Wednesday, September 28, 2005


Good, succinct explanation in this letter from today's "Voice of the People" page in the Chicago Tribune on why people like me don't like Bush as president, and no, it's not because we hate him for the hell of it:
Unqualified Bush

S.E. Fisher
Published September 24, 2005

Chicago -- A message to all conservative Republicans who keep attacking liberals who criticize President Bush.

Contrary to your accusations, most of us liberals do not hate the president.

He would be harmless enough if he weren't the most powerful man in the world.

Our concern is that he is the poster child for the Peter Principle, which postulates that people will advance to a level in their organization where they are incompetent.

Since Bush is the most powerful man in the world, that's very scary. The strength of our feelings about the president would be mitigated if we felt he had done even one thing correctly since he was first elected, but he has failed in every arena:

- He created No Child Left Behind and then failed to support it.
- He has trashed laws protecting the environment, jeopardizing our and our children's health.
- His prescription drug program for the elderly will not help them much but will enrich drug companies.
- He gives campaign contributors plum jobs they are unqualified for.
- He continues to reward rich people at poor people's expense via his tax cuts.
- In cutting taxes, he has eviscerated key governmental programs.
- He has pushed our idebtedness to all-time highs.
- He declared war on a country that constituted no threat to us for completely bogus reasons.
- He continues to act as if global warming isn't a reality in the face of overwhelming evidence.
- He restricted our freedoms to improve our national security but has not accomplished this.
- He continues to undermine the traditional separation of church and state.

The truth is, our emperor-president isn't wearing any clothing and increasingly people are starting to recognize this. Unfortunately there are none so blind as the conservative Republicans who will not see.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Supermodels do drugs? Who woulda thunk it?

If Burberry, H & M, Chanel, etc. are going to drop Kate Moss because of the documented video evidence that she snorts a lot of coke, they may as well drop the majority of their models. Not that I condone Kate Moss's lifestyle--on the contrary, all the money in the world wouldn't make it seem any more appealing--but clothing companies are being supremely disingenuous in appearing shocked that one of their top models is a drug addict mixed up with a junkie boyfriend. In fact, these clothing companies and the fashion industry at large are the source of the problem, as an article in Salon points out:
What this drama has done is lay bare the ugly skeleton that holds up a fashion industry that for some time has prized hollow cheeks and vacant eyes, stunted, prepubescent frames, and jutting collar bones from which fabric drapes beautifully. In other words, the body that is appealing to designers -- and thus to consumers -- is a body that looks like it has been ravaged by drugs. In order to stay employed, models must maintain this shape; to maintain the shape they must do something besides eat right and exercise regularly. Whether it's cocaine or speed or heroin or caffeine or cigarettes or anorexia or bulimia or some combination of the above, most adult women cannot get bodies that look like Moss' healthily, because hers is not a healthy body.
From knowing many perfectly normal or even underweight girls who think they need to cut carbs and go to the gym daily, I can see how the fatally distorted image of the impossibly thin woman disseminated by Hollywood and the fashion industry has a lasting effect on many female members of our society.

I remember an instance in my high school U.S. History class when my teacher showed us some ads with women from the 1950s. Though these ads were stereotypical 50s fare, their images promoting a homemaker ideal that was in fact quite confining for women, the ads at least featured women of normal body weights. My teacher went on to say that in spite of the advances women have made in having choice of occupation since these ads were produced, advances in healthy presentation of body images seems to have made an inverse level of progress. We see in media images nowadays that women, but they better stay skinny.

Moss's lifestyle is of course her own choosing, but her participation in a world that condones hard drug use more than it does gaining 10 pounds cannot be overlooked as a reason for the glamorization of Moss's (and many others') self-destructive activities. If the companies that dropped Moss want to prove they really do care whether their models are healthy, maybe they'll start hiring healthier models.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Approaches to living self-sufficiently

If you happen to be in my apartment around six at night, you will hear this ecstatic proclamation coming from the kitchen, "Wow, I love to cook! I love this control!" or some such variation. Yes, I do like choosing what I'm going to have for dinner every night, and though I don't really know how to do it, I happen to like cooking a great deal.

It doesn't end there. I like being given the responsibility to take care of a place: make sure the dishwasher is working, contemplating the merit of Drain-o and CLR for cleaning purposes, controlling the thermostat, etc. Suddenly, tool sets and cleaning items interest me a hell of a lot, and I have a new fascination with hardware stores. If I were to watch any TV shows regularly (besides "The Daily Show" of course), I would watch a couple of Food Network programs and "This Old House."

I don't think my approach to living in an apartment is the norm among college students, however. It seems like there are in fact two approaches to this on the part of students: the first is the Type A approach: be on top of things in a way that can be described as "responsible" or "neurotic" depending on your disposition, the second, the Type B approach is to chill out, let the dishes pile up in the sink, leave junk around, and ignore the pressing need to disinfect the toilet every month. I admit, the neurotic or Type A approach involved a bit more anxiety (will people committ to a cleaning schedule? better put away the dishes, etc.), but I like it. I would be interested in a defense of the Type B approach to independent living. For now, it's back to checking Ace Hardware coupons and mentally planning out this week's dinner items.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Democrats making a mistake with Roberts

Gotta agree with the Daily Kos on this one:

Leahy just allowed a bad precedent -- accepting a nominee after being denied the documentary evidence to make an informed decision. That the administration refused to release those documents means that there was something to hide. But it's a precedent that can potentially allow our own stealth candidates to slip through without a full vetting. The GOP won't have the White House forever.
As long as Roberts and the Bush Administraion won't be forthcoming, Roberts appointment should be prevented. If Democrats let him get by on this ground they have set a bad precedent, one that may be used against their objections to a nominee in the future.

