Tuesday, September 27, 2005

A Little Home Town Good News

Pasadena is one of those communities that ring Los Angeles. In fact, most people just assume that the things Pasadena is famous for, the Rose Bowl and Parade, JPL and Cal Tech, are in Los Angeles and that Pasadena is just a name for an area of the real city. Not true. Pasadena is a real city with its own city council and mayor, a police department, a department of water and power, a public library system and everything else a real city has, including bureaucratic knuckleheads.

The most recent evidence of that last characteristic of cities was reported in the city newspaper, the Pasadena Star News.

City officials plan to rewrite an ordinance regulating the posting of political signs on residential property in response to a lawsuit filed earlier this month, alleging the city violated a Pasadena couple's right to free speech.

Additionally, City Attorney Michele Beal Bagneris has recommended the city stop enforcing the regulations as they apply to "signs that express political, religious or other ideological sentiments' until new rules can be put into place.

The ACLU is representing Patrick Briggs and Mary Gavel- Briggs in their suit against the city. The couple said they were forced to remove a banner stating their opposition to President Bush and the war in Iraq because city officials deemed the sign too big.

The Briggses said the size limits in the ordinance are overly restrictive and prevent them from effectively communicating their political views to neighbors and passers-by.

The City Council last updated the sign ordinance in 2003. At the time, city officials said the ordinance needed to be revised to ensure the various rules and regulations were consolidated into "an easy to understand format.'

In a city report from that time, officials made clear that First Amendment issues needed to be taken into account when it came to setting standards for political speech. One section of the report dealing with election signs said the City Attorney recommended against any limitation on posting of election signs because they can be "construed as a political sign' which cannot be regulated.

When asked this week why the city required the Briggses to either remove their sign or obtain a permit, city officials said they treated the banner as a "temporary event sign."

"Imagine if somebody wanted to put up a sign about global warming. Is that an event?' asked Rosenbaum. "I think there has been arbitrary enforcement of this provision at the whim and will of officials.'

There does appear to be confusion among members of the City Council as to how the sign ordinance applies to different signs. For instance, council members were not clear whether the size limitations, which restrict residential signs to 1- foot-square, apply to election posters. And several council members said they were surprised the size limit was so small.
[Emphasis added]

Here's the skinny. The people involved are both anti-war activists and they hung a rather large banner stating their opinions on the war on their property. Apparently some neighbors complained, the city department in charge of signs-on-property came out, and cited the couple for not having a permit and for having an oversized sign. They were told to take the banner down. The couple refused and instead, after reading the city ordinance involved, filed suit. The city council conferred with the City Attorney and decided that, oops, the ordinance was probably unconstitutional and maybe the ordinance needed to be redrafted to conform to the First Amendment of the US Constitution.

I like it when citizens refuse to be cowed by inane and unconstitutional laws. I also like it when elected officials, when confronted with such an issue back off and do the right thing. I would like it even more if the bureaucratic knuckleheads got rapped upside the head, but I try not to be greedy.

KBR's Excellent Adventure in Iraq

Yesterday I pointed out the no-bid folly engineered for the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina ("Your Tax dollars at Work). Among the beneficiaries of that process was KBR, a subdivision of Halliburton, who has plenty of experience in no-bid contracting under this administration. While the companies connected to Halliburton may have experience in government contracting, there seems to be some questions about their experience in actually performing the work they've been contracted to do, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Engineering mistakes, poor leadership and shifting priorities have delayed or led to the cancellation of several projects critical to restoring Iraq's oil industry, according to interviews with more than two dozen current and former U.S. and Iraqi officials and industry experts.

The troubles have been compounded in some cases by security issues, poor maintenance and disputes between the U.S. and its main contractor, Houston-based KBR, a subsidiary of Halliburton Corp., according to the interviews and documents.

Despite the United States' spending more than $1.3 billion, oil production remains below the estimated prewar level of 2.5 million barrels per day and well below a December 2004 goal of up to 3 million barrels per day.

Interviews and documents from whistle-blowers show problems with at least three projects deemed crucial to Iraq's oil production:

• Qarmat Ali water treatment plant. This massive pumping complex is needed to inject water into Iraq's southern oil fields to aid in oil extraction. Under a no-bid contract, KBR was instructed to repair the complex at a cost of up to $225 million, but not the leaky pipelines carrying water to the fields. As a result, the water cannot be delivered reliably, raising concerns that some of Iraq's oil may not be recoverable.

• Al Fathah pipelines. As part of the same no-bid contract, the U.S. gave KBR a job worth up to $70 million to rebuild a pipeline network in northern Iraq despite concerns that the project was unsound. In the end, KBR built fewer than half the pipelines, and the project was given to another contractor. The delay has aggravated oil transport problems, which have forced Iraq to inject millions of barrels of oil back into the ground, a harmful practice for the oil fields and the environment. A government audit is being conducted based on a complaint by a whistle-blower.

• Southern oil well repairs. A $37-million project to boost production at dozens of Iraqi oil wells was canceled after KBR refused to proceed without a U.S. guarantee to protect it from possible lawsuits.

Current and former Iraqi oil officials expressed disappointment, frustration and anger at the U.S. performance.

They said that rather than tapping Iraqi state oil company officials, the U.S. program was overseen by American officials with little experience in the oil industry. In an interview, one senior U.S. official managing part of the restoration effort jokingly described his knowledge level as "Oil for Dummies."

Iraqi officials also said KBR relied too heavily on foreign contractors, conducted lengthy, unnecessary studies and failed to deliver promised equipment. They acknowledged that Iraq needed to spend more on its oil industry but wondered why the U.S. investment had not had more of an effect.
[Emphasis added]

I'm not terribly comforted by the notion that American tax dollars continue to flow into Halliburton, aided, no doubt, by their former CEO, Vice President Cheney. It would be akin to hiring Mike Brown as a consultant to determine what went wrong in the government response to Hurrican Katrina.

What? Oh. The government did. Well, then.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Your Taxpayer Dollars at Work

Given the standard operating procedure of this administration, it comes as no surprise that up to 80% of contracts awarded in the aftermath of Katrina came via the usual 'no-bid' process that favors 'friends' of the current powers. Some familiar names and connections are listed in an article published in today's New York Times.

Topping the federal government's list of costs related to Hurricane Katrina is the $568 million in contracts for debris removal landed by a Florida company with ties to Mississippi's Republican governor. Near the bottom is an $89.95 bill for a pair of brown steel-toe shoes bought by an Environmental Protection Agency worker in Baton Rouge, La.

The first detailed tally of commitments from federal agencies since Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast four weeks ago shows that more than 15 contracts exceed $100 million, including 5 of $500 million or more. Most of those were for clearing away the trees, homes and cars strewn across the region; purchasing trailers and mobile homes; or providing trucks, ships, buses and planes.

More than 80 percent of the $1.5 billion in contracts signed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency alone were awarded without bidding or with limited competition, government records show, provoking concerns among auditors and government officials about the potential for favoritism or abuse.

Already, questions have been raised about the political connections of two major contractors - the Shaw Group and Kellogg, Brown & Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton - that have been represented by the lobbyist Joe M. Allbaugh, President Bush's former campaign manager and a former leader of FEMA.
[Emphasis added]

But wait, there's more! Even Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour gets involved:

Congressional investigators are looking into the $568 million awarded to AshBritt, a Pompano Beach, Fla., company that was a client of the former lobbying firm of Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi.

The investigators are asking how much money AshBritt will collect and, in turn, what it will pay subcontractors performing the work, said a House investigator who did not want her name used because she was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

Representative Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the ranking Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, complained that FEMA and other federal agencies were delivering too much of the work to giant corporations with political connections, instead of local companies or minority-owned businesses. ...

AshBritt, which has won the biggest share of those contracts, is being paid about $15 per cubic yard to collect and process debris, federal officials said. It is also being reimbursed for costs if it has to dispose of material in landfills.

But three communities in Mississippi, which found their own contractors rather than accept the terms offered by AshBritt, have negotiated contracts of $10.64 a cubic yard to $18.25 a cubic yard, including collection, processing and disposal.

And other experts have questioned AshBritt's fees. "Let me put it to you this way: If $15 was my best price, I would rebid it," said Mike Carroll, a municipal official in Orlando, Fla., with experience in hurricane cleanup.

I don't know which is more astounding: that the current regime feels this is the best way to spend our tax dollars or that the main stream, corporate media is actually reporting on it. Unfortunately (for us) the Republican Congress is not likely to do anything about this beyond smiling and winking.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

A Legacy to be Tended

On the post below I dealt with the numbers of "just folks" who turned up all around the country to protest our presence in Iraq. While there may be differences in opinion as to how quickly we should get out, a vast majority of Americans believe we should leave. They were all well represented yesterday in such places as DC, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and smaller towns. I'm not ancient, but I am older (nearly 60) and there were plenty of men and women older than I am. There were people of all ethnicities in addition to all ages. It was the kind of gathering that spoke to the desires of the majority in the country, most of whom don't really believe that anyone in power is paying the least bit of intention to them and to their desires and needs. Still they congregated. I firmly believe that yesterday, for the first time in nearly forty years I saw the concept of 'grassroots' embodied.

