Friday, September 23, 2005

The GOP’s Fiscal Policies Turned a Natural Disaster into a Man-Made Catastrophe

By Jason Leopold

Republicans like to brag that, as a political party, they are more fiscally responsible than their Democratic counterparts. Well, thanks to President Bush’s four years in office that theory can now take up residence in the urban legend department.

If anything, Bush’s tenure as president proves that the Republican tax cuts (which everyone knows truly benefits the wealthiest one percent), drastically slashing funds in the federal budget for much needed improvements to the country’s aging infrastructure (a perfect example being the outdated power grid), and trying to get away with launching wars on the cheap, have cost taxpayers and their unborn grandchildren more money than anyone could have ever imagined.

Simply put, since he became president, Bush has not invested the funds to fix the cracks in the country’s fa├žade, despite repeated warnings from experts and intense lobbying efforts by state officials that ignoring the problem will make it worse in the long run. Instead, the president pumped tens of billions of dollars into an unnecessary war that, when it became evident that attaining victory was tougher than the war planners imagined, required tens of billions of dollars more just to continue the fighting.

Only when devastation and catastrophe struck the nation did the federal government cough up the funds, but by then there wasn’t much of choice and as such a $1 billion restoration project before a devastating hurricane touched down in the Gulf Coast has turned into a $200 billion reconstruction effort and has now saddled taxpayers with economic woes that no tax cut can relieve.

You don’t have to look too far than New Orleans, a city wiped out by Hurricane Katrina, as evidence of the Bush administration’s and Congress’ fiscal irresponsibility. It’s a direct result of Washington’s financial incompetence that the cost for rebuilding The Big Easy is estimated to top $200 billion.

Flooding is the most destructive and costly natural disaster in the United States, accounting for approximately 75 percent of all disasters declared by the President annually. Approximately 160 million acres, or 7 percent of the United States are estimated to be floodplains and urban expansion into floodplains continues at an increasing rate, according to the Public Entity Risk Institute, a nonprofit think tank that that aims to educate the public and government on disaster management.

Sadly, no one was becoming any smarter. Instead of funding flood control projects, the Bush administration cut the Army Corps of Engineers budget, forcing the city of New Orleans to loan the agency $1 million back in December of 2003 to keep one crucial flood control project from shutting down entirely.

“It's not every day that New Orleans has to bail out the federal government,” said the Times-Picayune in a January 2, 2004 story. “But that's exactly what happened last month, when the Orleans Levee Board voted to advance the Army Corps of Engineers $1 million to prevent a vital flood control project from shutting down.”

Al Naomi, a senior project manager for the corps told the Picayune that federal funding has all but dried up threatening to put hurricane protection plans that were already underway on hold indefinitely.

Naomi said the corps has been strained for money, as the federal government's priorities have shifted to other concerns, such as homeland security, which prior to Hurricane Katrina meant protection from terrorist threats, and the war in Iraq.

Before Bush delivered his better-late-than-never speech to the nation earlier this month in front of Andrew Jackson’s statue in New Orleans, he personally shot down repeated requests for federal assistance made by Louisiana officials over the past four years to help repair New Orleans’ eroding coastline, the most recent of which was turned down by the president in June. Even prior hurricanes, such as Ivan, which just missed New Orleans last September still wreaked havoc on the city similar to that of Katrina, forcing local officials to evacuate the city and calling on the federal government for help, was not enough to sway President Bush to focus on domestic threats instead of pouring all of his energy into terrorism and the war in Iraq.

So, to hear the president in a televised speech promise to spend whatever it takes to rebuild one of the nation’s great cities is not a sign of progress, rather it’s a symbol of the total breakdown of his administration and an attempt to conceal what could arguably have been a man-made disaster because of Bush’s policies.

The final blow, however, came in June. Louisiana state officials had been hoping that a provision included in the Senate energy bill that called for $500 million in offshore energy revenue from the federal government would finally provide Louisiana and four other coastal states with the funds it desperately needed to repair its damaged wetlands to protect itself, among other things, against possible future weather-related disasters.

But the White House adamantly refused to part ways with the $5 billion it gets from drilling in the Gulf Coast, its second biggest source of revenue (after income the Internal Revenue Service brings in) choosing to use most of those funds to finance the Iraq war.

To ensure that the message came across crystal clear, Bush personally ordered White House aides to take the unusual step of sending a letter to House and Senate negotiators advising them to kill the revenue-sharing plan in the final version of the energy bill.

The White House’s Office of Management and Budget released a policy statement paper in June that said the Bush administration opposes “the significant new funding authorizations and diversion” of Outer Continental Shelf revenue included in a national energy bill being discussed in Congress.

"Currently the federal government does share royalties with coastal states -- more than $3 trillion to date, in fact. Changing this amount only increases the budget deficit and diminishes the benefit the rest of the nation receives from these national resources," Scott Milburn, press secretary for the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, told The Associated Press in June.

“Disheartening,” “frustrating,” “upsetting” and “just another nail in my coffin” is how Louisiana senators, community leaders and coastal advocates responded to the news in June that the White House intervened and advised the Senate to defeat the revenue provision, according to June 16 report in the Houma, La., Courier.

Ironically the erosion to the state’s coastline—which became considerably worse over the past five years—is due, in part, to oil and gas drilling in the Gulf, much of which takes place right in New Orleans. Although the state is responsible for repairing its coastline to support its oil and gas infrastructure it barely benefits financially from the drilling that takes place right in its own backyard.

“While inland states enjoy 50 percent of the tax revenue from drilling on their federal lands, Louisiana gets back a mere $35 million of the $5 billion it contributes to the federal treasury each year from offshore drilling, or less than one percent,” the Courier said.

In a written statement, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., condemned the White House position. Landrieu said the Bush administration simply can’t comprehend why the state of Louisiana needs compensation for producing a bulk of the nation’s energy supply. It’s a fact that coastal oil-and-gas-producing states account for 25 percent of the nation’s natural gas and 30 percent of oil.

“The president’s statement indicates a failure to appreciate the burdens borne by the people of Louisiana and other coastal oil-and-gas-producing states,” Landrieu said.

It wasn’t long after the White House issued its statement on the revenue sharing concept that Louisiana lawmakers predicted an apocalyptic end to the city of New Orleans.

Clifford Smith, a Houma, La., civil engineer and coastal advocate who is also a member of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Mississippi River Commission, told The Courier in June that without federal assistance New Orleans could very well drown if it took a direct hit from a hurricane.

"We’re not going to get the kind of recognition and concern we deserve until we have a disaster," he said.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

THE FOX AT THE HENHOUSE

By William Fisher

Either President Bush just doesn’t get it, or he just doesn’t care, or he thinks the people he serves are all gullible morons.

He’s appointed his own Homeland Security Advisor, Ms. Frances Townsend, to lead the White House investigation into how the government screwed up with Hurricane Katrina – and what to do about it.

Does the president really believe the American people will find such an investigation credible?

I’m sure Ms. Townsend is a very smart lady. She has a reputation for being tough-minded and independent. Maybe she’ll really try to do a thorough investigation.

But the appearance of independence is as important as the fact of independence. And it simply stretches credulity to think Ms. Townsend is likely to get away with being independent of her boss, the President, even if she wants to. Can anyone imagine Karl Rove approving any report that might embarrass the president or actually hold anyone accountable, bar Brownie?

Second, Ms. Townsend is a career prosecutor with no experience in natural disaster preparedness or response. Her homeland security experience has been limited to terrorism-related intelligence.

Ms. Townsend chairs the Homeland Security Council and reports to the President on Homeland Security policy and Combating Terrorism matters. She previously served as Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Combating Terrorism. She came to the White House from the U.S. Coast Guard, where she served as Assistant Commandant for Intelligence. Prior to that, she spent 13 years at the Department of Justice in a variety of senior positions, her last assignment as Counsel to the Attorney General for Intelligence Policy. She began her prosecutorial career in 1985, serving as an Assistant District Attorney in Brooklyn, New York. In 1988, she joined the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York where she focused on international organized crime and white-collar crime cases.

A pretty distinguished record, but where is the natural disaster piece? Investigative skills are simply not enough. You need to know the subject matter.

Third, her track record leading investigations does not exactly inspire confidence. When former Senator Chuck Robb and Judge Laurence Silberman completed their highly limited White House-commissioned report on pre-Iraq intelligence failures last April, the president ordered her to cull through the recommendations, most of which could be enacted by executive action. The investigation was limited because the commission was "not authorized" to explore the question of how the commander in chief used the flawed information.

Ms. Townsend directed Cabinet secretaries to report back to her quickly. "You will begin to see action in a matter of weeks," Townsend said from the White House podium. Maybe I missed something, but I think we’re still waiting.

Finally, if Ms. Townsend were really on top of her current job, wouldn’t the president have known that his Department of Homeland Security is a bureaucratic nightmare, a pastiche of more than 70 unmanaged – and perhaps unmanageable – agencies stitched together with a focus so obsessed with terrorism that natural disasters are all but forgotten?

Wouldn’t he have known that Katrina was bearing down on the Gulf Coast and could have unimaginably devastating consequences?

Evidently, no one – not Mr. Chertoff, not the hapless, unqualified and now-departed Mr. Brown, and not Frances Townsend – wanted to be the bearer of such dire tidings. In Washington, it’s the messenger who too often takes the hit.

So Ms. Townsend may indeed be a very smart fox, but she’s a fox nevertheless. The hens should run for cover right away!

People with serious government experience know that the minute you hear that the boss is organizing an inter-agency task force, the spin machine is about to kick into high gear. Why else would the president give Karl Rove, the “architect”, such a prominent role in the rebuilding effort? He would seem to be a tad light on emergency preparedness experience.

The bottom line is that the White House can investigate itself about as thoroughly as the Defense Department investigated its lapses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay.

That’s why we have Inspectors General and the Government Accountability Office. And that’s why, in the end, despite the president’s resistance, we ended up with a 9/11 Commission and some conclusions we could believe.

