Friday, September 16, 2005

Another FEMA Atrocity

I know that they have done a lot of good, but this is just madness:
In the midst of administering chest compressions to a dying woman several days after Hurricane Katrina struck, Dr. Mark N. Perlmutter was ordered to stop by a federal official because he wasn't registered with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"I begged him to let me continue," said Perlmutter, who left his home and practice as an orthopedic surgeon in Pennsylvania to come to Louisiana and volunteer to care for hurricane victims. "People were dying, and I was the only doctor on the tarmac (at the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport) where scores of nonresponsive patients lay on stretchers. Two patients died in front of me.

"I showed him (the U.S. Coast Guard official in charge) my medical credentials. I had tried to get through to FEMA for 12 hours the day before and finally gave up. I asked him to let me stay until I was replaced by another doctor, but he refused. He said he was afraid of being sued. I informed him about the Good Samaritan laws and asked him if he was willing to let people die so the government wouldn't be sued, but he would not back down. I had to leave."


A Deluge of Kittens




Portrait of Depraved Indifference


My Niece Attempts to Figure Out What Bush Said Tonight


Ain't No Maybe About It

Proof that being an asshole can kill you:
In a somewhat unexpected finding, societal male dominance over women -- patriarchy -- may help explain why men have a lower life expectancy than women worldwide.

British researchers analyzed rates of female murders and male death rates from all causes in 51 countries in Europe, Asia, Australasia, and North and South America. The prevalence of violence against women was used to indicate the extent of patriarchal control in each of the countries. Socioeconomic factors were also taken into consideration.

The study found that women lived longer than men in all 51 countries. The study also found that those countries with higher rates of female murders (indicating higher levels of patriarchy) also had higher rates for male death and shorter male life expectancies, compared to countries with lower female murder rates, the researchers said.


Thursday, September 15, 2005

Kansas Protects Gay Rights

Strange, yet true:
A bid by a Kansas lawmaker to ban gays from adopting children has been blocked by the chair of a legislative committee and the issue is likely dead for the foreseeable future.

"It will not be coming out of this committee," Rep. Willa DeCastro (R-Wichita) said when Rep. Steve Huebert (R-Valley Center) tried to bring it up on Wednesday.

Huebert had called for a review of policies, that by default, currently allow gays and lesbians to adopt children in foster care.

He said he was pursuing the issue on behalf of a constituent worried that her granddaughter might be adopted by a lesbian and raised by a lesbian couple.

That constituent needs to get a fucking life.



Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown

R L Burnside


As If Katrina Weren't Enough

Now New Orleans has to deal with Karl fucking Rove?
President Bush tonight will call for an unprecedented federal commitment to rebuild New Orleans and other areas obliterated by Hurricane Katrina, putting the United States on pace to spend more in the next year on the storm's aftermath than it has over three years on the Iraq war, according to White House and congressional officials.

With the federal tab for Katrina already nearly quadruple the cost of the country's previous most expensive natural disaster cleanup, Bush plans to offer federal assistance to help flood victims find jobs, get housing and health care, and attend school, White House aides said.

In a primetime speech tonight from the flood zone, Bush will commit the federal government to what many predict will become the largest reconstruction effort ever on U.S. soil. Republicans said Karl Rove, the White House deputy chief of staff and Bush's chief political adviser, is in charge of the reconstruction effort.


Katrina Evacuees in Austin

I volunteered there this past Sunday; my wife's schedule permits her to do more, so I'll let her tell how it is:
So it's not quite the same as a trip to another country, but it is close. During the past week or so, I've spent over 20 hours at the Austin Convention Center, which is housing Hurricane Katrina refugees. I've done various jobs - helping at the computers, staffing the phones, answering questions -- mostly with "I don't know, but I will try to find out," since neither I nor anyone I've met is an expert on the myriad questions that this catastrophe has left its victims with.

There were about 4000 people housed at the Convention Center at first. By today, there were only about 1000, and it seems much quieter as well as emptier. They are trying to move people out of the convention center; cynics have said it's because there's a large conference coming up that the city doesn't want to have to cancel, but it must be at very least equally out of concern for the evacuees. A conference center is no place to live. Every evacuee has a cot, and a little bit of space around it; the personal space of the average family is perhaps a little larger than a queen-sized bed, most of it occupied by cots. There are no walls, no cubicles, no private space at all; there are simply cots next to cots, and so people sleep, eat, and live in such close proximity to each other that it would drive me crazy in less time than they've already been there. There is entertainment - a basketball court, a cafeteria with a stage for bands (today the Neville Brothers played!), a small library area, a TV area, etc. Aside from the lack of privacy, they also live in constant light; for safety and
security reasons, we can't ever turn all the lights off, and even at its darkest, the convention center is brightly lit. There is constant noise - vacuums, inflatable mattresses being inflated, kids playing, people walking and talking - a constant buzz. Many of the evacuees haven't had anything close to a decent night's sleep since they were forced to leave their homes by the hurricane. With the stress of this living situation added to the stress of losing basically everything, it's amazing that there haven't been more problems. Yes, there are arguments and kids acting out, but mostly there haven't been major incidents. And thankfully, as best as I can tell, the Austin Police, who are largely responsible for security at the ACC, understand that security problems are often residents acting out because of the intense pressures they are under; I overheard one officer reporting to another that a "stress fight" had broken out between two residents, and that is what most conflicts are - an explosion of the stress that builds up in a situation like this one.