New rape prevention group focuses on men

I really admire what these guys are doing:
Four guys are spending their first year after college road-tripping in an RV they've nicknamed "Bela." The quartet, all 22, is touring the country with a lofty goal: to end rape on college campuses.

They're not doling out safety tips to women--telling them to watch their drinks at parties or walk at night with a buddy.

They're not talking to women at all.

Instead, they're going to the source of most rapes--men.
They're methods also seem very solid:
The One in Four guys said they're careful not to accuse men they speak to or talk to them as if they were potential rapists. They appeal to men's empathy and desire to help. Their presentation includes tips on how to help a friend who is a sexual assault survivor, including listening and believing someone when she says she's been raped.

They also discuss stereotypes about men and sex: that guys have to force sex to be a man; that if a drunk woman doesn't say no that means she wants sex; that most men think jokes about rape are funny.

They stress that rape is a violent crime that has nothing to do with sex. The point is to get men to think about sexual assault so they won't do it or condone it.
A lot of rape prevention seems to be placed on women. While I have no problems with being taught how to become a "defensive driver," as it were--learning how to make oneself less vulnerable to sexual assault and rape--there has been a lack of dialogue with men about this. Hopefully, this becomes more common.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Judge lucky to have Ryan case

Man, federal Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer, from the Northern District of Illinois, gets all of the good cases. First she got U.S. v. Patterson this summer, one of the most bizarre trials in recent years, now she's the judge presiding over the government's case against former Illinois Governor George Ryan. Jury selection for the Ryan case isn't going so well thus far:
When U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer recessed court shortly before 6:30 p.m., only eight prospective jurors had passed the initial cut on the first day of the jury selection.

Eleven others had been bounced by Pallmeyer, mostly because of perceived biases toward Ryan.

Though Pallmeyer had hoped as many as 50 people might be questioned in a single day, on Monday only 14 were, largely because of lengthy questioning by Ryan's lead lawyer, Dan K. Webb.
Can I be a juror on this case? I know jury duty is looked upon as a drag, but if I had to be on a jury, I would definitely rather sit on one that was ruling on an interesting case like the Ryan trial. I wonder if evidence pertaining to Ryan's famous moratorium on the death penalty in Illinois will be admitted into the trial.

Confirming Roberts right now sets a bad precedent

The American people know very little about John Roberts, nominee for Supreme Court Chief Justice, whose confirmation vote is set for this Thursday. The gospel right now is that Roberts is certain to be confirmed, and I believe he will unless people in this country call or write their U.S. Senators, especially their Democratic Senators, and encourage a filibuster. As the People's E-mail Network (PEN) says:
[The Bush Administration has] totally frustrated any meaningful opportunity to cross-examine this nominee by stonewalling access to any of his memos from the last 20 years, materials that previous administrations have always disclosed as to other Supreme Court nominees.
It is a bad precedent to let a nominee get through a confirmation hearing on these pretenses. Please use my link in the right-hand corner to contact your Senators. It takes a mere few minutes and will be worth it if they hear from enough of us.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Seventies music

You have to feel kinda bad for the mother character in the song "Papa was a Rolling Stone," by the Temptaions. She's in kind of an awkward spot:
Hey Mama, is it true what they say
that Papa never worked a day in his life
And Mama, some bad talk going around town
saying that Papa had three outside children and another wife
And that ain't right
Hey, talk about Papa doing some store front preaching
Talked about saving souls and all the time leaching
Dealing in debt and stealing in the name of the Lord
The mother deals with the situation pretty diplomatically though:
Mama just hung her head and said
"Papa was a rolling stone, my son
Wherever he laid his hat was his home
(And when he died) All he left us was alone"
Just one of many random thoughts provoked by skyfm, "All seventies, all the time" on iTunes radio.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Pope envoy's criticism of poverty in the U.S.

An envoy of Pope Benedict XVI criticized the U.S. for letting some endure poverty, saying during a tour of Louisana and Mississippi areas afflicted by Hurricane Katrina:
Many were struck by ... poverty, at times shameful, in rich America. I do not want to hide my personal fear -- that the superpower isolates itself and remains isolated even in dealing with the disaster. In this dramatic emergency, the United States must not be abandoned.
I am not a Catholic, so obviously the Pope doesn't have a significant symbolic or religious part in my life, but one thing I can admire about the Catholic Church is at least speaking to issues that are related to their tenets, such as poverty and the death penalty. While I vehemently disagree with its stance on abortion, I can at least respect that the Church is against the death penalty and the Iraq War as well, unlike those religious people who favor the death penalty and the war but still claim to be pro-life. It would be nice if religious people would use their sprituality and knowledge of their religious texts to question some of the destructive things in which they believe.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Liberals have been fearing an impending retirement or ailment on the part of the four "liberal" justices on the Supreme Court. Hopefully, the fact that current acting Chief Justice (just temporarily) and the oldest member of the court (I bet he hates how that phrase always precedes his name) John Paul Stevens threw out the first pitch at Wednesday's Cubs game will relieve some of our worries.
If one can be a fan of a Supreme Court Justice, then I was one of the venerable Justice John Paul Stevens even before last night. But after seeing him throw out the first pitch at Wrigley, then talk to the men in the TV booth about his baseball and Cub fandom, all while proudly wearing the Cub jersey he'd been given for the occasion, I'm a bigger fan than ever.
I got to see Stevens at an annual awards luncheon in his honor the following day, and he looked very well. Good to know, right?