We need nothing less if we really want to know what went wrong during Katrina and what we have to do to fix it.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

PAYING FOR KATRINA

By William Fisher

Advertising gurus Gerald Rafshoon and Doug Bailey, who were on opposing sides during the Jimmy Carter-Gerald Ford campaign in 1976, have come up with a pretty good alternative to financing Katrina reconstruction with taxpayer money.

They propose a 90-day moratorium on fundraising by political parties and members of Congress. That would free up more than enough money to pay for
Katrina.

Here’s another:

Instead of closing 22 major military bases and ‘realigning’ 33 others, we should keep those facilities open so that no one has to flee to anything like the New Orleans Astrodome or the Convention Center ever again.

Think about it: Military bases have barracks and apartments, with beds, blankets, drinking water and plumbing that works. They have medical facilities with doctors and nurses, lawyers, PXs, even supermarkets. They have trucks and cars and ships and helicopters and airplanes. And they are located all over the country, within easy reach of just about any site of a natural disaster.

The Base Realignment and Closing Commission (BRAC) says doing away with these assets will save the taxpayers $4.2 billion a year.

But there’s another way to save that money, and a lot more: Stop the unconscionable waste at the Department of Defense.

So vast is the Pentagon’s waste, fraud and abuse that the government’s accountants tell us every year that the place simply cannot be audited. If Donald Rumsfeld ran Wal-Mart that way, he’d have been fired long ago.

Just think of it: The DOD, whose profligate and dysfunctional systems allowed it to buy toilet seats for $640 each, is now unable to account for more than a trillion – that’s trillion with a ‘T’ -- dollars in financial transactions. That’s in addition to the dozens of tanks, missiles and planes that have simply ‘gone missing’.

Congress gave our military $10 billion for Iraq Reconstruction. A good chunk of that money has simply vanished – it’s been lost. And there is virtually no reconstruction to show for it.

And, in one more of a long litany of incompetence and malfeasance, the General Accountability Office (GAO) informed us recently that millions of dollars worth of new equipment was being sold as ‘surplus’ for pennies on the dollar. That equipment included Kevlar flak jackets needed by the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, so of course the Pentagon ordered more.

If President Bush is looking for ‘offsets’ to pay for Katrina, he shouldn’t be thinking about cutting back on Medicaid, No Child Left Behind, Social Security, and other programs that directly benefit those most devastated by Katrina.

He should take a look at the ‘offsets’ already in the Pentagon’s appropriations – if he can find them.

And if, by some miracle, he succeeds there where all others have failed, he should start rummaging through the pork barrel that was used to deliver the Highway and Transportation Bill to the White House for him to sign. The one with the millions earmarked for Alaska to build that bridge to nowhere.

MISSION NOT ACCOMPLISHED

The editorial below is from the Jordan Times in Amman.


The world's leaders last week got as close as they could to outlawing terrorism, but still steered clear of defining it. This came about when the UN Security Council met on Wednesday at the head-of-state level to adopt a resolution calling on states to outlaw any incitement or encouragement to terrorism, but skirted around the contentious subject of stating precisely what qualifies as terrorism.

Unfortunately, UN member states still cannot agree on something that should have been relatively easy to define, ostensibly because of the political implication and ramifications associated with drawing a crystal clear line between terrorism and acts of liberation. Yet, all nations know very well what terrorism is all about, although they are not quite ready to commit themselves to clearly defined boundaries that separate terrorism from lawful resort to arms.

The definition of terrorism has defied the international community for decades. There was a determined effort to give terrorism a legal expression at the Rome Conference that adopted the Final Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), at Turkey's initiative, in a bid to include it on the list of international crimes that would come within the jurisdiction of the ICC. Ankara's initiative failed to win wide support for the very same reasons that prevented the international community and the UN Security Council to come up with an internationally recognised definition of terrorism. Despite this apparent failure, there are already sufficient “legal hints” on what constitutes terrorism. The Geneva humanitarian law prohibits the killing of non-combatants or targeting civilians, especially children, women and the elderly.

This alone should have been enough to provide a legal basis for a definition of terrorism. Yet the international community could not see the obvious! The UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights also came close to outlawing terrorism when it stipulated, in Article 20, that “any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence [and] shall be prohibited by law.” It goes without saying that terrorism as we know it entails all elements of incitement to discrimination, hostility and violence.

Why the world leaders' summit could not come up with a definition of terrorism defies logic and common sense. By confining themselves to outlawing any incitement, encouragement or promotion of terrorism without giving the phenomenon a workable definition, the leaders who represented their nations at the UN Security Council have obviously failed in one of their most important missions.

A Man is Tortured, and the U.S. Shrugs?

The editorial below was published on Monday, September 20 by the Toronto Globe and Mail.


Regrets? Over the torture of one measly Canadian? No sir. Not the United States of America.

David Wilkins, the U.S. Ambassador to Canada, was eye-poppingly cavalier when asked about the Maher Arar affair. Mr. Arar, a Canadian citizen, was deported by the United States to Syria, his birthplace, where he was held for 10 months in a cell three feet wide, six feet long and seven feet high. He is now back, and the Canadian government has been holding a lacerating public inquiry into its role, however limited, in his nightmare. The U.S. government has refused (under Mr. Wilkins's predecessor, Paul Cellucci) to participate in the inquiry.

As described by Canadian Press reporter Jim Brown, Mr. Wilkins "seemed puzzled" when asked if his government had regrets about the Arar affair. "You talking about regrets by the United States? The United States made that decision [to deport Arar] based on the facts it had, in the best interests of the people of the United States, and we stand behind it."

He said that the United States has to make "tough decisions," that the war on terror means "you don't get second chances," that there would probably be more deportations and that Canadians who hold dual citizenship should consider themselves forewarned they could find themselves in Mr. Arar's shoes some day.

About that "tough decision" to deport Mr. Arar to Syria: Mr. Arar was taken out in the middle of the night under police guard and put on an airplane. There had been an administrative hearing late on that Sunday night, but he had no lawyer present. He had no opportunity to make his case before a judge responsible both for screening the evidence against him (the United States suspected him of being an al-Qaeda agent) and weighing any risk he might have posed against the possibility that he would face torture in Syria. He had no chance for due process. Some decision.

Mr. Wilkins, who speaks on behalf of President George W. Bush, was criticized in this space yesterday for his comments dismissing concerns about U.S. guns finding their way to the streets of Toronto. Now he is similarly dismissive of the fate of a Canadian citizen shipped to a known torture state by his government. (If Mr. Arar is an al-Qaeda member, nothing that has emerged publicly has provided convincing evidence.) Mr. Wilkins evidently feels it is pointless to fret about due process in a dangerous time. What, us worry?

The Arar affair was a test case of civil liberties in a time of crisis. The usual safeguards of a democracy were tossed out the window, and an innocent man was crushed. In the world according to Mr. Wilkins, no one should despair if there are more Arars.

Monday, September 19, 2005

KATRINA AND AFRICAN AMERICANS

By William Fisher

On the morning after President George W. Bush promised to carry out “one of the largest reconstruction efforts the world has ever seen,” a coalition of African American leaders laid out their vision of what needs to be done to restore the physical and human damage wrought by Hurricane Katrina.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) urged President Bush and Congress to “set an inclusive and proactive agenda in addressing problems caused by Hurricane Katrina”.

The group said relief efforts should also take into consideration the growing poverty crisis in the Gulf region and other parts of the United States.

Bruce S. Gordon, NAACP President and Chief Executive Officer, said, “We want to make sure that going forward there are safeguards to assure that people displaced by Hurricane Katrina will be the first in line to get jobs rebuilding the affected areas. In addition, we want President Bush to see that there are safeguards to assure equity in the distribution of rebuilding funds and that minority contractors have a fair chance to be awarded some of the work that will be necessary to rebuild New Orleans and other affected communities.”

In a press conference, coalition leaders also called on the Justice Department to review all arrests and detentions to ensure survivors are able to vote in local elections, including the February 2006 elections.

The Coalition, which met at Howard University, issued a “Call to Action” that outlines steps and recommendations to achieve eight “critical” goals.

Rep. Melvin Watt (D., NC), Chairman, Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), said, “The CBC is absolutely committed to the principles addressed in this call to action and we will work across party lines” to have them carried out. The action steps and recommendations proposed by the coalition include:

Ensure displaced families’ immediate and long-term right to return to the Gulf Coast region.

Provide temporary housing at military bases currently closed in the Gulf Coast region.

Provide economic incentives for displaced families to return to the region.

Rebuild and reconnect families and children.

Establish $100 billion Family Reconstruction Fund (providing unemployment assistance, job training, school placement, finding separated children, etc).

Ensure that local residents have first choice at jobs and contracts in rebuilding effort.

Establish a Gulf Coast Region Reconstruction Fund for rebuilding homes, businesses and universities.

Establish timeline to rebuild colleges and universities, including historically black universities, Xavier, Dillard, Southern and Jackson State (Mississippi).

Set a 50 percent residency target for all contracts and a 40 percent minority vendor target for all reconstruction.

Place a moratorium on all contracts until civil rights provision can be reinstituted.

Provide physical and mental health assistance.

Order the admittance of minority community-based counselors in facilities with evacuees nationwide.

Assure health benefits to all affected citizens for a period no less than 24 months.

Ensure displaced persons’ ability to vote in state and local elections.

Ensure homeowners right of first refusal to reclaim property.

Freeze all foreclosure proceedings against property in affected areas for a minimum of 12 months.

Monitor distribution of resources by federal agencies, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), part of the Department of Homeland Security.

Establish a diverse commission to monitor the equitable distribution of relief resources by FEMA and major relief agencies as well as the equitable reconstruction of the affected region.

Develop a comprehensive strategy to address poverty crisis in America.

Earlier, the NAACP urged Congress to establish a Hurricane Katrina Compensation Fund similar to one that was created for victims of the September 11 terrorist attack.

The 911 fund was created by Congress 11 days after the attacks that toppled the World Trade Center office towers in New York City in 2001. Historically, there have been federally administrated victim compensation funds for more than 100 years.

NAACP volunteers and staff have been delivering relief supplies to displaced persons in Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama. The organization has set up a
command center in Biloxi.

