Friday, September 01, 2006

Glorious News!

A freshly painted school in Fallujah.'s a raging clusterfuck, with obscene levels of violence, anarchy, and suffering...but it's NOT a civil war, at least according to the learned, august, um, paper pushers at the Pentagon:

Death squads and terrorists have ramped up attacks on civilians in Iraq, killing more than 1,600 people in cold-blooded "execution-style" slayings in July alone, a Pentagon report said Friday.

Increasing violence is affecting "all other measures of stability, reconstruction and transition," according to the report, which examined the situation in June, July and August.

But the report concluded the "current violence is not a civil war, and movement toward civil war can be prevented."

Gee, I dunno--maybe some smart ass came to the conclusion that NO war is particularly civil and decided to run with it...
Self-Centered Simpleton

Another meta post here that cites WIIIAI...and AmericaBlog for good measure. Aside from the embarrassing stutter-step around "totalitarians" (the version I heard went something like "to-ta, to-ta, tot...totalitarian"), it seems pretty remarkable that Shrub can go so unchallanged as to first, well, facts, and then, as WIIIAI (back up and running, more or less) puts it:

His rhetoric about Iraq is not getting less messianic over time: “the battle for Iraq is now central to the ideological struggle of the 21st century.” So how was that vacation, George? Catch a lot of fish? Get a good rest from the ideological struggle?

“Ideological struggle,” by the way, is his new favorite phrase.

He admits that there are “radicalized followers of the Sunni tradition” and “radicalized followers of the Shia tradition,” and “homegrown” terrorists, but insists that these all “form the outlines of a single movement, a worldwide network of radicals that use terror to kill those who stand in the way of their totalitarian ideology...

There’s an interesting new twist to The History of the Middle East According to a Man Who Couldn’t Find It on a Map: he’s still saying that religious extremism and terrorism developed in the Middle East because the US (it’s always all about the US, of course) was only interested in apparent stability and calm. Now he says that this was actually the correct policy at the time: “we were fighting the Soviet Union in the Cold War, and it was important to support Middle Eastern governments that rejected communism.”

But that was then. Now it’s democracy time, because democracies are peaceful and “focus on building roads and schools -- not weapons of mass destruction.” I forget, who has the biggest stockpile of WMDs in the world?

Now here’s a sentence that... oh, words fail me: “Dissidents with the freedom to protest around the clock are less likely to blow themselves up during rush hour.”

“Our enemies saw the transformation in Lebanon and set out to destabilize the young democracy.” Again, it’s all about us: “our enemies.”

“I appreciate the troops pledged by France and Italy and other allies for this important international deployment. Together, we’re going to make it clear to the world that foreign forces and terrorists have no place in a free and democratic Lebanon.” Er, except for foreign forces from France and Italy and...

The terrorists are totally wrong about everything, except when they agree with me, because if you can’t trust bin Laden’s judgment, whose judgment can you trust?:
Here at home we have a choice to make about Iraq. Some politicians look at our efforts in Iraq and see a diversion from the war on terror. That would come as news to Osama bin Laden, who proclaimed that the “third world war is raging” in Iraq. It would come as news to the number two man of al Qaeda, Zawahiri, who has called the struggle in Iraq, quote, “the place for the greatest battle.” It would come as news to the terrorists from Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and other countries, who have to come to Iraq to fight the rise of democracy. It’s hard to believe that these terrorists would make long journeys across dangerous borders, endure heavy fighting, or blow themselves up in the streets of Baghdad, for a so-called “diversion.”

Hey, American soldiers went to Iraq because there were supposed to be weapons of mass destruction; Rick went to Casablanca for the waters: people make mistakes, they are misinformed. You’ve never traveled a long distance for a crappy vacation someplace you thought would be fun?

Bush says that until we intervened in the Middle East, it was on a path where “a generation from now, our children will face a region dominated by terrorist states and radical dictators armed with nuclear weapons.” Which may or may not be true, but what an insult to an entire region. As is this: “Or we can stop that from happening, by rallying the world to confront the ideology of hate, and give the people of the Middle East a future of hope.” Note the verb: we are the givers, they the passive receivers.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Jihadist Will See You Now

As WIIIAI puts it (you'll have to trust me...I get something about "transfering to a new 'beta' version" when I try to visit), it's "managed care" on a whole new level. Freedom is a messy thing:

In a city with few real refuges from sectarian violence -- not government offices, not military bases, not even mosques -- one place always emerged as a safe haven: hospitals.

