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»  September 30, 2005


Matt Y. Gets Creepy: Hard on the heels of his post defending Bill Bennett's claim that being black means you're more likely to commit crimes, Matt Yglesias veers off into creepy social-engineering land with this:

Some of us are interested in finding policy tools that would somewhat increase the natural rate of population increase in this country.
Excuse me? "Some of us" are trying to figure out how to make more American babies faster? I don't know what Matt's been smoking in darkened rooms lately, but we've got millions of people already living in poverty in this country. Young, old, middle-aged, white, black, and other; maybe Matt and his buddies could wait until those people are taken care of before implementing their plan to impregnate the females.



A Swift Kick In the Bennett:

Bill Bennett, Good Morning America
8.6MB QT movie of Bill Bennett segment on Good Morning America, featuring interviews with Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-IL) and Robert George (New York Post)

On Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, Bill Bennett blusteringly defends his comment that "...it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could — if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down" by saying:

This is like Swift's "Modest Proposal." Uh, for people who remember their, their literature, you put things up in order to examine them. I put it up, examined it, and said that is ridiculous and impossible no matter who advances it.
Sadly, the man who was the Secretary of Education seems to have missed a few lessons in his literature classes. Swift wrote "A Modest Proposal" as an indictment of the poverty the Irish were forced to endure under the control of one of the richest nations on the earth: England. Swift argued that the landlords of Ireland had sucked so much life out of the poor, they might as well go ahead and eat the flesh of their children. That "the want of venison [due to over-hunting] might be well supplied by the bodies of young lads and maidens, not exceeding fourteen years of age nor under twelve." That this culling of the unwanted Irish herd would not only reduce the number of papists, but that it would provide an income for adults (from the sale of their children to the butcher), that it would induce marriages and pregnancies, and "prevent those voluntary abortions."

The difference between Bennett and Swift couldn't be more vast. Bennett believes his line about killing every black child reducing the crime rate. He hasn't apologized for saying that. He said it would be a reprehensible thing to do, but that could simply be because his process involved abortion.

Swift, on the other hand, was mocking the people who were ignoring the suffering of the poor on their own doorsteps. He wasn't discussing the feasibility of a scheme that he was "examining." He was jabbing a knife in the unprotected back of the upper class who simply let the suffering go on and on. His proposal didn't end (as Bennett's did) with "That would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down." Swift wrapped up with an alternative to eating the children of the poor:

After all, I am not so violently bent upon my own opinion as to reject any offer proposed by wise men, which shall be found equally innocent, cheap, easy, and effectual. But before something of that kind shall be advanced in contradiction to my scheme, and offering a better, I desire the author or authors will be pleased maturely to consider two points. First, as things now stand, how they will be able to find food and raiment for an hundred thousand useless mouths and backs. And secondly, there being a round million of creatures in human figure throughout this kingdom, whose whole subsistence put into a common stock would leave them in debt two millions of pounds sterling, adding those who are beggars by profession to the bulk of farmers, cottagers, and laborers, with their wives and children who are beggars in effect: I desire those politicians who dislike my overture, and may perhaps be so bold as to attempt an answer, that they will first ask the parents of these mortals, whether they would not at this day think it a great happiness to have been sold for food, at a year old in the manner I prescribe, and thereby have avoided such a perpetual scene of misfortunes as they have since gone through by the oppression of landlords, the impossibility of paying rent without money or trade, the want of common sustenance, with neither house nor clothes to cover them from the inclemencies of the weather, and the most inevitable prospect of entailing the like or greater miseries upon their breed for ever.
So. Bill Bennett's not just a racist talk show host, former drug czar, and former Secretary of Education, but he's a stupid, racist talk show host, former drug czar, and former Secretary of Education. That's Readin' down. 'Rithmatic was pretty much shot by his prediliction for slot machines. Only one R left, but I sure as hell ain't gonna read any of his books.


»  September 29, 2005


Hunter's Civil War: It's difficult for me to believe that anyone reading my lowly blog hasn't already seen Hunter's front-page Daily Kos diary responding to a post at Blogs for Bush called "Do the Democrats Want a Civil War?" But read it if you haven't.

All I have to add is, has education gotten so bad that Republicans have forgotten what happened to the last people to declare civil war on the United States of America?


»  September 27, 2005


Ouroboros: A comment I make on the Pre$$titutes article on right-wing revisionism of post-Katrina violence in New Orleans ("Last I looked, New Orleans was still flooded. Did the media make that up?") gets picked up in a front-pager's diary at Daily Kos pimping Pre$$titutes, which, in turn, gets linked from Atrios.

Very strange to see your own words quoted by someone.



250,000 Bullets For Every Boy: 250,000 Bullets For Every BoyVia Holden at First Draft, GlobalSecurity.org crunches the numbers from the General Accountability Office (still referred to as the General Accounting Office in the report) to estimate that the armed services have purchased about 250,000 "small- and medium-calibre ammunitions" (bullets) for each of the estimated 20,000 insurgents killed in Iraq — more than five billion bullets between 2002 and 2005.

The standard-issue M16A2 rifle fires NATO-compatible 5.56mm cartridges. The preferred cartridge for the M16A2 is the M855, which weighs 12.31gm (including the case, bullet, and propellant). They're 57.4mm long; the case is 9.7mm in diamter.

A quarter of a million such rounds would weigh 3,077.5kg — almost 6,800lbs — not as much as an original Hummer or an H2, but about 1,000lbs more than an H3. A single bullet weighing that much would be 3.616m (almost 12 feet) tall and 550mm (just over 2 feet) in diameter. A small — very heavy — missile, in other words. Essentially, we're dropping an anvil on them.

Retail price for each round is about a quarter: that's $62,500 in bullets per insurgent.

I should mention that the figures here are based entirely on the smaller rounds used by US forces. "Small- and medium-" actually includes the larger 7.62mm rounds used by some weapons and .50cal ammunition for machineguns. But I like to err on the low side in these types of calculations.

MORE NUMBERS: At the 800 round per minute rate of fire for an M16A2, 250,000 rounds is nearly 5.25 hours of continuous, fully-automatic fire for each dead insurgent. The 820-foot Crystal Serenity of the Crystal Cruises passenger line weighs 68,000 tons, about the same as the combined weight of 250,000 rounds for each of the 20,000 estimated Iraqi insurgents killed.


»  September 26, 2005


The Halo Spins Out of Control: A number of pictures have come out of tightly-orchestrated photo ops the past couple of years showing President Bush with ringy, halo-like things behind him. The image on the left is from 2003, by AP photographer Charles Dharapak. On the right is my own version, using a slightly different circular object.

'The Halo Spins Out of Control', by darrelplant.com


What the...?  

Little Men: I spent the weekend in Bend at my brother's wedding (congratulations Jon and Kara!), so I didn't get right on this week's New Yorker caption contest. Since I'm on the West Coast, unless I check it online, I usually only have a day between the time my copy arrives in the mail and the contest deadline on Sunday night. I was busy and forgot to check it last week, then didn't see it until the deadline had passed last night.

This was the cartoon and winning caption from the 13 June 2005 contest (#8):

"He's the cutest little thing, and when you get tired of him you just flush him down the toilet."
(drawing by Victoria Roberts, caption by Jan Richardson)
This is the from the 26 September 2005 issue (contest #20) and my own caption idea which I would have submitted:

"I saw something similar in a New Yorker cartoon caption contest a couple of months ago and I knew I just had to have one."
(drawing by Mick Stevens)


»  September 22, 2005


Sing Along With Georgie: During today's White House Press Briefing, ABC Correspondent Terry Moran said this of President Bush's plan to visit Texas in the wake of Hurricane Rita: "But it sounds like a bit of a photo op, one that he'd prefer over playing the guitar at the airport photo op before Katrina."

AP - Tue Aug 30, 2:56 PM ET. President Bush plays a guitar presented to him by Country Singer Mark Wills, right, backstage following his visit to Naval Base Coronado, Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2005. Bush visited the base to deliver remarks on V-J Commemoration Day. (AP Photo/ABC News, Martha Raddatz)

Regrettably, Mr. Moran's chronology is slightly off. The photo of Bush playing a guitar by AP Photo/ABC News correspondent Martha Raddatz was taken in San Diego Tuesday, August 30, more than a day after Katrina had hit the Gulf Coast, more than 24 hours after portions of New Orleans were under water. He wasn't pretending to strum as the biggest (at the time) hurricane to hit the US in recent history was still offshore, he was hamming it up while people were dying in their houses because there weren't enough troops in place to rescue them.


»  September 21, 2005


Letter to Dan Abrams, "The Abrams Report," MSNBC:

Mr. Abrams:

In last week's "Your Rebuttal" you countered J. Doyle's comparison of the amount of coverage given to Natalee Holloway's disappearance versus the devastation of Hurricane Katrina with the remark that "it is hard to argue that we're suggesting it is on a par" since you had done "weeks" of Katrina coverage.

At the time you made that statement, the number of weeks your show had done on Katrina was just about three. You've been covering Natalee Holloway's disappearance for over three months, virtually non-stop except for the break caused by Hurricane Katrina. It's been your lead story for much of that time, as well as a major story for Joe Scarborough, Rita Cosby, Larry King, Nancy Grace, and Greta van Sustern.

The question isn't whether you've given Natalee as much time as Katrina. It's a simple fact -- based on the number of hours of coverage -- that your show hasn't spent even a fraction of the time on Katrina that you've spent on Natalee.

The fact that a major hurricane was about to hit the Gulf Coast of the United States wasn't even mentioned in your show the Friday before the Hurricane. What was? Natalee Holloway. And that was true across the board for all of the people I mentioned above. You missed the legal problems for people forced to evacuate their homes, issues with lost public records, prisoner and sex offender transfers, all of that, because you chose to stick with the story of a girl who undoubtedly got murdered in Aruba. Last year there were 300 murders in New Orleans alone. Where were you then?



Natalee vs. Katrina: Three days before Hurricane Katrina devastated much of the Gulf Coast and swamped New Orleans, almost every "news" discussion show on cable was talking about the Natalee Holloway missing persons case, just as they'd done for most of the previous three months.

Hannity, van Sustern, Grace, King, Abrams, Cosby, Scarborough. Much of their summer had been spent talking about Aruba. If people in New Orleans had been watching them for "information" they'd have been screwed.

And, once the disaster struck — just as after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 — people wondered if it meant that a new dedication to real issues was going to take hold. Skeptics like myself were doubtful, but I hoped that given the scale of the disaster that it might deserve at least an equal amount of time as the Holloway case has. We have been proven, regretfully, wrong.

Of the seven shows we picked who aired substantial reports on Holloway the Friday before the hurricane hit Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, four of them have already gone back to the story, adding in yet another MWF (missing white female) in most cases. And they all did it last week, only a couple of weeks after Katrina struck.