It is also working with several organizations including the National Medical Association, the Black Psychiatrists Association, the American Psychiatrists Association and American Counseling Association to help hurricane victims deal with the acute trauma and stress as a result of being displaced and losing friends and loved ones.

In his speech from New Orleans last night, President Bush touched on some of the Coalition’s proposals, but did not address many others. He said, however, that he would be open to ideas on what to do and how best to do it.

Mr. Bush said, “The work that has begun in the Gulf Coast region will be one of the largest reconstruction efforts the world has ever seen.”

Ron Daniels, Executive Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, says, "President Bush's recognition that ‘racial discrimination’ played a role in the impoverished conditions that hampered so many black and poor people from evacuating prior to the onslaught of hurricane Katrina is too little too late. He should have publicly apologized for a lapse of leadership that caused grief, pain and death to so many people. The coalition of African American leaders is absolutely on target in demanding a ‘right of return’ for all residents and affirmative action programs and procedures to ensure that contracts, construction and the redevelopment of the area will be done in a fair and equitable manner. The last thing we need is the gentrification and Disneyfication of New Orleans."

On September 8, President Bush issued a proclamation suspending the
minimum wage requirements for relief workers engaged in Katrina recovery operations.

But according to a report from the Congressional Research Service (CRS), said Steven Aftergood in Secrecy News, published by the Federation of American Scientists, “In order to do so, he relied upon a statutory authority that has been dormant for 30 years and that appears to be legally inoperative”.

"I find that the conditions caused by Hurricane Katrina constitute a 'national emergency' within the meaning of section 3147 of title 40, United States Code," Bush declared on Sep. 8 as he removed the Davis Bacon Act wage supports for workers in Louisiana, and portions of Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

But this emergency statute was one of numerous authorities that were rendered dormant by the National Emergencies Act of 1976, and that can only be activated by certain procedural formalities that were absent in this case,” Aftergood wrote.

He said, “The president must formally declare a national emergency under the National Emergencies Act, and he must specify which standby legal authorities he proposes to activate so as to permit congressional restraint of emergency powers.”

"Pres. Bush proceeded as if the National Emergencies Act did not exist."

Aftergood also noted that California Democrat Rep. George Miller and several dozen other members of Congress have introduced a bill to undo what the president has proposed. The measure would "reinstate the application of the wage requirements of the Davis-Bacon Act to Federal contracts in areas affected by Hurricane Katrina.”

9/11 AND KATRINA

By William Fisher

The U.S. Government’s sluggish and uncoordinated response to Hurricane Katrina again drew public attention to some of the key recommendations of the 9/11 Commission that have yet to be implemented or have made unsatisfactory or marginal progress.

This is the conclusion reached in a new report by the 9/11 Commissioners, now operating privately as the Public Discourse Project. Since the end of its public mandate, the former commissioners have held a series of public hearings on what the government has done – and failed to do – to correct the flaws it exposed in its best-selling report last year.

Many of their recommendations are as relevant to natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina as they are to man-made terrorist attacks.

Among the steps on which the report says the government has made only “minimal progress” is the allocation of radio spectrum that would allow police, fire, emergency medical services and other first responders to communicate with one another, and the National Guard and agencies of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

This was a major shortcoming on 9/11, and cost several hundred lives. Authorities experienced the exact problem during Katrina, four years after 9/11.

The Report said legislation pending before Congress would compel the return of the analog broadcast spectrum and its reallocation, including for public safety purposes. “Congress should mandate this reallocation by the earliest possible date.”

Four senior lawmakers, writing in The New York Times this morning, said, “After watching the horrific communications breakdown that occurred during Katrina, will we wait another four years before acting? How many more lives will be lost? What kind of catastrophic disaster is necessary for Congress to give these heroes the tools they need to save lives?” The four are Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) and Reps. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) and Curt Weldon (R-Pa.).

The Commissioners’ report also charged that the government has made only minimal progress toward the adoption of an Incident Command System (ICS). “When multiple agencies or multiple jurisdictions are involved, they should adopt a unified command. … In the future, the (DHS) should consider making funding contingent on aggressive and realistic training in accordance with ICS and unified command procedures.”

The lack of a unified command system was one of the major obstacles contributing to widespread chaos and confusion during Hurricane Katrina.

The Commissioners said, “Many fire and police departments and state and local authorities are already well versed in using the ICS — others are being trained in it. Hurricane Katrina demonstrates a major failure: the absence of unified command…Clear lines of command and control for responding authorities are essential to minimize civilian and responder casualties.”

The Commissioners said the DHS set October 2004 as the deadline for full Incident Command System compliance ‘to the maximum extent possible’. ”The hard deadline for full compliance as a condition for federal preparedness funds is October 1, 2006. This date must not slip. All jurisdictions must train and exercise the Incident Command System as it applies to them”, the report warned.

The Commissioners also gave the government a failing grade on preparing a plan to “regularly assess the types of threats the country faces to determine (a) the adequacy of the government’s plans—and the progress against those plans—to protect America’s critical infrastructure and (b) the readiness of the government to respond to the threats that the United States might face.”

It graded the government’s progress in carrying out this assessment as “unsatisfactory”.

It said, “The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 required DHS to issue a report by June 15, 2005, assessing the risks and vulnerabilities of the nation’s critical infrastructure. This report has not yet been released.”

This type of report would have assessed the nation’s ability to respond to natural disasters such as Katrina, as well as terrorist threats.

“Regular national assessments of threat, vulnerability, and preparedness will ensure that government efforts are making measurable progress in reducing the overall terrorist threat. DHS should produce the report…as soon as possible, and demonstrate its capability to regularly review and modify the assessment to reflect the changing threat environment and state of readiness,” the report said.

Finally, it urged the DHS to encourage the private sector, principally the insurance and credit-rating industries, to establish standards for private preparedness, adding that that only minimal progress has been made in this area.

The Commissioners recalled that in a May 2005 speech to private sector representatives, (DHS) Secretary (Michael) Chertoff “correctly noted that preparedness is not solely a government responsibility. The insurance and credit-rating industries are beginning to incorporate national preparedness standards into their underwriting and risk-analysis criteria. Leaders in the legal profession are beginning to evaluate the National Preparedness Standard as a “legal standard of care.”

Still, it said, “awareness of the Standard throughout the corporate sector is low".

“In another attack and in any natural disaster, private-sector employees will likely again be on the front lines. As the 9/11 Commission Report showed, employees of enterprises that institutionalize a high level of emergency preparedness are far more likely to survive in a disaster.”

The Commissioners urged corporate leaders to “take the lead in encouraging all American businesses, especially those in high-risk areas, or who own critical national infrastructure, to incorporate National Preparedness Standards into
their business practices. DHS should make private-sector preparedness a higher priority. The insurance and credit-rating industries should incorporate the National Preparedness Standard into their evaluations.”

Prof. Beau Grosscup of California State University at Chico says, “This provides further proof of two current political realities. First, for the Bush administration the real purpose of the 9/11 Commission was to shift the blame away from it and the Pentagon and onto the 'Clinton-wrecked' intelligence agencies, notably the FBI. Secondly, and more important to the future of the nation, making government work goes against the Bush Administration's privatization agenda and thus is to be systematically avoided.”

HUNGRY AT GITMO

By William Fisher

A hunger strike by that began in June by terror suspects imprisoned by the U.S. military at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (GITMO) – and reportedly settled – has been restarted and is growing, with 15 detainees hospitalized and 13 being fed through tubes.

The number of hunger strikers varies. The military has said at various times the number is 89 and 76. But a lawyer for a group of detainees says the number is now 200 and growing.

“As far as their reasons for hunger striking, it seems to be a myriad of different reasons that they all have, the largest one seems to be like they want to protest their continued (detention),” said British lawyer Clive Stafford-Smith, who represents 40 detainees, including one of the hunger strikers — Briton Omar Deghayes, 36.

He added, “Their future is uncertain from a legal point view so they are trying to find out exactly what their future entails.”

The hunger strike is the second since late June. The first ended after the authorities made a number of promises, including better access to books, and bottled drinking water.

"Eventually, because people were near death, the military caved and let us set up a prisoner welfare council of six prisoners,” one detainee is reported to have said.

But the prisoners claim that they were tricked into resuming eating. One said, "The administration promised that if we gave them 10 days, they would bring the prison into compliance with the Geneva conventions. They said this had been approved by (Defense Secretary) Donald Rumsfeld.”

He said, “As a result of these promises, we agreed to end the strike on July 28. "It is now August 11. They have betrayed our trust (again).”

A military spokesman, Sgt. Justin Behrens, said in a written response to questions submitted by the Associated Press, that some of the striking detainees “have not eaten for a month. The others have refused at least nine consecutive meals. Fifteen have been hospitalized and 13 of those were being fed through tubes. Medics are monitoring all 89 and checking their vital signs daily.”

Previously, the military has said that 76 inmates were participating in the hunger strike.

“People are desperate”, said lawyer Stafford-Smith. “They have been there three years. They were promised that the Geneva Conventions would be respected and various changes would happen and, unfortunately, the (U.S.) government reneged on that.”

He added, “Sadly, it is very hard to see how a very obstinate military and a very desperate group of prisoners are ever going to come to an agreement.”

Another Guantanamo prison spokesman, Maj. Jeff Weir, said the military would not allow the detainees’ conditions to become life-threatening.

“Basically, if you stop eating and wait several weeks or months, it is a slow form of suicide,” Weir told British Broadcasting Corp. radio and television. “No detention facility in the world will deliberately let their people commit suicide, so we can’t let that happen.”

Statements from the hunger strikers were declassified by the U.S. government last week and turned over the Stafford-Smith. He said they reveal that the men are starving themselves in protest at the conditions in the camp and at their alleged maltreatment - including desecration of the Qur'an - by American guards. The statements were written on August 11.

In another declassified statement, British detainee Omar Deghayes, said: "In July, some people took no water for many days. I was part of the strike and I am again this time. Some people were taken to hospital, and put on drip feeds, but they pulled the needles out, as they preferred to die. There were two doctors. One wanted to force-feed the men, but they got legal advice saying that they could not if the men refused. In the end the military agreed to negotiate. We came off the strike [on July 28 2005], but we gave them two weeks, and if the changes were not implemented we would go back on strike."

