Friday, September 30, 2005

Gen. William Odom and withdraw from Iraq

The Lowell Sun is reporting that retired General William Odom has added his voice to calls for withdraw from Iraq. General Odom is a Vietnam vet, former director of the NSA and currently is a fellow at the Hudson Institute, a well known conservative Think Tank. This man is not some peacenik or liberal. To get a fuller picture of the man, see this post a Kos. Yet although his conservative, military credentials are unquestionable, he has come to believe a lot of what the anti Iraq-war crowd has been saying for some time now. For example
the invasion of Iraq alienated America's Middle East allies, making it harder to prosecute a war against terrorists.
The invasion of Iraq I believe will turn out to be the greatest strategic disaster in U.S. history.

What struck me most, however, was the following
The U.S. should withdraw from Iraq, he said, and reposition its military forces along the Afghan-Pakistani border to capture Osama bin Laden and crush al Qaeda cells.
This is a proposal that I can agree with. This repositioning is a good idea not just because hunting bin Laden would be a more valuable use of our military than whatever it is they are doing in Iraq. It would also be a good move because the right-wing concerns about demoralization of the public and the military are not without merit. By 'repositioning' our forces, a great deal of the demoralizing affect of pulling out of Iraq could be reduced. While 'repositioning' our forces just to save face would be of no value, moving to Afghanistan does appear to have some merit.

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Delay indictment

Just a perspective on the Delay indictment. We Democrats are not gloating because we finally "got" Delay. We are pleased that, like the other many members of the Texas corruption team, he will not escape justice. The right wing is already tying to play this as some kind of vendetta against Delay. But there is a whole crew who have already been indicted and a wide range of ethical and criminal violations that have been recorded. This last step is just getting the top guy.

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Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Martin O'Mally for Governor

Well, the DeLay thing is big, but the big news here in Maryland is that Martin O'Malley, currently the mayor of Baltimore will be running for Governor. This announcement is in no way surprising, this has been expected for four years now, so startling it is not. However, with Robert Ehrlich the current Governor, and Republican, in a very blue state, this is good news. O'Malley is a very personable, very charismatic Democrat who stands a very good chance of recapturing the state house.

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DeLay Indicted

Well the big news today is that Tom DeLay was indicted on conspiracy charges. Apparently his successor as Majority Leader is still up in the air. Hastart chose Drier, but Blunt might be the one instead. With DeLay gone, there is some question as to how well the Republicans will hold together, whether party discipline might fail. That is all still up in the air. We will learn more over the next few days.

This indictment brings out the culture of corruption that has become the Republican party's style of government. From DeLay to Frist to Plamegate to Abramoff, there are just too much criminal activity in the Republican leadership to describe. The Democrats will be forging a broad front strategy to highlight this rampant corruption in upcoming campaigns.

I also have to say that there is a striking contrast between having people in government, like the Clinton administration, who believe in government and having people, like the current or the Nixon administration, who despise government. It took eight years of continuous investigation of every rumor and innuendo, plus $75 Million, to find out that Clinton lied about oral sex. But with these Republican administrations the mere existence of any police or courts will quickly turn up conspiracy, bribery, fraud, murder, burglary, hush funds, and every other form of corruption. Let's return to putting people in authority who believe in the job that they are hired to be do.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2005

New Orleans Levees

You must read this article by David Sarota on the tax and spending cuts of the Bush administration and their impact on the events in New Orleans.

For example, consider Mike Parker a well established conservative Republican and no enemy to tax cuts. The Bush administration appointed him to head the Army Corps of Engineers on June 7, 2001. But when Bush's spending plans, with deep cuts to the New Orleans levees and Hurricane preparedness along the Gulf coast came out, he had to disagree. Finally

When Parker headed to Capitol Hill for annual budget hearings in February 2002, he couldn't hide the truth. Under questioning, he admitted that “there will be a negative impact” if the President’s budget cuts were allowed to go forward. The White House fired Parker within a matter of days.

The payment, in this administration of trying to help the people of this country, and for telling the truth.

Or consider this as late as 2005,
Meanwhile, as the Financial Times reported, the president proposed a budget that “called for a $71.2 million reduction in federal funding for hurricane and flood prevention projects in the New Orleans district, the largest such cut ever proposed.” In addition, “the administration wanted to shelve a study aimed at determining ways to protect New Orleans from a Category 5 hurricane.” This, in the face of a March 2005 report by the American Society of Civil Engineers that warned 3,500 dams were at risk of failing unless the government spent $10 billion to fix them.

Yes hindsight is 20/20, and a study funded in 2005 would not have saved lives in August of that year, but still the short-sightedness and utter foolishness of an administration that would be diverting funds from such a project in order to get men killed in Iraq and provide yet more funds to the extremely wealthy is inexcusable.

But the main conclusion I draw from this article is that the hall mark of this administration is to divert national resources from where they are needed to where they are useless, or very nearly so. When the administration came to office a major threat came from Al Qaeda and the Administration was focused elsewhere, Iraq, North Korea, and Iran. Even after taking out Afghanistan they were focused on Iraq when that was no threat at all. They have been focused on tax cuts when that was of little or no benefit and they ignored the nations infrastructure when hundreds and thousands of lives depended upon that. As long as the current group of leaders, and I do mean of the Republican party, is in power, this nation will continue to waste its resources and stay vulnerable to foreign attack and to natural disaster.

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Conservatives and the SST

Ok, I'm reading The Republican War on Science, which I'll no doubt be writing about a lot as I go through it, but one thing struck out at me early in reading it.

On p 33 Chris Mooney says that "In fact, a key inspiration behind the 1973 birth of the Heritage Foundation was the Senate's vote, two years earlier, to cut funding for the supersonic transport program (SST)." Now the Heritage Foundation is one of the first, and still considered by many to be the premier, conservative Think Tank. According to National Review editor William A. Rusher, "If any conservative organization deserves pride of place, surely it is the Heritage Foundation."(1) The Heritage Foundation, like other conservative Think Tanks, claims to be for conservative principals, to wit:

Founded in 1973, The Heritage Foundation is a research and educational institute - a think tank - whose mission is to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense.

emphasis added.

