September 9, 2005 | 11:49 AM ET| Permalink

Hurricane reporting was good enough to write two columns about, one here, Think Again:  The Return of Self-Respect, and one here, Found in the Flood.

Then again, did you know about the hunger strike at Gitmo, here?  I didn’t think so.  Gotta read a foreign paper for that kind of thing.

Definition:  “In the Tank,” here.

Thanks Joe Lieberman, here.  (And thanks again, Ralph.)

Colin, we tried to warn ye, here, but did you listen to us?

Remember those columns by Little Roy and David Brooks back in 2001 about how, thank God, the “adults” were in charge now?  Actually, it’s the lying interns, here and here .  Also Krugman, here.

Alter-appearance:  I’ll be in Houston next week to give to two media talks.  The first will take place at HCC-Westgate at 1:00 on Tuesday to help kickoff the Fall 2005 Pandora's Box Film Series, “Images: Truth, Power, and the Media."  I will also speak the following morning, at  HCC-Central at 10:00 a.m.  I don’t recommend anybody come twice.

In IPF Friday today, MJ Rosenberg dismisses the idea that U.S. "pressure" on Israel is bad for the Jewish state, noting that if Israel had listened to the U.S. in 1971 -- and not rebuffed a peace initiative from Anwar Sadat -- the Yom Kippur War would have been averted and 3,000 Israeli soldiers' lives saved.

MJ does not mention, but I will, the issue of AIPAC's aid request to compensate Israel with an additional (!) $2.1 billion for getting out of Gaza.  The money, above and beyond the $300,000 each settler family will receive as a reward for leaving the illegal settlements, is to help Israel develop other areas in the country so the settlers can live in comfort.  Will AIPAC dare ask for that money after Katrina?  Would Congress dare approve it?  My guess is it will be a little less money and Congress will rush to approve it.  AIPAC's chutzpah is truly awe-inspiring.  (Will they get the money before or after the espionage trial?)

Benefit Concerts:

LISTING INFORMATION:
Producer: Jazz at Lincoln Center
Event: Higher Ground Hurricane Relief Benefit Concert and Auction Hosted by Laurence Fishburne and featuring Wynton Marsalis, Terence Blanchard, Ken Burns, Shirley Caesar, Cyrus Chestnut, Peter Cincotti, Bill Cosby, Elvis Costello, Robert De Niro, Paquito D'Rivera, Jon Hendricks, Norah Jones, Diana Krall, Abbey Lincoln, Bette Midler, Dianne Reeves, Marcus Roberts, Paul Simon, Meryl Streep, James Taylor, McCoy Tyner, Robin Williams, Cassandra Wilson, Buckwheat Zydeco and many more tba!

Date/Time: Saturday, September 17, 2005 Concert at Rose Theater at 7:00pm Live From Lincoln Center PBS national broadcast at 8pm-11pm ET, check local PBS listings National Public Radio, XM Satellite Radio - Real Jazz Channel 70, WBGO Jazz88.3FM -

Location: Rose Theater at Jazz at Lincoln Center's Frederick P. Rose Hall on Broadway at 60th Street., 5th Floor

Tickets: $50, $100, $500, $1000, $5000, $10,000 AVAILABLE AS OF SEPTEMBER 8TH at Jazz at Lincoln Center's Frederick P. Rose Hall box office on Broadway at 60th Street (open Monday - Saturday, 10am-8:30pm and Sunday 11am-8:30pm), CenterCharge at 212-721-6500 or via JaLC.org

New York's Madison Square Garden will be the site of a Sept. 20 benefit for victims of Hurricane Katrina, dubbed "From the Big Apple to the Big Easy." The show will pair a variety of top acts with some of New Orleans' most notable musicians, including Fats Domino and Allen Toussaint, who were rescued just days ago from the devastated city.

Among the artists set to appear are Elton John, Jimmy Buffett, Rod Stewart, Stevie Nicks, Lenny Kravitz, Bette Midler, John Fogerty, Loggins & Mussina and Earth, Wind & Fire. New Orleans will be represented by the Neville Brothers, the Original Meters, Buckwheat Zydeco and the Dirty Dozen and Rebirth Brass Bands.