That is apparently what occurred. However, the Department of Defense today declined to comment beyond Maj. Weir’s prepared statement.

U.S. human rights groups are expressing concern “We are very concerned about the health of individuals held at Guantanamo,” Avi Cover, an attorney at Human Rights First, said, “The hunger strike is a tragic and inevitable consequence of a detention system that is distinguished by secrecy, contempt for the rule of law, and that is fraught with physical and mental abuses,” he said, adding, “At the very least independent monitors and independent physicians should be permitted access to the prisoners. Family members of those striking should be notified of their relatives’ physical condition and whether they have been hospitalized.”

Like Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, infamous for its much-photographed abuse of prisoners, Guantanamo has become a lightning rod for criticism by human rights advocates, lawyers, foreign governments, and many American lawmakers.

Sen. Lindsay Graham, a conservative Republican Senator from South Carolina, has called on lawmakers to enact legislation that would force the U.S. military to strictly adhere to the U.S. Code of Military Justice (USCMJ) in its treatment of prisoners. The USMCJ forbids cruel and degrading treatment.

Others in the U.S. Congress have called for an independent commission to investigate conditions at Guantanamo. These include Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican who was held in captivity for eight years and tortured by the North Vietnamese during the Vietnam War.

Many American lawmakers, including Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, have called for the prison facility to be shut down.

But Guantanamo has also had its defenders. For example, Sen. Jeff Sessions, a Republican from Alabama, told a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that the prison “is ideally placed, “overlooking the water…It would make a beautiful resort.” Obviously looking for endorsements from influential opinion leaders, he urged his fellow senators to visit the facility.

And the powerful chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, put on a presentation of what he called GITMO’s “five-star cuisine: Lemon fish, two types of fruit, two types of vegetables”. This is lemon fish,” he told a press conference. “And this is what the 20th hijacker [of the September 11th attacks] and Osama bin Laden's bodyguards will be eating this week in Guantanamo."

The uncertain legal status of Guantanamo detainees has been a principal source of controversy. Various Federal Courts have expressed differing views on whether detainees have access to the U.S. criminal justice system, or whether they can be held without charge indefinitely as ‘enemy combatants’ as determined by President George W. Bush. The military legal review system at Guantanamo has been widely criticized.

There are numerous appeals of court decisions now on their way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Brian J. Foley, a professor at the Florida Coastal School of Law in Jacksonville, says the hunger strike is “a direct result of the minimal legal process that our leaders, using our government and in our name, have deigned to provide for these men to prove they're not ‘enemy combatants’. The process doesn't give these men a meaningful opportunity to be heard. Nor do most of these men have access to lawyers or the outside world. What else is left for them to do?”

The prison at Guantanamo opened in January 2002 and now holds around 520 prisoners from 40 countries. More than 230 others have been released or transferred to the custody of their home governments. Many were captured during the U.S. war in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attacks.

U.S. PRESS VIEWS EGYPT’S ELECTION

By William Fisher

The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies’ report on the Egyptian elections says the mass media were generally biased toward the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) candidate. The performance of audio and visual mass media was different from state-owned and private mass media. State-owned newspapers, in particular daily newspapers, continued to be flagrantly biased toward the ruling party's candidate, as they were during the first week of the campaign, it said.

In the U.S., where media is not controlled by the State but is usually owned by large corporations, journalists and commentators appeared to divide neatly into two camps. One clung to the Bush Administration’s view that the election represented “a first step toward democracy.” The other was that the election and the process leading up to it was “a shameless sham” intended only to ensure the uninterrupted flow of aid funds from Washington to Cairo.

In a real democratic election, said the New York Times, “The ruling party should not be allowed to shape the election arrangements and intimidate voters. The candidates should be able to compete on a reasonably level playing field. Impartial observers should be welcome and given time to deploy themselves at polling places nationwide. Not one of these defining features was evident in last week's Egyptian presidential voting, whose main purpose was to usher President Hosni Mubarak into his fifth six-year term.”

The San Francisco Chronicle said, “In effect, the BBC's Cairo-based correspondent Fergus Nichol pointed out, alluding to influence from the Bush administration in preparing for this latest ‘democratic’ contest, Mubarak's regime had been ‘forced by outside pressure into an election it never wanted. ...’ As a result, Mubarak ‘set out not to adapt to change, but to control it, in the process drawing a new template for cynical election management’.”

The influential Washington Post wrote, “For the first time in Egyptian history, multiple candidates were allowed to stand in the election. And many assume
that credit is due the Bush administration for its persistent pleas for democracy in the Arab world. But the far more significant outcome of the presidential election is that over the last year, as Egyptians anxiously anticipated election day, a strong and significant opposition movement against Mubarak went public. And who is the backbone of this opposition movement? The Islamists. For the first time since the 1970s, thousands of Egyptians of all political and religious persuasions joined forces in street protests, demanding political reform and an end to the regime. While a fractured opposition had operated behind the scenes for years, this election inspired secularists, leftists and, most of all, Islamists to take the unprecedented step of coordinating their various campaigns against Mubarak's expected victory.”

And in the heartland of America, the Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Journal-Sentinel wrote, “One in every four Arabs in the world is an Egyptian. Mainly because it is so huge, Egypt has traditionally been the most influential country in the Arab world, which, in turn, is why the slightly democratic election that was held in that country last week was an event to be saluted. ‘Slightly democratic’ is a term of faint praise, which is what President Hosni Mubarak deserves. The election he permitted - or acquiesced in - featured nine opposition candidates, and it allowed for the possibility, however remote, of a Mubarak defeat after 24 years in power.”

On America’s West Coast, the Los Angeles Times editorialized, “When Mubarak announced in late July that he would run in a real presidential campaign, it might have been a watershed moment for the United States. Egypt, its most stalwart Arab ally, was finally coming around to democracy. But then came events that undermined what seemed like a positive step: security forces cracking down on peaceful public protests; the government disqualifying 19 candidates without explanation; state-run press and TV openly stumping for Mubarak despite rules requiring them to be neutral. Mubarak also refused international monitors for the election, disregarding U.S. requests. The result was an election under the watchful eye of the state, with voters filling out ballots as Mubarak supporters peered over their shoulders. The turnout was 23%, with fewer than one in four registered voters casting a ballot.”

One of America’s more thoughtful liberal news-weeklies, The New Republic, said, “Last week, in the state controlled newspapers, the president offered a vague promise to expand civil liberties, though he stopped short of promising to release some of the thousands of political prisoners who have languished in jails for years under the Emergency Laws. The Muslim Brotherhood, which gained new stature and visibility during the campaign, has vowed to keep the pressure on the regime. ‘We want the abolishment of all the laws that limit the freedom of the Egyptian citizens’, Mohammed Mahdi Akef, supreme guide of the Brotherhood, told Newsweek. ‘We will not rest until the people of Egypt know what it is to live in a free society’. In the November parliamentary elections, analysts predict, the regime will almost certainly allow opposition parties to make substantial gains, though not enough to loosen the regime's hold on power. The question for the newly energized opposition--and for the youngbloods--is whether Egyptians will settle for that.”

USA Today, one of the country’s few national newspapers, wrote, “The government said the decision to allow challengers signals a move toward greater democracy in a country that has seen only authoritarian rule for more than a half-century. Opponents dismissed the reform claims as a sham, noting that Mubarak's party controls most of the government, including the election process, and that restrictions make it difficult for opponents to gain ground. The country's biggest Islamic group, the Muslim Brotherhood, is banned entirely.”

In Boston, the Globe newspaper wrote, “There should be no illusions about the authenticity of Wednesday's presidential election in Egypt. Even if reports of workers for President Hosni Mubarak's ruling party paying people to vote for him are unfounded, and even if objective monitors had been permitted at all 10,000 polling stations in Egypt, the exercise, with its foregone conclusion, would still be a derisory mimicking of a truly democratic election.”

Whether the election created an opening for a more inclusive, more transparent and more representative process in the future will be argued for years. Speaking personally, I wouldn’t hold my breath!

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Arab Leaders and How They Treat Public Criticism

By Dr. Khaled Batarfi

Arab officials are not used to any sort of criticism, especially in public, and don’t tolerate open debate about their performance.

Now and then, I have off-the-record conversations with Arab leaders of various levels in the public and private sectors. Most are unelected.

I ask them: Why don’t they allow intellectual, peaceful dissent and free discussion of ideas and thoughts? They have the power to pick and choose among proposals; so why the imposed silence and unilateral governance?

Their rationale goes like this: Talk to me respectfully and I’ll listen and consider. Do that in public and you put me in a serious dilemma. If I respond positively, I admit to having made mistakes and you take credit and steal the victory. Worse, by relenting to your demands, I show weakness. You can’t run a business, let alone a country like that.

Besides, in our culture, you don’t humiliate your leader, be it a father, a boss, a sheikh or a president. We shouldn’t copy less respectful societies in this regard.

Eastern societies are different. We don’t go around smearing the image of our heads and expect them to take it kindly. Of course leaders get angry; they are only human. Of course they punish offenders; they have prestige, security and unity to protect. Wrong approaches deserve bad receptions.

If you are sincere, then don’t make a scene. If public interest is your goal, come and talk to me in private. Let me take the credit for doing the right thing. It won’t hurt you, but makes me stronger. However, if it is fame, political gain or any other self-interest you are after, I won’t allow you to gain it at my expense. I will fight you to the bitter end. And you will most likely lose, because I have the muscles and you are toothless.

An Arab public official may add: Make a noise and you might get the outside world’s attention. Some foreigners might take up your cause. Western officials might call on your behalf. This helps me prove you are an agent and traitor. Human rights organizations might protest. Pressure may mount. But it is up to me to set you free. And if I do, I could make your life miserable. You can live outside prison, but the whole country will be your jail. The difference is: I pay your expenses inside, but make sure you are not able to pay them outside. Your call! Your choice!

In response I say: “Those with tight chests and short breaths are not good for leadership,” as an Arab proverb says. If you are so sensitive and thin-skinned, be kind enough to leave the headache for those who are not. You are right to be offended if critics were intruding into your personal affairs that don’t affect your job performance. But if people are criticizing, demanding or advising on issues that concern their well being, then you ought to listen, respect and accept.