What's incredible is that, in the midst of all this (and most of these people have come here from far worse; many of the folks came here from the New Orleans Superdome, which was truly a nightmare), almost everyone is gracious, appreciative of what help we can offer - even when we can't offer much. I was staffing the help desk on my first night, with next to no training and no idea who was in charge, and so I had to tell a lot of people that I didn't know the answer to their questions. I tried to find out what I could, tried to at least make sure that I could direct them to someone who would be able to answer their questions, but even at my most hopelessly inadequate, these folks who've been through hell and who've waited in so many lines for so much time in the past 14 days that even the Soviet Bloc would pale in comparison - even then, no one got exasperated at hearing "I don't know, I'll try to find out."

Today, two weeks after the storm, I was staffing the phones at the family reunion desk. Most people were calling to leave a message for someone in the shelter, but some people were still calling to see if we could find their relatives. I spoke to two people today who did not know if their relatives were alive or dead - a man looking for his younger brother, and a woman looking for her grandmother. They had tried various shelters, but the proliferation of various databases and internet sites means that there's no centralized log of Katrina survivors, or of the missing or dead, and they had had no news since the storm hit. (Add to this that there are many evacuees who do not have computer skills, and it is an even worse situation. For this reason Austin Free-Net has set up a computer bank in the shelter, and while I volunteered there, I helped set up an e-mail account for a man who had never heard of e-mail. It's wonderful that so many sites and bulletin boards are trying to find people, but in some ways, the amount of sites out there makes it more difficult to find people, not
easier.) Amazingly, though, both the brother and the grandmother of my callers were not only alive, but actually in the Austin shelter!! It was an amazing thing, being able to give people who'd been searching for two weeks such good news.

The shelter is being run by the Red Cross and the City of Austin. The evacuees have to negotiate a maze of registrations (with FEMA, with the Red Cross, and with the shelter itself, just for starters) and because there's a high turnover among volunteers, they're often faced with people behind the registration desks or the help desks who know less than they do about what they need. Believe me - I'm not in any way denigrating the volunteers or the Red Cross - we're all trying to do the best that we can, and the Red Cross is positively amazing in being able to pull a functioning shelter - with food, water, bedding, luggage, clothing, and everything - for 4,000 people out of thin air. The Red Cross has been overwhelmed by the number of people volunteering, and Austinites have been donating food, clothing, and many other items to the shelter since the evacuees first got here. It's astonishingly well run given that it is an operation of this magnitude staffed primarily by volunteers with very little training; what we have is (in the words of an APD officer) controlled chaos.

So that's what I've been doing this last while. The evidence of mismanagement, nepotism and gross incompetence at FEMA and the administration's extreme callousness in dealing with this vast tragedy still fills me with rage (I wrote about it, in fury and pain, on my website last week,, which is still better than despair; but it helps a lot to be able to take action, to help those people directly affected by the hurricane and its aftermath, because that anger turns to positive energy, gets directed toward getting help to people who need it, checking database after database to see if someone's mother or sister or son is listed somewhere, listening to people talk when they need to talk, doing whatever needs to be done. It's been pretty amazing down here, and I hope that the community commitment I've seen to helping people rebuild after this disaster stays around for a long time.


Baptists Against Homophobia

Shocking, I know. And California Baptists (think Orange County) are appalled:

A dispute over homosexuality has spurred Baptist leaders in Southern California and other areas of the West to initiate a split from their national organization.

The Pacific Southwest Region of American Baptist Churches USA said in a statement that it intends to secede because the national organization has refused to declare homosexuality incompatible with Christian Scripture.

The region includes about 300 of the denomination's 5,800 churches.


Bastards. Fucking Bastards.

They are, once again, using death as a foundation:
Congressional Republicans, backed by the White House, say they are using relief measures for the hurricane-ravaged Gulf coast to achieve a broad range of conservative economic and social policies, both in the storm zone and beyond.
Now, Republicans are working on legislation that would limit victims' right to sue, offer vouchers for displaced school children, lift some environment restrictions on new refineries and create tax-advantaged enterprise zones to maximize private-sector participation in recovery and reconstruction. Yesterday, the House overwhelmingly passed a bill that would offer sweeping protection against lawsuits to any person or organization that helps Katrina victims without compensation.

"The desire to bring conservative, free-market ideas to the Gulf Coast is white hot," says Rep. Mike Pence, the Indiana Republican who leads the Republican Study Group, an influential caucus of conservative House members. "We want to turn the Gulf Coast into a magnet for free enterprise. The last thing we want is a federal city where New Orleans once was."

Via Echidne.


But Then, There's This Guy

The people of Massachusetts are to be praised for their common sense in electing a government that knows enough to permit gay marriage.

But, come on. You people elected this guy governor?
Governor Mitt Romney raised the prospect of wiretapping mosques and conducting surveillance of foreign students in Massachusetts, as he issued a broad call yesterday for the federal government to devote far more money and attention to domestic intelligence gathering.

In remarks that caused alarm among civil libertarians and advocates for immigrants rights, Romney said in a speech to the Heritage Foundation that the United States needs to radically rethink how it guards itself against terrorism.