So Mounthir Abbas Saud, whose right arm and jaw were ripped off when a car bomb exploded six months ago, must have thought the worst was over when he arrived at Ibn al-Nafis Hospital, a major medical center here.

Instead, it had just begun. A few days into his recovery at the facility, armed Shiite Muslim militiamen dragged the 43-year-old Sunni mason down the hallway floor, snapping intravenous needles and a breathing tube out of his body, and later riddled his body with bullets, family members said.

Authorities say it was not an isolated incident. In Baghdad these days, not even the hospitals are safe. In growing numbers, sick and wounded Sunnis have been abducted from public hospitals operated by Iraq's Shiite-run Health Ministry and later killed, according to patients, families of victims, doctors and government officials.

I wonder if they tried to collect the deductible...
Here's Looking Down On You--One Year Later

"What--no groveling?"

Digby reminds us of another anniversary:

I have to give the administration credit for their smooth pivot from their Katrina failure to defeating Hitler. It was savvy, you have to admit, to go down to New Orleans and give a couple of plodding, desultory speeches while Rummy delivered a half-mad stemwinder about appeasement in the 1930's. Then, the minute the Katrina "anniversary" was over, Bush hightailed it out of town and immediately evoked the spectre of the Nazis, commies and martians coming to kill us all in our beds. I'm not seeing much about New Orleans anymore.

But I think it's important to remember, nonetheless, that while Bush drones on and on about terror and fear and struggle and pain and sacrifice this morning, one year ago today Katrina was far from over. Indeed, the story of his incompetence was just beginning...

After he returned to Washington he held that bizarre, stiff press conference as we watched people begging to be rescued from the top of their houses.

The New York Times described it the next day:
George W. Bush gave one of the worst speeches of his life yesterday, especially given the level of national distress and the need for words of consolation and wisdom. In what seems to be a ritual in this administration, the president appeared a day later than he was needed. He then read an address of a quality more appropriate for an Arbor Day celebration: a long laundry list of pounds of ice, generators and blankets delivered to the stricken Gulf Coast. He advised the public that anybody who wanted to help should send cash, grinned, and promised that everything would work out in the end.

He can assume a strong, manly pose today and catterwaul about "the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century," and fearmonger about "a single movement, a worldwide network of radicals that use terror to kill those who stand in the way of their totalitarian ideology" from the comfort of a hand picked audience. But when the chips were down a year ago, he proved he couldn't lead his way out of a FEMA trailer.
Fascinating--and Slightly Eerie--Images

Apologies for being a slowpost today--things got a little busy over here--catching back up with the internets found me lingering over this from Bag News Notes.

David Burnett, the photographer who's works are featured, has a larger retrospective here. There's a particular quality to many of the pictures. As BNN puts it:

Using his cherished large format Speed Graphic, the shallow depth of field created a particularly unusual effect. With Katrina's impact already other-worldly, Burnett's images add the impression that barely-recognizable automobiles might have been twisted inside a diorama, or that the scars wreaked upon the landscape might have taken place in (or else, actually left behind) a toy world.

I was quite moved by these images. My reaction, however, was almost purely visceral. My question is, what is it that these images accomplish that enhances, rather than diminishes or minimizes the poignancy of the devastation? (And, since I've blogged incessantly this week about Bush's pathological return to the Gulf, is there something inherent in Bush's alienation from the disaster that makes the alienation in these images even more compelling?)

Well put.

Burnett has also started his own blog, by the way.
How Appropriate

Norwegian police have recovered an original copy of Edvard Munch's The Scream, stolen two years ago. Good.

Because I can't think of a better representation of my mood following yet another example of fear mongering courtesy of the GOP.

Hmmm...speaking of scream, last night on Countdown Howard Dean did anything BUT; however, if you come across a transcript of what he said, you'll be impressed. Likewise with Olbermann's closing, which is racing around the internets literally at the speed of light, both in streaming video and written form. Good.

Because nothing cuts through GOP-grease, GOP-grime, and GOP-bullshit like a heaping dose of truth.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Name the City


This is a tale of [a] city...and a half-million people living on what was once a natural flood plain. But the final chapter of this story is still being written...