Say we are a traveling group. We choose you as our organizer and treasurer. You start acting without our authorization, slipping your gambling loses into the budget or changing our travel plans. Isn’t it our right to raise concerns and objections, present suggestions and proposals and call into review your administrative performance? Why do we have to come, one by one, in private, to discuss such issues with you? Why can’t we debate them among us all? And why is no one but you entitled to take credit for our achievements and proposals?

Most disasters in the history of mankind were caused by dictators. Good governance requires teamwork. No one person, no matter how brilliant, decent and strong, can successfully lead for long without decision sharing. Be it a family, small business, sports team or nation, people need and must take part in the managing of their own affairs.

Systems differ, but the basics are the same. Mechanisms may be tailored to suit different cultures and environments, but they all pursue the same goal — public participation in the decision-making process.

Ordinary citizens must have the divine, constitutionally protected right to voice their opinions publicly or privately without fear of persecution, isolation or retaliation. They should be entitled to expect respectful and systematic responses to their questions, interaction with their proposals, and addressing of their concerns.

Some agree with such logic — intellectually. The problem is, when we talk we are all men of principles. When we act, we are chasers of benefits. Without any protecting, overriding and correcting mechanism, leaders will always pursue their own interests — first.

Liar, Liar

By Jason Miller



If George Bush had encountered the same fate as Jim Carrey’s character in the movie Liar Liar, and had been rendered incapable of lying, America would not have been subjected to thirty minutes of manipulative propaganda on 9/15. Compelled to tell the truth, Bush’s oration would have captured the reality of the situation in New Orleans, and of life for the poor and working class in an America dominated by a wealthy aristocracy:

THE PRESIDENT: Good evening. It is a very good evening for me. I am still an obscenely wealthy and powerful autocratic leader of a nation of sheeple who falsely believe they are free. While I am surrounded by misery and suffering, I make this presentation of shameless propaganda from a comfortable, beautiful stage set while surrounded by an entourage of thugs who assure my safety. I am speaking to you from what is left of the city of New Orleans, a gem of an American city which was gutted by a powerful force of nature, and by the insidious social experiment undertaken by my malevolent administration. Millions of lives were destroyed by a cruel and wasteful storm, and by a cruel and wasteful federal government over which I zealously preside.



In the aftermath of Katrina, the haves of this nation have gleefully watched the have-nots dispersed to the four corners of this great nation. As the victims search for loved ones and grieve for the dead, America's attention is diverted from my nomination of a Supreme Court Justice who will strengthen the tyranny I have created, Karl Rove's criminal behavior, and my administration's numerous war crimes related to Iraq. The lies and exaggerations of my media lap-dogs have persuaded many Americans that blacks are undisciplined animals who live off of government hand-outs, feeding my agenda to end social welfare programs and perpetuating the lucrative prison-industrial complex. With their persistent cries for civil rights, blacks have been a thorn in the side of the American aristocracy long enough.



These days of joy and elation for me and my base have been marred by acts of courage and kindness by members of the Coast Guard, who rescued tens of thousands of the undesirables in New Orleans. Rest assured that my administration will deal with them accordingly.



I have met first responders who performed their duties in spite of their own suffering. Steve Scott of the Biloxi Fire Department aided in rescue efforts despite having lost his house and car. For his obstruction of the purge of undesirables, I will see to it that he loses more than just his physical possessions.



Across the Gulf Coast, the people whose suffering I facilitated are showing a spirit and a faith in God which not even I could crush. However, there is a powerful determination amongst corporations, contractors, and entrepreneurs to take what is left of these battered areas and utilize them for personal financial gain. Like me, they have no compassion or humility. Our relentless bid for wealth and power will eventually break the backs of the downtrodden.



To the victims of the hurricane dispelled far and wide, I send you this message. Many soft, weak people I call "liberals" care about you. In contrast, my base of the obscenely wealthy and I are relishing your misery. We are salivating at the opportunities to expand our wealth by rebuilding your city with you out of our way. The Crescent City will rise again, and as it does, so will the balances in our bank accounts.



The National Guard and our hired thugs from Blackwater have nearly completed the task of quelling the New Orleans insurgency. Those thugs who were stealing food to survive or staying in their homes to protect their meager possessions have nearly been suppressed. Let the scenes of armed militia battering down doors of private homes be a lesson to you other potential dissidents across this great nation.



As we have restored "law and order" to New Orleans and have scattered the "evacuees" to the wind, we have taken care of the truly important business. With that mass of worthless humanity out of our way, we have resumed trade in the Port of New Orleans, restored the flow of precious gasoline that ensures profits for me and my cronies in the oil industry, and have repaired the levees to prepare for the impending land grab by wealthy business owners.



What I want you to believe is that our first commitment is to meet the immediate needs of the refugees. To help convince you of my concern for them, I have even started calling them evacuees rather than refugees. However, the reality is that the aid the federal government is offering to the evacuees is window dressing to maintain the facade that we still live in a democracy that is "of the people, by the people, and for the people". After days of inaction on my part, Karl Rove reminded me that if we didn't throw the poor some scraps, we could be looking at civil unrest and rioting across the nation. For assistance, please call this number: 1-877-EAT CAKE.



To ensure that Americans believe we are helping the evacuees, but more importantly to start the rebuilding efforts, I have ordered $60 billion in aid. My friends in Congress gave me their usual rubber stamp. Know that this administration has been so generous with your tax dollars because the money will be flowing into the pockets of our friends at Shaw Contracting, Halliburton, and Bechtel National. I have ensured that their profits will be further enhanced by suspending that vexatious Davis-Bacon Act. Forget the damage caused by Katrina. The real tragedy would be if my friends were obligated to pay America's working people reasonable wages, thereby cutting into their disaster profiteering.



Our second commitment, and our true agenda, is to rebuild the Gulf Coast. We will not rest until Trent Lott and I are able to share a drink on the front porch of his newly rebuilt home. Many of the 250,000 uninhabitable homes in New Orleans will be bull-dozed to make way for developments to benefit corporations and the wealthy. While we are orchestrating the theft of their homes, we will implement programs to ensure that the poor, black former denizens of New Orleans are permanently relocated to slums and decaying urban cores of other major cities in the US.



The federal government will be heavily involved in the rebuilding process. I want my people to have ultimate authority to guarantee that my people prosper from this calamity. Many of the same contractors who were awarded large sums to rebuild the infrastructure in Iraq, and have bilked America's taxpayers of billions of dollars, will get the same opportunity here in New Orleans. We will see to it that the city of New Orleans changes its zoning laws, to prevent the re-emergence of the disgusting “jungles” populated by poor black “animals” which existed before Katrina.



I pledge a third commitment: The communities that we rebuild will be better than those before the disaster. We have already eliminated the persistent poverty and racial discrimination prevalent in this region by evacuating the residents to various cities across the nation. Once this region is rebuilt, there will be a multitude of new businesses, including some token minority-owned businesses to pacify the black community. When houses are rebuilt, most of the residents will be white so they can own and not rent.



In keeping with our emphasis on businesses and profit over humanity, I am proposing a Gulf Opportunity Zone in areas touched by the disaster. This program will further the interests of entrepreneurs and business people, and move our nation closer to the raw capitalism that is so near and dear to my heart. The Zone will grant loans and tax incentives to business people so they can begin prospering again while the poor continue to suffer. I want you to believe that entrepreneurship breaks the cycle of poverty, but the reality is that without a reasonable degree of government regulation, it perpetuates impoverishment by keeping money in the hands of entrepreneurs who pay meager wages and offer limited benefits to their employees.



I am also proposing Worker Recovery Accounts to help evacuees find work. This will provide accounts of up to $5000.00 from which evacuees can draw for education, job training and child care as they search for work. I want assurances that the poor who are receiving federal assistance are not using the money to buy crack, and this program will weed out the "trash" of our society.



The Urban Homesteading Act, another of my programs I will submit for automatic endorsement by a Congress which is dominated by members of my wealthy base will take the property in the region which the federal government will appropriate from its rightful owners and create a lottery for low-income individuals. Lottery winners will receive a plot of land on which they will be required to build a home. My friends in the mortgage industry will reap the windfalls of providing the financing. Those lottery winners whose credit is too weak to qualify for a loan from my friends will have to rely on Habitat for Humanity to build their homes. If that does not work out, Wal-Mart sells some very affordable tents.



New Orleans presents a unique challenge. It is a city built below sea level. Now that we have expelled the scourges of humanity, my Army Corps of Engineers will make the levees bigger and better. I will spare no expense ensuring that my friends' investments are protected from future Katrinas.



We have witnessed armies of compassion as Americans have given generously to mitigate the plight of the suffering in New Orleans and throughout the Gulf Region. Because I remained on vacation and FEMA acted with gross ineptitude, the burden to aid the storm victims initially fell upon private charities, organizations like the Red Cross, individual Americans, and religious organizations. This is "compassionate conservatism" in action, and I am delighted to see it working so well.



I want you to know that my administration will capitalize upon this disaster, much like we did with the 9/11 tragedy. I have already apprised you of the $60 billion which will flow into the coffers of companies with ties to members of my administration and their friends. The financial windfall will be wonderful, but the true benefit lies in the opportunity to expand our power. I realize that like the WTC catastrophe, the cataclysm in New Orleans has left Americans feeling fearful and insecure. We will prey on this trepidation to broaden executive powers and sweep away the remaining semblance of a republic in America.



America, Big Brother is there for you. Above all, remember:



It is now clear that a challenge on this scale requires greater federal authority and a broader role for the armed forces---the institution of our government most capable of massive logistical operations on a moment's notice.



While I realize that Americans expect a more effective response from the federal government when a disaster of this magnitude happens, they need to realize that under my New American Century, domestic programs like FEMA have been rendered impotent. The military is the essence of our government. The US military budget, including money for its ancillary departments, is over $600 billion per year. This siphons money away from domestic, humanitarian programs like emergency response, education, and health care. But the good news is that the rich who have high stakes in entities like the Carlyle Group get richer as a result. Besides, my delayed and feeble response in New Orleans enabled the Gulf Region to rid itself of many of its criminal, useless inhabitants.



