News Updates


Katrina refugees used as scabs

Nathan Newman notes that about a dozen evacuees from Hurricane Katrina have taken the jobs of striking workers at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco.

The workers -- among them janitorial staff and nursing assistants from the storm-ravaged gulf -- are employed by a temporary employment agency, CPMC Medical Director Allan Pont said, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Newman comments:


Not only is Bush trying to use Katrina to repeal wage standards in the Gulf Coast, they seem to be placing the refugees in scab jobs to undercut union wages in other cities.

Maybe the Katrina refugees just happened to all end up at one temp agency on their own, but given the Bush record, I'll assume this was deliberate until we can find proof otherwise.

Tab: Bush drinking again

"Faced with the biggest crisis of his political life, President Bush has hit the bottle again," the National Enquirer reports. "Bush, who said he quit drinking the morning after his 40th birthday, has started boozing amid the Katrina catastrophe."

"His worried wife yelled at him: 'Stop, George.'" notes: "Yes, it's probably not true, but then again, most of us didn't think the tabloid stories about Bill Clinton were true either."

For background, see Capitol Hill Blue, which reported in August that White House aides were scrambling "frantically behind the scenes to hide the dark mood of an increasingly angry leader who unleashes obscenity-filled outbursts at anyone who dares disagree with him."


Union buster to head OSHA

Jordan Barab writes that the nomination of Edwin Foulke, nominated last week to be assistant secretary of labor for OSHA, is looking more and more like a typical Bush administration move: Appoint a Republican political operative to head an agency that he's spent most of his career working to undermine.


Except in this case, there's an extra twist. Foulke is not just a Republican mover and shaker in South Carolina, he's also a partner at Jackson-Lewis, one of the most notorious union-busting lawfirms in the country. How appropriate for a Bush administration assistant secretary of labor. ...

See the rest.


N.O. survivor stories

CityPages of Minneapolis has put together first-hand accounts of about two dozen survivors who were trapped in New Orleans after the flooding from Hurricane Katrina but who eventually made it to Minneapolis. "The real measure of all that was done wrong by city, state, and federal governments, and of all that people trapped in New Orleans had to do and endure as a result, is in these tales and thousands of others like them."

News Flash: People would rather work less

Nathan Newman puts in perspective today's New York Times report that some women from elite colleges are planning to stay home with their kids.


Not once in the whole story does the author state the obvious point that elite women can make such definitive plans only because they have the clear prospect of similarly upper class mates. Most women don't have the luxury of being able to make such plans given the reality that it takes two paychecks for most families just to survive.

And guess what? Given the financial possibility of not having to work, most women AND MEN would work less hours or not at all ...

See Nathan's commentary for link to NYT story and another survey that shows women and men would rather work less.


Welfare bewilderment

Max writes that it's hard to find straight talk about poverty.


Conservatives talk as if the welfare system had never been reformed to their thunderous approval in 1996. We get the same old canards about underclass behavior and single moms, typified by the George (S)Will quotes I posted last week.

Liberals talk as if the reform had never happened , or they had never acceded to the reform and kept rolling backwards with talk about it not being as bad as we thought it would be, yadda yadda yadda. ...

Welfare reform was always a fraud. The evidence for its claims of success never amounted to much. How could it be otherwise? Work doesn't pay a single woman enough to raise children. Never has. Welfare reform is about pushing a woman into the workforce for not much more money and a lot less time with kids, plus a child care bill that somebody has to pay. It's ridiculous.

Read the rest.

Mess of our own making

Remember British Army Col. Tim Collins, who gave a celebrated speech to his troops about their mission to liberate, not conquer, in Iraq? Eric Alterman notes that Collins has since left the army and offered this comment in the London Observer yesterday entitled, “This is a mess of our own making.”  He observes:


What I had not realized was that there was no real plan at the higher levels to replace anything, indeed a simplistic and unimaginative overreliance in some senior quarters on the power of destruction and crude military might.  We were to beat the Iraqis.  That simple.  Everything would come together after that.

The Iraqi army was defeated - it walked away from most fights - but was then dismissed without pay to join the ranks of the looters smashing the little infrastructure left, and to rail against their treatment.  The Baath party was left undisturbed.  The careful records it kept were destroyed with precision munitions by the coalition; the evidence erased, they were left with a free rein to agitate and organize the insurrection.  A vacuum was created in which the coalition floundered, the Iraqis suffered and terrorists thrived.

One cannot help but wonder what it was all about.  If it was part of the war on terror then history might notice that the invasion has arguably acted as the best recruiting sergeant for al-Qaeda ever: a sort of large-scale equivalent of the Bloody Sunday shootings in Derry in 1972, which in its day filled the ranks of the IRA.  If it was an attempt to influence the price of oil, then the motorists who queued last week would hardly be convinced.  If freedom and a chance to live a dignified, stable life free from terror was the motive, then I can think of more than 170 families in Iraq last week who would have settled for what they had under Saddam.  UK military casualties reached 95 last week.  I nightly pray the total never reaches 100.

It is time for our leaders to explain what is going on.  It was as a battalion commander trying to explain to his men why they would embark on a war that I came to public notice.  The irony is that I made certain assumptions that my goodwill and altruistic motivations went to the top. Clearly I was naive.  This time it is the role of the leaders of nations to explain where we are going and why. I, for one, demand to know.


Nathan Newman notes at TPMCafe that George Bush violated the law in suspending the Davis-Bacon wage regulations without formally declaring a national emergency. He writes:


Now, whether Bush said the right "magic words" may not matter to any court that could potentially rule on the issue.

But the National Emergencies Act could land "moderate" Republicans between a rock (Delay & Bush) and their constituents, as Congress must vote every six months on whether this "national emergency"still exists.


Why is this key?

Because in six months, a bunch of Republicans in swing districts who claim to be pro-labor may have to vote on whether to continue the suspension of Davis-Bacon.

If they vote with Delay, this could be the vote to knock a number out of them out of office.  And if they vote with labor, it would be a massive national defeat for Bush and Delay.

