Thursday, September 22, 2005

Best News on New Orleans: The New Yorker

Perhaps the most chilling aspect of Bush's failure in New Orleans is how successful he's been at dodging the responsibility. The sickening incompetance of FEMA stands in stark contrast to the sickening competance of Bush's image-protection team. Not only have they moved quick enough to prevent the media from taking pictures of any of the watery corposes -- it would only take one picture of a mother's lifeless body still clutching her child's lifeless body to send people clamoring for Bush's impeachment --but they have been able to impose martial law on the whole city, preventing any worse news from leaking out. We should have a daily death toll, complete with pictures, but we don't.

Straining the bounds of irony, the best coverage of what it was life for the poor trapped in New Orleans is found in the "talk of the town" section of America's prissiest, most elite magazine. Lately, the New Yorker is the only publication I read religiously, and it's been the best at dispelling the lies Republicans tell themselves about Katrina.

First, there is the myth that "the only people who died in the floods were those that refused to leave." That myth was blown apart by a simple two page narrative in last week's magazine. It told of the Johnson family, 13 of whom live in a house together with one good job between them. They wanted to evacuate, as the patriach said "we may be poor, but we ain't stupid." Before the hutrricane, they'd heard rumors of buses evacuating the city, and they tried desparately to get more information. When no buses came, they waited out the storm in their house. They thought they were safe until the flooding started.

First they stood on furniture, then they went upstairs, then they used their large elder brother as a battering ram to break though the attic ceiling, handing him as much food and water as they could before joining him on the roof. There, they waited for FOUR DAYS, before a boat came and rescued them. They gave most of the water to their sister, so she could nurse her baby. When they were rescued, they were soaked, sunburned, starving and covered with soars from the shingles on their roof. Still, they were grateful to be alive, many of their neighbors drowned.

This week's magazine dispelled the myth that those who did want to stay were so stupid they deserved to drown. It told the story of one man who holed up on his roof with a canoe, several life jackets and several pounds of food. He told a volunteer rescue worker that he wanted to stay put, because his family had taken their only car to Baton Rouge, and he wanted to make sure they knew where to find him. The rescue worker (on a waverunner) explained to him that the water was toxic and likely to kill him before it was drained. He thought for a moment, then asked if he could take his dog, who was waiting with him. When she told him no, he sadly agreed to come, only after the rescue worker promised to help him get to Baton Rouge.

Knowing how worried I get when my wife takes longer than expected at the store, I can't imagine how horrible it would be to leave your family's only rallying point and go wherever a crowded bus takes you (not knowing where until you get there). How could you know you'd ever see them again? How could they know where to find you? How could you put yourself in the hands of a government who'd so thorughly botched things to this point?

Well, I've got to get to administrative law, the class that reminds me every day how responsible the President is for the failures of executive agencies.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Is Bush Paying Columnists Again?

The following link from the Christian Science Monitor is enough to convince me the Bush administration is still paying columnists to endorse them (they didn't get slapped very hard the last time). The columnist below is as perfect a choice to rally 'round the embattled Commander In Chief as Armstrong Williams was to endorse the embattled No Child Left Behind.
http://www.csmonitor.com/2005/0920/p09s01-coop.html He is from New Orleans and a Democrat, and now he probably has a home in Martha Vinyard.

The NY Times' Suicidal Betrayal

Here's a copy of the letter I e-mailed the Times in response to the paper's suicidal move to make its columnist page part of a $50 a year subscription service called, bone-headedly "Times Select". For those, like me, who read the columns as a way to procrastinate the unpleasant tasks of the day, this is a horrible betrayal. Columns are the only thing the Gray Lady does better than the L.A. Times, and now, I have no reason to log onto their website.

Dear Editor and Public Editor,
How dare you take your columnists away from Web Readers! I have read the OP-ED columnists every day for several years online, but I absolutely refuse to pay for it! Just when you were starting to recover from the Jayson Blair incidents, you shoot yourself in the foot with a greedy scheme that is sure to lose you millions of readers and millions of dollars in ad revenue.
Mark my words, you will be able to trace the Times complete loss of relevance back to the time you started charging a subsciption fee for your op ed page. Shame on you, your marketing department and anyone else who signed off on this suicidal idea.
a former reader,
Rick Mortensen

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Jon Stewart V: What a difference a guest makes

Either someone has been coaching Jon-Jon or his respect for Kurt Vonnegut overwhelmed his natural egotism, because yesterday's interview with the hoary-headed author was a thing of beauty. His introduction included a personal aside: "he made my adolescence bearable" and I was thinking "Amen." The summer before my busy but alienated senior year of high school I read every Vonnegut novel my public library had. I loved not only his big ideas, but his humanism, which gave me enough crumudgeonly courage to face a difficult year. Jon touched on that in his first question, which was an open-ended query about the author's view of humanity, couched in genuine gratitude for how much the man's work had meant to him. Vonnegut struggled a little with his answer (he's notoriously bad in interviews, and age has slowed his response time a bit) but instead of filling the space with blather, Jon had enough faith in his guest to wait until he got it out. He made Vonnegut feel comfortable, and as a reward, Vonnegut gave him some fabulous retorts. One was:

"we can teach Iraq a lot about democracy. For instance: after the first 100 years, you have to let your slaves go. After 150 years, you have to let your women vote. And ethnic cleansing is OK for the first little while"

The best thing about the interview is that, although Jon obviously was a fan, he didn't patronize or palaver over Vonnegut. After the last retort, he barely telegraphed his sarcasm when he said "it's really sad to see you lose your edge." The audience responded with genuine laughter instead of the forced titters they usually give.