Congress is preparing an investigation of the situation in New Orleans. However, the results will be similar to the probes into 9/11 and Abu Gharib. My administration will see to it that no evidence of our culpability comes to light, and if perpetrators are punished, they will be lower echelon scapegoats.



The trials in the Gulf Coast remind Americans of their strength, as they struggle against the forces of nature, and against the corruption and criminal acts of my administration. These challenges also remind them that the poor and working class are bound together, and that despair touches all of them. Meanwhile my rich friends and I raise glasses of outrageously expensive champagne to toast the new opportunities for enrichment and empowerment.



Because my rich, sheltered existence makes it impossible to empathize, I cannot tell you that I understand what you are feeling while you are sitting on the porch where your home once stood or lying on a cot in an over-crowded government internment center. I can say that I doubt that you can imagine a bright future, but rest assured it will come for some of us. My friends and I will prosper at your expense.



Before Katrina and I joined forces to destroy it, New Orleans had a custom for funerals for jazz musicians. Following the funeral procession, a band would play a sorrowful dirge. After the coffin was laid to rest, the band would break into a joyful tune to celebrate the soul's victory over death. No such joyous music will emerge from our new New Orleans. My friends and I will erect a hollow, soulless shrine to the avarice and excesses of capitalism. This I promise you.



Thank you, and may God continue to bless the wealthy of America.

MISSION NOT ACCOMPLISHED

The following editorial appeared in the Jordan Atimes, Amman, Sunday,Sept. 18.


The world's leaders last week got as close as they could to outlawing terrorism, but still steered clear of defining it. This came about when the UN Security Council met on Wednesday at the head-of-state level to adopt a resolution calling on states to outlaw any incitement or encouragement to terrorism, but skirted around the contentious subject of stating precisely what qualifies as terrorism.

Unfortunately, UN member states still cannot agree on something that should have been relatively easy to define, ostensibly because of the political implication and ramifications associated with drawing a crystal clear line between terrorism and acts of liberation. Yet, all nations know very well what terrorism is all about, although they are not quite ready to commit themselves to clearly defined boundaries that separate terrorism from lawful resort to arms.

The definition of terrorism has defied the international community for decades. There was a determined effort to give terrorism a legal expression at the Rome Conference that adopted the Final Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), at Turkey's initiative, in a bid to include it on the list of international crimes that would come within the jurisdiction of the ICC. Ankara's initiative failed to win wide support for the very same reasons that prevented the international community and the UN Security Council to come up with an internationally recognised definition of terrorism. Despite this apparent failure, there are already sufficient “legal hints” on what constitutes terrorism. The Geneva humanitarian law prohibits the killing of non-combatants or targeting civilians, especially children, women and the elderly.

This alone should have been enough to provide a legal basis for a definition of terrorism. Yet the international community could not see the obvious! The UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights also came close to outlawing terrorism when it stipulated, in Article 20, that “any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence [and] shall be prohibited by law.” It goes without saying that terrorism as we know it entails all elements of incitement to discrimination, hostility and violence.

Why the world leaders' summit could not come up with a definition of terrorism defies logic and common sense. By confining themselves to outlawing any incitement, encouragement or promotion of terrorism without giving the phenomenon a workable definition, the leaders who represented their nations at the UN Security Council have obviously failed in one of their most important missions.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

FROM A KATRINA VICTIM

Below is a letter from a Katrina evacuee that appeared in the New Orleans Times Picayune Wednesday, Sept. 14.

If what my family and I are experiencing dealing with
FEMA is indicative of their policies, then God help us
all. Everyone at FEMA should be fired, not just the
head clown.

We are a middle class working family. We have paid
payroll taxes for 37 years and never asked the
government for help before.

When Mayor Ray Nagin advised us to evacuate -- we did. We
left our home in Algiers and have been on the road for over two
weeks, paying as we go for everything out of our pockets.

We didn't drive to the Superdome expecting the
government to take care of us. We didn't pillage the
Dome. We didn't rape anyone. We didn't murder
anyone. We didn't loot our neighbors' homes. We did
the right thing: We evacuated, despite the fact
that I'm awaiting spinal surgery and possible bypass
surgery when we return to New Orleans.

Last week on TV we saw the unfortunate people in the
shelters in Texas receiving their $2,000 awards from
FEMA. It was money badly needed by them and everyone who
has evacuated. Unfortunately, some of those receiving
the money may be the pillagers, rapists and murders from
the Superdome and Convention Center.

I went online and filed a claim with FEMA. Twenty-four hours later the response I received online from FEMA about my claim was that "an inspection of my home was necessary."

Since then, I've called FEMA every day to explain that an inspection
of my home is a little
difficult given we aren't allowed into New Orleans.
Every day I've been told their hands are tied.

Today I received a new excuse why I wasn't being given
the same help as other evacuees. I was told my
application was flagged and being held up because my
wife and I both work and we make money.

Guess we just have to keep digging into our money
until it runs out, and then that will force our
government to help us.

George Avery
New Orleans
Now in Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Friday, September 16, 2005

A Few Thoughts on Dubbya's Address to the Nation

By Christopher Robin Cox

Yesterday, President Bush addressed the nation from what is now the epicenter of American inequality, disaster and controversy: New Orleans.

He of course spent the first few minutes of the speech spewing all the same rhetoric one has come to expect; lots of talk about what a great job the first responders, National Guardsmen et.al. did in the immediate aftermath of the Hurricane. Meanwhile, those incredibly brave and unusually high-minded people - as I have always found them to be in times ogreat emergency - all say they are simply doing thier job. If the George W. Bush Administration had been doing ITS job, there would have been no room for Mayor Nagin - or any other local official for that matter - to drop the ball in this game.

Of course, Dubbya did actually take responsibility for screwing this one up. Are we supposed to like him now that he has apologized for the biggest fuck-up in American history? Did he apologize for the systematic marginalization of the poor in this country being a basic feature of his political agenda? No, I don't think he apologized for that. But, he did indeed admit something I thought I would never hear him, or anyone else in his administration ever admit: that there is poverty and racism in America. I had been pretty much sleeping during the speech until then. He said: "As all of us saw on television, there is also some deep, persistent poverty in this region as well. And that poverty has roots in a history of racial discrimination, which cut off generations from the opportunity of America. We have a duty to confront this poverty with bold action. So let us restore all that we have cherished from yesterday, and let us rise above the legacy of inequality." Wow! I sure woke up when I heard that. Just so you don't think I am lying, here is the text of his address: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2005/09/15/national/w181903D15.DTL

Don't start becoming a fan of the right just yet. There is a nasty sinister side to this speech too. But before I get to that, there were some propositions made by the President that were shockingly logical and, believe it or not, quite socially and economically sound. He proposed the creation of "worker recovery accounts to help those evacuees who need extra help finding work. Under this plan, the federal government would provide recovery accounts of up to $5000, which these evacuees could draw upon to for job training and education to help them get a good job, and for child care expenses during their job search." Man, if you took the word "evacuees" from the statement, one might get the idea our government was suggesting some kind of social democratic welfare state. And if Bush paying attention to the woes of the poor and disposessed was not enough, he even mentioned - now get ready for this - labor union locals. "And I challenge existing organizations - churches, scout troops or labor union locals - to get in touch with their counterparts in Mississippi, Louisiana or Alabama, and learn what htey can do to help," he said.

So, right before our very eyes, George W. Bush has - or at least has "proposed" - that the Gulf region fo the United States become a social democracy, receiving all of the benefits the rest of the country has needed for decades as well, until it can fend for itself. Then we can go back to the racial and economic division that part of the world is famous for.

Just when I thought something was being ushered in that might actually make a real difference in our socioeconomic fabric of life, he brought up the military again. "The system, at every level of government, was not well coordinated and was overshelmed in the first few days. It is now clear that a challenge on this scale requires greater federal authority and a broader role for the armed forces, the institution of our government most capable of massive logistical operations on a moment's notice."

Well, there you have it boys and girls. The federal government is going to give handouts to the Gulf region so that it can again become a huge money-generating tourist spot, full of massive racial adn economic inequality. In the meantime, we are going to reorganize our armed forces to that they can take total control whenever there is a catastrophe. Isn't that what the National Guard is for? And didn't FEMA do a great job of organizing those kinds of efforts before the agency was absorbed into the DHS? Maybe I'm just stupid like the President no doubt thinks I am, but I could swear that everything went down hill when he took office, literally, and now it is going to roll ever more swiftly.

Like the title of my blog says, I am a "mad optimist". That is, I am mad, and I am optimistic. I am mad as hell that I live under the tyranny of the bottom line and the goons who push its propaganda, but I am truly optimistic that these goons will push the American people far enough into anger and despair that they will revolt. The next President of the United States better have his or her shit together, or he or she doesn't stand a chance.

MR. BUSH’S LEGACY: MORE THAN DUCT TAPE NEEDED

By William Fisher

The speech President George W. Bush delivered in New Orleans last evening had the phony ring of a second-term president driven by a single goal: to rebuild what is left of his tattered legacy.

The president still contends he is a ‘compassionate conservative’, yet conservatives in his own will find little joy in his huge spending proposals for rebuilding the Gulf Coast. In that sense, his speech could just as well have been made by Franklin Delano Roosevelt or Lyndon Johnson. No legacy there.

Maybe the ‘compassionate’ part will be about race, which he mentioned briefly as the fault of slavery. But for five years the Bush Administration has contorted itself to avoid even using the word. Save for his efforts to bring more African Americans into the Republican Party, the President has none nothing -- zero, zippo – to stimulate an urgently needed national conversation about race. No legacy there.

Or maybe it was about poverty, another toxic word in the Bush lexicon. Tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans were going to stimulate economic growth and the trickle-down jobs were going to make the poorest of us less poor. Yet the statistics show us that during a time when the rich got richer, jobs for the poor disappeared and more people got poor and the poor got even poorer. More people in America live below the poverty line now than on the day Mr. Bush took office. Yet the president uttered not a single word about rolling back any of these tax cuts. No legacy there either.