''How many individuals are coming to our state and going to those institutions who have come from terrorist-sponsored states?" he said, referring to foreign students who attend universities in Massachusetts. ''Do we know where they are? Are we tracking them?"

''How about people who are in settings -- mosques, for instance -- that may be teaching doctrines of hate and terror," Romney continued. ''Are we monitoring that? Are we wiretapping? Are we following what's going on?"



Bush's drive to screw the poor got a big life from Katrina. Why does it take a natural disaster to wake people up to governmental evil?
New US bankruptcy laws could add to the woes of Hurricane Katrina victims as they struggle to rebuild their lives, a politician has warned.

Bankruptcy Code changes which make it harder for Americans to wipe out their debts take effect in a month's time.

Democratic Senator Russ Feingold says people driven to bankruptcy by hurricane damage should not be "test cases" for the new code.


The Latest Vial of Anthrax

Remember Colin Powell's embarrassing presentation of lies to the UN? Well, the US still hasn't learned its lesson:
U.S. officials tried to gain support of their allies on referring Iran's case to the UNSC by presenting an hour-long slide show that included satellite images with uncomfortable assumptions about Tehran's nuclear program, The Washington Post reported.

The Power-Point presentation, titled "A History of Concealment and Deception," has been presented to diplomats from more than twelve countries. Several officials said the briefing ignores ambiguities in the evidence about Iran's nuclear ambitions and skips alternative explanations.


The Big Cover Up

And once again, our government protects itself at our expense:
House Republicans derailed Democratic attempts on Wednesday to force the Bush administration to surrender documents on prewar intelligence and the disclosure of the identity of a CIA operative.

Democrats have introduced several "resolutions of inquiry" to compel President Bush and members of his Cabinet to release all information relating to communications with British officials before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and the Valerie Plame case.

The White House has taken heat since the disclosure this year of the "Downing Street memos," British documents that suggest the Bush administration had made up its mind by 2002 to invade Iraq. Administration officials also have been interviewed by a special prosecutor in his quest to determine who leaked Plame's covert identity to reporters.

Largely along party lines, the House International Relations Committee unfavorably reported two of the resolutions on Iraq and one resolution on the Plame matter. Earlier, the House Judiciary Committee "unfavorably" reported a similar Plame resolution.

Under House rules, the committees had to act on the resolutions within 14 legislative days of the resolutions' introduction. If not, sponsors could have forced the measures before the full House for a vote.

But the votes Wednesday against the measures all but prevented them from ever being taken up by the House.


Anti-Choice = Unconstitutional

Thank you, Judge Hood:
A federal judge has declared unconstitutional a Michigan law that supporters said would ban a late-term abortion procedure.

In a ruling dated Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Denise Page Hood in Detroit ruled the Legal Birth Definition Act places an "undue burden" on women's right to choose.



Something one generally doesn't want to do at work, I admit, but Steve Bell made me.


Image-Related SNAFU Activities

This is simply pathetic:

Two Richardson firefighters recently headed to Louisiana believing they would help with Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. Instead, they were asked to do little – except stand behind President Bush at a news conference.

Firefighters Billy Whitson and Noel Saldivar were among six Richardson firefighters who responded to a call by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for firefighters to pass out pamphlets, write reports and help hurricane victims sign up for federal assistance.

"We knew we weren't going to be jumping out of helicopters, chopping holes in roofs and saving babies," Mr. Whitson said.

After spending a couple of days training in Atlanta, Mr. Whitson said that he and Mr. Saldivar were flown Sept. 5 on a charter flight to New Orleans, where they were supposed to stand in the background with other firefighters while Mr. Bush held a news conference. But the president didn't make it to his planned appearance in New Orleans that day.

Mr. Whitson said the group of 50 firefighters were then put on a bus headed for Baton Rouge, where the president was scheduled to meet with evacuees, Gov. Kathleen Blanco and other officials. But the firefighters didn't arrive in time for those presidential visits.


How About Looking for...

PEDOPHILES, you morons!!
Investigators appointed by the Vatican have been instructed to review each of the 229 Roman Catholic seminaries in the United States for "evidence of homosexuality" and for faculty members who dissent from church teaching, according to a document prepared to guide the process.


To Keep Myself Sane...

I think of the beauty in this world.


A Different 9/11

Thirty-two years ago, on September 11, 1973, Augusto Pinochet seized power in Chile in a U.S.-supported coup against the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende. (Allende had the misfortune of being a democratically elected socialist, after all.) And yesterday, the Chilean Supreme Court lifted Augusto Pinochet's immunity in a murder case involving the deaths of 119 of his political opponents in 1975. There is, of course, no guarantee that this trial will lead to Pinochet's being convicted for any of his countless crimes, but it is a hopeful sign when heads of state are held responsible for the crimes committed under their command and in their names... (Via Deutsche Welle Newsletter; it's 5 am and I'm too tired to find an English article, sorry!)

(If you're interested, Wikipedia offers a decent overview of the previous wrangle over Pinochet's immunity.)


Wednesday, September 14, 2005

George Bush: Officially a Five-Year-Old

U.S. President George W. Bush writes a note to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during a Security Council meeting at the 2005 World Summit and 60th General Assembly of the United Nations in New York September 14, 2005.

Via Holden Caulfield of first-draft.


Fiscal Conservatives Waking Up?