What I'm getting at, is why is a conservative organization, dedicated to limited government founded because the government chooses to get out of the business of designing commercial airliners. The answer is that they, like most of the rest of the modern conservative movement, are not for limited government. They are for a large, active and intrusive government that acts only in the interests of the already wealthy.

(1) quote obtained from daily Kos dKosopedia article on the Heritage foundation.

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Monday, September 26, 2005

Another Voice

Add Matt Yglasias to those who are coming to see the American military presence in Iraq as more likely to be a hindrance to creating a peaceful stable state than a help.

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ID on trial

The issue of teaching ID in schools is going to court in Dover, PA. The NYT has an article on the issue that is well worth reading.

Intelligent Design is not, in any way, a science and has no business being presented in a science classroom. The hallmark of a science is that it makes definite, testable claims about observations that have not yet been made. For some field to be a science there must be some observations, that have not yet been made, and which have at least two outcomes, one of which is consistent with the theory and one of which is inconsistent. Intelligent Design is generally structured to be so vague that it is not possible to make predictions that can be tested. To the extent that it has made testable predictions they have failed. This is not a science.

Check out the following links to read more about ID and evolution

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Burden of Proof

The link is to a good post in the Prospect concerning burden of proof and the ID movement. They link to this Washington Post article on recent discoveries that support evolution. The cite on burden of proof is on page two where we find the following

Asked to provide examples of non-obvious, testable predictions made by the theory of Intelligent Design, John West, an associate director of the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based ID think tank, offered one: In 1998, he said, an ID theorist, reckoning that an intelligent designer would not fill animals' genomes with DNA that had no use, predicted that much of the "junk" DNA in animals' genomes -- long seen as the detritus of evolutionary processes -- will someday be found to have a function.

(In fact, some "junk" DNA has indeed been found to be functional in recent years, though more than 90 percent of human DNA still appears to be the flotsam of biological history.) In any case, West said, it is up to Darwinists to prove ID wrong.

Science proceeds by recognizing uncertainty and seeking ways to reduce it. In doing science we recognize that we start out ignorant and that we will never achieve absolute certainty. Through the process of verification with experiment and observation we can archive ever greater confidence that we know the answer to some question, but absolute certainty is unachievable. Because of this, to any true/false type question there are always three answers, 1) the evidence indicates true, 2) the evidence indicates false and 3) the evidence is insufficient to tell. The burden of proof then falls on whoever claims to be able to answer the question. Failing to provide that burden of proof then leaves the question undecided unless some other scientist can offer evidence supporting another answer. So, for example, for the early Copernicans claiming to know that planets move in elliptical orbits about the sun, they needed to provide evidence supporting this claim, and they did.

Now apply this to ID and evolution. Those of us presenting the conclusions of mainstream science need to provide evidence that organisms share a common ancestor and that natural selection can account for observed variation. And that we can do (see for example the extensive archives at Talk Origins via the links to the right). If the ID theorists want to claim that there exists an intelligent designer, they need to provide evidence of his existence, not, as John West does above, claim that it is the obligation of the scientists to prove the ID assertions wrong.

Furthermore, on the subject of Junk DNA see this article on Talk Origins. Significant evidence indicates that it is indeed "junk".

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Sunday, September 25, 2005

Worse not Better

Another, and more informed, voice saying that the presence of American troops is making the situation in Iraq worse not better. Juan Cole of Informed Comment argues that the US troops need to get out of Iraq now. His concluding paragraphs

The situation in the Sunni Arab areas was worse in summer of 2004 than it had been in summer of 2003. It is worse in the summer of 2005 than it had been in 2004. Even the Iraqi political groupings that had earlier been willing to cooperate with the US boycotted the Jan. 30 elections and are now assiduously working to defeat the new constitution.

Things in the Sunni Arab areas are getting worse, not better.

I conclude that the presence of the US ground troops is making things worse, not better.

Let's get them out, now, before they destroy any more cities, create any more hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons, provoke any more ethnic hatreds by installing Shiite police in Fallujah or Kurdish troops in Turkmen Tal Afar. They are sowing a vast whirlwind, a desert sandstorm of Martian proportions, which future generations of Americans and Iraqis will reap.

The ground troops must come out. Now. For the good of Iraq. For the good of America.

echo my earlier musings that perhaps our presence is more of a problem than a help.

Professor Cole is very familiar with the Middle East and quite knowledgeable of the situation in Iraq. His opinion on these issues counts for a lot. Considering further that Professor Cole has long been more in favor of the US staying in Iraq than have I, or many other left of center bloggers, I think that this most recent post is quite significant.

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War Supporters?

Shakespeare's Sister has a report on the state of Bush's voluntary fundraising campaign to support the Iraq war. However, to date the amount raised has been "modest" to say the least, about $600. (That's 600, not 600 thousand or million or something, 600). Her article here
gives more references and commentary.

I've got just one thing to add. This is exactly in keeping with my talk of the conservative view and the Servile Society, here and here. The conservative view today is while they feel this war is needed and they demand that this country fight it they also believe quite firmly that other people should pay the bill and other people should sacrifice their lives to win this war. The acceptance of the notion that modern conservatism is about everybody takes care of himself and personal responsibility is nonsense. The conservative view is that the country should provide an environment in which conservatives can do well and toward which the conservatives contribute nothing. They wish to be taken care of far more than any other segment of society.

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Saturday, September 24, 2005

New Orleans Levees

and money wasted in Iraq.

This story of money being lost by the Iraqi minitry of defense is shocking.

The decision by the Bush administration to reduce funding on the New Orleans levees probably did not cause nor exacerbate the flooding. The point is that the 5 million taken from New Orleans made no difference to Iraq, where the loss of 1 billion is hardly noticed by the Bush administration. Clearly the money bought us nothing in Iraq, but might well have been useful in NO. The great failure of the Bush presidency has been the consistant directing of resources where they are not needed and taking them from where they are needed.