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Confirm Roberts?

My answer right now would be no. The reason of course is that Roberts has not been forthcoming during his confirmation hearings, and his excuse that he doesn't want to comment on issues that may come before the court just don't cut it. Senator Russell Feingold put it best:
We know where all eight other members of the court stand on these opinions -- in their opinions. They either wrote or joined one of them. Yet all eight of them will hear the next case that raises similar issues. No one is suggesting that their independence or impartiality in the next case has been compromised. . . . So I guess I want to know, why are you different? . . .[W]hy shouldn't the public have some idea of where you stand today on these crucial questions . . .? They know a great deal about how each of the other justices approach these issues. Why is your situation different?
It is pretty clear that this "kabuki dance" as Joe Biden put it is meant to prevent any controversy from arising over Roberts actual views. The public however deserves to know what kind of demeanor a man will have as justice on the highest court in the country (or on any court, for that matter). We entrust these people with adjudicating our lives; we should know that we are entrusting the right people with this privilege.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

How to live alone and how not to (yes, this includes a rant)

I haven't written much lately because I've been busy moving into an apartment, my first experience of truly independent living, I suppose. I enjoy it a lot so far: having a single room, having more space, choosing my own food, but I also recognize that independent living requires, yes, independence.

In this regard, I'm amazed that so many college students manage to live alone today. Our predecessors in this apartment left behind a whole bunch of crap and a dirty refrigerator, unvaccuumed floors, etc. I was annoyed at this carelessness and inconsiderateness but not wholly surprised. So many members of my generation seem to have had their parents do everything from clean their rooms to write their college applications. (That's not an exaggeration). Some people seem to have no concept of an obligation to pick up after themselves, or at least not nowadays. My parents said that people used to take it as a point of pride to leave an apartment spotless.

Speaking of which, I am thankful that my parents made me do all sorts of chores that I admittedly hated growing up: rake leaves, cleaning my bathroom, vaccuuming, cleaning my room, cleaning other rooms, etc. I'll tell you, cleaning a toilet is one of the most humbling activities in the world, and everyone from the man on the street to the pope should have to do it. Put simply: no one is above cleaning their own toilet.

Because I love being global and grandiose about problems, I will chalk slobbishness up to a combination of inconsiderateness and sense of privilige. What do you think?

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Justice Rehnquist's Drug Problem

Too bad more prescription drug abusers don't receive the leniency and support William Rehnquist did when he was addicted to painkillers.
And for the nine years between 1972 and the end of 1981, William Rehnquist consumed great quantities of the potent sedative-hypnotic Placidyl. So great was Rehnquist's Placidyl habit, dependency, or addiction—depending on how you regard long-term drug use—that by the last quarter of 1981 he began slurring his speech in public, became tongue-tied while pronouncing long words, and sometimes had trouble finishing his thoughts.

According to a Jan. 4, 1982, New York Times account, Rehnquist sought help with the drug in December 1981 because it no longer relieved his pain. He entered George Washington University Hospital on Dec. 27. According to the physician spokesman for the hospital he suffered "disturbances in mental clarity, characterized by distorted perceptions," as doctors weaned him off the drug.
As a wise person recently said to me, "We should all be Republicans; then we could get away with anything." For instance, when a Republican has a drug problem, it's merely chalked up to him being an over-achiever (or having engaged in past "youthful indiscretions"):
....When Rehnquist's drug problem became an issue during the 1986 confirmation hearings, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, defended Rehnquist in a Post story, saying he got into trouble with Placidyl because he was "a very compliant patient" who "followed the advice" of his doctors.

"25 Mind-Numbingly Dumb Quotes About Hurricane Katrina And Its Aftermath"

...Including these:

2) "What I'm hearing which is sort of scary is that they all want to stay in Texas. Everybody is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway so this (chuckle) – this is working very well for them." –Former First Lady Barbara Bush, on the Hurricane flood evacuees in the Houston Astrodome, Sept. 5, 2005 (Source)
4) "We've got a lot of rebuilding to do ... The good news is — and it's hard for some to see it now — that out of this chaos is going to come a fantastic Gulf Coast, like it was before. Out of the rubbles of Trent Lott's house — he's lost his entire house — there's going to be a fantastic house. And I'm looking forward to sitting on the porch." (Laughter) —President Bush, touring hurricane damage, Mobile, Ala., Sept. 2, 2005 (Source)
(Good, the most important things are being addressed! Make that porch big as ever!)
12) "Now tell me the truth boys, is this kind of fun?" –House Majority Leader Tom Delay (R-TX), to three young hurricane evacuees from New Orleans at the Astrodome in Houston (Source)
17) "I believe the town where I used to come – from Houston, Texas, to enjoy myself, occasionally too much – will be that very same town, that it will be a better place to come to." –President Bush, on the tarmac at the New Orleans airport, Sept. 2, 2005 (Source)
22) "FEMA is not going to hesitate at all in this storm. We are not going to sit back and make this a bureaucratic process. We are going to move fast, we are going to move quick, and we are going to do whatever it takes to help disaster victims." --FEMA Director Michael Brown, Aug. 28, 2005 (Source)
24) "I understand there are 10,000 people dead. It's terrible. It's tragic. But in a democracy of 300 million people, over years and years and years, these things happen." --GOP strategist Jack Burkman, on MSNBC's "Connected," Sept. 7, 2005 (Source)
(Real nice guy. Reminds me of that Stalin quote: "A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.")