Took 'em long enough to notice what's been going on for years now:
The American Conservative Union, the nation's oldest and largest conservative grassroots organization, demanded President Bush and the Republican leadership in Congress take action to rein in federal spending Wednesday, questioning how Bush can afford the large sums Congress was doling out in Hurricane Katrina relief efforts while still maintaining federal spending levels, RAW STORY has learned.


So Much for the Homophobes

Massachusetts once again does itself proud:
A joint session of the House and Senate on Wednesday rejected a proposed amendment that would ban same-sex marriage while allowing civil unions, but another anti-gay amendment looms on the horizon.

Today's vote was the second of a two part process to get the proposal onto the ballot in 2006.

With less than two hours of debate lawmakers voted 157-39 against the measure.


Pledge Is Unconstitutional

That the pledge of allegiance as presently recited is unconstitutional is completely obvious when you think about it. And now a judge is actually thinking about it:
A federal judge declared the reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools unconstitutional Wednesday in a case brought by the same atheist whose previous battle against the words "under God" was rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court on procedural grounds.

U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton ruled that the pledge's reference to one nation "under God" violates school children's right to be "free from a coercive requirement to affirm God."


Desert Storm vs. Hurricane Katrina

I find it interesting--mind-boggling, really--in the wake of Katrina, to watch the various pundits opening their eyes to the general incompetence, cronyism, and corruption that have always lain at the heart of the Bush administration.

Anyone who has been paying attention knows full well that Bush and his people lie as readily as they breathe, and have no compunction about misleading an entire nation, even into a needless war. Hell, Bush can even joke about it without doing himself harm.

Why on earth have the various media hemmed and hawed for months and years over the American invasion of Iraq, an arrogant, illegal, and inhumane act of political will on the part of the neoconservatives, only to begin lambasting Bush because of Katrina, a natural, rather than a man-made, event?

I know, I know, the destruction caused by Katrina was without a doubt vastly exacerbated by Bush’s standard mismanagement. He didn’t fund the levees, he didn’t take charge in advance of the hurricane, and he strummed a guitar while people were drowning. Still, Katrina was an act of nature made worse by Bush; the Iraq war is a disaster springing from nothing at all except the actions of Bush.

So, why is Katrina the wake up call that Iraq never was (and never will be as far as I can tell)?

My theory is this: The brown folks are different.

I phrase that in a flippant manner, but it is a fundamental and serious issue.

In Iraq, as in New Orleans, the actions of this administration have led and are leading to the unnecessary and avoidable deaths of nonwhite people.

However, all Arabs have now been linked to the ever-more-mythologized events of 9/11. That the Iraqi people now dying had absolutely nothing to do with it is quite irrelevant. The brown-skinned bogeyman is there, nurtured carefully by the Bush administration, and that image will remain active and powerful in the American imagination for years to come.

And, in fact, our utter failure in Iraq will only feed this paranoiac hallucination. The comparisons to Vietnam are growing these days, and they are quite apt. And that means that the fundamental conundrum of Vietnam is alive and well: the inability while occupying a foreign land to tell friend from foe. This unsolvable problem feeds into the initial paranoia, in which all Arabs are out to get all of us; if any one of “them” could be the enemy, then all must be suspect.

Compare the wake of Katrina.

The people of New Orleans, pictures of whom are streaming out of the city (despite governmental attempts to arrest the flow), are, quite simply, poor, largely nonwhite victims. The Republicans can and will lash out against Blanco, and against Nagin, but there is simply no way that whatever guilt they bear can be generalized.

Foucault long ago pointed out that power is no simple, top-down expression of force; rather, power emanates from a vast multiplicity of societal nodes. And while the Iraqi people are certainly victims of American aggression, they are hindered from the pure expression of the power that accrues from victimhood by the (arbitrary and unjust) association in the American imagination with the perpetrators of 9/11.

The people who suffered and died as a result of Katrina, on the other hand, wield the untainted power of the abject. They are strategically situated to lay blame.

So, the origins of these two catastrophes, which together will define the Bush administration in the years to come (provided he doesn’t nuke Iran or something), are actually less relevant than the results. Bush, as the agent, is eclipsed by these people, the acted-upon.

The fact that Bush himself created the horror of Iraq, and was but a negligent bystander in the horror of Katrina, pales in comparison to the accusing finger that can only be leveled against him by “pure victims.”

Hundreds of thousands of people have been stripped of their possessions, their communities, their normal lives—and suddenly the emperor is the one who is naked.


Uppity Puppets

I wonder how long he'll last, talking like this:
Iraq's justice minister has condemned the U.S. military for detaining thousands of Iraqis for long periods without charge and wants to change a U.N. resolution that gives foreign troops immunity from Iraqi law.

Speaking to Reuters, Justice Minister Abdul Hussein Shandal also criticized U.S. detentions of Iraqi journalists and said the media, contrary to U.S. policy in Iraq, must have special legal protection to report on all sides in the conflict.

"No citizen should be arrested without a court order," he said this week, complaining that U.S. suggestions that his ministry has an equal say on detentions were misleading.

"There is abuse (of human rights) due to detentions, which are overseen by the Multinational Force (MNF) and are not in the control of the justice ministry," said Shandal, a Shi'ite judge respected for standing up to Saddam Hussein on the rule of law.

Doesn't Shandal realize that everything is different since 9/11!?