FOX's Greta van Sustern had Beth Holloway Twitty (Natalee's mother) on as a guest Friday, 16 September, after congratulating herself for not having any shows on the subject since the storm (although she said "we monitor it daily"). Twitty, according to van Sustern, "understood this." But c'mon now, get over it, N'awlins! CNN's Nancy Grace beat everyone to the punch on 13 September — two weeks and a day after Katrina — devoting the last quarter of her show to an interview with Twitty, after spending the rest of the program on the real — but somehow predictable for Grace — issue of sex offenders spread out over the country as evacuees. Twitty makes the charge that the news focus on Katrina gave cover to the Aruban government to let the suspects in her daughter's disappearance go. Neat tie-in.

On MSNBC, Rita Cosby took up the gauntlet the next day (14 September) while bodies were still floating in the canals of Bayou St. John. In a short segment, she talked to both Twitty and Antonio Carlo, the attorney for Joran van der Sloot, the primary suspect in Holloway's disappearance. Again, the idea that the press focus on Katrina took the heat off the Aruban authorities was brought forth, this time by Cosby.

That same night, Dan Abrams of MSNBC interviewed Twitty. At the end of the interview he remarked:

I can just tell you that even in the aftermath of the hurricane we were still getting a lot of e-mails from people saying please have Beth back on. Please update us on the story. Let us know what‘s going on.
The next night, he took some flak for the piece (emphasis added:
Last night I spoke to Beth Holloway Twitty, the mother of missing Alabama student Natalee Holloway, missing from Aruba since May 30.

Jeanmarie Miller from Flint, Michigan, "Natalee‘s mother made a comment that the Aruban government was trying to hide behind Katrina in making some of the recent rulings in the cases against Joran van der Sloot and the Kalpoe brothers. Was she suggesting that the Aruban justice system should have been put on hold until her daughter‘s story was once again front page news?"

Howard Aronoff, "I object to you continuing to allow Natalee‘s mother, Beth, to make totally unsubstantiated claims that Joran van der Sloot and the two Kalpoe brothers raped and killed Natalee. She continues to refer to a myriad of statements made by the three, which support the claim. I can‘t recall a single time that these so-called statements were acknowledged by Aruban officials. At best they are the result of leaks from unauthorized people and might even be invented out of thin air."

Howard, you‘re right that they‘re unsubstantiated and I made that point, but regardless, don‘t expect the Aruban authorities to acknowledge it the same way American authorities wouldn‘t either. I also don‘t care if they were leaked by unauthorized individuals. I only care if it is true. And you‘re right. We do not know if it is true. And that‘s why we had on his lawyer tonight.

From Beckley, West Virginia, Frances Thompson. "I know the Katrina coverage and Supreme Court coverage is more important right now, but I appreciate the time you gave to let us know how things are going in the Natalee Holloway case."

But J. Doyle from San Francisco, "Taking time away from the tragedy of likely thousands of mainly poor African Americans to again present the Aruban story suggests the disappearance of one rich white girl is somehow on par. It is not."

Well considering it is the first time we did a segment on it after weeks of 24-hour Katrina coverage, it is hard to argue that we‘re suggesting it is on par and I think actually I made the point in response to someone who wrote in that many of my viewers probably disagree that we‘re not doing enough Natalee Holloway coverage.

A number of you writing saying you want more, more, more. I‘ve got to tell you, I don‘t think the majority of you want that, but I know, I know. People are going to write in and say yes you do.

That would be two weeks of coverage of Hurricane Katrina versus three months of Natalee Holloway coverage.



Credibility: I wasn't at the National Conference of Editorial Writers convention last week, so I can't verify the accuracy of the account from Linda Seebach of Denver's Rocky Mountain News in today's Oregonian.

She writes that during a panel on challenges facing Portland, political pollster Tim Hibbits "observed dryly that politics in Portland covers the full range of opinion from left to far left to ultraleft." If her representation is accurate — and if Hibbits was being serious — then there is a definite problem with his credibility from here on out, considering that more than a quarter of Multnomah County's voters chose the Bush/Cheney box in the 2004 general election. They weren't all in Gresham. I'm inclined to believe Seebach's reporting here; aside from the fact that she comes from the conservative side of the fence herself, Hibbits has little good to say about liberals in general.

Seebach also trusts Hibbits for the story about Tom Potter meeting with the Critical Mass bike riders before business leaders. Never mind that Potter had been meeting with a wide variety of people in business and private forums during the two phases of his campaign for mayor, it's a fun story for someone like Hibbits to tell as an example of how loony the city government is. And gullible people like Seebach — who admits to being surprised that "so much evidence of urban decay" was visible in Portland — like to hear those stories.

The fiction that conservatives have been driven out of the city of Portland is simply ludicrous. If it was true, the Oregonian wouldn't have David Reinhard on its opinion pages. There wouldn't have been any fight about the city takeover of PGE. The whining about whether Portland was business-friendly wouldn't be taking place, because everyone would agree that everything was just hunky-dory.


»  September 20, 2005


Disengaged: People who feel a need to give a pass to George W. Bush on whether race played a factor in the federal response to Hurricane Katrina have made much of the fact that other sections of the Gulf Coast which were predominantly white were afflicted with the same lackadaisical response. Their line of defense is that even areas adjoining Orleans Parish in Louisiana were neglected, apparently proving that Bush's administration is either incompetent at responding to threats that have been examined for years or willfully negligent, but not racist.

The problem with that defense is it assumes that Bush is better informed about the racial makeup of the poor in the South than he is about anything else. Throughout the 1980s, Ronald Reagan used the phrase "welfare queen" — sometimes in close conjunction with the word "Cadillac" — to paint a specific image of the types of people on public assistance. Never mind that most recipients of welfare were white, his supporters knew the type of people he was talking about.

The story of poverty in the South — when it's been discussed at all in the past decades — has been portrayed as an African-American issue. George Bush is — to borrow Calvin Trillin's assessment of Reagan — disengaged at best. Someone who expects him to know that the group "poor people in the South" wasn't more or less congruent with the group "poor black people in the South" seem to me as if they themselves are suffering a serious disengagement.


»  September 16, 2005


Katrina In Charge: Sometimes things just don't come out right when you're talking off-the-cuff with reporters.

In an article from the latest issue of Willamette Week on emergency preparedness ("Lessons from Katrina"), Dr. Bill Long, the chief trauma director at Legacy Emmanuel Hospital says:

As we learned in Louisiana, there has to be someone in charge who knows what to do.
Of course, this isn't a lesson that we had to learn from Hurricane Katrina. Someone who knows what to do is essentially the definition for the type of person you want to have in charge and it has been for a long time. Which is why so many of us were opposed to the idea of having George W. Bush — not to mention the many, many Democratic and Republican politicians who have helped cover his ass for the past five years — as the "leaders" of this country.

What we've actually learned from Katrina (well, those who weren't already aware of it) was that the people in charge don't know what they're doing.


»  September 14, 2005


Feedback Loop 2: Bob Somerby at The Daily Howler can't stop himself from blaming the media for the Bush administration's lack of knowledge about flooding and levee breaches in New Orleans. In today's episode, he faults NBC's Brian Williams, NPR's John Burnett, MSNBC meteorologist Sean McLaughlin, and CNN's Aaron Brown for advancing the bullet-dodging theme in their post-storm reports.

What Somerby doesn't consider is that reporters rely to some extent on sources for information about situations beyond their immediate knowledge.

Brian Williams was reporting from the Superdome on the Today show just after the height of the storm. Had he gone out to look at the low-lying parts of the city to make his judgment that New Orleans had survived relatively unscathed? Or was his report based on what officials were telling him?

John Burnett filed a report for Morning Edition on the day following the storm that that French Quarter was relatively unscathed. Toward the end of the report, however, he mentioned police had told him that "perhaps hundreds" of homes were flooded. He used first-hand accounts of the French Quarter's condition, but like Williams, he relied on officials for information about the rest of the city. I don't believe he used "dodged the bullet" in that report.

As I've pointed out, some members of the press — specifically the Times Picayune — were getting accurate information from local and state officials. Mayor Nagin had reported severe flooding in a radio interview as the storm was still hitting the city. That news had reached Baton Rouge by an hour after the storm and was reported at a press conference.

If Williams, Burnett, McLaughlin, and Brown had been told there was extensive flooding in New Orleans on Monday the 29th, it seems unlikely that bullet-dodging would have been the metaphor that came to mind. If I were Somerby, I'd be asking from who were they were getting their information about the effects of the storm?


»  September 13, 2005


The Plan Unfolds: A brief history in headlines. As you read these, think about whether FEMA has a coherent plan to deal with evacuees from any American city, much less New Orleans. I mean, just in case anything should happen anywhere.

Oregon gears up to take in 1,000 Katrina evacuees (Sunday 9.04.2005)
As many as 1,000 victims left homeless by Hurricane Katrina could start arriving in Oregon as soon as today, but probably later in the week as the state answers a federal call to provide shelter for storm evacuees in need of food, water and shelter.

Oregon assistance not needed so quickly, federal officials say (Wednesday. 9/07/2005)
Federal officials notified Gov. Ted Kulongoski on Tuesday evening that Hurricane Katrina evacuees won't be arriving in Oregon immediately "due to changing circumstances in the Gulf Coast region." But state and local officials were advised to remain prepared to offer shelter as needed.

FEMA asks Oregon to be ready for up to 500 Katrina evacuees (Friday, 9/09/2005)
The federal government has asked Oregon to be prepared to receive as many as 500 Hurricane Katrina evacuees on Saturday. Word came Thursday morning, a day after the Federal Emergency Management Agency had asked Oregon and other states to put preparations to shelter storm survivors on hold.

Without evacuees, Oregon shifts gears (Sunday, 9/11/2005)
Beeeeeep! This was a test, and only a test, of the Oregon emergency response system. If this had been an actual emergency.... After twice being told in recent days that evacuees -- as many as 1,000 -- would arrive in Oregon from the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast, those scrambling to welcome them got a definite answer Saturday as to whether they would come: no.



Las Cucarachas: From an article by Cecelia M. Vega of the San Francisco Chronicle, on reporters being threatened with revocation of their credentials during body recovery operations in New Orleans, despite CNN's victory in court to allow reporters to be on the scene:

Dean Nugent, of the Louisiana State Coroner's Department, who accompanied the soldier, added that it wasn't safe to be in Bywater. "They'll kill you out here," he said, referring to the few residents who have continued to defy mandatory evacuation orders and remain in their homes."

"The cockroaches come out at night," he said of the residents. "This is one of the worst places in the country. You should not be here. Especially you," he told a female reporter.

Nugent, who is white, acknowledged he wasn't personally familiar with the poor, black neighborhood, saying he only knew of it by reputation.