Obama hits the nail on the head

About whether the response to the flood in New Orleans reflects racism, Obama had this to say, on the Senate floor:
I see no evidence of active malice, but I see a continuation of passive indifference on the part of our government.
Exactly. You'd be hard-pressed to find someone today who's a blatant racist, and that is a good thing. Still, that doesn't mean prejudice is gone. Instead, it is a systemic problem that is reinforced by policies and practices that have a racist outcome. Everything from education policy to drug sentencing laws seems to suggest this. This is why the debate over whether a decision or policy (such as the response after Hurricane Katrina) was intentionally racist or not seems to me a moot one: because the consequence of a decision laced with inherent prejudices will always have the same effect of reinforcing stereotypes.

Friday, September 09, 2005

The Big "D" Word

No, it's not anything obscene, or at least, not in a literal sense.

D-E-B-T, debt is a huge problem for many Americans, and members of my generation are being catapulted into it in a way that may entrap us for many years to come. I caught the tail-end of an episode of "Money Talks" on my PBS affiliate that focused on a young woman who had recently graduated from college (apparently from Northwestern) saddled with credit card and student loan debt. She reported that her friends were in similarly dire situations with some having already filed for bankruptcy. As the description of this installment, called "Graduating into Debt" says, "Credit card debt and increasing college tuition rates are leaving many graduates in financial ruin before they even get their first jobs." Young people are told, and rightly so, that a college education is the first step to attaining a more optimal job and is a stepping-stone to graduate education, which has become increasingly common and necessary for career advancement.

However, the costs of college are hard for most people to meet on their own. According to the College Board, the
average yearly cost of attending a four-year public school (tuition, room & board) is $12,841, and the average yearly cost at a four-year private school is $27,677. College tuition increases have far out-paced inflation. According to Professor Ronald Ehrenberg of the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute, "during the last quarter of a century undergraduate tuition and fees have risen at annual rates exceeding the rate of inflation by an average of 2.5 to 3.5 percentage points." (Ehrenberg details the reasons for these increases, which I won't outline here but which are worth a read).

Financial aid only partially addresses the problems of affording college. Since it mostly comes in the form of loans, rather than grants, which must later be paid back, college graduates are still faced with a huge debt burden. According to Ehrenberg's article, from 2002-2003, 40% of aid was made up of grants. Grant levels have not kept pace with increasing tuition:
During the mid 1970s the average Pell grant received by students was about 46% of the average costs (including room and board) of attending a public higher education institution. Last year, the ratio was under 30% (the ratio is much lower at private institutions but they have more institutional resources for financial aid).
The National Center for Education Studies reports that the average loan amount for a student at a four-year institution of higher learning in the 2002-2003 year was $5,900.

All of this adds up to big post-undergraduate debt for students from education alone. Factor in other big-ticket purchases that people in their late teens and early twenties make via credit card--which, if not paid back on time, are subject to incredibly high interest rates--and one gets a headache thinking about these financial woes.

In light of this, countries that make more of an effort to aid in their citizens' financial burdens look pretty appealing. The Village Voice has an article addressing exactly this. As the article, called "Generation Debt: The New Economics of Being Young" says, "
Fed up with uninspiring jobs and crappy, expensive apartments, young expats like [recent college graduate Joe] Moline are again discovering that life is better in Europe. The State Department estimates 3 million Americans are living abroad, a number that has doubled in the past 30 years. " Here's more from this interesting article:
Sunnee Billingsley, 29, moved to Barcelona to earn a doctorate in political science. She says she looked abroad for graduate programs to learn a second language and "experience another culture, and so I could get an education that wouldn't put me more in debt." Billingsley says Spain's strong social-welfare protections support a relaxed pace of life. "The state takes care of so much that people don't worry as much as Americans and don't spend as much on things like insurance programs and retirement accounts," she says.

Billingsley and other expats also note a friendlier attitude in Europe toward the struggles of emerging adults. Here in the U.S., college grads who move back in with their parents are maligned as "boomerang kids" and developmentally delayed "adultescents," but in Europe it is the social norm for young people to live with their folks and save money while getting their lives together.
I am all for living abroad after college, but a standard of living free of huge financial burdens should be equally attainable to young adults in the U.S. While right-wingers gripe about the European welfare state being too paternal, the average European citizen seems to live a less debt-ridden life than the average American citizen, what with state-funded education and health care being a much higher priority. The point is, it can be done, and it can be done well. It is outrageous that costs of education (and health care, etc.) and the debt they create have not been addressed in our country, yet unsurprising because of the current political climate.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Homeland Security Department was warned of devastation of Hurricane Katrina

The Seattle Times:

BATON ROUGE, La. — Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center, said yesterday that officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Department of Homeland Security — including FEMA Director Mike Brown and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff — listened in on electronic briefings given by his staff before Hurricane Katrina slammed Louisiana and Mississippi and were advised of the storm's potential deadly effects.