In addition to underwriting the show, Madison Square Garden will donate $1 million to Katrina-related fundraising efforts. All proceeds from the event will benefit like-minded causes. Tickets go on sale Sept. 13.

"From the Big Apple to the Big Easy" will be executive produced by Grammy veteran Ken Ehrlich and Quint Davis, the producer/director of New Orleans' annual Jazz & Heritage and Essence festivals.

Correspondence corner

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago
Hey Eric, it's Stupid to be a Machiavellian.  Who is all this Katrina criticism helping to elect in 2008: Hillary/Richardson or McCain/Giuliani?  Sure, I feel the rage about this: the incompetence, the racism, the arrogance, all of it.  But let's not forget that Dubya isn't running in 2008!  Making this all about him and not the --ideologies-- behind FEMA's non-response will only land a glancing blow on the GOP.  Maybe it helps win a handful of non-gerrymandered 2006 Congressional races, but it also might do for John McCain what he couldn't do on his own: bring the religious right to the table to broker a deal allowing McCain to win the GOP primary in exchange for God knows what (no pun intended).  While the poor, mostly African-American victims in New Orleans may -deserve- more coverage, to be blunt, the Dems have that vote locked up.  Their base is energized.  They should be concentrating on (or at least not ignoring) the working and middle class Whites who lost their jobs/homes/etc.  Yes, they had cars and could get out, they had non-impoverished family and friends to turn to.  Many have insurance to cushion the immediate blow (though most probably didn't have flood insurance).  But they are the ones that the Dems should point to and say "The GOP left you to the grace of God -- what happens next time?"  The Dems are already seen as the party who would spend taxes on massive public works projects -- for once this plays to their advantage!  Conversely, look at the message Rove is trying to send out: "Barbour/Giuliani = Good.  Nagin/Blanco = Bad."  The only reason this isn't working is the degree Brown/Chertoff/Dubya stick their feet in their mouths, and even so the polls don't show all that much damage.  The Dems should be saying the Katrina problem is the inevitable result of seeing government as "the problem, not the solution" -- Hell, I'd even remind them of the best thing from the Bill Bradley's campaign: "fix the roof while the sun is shining."

I'll share two other thoughts:

  1. When Dubya said "if you don't need gas, don't buy it" it made me think that Jimmy Carter would have had the guts to say something like "I ask any citizen who drives to work and has a public transportation option to use it for the next month, something that will put billions of dollars into the economy and let us concentrate on helping the victims of Katrina," a direct call to patriotism that would have minimal effects on other business (maybe parking garages), rather than the easy-to-ignore feelgood "if you don't need gas, don't buy it" and in this case I bet it would have worked.

  2. In 1992 downtown Chicago flooded -- I remember the evacuation from downtown.  A construction company accidentally punched a hole through the wall that separates the Chicago River from 50 miles worth of freight tunnels that run under downtown (a long-abandoned project).  The total damage wound up at about $2 billion.  And that was for a single hole.  Why do I suspect that it wouldn't be exceedingly difficult for terrorists to repeat this on a bigger scale?

Name: Bill Heber
Hometown: Torrance, Ca.
Hi Eric;
I just read Paul Campos's story in TNR about Michael Brown.  That story would be funny if the consequences weren't so tragic.  How a guy whose managerial experience was being the assistant city manager to a city with a population of less than seventy thousand people became the head of one of the most important agencies in our government is one of the most outrageous examples of cronyism ever.  And to think these are the same people who complain about affirmative action!  As you like to say, reels the mind.