Always Looking to the Right:

Separated At Birth?: John Roberts and Il Duce


»  September 12, 2005


Bush vs. New Orleans: I don't know where this joke originated — it was passed on by Barbara's long-time friend Mary Rocco — but it marks one of the first jokes I've heard in a long time that wasn't a simple repurposing of an old punchline and it manages to tweak Bush on a couple of fronts simultaneously.

Q: What is George W. Bush's position on Roe vs. Wade?

A: He really doesn't care how black people get out of New Orleans.




Feedback Loop: Atrios has the text of a Wall Street Journal article covering the disparity between the actual reported conditions of floodwaters in New Orleans on the day Hurricane Katrina struck, the few national outlets that reported significant flooding by mid-day that Monday, and the bulk of the media, the administration, and others who have made the mistake of declaring that the levees were actually breached on Tuesday.

The WSJ quotes the Washington Post's Leonard Downie, Jr. as saying that "people on the ground didn't know what happened," blaming communications problems due to Katrina. That explanation doesn't — as the links to the Times-Picayune stories above show — hold water. Serious flooding had been reported at a Baton Rouge press conference by 9am Monday, an hour after the storm had passed through New Orleans.

Administration officials have already claimed that they thought the damage to the city wasn't as bad as it turned out to be because the media reports didn't say it was bad. Well, who does the media get its information from? The media that listened to local and state officials, like the Times-Picayune, knew that flooding was taking place. They knew that levee breaches had occurred by Monday afternoon.

My money is on the likelihood that the bulk of the media was listening to FEMA or other federal officials, who appeared to be unaware that flooding had begun at the same time as the storm. They, in turn, were looking at the news media who came to them for their information, and the coverage looked good to them.



The Kickstand Is Up:

If my current project wasn't keeping me up nights, I'd be taking this out for a spin today.... Thanks to Gary Rosenzweig for mentioning that he'd heard DevNet subscribers were able to download Flash 8, since I was stupid enough to re-up just before they discontinued the program. Now I've got Flash, Dreamweaver, and Fireworks 8!


»  September 11, 2005


Ignoblesse Unoblige: Compare and contrast. This will be on the test.

Statement by General Robert E. Lee in a letter to his wife (dated December 27, 1856) regarding a speech against abolition by President Franklin Pierce, with which he was "much pleased."

The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, physically, and socially. The painful discipline they are undergoing is necessary for their further instruction as a race, and will prepare them, I hope, for better things.
Statement by Barbara Pierce Bush — mother to President George W. Bush, wife of President George H.W. Bush, and descendent of the same family as President Franklin Pierce — regarding New Orleans residents evacuated to the Astrodome in Houston after losing their homes, possessions, and families.
So many of the people in the arenas here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, this is...this is working very well for them.


»  September 10, 2005


Horsies: Did anyone consider that his experience with horses was the reason Michael Brown was put in charge of FEMA? After all, if people in need are always waiting for the cavalry to come over the hill, who better to put in charge of the the agency meant to save them than a man with a decade of equine-related program activities?

Or maybe W's purported fear of horses ties into the reason he wasn't in closer contact those first couple of days.

Many thanks to Digby, Driftglass, and The Poor Man for links this week. Special thanks to onegoodmove for an extra posting of the Mayor Nagin interview from last week's "Nightline." It's always good to know a few more people are reading.



Share Our Wealth: 10 September 2005 is the 70th anniversary of the death of Louisiana Senator Huey P. Long, who was shot in the state capitol building in Baton Rouge on 8 September 1935.

Everyone who thinks that Huey was just a corrupt Southern politician — an image the monied elite in this country, including banker's son Robert Penn Warren (All the King's Men), did much to promote — should keep this in mind and wonder why the ruling class found him threatening.

From Every Man a King: The Autobiography of Huey P. Long by Huey P. Long, 1933



The increasing fury with which I have been and am to be, assailed by reason of the fight and growth of support for limiting the size of fortunes can only be explained by the madness which human nature attaches to the holders of accumulated wealth.

What I have proposed is:—


1. A capital levy tax on the property owned by any one person of 1% of all over $1,000,000 [dp: $14,275,000 in 2005 dollars]; 2% of all over $2,000,000 [$28,550,000] etc., until, when it reaches fortunes of over $100,000,000 [$1,427,500,000], the government takes all above that figure; which means a limit on the size of any one man's forture to something like $50,000,000 [$713,750,000]—the balance to go to the government to spread out in its work among all the people.

2. An inheritance tax which does not allow one man to make more than $5,000,000 [$71,375,000] in a lifetime without working for it, all over that amount to go to the government to be spread among the people for its work.

3. An income tax which does not allow any one man to make more than $1,000,000 [$14,275,000] in one year, exclusive of taxes, the balance to go to the United States for general work among the people.

The forgoing program means all taxes paid by the fortune holders at the top and none by the people at the bottom; the spreading of wealth among all the people and the breaking up of a system of Lords and Slaves in our economic life. It allows the millionaires to have, however, more than they can use for any luxury they can enjoy on earth. But, with such limits, all else can survive.

That the public press should regard my plan and effort as a calamity and me as a menace is no more than should be expected, gauged in the light of past events. According to Ridpath, the eminent historian:

"The ruling classes always possess the means of information and the processes by which it is distributed. The newspaper of modern times belongs to the upper man. The under man has no voice; or if, having a voice, his cry is lost like a shout in the desert. Capital, in the places of power, seizes upon the organs of public utterance, and howls the humble down the wind. Lying and misrepresentation are the natural weapons of those who maintain an existing vice and gather the usufruct of crime."

—Ridpath's History of the World, Page 410.

In 1932, the vote for my resolution showed possibly a half dozen other Senators back of it. It grew in the last Congress to nearly twenty Senators. Such growth through one other year will mean the success of a venture, the completion of everything I have undertaken,—the time when I can and will retire from the stress and fury of public life, maybe as my forties begin,—a contemplation so serene as to appear impossible.

That day will reflect credit on the States whose Senators took the early lead to spread the wealth of the land among all the people.

Then no tear dimmed eyes of a small child will be lifted into the saddened face of a father or mother unable to give it the necessities required by its soul and body for life; then the powerful will be rebuked in the sight of man for holding what they cannot consume, but which is craved to sustain humanity; the food of the land will feed, the raiment clothe, and the houses shelter all the people; the powerful will be elated by the well being of all, rather than through their greed.

Then those of us who have pursued that phantom of Jefferson, Jackson, Webster, Theodore Roosevelt and Bryan may hear wafted from their lips in Valhalla:



»  September 9, 2005


New Orleans: The No-Fault Disaster? Naaah.:

"What did the president know and when did he know it?"

It's time to dust off the question that gained prominence in the Watergate investigation and point some fingers.

I first learned of the levee break watching the West Coast feed of CNN's Paula Zahn NOW (no transcript available). On the West Coast, they incorporate breaking news segments with pre-recorded material, and one of the anchors (identified by others as Rick Sanchez) was interviewing a VP at Tulane University Hospital in the Central Business District who reported that police officials had informed her earlier in the day that there was a breach in the 17th Street levee. The water at the hospital — about 3 miles from where the breach occurred — was rising at a rate of about one inch every five minutes. That was at about 2am New Orleans time. A long report on the Times-Picayune Breaking News blog was posted at about that time, saying " A large section of the vital 17th Street Canal levee, where it connects to the brand new ‘hurricane proof’ Old Hammond Highway bridge, gave way late Monday morning in Bucktown after Katrina’s fiercest winds were well north." A report from Monday at 2:30pm said "Times-Picayune photographer Ted Jackson waded into the Lower 9th Ward Monday afternoon and reported a scene of utter destruction. The wind still howled, floodwaters covered vehicles in the street and people were clinging to porches and waiting in attics for rescuers who had yet to arrive." Even right-wing idealogues on the Free Republic site knew something was up, if they tore themselves away from FOX News and flipped to CNN for a little bit.

The Times-Picayune had reported "6 to 8 feet of water" forcing people into their attics in the Lower 9th Ward as early as 9am. In fact, they reported flooding had been confirmed by Maj. Gen. Bennet C. Landreneau of the Louisiana National Guard, although at the time — an hour after the height of the storm — it wasn't yet known whether the levees had been breached or overtopped. FEMA director Michael Brown may have missed that info — he didn't get to Baton Rouge for a couple more hours. The first Times-Picayune report of a levee breach is at 2pm Monday.

In other words, there were already reports of severe flooding within an hour of the time the hurricane hit New Orleans. State officials were aware of it and had even briefed the press on the matter by 9am. The cause of the flooding (or at least one cause) was known by the early afternoon.

And here's the kicker. Mayor Ray Nagin had told a radio station that water was coming over a levee into the 9th Ward in significant amounts in what the report describes as "an early morning interview." That was early Monday morning.



The Howler Pleasures Himself Daily: Bob Somerby at The Daily Howler has been a tireless tracker of the truth for years (just visit his incomparable archives, as he often suggests). But he has some blind spots — as do we all. Unfortunately for someone who's in the business of pinning the truth on liars, he's not particularly responsive to fixing his own mistakes or issuing corrections.

For instance, on 2 September, he made the statement that President Bush's "Thursday morning statement [about nobody anticipating levee breaches] to Diane Sawyer wasn’t necessarily as dim as it looked" and agreed with Matt Yglesias that "none of the relevant policymakers" did. Was that true? They were obviously anticipating flooding, that's why a mandatory evacuation order was issued on Sunday. Flooding from water higher than the levee would have been even more catastrophic than that from a levee breach, because the level of the lake or the river would have had to be higher than the top of the levee. Pressure from high water is a primary cause of levee breaches. The statement that nobody anticipated a breach makes no sense.

On 7 September, Somerby took on the statements of Kanye West and others along the lines of "George Bush doesn't care about black people." After repeatedly accusing "pseudo-liberals" of "pleasuring themselves" with the idea that race might have played into the lack of speedy response to help the trapped, hungry residents of New Orleans (and ignoring the documented racism in accounts of police in Gretna preventing people from walking across the Crescent City Connection bridge to reach food and water) he morphs comments by West and Don Imus into a subhead reading "MORE OF BUSH’S HATRED OF BLACK FOLK." Prior to that usage, the words "hate" and "hatred" don't appear in Somerby's post. And once again, he makes an absolutist argument. By saying that poor whites were also disadvantaged by a lack of response, he pretends the racial aspect doesn't exist. West and others didn't say race was the only factor, that's just Somerby's construct.