The GOP has been able to control the agenda and prohibit most votes that might embarass those "pro-labor" Republicans (or give them a chance to rebel).  But the NEA may require a mandatory vote.

Avoiding this possibility may be why Bush didn't want to formally invoke the NEA.

Democrats should press to require congressional review of the administration's arbitrary suspension of fair-wage laws.

See also Scott Shields at MyDD.


Nice words, but don't count on Bush

George W. Bush gave a nice speech from deserted Jackson Square in New Orleans pledging his support for rebuilding the Crescent City and the Gulf Coast. Unfortunately, he does not have a good record on following up on noble pledges, except that in this case it will give Halliburton a lot of work. Still, don't forget to make your donation to the Red Cross or other charities who are helping out along the Gulf Coast and keep the heat on Congress to run the relief and rebuilding in a non-partisan manner. The Republican insistence in conducting a partisan "investigation" of the federal role in the Katrina disaster is not a good sign.

Media ignored cops blocking N.O. bridge

Washington CityPaper notes that soon after the floodwaters engulfed New Orleans, reporters chronicled the thousands trapped at the Superdome, trapped at the convention center, and trapped on rooftops. As the days passed, news consumers had to wonder: Why couldn’t citizens just hike out of the city to the nearest patch of dry land?

The Socialist Worker webzine on Sept. 6 provided an answer: You couldn’t leave without facing down a police barricade and gunfire. Two of its contributors, emergency medical technicians from San Francisco who were attending a convention in New Orleans when the hurricane struck, accompanied a group of about 200 people, nearly all of them black, as they tried to walk across the Mississippi River bridge to the relatively dry West Bank and were turned back at gunpoint by local police.

This was not an isolated incident. So why didn't we hear more about it, even after some published reports appeared.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Sept. 2 appears to be the first newspaper to break the story, with an account of a St. Louis couple who tried to walk out of the city via the Crescent Connection bridge but were turned away by Gretna, La., police with shotguns. When "some locals" threatened to rush the officers, the police fired their shotguns into the air.

ABC's Nightline on Sept. 4 reported Mayor Ray Nagin's remarks that police on the bridge with attack dogs and machine guns were forcing people to turn back, but other media failed to follow up until Lorrie Beth Slonsky and Larry Bradshaw reported their experience in the Socialist Worker. The San Francisco Chronicle on Sept. 9 and UPI followed up on that report and the following day the New York Times confirmed the accounts, although the story was buried on page A-13 and played down the racial aspect (the crowd was nearly all black and the cops were nearly all white). But at least they reported the story, which was more than can be said for the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times or the cable "news" networks that had video of black looters on endless loops. (CityPaper said lately, two weeks afer the incidents, MSNBC and CNN have been picking up on the story.)


Let the people rebuild New Orleans

By Naomi Klein, The Nation, via CommonDreams.

9/11 and the sport of God

Bill Moyer's address this past week at Union Theological Seminary in New York, where Judith and Bill Moyers received the seminary's highest award, the Union Medal, for their contributions to faith and reason in America. From


Mercenaries deploy in N.O. for Gulf War III

The Philly Daily News' Attytood notes that the disaster relief effort has turned into Gulf War III as New Orleans and environs are crawling with armed private commandos from Blackwater USA, the North Carolina-based security firm that has risen to prominence with its highly visible role in Iraq.

No civilians in New Orleans are allowed to carry pistols, shotguns or other firearms, P. Edwin Compass III, the superintendent of police, told the New York Times. "Only law enforcement are allowed to have weapons," he said.


But that order apparently does not apply to hundreds of security guards hired by businesses and some wealthy individuals to protect property. The guards, employees of private security companies like Blackwater, openly carry M-16's and other assault rifles. Mr. Compass said that he was aware of the private guards, but that the police had no plans to make them give up their weapons.

Suburban cops closed off N.O. escape route

Rogers Cadenhead reports that one of the reasons thousands of people didn't just leave New Orleans on foot over the Mississippi River Bridge when they had the opportunity was that anybody who tried to do so was turned away at gunpoint by suburban Gretna police, who fired guns to disperse evacuees and seized their water, according to published reports.

Two San Francisco paramedics who were staying in the French Quarter for a convention have written a first-hand account that describes their treatment at the hands of Louisiana police, a story confirmed today by the San Francisco Chronicle, UPI and St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Asked why the survivors couldn't cross the bridge, as there was little traffic on the 6-lane highway, the police reportedly responded that the West Bank (which is predominantly white) was not going to become New Orleans and there would be no Superdomes in their City.

In an interview with UPI, Gretna Police Chief Arthur Lawson confirmed that his department shut down the bridge to pedestrians: "If we had opened the bridge, our city would have looked like New Orleans does now: looted, burned and pillaged."

Around 500 people stuck in downtown New Orleans after the storm banded together for self-preservation, making sure the oldest and youngest among them were taken care of before looking after their own needs.

GOP sees opportunities in Louisiana disaster

The Wall Street Journal (sub required) notes that the removal of large numbers of predominantly Democratic black voters from New Orleans and resettling them in ohter states could threaten Sen. Mary Landrieu, who is up for re-election in 2008, and other Democratic officials in what was a swing state. Rep. Richard Baker, R-Baton Rouge, is overheard telling lobbyists: "We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn't do it, but God did."

Team Hate America

Oliver Willis lists the 11 Republican House members who voted against the hurricane disaster relief package. They include:

Rep. Joe Barton - TX

Jeff Flake - AZ

Virginia Foxx - NC

Scott Garrett - NJ

John Hostettler - IN

Steve King - IA

Butch Otter - ID

Ron Paul - TX

James Sensenbrenner - WI

Tom Tancredo - CO

Lynn Westmoreland - GA

He also links to their websites.

Jackass of the Day
Bush edict repeals prevailing wage

CNN reports:


President Bush issued an executive order Thursday allowing federal contractors rebuilding in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to pay below the prevailing wage.

In a notice to Congress, Bush said the hurricane had caused "a national emergency" that permits him to take such action under the 1931 Davis-Bacon Act in ravaged areas of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi.

More profits for Halliburton! See earlier note.