Name: Chalkie Davies
Hometown: New York, NY
This anecdote was originally written as part of a letter to Major Bob, but I'm sure he won't mind me sharing it with all Altercation readers ...in the late seventies and early eighties I spent my time photographing Rock Stars...I collected them the way some people collect stamps and I spent a lot of time hanging out with a bunch of people familiar to readers of this column Messers Costello and Lowe, Difford and Tilbrook and a certain Ms Hynde...every so often I got offered a chance to photograph what we called at the time called 'Boring Old Farts' and so, when it was offered, I took an assignment to go to New Orleans to shoot the Rolling Stones...this was in I believe 1978...I duly schlepped from London to the US and on walking thru the doors at New Orleans Airport it felt like I was stuck in a steam press, I had never experienced anything like it, an incredible oppressive heat...I went straight to the hotel where the Stones had taken two entire floors for their themselves and their entourage....I waited patiently for Mick Jagger to come out of his room...six hours went by and then at close to 10pm Mr J emerged from his suite, which contained blackout curtains so he could live as he liked to, day for night...we got in the limo and drove to the Superdome...once inside this vast, dark, cavernous place I looked around and with some astonishment saw clouds floating over the giant TV monitors hanging from the ceiling...as a Brit I could not comprehend something like this, a room big enough to have clouds, holy shit...I followed Mick around for a while but was soon bored and wanted to head back to the Hotel where I had a midnight appointment with Keith, the real leader of the Rolling Stones...I asked a Security Person how to get out of the dome and he graciously offered to show me the way...as we walked I mentioned the clouds, "Oh", he said, "when the weather is really bad here we get rain from those clouds"...it was hard to believe but here was a space so vast that it rained indoors, imagine, if you can, what it must have felt like to be in there last week with the evacuees...I wandered back to the Hotel and knocked on the door of Keef's suite...he answered the door himself and invited me into a couple of rooms full of local color, members of the Meters and Dr John were sitting around in the rooms which had been decorated by Mr Richards to resemble something something akin to a Moroccan Bazaar...we talked for a while and I took a bunch of pictures of the man whom we at the NME (a British Music Paper) had christened 'The Worlds Most Elegantly Wasted Human Being'...later that night he invited me to accompany him to some Blues Clubs...I duly accepted and we walked to the elevator...when the doors opened downstairs Keef wandered out into the lobby...it was full of fans who had been patiently waiting for many hours and as soon as they saw him they burst out into spontainious applause...Keef had done nothing but walk into the lobby and was applauded just for still being alive...those were, as they say, the days...Pete Townshend always referred to Keef as "Bloodchange" and it was about ten years before I ran into him again, this time at the Wedding of Julien Temple who directed Pop Promos...I was wandering around the tennis court with a couple of friends when we came across Keef...we were all chatting when he gave me a quizzical look..."I know you don't I" he said, I confirmed this and told him who I was and he apologized for forgetting my name...then, he scratched his head, looked at me and said..."sorry 'bout that mate, me mum came into the dressing room once and I didn't recognize her either"...it's only Rock and Roll folks but it sure as hell beats working for a living...now, if everyone who is reading this could put your hands in your pockets and pull out some bucks and send it to help the residents of the most beautiful and musical town in America and let's hope and pray that somehow New Orleans can regain some of it's former glory...

Name: John Kingery
Hometown: Virginia
According to an LA Times article, EPA staffers have begun calling New Orleans "Lake George" in honor of the man whose negligence, incompetence and ideological rigidity have turned a natural disaster into a human catastrophe of unimaginable proportions.  The new name should stick so everyone remembers who is behind all this suffering, so much of which could have been avoided.

Name: T. Vernon
Hometown: Tracy, CA
The link to the Knoxville News about Al Gore requires registration (albeit free). Here is another report of Gore's helping evacuees.

Name: Scott Kimball III
Hometown: Victoria TX
Eric:
I cannot believe that anyone can be so misguided and self-righteous as to imply that Maj. Bob Bateman is "immoral" because he chose to become a soldier (and obviously a damn good one) and serves where he is sent.  Is this guy incapable of comprehending what Maj. Bateman is saying?  The "why" of Maj. Bateman's personal participation is nobody's business but his, and none of us have any right to pass judgment on his reasons and justification.