Today, he's criticizing California Democrat Rep. Diane Watson for complaining about the use of the word "refugees." He references Kevin Drum at Washington Monthly, who uses a quote from an LA Times article:

"These are American citizens, plus they are the sons and daughters of slaves," said Rep. Diane Watson (D-Los Angeles). "Calling them refugees coming from a foreign country does not apply to their status. This shows disdain for them. I'm almost calling this a hate crime."
Drum complains about the concept that the use of "refugee" would be a hate crime, but Somerby's objection is different:
Kevin notes how stupid it is to refer to this as a “hate crime.” But let’s go farther: Who exactly has called the New Orleans storm victims "refugees coming from a foreign country?" Answer: No one has made such a statement. Watson is pleasuring herself.
Of course, the primary meaning of "refugee" according to references like the Merriam-Webster Dictionary does associate it with people who cross national boundaries:
Main Entry: ref·u·gee
Pronunciation: "re-fyu-'jE, 're-fyu-"
Function: noun
Etymology: French réfugié, past participle of (se) réfugier to take refuge, from Latin refugium
: one that flees; especially : a person who flees to a foreign country or power to escape danger or persecution
Criticizing word usage of spoken comments without audio reference is always difficult, because you're dependent on the capabilities of the transcriber. But I can see how two very simple typographical changes to the statement would pretty much invalidate Somerby's hyperbolic line of reasoning.
"These are American citizens, plus they are the sons and daughters of slaves," said Rep. Diane Watson (D-Los Angeles). "Calling them refugees — coming from a foreign country — does not apply to their status. This shows disdain for them. I'm almost calling this a hate crime."
It's entirely possible that Watson was explaining what the term "refugees" meant to her and why she objected to it. For some reason, Somerby was more willing to give Bush a pass on ignorance of the possibility of a "breach" than he is on Watson's possible attempt to explain why she was offended by "refugees."

Personally, I like Somerby's work overall. But an awful lot of this material seems as if it's ill-thought-out padding, and if it continues without correction, it hurts his credibility.



Who Coulda Thunk 4?: Following up on the idea of Colin Powell being considered for a Katrina Czar, apparently he's been interviewed by Barbara Walters for Friday night's "20/20" and expresses regret for making false statements about Iraqi WMD at the UN two-and-a-half years ago.

Not that he was willing to stand up and tell the truth after he found out they were wrong. And, in Bush administration tradition, he "doesn't blame former CIA Director George Tenet for the misleading information." He drops the fault on "some lower-level personnel in the intelligence community." Those bad apples.

But what floored me was that he'd use the phrase highlighted below after the past couple of weeks. Sure, he used it talking about Iraq, but still....

When Walters pressed Powell about that support, given the "mess" that the invasion has yielded, Powell said, "Who knew what the whole mess was going to be like?"
If that doesn't disqualify him from leading relief efforts in the wake of Katrina, I don't know what does.



Gulf Whore: The idea that someone like Rudy Giuliani or Colin Powell should be appointed as a "Katrina relief czar" is being heavily pushed right now but I have to seriously question the capabilities of either man, despite their relative bi-partisan popularity.

Powell is simply untrustworthy. As Secretary of State during Bush's first administration, he was either so bamboozled by Iraq war proponents that he believed the hokum he peddled at the UN before the invasion, or he was unwilling to take a principled stand to prevent an unnecessary war that's cost tens of thousands of innocent Iraqi lives and hundreds of billions of dollars. Gullibility and/or deference to authority are not qualities that would make him a good choice to get what the victims and communities affected by the hurricane need from this administration.

Giuliani's reputation as a disaster coordinator is vastly inflated. The destruction of the World Trade Center towers affected a very small portion of Manhattan. Several thousand lives were lost, but the scale of the destruction in relative terms is much smaller. He's never dealt with the kind of widespread devastation caused by a small hurricane, much less one that's caused the kind of damage Katrina has. And given his performance over the past few years as a partisan voice, I'd have to question his willingness to stand up for the people affected by Katrina.

Either choice (or any similar names) are just a matter of pimping political celebrities who have no experience with the type of disaster, much less the scope of the disaster. That the Bush administration feels that someone from New York or DC should come in to "take charge" in the Gulf is no big surprise. What is astounding is that anyone else would buy into it.


»  September 8, 2005


Six Days Before the Presidential Proclamation: Why it Matters: Do you think that George W. Bush reacted slowly to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina? Are you tired of administration apologists talking about "pointing fingers" and "blame-gaming?"

Forget the arguments about how many buses would be needed to evacuate the poor. Forget whether local governments needed to ask for federal help or whether gunmen firing at helicopters delayed relief operations or whether incompetents ran FEMA and DHS. Forget the names Nagin, Blanco, Brown, and Chertoff.

There's something that only George W. Bush could do. It's something that only he could make the decision to do. It didn't require a request from anyone. He didn't need to go anywhere special to do it. And all he needed to do was sign his name. It's called a presidential proclamation honoring the death of a person (or persons) by ordering federal installations to fly flags at half-staff.

On September 4, Bush issued a presidential proclamation ordering flags to be flown at half-staff in remembrance of the victims of Hurricane Katrina. That's six days after the hurricane struck. That same day, he signed a half-staff proclamation in honor of Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who had died just the day before.

I went through the the White House's list of presidential proclamations and compiled a table of events, dates, and how many days elapsed between the event and the proclamation.

I found eleven cases where Bush ordered the flag to be flown at half-staff. Seven of the proclamations were issued within a day of the event, as in the cases of 9/11, the Columbia disaster, and the deaths of Bob Hope, Ronald Reagan, and Pope John Paul II.

It took two days to honor former Supreme Court Justice Byron White. The proclamation for Strom Thurmond took four. A proclamation was issued for the victims of the Asian tsunami in either six or seven days, depending on how you account for the international date line.

But it took nearly a week for Bush to make even this simple gesture of respect for victims of Katrina. Not just the poor and the black in New Orleans, but for all victims in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia. Sure, he'd visited the disaster area by the time the proclamation was issued, but its signing provided no opportunity for a photo, no television coverage, no praise for a "Good boy, George." All it would have been was an official acknowledgment of the human tragedy and suffering.

There was no need to write any fancy verbiage, the proclamations are just a couple of boilerplate paragraphs. All Bush had to do was tell a staffer to fill in the blanks and scrawl his signature on the page. He didn't even need to leave his busy schedule of eating cake with John McCain in Arizona or buffing his image as a war president in San Diego, it would have been a matter of seconds on his part. But he and his staff didn't get around to it until they realized they'd look pretty stupid issuing a proclamation for Rehnquist when they hadn't paid the same respect to the thousands of victims of Katrina.

Bush's response on this solitary point is an indicator of just how — to purloin Calvin Trillin's characterization of Ronald Reagan — disengaged he is.

September 8, 2005 is the 1,458th day since September 11, 2001. The invasion of Iraq took place 904 days ago. The American Civil War -- in which one half of this country defeated the forces of and occupied the other -- lasted 1,458 days, from Ft. Sumter to Appomattox. Aren't you glad Bush wasn't in charge of that? Today is also the 70th anniversary of the assassination of populist Louisiana Senator Huey P. Long.


»  September 7, 2005


Calling It In: Preparing for The Big One. A White House photo by Paul Morse.

 President George W. Bush is handed a map by Deputy Chief of Staff Joe Hagin, center, during a video teleconference with federal and state emergency management organizations on Hurricane Katrina from his Crawford, Texas ranch on Sunday August 28, 2005.

Spot the hidden Cabinet members planning for the most devastating storm ever to hit the US!

President George W. Bush is handed a map by Deputy Chief of Staff Joe Hagin, center, during a video teleconference with federal and state emergency management organizations on Hurricane Katrina from his Crawford, Texas ranch on Sunday August 28, 2005.



Did the Proclamation Have to Be Requested, Too?: [UPDATE: 8 September 2005] Thanks to The Poor Man for the link. For more on this subject, see "Six Days Before the Presidential Proclamation: Why It Matters."

This is a compilation of presidential proclamations ordering flags to be flown at half-mast, from the White House's "Proclamations issued by President Bush":

Event Date
Proclamation Date
Elapsed Days
Death of Thousands in 9/11 Terrorist Attack
11 Sep 2001
12 Sep 2001
Death of Former Senate Majority Leader Michael Mansfield
05 Oct 2001
05 Oct 2001
Death of Former Supreme Court Justice Byron White
15 Apr 2002
17 Apr 2002
Death of the Columbia Shuttle Astronauts
01 Feb 2003
01 Feb 2003
Death of Senator Strom Thurmond
26 Jun 2003
30 Jun 2003
Death of Bob Hope
27 Jul 2003
28 Jul 2003
Death of President Ronald Reagan
05 Jun 2004
06 Jun 2004
Death of Hundreds of Thousands in Asian Tsunami
26 Dec 2004
01 Jan 2005
Death of Pope John Paul II
02 Apr 2005
02 Apr 2005
Death of Thousands in Hurricane Katrina
29 Aug 2005
04 Sep 2005
Death of Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist
03 Sep 2005
04 Sep 2005

* Apparently, no love for Strom.
** Technically, since the earthquake took place on Sunday morning in the Indian Ocean, the tsunami struck late Saturday (25 December 2005) Washington time. And it didn't strike US soil, although a number of Americans died in the disaster.
*** Katrina hit the coast on Monday morning, but since many of the victims in New Orleans may not have drowned or died from neglect for several days, the number of days elapsed would vary. Some people likely died from results of the storm as he signed the proclamation — and afterward.

And maybe he should have read this before he signed it:

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 10, 2005

National Hurricane Preparedness Week, 2005
A Proclamation by the President of the United States of America

Each year from June through November, Americans living on the Eastern seaboard and along the Gulf of Mexico face an increased threat of hurricanes. These powerful storms can create severe flooding, cause power outages, and damage homes and businesses with their high winds, tornadoes, storm surges, and heavy rainfall. The effects of these storms can be devastating to families and cause lasting economic distress. During National Hurricane Preparedness Week, we call attention to the importance of planning ahead and securing our homes and property in advance of storms.

Last year, six hurricanes and three tropical storms hit the United States, causing the loss of dozens of lives and billions of dollars in damage. Across the United States, Americans responded to these natural disasters with extraordinary strength, compassion, and generosity. Many volunteers donated their time and talents to help with the cleanup, recovery, and rebuilding of communities devastated by the hurricanes and tropical storms.

To prepare for the 2005 hurricane season, I urge all our citizens to become aware of the dangers of hurricanes and tropical storms and to learn how to minimize their destructive effects. Our Nation's weather researchers and forecasters continue to improve the accuracy of hurricane warnings, enabling residents and visitors to prepare for storms. By working together, Federal, State, and local agencies, first responders, the news media, and private citizens can help save lives and diminish the damage caused by these natural disasters.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim May 15 through May 21, 2005, as National Hurricane Preparedness Week. I call upon government agencies, private organizations, schools, and the news media to share information about hurricane preparedness and response to help save lives and prevent property damage. I also call upon Americans living in hurricane-prone areas of our Nation to use this opportunity to learn more about protecting themselves against the effects of hurricanes and tropical storms.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this tenth day of May, in the year of our Lord two thousand five, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and twenty-ninth.