Fireworks couldn’t compete with the spectacular storms that swelled the rivers. Down in the Delta, some feared the worst.

the wind was blowing at close to 60 miles per hour. For a while, we abandoned the flood fight, and there was a concern that we may lose [it all].

“We have the system in place that we can respond quickly, but sometimes situations can get out of hand, and there is a potential or likelihood that the levee can fail. And if the levee fails...the consequences are pretty drastic.”...

The...storms took [multiple] lives, destroyed [thousands of] homes, and caused [billions of] dollars in damage.

And here's the answer.

Yeah, I'm sure y'all had it figured out, or, at the very least, knew it wasn't NOLA. But the point is that there are a LOT of places in the country that are vulnerable to flooding and/or have put human-made works into place for flood protection. If these works aren't maintained, you run severe risks. And in an age when government is supposedly "the problem," I'd bet a LOT of severe risks exist.

The opposite side of the coin, of course, is that these engineering works are built because of the BENEFIT they provide society as a whole. Barry's editorial points out that places like Pittsburgh, Minneapolis, and Tulsa are directly connected to the ocean thanks to ports like New Orleans. Out in California, deep water vessels ply the Sacramento River up to the city of Sacramento itself. The resulting commerce and trade is of value to the country as a whole.

Those arguing for abandonment are literally opting to cut off their nose to spite their face...
Perhaps We Can Permanently Shelve the "Freedom" Argument Now

Raed Jarrar, one of the Iraqis Team Bush was so adament on "liberating,"--and the same Raed Jarrar of Raed in the Middle--was detained at JFK Airport yesterday...because his t-shirt had the slogan "We Will Not Be Silent" written on it in English and Arabic:

An architect of Iraqi descent has said he was forced to remove a T-shirt that bore the words "We will not be silent" before boarding a flight at New York.
Raed Jarrar said security officials warned him his clothing was offensive after he checked in for a JetBlue flight to California on 12 August.

Mr Jarrar said he was shocked such an action could be taken in the US.

US transport officials are conducting an inquiry after a complaint from the US Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.

JetBlue said it was also investigating the incident but a spokeswoman said: "We're not clear exactly what happened." ...

Mr Jarrar later told a New York radio station: "I grew up and spent all my life living under authoritarian regimes and I know that these things happen.

"But I'm shocked that they happened to me here, in the US."

After a difficult exchange with airline staff, Mr Jarrar was persuaded to wear another T-shirt bought for him at the airport shop.

"We Will Not Be Silent" is a slogan adopted by opponents of the war in Iraq and other conflicts in the Middle East.

It is said to derive from the White Rose dissident group which opposed Nazi rule in Germany.

Raed's personal account of what happened is here. Here's a brief article about the White Rose movement in Nazi Germany.

And Donald Rumsfeld has some fucking nerve...
Out of Balance

One of the things that stands out in this John Barry editorial that Boyd and Oyster pointed to is the cost of INVESTING in the US Gulf Coast versus the cost of DENYING the reality of the epic misadventure in Mesopotamia:

Restoring the coast will cost an estimated $14.1 billion — spread over 25 to 30 years. By contrast, Iraq costs $6 billion a month.

That's only a single point in a superb editorial, but it's worth mentioning for all sorts of of which still mildly irritates me: one of the keynote speakers at the Rising Tide Conference repeated--numerous times--that he had no interest in local blogger opinions of Iraq, and that his only reason for reading NOLA blogs was for information about New Orleans.

Well, ok. Except that this attitude, IMHO, assumes a vacuum. In other words, you can supposedly isolate one issue from the other, which I disagree with. I'll also note an implied contempt for democracy--that is to say, that NOLA bloggers, or any bloggers, are evidently disqualified to "report" or opine about an issue of national importance.

I don't buy either one. Bloggers can and should be free to write about, well, whatever the hell they want to--and, to follow up on another point made by the same speaker, I'll judge the quality, veracity, or other attributes on a case-by-case basis. As it stands, I tend to read bloggers quite a bit more than "news" these days, at least in part because bloggers usually CITE news stories--which I'll also read--and because I happen to like certain people's writing style.

Besides, in an age that gives us both Jayson Blair AND Judith Miller--not to mention the WSJ editorial staff--I'll take my chances on the "unverified" internet...provided I've got a steady supply of salt.
With Friends Like That...

