Friday, July 07, 2006

Rising Tide: Blogger Conference, New Orleans

Why "Rising Tide?" Because I guess "Blogger Conference and MONSTER TRUCKS!" would be Baton Rouge.

YRHT is proposing a gathering of bloggers in NOLA for late next month, to coincide with the one year anniversary of the flood:

I think Lisa and Shawn and everyone who expressed concerns about the short timetable are probably correct. A real conference with all the usual bells and whistles may not be possible to accomplish in such short order. So perhaps we should aim lower, and concentrate on making "Rising Tide" as creative and informative and productive as possible on a shoestring budget.

Who knows? This could be like a pilot conference that sets the stage for a bigger, better Rising Tide II. We can dare to dream.

Here's why I'd like to have the conference prior to the one year anniversary of Katrina.

1. Obviously, it capitalizes on the media and internet attention surrounding the one year mark.

2. I'm fond of this "work day" idea, and August 29th is the (supposed) deadline for people to gut their houses before the city starts getting involved. I'd love to be able to help an organization like Common Ground gut an extra house before that deadline occurs. And those who haven't yet gutted a flooded house would get their chance to "get dirty".

3. The hotel and restaurant prices are less expensive during the summer.

Scout-Prime said she's interested in going (Huzzah!)...and I hope all the fine writers from the Crescent City don't mind a hinterland Gret Stet denizen like myself stopping by, if I'm able to.

I've also got a feeling that all you high-quality blog readers out there who've come across sites chronicling the highs and lows of the Gret Stet, ante and post deluvian, would find yourselves welcome, too.

So, mark your calendar: August 25-27th (the last weekend of the month). As for me, I'm close enough to day-trip it, but wise enough to think about a hotel. After all, it's not easy--or smart--to enjoy the city...THEN hop into the car for an hour-long drive.

Damn, I wish I could just take a train...
On Building Up and Breaking Down Myths

Shrub--not so big and tough, after all.

Another follow-up here from observations by Brent Blundell, Scout-Prime--and Schroeder, with a little bit of Arabian Nights for good measure:

Karl Rove has a simple rule, they say: When you are falling behind, attack your opponents at their strongest point. In the upcoming election, the Democrats' strongest point should obviously be Iraq. With the spotlight eternally focused on the disastrous war there, Rove has to figure out how to turn its dazzling beam to his party's advantage.

So he's borrowing a page from an ancient Iranian storybook and imitating Scheherazade, the maiden whose husband's policy was "wed 'em, bed 'em, and kill 'em at dawn." Rove is telling Republican candidates to follow Scheherazade's rule: When policy dooms you, start telling stories -- stories so fabulous, so gripping, so spellbinding that the king (or, in this case, the American citizen who theoretically rules our country) forgets all about a lethal policy...

The Scheherazade strategy is a great scam, built on the illusion that simple moralistic tales can make us feel secure, no matter what's actually going on out there in the world. Though it never fulfills its promise, too many Americans keep on falling for it.

It's an especially great scam when you've got the media clarion call going 24/7 in helping perpetuate Team Bush interpretations of reality. This tends to make it all the more difficult in pointing out the inadequacies, the failures, the sheer blissfest of stupidity in pretty much every decision this administration makes...and, of course, the gravy train of federal dollars flowing to the various Shrub-supporting special interests doesn't help either.

But there's got to be a way to point out the Potemkin-village nature of this administration who's claim to office rests, at the very least, on an accident, if not outright fraud (funny how that stench seems to always waft around Team Bush...and their fellow travelers)...but I digress.

My point, however roundabout and unedited it might be, is that myth, for so many people, must seem easier--and more comforting--than the reality we actually live in.

Harry Shearer brings this up in his latest post about the New Orleans flood of 2005:

you are continually exposed to the myth and protected from the reality. The myth has won, the reality has lost, and so has the city.

There's the ongoing myth of Iraq being better off the extent that anyone NOT prefacing criticism of the war with a denunciation of Saddam Hussein is forced into immediate and irreversible defensive the way, here's my own, lest I be forever branded a Saddam lover: he was as scummy a dictator as Ann Coulter is a skanky demi-pundit.

You could go on and on: this administration--with help (sometimes from their nominal political opponents)--has manufactured myths to such an extent that it might be their ONLY unqualified success. But...such success could well contain within it the seeds of their failure, much in the same way that Icarus's wax wings couldn't handle the sunshine. And that might well be the key: a little sunshine.

Let's face it: we're dealing with a gang of thugs and crooks, who will stop at absolutely NOTHING. I think we need to hammer this home over and over--as often, or even more often, than Blundell's excellent suggestion of a rallying cry of "Government That Works." Because, whether we like it or not, the sheer structure of our national government's design makes "going negative" quite a bit easier than projecting "a positive message" (if you don't believe me, ask yourself: how many elections has it been since you were able to vote FOR a candidate, instead of "the lesser of two evils"? My own answer to that question is: never).