Mayfield said the strength of the storm and the potential disaster it could bring were made clear during the briefings and in formal advisories, which warned of a storm surge capable of overtopping levees in New Orleans and winds strong enough to blow out windows of high-rise buildings. He said the briefings included information on expected wind speed, storm surge, rainfall and the potential for tornadoes to accompany the storm as it came ashore.

"We were briefing them way before landfall," Mayfield said. "It's not like this was a surprise. ... I keep looking back to see if there was anything else we could have done, and I just don't know what it would be," he said.
Mayfield said his concern now is that another named storm could hit, as September is the most-active month of the annual hurricane season. "This is like the fourth inning in a nine-inning ballgame," he said.

Is New Orleans our future?

According to Mike Tidwell, author of Bayou Farewell, there's no reason that other coastal cities won't some day find themselves below sea level like New Orleans. Because of global climate change, New York, Miami, or San Francisco may find themselves literally in deep water if something is not done. Here's what Tidwell said on "Meet the Press":

But the really final big story here is that the Bush administration is failing on another level to hear warning signs and take credible evidence that there's dire problems. The Bush administration itself--its own studies say that we will in this century turn every coastal city in America into a New Orleans. Why? Because we got three feet of subsidence, sinking,in south Louisiana in the 20th century because of the levees. Right now, because of global climate change, the Bush administration's own studies say we will get between one and three feet of sea level rise worldwide because of our use of fossil fuels.

The big, big, big take-away message here is: New Orleans is the future of Miami, New York, San Diego, every coastal city in the world, because whether the land sinks three feet and you get a bowl in a hurricane like this, or sea level rises worldwide, same problem. We have got to address this energy problem that David mentioned. We have an irrational energy problem.
Then you have the consequences of fossil fuels and greenhouse gases turning every city, coastal city in the world into a New Orleans. We've got to start thinking about a new energy future.
If this isn't an imperative for changing our energy policy, I don't know what is.
Joshua Michah Marshall puts some perspective on the spin already coming out of the White House, to cover their you-know-whats regarding their response to the flood in New Orleans. I thought these people were all for personal responsibility.

It's almost awe-inspiring to see the level of energy and coordination the Bush White House can bring to bear in a genuine crisis. Not hurricane Katrina, of course, but the political crisis they now find rising around them.

As we noted yesterday, the storyline and the outlines of the attack are now clear: pin the blame for the debacle on state and local authorities.

So, let's get all the facts out on the table now. And let's not be afraid to let them all fall where they may. There's no need to make saints of Gov. Blanco or Mayor Nagin. In such a storm of error as this, it would not surprise me if they made a number of them too. But the reason you have a federal government and particularly a FEMA in cases like this is that it is in the nature of local and state authorities to be at least partly overwhelmed in disasters of this magnitude. Read what Ed Kilgore wrote a couple days ago at TPMCafe ...

Anyone who's been involved in a disaster response episode will tell you the first few days are characterized by absolute chaos. Basic logistics are fouled up; communications systems are paralyzed; a thousand urgent needs must be triaged; a vast welter of well-meaning but tunnel-visioned federal, state and local agencies, plus private charitable organizations and volunteers, rush in; local elected officials are forced in front of cameras to inform and reassure the affected population. Somebody has to be in charge of the chaos, and that's FEMA's job.

This is just one of the many reasons why the White House's main excuse -- that the locals didn't tell us what to do -- is such a grim joke.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Shouldn't there be a statute of limitations on blaming Clinton?

Unfortunately there's not, which is why one of Chicago Tribune's unimpressive columnists, Steve Chapman, has the gall to say this:
If there's been chronic underfunding of hurricane protection and flood control efforts in Louisiana, as we are told, it's a safe bet the problem originated before George W. Bush took office.
Chapman could have tried to corroborate his "safe bet" with research, though that would show that the Clinton Administration had in fact been strongly funding hurricane protection and flood control:
After a flood killed six people in 1995, the Congress created the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project. Operated by the corps of engineers, levees and pumping stations were strengthened and renovated. In 2001, when George Bush became president, the Federal Emergency Management Agency issued a report stating that a hurricane striking New Orleans was one of the three most likely potential disasters - after a terrorist attack on New York City. But by 2003 the federal funding essentially dried up as it was drained into the Iraq war.
If Chapman had cited this research, he wouldn't be able to blame Clinton.

One thing that's been so comical is to see people who are still defending the administration on their Hurricane Katrina response asking people not to assign blame. These are the people who blame Clinton for everything from terrorism to kids having more sex, who blame poor people for their poverty, who blame government for everything, now saying, why must we blame? What use is blame? Can't we all just get along?