Let's hope last night's interview is a preview of things to come.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Where's the revolution?

Just watched Cold Mountain last night, and it erased any urge I might have to live in a state that was on either side of the Civil War. The cruelty depicted in that film is nowhere refuted by facts; the Conderacy did shoot deserters (though we don't know if they tortured their mothers until they came out) and the union did steal food and rape widows (though their policy on freezing infants is largely unrecorded). It reminded me that we live in a violent nation, and it got me thinking as to why. My short answer is, we will always be violent as long as greed and want are cherished components of our economy (perhaps the European countries from which we sprang have become less violent because they cherish greed and want less). While the rest of the civilized world has universal health care, we think it's fine to give the world's richest people the best possible health care, while allowing the middle class to take their chances with HMOs and the poor to have none at all. Health care is only one of many examples.

My question is, are we still that violent? The two African-Americans I happened to speak with this weekend about the disaster (one at a sign shop and the other at church) feel personally the Federal government's neglect of black people in New Orleans. One asserted that it was a conscious choice by the government to allow the poor blacks to be flooded out of New Orleans so Haliburton could come in and rebuild it nicely for more acceptable people. (Does anyone still remember that Haliburton paid Dick Cheney a $50 million severance package for his two years of work there?)

I, personally, feel it was just incompetence, but if a middle class Afrcian American in Des Moines feels that way, imagine how most of the American South must feel. I do not expect armed revolution, but I would hope for a political reallignment. Die hard republican David Brooks opined that he expected one (unfortunately, his Sept. 4 column is no longer available for free, thanks to the cheap bastards at NYTIMEs).

Paul Krugman, once again, laid out the horrible truth about Bush's executive branch failings today: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/12/opinion/12krugman.html?hp

Friday, September 02, 2005

Katrina: Bush's Worst Failure; What I Feared Since 2000

As Americans come to their senses about Hurricaine, many of them are waking up to the fact that we really do need a president. We need a head of the executive branch who will appoint competant people to head important federal agencies and step in and micro-manage when necessary. What we have is a chronic vacationer who wastes the National Guard on an unnecessary war, then waits five days to even visit a disaster area, then, incredibly, passes the buck to the very agencies he heads and staffs, calling their efforts "unacceptable."

Even if you haven't taken Administrative Law and don't understand (or are unwilling to accept) the president's constitutional duties as head of the executive branch (that includes FEMA, which is now part of the woefully underfunded Department of Homeland Security), you can still yearn for a president who knew how to lead with rhetoric, providing encouragement and moral leadership where necessary. Here again, we have a miserable failure. Clinton "felt our pain," as did Reagan, Kennedy and FDR. Bush can't even fein sympathy. Clinton would have arrived the day after the sorm and done some photo-ops helping the Red Cross pass out sloppy joes. It would have been self-aggrandizing, but such a sight would have lifted the locals' spirits immeasurably. It would have helped prevent the utter breakdown of hope which has lead to looting and lawlessness.


The NY Times has clued into the president's constitutional and rhetorical failings and is screaming from the rooftops yesterday: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/01/opinion/01thu1.html?incamp=article_popular and today: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/02/opinion/02fri1.html
Columnist Paul Krugmen got more specific about the president's failings, which include the weakening of FEMA under the Homeland Security Act: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/02/opinion/02krugman.html?incamp=article_popular
The Grey Lady is also showing the steel to quote members of the federal agencies Bush heads who are responding in kind to his buck-passing. Check out the following quote from a front page story on lawlessness:

"Col. Terry Ebbert, director of homeland security for New Orleans, concurred and he was particularly pungent in his criticism. Asserting that the whole recovery operation had been "carried on the backs of the little guys for four goddamn days," he said "the rest of the goddamn nation can't get us any resources for security."
"We are like little birds with our mouths open and you don't have to be very smart to know where to drop the worm," Colonel Ebbert said. "It's criminal within the confines of the United States that within one hour of the hurricane they weren't force-feeding us. It's like FEMA has never been to a hurricane." FEMA is the Federal Emergency Management Agency"


So now we know: we have a callous, incompetent president. When we let that happen, people die. When he formed the Dept. of Homeland Security, a hurricaine in New Orleans with broken levies was one of three possible disaster scenarios listed in its CHARTER, yet Bush is now saying that he "never expected the levies to break." The scary thing is, I believe him. He didn't read the memo titled "Bin Laden Intends to Attack U.S. with Airplanes," why would he read the charter for a new federal agency?

The thing that makes me seethe with anger, is I've known this about our president since early 2000, when I campaigned for McCain in San Diego, and watched Bush's operatives spread lies about McCain on military bases. Even before that, Bush's biography was enough to show he was in no way fit to be president. Until age 42, he was an alcoholic failure whose famous father's friend's bailed him out of jam after jam. He ran an oil company into the ground, after getting rich on his stock. He shamelessly flaunts a religion he does not live to get votes from good people. He's incapable of expressly a complex thought. To even put Bush up for nomination shows an unacceptable level of contempt for the American people, and I will never vote for another candidate who even tacitly supported him. Including McCain. Bush is the single biggest reason I became a diehard Democrat. Now, everlastingly too late, other people are seeing what I've known for 5 years.

Well that's enough rage for today,
Ciao,
Rick