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British Food Aid

Ok, this story is not to be believed. By the way it comes to my attention that I'm saying that about a lot of stories related to New Orleans. Sigh. My thought on this though is that there are numerous examples of the Bush administration undercutting the staff of various agencies in order to push the Bush administration ideology. Now is they are willing to do that, why can't they just step in and change this decision. For what it's worth, I believe the reason is not malice, but that the Bushies just don't care about the food to New Orleans or relations with England.

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North Korea

This post is just for archiving a reference to this older Fred Kaplan piece about North Korea. Definitely worth a read.

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Friday, September 23, 2005

New Orleans Buses

The story of buses, New Orleans and evacuation gets more and more interesting. This article in the Chicago Tribune tells a very interesting story. (See also my earlier post which references Blanco's side of the story.)

The story is that FEMA had contracted to Landstar Express America to provide transportation assistance in the event of an emergency, such as a Hurricane. However, the magnitude of Katrina overwhelmed Landstar's ability to provide the needed buses in a timely manner. In spite of this, FEMA insisted on working only with Landstar and chose to wait until the Landstar buses arrived rather use another source. This becomes egregiously incompetent on the part of FEMA when you realize that other sources of buses were trying to supply FEMA with assistance all during the week after the storm hit, but were unable to get through. Read the whole article but it seems that as more and more information comes to light that the problems in New Orleans were to a marked extent caused by the federal authorities, not by the locals.

For further comment on this see Kos and Eschaton

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Darwinian Government - Argh

Ok, the underlying point being made over at the Prospect (here and here) is good but for the love of God could they find a better term for it. What is being discussed is not "Darwinian" government but short sighted and selfish government. There is nothing in natural selection that prevents an organism from adopting strategies which trade off short term gain for long term success. Social organization and cooperation are most certainly survival strategies that have been selected for by evolution. Not only is the characterization wrong, however, it is tactically and politically foolish. Given the connection between science in general and evolution in particular and the political left, it is rather foolish to try and tar the positions of the right by calling them Darwinian. So call them what they are, short sighted and selfish.

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Republican anti-war quotes

This is just a good reference for what Republicans were saying about supporting a President during war time when Clinton was President. Note the differences with today.

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Thursday, September 22, 2005

Voting Yes on Roberts

The link takes you to a Kos diary. the diary argues for Democrats in the Senate to vote yes for Roberts as a strategy. I really believe that folks arguing for this option have their hearts in the right place and are trying to come up with the best options for improving the status of the Democratic Party. However, I really don't understand this argument. As things stand I see no value for Democrats to "seem reasonable". All the polling data and everything else I can find out about the mood of the country indicate that people:

  • Think that George Bush is taking the country in the wrong direction.

  • Want to see the Democrats stand up to Bush and challenge him.

  • Are turning away from the Republicans but

  • Not yet turning toward the Democrats.

  • All this leads me to believe that the best thing for the Democrats to do is to take a level headed principled stand against John Roberts.

    I'm not talking about filibuster here. I accept that the Democrats should not appear to be stopping the functioning of the courts. However, whether the Democrats vote for or against Roberts will have no affect at all on the operation of the Government. Furthermore, the Democrats could make clear that if the Republicans want the votes of Democrats then the Republicans will have to work with Democrats.

    I agree that having Roberts on the court will not be disastrous, but it just seems that although the country would like to have a clear alternative to Bush and the Republicans the Democrats have one again taken the opportunity to tack as close to George Bush as they can. It just seems to be the wrong strategy.

    Also, much of the talk about picking our battles sends, I think, exactly the wrong message. Everyone knows that the Democrats don't want John Roberts to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The fact that we won't make a clear statement to that effect does not make it any less of a defeat for us. Rather we appear to be completely cowed.

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    Davis - Bacon

    In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina George Bush suspended the Davis-Bacon law that requires Federal contractors to pay the prevailing wage when operating in any part of the country. Under that law a company contracted by the Federal Government to remove debris from New Orleans would have to pay workers the prevailing wage in order to receive and keep the Federal contract. With that law suspended they are free to pay less than the prevailing wage. Matt Yglasias and Mickey Kaus have been discussing the merits and demerits of suspending this law with a nice summary and comments by Kevin Drum.

    I concur with Matt on characterizing Kaus' argument as "policy literalism" what I tend to see in some of these arguments of ignoring secondary effects of one's policy. Consider these two points:

    1) Does paying a higher wage not decrease the number of people looking for public housing by increasing the number of people able to afford private housing. Yes, we might build fewer units given the higher cost, but how many more units do we need because the wage scale has been depressed. If that number is larger, we are operating less efficiently, Mickey Kaus notwithstanding. See this link from Josh Marshall

    2) Efficiency of government. I'm not convinced of the loss of efficiency of government agencies compared to the private sector. It is well documented that Medicaid is considerably more efficient than is private insurance. While it is certainly true that one can find aspects of government operation that are less efficient, due to some of these rules, it is not clear that government is across the board less efficient. I'm reminded of reading about the adoption of the 40-hour work week. It was widely thought that for industrial processes having the additional shift would hurt productivity. (Understand that prior to the 40-hour week the standard was 84 hours, 7 12-hour days). However, the reduction in accidents and work stoppages due to workers being less afflicted by sleep deprivation actually resulted in an increase in productivity. I suspect that some of these rules actually increase the efficiency of the operation.

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    Wednesday, September 21, 2005

    Ohio Election Reform

    Great work is being done in Ohio to reform the election system there and start to recover the state from the hopelessly corrupt Republican party. Check out the link at MyDD as well as the following:

    Grow Ohio a grassroots, community based effort to grow the Democratic Party.

    The Democratic Party has a useful tool for writing letters to the editor.

    Check here for general information on lefty bloggers and Ohio.

    And here is the website for RON - Reform Ohio Now. Graphics here.

    A number of reforms are on the ballot this November, reforms aimed at making the electoral system more transparent and more representative. One of the main amendments is to place the drawing of congressional districts into the hands of an independent board. This will remove the job of drawing districts from the state legislature and reduce the degree of gerrymandering that has become so absurd.