Name: Larry Howe
Hometown: Oak Park, IL
Eric--
With all due respect to Major Bateman, his characterization of the constitutional process strikes a rather pollyanna-ish tone.  Sure it's better that Muktada al Sadr is thinking of ballots not bullets as his weapon of choice, but what's his target: an Islamist fundamentalist state.  I understand the major's need to adopt this rationale; without it he must face the fact that his noble service has been discredited.  He can claim all he wants that the U.S. is there to promote democracy, in whatever form that takes, but sending U.S. troops (1894 of whom have died) to invade a sovereign country so that it can be a democracy with a constitution drawn from the Dark Ages is not an honorable or legitimate use of our military power.  As we all know, that wasn't the reason for going in, it was the reason developed after we got there.  However, in the week before the Katrina catastrophes claimed our attention, President Bush finally came clean with his rationale for invading Iraq, though he cloaked it as the reason for staying: oil.  If that's the reason, as many of us believed all along, we have to ask ourselves will an Islamist state be any more likely to sell its oil to infidel states like the U.S. than would extremists such as bin Laden?  Will the leaders of this new state be any more tolerant of those who oppose them than Saddam Hussein?  This is not to say that U.S. troops aren't doing some good in the region.  But on balance, they've been lied to as we all have.  More tragically, the commitment of those in the military has been dishonored by a civilian administration that is without honor.  Not all of the parallels that have been made between Vietnam and Iraq hold, but this one does.

Name: David
Hometown: Arizona
Hello Altercation -
Even though Al-Qaida was responsible for the attack on September 11, 2001, the GW Bush administration invaded Iraq - - In the wake of 'Katrina' perhaps the administration should consider invading, say, Cuba . . . Why?  Because 'Katrina' came in from the general direction of Cuba; it's close, and we should be able to establish democracy there very quickly.  That should be sufficient reason for Dubya . . . Sorry, no oil though.

Name: J. Schultz
Hometown: Waterville, OH
High Time for Finger Pointing
The talking points are out: "There will be PLENTY of time for fingerpointing."  The administration obviously has trouble doing two things at the same time, so let's just focus on the relief effort, then we can get into why this disaster happened.  But does no one remember Hurricane Andrew?  How short our memories truly are.  As someone with loved ones in the Florida area, I remember it well.  FEMA showed up 3 days late, 200,000 were without food, shelter, or water.  Many of the victims were the area's first responders and things were looking very, very dire.  Back then, FEMA directors were Bush Sr. cronies who had little or no disaster experience, appointed to fulfill political favors I guess.  In 1990, when Hurricane Hugo was about to hit Puerto Rico, Governor Rafael Hernandez-Colon sent in the proper paperwork to FEMA requesting aid, only to have it returned.  It seems he forgot to check a certain 'required' section and some paper pusher sent it back to him, his request unfulfilled.  Unlucky for the Governor, he got the form back after the hurricane had hit and Puerto Ricans were in the middle of a Herculean clean up effort.  He was forced to refill out the forms before aid would arrive.  After Hugo, things changed.  The GAO threatened to slash funding if FEMA didn't clean up its act and a new President was in office who believed in Merit over Cronyism.  President Clinton appointed James Lee Witt as head of FEMA and raised it to a cabinet level position.  The FEMA director was given direct access to the president, and Witt began to change FEMA for the better.  The Iowa floods in 1993 (a year after Hugo) and the Oklahoma City Bombings are examples of FEMA's success.  Help came in hours, not days.  Forms were replaced by phone calls.  In Oklahoma City, FEMA was onsite the same day, briefed its director that evening, and supplemented the search and rescue effort the next day.  But our current administration hates all things Clinton.  They also think money should be spent tracking down boogey men and terrorists.  They funneled money away from disaster response, and toward police action and deterrence.  The qualified FEMA directors retired early and were replaced by bone-heads like Michael "Brownie" Brown who has NO disaster experience and had to leave his old job at the International Arabian Horse Registry due to mounting lawsuits.  We are back to where we began.  It's High Time for finger pointing.  6 years of backsliding is enough.  Hey... you maybe won't post this because of its huge size... and you have some great contributors who can say things much better than I... but if you could get these ideas out, it would be great.  Check out this dated but excellent article and this old piece.

Name: Alice Marshall
Hometown: Fairfax, VA
My late mother, who served in the Virginia House of Delegates for 24 years, said the way to fight porn was to get them on business regulations.  They usually employ minors, so now you could get them on sex offender charges.  According to my Mom they usually are in some sort of zoning violation, so you can get them on that.  There are ways of fighting porn that don't ever come near the First Amendment.