Thugs and crooks can no more "win the war on terror" than a quack can cure cancer (and I think the analogy of "terrorism=cancer" might work...sadly, a lot of us are all too familiar with the ravages of this disease, the necessity for a pretty complicated treatment regimen, and the foolishness of quacks promising "miracle cures" every bit as harebrained as the Team Bush terror policy).

Myths have some basis in reality--and I think it's time those of us who prefer an adult-based government, as opposed to the arrested-growth juveniles presently running things, have LOTS of reality to work with in hammering home the argument that, between Rove, Cheney, David S. Addington, Abu Gonzales, the Chimp they've got for their public face, Rumsfeld, Abramoff, Tom DeLay, etc., you're looking at a gang of folks with the moral character of an Eric Harris or Dylan Klebold (and if you think that's a bit harsh, remember, THEY'RE the ones arguing for Bill Keller's gassing). Ridicule is also an effective weapon--don't let anyone forget about the ridiculous press conference the AG called to announce the arrest of "terrorists" who wanted to blow up the Sears Tower...except that they lacked bombs, guns...ahem, "uniforms"...and probably bus fare to get around Liberty City. Hell, that's worse than my parents' old kitty-cat, who's hunting "skills" were limited to catching baby field mice at their house in the field mice so young they weren't actually, you know, able to walk.

Point out that they're no more "conservative" than armed bank robbers are Robin Hood: they've squandered the national treasury, they've NOT stopped terrorism, they've NOT caught Osama bin took them three years to find and kill Zarqawi (and their method was, well, so crude that they managed to off a five year old child, although these folks are such scum they're probably proud of that). They're NOT making the country any more safe...they're lording over it like Don Fanucci (who, in a deleted scene from the movie, is attacked by a bunch of KIDS--Vito Corleone witnesses this, prior to making his own move).

Countering THEIR myths won't be easy, given that we lack their relentless barrage of media...but I think people are beginning to feel a little uneasy with this gang of assclowns...watching them flail about after New Orleans flooded was a real eye-opener. Their so-painfully obvious failure explains why they went so ape-shit in attacking everyone they could think of...even one of their own in Brownie.

I think it can be done. Shine a little light in...and they'll scurry around like roaches in a no-longer-dark-kitchen...
Eine Armee Von Einer

Seien Sie Alle, Daß Sie Sein Können

Then again, maybe THIS is what Rumsfeld meant when he opined "freedom is messy:"

A decade after the Pentagon declared a zero-tolerance policy for racist hate groups, recruiting shortfalls caused by the war in Iraq have allowed "large numbers of neo-Nazis and skinhead extremists" to infiltrate the military, according to a watchdog organization.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks racist and right-wing militia groups, estimated that the numbers could run into the thousands, citing interviews with Defense Department investigators and reports and postings on racist Web sites and magazines.

"We've got Aryan Nations graffiti in Baghdad," the group quoted a Defense Department investigator as saying in a report to be posted today on its Web site, "That's a problem."

This comes on the heels of reports of urban street gangs likewise taking advantage of recruiting shortfalls to obtain taxpayer financed training in the "subtleties" of urban combat. Wonderful. I wonder what's next...maybe selling the gangs and skinheads surplus 50 caliber machine guns?

I'll bet at least one neocon dingbat would consider that an effective deficit-cutting measure.

On a more serious note, this again makes me worry about the possibility of individual soldiers snapping at some point--and do we really want more Tim McVeighs? Or John Allan Mohammeds?

And, just to ensure that historians will wonder just what the fuck WAS going on in this era of absurdity, Shrub had all he could handle last night...with Larry King, aptly described as "look[ing] less like an interrogator than a hotel concierge gently removing lint from a customer's coat."

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Birthday Boy Puppet

Looks like plenty of common folk out here in Blogaea are looking for the perfect present for a village-idiot-in-chief. The Rude Pundit thought Ken Lay's corpse might fit the bill, now that Satan has an eternal lock on Kenny Boy's soul...but then his rudeness got the best of him and he argued in favor of presenting Shrubleroy with a different body: that of Abeer Qasim Hamza, the teenage Iraqi girl raped and murdered--allegedly--by American military personnel. Well, that's why they call him The Rude Pundit, I guess.

My own suggeston is far more, ahem, modest: the birthday puppet should be taken on yet another secret, all-taxpayer paid expense trip to Iraq and brought to the farmhouse where this child--and her family--were most certainly murdered and brutalized...and he can try working his lame, used-war salesman routine on the surviving cousins. Maybe he can bring Don Rumsfeld along to explain how freedom can be "messy."