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    Sums it up

    This is excellent. Go read it. It really does just sum up the Bush administration.


    Mark Kleiman on Clinton

    Mark makes an interesting observation regarding Bill Clinton and his recent criticisms of George Bush. Given that Clinton has until now been quite unwilling to criticize Bush to the extreme frustration of the left blogosphere, Clinton has recently become quite harshly critical. Considering Clinton's inarguable political sense, this may be a reliable indication that George is in deep political trouble. Read, Mark's comment. Also, check the link to GHWB criticisms of Clinton for responses to the right wing shock that Clinton would criticize GWB.

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    Iraq: Staying the Course?

    We've been in Iraq now for two and one half years. The American casualties continue to mount and the insurgent attacks keep coming. We never managed to establish security in the country and while some in Iraq did initially greet us as liberators, little of that sentiment seems to remain. We are now staying in the country because we need "to get the job done." However, one must wonder if the major impediment to getting the job done is our presence. Is it not possible animosity towards the American presence is a major cause of the civil strife in Iraq. This article would seem to indicate that this may well be the case.

    Well known as an insurgent stronghold and the site of attacks and bombings, this town 25 kilometres northeast of Baquba has enjoyed several months of calm. Police, residents and insurgents here all say the reason for this is clear: Iraqi security forces are patrolling the streets, not the Americans.

    “Because there are no Americans, nothing will happen. But if they come in, the mujahedin will flow out to confront them and run them out of town,” said Fahad al-Kabi, an elderly man sitting outside a café. “It’s better that the people of the town and the Iraqi forces are in control.”

    The article describes the situation in Buhruz, a small Iraqi town. It would appear that in Buhruz at least the absence of American forces are an essential element to maintaining the peace.

    Falah Rashid, a farmer, said the townspeople support the security forces, so long as the Americans aren’t involved.

    “It’s fine for Iraqi forces to restore stability in our town. They are our children and relatives and we help them by offering them what they need,”said Rashid. “We like peace, but we don’t want the occupier to come, arresting our women and children. We are a conservative people. We have our tribal traditions and we don’t like the Americans.”

    It has been argued that we really ought to consider declaring a plan to pull out of Iraq as a means of pushing the Iraqis to take seriously the job of developing an effective police force and army. This article would indicate that starting to withdraw will actually help the Iraqis in this mission. The Bush Administration continues to suggest that any plan to withdraw will be "cutting and running" which will result in the collapse of Iraq into civil war. However, it seems that in the first place Iraq is already descending into civil war and secondly our departure might well help stabilize the country.

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    Tuesday, September 20, 2005

    Reid on Roberts

    See here and here for a discussion on Harry Reid's statement on the Senate floor today regarding John Roberts. Reid has said that he will not vote to confirm. I applaud him. In particular, I am glad to see a dispassionate, level headed, plain spoken reason for not voting for Roberts to be Chief Justice. The leadership of the Democratic Party has long needed to take clear stands to distinguish them from the Republicans. Let us hope this continues.

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    Edgar Hollingsworth

    This is truly sad. The man reported on here, Edgar Hollingsworth has unfortunately died. May he rest in peace. Given that he was found still alive I had hoped that he would pull through. May he be carried to a better place.

    One point in this story saddens me in particular, however. Edgar Hollingsworth had been a member of the United States Military and indeed was a veteran of the Korean War. That we cannot do better by our veterans is truly shameful.

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    Monday, September 19, 2005

    New Orleans Buses

    This link connects to a Kos diary by waitingtoderail and provides a bit more information on the school buses that the locals in LA should have used for evacuation according to the right wing commentators. Apparently Blanco had buses lined up, but FEMA, of course FEMA, got in the way. The whole mess is recorded here.

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    Liberal Options on John Roberts

    Here is a problem that Liberals seem to have in trying to get their message across, that I don't understand. Why does it seem that the only options liberals have on something like John Roberts for Chief Justice are "waxing hysterical" or voting to confirm. Various groups and folks are arguing that he is a complete right wing nut and will strip us all of all civil rights. Others seem to be saying that he is not that bad so we should vote to confirm because we will never succeed at keeping him off the bench. Is there really no basis whatsoever for a level-headed and dispassionate opposition to John Roberts? From the mood of the country now it might be a good idea for the Democrats to argue that Bush is so clearly taking the country so far in the wrong direction that they can no longer support his government. Until there is substantive and wide ranging reforms in the way the executive does business the Democrats will not be supporting George Bush. This position is not, in any rational sense, hysterical, but it is opposition. I just feel that the opposition party should well, you know, oppose something.

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    Somerby on Science

    Now this is a very good post on the nature of science and the 'simple' stories that the press likes to tell. Bob has been a long time critic of the way the press dumbs down important stories. Too much of the news is broken into simple he said/she said type of presentation. Also, the press seems to be determined to present some simple narrative to every story that is brought up. The press has an absurd aversion to uncertainty and ambiguity. Bob links to this article by Harvard Physics Professor Linda Randall in which she discusses the uncertainty that is inherent in any new scientific research. She goes on to lament the extent to which descriptions of recent results so often fail to present any ambiguity and uncertainty. Results are too often presented as some kind of clear certainty. This is a grave disservice to the public who see some conclusion presented as a positive result only to have that overturned a few months or years later. Place your favorite food related warning here. It is an excellent read, both the original article and Bob's commentary.

    One thing I take exception to, however, is the claim that the public won't accept the ambiguity. I don't believe that is the case. I think the public, by and large, will accept the uncertainty, it is the pundits and commentators that do not.

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    Sunday, September 18, 2005

    Comment on Somerby

    Bob Somerby is again deep into exposing the absurdities of todays press corps. One of his recent rants has raised a bit of notice beyond The Daily Howler. The subject of this particular rant has to do with how much news coverage was actually given to the New Orleans convention center and when was the coverage given. Bob discusses the issue here at The Daily Howler. Now a lot of folks have a recollection of the events more in keeping with the standard story line and some of that is covered by Kevin Drum here.