I heard about this from my friend Rosie last night due to missing keys and Rock Star: INXS (you figure it out).

This man should face criminal charges:
Military sources tells ABC News that Jefferson, an eight-term Democratic congressman, asked the National Guard that night to take him on a tour of the flooded portions of his congressional district. A 5-ton military truck and a half dozen military police were dispatched.

Lt. Col. Pete Schneider of the Louisiana National Guard tells ABC News that during the tour, Jefferson asked that the truck take him to his home on Marengo Street, in the affluent uptown neighborhood in his congressional district. According to Schneider, this was not part of Jefferson's initial request.
The water reached to the third step of Jefferson's house, a military source familiar with the incident told ABC News, and the vehicle pulled up onto Jefferson's front lawn so he wouldn't have to walk in the water. Jefferson went into the house alone, the source says, while the soldiers waited on the porch for about an hour.
Finally, according to the source, Jefferson emerged with a laptop computer, three suitcases, and a box about the size of a small refrigerator, which the enlisted men loaded up into the truck.

"I don't think there is any explanation for an elected official using resources for their own personal use, when those resources should be doing search and rescue, or they should be helping with law enforcement in the city," said Jerry Hauer, a homeland security expert and ABC News consultant.
The Louisiana National Guard tells ABC News the truck became stuck as it waited for Jefferson to retrieve his belongings.
The soldiers signaled to helicopters in the air for aid. Military sources say a Coast Guard helicopter pilot saw the signal and flew to Jefferson's home. The chopper was already carrying four rescued New Orleans residents at the time.

A rescue diver descended from the helicopter, but the congressman decided against going up in the helicopter, sources say. The pilot sent the diver down again, but Jefferson again declined to go up the helicopter.

After spending approximately 45 minutes with Jefferson, the helicopter went on to rescue three additional New Orleans residents before it ran low on fuel and was forced to end its mission.

"Forty-five minutes can be an eternity to somebody that is drowning, to somebody that is sitting in a roof, and it needs to be used its primary purpose during an emergency," said Hauer.
The Louisiana National Guard then sent a second 5-ton truck to rescue the first truck, and Jefferson and his personal items were returned to the Superdome.



In Iraq, things are still getting worse. Can anyone doubt that this administration doesn't have the slightest fucking clue what it is doing, at home or abroad?
More than a dozen explosions ripped through the Iraqi capital in rapid succession Wednesday, killing at least 152 people and wounding 542 in a series of attacks that began with a suicide car bombing that targeted laborers assembled to find work for the day. Al-Qaida in Iraq claimed responsibility.

The one-day death toll was believed to be the worst in the capital since major combat ended in May 2003, and Al-Jazeera said Al-Qaida in Iraq linked the attacks to the recent killing of about 200 militants from the city of Tal Afar by U.S. and Iraqi forces.


Fighting the Lies

Very clever. I hope they manage to force the government to stop lying:
Two organizations that promote sex education are taking an unorthodox approach in their fight against federal funding of abstinence-only education programs.

Relying on a little-used law that allows "affected persons" to seek the correction of information disseminated by federal agencies, the groups said Tuesday that the abstinence education programs contain erroneous and ineffective information. They asked the Health and Human Services Department to correct it.

About three-quarters of the challenges made under the two-year-old Information Quality Act have come from industry groups concerned about regulations.

The two sex-ed organizations, Advocates for Youth and the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, support educating youth about contraceptives as a means of avoiding pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.

"Turnabout is fair play," said James Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth. "We'll use this and any other tool at our disposal to ensure that youth receive honest and accurate sex education."


Good Morning, Sunshine!

A bit of joy to begin the day.


The Real Test

It comes now, after all the hullaballoo:
Dear Mr. President,

Welcome to our wounded city. This is your third visit since Hurricane Katrina devastated metropolitan New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast two weeks ago. You will see that the obituaries for the Crescent City were premature. You can detect a pulse, albeit a faint one. New Orleanians, who are known for resilience and love of their hometown, are clamoring to return and rebuild. Commerce is stirring in the French Quarter, in the Central Business District, in Jefferson, St. Tammany, St. Charles and St. John the Baptist parishes. Substantial numbers of federal troops finally arrived to restore law and order. Much too late, but they are welcome nonetheless.

But don't kid yourself, Mr. President. This is only the beginning of what must become a gargantuan and sustained effort by you and your administration. A vast stretch of our homeland, your homeland, has been wrecked, submerged, washed away, contaminated, gutted. A huge diaspora of Americans has been scattered across the land. New Orleans, a crown jewel among American cities, is deeply stricken. What you are seeing today, Mr. President, is the aftermath of the worst, the most widespread disaster to befall an American city and its surroundings in the history of our country.

Such a catastrophe, Mr. President, calls for a commensurate response from you. It is not enough to have sent a massive deployment of troops. It is not enough to have visited three times. And, though we appreciate your intention, it is not enough to have removed the ineffectual head of FEMA from the scene.

Now comes the real test of your intention to make New Orleans work once again.

Mr. President, we're well aware that we cannot rely on government alone, that we must help ourselves. Already our people have begun to do so: rescuing, sheltering and raising money for the most desperate victims. But faced with a disaster like this hurricane, no community can fend for itself.

Many of us cannot return to our homes because they were flooded, due to inadequate levees and an inadequate effort to restore the coastline of Louisiana. These are problems that successive administrations, including yours, have ignored. All of us deserve a chance to return to decent homes.