It mustn't stop with just one day, however. That's why I was so heartened to see an article in the Star Tribune this morning. It was about the legacy of Paul and Sheila Wellstone, who died three years ago next month.

Nearly three years after his death, Paul Wellstone's legacy shows no sign of diminishing. Two books about the senator were published this month alone. Wellstone Action!, a liberal political training center based in St. Paul, boasts 8,500 alumni across the country and now is adding "advanced placement" classes.

And at least a dozen buildings are named after Wellstone and/or his wife, Sheila, including schools, a housing complex and a battered women's center. ...

The epicenter of the growth industry spawned by Paul Wellstone is the St. Paul office of Wellstone Action! a few blocks from the senator's 2002 campaign headquarters. Headed by Wellstone's longtime campaign manager, Jeff Blodgett, and staffed by many ex-Wellstone aides, it aims to become a powerful national training center for progressive political candidates and organizers.

In Minnesota, at least, it's already left a mark. Eight of the 13 freshman DFLers elected to the state House last year were Camp Wellstone graduates. Likewise, at least six graduates of a January training camp advanced in September primary elections for various city councils, said Ralph Remington, the top vote-getter in Minneapolis' 10th Ward and one of those alumni. ...

Meanwhile, a series of "civic dialogues" honoring the Wellstones continue. Held in private homes, coffee shops and libraries, they explore political themes and chart action plans.

Last Thursday, about 30 people gathered at Old Man River Cafe in West St. Paul to discuss combating domestic violence. Sheila Wellstone, who championed the issue, had spoken at the coffeehouse a few weeks before her death. ...

This is the kind of organizing and training and work the Democrats and other progressives need to be doing if we are going to take back our country from those who believe that who already has deserves more, regardless of who suffers. The successes cited in the article are testimony as to what works.

Now is the time for progressives both within and outside of the Democratic Party to get busy. Paul Wellstone showed us the way. As one historian noted,

...Wellstone was unlike most politicians, in that his chief legacy is grassroots community organizing," [historian Hy] Berman said.

Howard Dean, Paul Wellstone would have agreed with your approach.

More People 'Get It' Than I Thought

Yesterday felt like the Sixties and I felt like I was in my twenties. Thousands of people all across America joined together to protest the unlawful and inhumane war in Iraq. The estimates of participants in these demonstrations vary widely (like they did in the Sixties), but even conservative figures show that at least two hundred thousand Americans felt deeply enough about the issue that they were willing to forego college football on television and fall chores to unite with their fellow citizens to do something as American as college football and leaf raking: demonstrate. I was one of them.

I had been teased by another lawyer earlier in the week that I'd be the oldest participant in the march. The judge before whom we were appearing chimed in that I certainly would not be. He was right. The crowd in Los Angeles was as diverse in age, ethnicity, social class, and political stance as the country itself is. From my friends on the internet comes word that this diversity was shown at all the demonstrations, marches, and rallies across the country. Today's media reports confirm that fact.

Even the Los Angeles Times noticed the nature of the crowds spilling out in downtown L.A.

Capping a summer of rising discontent with the war in Iraq, tens of thousands of protesters marched through cities across the nation Saturday to demand the immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces.

Crowds shrugged off chilly rains and breakdowns in public transportation to greet Cindy Sheehan and her traveling antiwar vigil in Washington. In Los Angeles, actors and politicians led a long procession of protesters through downtown. And in San Diego, war veterans were among the thousands who gathered at a peaceful rally at a park. Thousands also protested in London.

Organizers said more than 200,000 people turned out in Washington for the peaceful event, calling it the largest protest in the capital since the war began in March 2003. D.C. Police Chief Charles Ramsey said the group had probably reached its goal of 100,000.

In Los Angeles, police estimated 15,000 people participated in a raucous 1 1/2 -mile march from Olympic Boulevard and Broadway to Los Angeles and Temple streets, where speakers such as actor Martin Sheen and state Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles) took to a stage and railed against the Bush administration. Organizers said that as many as 50,000 protesters were on hand.

"This war is ill-conceived, ill-advised and illegal," Sheen said. "The only clear truth about this administration is its dishonesty."

I have heard complaints on the blogs that speakers at the various rallies diluted the intent of the protests by including issues not connected to the war in Iraq, such as Palestine, Leonard Pelletier and Mummia, the World Bank, and so on. They feared that people would be turned off, wouldn't continue to press for a withdrawal from Iraq. I don't think they need to worry.

As I said last night at Eschaton, a quarter of a million and more Americans got off their asses and actually protested against the war. This is amazing and it is important. It gives substance and a bodily presence to the polls showing that a majority of Americans despise this unjust war which was initiated by lies. A quarter of a million Americans just left a mark.

More like this, please.

Saturday, September 24, 2005


At first I was just amused by the report that the FBI has established a new priority for investigation and prosecution: pornography. It does, after all, sort of fit the m.o. of this administration. In the face of huge and complex problems, BushCo inevitably goes off half-cocked in another direction to deal with something that really is so minor as to have been invisible. I'm no fan of porn, most feminists my age aren't, but I at least have gotten to the point that whatever adults choose to occupy their time with is really no business of mine, or the government's.

After a few minutes of chuckling, however, I got a little annoyed. I sure don't want this administration making First Amendment decisions in any area, even pornography. Furthermore, since the Resident continues to reference 9/11 at every opportunity (a mantra no doubt calculated to staunch the bleeding of every opinion poll known to humankind), why pull agents of the FBI off investigating terrorism in this nation in favor of investigating purveyors of smut? What kind of security action is that?

Then today I read an editorial in the Star Tribune and I got furious:

As an issue of national priorities, this is both amusing and worrying: The FBI, reports the Washington Post, is setting up a special squad to investigate "manufacturers and purveyors" of porn -- not the kind that exploits children, but the kind that portrays adults, is targeted at adults and is legal unless interpretations of "community standards,"prurient interest" and other vague tests deem it otherwise.

The effort is, said the FBI, "one of the top priorities" of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. As one "exasperated FBI agent" told the Post, "I guess this means we've won the war on terror. We must not need any more resources for espionage."

Well said, but there is an explanation, making the rounds in Washington, that makes sense: that this may be an effort by Gonzales to make himself more acceptable to the religious right and therefore a more likely Supreme Court nominee.

It's not going down well with the FBI professionals, who think terrorism, organized crime, narcotics, child pornography and public corruption are a tad more important.
[Emphasis added]

If this new 'priority' is indeed all about getting Gonzales a Supreme Court nomination, and given this maladministration's track record, I have no reason to doubt this, then even our top domestic investigative agency has been subverted. I think we can add this to Gonzales's resume of wrong-headed ideas, and we can list it right below his opinions on the treatment of "illegal combatants" in Gitmo and prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

Clearly he is not Supreme Court material. In fact, I doubt that he is qualified to hold any governmental position at all.


Friday, September 23, 2005

More Advice From Our Friends

The ruling family of Saudi Arabia has long been a trusted ally of the Bush family, which is why the warning on the current status of Iraq delivered by one of the leading members of the Saudi family should carry some weight.

In today's NY Times, Prince Saud al-Faisal's comments are reported:

WASHINGTON, Sept. 22 - Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, said Thursday that he had been warning the Bush administration in recent days that Iraq was hurtling toward disintegration, a development that he said could drag the region into war.

"There is no dynamic now pulling the nation together," he said in a meeting with reporters at the Saudi Embassy here. "All the dynamics are pulling the country apart." He said he was so concerned that he was carrying this message "to everyone who will listen" in the Bush administration. ...

Prince Saud's statements, some of the most pessimistic public comments on Iraq by a Middle Eastern leader in recent months, were in stark contrast to the generally upbeat assessments that the White House and the Pentagon have been offering. ...

Prince Saud, who is in Washington for meetings with administration officials, blamed several American decisions for the slide toward disintegration, though he did not refer to the Bush administration directly.

Primary among them was designating "every Sunni as a Baathist criminal," he said.

The prince said he served on a council of Iraq's neighboring countries - Jordan, Syria, Turkey, Iran and Kuwait as well as Saudi Arabia - "and the main worry of all the neighbors" was that the potential disintegration of Iraq into Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish states would "bring other countries in the region into the conflict."

You would think that George Bush would take such warnings seriously, but apparently you would be wrong. The response from the Administration has been predictable. People voted. They have drafted a Constitution. People will vote again. Everything is working out just fine.

In the meantime, Turkey has made it clear it will invade if the Kurds declare independence. Iran is already cozying up to the Shi'ite majority. Syria and Saudi Arabia, both Sunni in inclination, are watching the insurgency warily but, apparently, with some approval.

By essentially going it alone in this mad excursion, the US now has no viable back-up to assist in providing some common cause for the Iraqis as a nation, unless, of course, one counts the desire to be rid of the US invaders as a common cause.