Term limits on Supreme Court

Nathan Newman says Democrats should demand term limits for Supreme Court justices before they approve any of Bush's picks for the court. If John Roberts is confirmed for the court, he could easily sit there for 30 years or more, he writes.


The current system creates the incentive to appoint younger lawyers with less experience to the Supreme Court, bypassing those with more experience. This is the exact right time to have a discussion about judicial term limits and would highlight Bush's goals of controlling the courts long after he's gone from office.

We agree with Nathan that lifetime appointments sustain oligarchy in a democratic society. We think a 10-year term would insulate justices from politics but allow the public to remove jurists who have overstayed their welcome.

GOP to screw workers in Katrina cleanup

Jonathan Tasini reports: 35 Republican Congress members sent a letter to President Bush Wednesday asking that he use emergency powers to suspend Davis-Bacon, which requires that workers on federally-financed projects be paid the prevailing wage.


    So, get this: while you and other Americans are taking money out of your pockets to help the Katrina-area people recover, the Republicans want to effectively negate everyone's efforts by forcing a wage cut on people who might actually get jobs--to replace those they lost because of the hurricane--in the reconstruction efforts. Your tax dollars--that would be the $62 billion, at a minimum, that would flow in federal money to the area based on Bush's request yesterday--would be the best way to help workers get on their feet, way beyond the charity, in the form of decent, paying jobs. But, nooooooo....

    Question: I wonder whether Halliburton, which will likely put its hands into those reconstruction projects (and Dick Cheney is being sent to the area so he can probably give his former employers a nice heads-up on what will be coming through the pipeline), will be required to do the projects for no profit or, better yet, at a know, for the public good.

Nathan Newman adds:


So instead of Louisiana and Mississippi refugees coming back to decent-paying jobs while they help reconstruct their communities, they end up in low-wage jobs while Bush-allied contractors get their profits subsidized on the public dole.

Looks like I've got to wait until later in the day to name Jackass of the Day ...

Jackass of the Day ...
Yahoo helps China convict journalist

New York Times reports: Yahoo, the Internet search company, provided information last year that helped authorities in China convict a Chinese journalist for leaking "state secrets" to a foreign Web site. The journalist, Shi Tao, was sentenced to 10 years in prison this June for sending to a Chinese-language Web site based in New York an anonymous posting that authorities said contained state secrets. His posting summarized a communication from Communist Party authorities to media outlets around the country, which Chinese journalists said was widely circulated.

Mr. Shi's case has become a prominent symbol of the recent tightening of media controls in the one-party state, where authorities often punish outspoken journalists for releasing information deemed secret, the Times reported. According to the court documents, Yahoo provided records that showed that Mr. Shi used a computer at his workplace, Contemporary Business News in Changsha, late in the evening of April 20, 2004, to gain access to his Yahoo e-mail account. Authorities say the offending email message was sent to the New York Web site from that e-mail account around that time, according to people involved in Mr. Shi's defense.

Yahoo and most of its rivals have chosen to cooperate with Chinese authorities rather than risk losing access to the country's fast-growing online marketplace, the Times noted.


Jackass of the Day ...
Navy commander: Rescues 'not our priority'

Not only did the Bush administration delay responding to the flooding after Hurrican Katrina. The New York Times reports that two Navy helicopter pilots were reprimanded for rescuing more than 100 victims of the flooding on Aug. 30.

Lt. David Shand and Lt. Matt Udkow, based at the Pensacola Naval Air Station, were each piloting a Navy H-3 helicopter -- a type often used in rescue operations as well as transport and other missions -- on that Tuesday afternoon, delivering emergency food, water and other supplies to Stennis Space Center, a federal facility near the Mississippi coast.

As the two helicopters were heading back home, the crews picked up a radio transmission from the Coast Guard saying helicopters were needed near the University of New Orleans to help with rescue efforts, the two pilots said.

Out of range for direct radio communication with Pensacola, more than 100 miles to the east, the pilots said, they decided to respond to the emergency and turned their helicopters around. Within minutes, they were over New Orleans and proceeded to pick up stranded people. According to the pilots and other military officials, they rescued 110 people.

When they returned to Pensacola the next morning, though, the two crews were called to a meeting with Commander Michael Holdener, who said he told them that while helping civilians was laudable, the lengthy rescue effort was an unacceptable diversion from their main mission of delivering supplies.

"We all want to be the guys who rescue people," Commander Holdener said. "But they were told we have other missions we have to do right now and that is not the priority."

When Lt. Udkow objected, he was reassigned to oversee a temporary kennel for pets of service members evacuated from the hurricane-damaged areas.

In protest, the Times reported, some members of the unit have stopped wearing a search and rescue patch on their sleeves that reads, "So Others May Live."

For his hidebound devotion to orders over common sense, Holdener deserves the title of "Jackass of the Day."

Budget cutters doomed N.O. years ago

For the record, the levees didn't break in New Orleans, after all. That's right, the 200-year-old technology of massive earthen berms held up to Katrina's backwash. It was the 40-year-old reinforced concrete flood walls that broke down because they weren't designed for a Category 4 storm.

Max notes the following from CBS 60 Minutes:


As people flew off Jennette Street, across town sandbags were falling and disappearing into one of three breaches that betrayed New Orleans to the sea. We learned something that surprised us here. Despite what you’ve been hearing, not one of New Orleans’ levees failed. All of the massive earthen levees survived. The failure was in flood walls like this one on the 17th Street canal. The flood walls are miles long, but only two feet thick.

Al Naomi is the man who manages them for the Army Corps of Engineers. He was probably the first to understand what was about to happen to New Orleans.

"Flood walls are unforgiving. They’re either there or they’re not," Naomi says.

The walls were designed in 1965 to withstand a Category 3 storm. Category 4 Katrina pushed her surge over the top.

"It just was overtopped and the water started pouring over the support for the flood wall, failed and it just pushed out and toppled over and that was it," Naomi explains.

Naomi was at a loss when asked how this engineering disaster could have been prevented.