New Orleanians also deserve to know that our federal government has made an all-out effort to ensure that a disaster like Katrina cannot happen again. Such an effort should include concrete and dirt, creative thinking, and a commitment that will last for years.

It also means a promise to do whatever it takes, whatever it costs, to restore Louisiana's coast. New Orleans cannot exist as a coastal city surrounded by levees so high they cast a shadow over our dwellings. It was once an inland river port, and it must be one once again.

The waters will recede, and the death toll may fall below earlier estimates. It will become easy -- with no evacuees on roofs, no starving, clamoring people at the Superdome and Convention Center -- to decide that you have fulfilled your commitment to New Orleans.

That would be a huge mistake, Mr. President. The New Orleans that we and the nation deserve will be protected by thriving marshlands, walled off for floods, rebuilt even for its poorest citizens. It will be endowed with the schools, roads and new infrastructure that will allow it once again to be a viable urban center, a vital port, a cultural treasure to America and the world.


Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The Foul-Ups Just Keep on Coming

How many different elements of this disaster can the people in charge make worse than they have to be?

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has hired Kenyon International to set up a mobile morgue for handling bodies in Baton Rouge, Louisiana following Hurricane Katrina, RAW STORY has learned.

Kenyon is a subsidiary of Service Corporation International (SCI), a scandal-ridden Texas-based company operated by a friend of the Bush family. Recently, SCI subsidiaries have been implicated in illegally discarding and desecrating corpses.

Louisiana governor Katherine Blanco subsequently inked a contract with the firm after talks between FEMA and the firm broke down. Kenyon's original deal was secured by the Department of Homeland Security.


Gays: Equal When We Need 'Em

This sort of double standard just screams injustice (not to mention a certain level of desperation):
Scholars studying military personnel policy have discovered a document halting the discharge of gay soldiers in units that are about to be mobilized.

The document was made public Tuesday by Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military (CSSMM), a think tank at the University of California, Santa Barbara. It was found during research for a story for the ABC news program Nightline.
The document is significant because of longstanding Pentagon denials that the military requires gays to serve during wartime, only to fire them once peacetime returns. According to the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, gays and lesbians must be discharged whether or not the country is at war.


The New Math

A little bit of a hint appears in the Washington Post as to why the death toll numbers have been lower than at first anticipated:
The official death toll in Mississippi is 150. The last official count in Hancock County, of which Bay St. Louis is part, stood at just 36, but that could be ludicrously deceptive. One law enforcement officer estimated it is more likely to be between 600 and 800. The residents are "in for a shock," he said. The reason the number is so low is that the state only counts bodies that have been recovered and positively identified.


Soylent Cream

A Chinese cosmetics company is using skin harvested from the corpses of executed convicts to develop beauty products for sale in Europe, an investigation by the Guardian has discovered.

Agents for the firm have told would-be customers it is developing collagen for lip and wrinkle treatments from skin taken from prisoners after they have been shot. The agents say some of the company's products have been exported to the UK, and that the use of skin from condemned convicts is "traditional" and nothing to "make such a big fuss about".


It Was the Fault of the Federal Government

It's official. Nagin's not to blame. Blanco's not to blame. Bush is to blame:
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 STORYhas 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."


Blanco Demanding Better from Bush

As Bush "accepts responsibility" (except not really), Blanco continues to focus on the work at hand:
Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco lashed out at FEMA on Tuesday, complaining the agency is moving too slowly in recovering the bodies of those killed by Hurricane Katrina.

The dead "deserve more respect than they have received," she said at state police headquarters in Baton Rouge.

She said that the Federal Emergency Management Agency still has not signed a contract with the company hired to handle the removal of the bodies, Houston-based Kenyon International Emergency Services.

Calls to a FEMA spokesman in New Orleans and the Homeland Security Department in Washington were not immediately returned.

Deserve more respect, indeed:


Breaking News: My Niece Is Still the Cutest Baby in the World


Newsflash: This Isn't News

At least, this isn't news to those of us with eyes to see, ears to hear, and minds to think:
Judging from the blistering analyses in Time, Newsweek, and elsewhere these past few days, it turns out that Bush is in fact fidgety, cold and snappish in private. He yells at those who dare give him bad news and is therefore not surprisingly surrounded by an echo chamber of terrified sycophants. He is slow to comprehend concepts that don't emerge from his gut. He is uncomprehending of the speeches that he is given to read. And oh yes, one of his most significant legacies -- the immense post-Sept. 11 reorganization of the federal government which created the Homeland Security Department -- has failed a big test.

Maybe it's Bush's sinking poll numbers -- he is, after all, undeniably an unpopular president now. Maybe it's the way that the federal response to the flood has cut so deeply against Bush's most compelling claim to greatness: His resoluteness when it comes to protecting Americans.

But for whatever reason, critical observations and insights that for so long have been zealously guarded by mainstream journalists, and only doled out in teaspoons if at all, now seem to be flooding into the public sphere.


Gross Incompetence

Ignore Bush's lies (I know, you were doing that anyway). The documentation proves just how bungled this operation has been and continues to be:
In one instance, federal environmental health specialists, who were charged with protecting both rescue workers and evacuees, weren't called in by the Department of Homeland Security until Sunday -- 12 days after the Occupational Safety & Health Administration announced it had teams from various agencies standing by ready to assist. Even now, with mounting evidence of environmental problems, the deployment is being held up by continuing interagency wrangling, according to officials at the National Institutes of Health, which also is involved in the effort.