Even the Saudis are losing patience with the boy-king.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The Potential for the Next Pandemic: Avian Flu

The news on the potential mutation of the avian flu virus to the point of human-to-human transmission is grim. When (not 'if') this occurs, the threat of the pandemic may very well be realized.

Here is what the Boston Globe had to say last Saturday:

Avian flu will mutate and become transmissible by humans, and the world has no time to waste to stop it from becoming a pandemic, the head of the United Nations World Health Organization said yesterday.

Andrew Natsios, head of the US Agency for International Development, said the risk of bird flu was even worse than HIV/AIDS. He urged nations to cooperate fully and not to hide knowledge of the disease when it struck.

Even with the transmission currently at the bird-to-human stage, the number of cases reported have been climbinb, especially in Viet Nam, according to the World Health Organization. From 12/16/04 to 9/19/05, there have been 114 confirmed human cases of Avian Flu, with 59 deaths. Of those, 64 cases and 21 deaths are from Viet Nam.

The most recent recommendations from WHO are located here in PDF format. While lengthy, and detailed, it's well worth the read to see just what the experts are indicating must be done to avoid the human tragedy. The report points out that at this point, the human cases seem to be limited to rural areas in that part of Asia, usually among family farmers handling poultry. When their flocks are destroyed, the livelihood for the family is as well, so that poses one of the problems WHO faces.

Another, and equally as important facet, is that the pandemic, when it starts, will most likely be located in the poorer nations. It is at that locus that the first agressive steps will have to be taken, with hopefully sufficient supplies of antiviral vaccines.

Several international consultations on pandemic influenza have asked WHO to explore establishment of an international stockpile of antiviral drugs for strategic use near thestart of a pandemic.

Experts have suggested that aggressive measures, centred on the
prophylactic use of antiviral drugs, might contain a pandemic at its source or at least slow its spread, thus gaining time to put emergency measures in place and augment vaccine supplies. Based on results from mathematical modelling, the theoretical window of opportunity for taking such action closes quickly.

And therein lies another problem: the vaccines take time to manufacture. Wealthy nations, those in the West, have already begun ordering from the manufacturers, securing the vaccines for their own populations at a cost the poorer Asian nations cannot match. It will take an extraordinary effort to convince the West that it might be wiser to assist in the stockpiling of the vaccine in the areas where the predicted sources of the outbreak are in the hopes that the disease can be contained there.

If the outbreak is not staunched at the source, we can expect the pandemic to rival, if not surpass, the great pandemics of the Twentieth Century. The US, slow in its appreciation of this fact, has so far committed $100 million for the purchase of the anti-viral vaccine. Again, according to the Boston Globe, no one is certain just what that money has purchased in terms of doses:

But just how many doses the $100 million will buy isn't yet clear.

That's because there is contrasting research on just how much antigen much be in each dose to provide protection, explained Sanofi spokesman Len Lavenda. The range is huge -- from 15 micrograms of antigen per dose to 90 -- and the protective amount likely will wind up somewhere in between, he said.

Previously, the government has said it has stockpiled 2 million doses of bird flu vaccine.

Sanofi stored that vaccine in bulk, and the 2 million estimate assumed a single 15-microgram dose per person, Lavenda said. In contrast, the preliminary NIH research suggested it may take two 90-microgram shots to provide protection.

Simple math suggests that means the $100 million purchase could provide enough doses to protect anywhere from 1.7 million people -- "we're quite sure it's going to be a lot more than that," Lavenda said -- to a maximum of 20 million people.

The government's ultimate goal is to stockpile 20 million vaccine doses, a first wave of protection if the H5N1 bird flu strain eventually sparks a pandemic.

Hopefully, the US will, with the rest of the world, work closely with WHO within the framework of the organization's most recent report. Hopefully, it will also diligently pursue a more realistic approach to protecting this nation against the ravages of the pandemic in every way possible.


*Here it comes again...

Hurricane Rita is picking up strength and will probably hit land Saturday morning, at the latest. Once again the Gulf Coast is the target, presumably the Texas coast, although Louisiana will probably get affected by the storm as well. I don't see much in the way of signs that the federal government is any better prepared for this storm than it was for Katrina, although the Katrina refugees have been evacuated from the Houston shelters in which they had been placed.

Congressman James L. Oberstar, who represents Minnesota's Eighth Congressional District, is the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, and he had this to say in this morning's Star Tribune.

I firmly believe FEMA's reaction was hampered by its new position as part of the Department of Homeland Security.

Hurricane Katrina brought to the Gulf Coast the most devastating natural disaster in our nation's history. Parallel to the tragedy of human and physical disruption is the obvious disarray of the federal government's response. FEMA should have been in charge -- but was not. For a long while, no federal agency appeared to be in charge, coordinating the recovery efforts.

In fact, the federal response appeared to be another one of the administration's faith-based initiatives: Close your eyes and pray for a miracle.

As Rep. Oberstar points out, it didn't have to be this way. He argued right from the start that FEMA did not need to be embedded in the Department of Homeland Security because it did not need the extra layer of bureaucracy the move would entail.

. I argued strongly against moving FEMA into the new Department of Homeland Security (DHS):

"To move [FEMA] into this new Department of Homeland Security without a clearly defined homeland security role is, [in] my judgment, a mistake. We have not seen a delineation of what is homeland security compared to response to floods, hurricanes, blizzards, earthquakes, tornadoes. You know, when your home is underwater up to the eaves, are you going to wonder, where is FEMA? Are they on some mission looking for terrorists or are they going to be on a mission looking for your lost children and rescuing you from the rooftop of your home?"

I quoted from a report prepared by the Brookings Institution:

"There is very little day-to-day synergy between the preventive and protective functions of the border and transportation security entities in the Department and the emergency preparedness and response functions a consolidated FEMA contributes. There is, therefore, little to be gained in bringing these very different entities under the same organizational roof. And the costs are not insignificant.

"FEMA," the report says, "would likely become less effective in performing its current mission in case of natural disasters, as time, effort, and attention are inevitably diverted to other tasks within the larger organization."

James Lee Witt, FEMA director during all eight years of the Clinton administration, sat at the Cabinet table and reported directly to the president. Michael Brown, by contrast, sent a memo to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff asking permission to send assets to New Orleans. We need to restore FEMA's independence as well as its credibility. It needs a director who can act decisively, not one who must navigate an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy and ask, "Mother, may I?" before the agency can respond to a disaster.
[Emphasis added]

He concludes by stating what I think is the obvious (but which apparently is not so obvious to the Republicans):

The government's first priority must be to protect its citizens. It has failed to honor that responsibility, and we must ensure that such failure never happens again.

Unfortunately, Mr. Oberstar, we may be facing just such another failure this weekend.

Sunday, September 18, 2005


I never cease to be amazed at the lengths, or (in this case) the depths that this maladministration will go to intimidate the citizens of this country. I first noticed it the day, shortly after 9/ll, that Ari Fleischer (then Press Secretary) told us that we needed to be careful about what we say. Over the past four years, it has gotten much worse.

The latest example is the case of the "Saint Patrick's Four." A brief summary of their story can be found here.

On March 17, 2003, two days before the US invasion of Iraq commenced, four protesters--now known as the "Saint Patrick's Four"--entered a military recruiting center near Ithaca, New York, and poured small amounts of their own blood around the building's vestibule in a symbolic protest against the coming invasion. By their own account, they were alone in the vestibule and no one was prevented from entering or leaving the center.

For this act of non-violence civil disobedience, the longtime Catholic peace activists--sisters Clare and Teresa Grady, Daniel Burns, and Peter DeMott--are now charged with conspiracy to impede "by force, intimidation and threat" an officer of the United States along with three lesser offenses. If convicted of federal conspiracy in a trial starting this Monday, September 19, they face up to six years in prison, a period of probation and $275,000 in fines.

The trial is the first time the Federal government has pressed conspiracy charges against civilian Iraq war protesters and comes after a previous trial last year in county court on charges of criminal mischief and trespassing which resulted in a hung jury, with nine of twelve members favoring acquittal. As public interest lawyer and law professor Bill Quigley who is acting as legal advisor to the defendants, says, "Federal intervention in this case represents a blatant act of government intimidation and will have a chilling effect on expression of the first amendment rights of any citizen to protest or speak out against their government." Which is, of course, the idea.
[Emphasis added]

That American citizens would be tried at all for exercising their First Amendment rights to speak and assemble freely is ho>rrendous. That they would be tried twice is an unspeakable crime in and of itself.

The government failed to prove to a jury that these people committed a crime in the underlying case. As any first-year law student can tell you, proving a criminal trespass is one of the easiest cases a prosecutor has. Obviously at least nine Americans on that jury understood the First Amendment.

Having lost that round, the government moved on to file a 'conspiracy' case, which means that the defendants cannot argue their beliefs that the war was wrong. This punishing of Americans for exercising their rights leads me to believe that the rest of us need to ask a couple of crucial questions.

Why does this Administration hate the Constitution?