Health care, too, got a passing nod in the president’s speech. He is going to bring health insurance to the people of the Gulf Coast while millions more Americans have none. The Administration has ignored Medicaid, the only vehicle available to provide health care for the poor, and used his bully pulpit to hawk private accounts as Social Security’s contribution to his ‘ownership society’. The president’s proposals were roundly rejected by the people, and he is now in the process of reducing critical funding for Medicaid. No legacy there.

After 9/11, the President correctly took on the Taliban and Al Queda in Afghanistan. But then he diverted resources from there to Iraq to wage a ‘war of choice’ – on the cheap – without enough troops, without any meaningful post-conflict planning, and on shamefully spurious grounds that kept shifting like sand castles. The result has been an Afghanistan now famous as the world’s leading supplier of opium and an Iraq that is drowning in the blood of its own people and ours. No legacy there.

In his defining bullhorn moment, standing with a firefighter atop the wreckage of the World Trade Center, the president promised to make the nation safer from terrorists. The jury is still out on that pledge.

But as for making us safer from natural terror, the jury’s verdict came two weeks ago. The unimaginably huge and bureaucratic caricature called the Department of Homeland Security was headed by a smart guy with no national security experience whatever, grossly under-funded, disorganized, and populated with political operatives who helped the president prevail in the 2004 election. Its dysfunctionality has been documented in report after report. Four years after 9/11, the radios used by first responders along the entire Gulf Coast still didn’t work.

But the bottom line for the DHS is that it ignored all credible warnings of an impending disaster until it was far too late. Did someone forget to tell the president? Or was he told and decided to take no action? Maybe we’ll never know.

Mr. Bush has been called our ‘MBA President’. All MBAs are taught the art of delegation. But they are also supposed to be taught the two accompanying principles of delegation: Hire the best and the brightest as your managers and monitor their performance or, as Ronald Reagan famously said, “Trust but verify.”

Mr. Bush has been long on trust and virtually absent on monitoring and verification. To be realistic, the president cannot be expected to monitor our huge government – no one person could, MBA or not. But is it not now reasonable to question the competence, independence and imagination of those he hired to advise him? We know they are superb at spin; but are they any good at anything else? Like having the courage to warn the president that Hurricane Katrina was bearing down on the Gulf Coast -- and on his presidency!

Mr. Bush was right to accept responsibility for the government’s response to Katrina, but his admission of any mistake is being hailed by his supporters as some kind of epiphany. The truth is that, beyond getting ‘Brownie’ to fall on his sword, the president ran out of people to blame. A robust response is his job.

Many in the TV punditocracy are now calling Katrina Mr. Bush’s ‘second bullhorn moment’. Dick Morris, political guru, went so far as so say on television last night that Katrina was a blessing in disguise for giving him an opportunity to save his second term.

This is a wildly absurd assertion. The reason is that fewer and fewer people in this country now believe that Mr. Bush can actually deliver. To do so, he will need to cajole Congress to fund his grandiose promises. And Congress is acutely aware of the political price they could pay in 2006 by further mortgaging our great-grandchildren with an even larger deficit.

All the polling data suggests this is not going to happen. In short, the president has lost his credibility. Which makes him not merely a lame duck second-termer, but a paraplegic.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Senate's Kabuki Dance With Roberts

By William Fisher

After three days of hearings on the confirmation of Judge John G. Roberts to be the seventeenth Chief Justice of the United States, what the public has learned is that the nominee appears to be as much Talmudic scholar as jurist.

In the relatively few questions he did not duck altogether by saying they related to issues likely to come before the Court, or by claiming the views he wrote were those of the administrations he has worked for in the past, Roberts responded even to most specific questions with an "on the one hand, on the other hand" approach.

The result, as put by Sen. Joseph Biden, Democrat of Delaware, is that, "You have managed to convince Sen. Brownback that you're on his side, and you have managed to convince Sen. Kennedy you're on his side."

Brownback is a conservative, Kennedy a liberal.

"We're rolling the dice with you, judge," Biden said, "because you won't share your views with us. You've told me nothing in this Kabuki dance. The public has a right to know what you think."

"You've being less forthcoming with this Committee than any nominee who has ever come before us," said New York Democratic Senator Charles Schumer. "This process is getting more and more absurd," he added.

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the committee's ranking Democrat, said on CNN, "If the nominee had been more forthcoming, we'd be done by now."

Questions put by Sen. Leahy, illustrate the point.

Leahy raised the issue of increasing government secrecy, asking whether the media should have access if "it thinks the government screwed up" in its handling of Hurricane Katrina.

Roberts responded: The media is in a position to make information more widely available to the public, but there must be a balance between the government's interest and the public interest.

Leahy then turned to the issue of capital punishment, asking whether a prison inmate on death row was entitled to a hearing if he claimed he had new exculpatory evidence to present.

Roberts asserted it would be unconstitutional to execute an innocent person, but added that questions might arise if the prisoner had already filed multiple appeals.

Leahy recounted the story of a man who had been on death row for 16 years and filed multiple appeals, before a group of journalism students from Northwestern University found new evidence that caused the prosecutor to dismiss the charges.

Leahy quoted from Roberts's testimony during his previous confirmation hearings for appointment as a federal appeals court judge. "You said 'That shows the system is working'. That really worries me," Leahy said, adding he thought it was evidence that the system was broken.

Senators continued to try to lure the nominee into answering direct questions directly, but without much success.

Republican Sens. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Sam Brownback of Kansas, two of the committee's most conservative members, questioned Roberts on the seemingly ever-present abortion issue.

Coburn, an obstetrician, asked the nominee if he agreed that if death is the absence of a heartbeat and brain activity, then life must be their presence. Brownback asked for Roberts's view on when life begins.

Roberts declined to answer both questions, saying the issues might well come before the Supreme Court.

That has been his response to a long litany of questions for the past three days. The questions involved such issues as civil rights, end-of-life decisions, HIV-AIDS, Congressional power, terrorism, freedom of information, abortion, guns in schools, the Geneva Conventions, affirmative action, separation of church and state, detention of alleged terrorists, and dozens of others.

Democrats were frustrated. Conservatives, including those who failed to get answers to their questions, were lavish in their praise of the nominee.

Arguably, the only exception among the Committee's Republicans was the chairman, Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, a former prosecutor knowledgeable about Constitutional Law.

Specter has been visibly angered by a recent Supreme Court ruling that appeared to question the reasoning powers of members of Congress. "We don't like being treated like children," he told the nominee.

"I don't think the court should be the Congress's taskmaster," Judge Roberts said, declaring that the Constitution is the true taskmaster.

The issue of congressional versus judicial power was a strong theme underlying much of the proceedings.

It was often expressed as anger against "judicial activism", by which senators mean "legislating from the bench", thus usurping congressional authority.

But this issue was buried in contradiction. For example, while Sen. Coburn said he was concerned about "activist judges", he was also pressing for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case that affirmed a woman's right to have an abortion.

Thursday, the Committee will hear from private individuals and organisations that are supporting or opposing Roberts's confirmation.

Roberts is currently a judge on a federal court of appeals -- a position to which the same Senate committee confirmed him two years ago. He was chosen to be an associate justice of the Supreme Court, but then nominated to be Chief Justice upon the death of Chief Justice William H. Renquist.

Barring a major misstep or some new and shocking revelation, Roberts is widely expected to be confirmed. Democrats may be saving their bigger guns for Pres. George W. Bush's next Supreme Court nominee, who will replace the retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, and who may well be the "swing vote" on a closely divided court.

LETTER FROM IRAQ

One of my dear friends is currently working in Iraq. From time to time, I receive emails updating me on the situation there. Following is the latest.

Dear Bill,

Bush Team has shown its incompetence yet again these last few days. I
watched in amazement at the goings on in New Orleans and other cities of
the Gulf Coast, it was deja vu. Denial and deception. Everything is hunky
dory. But the good news is that Bush Team could not win this battle,
because finally the press put on its boxing gloves and reported as they
should. We have given Bush Team a pass on everything, from Iraq, the
environment, cheating by Halliburton, on and on and on, and finally
something happened, too bad it had to be this terrible, that exposed their
moral corruption and carelessness.

Yesterday, was a bad day. The father of a staff member died of cancer.
The nephew of another was shot in Baghdad - a 16 year old who is now
paralyzed. Somehow someone got him to the US military which has agreed to
try to help (even though he was not shot by US soldiers). One of our NGO
partners was killed in a firefight in Mosul. And finally, if all that was
not enough, the Director General of Extension, a close friend and good
colleague was assassinated as he left his office in Abu Ghraib. I wrote
yet again a heart breaking condolence letter on behalf of our team. Tears
are flowing in our offices today, because this was a particularly good guy,
decent, peaceful, and talented. All he wanted to do was make farmers
better off, but because he is government, he was targeted.

The US and Iraqi forces are going after Tel Afar yet again. Dreamy Jaafari
states with all the boldness he can muster that this is the last time, they
will take the city back and keep it. Of course, none believes this. There
are not enough soldiers to hold the city, small as it is, and at the same
time continue to fight elsewhere. I am wondering if the US is starting to
adopt the "inkspot" theory for a victory in Iraq. If so, they will fail at
that too because that is an expensive strategy, and Bush Team insists on
doing everything on the cheap.

Meanwhile, the ambassador finally relented, the constitution will be
presented to the Iraqi population as was decided about 10 days ago. There
is a problem, though. The national assembly never voted on the draft, and
most of the key decisions were made by political leaders and not by the
drafting committee. As the situation becomes more dire, the embassy's
wheels only spin faster and without effect. The embassy crowd is yet again
trying to determine the best way to reconstruct the country. Committees of
people, many of them parachuted in from DC for a limited period of time,
talk amongst each other and not with Iraqis about the best way to fix the
electricity, or turn on the water, or get more oil, or fix the food ration
system. They are baffled at how ineffective they are, but they will never
admit that they are not qualified to make decisions. They still have a CPA
mentality.

But, for all the changes made last year to give security more money, guess
what, security has grown worse and more and more Iraqis have been killed,
not to mention US soldiers

Leavin' on A Jet Plane, Don't Know If...