    Now strictly speaking, Bob is correct. The coverage had only just started maybe 18 hours, not 24, prior to the Paula Zahn interview and it did not get heavy until Thursday morning, not on Wednesday night. However, even though the coverage was light Wednesday night a goodly number of people had heard of what was going on by that time. Ted Kopple's claim that "we" have been reporting it for more than just today would also seem to be false if "we" indicates ABC news. In short, in the strictest sense Bob is right. And it is good to get even minor facts correct. This is the sort of thing that should be set right and to that extent his commentary is right on target. Bob correctly calls upon all commentators to meet the highest standards of accuracy.

    However, Bob also seems to raise this error to the level of the claims during the Clinton/Gore period such as Whitewater and Love Story and the like. But this is ridiculous. The error in this case is almost entirely superficial. The substance of the issue with regard to the Convention Center is that for some 12-24 hours prior to Mike Brown's interview many reporters were aware of conditions at the Convention Center. Additionally these conditions had been on national news for some 6-18 hours at least. And yet FEMA, the agency which is supposed to be on top of what is going on, is only just learning these things, long after the news media did. The implication that Mike Brown could have learned about the Convention Center just by watching the news is indeed somewhat exaggerated. However, given that the information about the Convention Center was being discovered by reporters does suggest that FEMA ought to have been learning of it too.

    I think that Bob is making a serious error in the way that he equates nearly all errors made being equally serious. He does not seem to be making any distinctions as to degree of error. This tendency to equate all errors as being the same is a fundamental failure of reasoning. To go off on what might seem a tangent, I must say that this failure of reasoning was something Galileo had to deal with to get modern science underway. Galileo needed to deal with this because if you were to actually drop two objects, one twice the weight of the other, from the top of some tower (in Pisa or elsewhere) the two objects will almost certainly not hit the ground at the same time, in spite of Galileo's claims. The reason we know now is that air resistance will affect the result and generally can be expected to slow down the smaller object more. So given that both his claims and Aristotle's are wrong, the simple conclusion is that they are both the same in being in error so the choice is between the illustrious Aristotle know for his brilliance over the ages or this upstart Italian of no known name. Galileo's argument, however, was that yes I'm wrong but the distance that I'm off by is less than the width of a man's hand. Aristotle's claim is off by more than the height of a man. Given that Aristotle is off by such a large margin, he's out to lunch. Given Galileo's claims being much closer to what actually happens, he is on to something. Thus modern physics and modern science is born. I think that this same reasoning as to who is being more inaccurate is also important in assessing these news media questions.

    I also think that Bob's position is an extremely ironic one. He seems to be chastising liberal commentators for every error, however small, in exactly the same terms that he criticizes far more flagrant errors in the past. His reason for doing this is understandable, he doesn't want liberal commentators falling into the despicable behaviors so prevalent in the Clinton/Gore years. This is admirable. To explain the irony I must first say that I've never seen a compelling explanation as to why the liberal NYT and WaPo turned into the antithesis of journalism when dealing with Clinton. My recollection of the time (early '90's) makes me think that one motivation was to not let a liberal get away with the sorts of things that destroyed the conservative Nixon and that they would take a thoroughly hard nosed approach to Clinton for that reason. Not unlike what Bob is doing with liberals now. I must immediately say that I see no sigh of Bob becoming anything like the NYT and WaPo today. The transformation of those papers was also driven by an overwhelming arrogance that is absent in Bob. But I do think that the harshness of Bob's criticisms of liberals is often eerily reminiscent of the attitudes that brought about the "journalism" that his is so passionately fighting against.

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    Saturday, September 17, 2005

    Servile Society - Part II

    The Republican view of the servile society does not end with the distribution of the monetary costs of defending property. It extends further into where the manpower will be found to defend property. From Limbaugh, Cheney and Bush who all managed to avoid actually facing combat in Viet Nam to todays Jonah Goldberg and Bush twins, there is a clear preference for having other people take care of the difficult job of actually fighting the war. Now there is some merit to the argument that not everyone who supports a war is required to be part of the military. But what makes Operation Yellow Elephant so effective is the striking trend among supporters of the war to refuse service. It's not just that one or another conservative who is a passionate supporter of the war has declined to join up, it is that nearly all (if not in fact all) of the most vocal supporters of the war have "other commitments." I think this is just another example of the servile society. These conservative Republicans believe that they themselves need to be protected, but that some other class of people should provide the bodies needed to do that protecting. Again, the wealthy, propertied class will enjoy security and protection provided to them by the servile class.

    Again, I do not find this a desirable state of affairs.

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    Those kind of people

    Just read this by Hunter at daily Kos.

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    Friday, September 16, 2005

    Opinion of a UNC student

    Nowhere on the surface of this planet nor at any time in the history of mankind have any people enjoyed a greater degree of security and safety than the people of today's United States of America. This is still completely true in spite of the existent threat of terrorism. Yet, even given this unprecedented degree of safety and security, this girl passionately insists on humiliating and degrading hundred, perhaps thousands, of other people solely to increase by some small margin her already unparalleled safety. In my opinion this may well be the most completely selfish and cowardly opinion ever expressed by any person. It is nothing short of shameful.

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    Thursday, September 15, 2005

    Private Sector vs. Public Sector

    Here are a couple of links to some conservatives discussing how the problem with New Orleans is relying on the public sector rather than the private sector. If only we would have the disaster relief and reconstruction done with no government involvement we would be much better off according to Thomas Sowell and Anne Applebaum .

    However, I've got a question. Wasn't the nursing homes where the elderly were abandoned to die in the flood privately run? I'm just not convinced that the private sector is always so vastly superior.