In addition, FEMA's official requests, known as tasking assignments and used by the agency to demand help from other government agencies, show that it first asked the Department of Transportation to look for buses to help evacuate the more than 20,000 people who had taken refuge at the Superdome in New Orleans at 1:45 a.m. on Aug. 31. At the time, it only asked for 455 buses and 300 ambulances for the enormous task. Almost 18 hours later, it canceled the request for the ambulances because it turned out, as one FEMA employee put it, "the DOT doesn't do ambulances."

FEMA ended up modifying the number of buses it thought it needed to get the job done, until it settled on a final request of 1,355 buses at 8:05 p.m. on Sept. 3. The buses, though, trickled into New Orleans, with only a dozen or so arriving on the first day.

The part of the plan that authorizes OSHA's role as coordinator and allows it to mobilize experts from other agencies such as NIH wasn't activated by FEMA until shortly before 5 p.m. Sunday. The delay came despite repeated efforts by the agencies to mobilize.

Attempts by officials at NIH to reach FEMA officials and send them briefing materials by email failed as the agency's server failed.

"I noticed that every email to a FEMA person bounced back this week. They need a better internet provider during disasters!!" one frustrated Department of Health official wrote to colleagues last Thursday.


A Sign of Hope

Well, if Saint Jones has anything to say about it, we need not fear New Orleans becoming "Disneyfied" as a result of reconstruction:
There's no water for the "wash the girl of your choice" service and there aren't any girls either, but Big Daddy's strip club on New Orleans' Bourbon Street is getting ready to bring back erotic spectacle to the devastated city.

Friday night on Bourbon Street, usually a throbbing artery of the party-going French Quarter, was pretty grim this time around in what has become a foul-smelling ghost town partly covered with a swamp of filthy water.

Police patrol cars and military Humvees made up most of the traffic on the street.

But Big Daddy's general manager, Saint Jones, and a band of helpers defied an evacuation order by arriving to clean up their premises in the historic French Quarter, which escaped largely unscathed from the floods.

Jones told Reuters he would open for business as soon as he could get electricity, water and dancers.

He already had electricity from a generator, which was moving a pair of robotic woman's legs, in stockings and pink high heels, waving invitingly on the street by the sign for Big Daddy's.


Monday, September 12, 2005

I Long for Such a World

This is how we should bring back New Orleans:
On September 4, six days after Katrina hit, I saw the first glimmer of hope. "The people of New Orleans will not go quietly into the night, scattering across this country to become homeless in countless other cities while federal relief funds are funneled into rebuilding casinos, hotels, chemical plants.... We will not stand idly by while this disaster is used as an opportunity to replace our homes with newly built mansions and condos in a gentrified New Orleans."

The statement came from Community Labor United, a coalition of low-income groups in New Orleans. It went on to demand that a committee made up of evacuees "oversee FEMA, the Red Cross and other organizations collecting resources on behalf of our people.... We are calling for evacuees from our community to actively participate in the rebuilding of New Orleans."

It's a radical concept: The $10.5 billion released by Congress and the $500 million raised by private charities doesn't actually belong to the relief agencies or the government; it belongs to the victims. The agencies entrusted with the money should be accountable to them. Put another way, the people Barbara Bush tactfully described as "underprivileged anyway" just got very rich.


The Horror Continues

The men and women trying to come to grips with the devastation in New Orleans are quite simply amazing:
Forty-five bodies have been found at a hospital that was abandoned more than a week ago after it was surrounded by floodwaters unleashed by Hurricane Katrina, a state health official said Monday.

The bodies were located Sunday at Memorial Medical Center, said Bob Johannesen, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Hospitals. Johannesen said the bodies were those of patients, but he had no other information.

Dr. Jeffrey Kochan, a Philadelphia radiologist volunteering in New Orleans, said the team that recovered the bodies told him late Sunday it found 36 floating on the first floor.

``That's what they were talking about last night,'' Kochan said. ``These guys were just venting. They need to talk. They're seeing things no human being should have to see.''


With Rescuers Like These...

Archie Haley, an emergency medical technician from Oak Grove, near the Arkansas border, squats as I scarf down a military MRE food ration; he explains that the major problem is "the large population of welfare-ized blacks who can't help themselves." My interlocutor is white like me, so he feels comfortable. "See, these people are the city's disease." His is an attitude that is far too common among officials here. Racism and incompetence seemed to merge to create a sluggish response.


"God Watches Out for Rich People"

But when that doesn't work, heavily armed mercenaries help:
Hundreds of mercenaries have descended on New Orleans to guard the property of the city's millionaires from looters.

The heavily armed men, employed by private military companies including Blackwater and ISI, are part of the militarisation of a city which had a reputation for being one of the most relaxed and easy-going in America.

After scenes of looting and lawlessness in the days immediately after Hurricane Katrina struck, New Orleans has turned into an armed camp, patrolled by thousands of local, state and federal law enforcement officers, as well as 70,000 national guard troops and active-duty soldiers now based in the region.