Shrub's got at least one supporter who's sticking with him--corrupt boxing promoter Don King:

On Fox News, Neil Cavuto turned to the boxing promoter Don King, a longtime supporter of Mr. Bush who held an American flag across his chest as he praised the president. The Fox News caption read, “Don King: Stop blaming Pres. Bush for Katrina.”

And, proving that the business of America is...selling...well:

For advertisers, the anniversary provided an emergency relief version of product placement: credit placement.

On “Today,” Procter & Gamble moved in seamlessly with panning shots of ruined houses and debris-filled streets. A woman holding a child described the devastation in her flooded house, saying, “Everything smells like mold.”

Cut to cheerful young people in red T-shirts collecting laundry beneath large banners for Tide detergent. In a voiceover, a woman softly said, “In times of crisis, it seems like everybody wants to do their part,” and explained that Tide had dispatched a Clean Start team to “wash nearly 10,000 loads of laundry for free.”

State Farm ran a commercial that also blended into the retrospectives on the morning news programs. It featured sad-faced survivors recorded in grainy film recalling their insurance agents’ benevolence.

“Without Cheryl, we would have been on the street,” a middle-age woman said, tears streaking down her cheeks as the company theme, “Like a good neighbor,” swelled in the background.

More like good grief than good neighbor.
Let 'em Eat Cake

Well, what a fine way to "celebrate" the anniversary of a national tragedy:

Thousands of families receiving free rent from the federal government after evacuating homes damaged by Hurricane Katrina could lose that help and be out on the street as early as this week as a series of deadlines approaches stirring a mounting anxiety about the future of the multibillion-dollar housing program.

Katrina dislodged so many people from their homes that shelter and housing assistance offered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency expanded to an unprecedented scope. Those programs are winding down in stages, creating a balancing act between the needs of the displaced beneficiaries and the desire of the federal government to return them to unsubsidized housing.

Meanwhile, they might be unsightly, ugly--and maybe even full of toxic fumes--but temporary housing in the form of thousands of FEMA trailers STILL sit at an airstrip in Hope, Arkansas, adding insult to injury:

Thousands of mobile homes collected to provide temporary homes for victims of Hurricane Katrina still sit unused at the Hope Airport more than a year after the storm ravaged the Gulf Coast, leaving thousands homeless.

"I really think it's a crying shame for so many people to be displaced and not have a place to stay," said Peter Smith of New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward, who now lives at Texarkana. "Very few people are back in New Orleans right now, and it's simply because they have nowhere to live."

The trailers, plus travel trailers recently added to the collection, were intended by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to be shipped to the Gulf Coast for use by storm victims. The agency said various restrictions on where the trailers could be placed stalled deployment, including a prohibition on placing them in flood plains. Some were sent to northeastern Arkansas to aid tornado victims last spring.

Of course, the OBVIOUS answer is for Washington to HONOR the committment Shrub made in Jackson Square, and again referred to yesterday...for anyone needing a refresher, here's the transcript.

Da Po' Boy and Bayou St. John David followed the money, and noticed where it HASN'T gone, namely, to the folks who need it. Perhaps Smirk-Chimp should, oh, I don't know, use his authority as Chief Executive (yeah, yeah, it's actually Big Time's government, but)...anyway, maybe he should be making sure that the money actually ARRIVES.

Because Gret Stet'ers, among other things, are highly independent and self-motivated. If the government would simply honor its promises, the country would see real progress. Instead, the inaction and run-around from Washington continues to feed into false myths about our so-called poverty, corruption, and/or laziness.

I call bullshit.

Last night Spike Lee's Katrina documentary ran in its entirety on HBO. Alas, I don't have that channel on my television, but as a consolation, LPB ran two very well produced documentaries chronicling stories from both Katrina and Rita survivors. One, called Washing Away, will reair Sunday, September 3rd, at 4:00pm Central Time. It's worth seeing.

The other, American Creole, doesn't yet show a reair date, but if you see it on the schedule, by all means watch or record it.

Here are links to websites for both programs (you can also purchase DVD's).

Finally, here's another perspective on one year after the deluge: Larry Bradshaw and Lorrie Beth Slonsky were caught in the aftermath after attending a paramedics' convention. A year ago, they chronicled their experience here.