The Hand That Feeds Jonah Goldberg: Like I suspect many of you did last week, I popped off a note to National Public Radio the other day about Weekend Edition Saturday's choice of National Review's Jonah Goldberg as a stand-in commentator. I'm afraid I didn't keep a copy of my message, although I do remember copying them his Superdome post, pointing out that his comment about Bureau of Justice Statistics leaks damaging the Bush administration could only be valid if the reports they were putting out weren't supported by the statistics, and wondering if they'd hire ex-Klansman David Duke as a guest commentator if he could keep his mouth shut about the blacks and the Jews for seven minutes.

Yesterday, I received what appears to be their stock response from Lee Hill at NPR's Audience Services (emphasis mine).

We appreciate your comments regarding Jonah Goldberg.

Jonah Goldberg provided guest commentary for the vacationing Dan Schorr on the August 27th edition of Weekend Edition Saturday, in the "Week in Review" segment with Scott Simon. As you might be aware, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius served as guest commentator in the same segment the previous week while Dan was also away. When a staff member is away for vacation or travel, we occasionally find someone to fill their position, on a temporary basis, and they are held to the same high editorial standards expected of NPR employees.

While we appreciate your opinions regarding Mr. Goldberg's column and remarks on the Internet, or any other news outlet, please know that these are independent of his recent guest commentary on NPR.

Apparently, a middle-of-the-road journalist like Ignatius is no different to NPR than a partisan hack like Goldberg.

I wrote back to Hill. What's funny is that Goldberg's latest column about himself — "Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers: Bush-blaming derangement" — begins with these words:

Back when NPR and other news outlets were reporting that New Orleans had “dodged the bullet” on hurricane Katrina I made an ill-conceived joke in The Corner about how the Superdome was going to hell-in-a-hand basket.
A "Morning Edition" story by John Burnett the day of Goldberg's post does indeed focus on the French Quarter and how it made it through the first day post-storm. But perhaps Goldberg was so involved in chortling about his Superdome idea that he missed these words (from 4:33 into the story):
JOHN BURNETT: Freeman Spears (sp?), with the Orleans Levee District Police Department, tried to do his job and not think about what lay ahead for him. His house is located in East New Orleans, where police say many, many homes — perhaps hundreds — were inundated by floodwaters.

FREEMAN SPEARS: My house has about eight feet of water in it, but my family is safe and that's all that counts. And I'm out here trying to help other people. And stop the looting.

Hundreds of homes inundated by floodwaters. That's "dodging the bullet" to the Bush administration's — ahem — water-carriers.



The Glass of Quasimondo:

flash 8: aqua glass effect

Peter Sylwester pointed me to a post today by German Flash expert Quasimondo, showing off one of his truly great experiments with the the upcoming Flash 8's bitmap effect capabilities.


»  September 6, 2005


The After-Inaction Reports: In the Gaggle today, Scott McClellan repeated the administration talking point that "now is not the time for blame-gaming." Michael Chertoff stayed on point Sunday saying there would be plenty of time for accountability in the "after-action" reports. But what about these statements?

"I want to congratulate the governors for being leaders. You didn't ask for this, when you swore in, but you're doing a heck of a job."

"Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job."

"Mr. Mayor, that after a lot of hard work, people are going to be -- people will be proud of the effort. And I want to thank you for your leadership here. And Haley, I want to thank you for yours. Again, I want to thank Trent and Thad."

"Results are acceptable here in Mississippi."

"Governor, thanks for your leadership."

"We're making progress."

Why is there no time to assign blame if there's plenty of time to assign praise?



Nagin on Race and Class:

On Sunday (4 September), New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was interviewed on a special edition of ABC's Nightline. This is my transcript (ABC doesn't make theirs freely available) of a portion of his interview. Click on the image above to watch the entire interview (Quicktime, 20MB).

JOHN DONOVAN, ABC NEWS: The last thing I want to ask you about is the race question.

So, I'm out at the highway — it was last Thursday — huge number of people stuck in the middle of nowhere. Jesse Jackson comes in, looks at the scene, and says it looks like the scene of a, from a slave ship. And I said, "Reverand Jackson,, the imagery suggests you're saying this is about race." And he didn't answer directly, he said, "Take a look at it, what do you think it's about?"

What's your response to that?

RAY NAGIN, MAYOR OF NEW ORLEANS: (Sighs) You know, I haven't really thought much about the race issue. I will tell you this. I think it's, it could be, but it's a class issue for sure. Because I don't think this type of response would have happened if this was Orange County, California. This response definitely wouldn't have happened if it was Manhattan, New York. And I don't know if it's color or class.

DONOVAN: In some way, you think that New Orleans got second-class treatment.

NAGIN: I can't explain the response. And here's what else I can't explain: We are basically, almost surrounded by water. To the east, the bridge is out, you can't escape. Going west, you can't escape because the bridge is under water. We found one evacuation route, to walk across the Crescent City Connection, on the overpass, down Highway 90 to 310 to I10, to go get relief.

People got restless and there was overcrowding at the convention center. They asked us, "Is there any other option?" We said, "Well, if you want to walk, across the Crescent City Connection, there's buses coming, you may be able to find some relief." They started marching. At the parish line, the county line of Gretna, they were met with attack dogs and police officers with machine guns saying "You have to turn back..."

DONOVAN: Go back.

NAGIN: "...because a looter got in a shopping center and set it afire and we want to protect the property in this area."

DONOVAN: And what does that say to you?

NAGIN: That says that's a bunch of bull. That says that people value their property, and were protecting property, over human life.

And look, I was not suggesting, or suggesting to the people that they walk down into those neighborhoods. All I wanted them to do and I suggested: walk on the Interstate. And we called FEMA and we said "Drop them water and supplies as they march." They weren't gonna go into those doggone neighborhoods. They weren't going to impact those neighborhoods. Those people were looking to escape, and they cut off the last available exit route out of New Orleans.

DONOVAN: And was that race? Was that class?

NAGIN: I don't know. You're going to have to go ask them. But those questions need to be answered. And I'm pissed about it. And I don't know how many people died as a result of that.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Morial Convention Center, this is a picture of the bridge (the Crescent City Connection) passing right over the center (hilighted in red), with colored highlights on the nearby exit and entrance ramps. The convention center is about a half-mile long.


What the...?  

Photo from the Bayou:

Last Halloween, Barbara and I took a little airboat ride south of New Orleans, where we each got a chance to hold a gator. I'm regretting now that we didn't take more pictures than we did.

Our best wishes go out to everyone we met on that trip.


»  September 5, 2005


8 September 1935: Louisiana. Floods. Poverty. And, on 8 September the 70th anniversary of the day Louisiana Senator Huey P. Long was assassinated (he died two days later) in the capitol building he built in Baton Rouge: 8 September 1935.

In 1992, just before the election that replaced George H.W. Bush in the White House with William Jefferson Clinton, I wrote this essay for the first issue of my book review magazine, Plant's Review of Books. It's been one of the most popular items on my site for over ten years.

Incidentally, on 8 September 2005, the Global War on Terror will have lasted as long as the American Civil War.

Huey Long
by T. Harry Williams
Bantam, 1969

It is a measure of the depth of desire for change in this country that we've seen not just the ghost of Harry Truman pop up but also, lurking in the corners of the political discussion, the specter of Huey P. Long. Columnists across the country, from the national level to the Oregonian's own David Reinhard (yes, David Reinhard!) have mentioned the Kingfish in their election-year chatter. Used most often merely as a touchstone of rabble-rousing, anti-intellectual, brute force demagoguery, at times Long is shaken aloft as an example of the Bolshevist, fascist, populist end we could all come to should the great unwashed be allowed to have their way with us.

Of course this leads one to the question of just who us is (or are). Or perhaps more pointedly, who are they? And who was Huey Long that he should be a bogeyman of modern American politics, despised by those on the right, left, and center?

Many know of the Railroad Commissioner, Governor, and Senator from Louisiana only through the fictional mirror of Robert Penn Warren's Pulitzer Prize-winning All the King's Men. Or the stage play. Or the Academy Award-winning movie. Warren's Willie Stark is a tireless self-promoter, a man driven to accumulate power and fortune at the expense of all those around him, whose one contribution to the common good, a hospital, literally backfires when its director shoots him.

The Huey Long of T. Harry Williams's (again) Pulitzer Prize-winning biography shares all of Stark's qualities and more. The more being specifically the accomplishments and advances that Long brought to a state that, in his time as now, languished near the bottom of the nation not only geographically but in average income (thirty-ninth of forty-eight), farm property value (forty-third), and literacy (forty-seventh). In an era when Wisconsin had four millionaires, Louisiana had one, and if the general poverty of the state wasn't enough, Williams relates:

[Educational and other services] were poor for the additional reason that the ruling hierarchy was little interested in using what resources the state had available to provide services and was even less interested in employing the power of the state to create new resources so that more services could be supported.... A woman who was a member of the caste described its psychology frankly: "We were secure. We were the old families. We had what we wanted. We didn't bother anybody. All we wanted was to keep it."
Those were the people that Huey Long took on in his meteoric rise toward what he was unabashed in admitting was his goal: the Presidency. Long's plan was to "Share Our Wealth," and he wasn't about to wait for the wealth to trickle down to the general populace of Louisiana (or anyplace else that might elect him to high office). To the (comparatively) wealthy, "Share Our Wealth" seemed less the outstretched palm of an occasional beggar than the rending claws of an army of zombies. Apart from the aristocracy of New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Long took on the lumber, sugar, and oil industries in the state, most notably Standard Oil, Louisiana's largest economic power and "the only really big corporation in the South."

Huey Long's first (unsuccessful) bid for governor in 1924, at the age of thirty, was based on a platform of road construction, increased support for public schools, free textbooks for all children, improvements in the court system, and state warehouses for storage of farm crops.

He approved the right of labor to organize, and he condemned the use of injunctions in labor disputes, corporate influence on government, and concentrated wealth (the "bloated plutocracy" of two per cent owned sixty-five per cent of the wealth).... He had said what he stood for — an increased role for the state government in the economy — and if he decided to denounce in his own style the things he had said he was against, blood might indeed appear on the moon.
As Williams's largely respectful biography attests, the concentration of wealth was a long-time concern of Huey Long's which fully formed during his law studies. Charles Payne Fenner, an authority on civil law, spoke to Long's class on the practicality of Louisiana's inheritance law, based on Napoleonic code, which stipulates that all heirs to an estate, both male and female, receive a certain share. Williams conjectures that as Huey spoke to Fenner privately afterward, one of them made the connection between Hebrew law and wealth, because afterward Long turned to study of the Bible.