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    Use of Religious Language

    This morning on Air America's Morning Sedition I caught part of the interview with James Traub discussing his Sep. 18 NYT Magazine article on Bono (read it here). The bit that really caught my ear was a story from the article about an interview Bono had with Jesse Helms, yes the Jesse Helms former Senator from North Carolina. Bono was making an appeal for aid to Africa and getting nowhere when he decided to change tactics and took to quoting scripture. The change on Helms was enormous ending with Helms giving Bono a hug and a blessing (I kid you not, read the story) and promising to do whatever he could.

    This confirms an idea that I've long been toying with and is, I think, important in understanding the difficulty Democrats have in getting out our message. I wrote about this once before here. It is a normal part of our discourse to cite some literary or artistic example to help explain a point. One might cite Romeo and Juliet when discussing the mindlessness of a feud or one might cite Les Miserables when discussing the need for justice to be tempered by mercy. This is done not because you believe that whatever the author wrote must be true, but rather because you believe that the author has done a particularly fine job of discussing some true thing, and that this thing is true for reasons independent of the author having written it. While it is certainly true that some people do try and insist that scriptural references must be true simply because they are scriptural, I really believe that even for most people who are religious, citations of scripture are done more for the literary reasons I've discussed above than from an argument of pure authority.

    Some elements of the right do argue for a strictly literal interpretation of scripture and that Religion and this sort of fundamentalist mind set are necessarily one and the same. This is a wrongheaded viewpoint and one which serves the interests only of the authoritarian right. Unfortunately, in my opinion, the left, to a very large degree, accepts this relationship. I do not understand why the left does so as it is a completely wrong viewpoint and seems to be entirely to the disadvantage of progressive politics and ideas. Furthermore, there are a large body of people who respond to ideas only if they are expressed with reference to scriptural stories.

    As a consequence of rejecting religious language entirely left fails to communicate with this group. However, many of the members of this group are by nature a great deal more sympathetic to liberal causes than was Jesse Helms. Were the left to speak to these people in scriptural language on issues of poverty and the like, much support could be found. Not only is this group not hearing the liberal message, but the only folks who are talking to them are the bigoted, racist, homophobic, anti-feminist authoritarian right wingers. There are many people in the religious community who are not by nature attracted to this bigoted authoritarianism, but the only people who speak their language are the bigoted authoritarian.

    We do not need to all become true believers, and lord knows we should not every pretend to hold beliefs that we do not. But many in the religious community would respond to the liberal message if folks could present the liberal message with reference to scriptural stories in exactly the same way you might do so with reference to Dickens or Hugo.

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    Wednesday, September 14, 2005

    New Orleans Update

    Ok, This is amazing. First let me give some thanks that this man, Edgar Hollingsworth, was found alive. Let us hope that he recovers and that his ordeal is over. Also, I want to give praise to the National Guardsmen who rescued him, particularly to Lt. Fell for going into the house in spite of instructions not to. Saving lives should be the first priority and it is good to hear of those who know that in spite of what "authorities" might say.

    Finally, what the hell is FEMA thinking. Clearly if you've read much of this blog, you will see that I don't have a high opinion of the performance of that agency. But it seems that every time I think that they have achieved the worst performance possible, they manage to top themselves. Let us hope that the change in management will soon produce some major changes soon. I have seem claims that Posse Comitatus is the reason for restricting these men from entering houses, but I don't buy it. Posse Comitatus restricts military personnel from performing police actions, but that does not mean they can't enter a house to save a life. At the worst it would mean that if military personnel do enter under color of authority then evidence of crimes committed would not be admissible in court. But I can't see what other issues would be involved. I'm no expert on the law, but I would want to see a clearer explanation of why Posse Comitatus would lead to this restriction.

    Also, the men described in the article were National Guardsmen and the National Guard is regularly used for police action during emergencies. Now that usage might be restricted to National Guardsmen carrying out their duties in their own state, and the Guardsmen in the article were from CA, but my previous comment would still hold.

    To my mind the various failures of FEMA all seem to be due to a failure of imagination, bureaucratic inertia, and/or an inability to multi-task, even as an organization.

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    New Orleans School Buses

    Media matters has a good summary of the New Orleans school bus issue here. It would seem that the number of such buses available before the storm has been exaggerated. The actual number would be about 700 not 2000, as some have claimed.

    I still have not seen any answer to the question as to where Nagin was supposed to evacuate the additional 100,000 residents. I've written elsewhere about the various difficulties faced in trying to remove these people from the New Orleans city limits. Buses, and other city resources, were used to get people to the Superdome, however. Beyond that I can't see how the buses should have been used. Taking people off of other pre-storm duties just to move those school buses to higher ground in preparation for the after storm period seems like a waste of people before the storm. Furthermore, there should not have been much difficulty rounding up buses in southern Louisiana after the storm. I suspect that most bus routes were suspended for the first several days after the hurricane passed so buses should have been available if the right contacts had been made.

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    Freedom of the Press

    Well stories have gone back and forth regarding press freedom in New Orleans these days. There have been claims of a general press blackout that turned out to be exaggerated. It would appear that the press is pretty free to roam about, although there have been some instances of harassment. CNN had to sue to get the right to photograph the collection of bodies, but that too is now being allowed.

    We get a lot of 'feel good' and patriotism reasons for supporting a free press, but I wanted to write something about the practical benefits of a free press and civil liberties in general.

    Accomplishing some task like securing the boarders against terrorist attack is an extremely difficult thing to do. The boarders are long and so many people are coming through that providing complete security is nearly impossible. Now if we grant the public officials in charge of providing this security with broad powers to silence the press and arbitrarily arrest anyone then the task of providing security does become moderately easier but not all that much. It will remain a nearly impossible task. However, what will become very easy is to silence anyone who points out that the officials are failing to do the job. Under these conditions the officials will then be free to do a truly inept job of providing security with no fear of accountability and will typically over time do a worse and worse job of actually providing security. This is the model that has been followed through all of history. Granting officials these powers, restricting civil liberties and freedom of the press will eventually lead to far worse security than we have with these freedoms. That is why we need to insure that they stay in place.