Blackwater, one of the fastest-growing private security firms in the world, which achieved global prominence last year when four of its men were killed and their bodies mutilated in the Iraqi city of Falluja, has set up camp in the back garden of a vast mansion in the wealthy Uptown district of the city.
Two Israeli mercenaries from ISI, another private military company, were guarding Audubon Place, a gated community. Wearing bulletproof vests, they were carrying M16 assault rifles.

Gill, 40, and Yovi, 42, who refused to give their surnames, said they were army veterans of the Israeli war in Lebanon, but had been living in Houston for 17 years. They had been hired by Jimmy Reiss, a descendant of an old New Orleans family who made his fortune selling electronic systems to shipbuilders. They had been flown by private jet to Baton Rouge, the capital of Louisiana, and then helicoptered to Audubon Place, they said.

"I spoke to one of the other owners on the telephone earlier in the week," Yovi said. "I told him how the water had stopped just at the back gate. God watches out for the rich people, I guess."


Another Site to Visit

New to my blogroll is a site maintained by a Georgian doctor who dropped everything and went to New Orleans recently, to volunteer his services.

Go read.

UPDATE: Another site that I ran across is Central City Muses, a blog run by people living in the Lower Garden District, where the streets are named after the Greek muses. Of all the many apartments I had in New Orleans, my favorite was the ground floor of Greek revival house at Melpomene and Magazine. Hardwood floors, astonishingly high ceilings. I hope it is doing well...



Depressing as hell:

Toxic chemicals in the New Orleans flood waters will make the city unsafe for full human habitation for a decade, a US government official has told The Independent on Sunday. And, he added, the Bush administration is covering up the danger.

In an exclusive interview, Hugh Kaufman, an expert on toxic waste and responses to environmental disasters at the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), said the way the polluted water was being pumped out was increasing the danger to health.

The pollution was far worse than had been admitted, he said, because his agency was failing to take enough samples and was refusing to make public the results of those it had analysed. "Inept political hacks" running the clean-up will imperil the health of low-income migrant workers by getting them to do the work.
Few people are better qualified to judge the extent of the problem. Mr Kaufman, who has been with the EPA since it was founded 35 years ago, helped to set up its hazardous waste programme. After serving as chief investigator to the EPA's ombudsman, he is now senior policy analyst in its Office of Solid Wastes and Emergency Response. He said the clean-up needed to be "the most massive public works exercise ever done", adding: "It will take 10 years to get everything up and running and safe."

Mr Kaufman claimed the Bush administration was playing down the need for a clean-up: the EPA has not been included in the core White House group tackling the crisis. "Its budget has been cut and inept political hacks have been put in key positions," Mr Kaufman said. "All the money for emergency response has gone to buy guns and cowboys - which don't do anything when a hurricane hits. We were less prepared for this than we would have been on 10 September 2001."


Our Oblivious Leader

Can't these people see that this is no way to run the most powerful nation on the planet? This sort of behavior makes as much sense as putting on a blindfold and jumping on a motorcycle:
President Bush knew the storm and its consequences had been bad; but he didn't quite realize how bad.

The reality, say several aides who did not wish to be quoted because it might displease the president, did not really sink in until Thursday night. Some White House staffers were watching the evening news and thought the president needed to see the horrific reports coming out of New Orleans. Counselor Bartlett made up a DVD of the newscasts so Bush could see them in their entirety as he flew down to the Gulf Coast the next morning on Air Force One.

How this could be—how the president of the United States could have even less "situational awareness," as they say in the military, than the average American about the worst natural disaster in a century—is one of the more perplexing and troubling chapters in a story that, despite moments of heroism and acts of great generosity, ranks as a national disgrace.

President George W. Bush has always trusted his gut. He prides himself in ignoring the distracting chatter, the caterwauling of the media elites, the Washington political buzz machine. He has boasted that he doesn't read the papers. His doggedness is often admirable. It is easy for presidents to overreact to the noise around them.

But it is not clear what President Bush does read or watch, aside from the occasional biography and an hour or two of ESPN here and there. Bush can be petulant about dissent; he equates disagreement with disloyalty. After five years in office, he is surrounded largely by people who agree with him.


Sunday, September 11, 2005


I think that the odds of survivors catching mad cow disease from European rations is rather small, and hardly warrants such moronic behavior as this:
A German military plane carrying 15 tons of military rations for survivors of Hurricane Katrina was sent back by U.S. authorities, officials said Saturday.

The plane was turned away Thursday because it did not have the required authorization, a German government spokesman said.

The spokesman, speaking on customary condition of anonymity, declined to comment on a report in the German news magazine Der Spiegel that U.S. authorities refused the delivery on the grounds that the NATO military rations could carry mad cow disease.



Pathetic, really. This is what comes of cronyism: People end up in positions they do not deserve, with duties they cannot fulfill:
Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Michael Brown sent a candid e-mail to family and friends this week as he was becoming the center of criticism of the handling of the Hurricane Katrina disaster.

"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. "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," the Rocky Mountain News reported Saturday.


Nuclear Barbarism

We are once again shown to be the most criminal nation on the planet:
The Pentagon has drafted a revised doctrine for the use of nuclear weapons that envisions commanders requesting presidential approval to use them to preempt an attack by a nation or a terrorist group using weapons of mass destruction. The draft also includes the option of using nuclear arms to destroy known enemy stockpiles of nuclear, biological or chemical weapons.