[W]hat struck him particularly were the commandments [in Leviticus] that every seven years there should be a release of debts and that every fiftieth year, the "Jubilee" year, there would be a return of possessions to every man.... This was not the first time he had heard the question raised.... But now it was brought before him in a peculiarly authoritative and institutional way..... It was ironic that he should have learned the lesson at such a citadel of conservatism as Tulane University.
While reading Huey Long it's easy to understand how the brash young farmer's boy from poor Winn parish, where "young bloods of Huey's age thought it was the height of urban elegance to saunter into one of the eateries and order `a chili,'" might have offended the sensibilities of the established order. Quite apart from his politics, his campaigning style, with its innovative use of mailed circulars, automobile stumping, radio speeches, sound trucks, and cruel personal invective was designed precisely to appeal to that part of the populace that wasn't sitting in the halls and offices of power. Long knew what appealed to them in part because he was one of them, and though blessed with a phenomenal memory, razor-sharp wit, and a personality that drove him to work twenty hours a day, he was nonetheless the product of his upbringing in Winnfield, a town where some of the stores and shops were located in tents, where there were no sidewalks, no paved streets, and farm stock roamed the town.

Little of Long's early life is well-documented, perhaps because no one thought he'd amount to much. Long himself gave a variety of answers about some episodes in his life, depending on the audience and time of day. Almost necessarily, the portrait of Long that Williams paints, drawing on over a decade of research and interviews with hundreds of Long family members, friends, associates, and enemies, contains a plethora of contradictory stories. When given the option between positive and negative views of his subject, Williams predominantly chooses the former. His decisions are naturally backed up with volumes of supporting evidence--not the least of which are the actual accomplishments of Long's tenure as governor and senator.

Long did more than just talk about the things he campaigned for. When he won the gubernatorial election on second try in 1928, he embarked upon a series of changes that went beyond reform to outright rebellion against the ruling class. He raised severance taxes on natural resource industries to pay for schoolbooks for every child, regardless of whether they went to public or private school. During his term as governor, the state built over 2,300 miles of paved roads, 111 bridges, and in 1931 employed ten percent of the men involved in road-building nationally. He moved to abolish the practices of strait-jacketing and chaining and to introduce dental care at mental institutions (at one, he claimed, dentists extracted seventeen hundred diseased teeth from inmates). Long's appointee as head of Angola, still considered one of the toughest prisons in the country, instituted the state's first prisoner-rehabilitation program. Long implemented an adult literacy program in Louisiana that largely served African-Americans, despite the racism of the overwhelming white majority. The list is extensive and surprisingly progressive for the time, the place, and most particularly the man he has been portrayed as. Many of his progressive policies were unthinkable to large sectors of his electorate, but the breadth of his programs drew in people who supported him in some areas and not others.

Williams details the political career of Huey Long exhaustively. Many of the chapters chronicle a blinding array of events condensed into a period of time that seems far too short to contain them. What is more incredible is that chapter after chapter covers a parallel set of events occurring within the same time frame.

What made critics claim Huey Long was the "despot of the delta," the "first great native fascist?" It is true, Long abused his position as governor of Louisiana-he was far from the first. He appointed members of his family and supporters to government jobs. He rewarded political benefactors with state contracts. He used the position to live a fine life and dress swell. Show me a politician who hasn't done at least two of the above and I'll show you a politician who didn't get elected. What set Long apart from the fascists was his belief in the democratic process. Long would, as Williams demonstrates in his opening paragraph, do just about anything to get people's votes except lie to them about what he'd do. What Williams reveals to us in Huey Long is a man who bent every fiber in his body to force it into the same mold as his will. Louisiana was his because the people of Louisiana had given it to him, and they'd done that because he told them in no uncertain terms what he was going to do with it. That directness and honesty set Long apart from his predecessors in and of itself, apart from his radical message.

Long's exploits as governor (he once met the commander of a German cruiser in his pajamas and he touched off a debate over the merits of crumbling or dipping cornpone into the Southern dish known as potlikker) propelled Louisiana and himself onto the national stage, just in time for his election to the US Senate. In the Capitol, he advocated legislation that would prohibit family incomes of more than one million dollars a year (or three hundred times the annual family income) and prevent ownership of more than five million dollars (or three hundred times the average family value) by any one family. He attacked his own party's leadership in the Senate, denouncing them as corporation attorneys in the pockets of big business, and producing lists of the clients of their law firms. He openly broke with President Roosevelt (who, while governor of New York, had offered that when eating potlikker he crumbled his cornpone), when it became clear to him the President wasn't advancing on redistribution of wealth. Siding with progressive Republicans from the Midwest farm states, Long rammed through an extension of bankruptcy privileges to farmers hit hard by the Depression, over the objections of the administration. After he denounced his old enemy, Standard Oil, for bankrolling Bolivia in its oilfield war with Paraguay, the grateful Paraguayans named a stronghold "Senator Huey Long Fort." The Share Our Wealth Society rose from nothing in early 1934 to 27,431 chapters, in every state, with a total membership of more than four and a half million, in less than two years. Tourists in Washington, Williams recounts, wanted to see: "White House, Monument, Capitol-and the Kingfish." People responded to Huey as they did to nothing else at the time. "After one of his radio speeches and during one of his encounters with the Roosevelt administration, more than thirty thousand letters a day poured in for twenty-four consecutive days."

A number of people have ridden the populist bandwagon this year. George Bush, that pork-rind eatin' guy from Texas, who just happens to have a multi-million-dollar estate in Maine and no friends who aren't members of country clubs; Bill Clinton, whose supporters claim will be unfettered by his backwoods state now that he's President and who hasn't accomplished in all his time as governor of Arkansas what Long accomplished in four years in Louisiana sixty years ago; and Ross Perot, who has about three billion reasons he's not qualified to be a `man of the people' and still hasn't said exactly what he's going to do except make things better. What all of them lack is Long's sense of purpose, his determination to do for the people what he had said he would do for them, no matter how difficult, no matter who he had to fight or outfox. That such a radical candidate was elected in what has always been a conservative state was a measure of the times and the disgust of the people with the status quo. Populist campaigns are a barometer of how difficult the times are, and if you think things are bad now, wait until you hear a politician comparing himself (or herself) to Huey Long.



Fear of a Black New Orleans: I can't believe that Google didn't turn up anything with this title already.

For everyone who claims that racism didn't have anything to do with the laggardly relief effort, I'd like to offer this tidbit that caught my ear when I heard the phrase "civil rights violation," now that the transcript's up. From MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews (2 September):

CHRIS MATTHEWS: Carl, when your family asks you about this week and your friends ask you for the war stories, what are you going to come to your mind with?

CARL QUINTANILLA, NBC CORRESPONDENT: It is going to come down to one kid. He‘s about 7 years old. He was sweating in 95-degree heat. He was walking on the interstate. He had walked about, I would say two or three miles to a bus that he did not know whether it would be there or not. And he was carrying his baby brother. We saw that and we realized that this—I think that was the turning point where we realized, this was no longer a hurricane aftermath story.

This was no longer a weather story, a devastation story. It was a human, almost a civil rights violation story.

MATTHEWS: Do you have a sense that this is going to go down—I know you have to be an objective journalist. We all do. But, in analyzing this story, from the reactions of the people in New Orleans, especially, do you have a sense that people feel that not only are they poor and they‘re a minority group, African-American, mostly, but that they were dissed, as we say in the big cities; they were disrespected by their own government this week?

QUINTANILLA: I think it is going to be a really interesting question, Chris, to look at over the coming years. What does it mean when you do not—when you fear your own populace, a populace that you have seen with your own eyes is hurting and you are afraid to get to get in the car, to get in an ambulance and come into a city that has been covered from the beginning by the media?

We have had photographers, Chris, go out outside the city limits to ambulances and buses, standing, running with the air conditioning on, and drivers saying, I can‘t go in there. I told my wife I would not go in there. It is a powder keg. That‘s—it was an interesting dynamic and something we had—I have never seen before.

MATTHEWS: Why were the ambulance drivers, rationally or irrationally, afraid to go in the city?

QUINTANILLA: Well, you did have reports of shots being fired at helicopters. And there was a natural fear that, if these people were denied resources long enough, that they would become desperate enough to do unique things.

The line here was, they‘ve lost everything, but they still have guns. And that could change things rather quickly. But once we—once we got to the Convention Center and once those pictures got out, it was clear. These were not troublemakers. These were simply people from poor neighborhoods and, in some cases, not even that poor, but just black neighborhoods, who were standing waiting for someone to pick them up.

Extra props to Matthews for "being down" with the current big-city lingo.



That Explains It: Friday, I noted that Richard Falkenrath — a CNN "security analyst" — replied "having it [flooding in New Orleans] occur simultaneously with a horrific hurricane ... was I think beyond the planning parameters for the federal government," in response to Paula Zahn's question "How did the government blow it?" I wondered whose butt he was blowing smoke up, because the flooding of New Orleans was always connected to the impact of a large hurricane.

I ran across another reference to him yesterday. Prior to CNN, Falkenrath was a Deputy Homeland Security Advisor and Deputy Assistant to the President.


»  September 4, 2005


Half-Staff or Half-Assed?: Note the lag time between event and response.

Terrorists Kill Thousands in An Attack On the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, September 11, 2001:

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 12, 2001

Honoring the Victims of the Incidents on Tuesday, September 11, 2001
By the President of the United States of America
A Proclamation

As a mark of respect for those killed by the heinous acts of violence perpetrated by faceless cowards upon the people and the freedom of the United States on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, I hereby order, by the authority vested in me as President of the United States of America by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, that the flag of the United States shall be flown at half-staff at the White House and upon all public buildings and grounds, at all military posts and naval stations, and on all naval vessels of the Federal Government in the District of Columbia and throughout the United States and its Territories and possessions until sunset, Sunday, September 16, 2001....

Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist Dies, September 3, 2005:
For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 4, 2005

Proclamation by the President: Death of William HR Rehnquist
A Proclamation by the President of the United States of America

As a mark of respect for William H. Rehnquist, Chief Justice of the United States, I hereby order, by the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States of America, including section 7 of title 4, United States Code, that the flag of the United States shall be flown at half-staff at the White House and on all public buildings and grounds, at all military posts and naval stations, and on all naval vessels of the Federal Government in the District of Columbia and throughout the United States and its Territories and possessions until sunset, Tuesday, September 13, 2005....

Hurricane Katrina Kills Thousands and Causes Widespread Destruction on the Gulf Coast, August 26, 2005:
For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 4, 2005

Honoring the Memory of the Victims of Hurricane Katrina Proclamation
A Proclamation by the President of the United States of America

As a mark of respect for the victims of Hurricane Katrina, I hereby order, by the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States of America, that the flag of the United States shall be flown at half-staff at the White House and on all public buildings and grounds, at all military posts and naval stations, and on all naval vessels of the Federal Government in the District of Columbia and throughout the United States and its Territories and possessions until sunset, Tuesday, September 20, 2005....