Why does this Administration hate America?

Outrageous, indeed.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

A Good Idea

It's always helpful to have someone come along and act as an honest broker when two competing sides are at loggerheads. Clearly, we could use just such an honest broker when it comes to dealing with what went wrong in the governmental response to Hurricane Katrina. The Star Tribune has suggested such an honest broker in Saturday's editorial.

If President Bush was sincere in his pledge last week to identify and fix the weaknesses Katrina revealed, an independent commission would seem the best way to proceed, partly because it would avoid overt politicization of the process. Indeed, we know just the group for the job: the 9/11 Commission. It did a masterful job and is still functioning unofficially; what it found bears closely on what went wrong when Katrina hit.

...in the commission you have a highly respected, bipartisan group with great expertise on preparing for and responding to emergencies -- and which already has identified, from its study of 9/11, many of the weaknesses that resurfaced in dealing with Katrina. It would be beyond folly to throw that professionalism and expertise aside in favor of a politicized congressional investigation or an administration-run review. Neither would have the credibility the 9/11 Commission would bring to the effort.

I think this is an excellent idea. Congress at this point is split between covering up the whole mess in order to protect the President and using the investigation to get the President. While I admit that I would love for the latter to happen, this is simply too important a subject for partisanship: too many people have died or had their lives and livelihood upended.

Contrary to the opinions of both sides of the aisle, we still don't know what long term effects this tragedy will have on the economy and the ecology of the entire nation.We do know, however, that this same tragedy will be repeated if we don't root out the causes for the disasterous respone. We must find a way to keep this from happening again.

Since many of the same issues arose originally in the 9/11 investigation, it makes sense to go back to that commission for further follow-up. I just hope Congress and the Administration can put aside politics for awhile so that we can get an honest and frank assessment on what went wrong and what we need to do to correct the errors.

Our Friends, the Israelis

One country the US has always assumed to be closest to us is Israel, for any number of reasons, sentimental and practical alike. That's why I was surprised by the strong tone of this editorial last Monday in Ha'aretz.

George Bush is without doubt the most terrifying president America has ever had. Now one can sit in the submerged streets of New Orleans and cry a river of tears over the fate of a human race that has him as its leader. ...

What is so frightening about him and his leadership? ...Instead of running the world and its inhabitants, as one may expect of the leader of the free world, Bush acts as someone who is reinventing the world on a mission from God.

As a first step in fixing the world, the president several years ago refused to sign the Kyoto treaty. If the costs of fixing it are too high, then the world can go to hell. ...The world can revert to a state of chaos - so long as the messenger does not violate his covenant with the Divine Providence and with the supervisors down below. It may very well be that the warming of the oceans contributed to Katrina, but who is going to tell a shepherd what is good for his flock while it is drowning in a flood?

While "the fixer" has been on the job, there has been a breakdown of the world order, which is intended to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. ...

The world according to Bush is now more polarized than ever. A new poll that was released last week indicates that a decisive European majority - approximately 72 percent - rejects his policies and does not trust him. And how could it trust him, if this coming winter everyone will be paying to heat their homes twice or more what they paid before he took the reins? The global oil market has gone crazy. It goes without saying that the aforementioned homes would be heated only by those who own a home and a car, not those wallowing in life's dunghill under a blackened sky.

During his presidency global terror raised up its ugly head, and when he suppressed it, it only spread further. That is what happens when you only strike a blow, but do not attempt to heal.

Under the leadership of the fastest gun in the West, the United States has proved to the entire world that it has no one to rely upon, and no one to take example from. Even America's own poor do not take precedence. In the prisons of Baghdad and Guantanamo, America's image as the sentinel of human rights has been shattered. And in the graveyards of America, so has its image as a country that offers a good life. And America's reputation has even suffered in Beijing and New Delhi, for even there they do not envy the morbidity and mortality rates of American babies, as publicized last week by the Washington's central bureau of statistics.

If even Israel finds the US Administration to be so lacking, then we indeed are in trouble. Unfortunately, many American citizens aren't aware of just how far we have fallen. Even more unfortunately, the current maladministration doesn't seem to care.

Friday, September 16, 2005

A Pleasant Surprise

I get a daily email from several newspapers each day which summarizes the morning headlines for me. Today, the Washington Post update directed me to a 'blog' WaPo has. I tend to stay away from such mainstream media 'blogs' because they tend to be poorly written excuses for op-ed pieces that didn't quite make it into print.

Today, however, the title of one intrigued me because it seemed to echo the subject I posted on yesterday: "A broader role for the armed forces?" The 'blog' is located here.

On the site is another link to the biography of the blogger, one William M. Arkin. I clicked on the link and discovered the following: "William M. Arkin, journalist and author of more than ten books on military affairs, is an NBC-TV News military analyst and a consultant to numerous organizations. He was an Army intelligence analyst in West Berlin during the 1970s, a nuclear weapons expert during the Cold War, and pioneered on-the-ground study of the effects of military operations in Iraq, Yugoslavia, and Afghanistan."

Pretty heavy credentials for a journalist, and really heavy credentials for a blogger. I was reasonably certain that his post would not exactly be my cup of tea, but I was wrong. His succinct article was right on the money, to my way of thinking. He began by quoting a passage from President Bush's September 15th address to the nation and then took off from there.

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

The President’s plan is both wrong-headed and dangerous. ...

I for one don't want to live in a society where "a moment’s notice" justifies military action that either preempts or usurps civil authority.

The change that is needed is for the White House and Congress to admit that they over compensated for the shock of 9/11 by focusing too much on WMD and terrorism at the cost of basic domestic preparedness.
[Emphasis added]

Keep in mind that this was written by someone with expertise in military affairs over decades. Even he sees the danger that this Administration and the Republicans in Congress are exposing us to in their rush to 'fix' things in such a way that an honest assessment of the best way to secure this nation cannot really take place.

More like this, please.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

An Interesting Choice of Priorities

I, like many liberals, chuckled at the notion of the Resident investigating what went wrong in the delayed and disasterous response of the federal government to Hurricane Katrina. Here was a man who couldn't even look up at the cameras while reading his canned speech when he came to the part about taking responsibility for the deadly fiasco. I have absolutely no faith in any promise this man makes, especially one that might cause him to admit even more need to 'take responsibility.' I thought an independent commission, like the 9/11 commission was a pretty good idea, but at this point, it doesn't look like the administration is about to have anything to do with that.

That's why it came as no surprise that Congress isn't having any of it either. Here's what the Washington Post had to say about that:

The Senate voted along party lines yesterday to reject creation of an independent panel to investigate the government's fumbling response to Hurricane Katrina.

Instead, the Republicans intend to appoint a "bipartisan" committee Congressional committee in which the Republicans (who control both Houses) will have the majority of members. That's in interesting definition of "bipartisan," isn't it?

What is interesting to me is just what great ideas the Republicans have in terms of what needs to be fixed. It is clear just what they consider to be important.

Senior Republicans proposed such critical fixes as streamlining how the president can order the U.S. military to enforce law and order ...

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John W. Warner (R-Va.) wrote Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld last night urging a legal review of the use of active-duty troops in domestic emergencies and announced his intent to rename a key martial law statute called the Insurrection Act.

Warner said renaming the law -- used by presidents to fight the Civil War and to integrate schools in Arkansas and Alabama -- would ease political barriers to the presidential exercise of such authority. White House aides cited such concerns in deciding not to federalize state National Guard units to do police work after the storm hit.

"The President should not have to worry about misperceptions by the public based upon outdated wording that does not accurately describe what the armed forces may be doing in a particular emergency," Warner wrote.

Military officials resist federalizing troops because of concerns that the action could appear as an occupying force within U.S. borders. Soldiers, Marines and sailors who were sent to help in the wake of Hurricane Katrina were prevented from taking over police functions.
[Emphasis added]

Two things are clear. The Republicans, like their Dear Leader, have no intention of investigating the effect of budget cuts to the very programs that might have mitigated much of the damage that struck New Orleans (such as cuts to the Army Corps of Engineers and various programs within FEMA). Instead, they want to concentrate on the looting by desperate victims and the breakdown of 'civil' society in the face of hopelessness by the poor who were left behind simply because they could not afford to evacuate. Law and Order.

As a corollary to the first, Republicans seem to think that by invoking the might of a military (a military close to being broken by Bush's Folly in Iraq)right from the start, bad things would not have happened in the wake of the natural disaster. Martial law in our cities, indeed, an occupying force: that's the answer.

The response from the Republicans would be laughable if it weren't so dangerous to our democracy.

Howard Dean: you and Barbara Boxer and Louise Slaughter and the other handful of Democrats unafraid to speak out on this shameful approach need to start screaming at your colleagues to get their act together and NOW.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

No, This Time The Strib Got It Wrong.

As most folks know, one of my favorite newspapers is the Minneapolis Star Tribune. It's not just the fact that their editorials usually jibe with my own opinions. In fact, sometimes I disagree with them, but the paper usually presents a well-thought out argument in support of their position. I can live with that.