Name: Phil the Pornographer
Hometown: Elizabeth, NJ
Eric -
I haven't read Pamela Paul's book, but as someone who's made his living at least partly from porn for the last half-dozen years, I must speak up.  (I'm not surprised to see a Lieberman Democrat like you loaning her your soapbox, of course.)  There is nothing currently available online or otherwise that is any worse than that which has always been available to those who sought it.  From cave paintings to de Sade, the human imagination has always run to graphic depictions of human sexuality, and frequently in its most perverse forms.  This is just The Way We Are, and the flipside is the ever-present sanctimonious denial: no one I know has those thoughts, no one I know likes this sick stuff.  Well, that "sick stuff" sells awfully well, and as long as it's been available, it always has.  As the comedian says, it's a four-billion-dollar industry - that's not one guy with two hundred million DVDs in his basement.  Three big canards need to go by the wayside right now.  The first is that being "pro-porn" is more about political statements than raw consumerism, because anybody in the industry will tell you that porn sells best in the reddest of states.  Those Bible-thumpin', Bush-lovin' exurbanites and hicks out in David Brooks's beloved country are the biggest porn freaks of all. 

The second is this scare tactic crap about horrifying obscenity being "a click away" at all times.  I spend most of the day online, and I have NEVER encountered a porn site without wanting to do so.  All the stories anti-porn crusaders are telling about little kids stumbling on bestiality images while searching for pictures of fluffy bunnies to print out for Mommy are as dishonest as the meth hype Jack Shafer's been debunking over at Slate. 

And the third is, as I mentioned before, the idea that things were better before.  At the same time Hugh Hefner was mythologizing himself as a daring pioneer, black-and-white stag movies were rolling in men's clubs across the country - as they had been since the advent of cinema.  Every time a new medium (print, photography, film, whatever) has been invented, people have used it to make porn.  That is The Way We Are.  Deal with it.  You don't like porn?  Fine, don't watch it.  But don't try to tell me that the porn industry's evil minions are kicking in helpless Americans' front doors and taping their innocent little children's eyes open like A Clockwork Orange.  I know all the good and bad things about the business, and if anti-porn crusaders spent half the time investigating the rest of corporate America that they do worrying about what other people jack off to, the world would be a lot better place.  Ms. Paul's book will likely spark much conversation, replete with tongue-clucking and sad shakes of the head over the moral depravity overrunning our fair land, but it's a bunch of crap, rooted in false assumptions, bad methodology (she interviewed 100 people, 80 of whom were young straight men?  Wow, what'd that take her, a week?), and nostalgia for an Age of Innocence that never existed.

Name: Charles Perez
Hometown: Marion, NY
Pamela Paul misses one of the biggest concerns many liberals have about the Right's crusade against pornography: porn is not their primary target.  A forced, repressive "morality" is their target; pornography is just the first step in the campaign.  Are some products of the adult entertainment industry disgusting and perverted?  I think so, and maybe so do you.  But, considering the First Amendment, is it really either of our places to impose restrictions based on that personal feeling on others?  Who gets to draw the line?  There are age restrictions on the distribution of these products just like there are on alcohol and other things that juveniles shouldn't have access to.  There are laws against the mistreatment or harassment of workers in any work place.  Enforce those laws.  But don't let the moralizers on the Right get their foot in the door.  If we do, they'll take over the whole place; they'll put their feet up on the furniture, they'll drink all the beer and - hypocrites that they are - they'll charge X-rated movies on the pay-per-view bill.

Name: Terry Day
Hometown: San Mateo, California
Dear Eric,
Thank you for your comments regarding porn.  There is nothing liberating about exploitation or promoting messages that ultimately harm people.  I'm also doubt a closer look at the issue will threaten our constitutional rights.  Given the changes in pornography and its delivery methods, perhaps the time has come to look at the issue again.

Name: ProfWombat
Hometown: Andover, Mass.
Yup.  I know pornography when I see it; I don't like it either, and I have three daughters.  But should it be illegal?  Huh?  Make it illegal, you have to define it.  And like that. In a country full of Bratz dolls and Britney videos.  I don't root for it--quite the opposite--and I'm willing to limit its use as cultural wallpaper, but to some extent it's a fact of life, and the use of state, as opposed to social, power against it is fraught with peril.

Name: Eileen
Hometown: Madison, WI
I, too, really miss Charles Pierce.  In the meantime, I highly recommend reading Bill in Portland Maine on DailyKos.com.  He will make your day, I promise.