"You see there was not sufficient money or time to do anything about this," Naomi says. "If someone had said, 'O.K. here is a billion dollars, stop this failure from happening for a Category 4,' it couldn’t have been done in time. I’d of had to start 20 years ago to where I feel today I would’ve been safe from a Category 4 storm like Katrina.

"Sure it should have been done 20 years ago but what can we do about that? You have to recognize before we had Category 3 protection we didn’t have anything." notes that:


A. The levees are typically very large earthern berms that are basically reinforced, big sloping hills of dirt used as flood barriers.
B. Flood control walls are the two-feet thick vertical concrete walls mainly along the many miles of drainage and navigation canals in New Orleans that are backed up by earthen works much narrower than a typical levee.

NO levees failed in New Orleans! I repeat, NO levees failed in New Orleans! The flooding was caused by the failure of three sections of FLOOD CONTROL WALLS at:
- The 17th Street Canal
- The London Street Canal
- The Industrial Canal -
IMPORTANT UPDATE -The Times Picayune is reporting that a loose barge may have caused a large breach in the east side of the Industrial Canal floodwall that accelerated Hurricane Katrina's rising floodwaters in the Lower Ninth Ward and St. Bernard Parish.

So flood control is a decades-long problem and underfunding of levee reinforcements has been bi-partisan. But that hardly excuses the Bush administration's further reductions in the levee and flood control works, much less its tardy response -- and actual interference in -- rescue efforts to the Katrina flooding disaster.

Max writes: "I see the blossoming of survivalism. We are so f*cked in the event of a new, serious terrorist attack as long as the Gov is run by people who don't like government."

Expect a run on guns and generators


Northern Command Isn't Happy

From Carpetbagger Report:

Because Northern Command oversees all active-duty military operations inside the United States, it's also responsible for organizing the relief operations on the Gulf Coast. There are early indications, however, that NorthCom officials aren't entirely pleased with the orders they've received of late from the president.

There's an interesting BBC World News report (brought to my attention by my friend Darrell ) in which NorthCom Lt. Commander Sean Kelly explained the military's efforts which, in addition to military support, include distribution of medical supplies, search and rescue operations, distributing food and water, and meeting transportation needs.

When the BBC noted the criticism of the government's slow response, Lt. Commander Kelly explained that NorthCom was ready to go well in advance of Katrina making landfall, but suggested the president didn't make the right call at the right time.


"Northcom started planning before the storm even hit. We were ready when it hit Florida, because, as you remember, it hit the bottom part of Florida, and then we were planning once it was pointed towards the Gulf Coast.

"So, what we did, we activated what we call 'defense coordinating officers' to work with the states to say, 'OK, what do you think you will need?' And we set up staging bases that could be started.

"We had the USS Bataan sailing almost behind the hurricane so once the hurricane made landfall, its search and rescue helicopters could be available almost immediately So, we had things ready.

"The only caveat is: we have to wait until the president authorizes us to do so. The laws of the United States say that the military can't just act in this fashion; we have to wait for the president to give us permission."

See the rest.

Senate Democrats' plan for Gulf Coast relief

From DailyKos:


It does not involve repealing the estate tax or rushing Supreme Court nominations. Some of the highlights of the plan proposed by Democratic Senate Leader Harry Reid:


Although the Congress last week appropriated $10.5 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Defense Department, it is clear much more will be needed given the enormity of this disaster. While government authorities and others assess the scope of the problem and decide how much additional funding will be needed to address specific problems, there are a number of legislative items the Senate can and should promptly approve that can help Katrina's victims.  After the Senate has completed action on this emergency legislation, we hope the Senate will quickly provide significant new funding, and consider other substantive proposals that could help address short- and medium-term needs.  These proposals must be followed by a much broader, long-term effort to rebuild and rehabilitate the Gulf Coast region and substantially improve efforts to prevent, mitigate and respond to future disasters.

The following are just some examples of proposals that Senate Democrats believe deserve immediate Senate action this week:

Ensuring health care for all displaced victims

            * Immediate access to Medicaid for displaced victims.
            * No need to prove residency or assets
            * No copayments
            * No penalties for failing to sign up for Medicare Part B in time. . . .

Getting victims housing

            * Emergency housing vouchers for displaced victims
            * Expedited application procedures with no red tape.
            * No tenant contributions until they find work.
            * Tax incentives for private families to take in victims.
            * Identify federal facilities that can house victims.
            * Relief for homeowners facing threat of foreclosure. . . .

Getting victims to family members and friends

Many of Katrina's victims have little or no access to transportation.  Although FEMA has legal authority to address this, the agency seems overwhelmed and has proven unable on its own to meet the compelling needs of countless numbers of stranded victims.  We therefore need to make this a White House priority and direct the President to lead a broad effort to quickly ensure that displaced victims can get to family, friends and others who can provide them with room and board.          

Getting students into school

Many of Katrina's victims are children who need to enroll in a new school.  To encourage schools to accept these victims, and alleviate some of the resulting burdens, we should provide funding to school districts that accept displaced children.  This funding could be used to hire additional teachers, teachers' aides, or counselors, or to provide temporary expansions of classrooms.  A similar program should be provided for institutions of higher education that admit displaced students. . . .

Getting victims cash to meet other basic needs

To ensure that victims can get cash for their basic needs, we should strengthen and expand the Disaster Unemployment Insurance Program and automatically extend any expiring UI benefits that victims are receiving. We also should give the President authority to increase the $26,200 statutory cap on cash assistance through the Individuals and Households Program, and should waive the 25 percent matching requirement for States in the Gulf region.  In addition, victims should be allowed to withdraw funds from individual retirement accounts (IRA's) penalty-free, with extra contributions permitted later.  

Providing financial relief to victims and National Guard

Katrina's victims, and National Guard involved in disaster operations, should not be obligated to make payments to the Federal government in the immediate aftermath of the disaster.  There should be a short term moratorium on obligations such as:

       Student loans
       Individual and corporate income taxes
       Small business loans

In addition, disaster victims filing for bankruptcy should be treated differently under the bankruptcy code in recognition of their particular hardship.
. . . Requiring accountability

We should require the President to submit regular reports to the Congress on the status of recovery efforts, the number of victims who remain without decent housing, jobs, etc., and any additional resources or action needed to address the crisis.