Today, however, the editorialist was just flat out wrong, not to mention smarmy and obsequious.

The sigh of relief was audible nationwide Tuesday when President Bush acknowledged that federal preparation for and response to Hurricane Katrina was flawed, that he accepted responsibility for the failures and that he would see to it the problems are fixed.

The importance of Bush's statement, coming at this difficult moment, is impossible to exaggerate; it will make an enormous difference in healing the nation of the wounds inflicted by Katrina and preparing for the next catastrophe, whether natural or man-made.

Americans weren't angry last week because Bush refused to take total responsibility for failures in dealing with Katrina; they were angry because Bush refused to acknowledge any federal culpability. Instead, the White House went into spin mode and tried to pin the tail on everyone else. ...

Americans want to have confidence in the elected officials who lead them; it's no fun feeling that those leaders are ducking and weaving and finger pointing to protect their political hides, rather than performing the sometimes painful duties -- such as acknowledging error -- that true public service requires.

Bush's statement was just such a service to the country. It will be important that he follow through, with maximum transparency, on identifying what went wrong and making the necessary corrections. His admission of federal, and personal, culpability was a fine start. It's what Americans expect from their president. We applaud him for it.

The fact is, the President's statement did not accept responsibility in the sense of accepting any blame. It was a hollow statement, one that was coldly calculated to take the heat off in the midst of a veritable firestorm from the media that had been so passive and amenable to all of his malfeasance over the past nearly five years, and to soothe the absolute horror of the American public at what they were seeing and hearing.

If he had been so concerned about the well-being of citizens in the path of the storm, he wouldn't have traveled to California on the day the storm hit in what was a blatantly political photo-op, nor would he have made all the comments he did to the press chiding them for "playing the blame game" after it became clear to everyone in the world that something had gone terribly wrong.

No, STrib. He didn't make this grandiose gesture to get to the bottom of the problem because he has no intention of 'fixing' it. He wants this to simmer down so he doesn't have to answer any hard questions.

Read what I had to say in the previous two posts. That's what I think the STrib and other press outlets ought to be exploring. Bush's statement was in no way a "service to the country." It was just business as usual from the Mediocre Frat Boy.

Sorry. Not this time.

After the Fall

One of things that has become very clear is that Mike Brown was in way over his head as head of FEMA. The disasterous response of the nation's emergency management agency to Hurricane Katrina can be laid at least partially to the fact that the man was simply not qualified for the job and not smart enough to listen to those in the agency who were.

How did he get appointed? A pretty good analysis of the process appears in a Scripps Howard column.

Political patronage is one of the world's oldest professions, but, like some other venerable practices, it needs to be kept within certain bounds of decency.

When politicians pay off friends, financial supporters, campaign workers, and other assorted hangers on by giving them government jobs, the distributors of such gifts need to keep in mind that certain positions should be reserved for people who actually know what they're doing. In particular, any job where poor performance is likely to end up killing people ought to be staffed by someone who is qualified to do it, or who is at least competent enough to recognize that he isn't qualified, so that he can surround himself with people who are.

...former FEMA director Mike Brown, who resigned on Monday, fit neither description. Nearly 15 years ago Brown abandoned a short and undistinguished legal career in his native Oklahoma and moved to Colorado, where for a decade he supervised judges at Arabian horse shows. In 2001 he resigned from that position under pressure, after members of the association that employed him accused him of mismanagement and possible impropriety.

Mike Brown had a powerful friend: his college buddy Joe Allbaugh, who was one of George W. Bush's key aides. When Bush became president he appointed Allbaugh to head FEMA, and within a couple of months Allbaugh had chosen Brown to be the agency's top lawyer. A few months later Brown was promoted to deputy director, and the year after that President Bush nominated him to head the entire agency.

Aided by Senate negligence, and in particular that of Democratic committee chair Joe Lieberman, Brown sailed through the appointment process for one of the federal government's two top disaster response positions, even though a glance at what was an obviously puffed up resume should have set off alarm bells.

All this illustrates what might be called the Mediocre Frat Boy Theory of Life.
[Emphasis added]

Two things occur to me (well, actually more, but I'm trying to keep the discussion away from the more scatalogical levels right now). First, equating political patronage with that other "oldest profession" is an apt metaphor. Why can't presidents and governors staff their administrations with competent people? Don't we citizens deserve that? Why has government at all levels become the dumping grounds for incompetent but wealthy or cooperative people? How can a government filled with such incompetence possibly serve the people? While those are couched as rhetorical questions, I also believe they are questions that should be openly discussed by those who take the trouble to actually vote.

Second, Congress, especially the Senate, is supposed to act as a counterbalance to the power of the Executive and is supposed to actually look at those who have been nominated to serve in government positions to determine their qualification. How did this nomination "sail through?" How many other nominations have been confirmed simply because it was easier, or deemed the polite thing to do? When is the next national tragedy going to hit because the wrong person in the wrong place screws up badly? Needless to say, as a liberal I am appalled at Sen. Lieberman's giving Brown a pass.

Of course, at my age, I suppose I shouldn't be so shocked at all of this. But I am, and so should the rest of the nation. I think we ought to take a long hard look at all of the enablers we've elected and then throw them out as well.

The 'punch line' to the column cited above might be a good place to start:

For obvious reasons the Mediocre Frat Boy Theory of Life will seem least plausible to those who have benefited from it the most. President Bush, for instance, would probably dismiss it out of hand.

If he doesn't see the problem, then he is not doing his job. We should consider throwing him out as well. Sooner rather than later.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

You're No Harry S. Truman, Mr. President

Will wonders never cease! The Resident learned a new word today: responsibility. In a lame attempt to evoke President Truman, George W. Bush had this to say:

President George W. Bush on Tuesday took "full responsibility" for government failures in dealing with Hurricane Katrina and said the disaster raised broader questions about the government's ability to respond to natural disasters as well as terror attacks.

"Katrina exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government," Bush said at joint White House news conference with the president of Iraq, Jalal Talabani.

"To the extent the federal government didn't fully do it's job right, I take responsibility," Bush said.

As more than one waggish commentor at Eschaton has pointed out, he is taking "responsibility," not the blame.

The Resident has promised a full responsibilty-finding investigation into the federal non-response to the crisis. Here, Mr. President: let me make it easier for you.

What person and party lied us into a clusterfuck of a war which hauled National Guardsman from the Gulf Coast, with their amphibious equipment, in to Iraq, thousands of miles from the areas they were supposed to protect?

What person and party placed FEMA under the aegis of the Department of Homeland Security, thereby adding an additional layer of bureaucracy and red-tape?

What person and party gutted the budgets of FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers, thereby gutting their capacity to mitigate disasters before they happened and to respond promptly when they occurred?

What person and party was on vacation and stayed there as the National Hurricane Center was screaming about the approach of a devastating storm aimed directly at New Orleans?

What person and party went to California to speak to a hand-picked audience of the blessings of the new Medicare prescription plan rip-off of senior citizens even as the storm pounded the Gulf Coast?

What person and party excused the non-action of the federal government by stating that the papers told them that New Orleans had dodged a bullet when the that city's newspaper, the Times Picayune's headline was "Catastrophe"?

That's just a few of the questions you might want to address Mr. President. Please try to do so without disassembling.

Bolton at the UN...

...adding to Bush's legacy.

The three-day summit to reform the United Nations for the Twenty-First Century is about to open, and the monkey wrench John Bolton threw into the planning of the event by belatedly issuing hundreds of changes to the draft document to be discussed at the summit has had the desired effect: a complete stall on the most important issues.

The Star Tribune has the straight news story:

Negotiators met into the early hours today to try to reach agreement on a watered-down plan for reforming the United Nations, having abandoned many of the sweeping changes Secretary-General Kofi Annan recommended.

The seven issues facing negotiators were terrorism; a stronger Human Rights Council to replace the discredited Human Rights Commission; a new Peacebuilding Commission to help nations emerging from conflict; new responsibility for governments to protect civilians from genocide and war crimes; disarmament and nuclear weapons proliferation; overhauling U.N. management; and the promotion of economic development.

Annan also had urged the 191 U.N. member states to agree on a plan to expand the powerful U.N. Security Council, but the negotiations became so contentious the idea was shelved last month.

Germany's Pleuger said member states underestimated the amount of preparatory work needed to reach consensus. The negotiating process also was thrown into disarray when United States submitted hundreds of amendments a few weeks ago, he said.
[Emphasis added]

Dealing with issues of poverty in the world, not important. Making the Security Council more reflective of the world, not important. One need only read the op-ed piece in the NY Times by Vance Serchuk (a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute)to see why that is.

THIS week, the heads of state of more than 170 countries are meeting to consider wide-ranging reforms for the United Nations. But any mention of the expansion of the Security Council will be off the agenda, thanks in no small part to the diplomatic exertions of the Bush administration.