I'm sure they'd understand.
Team Bush: The Katrina Fridge of Federal Governments

Boyd Blundell looks at the recent court decision absolving FEMA and considers its possible use as a metaphor in the upcoming election:

That’s what this coming election is about, and it’s what Dems should pound over and over again: Government That Works.

Blundell cites this earlier post from Scout-Prime asking whether the disaster in New Orleans was the result of incompetence or design in making the case that it's BOTH (aside: in a comment at First-Draft I made the same argument, noting that Shrub himself is, no pun intended, a perfect storm/metaphor for the government he nominally heads--a mix and match of elite New England arrogance/contempt for the rest of us...and plain ol' redneck, Bubba stupidity)...

The Republicans really really believed that privatization of everything from relief services to mercenary soldiers would work better, and they were really really wrong. ..

The ongoing tragic tale of the FEMA response to Katrina carries with it a moral: this is what happens when you elect a government that hates government. In the minds of our self-hating government, the fact that private contractors are more expensive and less effective is more than offset by the fact that they are not government.

Government self-hatred inevitably leads to self-sabotage. They presently have the power to sabotage government in ways that they never dreamed of, and there are huge consequences to this. The FEMA debacle is merely exhibit A. These self-haters are incapable of reforming themselves because they don’t want to. The only solution is to get them out of government so they can get back to the natural role of hating government from the outside.

We need (and New Orleans desperately needs): Government That Works.

Indeed. I think a lot of other people are making pretty much the same case, if not using the exact expression. It applies not only to the "it would be comical if not utterly tragic" response to the storms and floods of 2005, but to the leviathan-sized disaster they managed to let loose overseas. The fact that they're becoming so unremittingly hostile to their political opposition merely underscores the sheer magnitude of their failure. And we can't let the public forget that.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

A Certain Consistency

The lower photos, part of a series featured in this article about Ramadi, struck me with their eerie resemblence to photographs--and my own observations--of the destruction along the Gulf (of Mexico) coast.

You know, at one time, such spectacular twin failures would elicit some sort of remorseful an abject apology, followed by, if nothing else, a figurative (if not actual) falling on one's sword.

These days, though, there's no shame whatsoever in twitnuttia. Hell, I see Big Time actually puts portfolio ahead of country...which speaks volumes.
I'll Take Civilian Casualties for 1,595, Alex

Here's how Team Bush defines "smashing success," "last throes," "winning hearts and minds," etc:

BAGHDAD, Iraq, July 4--The central morgue said Tuesday that it received 1,595 bodies last month, 16 percent more than in May, in a tally that showed the pace of killing here has increased since the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Al Qaeda's leader in Iraq.

Baghdad, home to one-fourth of Iraq's population, has slowly descended into a low-grade civil war in some neighborhoods, with Sunni and Shiite militias carrying out systematic sectarian killings that clear whole city blocks.

To a large extent, control of the capital means control of the country, and Baghdad is at the center of efforts by American military officials and the new Iraqi government to stem the tide of violence.

After Mr. Zarqawi was killed on June 7 in an American airstrike, a security plan was put into effect, with thousands of troops operating new checkpoints throughout the city, but it has had little effect.

A significant segment of the 31,000 American troops here were drawn into a search for two American soldiers south of Baghdad soon after the plan was announced. The two were found dead, their bodies mutilated.

The American ambassador here, Zalmay M. Khalilzad, told the BBC on Tuesday that killing Mr. Zarqawi had not made Iraq safer.

"In terms of the level of violence, it has not had any impact at this point," Mr. Khalilzad said. "As you know, the level of violence is still quite high."

The morgue, which takes bodies from Baghdad and its outskirts, offers a rough measure of the violence. The toll for last month, provided by the morgue deputy, who insisted on anonymity because he is not authorized to talk to the news media, was roughly double the 879 bodies the morgue received in June 2005...

The morgue stank of bodies. Visitors burned paper and wood in the parking lot to mask the smell. The reception area was full with 40 Iraqis, mostly women, standing and sitting on the ground, waiting to look at bodies and photographs of bodies.

Around 11 a.m., three pickup trucks arrived with a total of at least eight bodies. Morgue workers and police officers put them in body bags and took them inside.

Officials in Baghdad receive 10 to 20 bodies a day, mostly victims of killings by Sunni and Shiite militias, American officials said.

A government official said in an interview last week that Sunni Arabs accounted for 30 percent of the bodies found, a disproportionately high number compared with their 20 percent share of the population.

Tallies differ, depending on the ministry issuing them. The Associated Press reported Monday that tallies from the Defense, Interior and Health Ministries put the total deaths last month at 1,006.