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    Tuesday, September 13, 2005

    Governor Blanco

    Well it would seem that the Republicans will need to try again to come up with an excuse for the disaster that is this Administration's response to Katrina. The right wing and this Administration have been saying loudly that the slow federal response was due to failures on the part of Governor Blanco to ask for aid. Well the Congressional Research Service (CRS), one of the most respected and non-partisan of the Congressional investigative services, has issued a report clearly rebutting this charge.

    On September 7 Congressman John Conyers wrote the CRS asking them to investigate the matter and report their conclusions. The CRS issued its report today, read it.

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    Monday, September 12, 2005

    The Servile Society - Part I

    Consider the policies on taxation and Government preferred by Republicans. On the one hand they want taxes eliminated (or very nearly so) on interest, dividends and capital gains. Now, if this policy wish is enacted then those who own large amounts of property can meet all their expenditures from these sources, live a rich and comfortable life and avoid paying taxes all together, or very nearly so. In this world taxes would be collected almost entirely from the wages of those who labor in order to provide for their expenses.

    On the other hand, the only role that Republicans see for Government is police and military. These essentially serve to defend and protect property. Yes, there would still be the odd serial killer I suppose, but most crime and war are directed at property not lives. Recall, however, that those who own most of the property are now paying nearly nothing in taxes but deriving nearly all the benefit from the taxes paid. Those who are paying the taxes, however, own little of the property, and therefore derive no direct benefit from the taxes they pay.

    This is the world that the modern Republican party is trying to bring into being. A society consisting of two classes of people the property owning, privileged class, and the working or servile class. Indeed it would seem that the two things that most outrage Republicans is either the propertied class paying any part of the cost of defending their property or the working class deriving any benefit whatsoever from the taxes that they pay. This is a world I refer to as the "Servile Society" in honor of the less desirable of these two classes of people. As I hope is clear, this is not a world I want to see brought into being.

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    Katrina rebuttals

    I'm going to start collecting here some rebuttals to the right wing on Katrina. There is some right wing e-mail rant that's been going around. Rat on daily Kos has put together a good rebuttal to it in this diary.

    Here is another Kos diary collecting rebuttals.

    This post on daily Kos can also be saved here.


    Sunday, September 11, 2005

    Bush Management Style and Katrina

    The Bush administration has had a well deserved reputation for extremely tight message control. Almost nothing comes out of the Administration if not approved by the folks at the very top. I came across a striking example of this in an editorial by Dana Milbank via Kevin Drum. Note the final paragraph Drum pulls out

    Hughes replied that ambassadors are free to talk -- if they use the talking points she sends them. "If they make statements based on something I sent them," she said, "they're not going to be called on the carpet."

    Ambassadors are only supposed to speak based on statements given by the White House. There is no room for independent action by the Ambassador. Given this there is no way for an Ambassador to act in the face of some novel situation, a sudden emergency, until the Administration focuses on it and develops its talking points and strategy.
    That's the situation Ambassadors face.

    Given that this message discipline has been the hallmark of everything this Administration does, it seems very likely that federal emergency management would be under the same sort of restrictions. No independent action until the White House becomes involved. If that is the case, is there any wonder at the performance of the federal response to Hurricane Katrina, given that Bush did not become involved until several days after the Hurricane struck?

    [Update - Sun Sep 11, 2005, 1:37 PM] This Newsweek article covers much the same issues in greater depth.

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    Saturday, September 10, 2005

    New FEMA site

    A new site calle The Truth About Katrina is keeping track of the story of Katrina.

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    Does anyone out there know

    of some good resources, web reachable preferably, on the number of people on public assistance of one kind or another. I'd really like to get a breakdown by state and type of assistance and would love to have by parish in Louisiana. I'm really curious to know the actual proportion of people down there on public assistance, given the kind of right wing rhetoric we've seen over the past week or so.

    There are an awful lot of people eligible for assistance who are not, however, aware of it and therefore not receiving any. And there are many others who are not eligible and yet are extremely poor. A sizable number of people in this country are working 40 hours a week and yet barely scraping by. Furthermore, what Google searching I've done, for example, indicates that there are a total of 80,000 people in Louisiana total on aid to families with dependent children. Now a few of those 80,000 were not in New Orleans and there were 100,00 people stranded in New Orleans. Do the math. So far this is just a guess and speculation, AFDC is only a part of public assistance after all. I would very much like to get some solid evidence. Anyone with knowledge of useful sources please contact me.

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    Friday, September 09, 2005

    Thought on the Roberts nomination

    I'll get to Roberts in a moment but first, Matt Yglesias over on Tapped has a good response to Byron York regarding the Mike Brown nomination as head of FEMA. Seems democrats did little to investigate Brown and approved him. As Matt says, however, "I'll happily cop, as a personal matter, to having simply assumed that the Bush administration didn't appoint a totally unqualified hack to this important but low-profile job and to have somewhat erred in doing so." Now given that the right wingers are arguing that it's our fault for letting such an unqualified hack get confirmed I think we would be well advised to insist that we need to investigate John Roberts very thoroughly.

    Indeed the question I would like to pose to the Bush administration is this "So you're saying that John Roberts is every bit as qualified to be chief justice of the Supreme Court as Mike Brown is to be head of FEMA?"

    Certainly the Democrats need to reject the Republican argument that the Senate must accept this nomination just on President bush's promise that he is really qualified. The nomination process has clearly broken down, the confirmation process must now be that much more thorough.

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    Golgafrinchans. That is how I see our current national leadership. That would include our pundit class as well the politicians, at least at the national level, who run our government. For those who are fans of Douglass Adams, no more need be said. If not, read the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy serries, or at least, "So Long and Thanks for All the Fish."

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    FEMA updates

    I'm starting a new entry to record more recent problems and complaints related to FEMA and the Federal response.

    Here's a link to a Kansas City Star report on events in New Orleans during the crisis. It is very favorable to the locals and harsh on FEMA. You'll have to sign up with the KC Star to read the whole article.

    FEMA fails to accomplish anything in St. Tammany Parish.

    Canadian Mounties reach New Orleans sooner than FEMA.

    Fire fighters used only for handing out fliers.