Who Coulda Thunk 3?: From FEMA's daily National Situation Update:

National Situation Update: Saturday, August 27, 2005

Homeland Security Threat Level: YELLOW (ELEVATED).

. . .

State of Emergency Declared in Mississippi, Louisiana DueIn anticipation of a possible landfall, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour and Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco declared States of Emergency Friday. In Louisiana, New Orleans is of particular concern because much of that city lies below sea level.

According to Gov. Blanco, Lake Pontchartrain is a very large lake that sits next to the city of New Orleans and if the hurricane winds blow from a certain direction, there are dire predictions of what may happen in the city.



Day 900: Lest we forget that there's a war on in Iraq, we've now reached 900 days since the invasion.

The Global War on Terror is 1,455 days old.

On Friday, the length of the GWOT passes that of the American Civil War.



The Daily Briefing: Is there a domestic threat equivalent to the President's Daily Briefing? The now-famous PDB (formerly prepared by the CIA Director and now under the auspices of the Director of National Intelligence) covers international intelligence and situations, but surely there's something similar on the home front. I wonder what the ones from August 26-30 would have to say about Hurricane Katrina?



Why Did the Convention Center Relief Take So Long?:

I was in the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans last fall for the Macromedia MAX2004 conference. I was only there for a few days, and it was my first and only time (so far) in New Orleans, so I don't claim any expert knowledge.

But, as someone who has some problems walking distances once in a while, I do remember making the mistake after a day wandering around New Orleans's cemeteries and the French Quarter of walking over to the Convention Center from my hotel and having to walk a looong way to find the registration desk, down at the far end of the building. The Morial Convention Center is over a half-mile long, not too far if you know where you're going, but it seems much longer if you don't.

One thing that came to mind as I was watching television coverage of the thousands of people waiting days for food, water, and rescue, was that US90 goes right over the south end of the center. As each correspondent asked why relief hadn't gotten there yet, and people like FEMA chief Michael "Brownie" Brown expressed surprise that anyone was even there, I was thinking about the freeway ramps that dropped down from the freeway to practically the front of the building. Police were reportedly on the ramps preventing people from getting onto the freeway and crossing over to the unflooded eastern bank of the Mississippi River on the Greater New Orleans Bridge (or walking anywhere else). They would have been literally on top of the starving, thirsty throng, just a hundred-fifty feet or so up, there would have been no way to miss them or to see that they weren't getting any supplies.

If security had actually been an issue, supplies could have been tossed off the overpass onto the area around the convention center in the kinds of high-impact containers they use to drop supplies from planes. But seriously, how much security was needed to get a truck down a half-mile ramp from the bridge overpass to the front of the conference center?


»  September 3, 2005


Continue to Think: CNN Live Saturday co-anchor Tony Harris — apparently suffering already from disaster fatigueoffers his helpful survival skills to an obviously stupid victim of Hurricane Katrina (3 September).

HARRIS: Some New Orleans residents evacuated to Baton Rouge are wondering what next and they're frantically searching for missing family members. One of them is Dorian Browder. She joins us on the phone from Baton Rouge. Dorian, hello, how are you?


HARRIS: I'm doing well. Dealing with the how are you part of the question, the how are you part of the question, how are you?

BROWDER: Not well at all at this time.

HARRIS: All right, tell me what the last day or so has been like for you?

BROWDER: A living hell, a living hell. That's putting it mildly. A living hell.

HARRIS: So describe for us your living hell.

BROWDER: OK. One of the first things I want bring forward (PH) is I've treated like I was less than human. It has been a very, very inhumane treatment. Everywhere I try to turn for help, no one is helping me. Be it FEMA, the American Red Cross, whatsoever.

They have treated me like I was not even a human being. You go there for any type of assistance, I was turned away. I went to the main facility here in Baton Rouge on Mayfair. They had boycotted the place and everything, I was inquiring about my elderly mother that's been left in New Orleans and was missing. They said they couldn't help us, that they had no database. However, I had just came from the state troopers here in Baton Rouge, and they said they had the database. It's been a back and forth chaotic situation, no one knows nothing.

HARRIS: Dorian, how did you get to Baton Rouge?

BROWDER: In a car. I came in a car.

HARRIS: Where are you staying now?

BROWDER: I'm staying at a motel called Baymont Inn and Suites.

HARRIS: Do you have children?

BROWDER: Yes I do sir, I have two sons.

HARRIS: How old are they?

BROWDER: I have a 23-year-old and a 17-year-old. And it has been a devastation to them.

HARRIS: Do you have food and water?

BROWDER: No. No. Someone donated some moneys to us, and that's how we've been serving.

HARRIS: Someone donated money to you and that's how you were able to live?

BROWDER: That's how I was able to -- be able to get to the room. Up until last night, I was sleeping in a car.

HARRIS: So, you were sleeping in a car?

BROWDER: Yes, sir, for several nights.

HARRIS: Where will you go? Where will you turn to begin to put your life back together? What is the next thing you will do in this effort to put your life back together again?

BROWDER: Sir, at this time, I don't know. I have no home to go to. I have no job. I have nothing at this time. Nothing that I can see.

HARRIS: All right, here's -- they're small but they're important questions. Do you have a bank account?

BROWDER: Sir. I had a small savings of maybe $8 in the account.

HARRIS: All right. So, FEMA, FEMA will ultimately have to help you. That's where you have to turn for help, you understand that, correct?

BROWDER: OK, sir, we called and I did -- I gave them some information, but at this time, we haven't had no response. HARRIS: And no family -- I'm trying to help you move forward. Do you understand what I'm trying to do here?

BROWDER: Yes. I'm understanding. HARRIS: I'm trying to help you move forward and get some help. You have been able to contact any family member in other states?

BROWDER: No, sir. None that can help me. I have no members outside of this state that can help me. They're not financially able to help me.


BROWDER: So, it's like I'm between a rock and a hard place.

HARRIS: All right, continue to think. All right, continue to stay in the moment. Continue to think and continue to find ways. Think of ways to move your individual situation forward. I'm sure there are people in Baton Rouge, if you can reach them, who will be able and willing to help you. Stay positive, and keep moving forward.

BROWDER: That's the only thing I keep (UNINTELLIGIBLE), the thing is, it's like every time you try to move forward here to go to these facilities for people to help you, they're not really helping you.

HARRIS: All right, where are you staying right now? Just quick.

BROWDER: At the Baymont Inn and Suites.

HARRIS: All right, maybe someone will hear this, maybe we can make a call and get help to you and the others who are in a similar situation. Dorian, thank you.

BROWDER: Sir, I -- OK.

HARRIS: Thank you, Dorian.



Disaster Fatigue: It's been heartening to see that some of the news media — particularly the cable channels — have been willing to ask questions about what the hell is going on when it takes days for food and water to move just a couple of miles to people crying for help, when cameramen and reporters can get there.*

But I do have to wonder how long they'll stick with it. CNN's Aaron Brown was already talking about "disaster fatigue" on last night's show.

And let us remember what the big story for most of the news programs was a week ago. On Friday, August 26, while the US was involved in a war in Iraq (which I think is still going on) each of the following prime-time cable news shows (there may be more) devoted significant portions of their programs to Natalee Holloway, who had disappeared nearly three months before.

Several of those shows have spent much of the summer on that one story. Here's hoping that they'll spend a comparable amount of time following up on the fate of victims of Hurricane Katrina.

* For that matter, if security for a supply caravan was seriously an issue (something I'm having a hard time imagining) food could have been dropped or lowered on the convention center area from the Greater New Orleans Bridge (US90), which passes directly over the southwest end of the Morial Convention Center.



How Long Does It Take to Drive From Shreveport to New Orleans?: Tom Foreman, a Washington reporter for CNN, reported on American Morning (3 September) that FEMA had boasted prior to Hurricane Katrina's landfall that they had "pre-positioned" supplies and personnel in an arc throughout the South so that they could respond as soon as Monday evening. They even put out a press release about it.

Homeland Security Prepping For Dangerous Hurricane Katrina
Residents in path of storm "Must take action now"

Release Date: August 28, 2005
Release Number: HQ-05-173

. . .

“There’s still time to take action now, but you must be prepared and take shelter and other emergency precautions immediately,” said Michael D. Brown, Under Secretary of Homeland Security for Emergency Preparedness and Response. “FEMA has pre-positioned many assets including ice, water, food and rescue teams to move into the stricken areas as soon as it is safe to do so.”

. . .

FEMA is moving supplies of generators, water, ice and food into the region for immediate deployment once the storm passes. FEMA’s Urban Search & Rescue (USAR) and Disaster Medical Assistance Teams (DMATs) are also staged for immediate response anywhere in the region. The funding and direct federal assistance will assist law enforcement with evacuations, establishing shelters and other emergency protective measures.

FEMA has deployed USAR teams from Tennessee, Missouri and Texas to stage in Shreveport, LA.. USAR teams from Indiana and Ohio are staged in Meridian, MS. Two teams each from Florida and Virginia and one team from Maryland are on alert at their home stations.

A total of 18 DMATs have been deployed to staging areas in Houston, Anniston and Memphis. There are 9 full DMATs (35 members per team) and 9 strike teams (5 members per team) in these staging areas.

. . .

FEMA prepares the nation for all hazards and manages federal response and recovery efforts following any national incident. FEMA also initiates mitigation activities, trains first responders, works with state and local emergency managers, and manages the National Flood Insurance Program and the U.S. Fire Administration. FEMA became part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on March 1, 2003.



No Level Too Low: It's bad enough that FOX News has been the TV home of Iran-contra criminal Oliver North, but this morning Neil Cavuto lifted up a rock so that Bernard Kerik, he of the 9/11 love shack, could raise his tainted voice.


»  September 2, 2005


Who Coulda Thunk 2?: From CNN's Paula Zahn NOW (2 September), responding to the question "How did the government blow it?" This is a portion of Richard Falkenrath's answer:

RICHARD FALKENRATH, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: We are focused on New Orleans in this conversation. But that is not the extent of this disaster. This disaster extends down the Gulf Coast. And so, again, the flood was predicted. People knew that this was a serious risk. But having it occur simultaneously with a horrific hurricane down the coast, all the way to Alabama almost, was I think beyond the planning parameters for the federal government.
This is completely ridiculous. The "doomsday" scenario for New Orleans involved a hurricane large enough to create a storm surge that could top either the Mississippi or Lake Pontchartrain levees. Does Falkenrath seriously think a Category 4 or 5 hurricane could flood New Orleans without affecting any part of the rest of the Gulf Coast? Or is he just blowing smoke up someone's butt?