How many more "anniversaries" is it going to take before you can genuinely call it "progress?"

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

A New Media Needle Production

Morse's Main Page. Direct link here.
Could Someone Please Ensure Mr. Rumsfeld's Taking His Meds?

Santafeld was in high form today:

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Tuesday the world faces ''a new type of fascism'' and likened critics of the U.S. war strategy to those who tried to appease the Nazis.

In unusually explicit terms, Rumsfeld portrayed the Bush administration's critics as suffering from ''moral or intellectual confusion'' about what threatens the nation's security. His remarks amounted to one of his most pointed defenses of President Bush' war policies and was among his toughest attacks on the president's critics.

Speaking to several thousand veterans at the American Legion's national convention, Rumsfeld recited what he called the lessons of history, including the failure to confront Hitler in the 1930s. He quoted Winston Churchill as observing that trying to accommodate Hitler was ''a bit like feeding a crocodile, hoping it would eat you last.''

''I recount this history because once again we face similar challenges in efforts to confront the rising threat of a new type of fascism,'' he said.

''Can we truly afford to believe that somehow, some way, vicious extremists can be appeased?'' he asked.

''Can we truly afford to return to the destructive view that America -- not the enemy -- is the real source of the world's troubles?''

Rumsfeld spoke to the American Legion as part of a coordinated White House strategy, in advance of the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, to take the offensive against administration critics at a time of doubt about the future of Iraq and growing calls to withdraw U.S. troops.

You know, I'll sort of agree on one "point" made by the Times: indeed, Rumsfeld was highly offensive.

Aside from the sheer ugliness of both politicizing national security AND lying about supposed intentions of "administration critics," the fact is that Rumsfeld is genuinely loony and as a rule simply shouldn't be trusted. He's wrong, flat out wrong, and his being in charge of the Pentagon is like having a pyromaniac put in charge of the fireworks warehouse...with greasy rags and a couple of lighters for "security purposes."
Empty Words and Heated Air

New Orleans has plenty of heat, humidity, and annoyances already, AND it's been one year since the national tragedy. Alas:

President Bush said he took full responsibility for the inadequate response to Hurricane Katrina, which came ashore in Louisiana one year ago today and caused the deaths of more than 1,800 people.

"Governments on all levels fell short of their responsibilities," the president said in a speech in New Orleans. "A year ago I made a pledge: that we will learn the lessons of Katrina and do what it takes to help you recover."

OK, read that again...notice the contradiction? To be fair, the actual transcript indicates Shrub only took "responsibility" for "the federal government's response," and it wasn't exactly as if he either said or meant anything close to "mea culpa" and/or asked for forgiveness.

And he's still insisting that private efforts--again, to be fair, THANK HEAVENS SOMEONE is doing something--but he thinks the private efforts to deconstruct and/or reconstruct are somehow adequate. Good god: New Orleans really IS his concept of "compassionate conservativism."

I invite anyone to come down and take a look. Some have:

The late-night bars and jazz clubs are open in the French Quarter, as are the cafes in the elegant Garden District. One year after the worst natural disaster in US history, New Orleans is gamely giving the impression that the good times are rolling again.

But a couple of miles to the north or east, the Cajun
[sic] bravura falls away like a cheap carnival mask, the streets fall quiet and the Crescent City becomes a dead zone.

If New Orleans is compassionate conservativism, then I say give me old fashioned big-spending liberal government any day.
Toy Story Tragedy

I'm going to be busy at work today, so alas, posting will be light, but...I managed to plow through a good bit of Disaster yesterday, and for me at least, one thing kept sticking out: this administration took FEMA and used it as a disposable plaything, gutting it the way a bratty kid might set up a toy train wreck or erector set collapse. This was done for strictly ideological reasons--some administration officials didn't like the way FEMA money was used to "play politics" under the Clinton administration.

To be fair, the book also mentioned that successive administrations, for years, had underfunded levee maintenence or improvement (or earmarked monies for dubious projects, like MRGO and/or Red River dredging).

That said, an enabled FEMA might well have mitigated some of the effects of the disaster. A gutted FEMA was worse than no agency at all...which evidently suited some in this administration just fine.

I'm not quite done with the volume--and I don't generally go for plowing through something like this in just a couple of sitting, but it makes for quite compelling reading...hopefully I'll be able to finish it up this evening.