See the entire statement.

Part of the Problem

DailyKos lists some of the ways that FEMA prevented assistance to hurricane-ravaged New Orleans. The documented malfeasances include:

• FEMA won't accept Amtrak's help in evacuations

• FEMA turns away experienced firefighters

• FEMA turns back Wal-Mart supply trucks

• FEMA prevents Coast Guard from delivering diesel fuel

• FEMA won't let Red Cross deliver food

• FEMA bars morticians from entering New Orleans

• FEMA blocks 500-boat citizen flotilla from delivering aid

See here for links and more instances.

Difference Between Getting it Right and Getting it Done

Bob Burnett writes in the Berkeley Daily Planet:


A key Silicon Valley rule is that to be successful at developing new products one must focus on getting the job done, rather than on being right. The failure of the Iraq constitutional process brings America to a critical decision-point, where the American public has been presented with only two options, both based on the notion of taking the "right" next step in Iraq. ...

(See the rest.)


Notes from New Orleans

Jordan Flaherty of Left Turn writes:


I just left New Orleans a couple hours ago. I traveled from the apartment I was staying in by boat to a helicopter to a refugee camp. If anyone wants to examine the attitude of federal and state officials towards the victims of hurricane Katrina, I advise you to visit one of the refugee camps.

In the refugee camp I just left, on the I-10 freeway near Causeway, thousands of people (at least 90% black and poor) stood and squatted in mud and trash behind metal barricades, under an unforgiving sun, with heavily armed soldiers standing guard over them. When a bus would come through, it would stop at a random spot, state police would open a gap in one of the barricades, and people would rush for the bus, with no information given about where the bus was going. Once inside (we were told) evacuees would be told where the bus was taking them - Baton Rouge, Houston, Arkansas, Dallas, or other locations. I was told that if you boarded a bus bound for Arkansas (for example), even people with family and a place to stay in Baton Rouge would not be allowed to get out of the bus as it passed through Baton Rouge.

You had no choice but to go to the shelter in Arkansas. If you had people willing to come to New Orleans to pick you up, they could not come within 17 miles of the camp. ...

(See the rest.)

See also "Storm Exposed Disarray at the Top," from the 9/4 Washington Post.

Rehnquist dies

Rehnquist will be remembered, if for anything, as the partisan hack who made his bones with the GOP with minority voter suppression efforts in Arizona 40 years ago and whose court overturned Florida election results to hand the presidency to George W. Bush in 2000. Rehnquist's dependable right-wing vote on the court is expected to be replaced by another right-winger who will be hostile to small businesses and working-class interests.

Right-winger John Roberts replacing centrist conservative Justice Sandra Day O'Connor is still the exchange that would tip the balance of the court on social issues and further entrench the court as a protector of corporate interests. As long as the White House continues to resist the full disclosure of Robert's record as a Republican political appointee, Democrats should resist his confirmation to the court.

See the Electronic Policy Network's Supreme Court Guide for Activists.

Iraq targets unions

Nathan Newman reports: The Bush administration has been actively hostile to the trade unions in Iraq -- even keeping old Saddam Hussein laws in place to restrict union rights -- but a new decree 875 by the new government promises an even worse crackdown or even elimination of labor union independence in that nation.  


What better time for more tax relief?

With uncounted numbers dead in New Orleans at least in part because the US Army Corps of Engineers lacked funds to reinforce levees, Senate Finance Committee members were informed Friday that Sen. Bill Frist will move forward with a vote to permanently repeal the estate tax next week, likely on Tuesday, ThinkProgress reported.

Sen. Harry Reid said he was "surprised at the Republican leadership's insensitivity toward the events of the last week," in pushing for the estate tax vote.

Feds duck responsibility

While Bush administration officials blame state and local authorities for what leaders at all levels have called a failure of the country's emergency management, Armando at DailyKos notes that, according to the Department of Homeland Security's own website:


In the event of a terrorist attack, natural disaster or other large-scale emergency, the Department of Homeland Security will assume primary responsibility on March 1st for ensuring that emergency response professionals are prepared for any situation. This will entail providing a coordinated, comprehensive federal response to any large-scale crisis and mounting a swift and effective recovery effort .  The new Department will also prioritize the important issue of citizen preparedness. Educating America's families on how best to prepare their homes for a disaster and tips for citizens on how to respond in a crisis will be given special attention at DHS.

See more from Armando at Daily Kos.

Scott Shepard at found a link from the Homeland Security website that further limited the responsibilities of state and local governments in major crises:


A Guide to the Disaster Declaration Process and Federal Disaster Assistance
Local and State governments share the responsibility for protecting their citizens from disasters, and for helping them to recover when a disaster strikes. In some cases, a disaster is beyond the capabilities of the State and local government to respond.

Shepard comments:


So, "the Department of Homeland Security will assume primary responsibility ... for ensuring that emergency response professionals are prepared for any situation" and that "[i]n some cases, a disaster is beyond the capabilities of the State and local government to respond." They say it's their responsibility? Let's hold them to it.

Atrios notes that the Washington Post reported:


Louisiana did not reach out to a multi-state mutual aid compact for assistance until Wednesday, three state and federal officials said. As of Saturday, Blanco still had not declared a state of emergency, the senior Bush official said.

Atrios adds:


As DD Blog and many others have pointed out, a state of emergency was declared on the Thursday before the hurricane arrived.

Those parts of the media who are actually exposed to the horror in New Orleans seem to be doing their jobs. Those back in DC, just following business as usual, continue to carry water without bothering to do the basic bit of legwork.

New Orleans left to dead and dying

At least three babies died at the New Orleans Convention Center from heat exhaustion while federal officials dithered for five days about whether to send in the National Guard to help evacuate people stranded there without food or water. (See AP and Atrios.)