The White House's foreclosure of discussion on Security Council expansion has drawn cheers from conservatives worried about any dilution of American power, and scorn from liberals convinced that the Bush administration is once again unilaterally sabotaging the international system. In fact, both sides are wrong.

The American position, by prioritizing practicable goals like cleaning up the Human Rights Commission and strengthening peacekeeping capabilities, is actually good for the United Nations, which would suffer from a drawn-out fight over Security Council expansion. But while the Bush administration's stance helps United Nations reform, it does not serve America's interests. To understand why, it's necessary to recognize that the expansion debate is above all a geopolitical contest for power and influence.

A seat on the Security Council, after all, is a prized symbol of power and prestige, establishing a country as a regional leader. This has particular importance in Asia, where China is determined to preserve its regional monopoly on the Security Council, while Japan and India are equally determined to break it. Given the Bush administration's concerns about Beijing's rising power and Washington's avowed interest in deepening our relations with Tokyo and Delhi, it's clear which side of this debate we should be on.

It hasn't done so, partly because it fears a larger Security Council would be less effective. But the sad truth is, the council already isn't likely to help Washington on first-tier problems like Iran or North Korea. And while a bigger membership would make deliberations more unwieldy, we shouldn't worry too much about damaging an institution that is already broken.
[Emphasis added]

In other words, the UN, as an institution "is already broken" because it hasn't been "likely to help Washington" and might dilute our power. The narcissism inherent in such a statement, which is even more egregious than that of the Bush administration (if that is possible) suggests that the whole point of the UN has already been lost...if it can't be ruled by the US, then, to hell with it.

After all, it is always and only about us.

Monday, September 12, 2005

The Roberts' Hearings

Confirmation hearings for Judge Roberts' nomination to become Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court finally got underway today, at least the preliminaries did. Judge Roberts was introduced, all members of the Senate Judiciary Committee issued their opening statements, and then the nominee spoke for six minutes.

I heard his remarks, and I'm sure a transcript of them is available any number of places (which I am too lazy to look up at the moment). I didn't find his remarks terribly enlightening, probably because they weren't intended to be so. I do wish, however, he hadn't used a baseball analogy by claiming that judges should be umpires rather than pitchers or batters. I am mightily tired of having important functions of government being compared to games. Government is not a game, and the analogy is both misleading and demeaning of the functions of government.

The real purpose of the hearings begins tomorrow as each member of the committee begins asking questions of the nominee, which various Republican members of the Judiciary Committee advised the nominee that he really didn't have to answer. Still, he will have to answer some of the questions, and some of the areas of most interest to all the committee members, and the nation at large were described rather nicely in a Washington Post editorial.

A nominee, bound by ethics, cannot be expected to telegraph how he or she is likely to vote on a pending case, so confirmation hearings tend to produce a degree of tension between the nominee's reticence and the desire on the part of senators to understand the package they are being asked to buy. But the public should expect to gain a better sense of how Judge Roberts would approach cases, and the extent to which he has a strongly ideological bent.

The first critical area that senators should probe is Judge Roberts's attitude toward what is called stare decisis , the doctrine that precedents should typically be followed by the courts in the name of the stability of the legal system.

Another critical issue is the balance of power between the federal government and the states -- an area in which Judge Roberts could move the court in either a positive or a negative direction.

Another subject the Judiciary Commitee will want to explore is Judge Roberts's views on privacy rights. Liberal groups have read a great deal into his work on abortion-related matters. As a government lawyer, he signed a brief urging the overturning of Roe v. Wade . In one internal memo he referred to the "so-called right to privacy." Senators should explore whether Judge Roberts, as the memo implies, has a dismissive attitude toward past decisions that protect reproductive freedom.
[Emphasis added]

Interestingly, all of these areas deal directly with reproductive freedom in one way or another, either in terms of Roe v Wade or the Griswold case, but they also have to do with myriad other issues which the Supreme Court faces with each session. Getting the good Judge on record with respect to these areas is crucial, both because he has had a relatively short time on the federal bench and because the White House has once again stonewalled Congress in terms of releasing his papers from the years he served in George H.W. Bush's White House.

I hope that the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee meant what they said today about questioning the Judge closely. We deserve no less.

Another Blast from the Past

One of the lessons of the multilayered tragedy of Hurricane Katrina is that there is still a great chasm between the rich and the poor and between whites and blacks. The media designation of Blacks carrying groceries from a store as 'looting', whereas whites carrying groceries from the same store as 'finding' is a good, if horrifying, example of some of the not so latent racism that still exists in American society.

Now comes word of an open scheme to further divide people, and it goes to the heart of democracy: a thinly veiled 'poll tax.' From the NY Times:

In 1966, the Supreme Court held that the poll tax was unconstitutional. Nearly 40 years later, Georgia is still charging people to vote, this time with a new voter ID law that requires many people without driver's licenses - a group that is disproportionately poor, black and elderly - to pay $20 or more for a state ID card. Georgia went ahead with this even though there is not a single place in the entire city of Atlanta where the cards are sold. The law is a national disgrace.

The Republicans who pushed the law through, and Gov. Sonny Perdue, also a Republican, who signed it, say that it is intended to prevent fraud. But it seems clear that it is about keeping certain people away from the polls, for political advantage. The vast majority of fraud complaints in Georgia, according to its secretary of state, Cathy Cox, involve absentee ballots, which are unaffected by the new law. Ms. Cox says she is unaware of a single documented case in recent years of fraud through impersonation of a voter at the polls.
[Emphasis added]

In the 2000 presidential election, many Blacks in Florida complained that their votes weren't counted because they were frightened away from the polls, or challenged unfairly once inside. There are also claims of irregularities in Black voting patterns in the 2004 presidential election in Ohio. Additionally, there is the often unstated, yet certainly extant use of the "Southern Strategy" by the Republican Party. It appears that yet another way to keep Black American voters from exercising their rights has been discovered.

The American Civil Liberties Union is planning to challenge Georgia's law. It will have several strong legal claims, starting with the 24th Amendment. The Supreme Court said in 1966, in striking down the poll tax, that "the right to vote is too precious, too fundamental to be so burdened." It still is.


Sunday, September 11, 2005

Shades of the 1950's

And now, from the Administration that allowed an August, 2001 PDB memo alerting them to the threat of a terrorist attack to be ignored, that brought us lies to drag us to war in Iraq, that did nothing to assist in the rescue of hundreds of thousands of Gulf Coast residents in the face of Hurricane Katrina, we have word of its latest folly: nuclear pre-emption.

From the Washington Post:

The Pentagon has drafted a revised doctrine for the use of nuclear weapons that envisions commanders requesting presidential approval to use them to preempt an attack by a nation or a terrorist group using weapons of mass destruction. The draft also includes the option of using nuclear arms to destroy known enemy stockpiles of nuclear, biological or chemical weapons.

The document, written by the Pentagon's Joint Chiefs staff but not yet finally approved by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, would update rules and procedures governing use of nuclear weapons to reflect a preemption strategy first announced by the Bush White House in December 2002. The strategy was outlined in more detail at the time in classified national security directives.

A "summary of changes" included in the draft identifies differences from the 1995 doctrine, and says the new document "revises the discussion of nuclear weapons use across the range of military operations."

The first example for potential nuclear weapon use listed in the draft is against an enemy that is using "or intending to use WMD" against U.S. or allied, multinational military forces or civilian populations.

Another scenario for a possible nuclear preemptive strike is in case of an "imminent attack from adversary biological weapons that only effects from nuclear weapons can safely destroy."

That and other provisions in the document appear to refer to nuclear initiatives proposed by the administration that Congress has thus far declined to fully support.

To deter the use of weapons of mass destruction against the United States, the Pentagon paper says preparations must be made to use nuclear weapons and show determination to use them "if necessary to prevent or retaliate against WMD use."

Remember, the invasion of Iraq was premised on the Administration's new theory of pre-emptive war. That debacle still bleeds this country to the tune of at least one US soldier's life per day and billions of dollars per month. The clusterfuck that is Iraq is one of the many reasons that a reasonable and timely federal response to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina was not possible. Now, these same yahoos want to be able to nuke anyone who just might have the weapons of mass destruction never found in Iraq?

Isn't there anybody in Washinton DC with the brains to realize that these nimrods can't justify having access to janitorial keys, much less the keys to our nuclear arsenal? If there isn't, 2006 can't come early enough.

The French Make the Connection

This 9/11 is even sadder than the first. Not only do we recall the thousands who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks, but this time we also recall the thousands who lost their lives in a natural disaster, and the hundreds of thousands who have had their lives shattered by the disasterous governmental response to Hurricane Katrina.

Both tragic incidents seem years and miles apart, but if one considers both carefully, one will find that there is a connection. France's Le Monde has done a brilliant job in making that connection.

Four years after the attacks of September 11, 2001 which so shook up American foreign policy, will Hurricane Katrina also have a fundamental effect, but in the opposite direction?

It is undoubtedly too early to answer this question, but it is not too early to ask it. Before September 11, George W. Bush advocated a "humble" foreign policy. Afterwards, he launched, dragging his allies with him, a crusade against Middle Eastern dictatorships, believing that the security of the United States would best be defended by the war against terrorism and its offshoots.