So Bush is doing what any shameful politician does when he looks bad: shifting the blame. Looks like a matter of utmost importance to Bush and Co. during a time of recovery and rescue after possibly the deadliest natural disaster in American history is how to spin the Administration's negligent and maddening stewardship of the federal governmentresponse in the aftermath of Katrina:
Under the command of President Bush's two senior political advisers, the White House rolled out a plan this weekend to contain the political damage from the administration's response to Hurricane Katrina.

It orchestrated visits by cabinet members to the region, leading up to an extraordinary return visit by Mr. Bush planned for Monday, directed administration officials not to respond to attacks from Democrats on the relief efforts, and sought to move the blame for the slow response to Louisiana state officials, according to Republicans familiar with the White House plan.

The effort is being directed by Mr. Bush's chief political adviser, Karl Rove, and his communications director, Dan Bartlett. It began late last week after Congressional Republicans called White House officials to register alarm about what they saw as a feeble response by Mr. Bush to the hurricane, according to Republican Congressional aides.

As a result, Americans watching television coverage of the disaster this weekend began to see, amid the destruction and suffering, some of the most prominent members of the administration - Richard B. Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Donald H. Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense; and Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state - touring storm-damaged communities.

And another good article by Bob Herbert:
After days of withering criticism from white and black Americans, from conservatives as well as liberals, from Republicans and Democrats, the president finally felt compelled to act, however feebly. (The chorus of criticism from nearly all quarters demanding that the president do something tells me that the nation as a whole is so much better than this administration.)

Mr. Bush flew south on Friday and proved (as if more proof were needed) that he didn't get it. Instead of urgently focusing on the people who were stranded, hungry, sick and dying, he engaged in small talk, reminiscing at one point about the days when he used to party in New Orleans, and mentioning that Trent Lott had lost one of his houses but that it would be replaced with "a fantastic house - and I'm looking forward to sitting on the porch."

Mr. Bush's performance last week will rank as one of the worst ever by a president during a dire national emergency. What we witnessed, as clearly as the overwhelming agony of the city of New Orleans, was the dangerous incompetence and the staggering indifference to human suffering of the president and his administration.

And it is this incompetence and indifference to suffering (yes, the carnage continues to mount in Iraq) that makes it so hard to be optimistic about the prospects for the United States over the next few years. At a time when effective, innovative leadership is desperately needed to cope with matters of war and peace, terrorism and domestic security, the economic imperatives of globalization and the rising competition for oil, the United States is being led by a man who seems oblivious to the reality of his awesome responsibilities.

Like a boy being prepped for a second crack at a failed exam, Mr. Bush has been meeting with his handlers to see what steps can be taken to minimize the political fallout from this latest demonstration of his ineptitude. But this is not about politics. It's about competence. And when the president is so obviously clueless about matters so obviously important, it means that the rest of us, like the people left stranded in New Orleans, are in deep, deep trouble.
Paul Krugman has a good article today in the Times:
But the federal government's lethal ineptitude wasn't just a consequence of Mr. Bush's personal inadequacy; it was a consequence of ideological hostility to the very idea of using government to serve the public good. For 25 years the right has been denigrating the public sector, telling us that government is always the problem, not the solution. Why should we be surprised that when we needed a government solution, it wasn't forthcoming?
Does anyone remember the fight over federalizing airport security? Even after 9/11, the administration and conservative members of Congress tried to keep airport security in the hands of private companies. They were more worried about adding federal employees than about closing a deadly hole in national security.
Ideological cynicism about government easily morphs into a readiness to treat government spending as a way to reward your friends. After all, if you don't believe government can do any good, why not?
Which brings us to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. In my last column, I asked whether the Bush administration had destroyed FEMA's effectiveness. Now we know the answer.

For one thing, the undermining of FEMA began as soon as President Bush took office. Instead of choosing a professional with expertise in responses to disaster to head the agency, Mr. Bush appointed Joseph Allbaugh, a close political confidant. Mr. Allbaugh quickly began trying to scale back some of FEMA's preparedness programs.

You might have expected the administration to reconsider its hostility to emergency preparedness after 9/11 - after all, emergency management is as important in the aftermath of a terrorist attack as it is following a natural disaster. As many people have noticed, the failed response to Katrina shows that we are less ready to cope with a terrorist attack today than we were four years ago.

But the downgrading of FEMA continued, with the appointment of Michael Brown as Mr. Allbaugh's successor.

Mr. Brown had no obvious qualifications, other than having been Mr. Allbaugh's college roommate. But Mr. Brown was made deputy director of FEMA.
Our government, like any other organization, is not inherently bad as the right has been saying for years, but it is only as good as the people who run it. Currently, with an administration filled with people that have denigrated the very organization that they are in charge of, it is not surprising that they didn't invest their efforts in trying to strengthen their agencies. It's no wonder that the people who don't respect the institution for which they are responsible have allowed it to become what all of us saw last week.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Shoulda listened to Mr. Bill

Before we buy the claims of politicians that there was no way to predict or prevent the sinking of New Orleans, it's worth asking how Mr. Bill knew? That's right, the hapless clay figure once featured on NBC's Saturday Night Live starred in a prophetic public service announcement earlier this year to raise awareness about the environmental conditions that could lead to a hurricane drowning the city.
Kanye West is not reading from a teleprompter here.