Bush visit halted food delivery

Not only did the Bush administration botch Gulf Coast hurricane relief for five days -- the president's visit to New Orleans Friday actually made things worse. As the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported, three tons of food ready for delivery by air to refugees in St. Bernard Parish and on Algiers Point sat on the Crescent City Connection bridge Friday afternoon as air traffic was halted because of President Bush’s visit to New Orleans.


The provisions, secured by U.S. Rep. Charlie Melancon, D-Napoleonville, and state Agriculture Commissioner Bob Odom, baked in the afternoon sun as Bush surveyed damage across southeast Louisiana five days after Katrina made landfall as a Category 4 storm, said Melancon’s chief of staff, Casey O’Shea.

“We had arrangements to airlift food by helicopter to these folks, and now the food is sitting in trucks because they won’t let helicopters fly,” O’Shea said Friday afternoon.

The food was expected to be in the hands of storm survivors after the president left the devastated region Friday night, he said.

Melancon tried to call Bush to let him know of the snafu, but the president's security detail wouldn't clear him to board Air Force One, the Associated Press reported. (From DailyKos.)

Potemkin President

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., who had been criticized for her failure to take the Bush administration to task for its inaction, Saturday issued a statement noting that FEMA had failed to follow up on offers of assistance such as the US Forest Service's water-tanker aircraft available to help douse the fires raging on our riverfront and Amtrak trains to evacuate victims, as well as offers of medicine, communications equipment and other desperately needed items.


“But perhaps the greatest disappointment stands at the breached 17th Street levee. Touring this critical site yesterday with the President, I saw what I believed to be a real and significant effort to get a handle on a major cause of this catastrophe. Flying over this critical spot again this morning, less than 24 hours later, it became apparent that yesterday we witnessed a hastily prepared stage set for a Presidential photo opportunity; and the desperately needed resources we saw were this morning reduced to a single, lonely piece of equipment. The good and decent people of southeast Louisiana and the Gulf Coast – black and white, rich and poor, young and old – deserve far better from their national government.

Laura Rozen relays a report that the the open-air food distribution point Bush visited in front of the cameras Friday was torn down immediately after the president and the herd of 'news people' had left and that others which were allegedly being set up were abandoned at the same time, according to German TV.

Class war in N.O.?

John Edwards writes at TPMCafe Friday:


During the campaign of 2004, I spoke often of the two Americas: the America of the privileged and the wealthy, and the America of those who lived from paycheck to paycheck.  I spoke of the difference in the schools, the difference in the loan rates, the difference in opportunity.  All of that pales today.

Today - and for many days and weeks and months to follow - we see a harsher example of two Americas.  We see the poor and working class of New Orleans who don't own a car and couldn't evacuate to hotels or families far from the target of Katrina.  We see the suffering of families who lived from paycheck to paycheck and who followed the advice of officials and went to shelters at the Civic Center or the Superdome or stayed home to protect their possessions.

Read the rest.

Sam Rosenfeld appears to blast Edwards at Tapped on Friday, writing that "former Senator John Edwards really sinks to a new low by using the horror of Katrina as an opportunity to play the dastardly class card. The class card is one of the dirtiest tricks in the book, of course -- you know how it goes: 'We're all in it together, I guess, except for the poor who are extra-special.' Edwards plays it to the hilt here. It's truly a diabolical performance, and worth a read. Has he no shame? Does the former senator even realize that he's engaging in 'rhetorical point scoring at its cheapest and most disingenuous'? Where's the national unity?

It's possible that Rosenfeld is attempting to use irony (he links to supporting commentary at the National Review -- and the more I look at it, the more his remarks appear to be aimed at the right wingnuts). If so, his attempt at subtlety failed.


Help ACORN give poor a voice in New Orleans rebuilding

Nathan Newman notes that amidst the general tragedy, the national headquarters of ACORN, one of the key national advocates on behalf of the poor and working families in the country, has been destroyed in New Orleans.


People may want to contribute money to rebuild New Orleans, but if you want to make sure that the poor in that city, as well as others, have a voice in its rebuilding, contributing to help ACORN rebuild its offices is probably one of the more efficient uses of your money.  

Given the expected malfeasance of the Bush administration in handing out money to cronies and bypassing the needs of poor residents, it's all the more important that ACORN be strong on the ground.

So donate to ACORN, along with other direct relief money.  The first will make sure the rest is better spent.


New Orleans a casualty of war in Iraq

James Wolcott in "New Orleans Died for Our Sins," rebuts a DailyKos blogger who says it is too soon to let politics intrude on the tragedy. "Maybe next week. But not today," Armando writes. Wolcott replies:


I don't mean to pick on Armando, but has he learned nothing under Bush? There is no "next week" when it comes to getting answers and fixing accountability for failure under this president. Next week never comes.

Look at 9/11. There were tough questions about the breakdown of communications at Ground Zero, the lateness in scrambling fighter jets once the hijacked planes were heading toward NY and DC, Bush's strange behavior on that day, etc., and in the aftermath those questions were considered inappropriate, "divisive." We needed to grieve first, heal; and then the tough questions could be raised.

But they weren't. As months passed, the focus was on overthrowing the Taliban and avenging 9/11, and tough questions were taken off the table as the drumbeat was about the Nation Moving Forward. The media fell into zombie lockstep behind the invigorated Bush agenda. It took the 9/11 widows and esp the "Jersey Girls" to push and shame the Congress, the media, and the administration into launching a proper investigation, otherwise it would have all slid into the memory hole apart from the iconic images of the smoking towers before their collapse.

No, this is the time for politics, none better, because I can tell you just from being out of NY a few days that a lot of people in this country are shocked and sobered by New Orleans, but they're also worried and pissed off. They're making the connection between the money, manpower, and resources expended in Iraq and how raggedy-ass the rescue effort has been in the Gulf. If you don't say it now when people's nerves are raw and they're paying full attention, it'll be too late once the waters receded and the media-emoting "healing process" begins.

See also Paul Craig Roberts on "How New Orleans was Lost."

Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair eulogize New Orleans at

Molly Ivins on "why New Orleans is in Deep Water."