The magnitude of the catastrophe in the southern United States, the high number of victims, the clear negligence of the authorities, a negligence often due to a lack of means, all indicate that Katrina could prompt the American public and the administration to rethink their priorities and to return to a policy centered more on domestic problems and the immediate needs of its citizens, including its security needs.
[Emphasis added]

Bush's doctrine of "Pre-emptive War" (fight them over there so we don't have to fight them here) resulted in an outflow of money, troops, and national will that left the domestic front completely unprotected. I, like the writer of the Le Monde editorial, are not suggesting the US hunker down into an isolationist stance, merely that a more rational national policy towards security, a Jeffersonian approach might serve us and the rest of the world better.

All of this argues in favor of a reexamining the relationship between domestic and foreign policy. It will perhaps not take place before the next presidential election in 2008. George W. Bush has too closely linked his fate to an ideologically messianic and militarily interventionist fight against terrorism to imagine changing direction again.

After having spent several years fighting the threat from outside, Americans could be led, under the influence of other leaders, to attack the domestic weaknesses revealed by the forces of nature, so as not to give the rest of the world the image of a superpower that is hiding pockets of the Third World within itself. In other words, the "Jeffersonians" should pick up their heads in the political debate, whether they are traditional Republicans or Democrats.

It would not be a return to any sort of isolationism, which in a globalized world is utterly untenable. But by returning to the principle of "Jeffersonianism," the United States better serves the cause of universal democracy by creating an example to follow rather than by exporting a model.
[Emphasis added]

Exactly right. Now, where are those leaders?

Saturday, September 10, 2005

The ACLU Keeps Its Eyes on All the Balls

I know, I know. I've been beating a drum, some would say heartlessly, labeled "pay attention to all the issues, not just Katrina."

Yes, Katrina should have our attention. We should be demanding answers as to what went wrong and we should be demanding real, humane relief to those who have suffered because of the clusterfuck endemic to BushCo. My point is that there is more going on, and if we fail to pay attention to some of the other issues facing us, we are not only going to lose the battle, but also the war.

The Patriot Act has not been sent to the Resident because the House and Senate bills are still in conference committee. There's not all that much difference between the two versions, but the fact there is any difference gives us a slim window of opportunity that might enable us to stop a law that completely wipes out the Bill of Rights or at least give us a chance to point out what is so terribly wrong with the Act.

Fortunately, the ACLU is still fighting for us. The group has just won a skirmish on the existing bill.

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — A federal judge has lifted a gag order that shielded the identity of librarians who received an FBI demand for records about library patrons under the Patriot Act.

U.S. District Court Judge Janet Hall ruled in favor of the American Civil Liberties Union, which argued that the gag order prevented their client from participating in a debate over whether Congress should reauthorize the Patriot Act.

"Clearly the judge recognized it was profoundly undemocratic to gag a librarian from participating in the Patriot Act debate,'' said ACLU Associate Legal Director Ann Beeson.

Prosecutors argue that the gag order blocked the release of the client's identity, not the client's ability to speak about the Patriot Act. They said revealing the client's identity could tip off suspects and jeopardize a federal investigation into terrorism or spying.

Hall rejected the argument that the gag order didn't silence the client.

"The government may intend the non-disclosure provision to serve some purpose other than the suppression of speech,'' Hall wrote. "Nevertheless, it has the practical effect of silencing individuals with a constitutionally protected interest in speech and whose voices are particularly important in an ongoing national debate about the intrusion of governmental authority into individual lives.''

The ruling rejected the gag order in this case, but it did not strike down the provision of the law used by the FBI to demand the library records. A broader challenge to that provision is still pending before Hall.

The point of the holding is that by enforcing the non-disclosure order on the identity of the librarian who received the FBI order to provide the information, that librarian would have to stay silent on any discussion of the effects of such an order. That, my friends, is an excellent example of the chilling effect on free speech that the First Amendment guarantees.

Hopefully Judge Hall will also find the underlying section of the Patriot Act similarly unconstitutional, but in the meantime, we should all be screaming at our elected representatives about this fascist Act.

Time for the Unions to Get Involved

What worries me most at this point in the time line of the multiple disasters striking the Gulf Coast is what will happen to the people from New Orleans and other Gulf Coast states who have been evacuated to places all over the country.

Many of them were employed in businesses in, say New Orleans, that no longer exist, and probably won't be back. Their homes have been destroyed or damaged to the point that the few inhabitants who actually owned the homes couldn't possibly afford the repairs. Those who rented have no assurances that there will be affordable housing built to replace those homes lost. They're hundreds of miles from home and from their personal networks and personal papers, many without any money, and they have to know that in a couple of weeks the story du jour will focus the American public's attention elsewhere. What then?

I'm hopeful that members of Congress are thinking beyond the reconstruction of infrastructure and levees to consider the rebuilding of lives at this point, but such considerations don't really give great photo ops, so maybe they need a reminder that the crisis will not be over for many of the refugees in two weeks' time.

I've thought about a few things that might be helpful. I'm not going to get too deeply on what the federal government can do to facilitate these people's transitions to a new life because, frankly, the federal government has shown it really has no idea how to deal with real people in real crisis. It's clear that the federal government does have a crucial role to play, but it will be up to other levels of government and the public at large to educate them on this. At any rate, here are a few brief suggestions to get the ball rolling, and this time around they deal with one sector of the economic world that might well benefit from taking the lead in this tragedy.


In the recent past, union membership has declined to the point that they now represents only 12-17% of the workforce (depending on whose numbers one uses). Still, the unions are crucial in such areas as the construction trades and the service employees arenas. Those refugees who are union members should be given automatic "travel cards" in whatever area they have been relocated to and should be entitled to register at the local union hiring halls. Construction still appears to be active in most areas of the country, so these workers may be able to find fairly quick, if short term, work.

Those who are not union members but who are capable of working in whatever area there is a union force should be offered apprenticeships or memberships with initiation and dues deferred until the refugee has settled in. Training programs should be expanded to make such opportunities available to all who are willing to go through them and then to proceed with normal union requirements. Those programs might also work with other agencies (generic term) to provide child care and such other assistance as needed, or at least educate the workers in what is available.

And the unions should not be shy about horning into the debate about what next in the halls of Congress and the local state houses. There is no reason why they should not demand a seat at the table when such issues as city planning for affordable housing and contract requirements are being discussed.

I'm not suggesting that the unions take over the process, merely that they begin returning to their roots of being the voice of the working American. They used to be pretty good at that. I think now is the time for them to reprise that skill.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Walking and Chewing Gun

This afternoon, while driving home from work, I had my local NPR station on and I heard that some chickens were finally coming home to roost on Tom DeLay. Ironically, the story was on Market Place , a business show imported by NPR. The link is to an audio file and speaks about the indictment against the PAC formed by Mr. DeLay filed by a Texas Grand Jury. The reporter hinted that some deals might be cut that would involve direct testimony against DeLay.

Sure enough, as soon as I got home, I fired up the ancient lap top I'm using until I can get the ailing PC into the doctor and discovered that in fact an indictment had been filed against Texans for a Republican Majority.

AUSTIN, Texas — A grand jury has indicted a political action committee formed by U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and a Texas business group in connection with 2002 legislative campaign contributions.

The five felony indictments against the two groups were made public Thursday. Neither DeLay nor any individuals with the business group has been charged with any wrongdoing.

The charge against Texans for a Republican Majority alleged the committee illegally accepted a political contribution of $100,000 from the Alliance for Quality Nursing Home Care.

Four indictments against the Texas Association of Business include charges of unlawful political advertising, unlawful contributions to a political committee and unlawful expenditures such as those to a graphics company and political candidates.

The story in and of itself is important because it involves some potential wrongdoing with respect to, among other things, funding for the redistriction of Texas. The story also, however, reminded me that a whole lot of stuff has happened since May of this year.

We've had the Downing Street Memos confirming what many of us believed right from the start: that the Iraq Invasion was illegal and based on bogus, "fixed" facts. We've had Plame Gate. We've had Cindy Sheehan, the mother of an Iraqi soldier, camp out during yet another Bush month-long vacation trying to meet with him to get some answers as to why her son had to die in what now looks to be an illegal war. We've had the nomination of someone to the Supreme Court who looks very much like a right wing hack, and whose history is being deliberately hidden by the maladministration. And, of course, we've had the unspeakable tragedy of the government disaster in dealing with the natural disaster which visited New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.

Congress has now reconvened, and their first and most important order of business has been to deal with the people so thrashed by the government in the wake of Hurrican Katrina. This is as it should be: these people need relief, and need it now. We should all be working towards alleviating their suffering.

However, and this is a big but, we must not lose sight of all of the other instances of the malfeasance of the Bush Administration. Liberals/progressives have to keep hammering at all of these issues in the wells of the Senate and the House and in the media and in local town meetings.