And yes, BOTH the underfunding AND FEMA's gutting are infuriating. It goes back to something Scout mentioned at her own site and at After The Levees: what sort of government do we want? At the very least, it should be "competent." And it shouldn't be in the business of playing games with vital agencies--especially if they WORK--regardless of ideological considerations (for example--despite nonsense GOP rhetorical claims, the last TWO Democratic presidents RAISED military spending). They OWE that much to the citizens who elected them.

Monday, August 28, 2006

No Emptier Than all the Other Promises

NOT a "Deputy Special Assistant" to HUD Secretary Alphoso Jackson...

Rene Oswin he ain't:

Two members of the Yes Men, a group of environmental and corporate ethics activists, duped business executives and some news organizations earlier today when they posed as top HUD officials and announced the agency planned to renovate several housing developments now slated for demolition.

One of the men said they set up the hoax after receiving an e-mail solicitation from Equity International -- the group staging the conference -- in search of conference speakers. They responded by saying HUD secretary Alfonso Jackson would like to speak, after which Jackson was placed in the conference lineup after Gov. Kathleen Blanco and Mayor Ray Nagin.

The two men, one of whom posed as a HUD "deputy special assistant" Rene Oswin and the other as Oswin’s press secretary, showed up at the Pontchartrain Center in Kenner this morning and told organizers that Jackson couldn’t make the event, and that they would speak in his place, one said.

Then the man posing as Oswin gave a 15-minute speech saying that HUD was reversing its policy and would reopen all public housing in the city. While the speech was under way, the group e-mailed a bogus press release to major news outlets with the same announcement.

After the speech, the audience of several hundred people applauded, and the conference organizer thanked Oswin for his comments. A group of news reporters huddled around the fake HUD officials asking questions about the apparent policy reversal. Some news organizations sent out breaking news alerts to the major development before learning it was a fake.

Shortly after the speech concluded, another member of the Yes Men, standing outside the Lafitte housing development, said she had called numerous contractors and told them to gather at Lafitte at 1 p.m. to learn about millions in contracting opportunities that would spring from the policy reversal. She refused to give her name. The Lafitte complex is one of four slated for demolition.

You can look at the "press release" here. CNN has more, and the Yes Men themselves have a website that explains their motivation.

One thing that's interesting is that the ideas expressed by "Mr. Orwin" evidently were quite popular with all in attendence...and the numbers, in amounts of money to be spent and the source of funding, seemded quite reasonable, if you ask me. Certainly it was in keeping with the "promises" made in a generator-lit Jackson Square last year, when a certain chimp, I mean chief executive pledged to do whatever it took.

Maybe Mr. Orwin SHOULD be Jackson's Deputy Assistant...if not HUD secretary himself.

One silver lining to Blogger's normal crap (it took twenty minutes to post the pic) is that it's giving me time to really pore over Disaster--glad I picked up a copy on Saturday...

Now, onto the post: first, a link, thanks to Rozius, to Paul Krugman--another peek behind the Times Select Wall of Shame:

Last September President Bush stood in New Orleans, where the lights had just come on for the first time since Katrina struck, and promised “one of the largest reconstruction efforts the world has ever seen.” Then he left, and the lights went out again.

What happened next was a replay of what happened after Mr. Bush asked Congress to allocate $18 billion for Iraqi reconstruction. In the months that followed, congressmen who visited Iraq returned with glowing accounts of all the wonderful things we were doing there, like repainting schools and, um, repainting schools.

But when the Coalition Provisional Authority, which was running Iraq, closed up shop nine months later, it turned out that only 2 percent of the $18 billion had been spent, and only a handful of the projects that were supposed to have been financed with that money had even been started. In the end, America failed to deliver even the most basic repair of Iraq’s infrastructure; today, Baghdad gets less than seven hours of electricity a day.

And so it is along our own Gulf Coast. The Bush administration likes to talk about all the money it has allocated to the region, and it plans a public relations blitz to persuade America that it’s doing a heck of a job aiding Katrina’s victims. But as the Iraqis learned, allocating money and actually using it for reconstruction are two different things, and so far the administration has done almost nothing to make good on last year’s promises.

It’s true that tens of billions have been spent on emergency relief and cleanup. But even the cleanup remains incomplete: almost a third of the hurricane debris in New Orleans has yet to be removed. And the process of going beyond cleanup to actual reconstruction has barely begun.