(From Crooks and Liars)
It's been refreshing to hear some people in the media, go off the script, go off the spin and tell it like it is. Too bad they're censored when they say something genuine.
Uh, the Google Ads on my sidebar for New Orleans tourism are a little out of date...
CNN's Anderson Cooper in an interview (Windows Media Player) with Trent Lott:
COOPER: Let me ask you, I asked someone here that I told him I was going to be talking with you tonight, and they said to me they wanted to ask, was part of the problem that a lot of these National Gaurd troops are in Iraq or overseas, I mean, are the forces so depleted, is that an issue?
LOTT: Anderson, only the news media is asking that question.
COOPER: Sir, I can guarantee you that is not true. Sir, a man right here who lives on this corner was asking me this question.
COOPER: In retrospect, was it a mistake for the federal government in the last couple of years to cut the budget of the Army Corps of Engineers in Southeastern Louisiana for hurricane protection? Was it a mistake to cut some of the federal funding for flood control in that region?
LOTT: I do think that's been a mistake.
LOTT: Anderson, this is a difficult thing, and it's hard to put a positive spin on it.
Well, that's for sure, and maybe that's a good thing. Oddly, Lott thanks Anderson Cooper for his work and the media's work after telling him the media are the only people asking the questions.
Dennis Hastert is so useless. It appears the Speaker of the House, who thinks New Orleans should be bulldozed, couldn't be bothered to show up for a vote on an emergency aid package:
After Hastert's insensitive comments about bulldozing NO, he failed to show up to vote on the $10.5B aid package. Instead he was off to another of those incessant Repub events -- fundraising. Then he took the afternoon off to look at antique cars I believe. MoveOn or Louis Slaughter, where are you for one of those petitions for the man to GO! Don't go away mad and don't let the door hit you on the butt. Just GO.

Have to agree with Bill Clinton's reaction to Hastert's comment on New Orleans: "I'm afraid I would have assaulted him."

Friday, September 02, 2005

I come up as the second search result on a google search for Osyp Firischak, the man who was tried last month for past Nazi activities. I'm trying to look to see what the judge decided in the case, but so far I can't find anything. (He was supposed to have decided by the end of August).
Sidney Blumenthal in today's Guardian offers a concise summary of how this administration drastically shot down requests and recommendations for funding to flood control in New Orleans, eventually starving the army corps of federal funding.
A year ago the US army corps of engineers proposed to study how New Orleans could be protected from a catastrophic hurricane, but the Bush administration ordered that the research not be undertaken. After a flood killed six people in 1995, the Congress created the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project. Operated by the corps of engineers, levees and pumping stations were strengthened and renovated. In 2001, when George Bush became president, the Federal Emergency Management Agency issued a report stating that a hurricane striking New Orleans was one of the three most likely potential disasters - after a terrorist attack on New York City. But by 2003 the federal funding essentially dried up as it was drained into the Iraq war. By 2004, the Bush administration cut the corps of engineers' request for holding back the waters of Lake Pontchartrain by more than 80%. By the beginning of this year, the administration's additional cuts, reduced by 44% since 2001, forced the corps to impose a hiring freeze. The Senate debated adding funds for fixing levees, but it was too late.

The fact that after September 11, when homeland security was supposed to have become such a top priority, the administration was consistently starving New Orleans of these funds is dismaying. Makes one wonder if the Office of Homeland Security is just a house of cards (well if you haven't wondered this already).

I just cannot understand in the name of what interest cutting army corps funds by 80% would have been done, except a desire to pare down a federal budget that had exploded at the behest of the Iraq war.

Oh, and of course wetland preservation which also prevents flooding was stymied, because the developers are more important after all:
The Bush administration's policy of turning over wetlands to developers almost certainly has contributed to the heightened level of the storm surge. In 1990, a federal task force began restoring lost wetlands around New Orleans. Every two miles of wetland between the Crescent City and the Gulf reduces a surge by half a foot.
The situation in New Orleans is depressing as hell. There was a picture from the AP showing people on the roof of a building who had painted "please help" in big letters for helicopters, there was a report of doctors who had to barricade themselves off in a hospital because armed gunmen were after them, there was a man with diabetes who said he hadn't eaten for three or four days and thinks he might not make it. A Tribune article I read has some of this.

That sucking noise...

...Is the vaccuum of leadership coming from the stewards of homeland security, and the Mayor of New Orleans is understandably frustrated:

NEW ORLEANS -- A day before President Bush headed to the hurricane-ravaged South, Mayor Ray Nagin lashed out at federal officials, telling a local radio station "they don't have a clue what's going on down here."

Federal officials expressed sympathy but quickly defended themselves, saying they, too, were overwhelmed by the catastrophe that hit the Gulf Coast region on Monday.

Nagin's interview Thursday night on WWL radio came as President Bush planned to visit Gulf Coast communities battered by Hurricane Katrina, a visit aimed at alleviating criticism that he engineered a too-little, too-late response.

Bush viewed the damage while flying over the region Wednesday en route to Washington after cutting short his Texas vacation by two days.

"They flew down here one time two days after the doggone event was over with TV cameras, AP reporters, all kind of goddamn -- excuse my French everybody in America, but I am pissed," Nagin said.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

What kind of sacrifices to make

This is a good idea from DailyKos.
Right now, with the humanitarian situation on the Gulf Coast already worse than imaginable, anyone who can - anyone with any human decency - must be called upon to make a sacrifice and help out our fellow men and women.