Gulf Coast to Bush: Thanks for nothing

Mike Parker, former Republican congressman from Mississippi who briefly served as head of the Army Corps of Engineers from late 2001 to early 2002 before being canned for criticizing administration budget cuts, was quoted in today's Chicago Tribune saying, "I'm not saying it wouldn't still be flooded, but I do feel that if it had been totally funded, there would be less flooding than you have." cites a March 7, 2002 Clarion-Ledger report on the circumstances of Parker's firing. "I think he was fired for being too honest and not loyal enough to the president," said a lobbyist for communities with Corps-funded projects.

It all comes back to leadership

Gen. Wesley Clark at the TPMCafe.


Our country is hurting right now.  Our situation in Iraq is floundering; gasoline may reach more than $4 per gallon by Tuesday; and the entire Gulf Coast of the United States is wounded and limping.  The common need our people have -- and count on -- to see us through these challenges is leadership.

We're not getting it from W. See the rest.

Emergency Plan: Run if you can

A reader writes:


I have a question that no one has raised so far. Wouldn’t part of any homeland security preparation be the handling of refugees? Virtually any serious terrorist attack (explosion, nuclear, biological) would entail a large number of displaced persons. Wasn’t anything done along these lines? I would have thought we would have pre-positioned refugee resources (tents, MRE's, water purification, generators, emergency medical care) near major population centers in the event of mass exodus. Am I crazy?

Atrios wonders: "Haven't they done ... anything in 4 years?

Bush: Who knew N.O. might flood?

From the BBC:

George W. Bush has admitted there is "frustration" at the speed of the relief effort following Hurricane Katrina's hit on the Gulf Coast, but in an interview with ABC TV he said the operation being mounted was one of the biggest in US history, and inevitably took time to get under way.

"I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees. They did appreciate a serious storm but these levees got breached and as a result much of New Orleans is flooded and now we're having to deal with it and will," he said. "There's a lot of food on its way, a lot of water on the way and there's a lot of boats and choppers headed that way... it just takes a while to float them."

Nobody knew that the levees might be breached? See below for the rebuttal to that disinformation. The Corps of Engineers warned the Bush administration about the problem. The Bush administration gave the Corps a fraction of the amount it said it needed for levee reconstruction. Then last year the Corps was told not to start any new studies because there will be no money to pay for the work, because of the war in Iraq and the tax cuts for the wealthy.

See also "Federal Government Wasn't Ready for Katrina, Disaster Experts Say:
The slow response to Katrina and poor federal leadership is a replay of 1992's mishandling of Hurricane Andrew," by Seth Borenstein of Knight-Ridder.


US won't let Canada help Gulf Coast rescue

DailyKos notes that a specialized urban search and rescue team from Vancouver was prepared to join the rescue efforts in Louisiana in the wake of hurricane Katrina, after officials in Louisiana asked for help. Except for one problem -- this team was blocked by Homeland Security from entering the US.

Canadian agencies are saying that foreign aid is probably not being permitted into Louisiana and Mississippi because of "mass confusion" at the US federal level in the wake of the storm.

Bush also has rejected Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's offer of help.

Shades of the old Soviet Union ...

Steve Gilliard writes:


If Bush understood how serious this was, a brigade of the 101st would be have moved to Ft. Polk over the weekend and their helicopters would have been rescuing people as soon as the weathered cleared. Their heavy lift battalion would have been ferrying in supplies to isolated communities and the AF would have been dropping humanitarian aid packages like they did in Afghanistan over isolated rural areas. But that would be a serious understanding of the situation. Like taking over a couple of military bases recently closed and starting to build housing there and establishing order. The Astrodome will turn into the Superdome within days.

The response here has not met the need in any way, shape or form. Just three C-130's could have tossed out enough food and water to keep people alive until the trucks arrived in the rural areas.

Instead, this is disaster business as usual and that is condemning people to die.

Poverty kept folks in New Orleans

While the talking heads were in no mood to blame George W. Bush for failing to reinforce the Lake Pontchartrain levees, they sure were willing to blame the poor folks who stayed in New Orleans despite the advance warning to clear out.

But Garance Franke-Ruta notes at Tapped that an increasing number of reports point to poverty -- and lack of public transportation -- as the cause of the incomplete evacuation of New Orleans.


Evacuating for even two days, for people who lacked a car and friends to stay with, probably would have cost between $350 and $600, assuming there were buses or trains to be had leaving the city for points north. The poor and working poor live paycheck to paycheck and simply don't have that kind of cash lying around. But the car issue was probably the most significant one, given the availability of free shelters outside the city.

A TPMCafe reader report makes a similar case, writing: "No one talks, by the way, about how the lack of public transportation was a large factor in determining who stayed in or around the region."

The New York Times is also clear on what's at stake and who will have to intervene, writing in an editorial today: "People who think of that graceful city and the rest of the Mississippi Delta as tourist destinations must have been reminded, watching the rescue operations, that the real residents of this area are in the main poor and black. The only resources most of them will have to fall back on will need to come from the federal government." cites an email from an unidentified rescue worker on the Economics of Disaster:


The poorest 20% (you can argue with the number -- 10%? 18%? no one knows) of the city was left behind to drown. This was the plan. Forget the sanctimonious bulls**t about the bullheaded people who wouldn't leave. The evacuation plan was strictly laissez-faire. It depended on privately owned vehicles, and on having ready cash to fund an evacuation. The planners knew full well that the poor, who in new orleans are overwhelmingly black, wouldn't be able to get out. The resources -- meaning, the political will -- weren't there to get them out.

White per capita income in Orleans parish, 2000 census: $31,971. Black per capita: $11,332. Median *household* income in B.W. Cooper (Calliope) Housing Projects, 2000: $13,263.