For example, although Congress allocated $17 billion to the Department of Housing and Urban Development for Katrina relief, primarily to provide cash assistance to homeowners, as of last week the department had spent only $100 million. The first Louisiana homeowners finally received checks under a federally financed program just three days ago. Mississippi, which has a similar program, has sent out only about two dozen checks so far.

Local governments, which were promised aid in rebuilding facilities such as fire stations and sewer systems, have fared little better in actually getting that aid. A recent article in The National Journal describes a Kafkaesque situation in which devastated towns and parishes seeking federal funds have been told to jump through complex hoops, spending time and money they don’t have on things like proving that felled trees were actually knocked down by Katrina, only to face demands for even more paperwork.

Apologists for the administration will doubtless claim that blame for the lack of progress rests not with Mr. Bush, but with the inherent inefficiency of government bureaucracies. That’s the great thing about being an antigovernment conservative: even when you fail at the task of governing, you can claim vindication for your ideology.

But bureaucracies don’t have to be this inefficient. The failure to get moving on reconstruction reflects lack of leadership at the top.

Mr. Bush could have moved quickly to turn his promises of reconstruction into reality. But he didn’t. As months dragged by with little sign of White House action, all urgency about developing a plan for reconstruction ebbed away.

Mr. Bush could have appointed someone visible and energetic to oversee the Gulf Coast’s recovery, someone who could act as an advocate for families and local governments in need of help. But he didn’t.. How many people can even name the supposed reconstruction “czar”?

Mr. Bush could have tried to fix FEMA, the agency whose effectiveness he destroyed through cronyism and privatization. But he didn’t. FEMA remains a demoralized organization, unable to replenish its ranks: it currently has fewer than 84 percent of its authorized personnel.

Maybe the aid promised to the gulf region will actually arrive some day. But by then it will probably be too late. Many former residents and small-business owners, tired of waiting for help that never comes, will have permanently relocated elsewhere; those businesses that stayed open, or reopened after the storm, will have gone under for lack of customers. In America as in Iraq, reconstruction delayed is reconstruction denied — and Mr. Bush has, once again, broken a promise.

And don't think the rest of the country is immune to the possibility of catastrophe, courtesy of the gubmit...Saturday Scout observed that ANYONE living near an Army Corps of Engineers project should think long and hard about any gurantees, explicit or implied...while The Seattle Times points out that it isn't just the Corps that should cause one to worry:

WASHINGTON — A pipeline shuts down in Alaska. Equipment failures disrupt air travel in Los Angeles. Electricity runs short at a spy agency in Maryland.

None of these recent events resulted from a natural disaster or terrorist attack, but they may as well have, some homeland security experts say. They worry that too little attention is paid to how fast the country's basic operating systems are deteriorating.

"When I see events like these, I become concerned that we've lost focus on the core operational functionality of the nation's infrastructure and are becoming a fragile nation, which is just as bad — if not worse — as being an insecure nation," said Christian Beckner, a Washington analyst who runs the respected Web site Homeland Security Watch (

The American Society of Civil Engineers last year graded the nation "D" for its overall infrastructure conditions, estimating that it would take $1.6 trillion over five years to fix the problem.

"I thought [Hurricane] Katrina was a hell of a wake-up call, but people are missing the alarm," said Casey Dinges, the society's managing director of external affairs.

You know, at a time like this, what the country could really use is definite leadership at the top...too bad--what we've got is a frat boy running the show.
Year I, A.D. (Apres le Deluge)

(not so) Happy Anniversary

First, though, I'd like to offer a very humble thank-you, we-are-not-worthy to those who organized the Rising Tide NOLA conference--wow. I'll probably be leaving some people out, so apologies in advance, but Oyster, Ashley, Dangerblond, Maitri, Scout, and others did a superb job of bringing it all together. With folks like Adrastos, Mark Folse, Morwen, Greg Peters and others moderating or participating on the various panels--and a first rate keynote--and the attendence of all sorts of people who love or are concerned about the best city in the US--well, it keeps me optimistic about NOLA's future.

Provided Peggy Wilson is thoroughly leashed and muzzled, of course.