Bad Connection: From CNN's Paula Zahn NOW (September 1), in an interview with Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA):

ZAHN: When an assessment can actually be made, what do you think the death toll might go up to in your state?

LANDRIEU: Paula, I don't know what the gas prices are going to go up to, but it's going to affect everyone in the country. We are the energy coast. We are the only energy coast in the nation.

ZAHN: Senator, Senator, sorry. Sorry to interrupt you. I know the signal is not clear at all. Actually, what I was asking you about was the death toll, because the governor of your state has predicted...



The Bad Bush Official/Bad Bush Strategy:

Chertoff vs. Bush

I've been pondering this paradox for the past day and wondering how the apparent good-cop/bad-cop routine of the Bush administration officials vs. Bush himself is going to play out.

On the one hand there's Chertoff and FEMA's Michael "Brownie" Brown saying people should have gotten out of Dodge before the disaster. On the other, Bush (and Brownie) are saying nobody could have predicted the levee breach (aka "the disaster").

I'd be interested in seeing a reporter ask Chertoff to reconcile the statements. The hurricane's winds weren't the reason the evacuation order was issued.

New Orleans Braces for Powerful Katrina

By ALLEN G. BREED, Associated Press Writer
Sun Aug 28, 7:45 PM ET

NEW ORLEANS - A monstrous Hurricane Katrina barreled toward New Orleans on Sunday with 165-mph wind and a threat of a 28-foot storm surge, forcing a mandatory evacuation of the below-sea-level city and prayers for those who remained to face a doomsday scenario.

. . .

A grim Mayor C. Ray Nagin conceded Katrina's storm surge pushing up the Mississippi River would swamp New Orleans' system of levees, flooding the bowl-shaped city and causing potentially months of misery.

. . .


What the...?  

A Lack of Historical Perspective at The History Channel: I know it's hard to make changes to an entire promotional campaign in the last couple of days before your event takes place, but I have to think that The History Channel should have relied on some of its alternative ads for their ROME: Engineering an Empire series this weekend. Specifically, the TV and radio spots that open with the phrase "Do you think that the first Superdome was opened in 1965?"



Poor, Picked-On Pentagon: From the second hour of CNN's NewsNight With Aaron Brown (September 1); an interview with Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre:

BROWN: Yes, there were a couple of things actually said in there. I mean, on the one hand, I suppose - I understand when people say no one could have anticipated this, but the fact is that three years ago, two reporters to New Orleans Times Picayune laid out exactly this scenario.

That aside, I said introducing you that everything seems political to people these days. I know this will be perceived as a political question. It's not meant that way. To what extent does the fact that there were 135,000 troops in Iraq and troops in Afghanistan, to what extent, if any, impact, the ability of the military, the Pentagon, to respond to this crisis?

MCINTYRE: Well, clearly, if all the troops - all the National Guard troops were in their home base, they could probably be mobilized a little bit easier. That said, we analyze this pretty carefully today. And we have to say that the impact seems to be very marginal.

The troops, for instance, from Louisiana that are deployed to Iraq are combat unit. They're an armor infantry unit. They're not the military police if they really need to help restore security.

And as to your question about political, I talked to a lot of people at the Pentagon today who were very frustrated about the fact that the perception was being created that the military didn't move fast enough. And they did it somewhat as political. They thought that part of the motivation was the critics of the administration to make the president look bad.

And they seemed to question the motives of some of our reporters who were out there and hearing these stories from the victims about why they had so much sympathy for the victims, and not as much sympathy for the challenges that the government met in meeting this challenge.

And I have to say thinking about that, it doesn't really seem all that unusual that you would tend to understand the plight of the victims a little more than the bureaucrats in Washington.

BROWN: Yes, I mean, I'm glad you told us that. And they have every right to believe they believe and think the way they think. I mean, and I mean that. But you've got people who have been living as refugees. It is not hard to understand why our first heart beat goes in their direction. We'll worry about the bureaucrats later.

Jamie, thank you. That's a tough beat you got. We'll take a break. When we come back, we'll have more from the Astrodome in Houston. That really does speak to - that's a scene out of the Astrodome tonight. By the way, several thousand people there - what Jamie just said just speaks to how political events are perceived in this day and age. We got a lot of mail on these sorts of questions.



Over Here (Now On FX): With apologies to Joy Press and the Village Voice

New Series Examines Katrina Quagmire While Avoiding Partisan Politics
Over Here
Wednesdays at 11 starting September 8 on FX

by Happy Drucker
September 3rd, 2005 3:54 AM

"I don't think you have to deal at all with the politics of it," Steven Bochco told Reuters about Over Here, the first drama series to take on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. A weaselly preemptive attempt to ward off criticism from administration apologists, no doubt, but it's pretty strange to announce one's intention to exclude politics in a portrait of an ongoing, furiously contested disaster. What that leaves is mostly a visceral experience of catastrophe. A squad of combat soldiers wanders around the swampy mist of New Orleans, filmed with a surprising visual lyricism that occasionally reminds me of Andrei Konchalovsky's study of tyranny and freedom Shy People. The cameras sometimes seem to swoon with disorientation as these army privates march through the green fog of their night vision goggles or watch bodies moving toward them through a rainstorm. Plunked down in a strange place, they have no idea whom they're fighting, whom they're helping, or where they are.

Despite Bochco's protestations that the show is apolitical, Over Here has a jaundiced air about it. A female soldier imagines herself as one of the flood victims stranded at the Convention Center. A likable central character gets shot by looters in the first episode, and the army forgets to inform his wife for almost a week. A whole squad waits outside a grocery store like sitting ducks, unable to attack the insurgents inside because of civilians with camcorders. "We're going to wait . . . while some general 75 miles away makes a decision about goddamn public relations, about how it would look if we did this or how it would look if we did that!" shouts a sergeant. The series aims to evoke the horror and ambiguity of relief operations—one whole episode is dedicated to roadblock duty, with the rookies forced to decide among themselves whether to shoot potentially innocent people who bust through the checkpoint. It remains to be seen whether this kind of televisual "realism" will help us understand the disaster better, but the way things are going, Bochco should have enough grim material to last him many seasons.


»  September 1, 2005


New Orleans Lockdown: From CNN's NewsNight With Aaron Brown:

BROWN (voice over): Through sheets of rain it is the slow exodus of the lucky ones, those who are getting out.

TIM SHEER, NEW ORLEANS EVACUEE: We walked, probably 200 people, about a two-hour trek. We got to the top of the bridge, they stopped us with shotguns.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Police were shooting guns to keep people from crossing the bridge getting out of the city.

BROWN: They were tourists trapped in a hotel in New Orleans. They thought they'd arranged a bus ride out of town.

This didn't get nearly the comment that you'd have thought it might, particularly considering every member of the administration has been complaining that people were too stupid to get out of town. Now people who couldn't leave before (their rented buses were apparently commandeered by the military) are shot at by cops to keep them penned in.

As an added note, Jamie McIntyre, CNN's Pentagon correspondent reported that FEMA director Michael Brown said that relief efforts were going "relatively well" compared to those after last year's tsunami. Geez, ya think? The US can handle rescue efforts within its own borders better than Sri Lanka and Indonesia can? I feel a lot better now.



Who Coulda Thunk?: In his September 1 press conference, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said:

The act of flooding and the continued challenge of dealing with water levels that can be anywhere from three to four to eight feet have dramatically impeded our ability to actually get these supplies into New Orleans. This has really created a double challenge. We're not only confronting the original disaster of the hurricane, we're confronting the ongoing disaster of the flooding.
Amazing. I mean, who would have thought you might have to do disaster relief in the middle of a flood?



What Does Bush Like to Talk About?: People tend to talk about what's important and interesting to them. They talk about the subjects they know. When they venture into areas they're unsure of, they tend to get vague and repeat stock phrases. You see that kind of thing happen at a funeral of someone where they put the second-string minister on duty or he hasn't prepared. I was recently at one of those.

I also happened to catch the Rose Garden address by President Bush today. In 1,182 words — including some opening and closing statements, boilerplate resolve verbiage, and pleas for the private sector to bail out the South, he spent over a third of it (409 words, highlighted in gray below) talking about oil and gasoline, more than he spent on discussing saving lives, providing shelter, and supplying food (265 words, in yellow) or maintaining order (77 words, in red).

And we thought the Iraqis were just kidding about the Oil Ministry.



FOXnews.com: Laziness or Something Else?: As I noted yesterday, I got my chance to visit Old New Orleans just after it narrowly escaped Hurricane Ivan. Which is why, when I heard that President Bush told Diane Sawyer on Good Morning America "I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees" this morning, I was floored.

I quickly found an AP story reprinted on the Cincinnati Enquirer site that thoroughly disproves that.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

New Orleans may get 20-foot flood waters

By Brett Martel
The Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS - The worst-case scenario here - a direct strike by a full-strength Hurricane Ivan - could submerge much of this historic city treetop-deep in a stew of sewage, industrial chemicals and fire ants, and the inundation could last for weeks, experts say.

If the storm were strong enough, Ivan could drive water over the tops of the levees that protect the city from the Mississippi River and vast Lake Pontchartrain. And with the city sitting in a saucer-shaped depression that dips as much as 9 feet below sea level, there would be nowhere for all that water to drain.

I suppose someone who's really dense would claim that driving water over the levee isn't the same thing as breaching the levee, but then I suspect that person would never have heard of a levee breaking during a storm.

I was interested, however in what I found while looking for other sources of the AP story. I searched for the phrase "could submerge much of this historic city treetop-deep in a stew of sewage" in the second paragraph, and the first link on Google that showed up was from FOXnews.com, presumably a site that's White House-approved.

The composite image above contains three windows (full captures of which are linked). At the top is a portion of the Google results window. At the lower right is what you get when you click on the link. And at the lower left is Google's cached version of the page.

Google's link says it points to a report about Hurricane Ivan (which shows up in the excerpted text on the search results page). But the page it links to now has a date of August 29, 2005. The cached article has a date of September 15, 2004.

Several paragraphs of the 2004 article are missing from the 2005 version, but the remainder is virtually identical except for the deletion of a reference to Hurricane Ivan in the first paragraph and a couple of minor wording changes to disguise the removal of a named source. 2004: "If the eye came ashore east of the city, van Heerden said, New Orleans...." 2005: "Experts say that if the eye were to come ashore east of the city, New Orleans...."

It could be simple laziness. Perhaps someone in a hurry to get hurricane-related stories up (this is dated as a pre-flooding article) made a mistake and recycled a URL in the database (is that possible on FOXnews' content management system?) But considering the source and the fact that the official line is now that nobody could possibly have predicted the levee break, it seems like a hell of a coincidence.