Here's the Story of a Hurricane

From Progress Report for Aug. 30:


In 2001, the Federal Emergency Management Agency ranked a major hurricane strike on New Orleans as "among the three likeliest, most catastrophic disasters facing this country," directly behind a terrorist strike on New York City. Yesterday, disaster struck. One of the strongest storms in recorded history rocked the Gulf Coast, bringing 145 mph winds and floods of up to 20 feet. One million residents were evacuated; at least 65 are confirmed dead. Tens of thousands of homes were completely submerged. Mississippi's governor reported " catastrophic damage on all levels." Downtown New Orleans buildings were "imploding," a fire chief said. Oil surged past $70 a barrel. New Orleanians were grimly asking each other, "So, where did you used to live?" (To donate to Red Cross disaster relief, click here or call 1-800-HELP-NOW). While it happened, President Bush decided to ... continue his vacation, stopping by the Pueblo El Mirage RV and Golf Resort in El Mirage, California, to hawk his Medicare drug benefit plan. On Sunday, President Bush said, "I want to thank all the folks at the federal level and the state level and the local level who have taken this storm seriously.” He’s not one of them. Below, the Progress Report presents "How Not to Prepare for a Massive Hurricane," by President Bush, congressional conservatives, and their corporate special interest allies. 

First on the list:


SLASH SPENDING ON HURRICANE PREPAREDNESS IN NEW ORLEANS:   Two months ago, President Bush took an ax to budget funds that would have helped New Orleans prepare for such a disaster. The New Orleans branch of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers suffered a "record $71.2 million" reduction in federal funding, a 44.2 percent reduction from its 2001 levels. Reports at the time said that thanks to the cuts, "major hurricane and flood protection projects will not be awarded to local engineering firms. ... Also, a study to determine ways to protect the region from a Category 5 hurricane has been shelved for now." (Too bad Louisiana isn't a swing state. In the aftermath of Hurricane Frances -- and the run-up to the 2004 election -- the Bush administration awarded $31 million in disaster relief to Florida residents who didn't even experience hurricane damage.)

See the rest of the Progress Report.

N.O. levee projects lost out to Iraq war, tax breaks for rich

The Philadelphia Daily News' Attytood notes in "When the Levee Breaks" that New Orleans had long known it was highly vulnerable to flooding and a direct hit from a hurricane.


In fact, the federal government has been working with state and local officials in the region since the late 1960s on major hurricane and flood relief efforts. When flooding from a massive rainstorm in May 1995 killed six people, Congress authorized the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project, or SELA.

Over the next 10 years, the Army Corps of Engineers, tasked with carrying out SELA, spent $430 million on shoring up levees and building pumping stations, with $50 million in local aid. But at least $250 million in crucial projects remained, even as hurricane activity in the Atlantic Basin increased dramatically and the levees surrounding New Orleans continued to subside.

Yet after 2003, the flow of federal dollars toward SELA dropped to a trickle. The Corps never tried to hide the fact that the spending pressures of the war in Iraq, as well as homeland security -- coming at the same time as federal tax cuts -- was the reason for the strain. At least nine articles in the Times-Picayune from 2004 and 2005 specifically cite the cost of Iraq as a reason for the lack of hurricane- and flood-control dollars. ...

In early 2004, as the cost of the conflict in Iraq soared, President Bush proposed spending less than 20 percent of what the Corps said was needed for Lake Pontchartrain ...

The district identified $35 million in projects to build and improve levees, floodwalls and pumping stations in St. Bernard, Orleans, Jefferson and St. Charles parishes, New Orleans CityBusiness reported. But funding for those, included in a Corps line item called Lake Pontchartrain, was scheduled to be cut from $5.7 million this year to $2.9 million in 2006.

The cost of the Iraq war forced the Bush administration to order the New Orleans district office not to begin any new studies, the Times-Picayune reported in September 2004.

Attytood commented:


Washington knew that this day could come at any time, and it knew the things that needed to be done to protect the citizens of New Orleans. But in the tradition of the riverboat gambler, the Bush administration decided to roll the dice on its fool's errand in Iraq, and on a tax cut that mainly benefitted the rich.

And now Bush has lost that gamble, big time. We hope that Congress will investigate what went wrong here.

The president told us that we needed to fight in Iraq to save lives here at home, and yet -- after moving billions of domestic dollars to the Persian Gulf -- there are bodies floating through the streets of Louisana. What does George W. Bush have to say for himself now?

See the whole post.

Republicans want to talk about responsibility and accountability, except when it comes to holding George W. Bush accountable for his bad decisions. "This is not the time for politics," they say. Like hell it isn't. Make your donation to the Red Cross or other charities who are helping out along the Gulf Coast. Then, for Bush and his Republican enablers in Congress, put their feet to the fire. If they had not shorted New Orleans' levee work in the past two years, the levees might have held up and the Big Easy's problems would have been relatively minor.

Bush back on the job notes:


"He's finally decided to show up to work."


President Bush announced Tuesday that he would cut short his extended summer vacation and fly to Washington to begin work on Wednesday with a task force that will coordinate the work of 14 federal agencies involved in the relief effort.

"It only took him what, four days? Well, in all fairness, he was busy playing guitar and trying to kill social security. You know, things that are important to Bush. And since Al Qaida and Saddam had nothing to do with the disaster on the gulf coast...

"As for those who still claim Louisiana and Mississippi have enough national guard troops:


Pentagon officials asserted that deployment of thousands of National Guard members from the gulf states to Iraq and Afghanistan had not affected relief efforts. But on Tuesday the two hardest-hit states, Louisiana and Mississippi, which each have more than 3,000 National Guard troops in Iraq, requested military specialists and equipment from other states, ranging from military police and engineers to helicopters and five-ton, high-wheeled trucks that can traverse the flood waters.

"I honestly don't think Bush and his cronies (and their apologists) understand the magnitude of the disaster. Otherwise, they'd be acting far different. Perhaps with some much needed urgency."

But there's 'too many frickin' cooks in the kitchen'

According to the New Orleans mayor, criticizing the Army's failure to close off the breached levees.


Hurricane damage: What you can do

News reports of hurricane damage on the Gulf Coast are heart-wrenching. See this article from on groups that are set up to receive donations and provide aid to victims of Hurricane Katrina.

For New Orleans news, see the Times-Picayune's website. The T-P is a refugee, by the way, setting up temporary newsroom at the Baton Rouge Morning Advocate and putting out an Internet-only edition Tuesday and Wednesday. Also, see


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