Actually, I'm serious: one panelist, during a later session, mentioned something about the power of activists, and the conference itself was a measure of this. Even Dunbar's, um, VIRTUAL delivery of lunch didn't slow things down, although again, a big thanks to Ashley and Mark for taking a hell of a risk in driving through a couple of feet of standing water and torrential rain (symbolic, I guess) to bring the "catered" food on-site.

I'd be nice if that made for a small discount.

Anyway, the determination, foresightedness, and planning of Rising Tide NOLA (on a shoestring budget, no less) stands in sharp contrast to the efforts of the richest government on earth--THEIR statement is...more photo-ops and political damage control, please, as Frank Rich points out:

But before we get to that [Iraq and 9/11] White House P.R. offensive, there is next week’s Katrina show. It has its work cut out for it. A year after the storm, the reconstruction of New Orleans echoes our reconstruction of Baghdad. A “truth squad” of House Democrats has cataloged the “waste, fraud, abuse or mismanagement” in $8.75 billion worth of contracts, most of which were awarded noncompetitively. Only 60 percent of the city has electricity. Half of the hospitals and three-quarters of the child-care centers remain closed. Violent crime is on the rise. Less than half of the population has returned.

How do you pretty up this picture? As an opening act, Mr. Bush met on Wednesday with Rockey Vaccarella, a Katrina survivor who with much publicity drove a “replica” of a FEMA trailer from New Orleans to Washington to seek an audience with the president. No Cindy Sheehan bum’s rush for him. Mr. Bush granted his wish and paraded him before the press. That was enough to distract the visitor from his professed message to dramatize the unfinished job on the Gulf. Instead Mr. Vaccarella effusively thanked the president for “the millions of FEMA trailers” complete with air-conditioning and TV. “You know, I wish you had another four years, man,” he said. “If we had this president for another four years, I think we’d be great.”

The CNN White House correspondent, Ed Henry, loved it. “Hollywood couldn’t have scripted this any better, a gritty guy named Rockey slugging it out, trying to realize his dream and getting that dream realized against all odds,” he said. He didn’t ask how this particular Rockey, a fast-food manager who lost everything a year ago, financed this mission or so effortlessly pulled it off. It was up to bloggers and Democrats to report shortly thereafter that Mr. Vaccarella had run as a Republican candidate for the St. Bernard Parish commission in 1999. It was up to Iris Hageney of Gretna, La., to complain on the Times-Picayune Web site that the episode was “a huge embarrassment” that would encourage Americans to “forget the numerous people who still don’t have trailers or at least one with electricity or water.”

That is certainly the White House game plan as it looks toward the president’s two-day return to the scene of the crime. Just as it brought huge generators to floodlight Mr. Bush’s prime-time recovery speech in Jackson Square a year ago — and then yanked the plug as soon as he was done — so it will stop at little to bathe this anniversary in the rosiest possible glow.

Douglas Brinkley, the Tulane University historian who wrote the best-selling account of Katrina, “The Great Deluge,” is worried that even now the White House is escaping questioning about what it is up to (and not) in the Gulf. “I don’t think anybody’s getting the Bush strategy,” he said when we talked last week. “The crucial point is that the inaction is deliberate — the inaction is the action.” As he sees it, the administration, tacitly abetted by New Orleans’s opportunistic mayor, Ray Nagin, is encouraging selective inertia, whether in the rebuilding of the levees (“Only Band-Aids have been put on them”), the rebuilding of the Lower Ninth Ward or the restoration of the wetlands. The destination: a smaller city, with a large portion of its former black population permanently dispersed. “Out of the Katrina debacle, Bush is making political gains,” Mr. Brinkley says incredulously. “The last blue state in the Old South is turning into a red state.”

Perhaps. But with no plan for salvaging either of the catastrophes on his watch, this president can no sooner recover his credibility by putting on an elaborate show of sermonizing and spin this week than Mr. Cruise could levitate his image by jumping up and down on Oprah’s couch. While the White House’s latest screenplay may have been conceived as “Mission Accomplished II,” what we’re likely to see play out in New Orleans won’t even be a patch on “Mission: Impossible III.”

By the way, I see that C. Ray issued an apology for his "hole-in-my-head," I mean, "hole-in-the-ground" remark. Don't know about y'all, but I'm still waiting for Shrub to come up with something beyond "to the extent that the federal government was responsible..." non-apology.