other words, the Crony Fairy is named George W. Bush.