So here's my proposal. I don't even think it'll be that painful. I'm just not going to be giving any holiday gifts when December comes around this year. Instead, I'm going to give whatever I might have spent on presents to hurricane relief efforts instead. Goodness knows that the Gulf Coast refugees need it more than anyone I know needs a new video game or handbag.

Any thoughts on ways we can make a few sacrifices for our fellow Americans who were victims of the flood in Louisiana and Mississippi?

Pass the right anti-gang bill

TalkLeft, a top notch blog about the "politics of crime" has a great post today about the flawed gang bill that the House has advanced and the better alternative being proposed by Senators Dick Durbin and Russ Feingold.

The House bill contains unwise minimum sentencing requirements that allows a judge, who is familiar with the details of a given criminal case and the circumstances of the defendant, no discretion in sentencing. The House also ignores evidence that transferring juveniles involved in gang crime to be prosecuted in the adult system is bad policy. According to the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Coalition which Durbin quotes in his statement:
Comprehensive national research on the practice of prosecuting youth in the adult system has shown conclusively that transferring youth to the adult criminal justice system does nothing to reduce crime and actually has the opposite effect. In fact, study after study has shown that youth transferred to the adult criminal justice system are more likely to re-offend and to commit more serious crimes upon release than youth who were charged with similar offenses and had similar offense histories but remained in the juvenile justice system.

Feingold's statement has this to say about the ANTI-GANG bill he has co-authored with Durbin:
....The ANTI-GANG Act also replaces the current Federal RICO statute, which was never intended to be used against violent street gangs, with a tough statute that not only criminalizes participation in criminal street gangs, but also addresses the serious problem of the recruitment and retention of gang members. [Emphasis mine]

Although the House bill is supported by the Bush Administration, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is at odds with it. As he said:
I don't want Hispanic kids to not go to school and not get an education. Sure, we may be able to prosecute them and put them in jail, but that represents a lost future as employees, as future leaders in our community. We can't afford it.

The House's bill seems to be concerned with the appearance of being tough on crime. In the process, its provisions will likely create more crime, because it will condemn youth offenders to adult jails populated by thriving gang life that encourages further membership and tends to offer less in the way of rehabilitation and education, as described in books like My Bloody Life. No one in this debate is trying to advance policies that will create more crime, but the policy that appears tougher on crime--the House bill--seems to be moving away from the actual intended goal of reducing gang activity. Social policy is like medicine in the sense that preventive maintenance is the best and cheapest way to diffuse a future ailment. If the goal here is to reduce gang activity, and it should be, Durbin and Feingold's bill should prevail, though I fear it won't.

There are valid debates regarding evolution: creationism is not one of them

The Guardian features a good article about the debate over whether creationism or "intelligence design" should be taught in tandem with evolution in biology classes. In sum, creationism and evolution are not equal arguments, or as a maxim quoted in the article states "When two opposite points of view are expressed with equal intensity, the truth does not necessarily lie exactly half way between. It is possible for one side simply to be wrong." The article is a thoughtful and comprehensive look at evolutionary theory written by scientists, something creationists have yet to offer in advocating that their beliefs be taught as science.

Anyway, here' s more from "One Side Can Be Wrong":

Among the controversies that students of evolution commonly face, these are genuinely challenging and of great educational value: neutralism versus selectionism in molecular evolution; adaptationism; group selection; punctuated equilibrium; cladism; "evo-devo"; the "Cambrian Explosion"; mass extinctions; interspecies competition; sympatric speciation; sexual selection; the evolution of sex itself; evolutionary psychology; Darwinian medicine and so on. The point is that all these controversies, and many more, provide fodder for fascinating and lively argument, not just in essays but for student discussions late at night.

Intelligent design is not an argument of the same character as these controversies. It is not a scientific argument at all, but a religious one. It might be worth discussing in a class on the history of ideas, in a philosophy class on popular logical fallacies, or in a comparative religion class on origin myths from around the world. But it no more belongs in a biology class than alchemy belongs in a chemistry class, phlogiston in a physics class or the stork theory in a sex education class.

...Why isn't creationism (or its incarnation as intelligent design) just another scientific controversy, as worthy of scientific debate as the dozen essay topics we listed above? Here's why.
If ID really were a scientific theory, positive evidence for it, gathered through research, would fill peer-reviewed scientific journals. This doesn't happen. It isn't that editors refuse to publish ID research. There simply isn't any ID research to publish. Its advocates bypass normal scientific due process by appealing directly to the non-scientific public and - with great shrewdness - to the government officials they elect.

...Never do they offer positive evidence in favour of intelligent design. All we ever get is a list of alleged deficiencies in evolution. We are told of "gaps" in the fossil record. Or organs are stated, by fiat and without supporting evidence, to be "irreducibly complex": too complex to have evolved by natural selection.

...If complex organisms demand an explanation, so does a complex designer. And it's no solution to raise the theologian's plea that God (or the Intelligent Designer) is simply immune to the normal demands of scientific explanation. To do so would be to shoot yourself in the foot. You cannot have it both ways. Either ID belongs in the science classroom, in which case it must submit to the discipline required of a scientific hypothesis. Or it does not, in which case get it out of the science classroom and send it back into the church, where it belongs.