Yes, juggling all of these issues are difficult, but no more difficult than the issues American families have to juggle on a daily basis. Most of us have to juggle a shrinking paycheck, increased gasoline and heating bills, increased education costs, increased food costs, but we somehow manage. So should our elected representatives.

To remind them of that, I urge everyone to participate in the anti-war demonstrations set for September 24, whether in Washington, DC, or in the local variations of that protest.

If enough people hit the streets, especially as we approach another election cycle, perhaps we'll get the attention of a few of our representatives. If not, we should prepare to storm the polls in November, 2006.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The Blame Game: Inning Two

One of the maladministration's new memes in its cya action is "Blame Game." Even the President is using it whenever anyone dares to question the tragic non-response of the federal government to Katrina. To counter said "Blame Game" playing, the President has come up with a plan. He is going to investigate. The New York Times'response to this plan was unusually strong:

No administration could credibly investigate such an immense failure on its own watch. And we have learned through bitter experience - the Abu Ghraib nightmare is just one example - that when this administration begins an internal investigation, it means a whitewash in which no one important is held accountable and no real change occurs.

Mr. Bush signaled yesterday that we are in for more of the same when he sneered and said, "One of the things that people want us to do here is to play a blame game." This is not a game. It is critical to know what "things went wrong," as Mr. Bush put it. But we also need to know which officials failed - not to humiliate them, but to replace them with competent people.

It's obvious, for instance, that Michael Brown has met the expectations of those who warned that he would be a terrible director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. This is no time to be engaging in a wholesale change of leadership, but in Mr. Brown's case there seems to be precious little leadership to lose. He should be replaced with someone who can do the huge job that remains to be done.

But the questions go way beyond Mr. Brown - starting with why federal officials ignored predictions of a disastrous flood in New Orleans - and the answers can come only from an independent commission.

While setting up a non-partisan independent commission to do the investigation is probably the only way the nation will get a true picture of what went so very wrong, it will take time, as the 9/11 commission showed. This administration's record on willingness to release information, especially information that might be damaging to it, is exceptionally poor. Still, the very fact that of such stonewalling will speak volumes and will allow the nation to make the negative inferences such behavior deserves. Some Democrats have already called for the creation of such a commission, and one hopes the President can be pressured into acting on that call.

There is no doubt that mistakes were made at all levels of government during the tragedy, but the Times' editorialist points out something that should always be foremost in any discussion of what went wrong:

...disasters like this are not a city or a state issue. They concern the entire nation and demand a national response - certainly a better one than the White House comments that "tremendous progress" had been made in Louisiana. We're used to that dismissive formula when questions are raised about Iraq. Americans deserve better about a disaster of this magnitude in their own country.

Exactly. To quote a moron, "Bring it on!"

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Lies, and Stupid Ones at That

For all the maladministration's expressions of horror that folks of the liberal stripe seem to be obsessed by playing something called "The Blame Game" when it somes to the government disaster following the natural disaster that struck New Orleans and the Gulf Coast last week, BushCo's sly engagement in "Plausible Denial" by smearing the state and local government leaders of Louisiana would seem downright amusing if so many people hadn't died because of their malfeasance.

Both New Orleans Mayor Nagin and Louisiana Governor Blanco have borne the brunt of the administration's backdoor campaign. One of the most blatant attempts at CYA was the claim that the federal government had not received the requisite request for federal emergency assistance from the governor of Louisiana in a timely fashion. Consequently, the federal disaster assistance agencies could not act (for nearly a week).

One would think that such a bold assertion would only be made if there were facts that could back it up. One would be wrong. Governor Blanco did in fact make such a reqest. And that request was made August 27, 2005.

The formal request was filed with the proper agency and nothing was done about it. It now appears that thousands have died because nothing was done.

Still, even if that formal request had not been sent in by the governor, did no one in the administration have any idea that a huge hurricane was about to hit the Gulf Coast? Was no one watching television, reading the newspapers, surfing the internet? FEMA? Department of Homeland Security? No one knew the storm was coming?

Come on, BushCo. You'll have to do better than that.

I usually say "Morons" at this point, but that word hardly suffices, given the tragic results.

Now, Here's An Idea

Senate Majority Leader had promised a few weeks ago that the first item on the Senate agenda when Congress reconvened would be the permanent repeal of the Estate Tax (previously known as the "Death Tax). Apparently the government disaster following the natural disaster of Hurricane Katrina has changed his mind.

As the pressure on Republicans builds, Democrats are sounding emboldened. One sign of GOP unease: The Senate was supposed to vote this week on whether to permanently repeal the estate tax, but Frist said yesterday that the bill will be temporarily shelved. The announcement came two hours after Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) called for Republicans to back off tax cuts in the wake of the Katrina tragedy. "Not now, for heaven's sake," Reid said.

The Administration, faced with low poll numbers even before the mismanagement of Katrina, may very well turn out to be a drag on those Republicans seeking re-election in 2006. Even those in Congress must realize how bad it makes them look if the first thing they do on return from the summer recess is give more money to the wealthiest of Americans.

And at least a few Democrats are indeed emboldened (finally):

...Democrats say they are poised to pounce. "If they think they can go forward as if nothing's changed, they do not understand what the rest of America has witnessed over the past week," said Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), who heads the House Democrats' campaign committee.

While Congress must deal with a raft of leftover bills, among them stem cell research, voting reform, and now must vote on two nominations to the Supreme Court, the very first order of business should be disaster relief for the Gulf Coast. Next should be hearings into why things went so unbelievably wrong in the government's response. Only then should Sen. Frist be allowed to go back to his August 1 agenda.

Monday, September 05, 2005

At Long Last...

...signs of life in the Democratic Party.

Apparently there will be an official announcement this afternoon as to a Democratic plan for dealing with the horrors following Hurricane Katrina.

First of all, it's about time the Democrats finally came up with a coherent plan about anything. They're the opposition party right now, but that doesn't mean that they are relegated to rolling over each time a new Republican bill gets introduced. It's time to start taking action against this maladministration and all of the devastation it has wreaked on this nation.

Second, until this bill, or something very much like it, the Senate should refuse to consider anything else, including the pending nomination of John Roberts to Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court and that devil-begotten repeal of the Estate Tax. The Democrats should filibuster everything else until this is passed.

Read the proposed plan here and then get on the phone, the fax, or the email section and let your senators and your representative know what you expect.

Do it now.

A New Chief Justice

With the passing of Chief Justice William Rehnquist, President Bush has a second nomination to the Supreme Court to make. Many people (myself among them) did anticipate Rehnquist's death and also anticipated that Bush would elevate Justice Scalia to the Chief Justice position.

However, the timing of Rehnquist's death, coupled with the resignation of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor (she will remain until her successor is confirmed), apparently obviated that move. Today's
is who the President picked to replace Rehnquist.

WASHINGTON -- Moving swiftly, President Bush on Monday nominated John Roberts to succeed William H. Rehnquist as chief justice.

The move would promote to the Supreme Court's top job a man who currently is being considered as one of eight associate justices.

Naming Roberts for chief justice was about the only way to ensure all nine seats on the court are filled when it begins its next term Oct. 3.

The president still wants Roberts to be on the bench when the Supreme Court resumes its work on Oct. 3, the official said. That means Bush would have to find a new nominee for O'Connor's seat. She has offered to remain on the bench until a successor is seated.

The surprising thing is not that the President went outside of the Supreme Court for a Chief Justice (historically, most Chief Justices were not serving on the Supreme Court bench at the time of elevation), but that a man with only roughly two years experience as a judge has been nominated for that position.

The President has indicated he expects a quick confirmation vote, and he may very well get it, even though his nominee is amazingy inexperienced. Bush's decision is a canny one. He needs a ninth justice in place before the October opening session. Roberts has been touted as a "moderate," whatever that is, and so far, none of the Republicans in the Senate have given any indication of objecting to the nominee. Since the Republicans are the majority in the Senate, it would seem a foregone conclusion that his hearings will be short and sweet, and the vote for confirmation will be a foregone conclusion.

The White House has still to release documents from Roberts' tenure in the Reagan White House. No real excuse exists for the refusal, and certainly no legal basis exists for the refusal, yet the papers have not been forthcoming. Does this "moderate" have something to hide? Is it possible that his legal theories with respect to the Supreme Court and the US Constitution are far less "moderate" than the label suggest? It certainly looks that way.

The Democrats in the Senate initially indicated that they would probably roll over on this one. Protests from liberal groups, among them Pro-Choice groups, raised loud objections, so at least a few Senators on the Judiciary Committee are now demanding the earlier papers be released.

In my opinion, if the White House continues to refuse the release, then the Democrats ought to rip up the "agreement" reached with Republicans and they ought to filibuster the hell out of this nomination. If Senate Republicans dare use the "Nuclear Option," then they are on record for having closed out intelligent discussion of the qualifications for this highest position in the highest court of the land. And they can be saddled with that weight come November, 2006.

At this point, the Democrats have nothing to lose. I just wish they'd act like they recognized that fact.