Lindell Singleton was among millions impacted by Hurricane Katrina. This is his account.

I would like to preface this post by explaining that I am far off-center these days because of the state of the world. My middle son, Ryan, who is attending college in Central Mississippi, was trapped for several days with no water, no electricity and little food to speak of. On Tuesday, I called the airlines and AMTRAK to get him out-- no one was operating. Then, I called the 'Dog," Yes, Greyhound....Leave the driving to us." I'm thinking: "It'll be an eight hour bus ride home, but hey it'll be an adventure for the kid. Every college students needs a trip on Greyhound. It's a chance to see a slice of America that you don't normally see...blah, blah, blah."
The lovely-voiced Greyhound Representative told me matter-of-factly, "We're not operating in Mississippi. We've got no equipment (buses) and no diesel fuel."
http://higherrock.blogs.com/.shared/image.html?/photos/uncategorized/lane2_2.JPG
"Oh," I said, as the Sprint cell phone fell from my hand. That is when I knew Katrina/Katerina was something not of this world, a product of some greater evil... When the 'Dog' stops running, 'bad' has left the station, all that remains comes under the heading of catastrophic.
I'm not a real hurricane person...being from L.A., one grows up thinking it's about Earthquakes. February 9, 1971 is the day that will live in infamy for Angelenos. So, I didn't take this Katrina/Katerina thing too seriously because I've never seen or been in a hurricane. You catch the aftermath on the Weather Channel and they look bad and all-- but, I ain't never seen one, up close and personal, so to speak. With my son stranded in Central Mississippi, and no way to get him out, I began to get a creeping feeling in my stomach about Katrina/Katerina.
I decided to drive to Mississippi...it's only eight hours from Texas. I can do that in my sleep. I've driven to L.A. from Dallas twenty times...if you've crossed the bowels of West Texas on I-20, a trip to Mississippi is a 'piece of cake.' I started getting ready to go. My neighbor, whose father was trapped in Jefferson Parish, snapped me back to reality. He said, "What are you going to do for gas. You can't buy any gas there. Are you going to just carry a bunch of five gallon cans in the trunk?"
"Damn," I though, "No gas," Sure enough, he was right. There was no gas to be purchased. No wonder Greyhound wasn't operating.
Ryan was uncomfortable-- no electricity, food, nor water. But, at least he wasn't swimming around avoiding dead bodies floating in a toxic soup of benzene, fomaldehyde and fecal matter.
If only I had known this was, to quote Jesus," the beginning of sorrows."
I am stunned at what I've seen and heard. A young basketball player-- from Dillard-- that I met at a camp this past summer called two days ago to say he'd escaped New Orleans with his life...and, nothing else. No shoes, no money, not even a basketball. His car, his apartment and everything he owned was in nine feet of water. A basketball player with no shoes...now that is tragedy in my book.
My friend Tina-- an executive at a Fortune 500 company-- looked at me on the Tuesday following Katrina/Katerina and said this, "I lived not too far from then airport, As I left on a relief flight, I looked out the window and saw my house under water. I lost everything." And she was one of the lucky ones. Where have we come as a country where a person who has lost every photograph, every piece of furniture, every love letter, every cup, every DVD, and every piece of underwear is "lucky." Yet, Tina describes herself as one of the lucky ones. Now, I understand that she was right in her self-analysis.
On yesterday, I was interviewed for a Cable TV show-- the camera operator has just returned from Houston.
He spent two days filming inside the Astrodome and offered this. "The first day when I finished shooting...the stories from the people...the horror and hopelessness...you can't believe what I heard, Kids, old people, you name it. So, me and the producer stopped at Starbucks before going back to our hotel. We ordered, then sat outside at one of those little round tables. A couple was sitting next to us. They were feeding their two dogs. We started talking and you know what, they were New Orleans. I asked were they 'OK.' They said they it was 'terrible what had happened,' but they'd jetted out on Saturday afternoon and would just hang out in Houston until they decided whether go back again."
I would write more, but I just got a call from a Communications Director at a nearby city...she said they're housing 80 people in three separate motels not far from here and they've got neither food, nor gasoline vouchers. She's wondering if I can get anyone to make donations of canned food and fruit cups...stuff that doesn't need to be cooked... and, do I know of anyone that'll donate mens clothes, size 44 or larger.
I wonder why these 80 people didn't 'jet out to Houston on Saturday before the storm." Maybe all the flights were oversold or something. Damn airlines, overbooking those flights.
Thursday, September 08, 2005 at 23:21 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)
You've Got Michigan!
http://higherrock.blogs.com/.shared/image.html?/photos/uncategorized/nh1.jpgI spent the past few days working at hotel ballroom that's been turned into a Hurricane Katrina Relief Aid center. 671 people were here who'd escaped the floods, shootings, thirst, hunger, stench, and fear gripping the Big Easy.
Note to self: The next time I hear someone complain to a waiter that there their filet 'isn't quite pink enough,' or that a traffic signal at the corner of Bush and Clinton roads just seems to last too long, I'm just going to reach over and slap the SKABLA out of them. No comment from me, just a open-handed slap.
If you're reading this, you have nothing to complain about. The people who I met this weekend have real problems-- of Baghdad-like proportions. Cecil B. DeMille was called in to direct this show. It's larger than life...yet, it is life.
A black guy named Devin sat in a chair staring at one the columns that, I guess, was holding up the building.
The room, at least seventy yards deep, was filled, on one side, with tables. The tables contained clothes. Clothes racks were along one entire wall. On the other side of the room were round tables. People were chatting, eating...kids were watching Sponge Bob, and volunteer workers were dishing out pizza and bottled water. Outside, about four black kids were playing basketball on the half-court. One black kid, about nine, was playing soccer with a girl who was barefoot and wearing a jean skirt.
People kept driving up in Toyota Sequoias and gold Jags. Every now and them, a Jeep Cherokee or a Hummer would stop. Fresh-faced, eager white people-- young and old-- would exit the cars with bags of clothes and supplies.
But Devin just stared at the column. He didn't blink. He didn't move. He just stared. I watched Devin and finally decided to go over to where he was sitting.
I started a conversation. (And yes, I actually said the stupid things that I'm about to write...I won't even bother editing my words....)
Me: Damn, man. Are you alright?
Devin: Not really. But I still need to be thankful to God. I got out, me and my family.
Me: What happened. I mean, what was it like?
Devin: (shaking his head, looking at the floor) Last Saturday I was at home playing with my kids...watching TV, thinking about how good it was to be off work. It ain't even been a week and I'm in Texas now with the clothes on my back, not knowing where my next meal is coming from. My Mom-- she's in Houston. I don't know where my seven year old son is. Say, how far is Houston from here?
Me: Four hours driving...I mean, if you drive the speed limit.
Devin: Four hours, huh. I've just been sleeping all day....staying in my room. I can't do anything.
Me: How long you will be here?
Devin: They said we gotta be outta here by Thursday...maybe even Wednesday.
Me: Leave? Where are you goin'?
Devin: They say I've got to go to Michigan. I don't know anything about Michigan. Where is Michigan?
Me: Why do you have to go there?
Devin: They told me I gotta go there, because we can't stay here.
Me:( I just stare, looking stupid.) What about getting a job. What did you do out there in New Orleans?
Devin: Construction. I want to get a construction job, but I got no place to live, no money--plus, I got little kids to take care of. Do you know of any jobs?
Me: I think there is a job fair tomorrow.
Devin: I'll give them the phone number in the room. I guess they can call me there.
Me: Yeah, give them the phone number in your room. That's a really good idea.
His girl walked up. Her skin was the color of chocolate milk. She carried two clear shopping bags filled with clothes and disposable diapers. He reminded her to get some bottled water to take back to their room. She asked me if I knew of any jobs she could get babysitting. I looked stupid and said, "No."
Devin shook my hand and left. I started looking at the column and thought about the movie, Hotel Rwanda. These people were living Hotel Rwanda, without the machetes, thank God.
My dream sequence got interrupted. A lady wearing a pair of jeans walked up to me and asked, "Do you know if the Greyhound bus goes from here to Passaic, New Jersey?"
I thought: Here, like from Grapevine, Texas.
She went on: "Do you know how long it would take on the Greyhound to get out to New Jersey?"
"Three, maybe four days I guess," I said.
"I've got a third cousin who lives up there and she said I could stay with her for two or three weeks," she said.
I thought: What is she gonna do after three weeks. I didn't have enough courage to ask.
"OK," I said.
The volunteers scurried about sorting the size 10's from the size 12's. They were putting the boys 'husky' from the boys 'slim.' A guy wearing a name tag from a local church asked my son how high the flood waters were before he left.
My son looked at him and said, "I don't know, I've never been to New Orleans."
The guy said, "Oh, you look like one of the people from down there."
Ryan, who think he's Chris Rock, didn't respond. I was proud of his restraint.
A pretty girl with braids walked up to me and started a conversation.
"Do you know where Section Eight is," she said. I started looking around, thinking there would be numbers or signs on the wall. Then, my brain engaged. She means the housing organization, Section Eight, not an area of the hotel. Of course, I had no idea where it was.
"We can go look it up in the phone book or something," I said. I was trying be helpful, but I just sounded stupid. She looked at me matter-of-factly. "I was told that I could help with housing through Section Eight. Can you help me get over there?"
"I don't know where it is,' I said.
" I was told that there is a Section Eight office in Dallas. This is Dallas, isn't it?"
"Actually," I said, "this is Grapevine. Dallas is about 20 or 25 miles from here. Depending on where in Dallas you're going."
"Well, I'm trying to get to Section Eight. Can you take me there? I have no other way."
Normally, this kind of abruptness would offend my suspicious Scorpio nature...but, there was no cause for me to get upset. This young woman, in the space of less than 100 hours had lost home, clothes, belongings and family. She was entitled to be direct or abrupt.
I excused myself for a moment to look for a map, or a volunteer who knew about the location of the Section Eight office. I learned that it's on Hampton Road, near Interstate 30. But when I got back, the girl with the braids was gone. Perhaps, she too, is going to Michigan.