    Foreign aid offered but delayed by US government.

    FEMA director screwed up in Florida last year too. The Sun Sentinel reports Brown misdirected $31Million to areas of Florida not hit by the hurricane and called for his firing then, and they repeat the call now.

    A radio station to be set up at the Astrodome to help provide information for evacuees and help in locating loved ones has been put on hold although it is ready to run.

    Delays caused by lack of military aircraft, aircraft that are now in Iraq.

    The folks in Mississippi get much the same treatment from FEMA as NO. This pionts up something that I've been guilty of here, as have much of the reporting of the Hurricane. Most of my comments and reports are focused on New Orelans. That is by no means the only area badly hit or needing attention. Please, if you're using this site for information to pressure State and Federal officials to pay attention to those stricken by the Hurricane, don't forget about the rest of the Gulf Coast region. See also this post on MyDD and this at GOTV describing the unfortunate state of afairs along the Gulf Coast.

    Ok, more documents showing that FEMA was aware of the problems it would face and should have been on top of the situation.

    [Update Sun. Sep 11, 2005 15:37 Eastern] This post on the Hurricane Pam exercise should be read by all.

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    Thursday, September 08, 2005

    New Orleans Evacuation

    The right is trying mightily to argue that the human tragedy that is New Orleans is entirely due to the local failure to evacuate the city. There has been general agreement that this is an area where city planning failed. However, there are now a few folks arguing the point that the logistics and planning for a mass evacuation of 100,000 people is far more complex and difficult than the arm chair planners on the right are trying now to claim. See, for example this post by ArchPundit over at daily Kos. I agree that the difficulty of a more complete evacuation is being unreasonably minimized by the right wing in order to try and deflect criticism of the President.

    In the discussions that I've read, however, there is another difficulty to a complete evacuation that I have not seen raised. Consider the kind of treatment described in this post I found at Making Light. Here we have a group of people trying to self evacuate and being turned back, with gunfire, by Gretna sheriffs. I think that it clear that there was another political difficulty in coming up with a plan to remove 100,000 of the poorest, black residents of New Orleans into the suburbs. A problem that might well dwarf the difficulties of finding bus drivers and organizing routes. And those problems are big enough.

    In light of this I conclude that while Nagin and Blanco failed to protect their constituents, the problem they faced was nearly insurmountable. Also, it seems to me that the backup plan, evacuate to the superdome was inadequate but became disastrous only due to the incompetence of FEMA (see here).

    Now I have a tough attitude toward public officials when judging if they've been successful or not. In my mind if a public official is supposed to accomplish some task, even if it is damn near impossible, failure is still failure. Given this standard, failure will occur, but it is still failure. That is my attitude toward George Bush and 9/11, that is my attitude toward Nagin and Katrina. How harsh the judgment is does depend upon the difficulty of the task, but failure is still failure. So, given the above Nagin should have accomplished more, but evacuating much more of the city was a nearly impossible task. And the disaster that resulted is much more due to failures at FEMA and the rest of the federal level than the locals. Had FEMA never shown up, it would have been better for New Orleans.

    [Update Fri. Sep 9, 2005 13:13 Eastern]
    See also here for further details on the story of folks trying to evacuate New Orleans. Follow the links for confirmation of the story.

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    Wednesday, September 07, 2005

    A Contrast

    Having witnessed the events of the past week, and the response from various parts of our society I keep wondering one thing.

    In 2003 there was this incredibly tiny threat posed by Iraq. People feard that Saddam might eventually have developed the capacity to possibly hurt some of us sometime in the future. I think I've got that about right. In the face of that trivial danger, rather than take on the personal responsibility of simply stiffening one's own spine and facing small threats with courage, a large portion of the country felt it imperative to call upon the federal government to take action to calm these fears and commit several thousand of our young men and women in uniform to death, thousands more to be maimed and wounded, and $200 Billion of our treasure spent.

    Then, this past week, with thousands of our citizens in clear, mortal peril in the very short term and a need to spend a little time and perhaps a few percent of the cost of Iraq to save those citizens lives, the very people who were so intent on have the federal government protect them from their fear of Saddam can't see any reason for the federal government to help the people of New Orleans. Now come the calls for personal responsibility and the sudden realization that no federal help should be expected.

    I find this deplorable. How can so many people be so singularly concerned only with their own personal safety and be so callous about the rest of the citizens of this country?

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    Local failure caused by FEMA

    That is the meme we need to push to counter the latest Bush PR campaign.

    In the case of Katrina we need to make clear that we are not complaining that FEMA did not arrive in NO. Clearly, the leadership of FEMA was on the scene immediately and took charge of the situation. The problem was that the leadership was so incompetent that it succeeded in interfering with local relief efforts but failed to provide any federal relief efforts. It kills me to see that the meme of "local failure" could take hold when story after story indicates that "local failure" was large caused by FEMA.

    Over the past week I've read of the following:

    Here's a blog covering the whole issue in depth:
    FEMA failures

    See also Live Journal

    The local disaster response was, while inadequate, not disastrous. That effort, however, was made disastrous by FEMA.

    The item on the Red Cross appears to be a more complicated item than merely FEMA failing to lead. However, the problem does appear to be outside the contol of the local governemnts. As said, more information on that issue would be helpful. Perhaps there exists a diary or blog that is capturing that issue in all its detail. If such a thing exists, I'd like to get a reference. Thanks.

    This link to an LA times article on FEMA is quite relevant as well.

    [Update] A picture is starting to emerge as to what caused the collosal failure at FEMA. It has become an organization without leadership or imagination, only able to follow bureaucratic procedures and mired in red tape.

    Additional infor on FEMAs past and ongoing failures.
    Related casees of FEMA being absent.

    Brown warned 32 hours before landfall that levees could be breached.
    [Note: The original version of this entry pointed to this link which says nothing about 32 hour notification. My appologies for any confusion.]

    And this is directly tied to GWB himself. Fire fighters above are still underused but did get orders to provide background for a Bush photo op. (See the final graph). The absurdity only grows with this administration.

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