The sight of bodies is no longer a surprise. An Iraqi woman said she had reached the front of a gasoline line in Shaab, a predominantly Shiite neighborhood in northern Baghdad, when a police pickup drove in front of her to fill up. She said she smelled a foul odor and then noticed a pile of bodies in the back.

In another high-profile kidnapping on Tuesday morning, gunmen dressed in army and police uniforms seized Deputy Electricity Minister Raad al-Harith and 19 of his bodyguards in a heavily Shiite neighborhood, Talbiya, in northern Baghdad, an Interior Ministry official said.

It was not clear how the guards were overtaken, but Reuters reported that they had not resisted, apparently believing that the seizure was an official operation. The attackers arrived in seven cars, the news agency reported.

On Tuesday night, Reuters reported that Mr. Harith and seven bodyguards had been freed in the same area. It was not clear what happened to the other 12 bodyguards.

The seizure comes three days after a Sunni legislator, Tayseer Najah al-Mashhadani, and eight of her bodyguards were kidnapped in a northern district bordering the Sadr City district of Baghdad. Iraqi authorities said they had no new information on Ms. Mashhadani's whereabouts.
Team Bush to Veterans: Thank You for Your Service...Now Go Away

Here's how the richest country on earth looks after its veterans:

Herold Noel had nowhere to call home after returning from military service in Iraq. He slept in his Jeep, taking care to find a parking space where he wouldn't get a ticket.

"Then the nightmares would start," says the former Army private first class, who drove a fuel truck in Iraq. "I saw a baby decapitated when it was run over by a truck; I relived that every night." Across the nation on any evening, hundreds of veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan like Noel, 26, are homeless, according to government estimates.

The reasons are many. For some, residual stress from daily insurgent attacks and roadside bombs makes it tough to adjust to civilian life; some can't navigate government-assistance programs; others can't afford a house or apartment.

They are living on the edge in towns and cities from Washington state to California and Florida. Some of the hardest hit are in New York City, where housing costs "can be very tough," says Peter Dougherty, head of the federal government's Homeless Veterans Program...

There are about 200,000 homeless vets in the United States, according to government figures. About 10 percent are from either the 1991 Gulf War or the current one, and about 40 percent are Vietnam veterans.

Something tells me the twitnuts will one day blame the soldiers for losing Iraq...along with the media, along with "libruls," along with everyone except the people who DID lose Iraq: themselves.
Epic Volumes of Offal

Well, even though I've probably lost the few (albeit exceptional-quality) readers during my four day blogging weekend, it was a nice break...and an actual working vacation, as I managed to knock out a bunch of pressing chores. We're also seeing a return to a more normal Loosiana climate with some regular afternoon showers...the cat might not like it all that much, but I'll bet the plants are relieved (and they're even showing it: a couple of the azaleas are sprouting a few flowers)... the midst of the four-day, it seems a twitnut tempest-in-a-teapot--rather, make that several--creeped and spewed their way across the internets, starting with this story and this photo: purportedly, the latest instances of Pravda-on-the-Hudson treason. Mixed and matched with some other choice material, like John Tierney's plea for division along antebellum lines, and the ongoing pellmell retreat from reality when it comes to Iraq, well, I'm beginning to wonder, along with Billmon, just where the hell it's all going to lead:

Talk of disunion and civil war may seem like hyperbole. I'm sure it would certainly seem so to the vast majority of Americans who don't think much about politics or culture and just want to get on with their lives. I'm sure most Spaniards felt the same way in the summer of 1936, just as most Americans did in the winter of 1860.

But the historical truth is that civil wars aren't made by vast majorities, but by enraged and fearful minorities. Looking at America's traditionalists and the modernists today, I see plenty of rage and fear, most, though hardly all, of it eminating from the authoritarian right. For now, these primal passions are still being contained within the boundaries of the conventional political process. But that process -- essentially a system for brokering the demands of competing interest groups -- isn't designed to handle the stresses of a full-blown culture war.

Compared to most countries, America has been very lucky so far -- those kind of passions have only erupted in massive bloodshed once (well, twice if you count the original revolution.) By definition, however, something that has already happened is no longer impossible. It's easy for newspaper columnists to fantasize about disunited states, but only madmen would actually try to make them so. Unfortunately, the madmen are out there. It's up to the rest of us to keep them under control.


As weird--and as bad--as things are now, with an entire region still reeling from the federal government's textbook example of how NOT to do things during the 2005 Atlantic Hurricane season...matched by their equal example in losing wars to TWO FAILED STATES, matched by their failure to stop 9/11, their failure to capture Osama bin Laden, their failure in countering Al Qaeda (now MORE powerful than it was in January of 2001) bad as things are now, they'd be a hell of a lot worse if the twitnut fantasy of cultural armageddon came to some sort of macabre fruition.