Name: RMc
Hometown: TPA, FL
Eric- I second Janet from SoddyDaisy, TN.  Charlie we miss your missives!  Hurry back-

September 8, 2005 | 11:13 AM ET| Permalink

Meanwhile, back at the war…
(also, The Altercation Book Club continues)Just one thought:
  How have we survived the last 10 days without updates on the latest developments in Aruba?

Ok, one more:  Tina speaks for all of us, here.  How weird is that?

Name: Major Bob Bateman
Dateline: Baghdad, Iraq

Back from the Home Front

I returned to Iraq ten days ago.  My R&R was a blissful few weeks with my daughters and my love at my parents’ house at the beach.  For twelve days I had little sense of time beyond that provided from the position of the sun in the sky and my mother’s badgering to “come in for dinner.”  My feet went unshod for nearly the whole time, and I sank a 50 foot chip shot on the 14th hole, which is enough to sustain.

But I am back now, and so I need to focus again on the here.

The most pressing thing here is the coming referendum.  I have, it seems, a moderately contrarian position on this issue.  From what I saw of the various and sundry pundits on television during my weeks at home, many consider the possibility that the draft constitution might be voted down as a “tipping point,” or a crisis of some sort.  There is some purchase in the old line about “nattering nabobs” on this topic.  Quite a few predict disaster should the Constitution not pass this referendum of the People.

I disagree, and to some degree I am bewildered by the negativity.  In January, when I got here, the Sunnis barely participated in the first Iraqi foray into democracy.  That was a setback.  Unlike then, the Sunnis are now registering in droves, as are even more Shi’a, and all of the other sects and ethnicities that combine to make Iraq.  Look here.  They are, gasp, campaigning.  About Issues.  Folks, this matters.

Particularly telling in the article linked above are a few lines which seem to make many people nervous because they raise the specter of a splinter Shi’a-Sunni Alliance.  Here is the money quote, it refers to Moqtada Al Sadr, the Shi’a cleric: “Sadr called upon his followers this summer to register and then await word from him on whether to vote.  The rejection of the charter by his followers, numbering in the hundreds of thousands, and by the Sunnis would sink the draft document, some Sunnis say.”

But I see this as, pardon me, something approaching our first true victory here.  Why?  Well examine that proposition.  Moqtada Al Sadr, a man who a little more than a year ago was engaged with us in a desperate life-and-death struggle, directing thousands of followers in violence against us and the new Iraqi government, is now leading opposition in which the primary weapon is a ballot.

Is that not the purpose for which we came here?  Not to determine the outcome of an election, but to enable a truly free and open election.  It is, at least, a large part of why I am here.  Freedom.

Making this even more possible are the numbers.  As the Washington Post reports,  “In the predominantly Sunni province of Salahuddin, 722,025 of 1.1 million eligible adults registered to vote, said Isam Hussein Samarraie, the provincial voter registration director.  In the January elections, 532,069 people cast ballots there.  In Diyala province, 417,000 of 750,000 eligible adults registered.  In January, only 119,000 cast ballots, according to Amir Latif Alyahya, director of the provincial elections commission.”

Salah ad Din and Diyala are two pretty rough provinces.  In fact, those are two of the four provinces where fighting has never really abated.  And here too the process seems to be on track.  People are registering to vote against us, which is a damned sight better than shooting at us.

BAGHDAD WITHIN EARSHOT:

When I returned here I discovered a whole new crop of personnel in this headquarters, from the top to the bottom.  I am now, officially, the longest serving (in Iraq) person in my particular section.  Draw your own conclusions.

I have been engaged in a debate with one reader here through a long string of e-mails.  He opposes this conflict, and claims that all who fight in what he determines as an unjust war, are by extension immoral.  This posting is as close as I ever expect to get to publicly explaining the “why” of my personal participation.

My daughter Ryann kept me on pins and needles for a week as she tried out for her 7th grade school soccer team.  On Tuesday I expect that those of you on the East Coast heard my shout of joy when I received her one-line e-mail, “Dad, I made the team.”

You can write to Major Bob at Bateman_Maj@hotmail.com.

Altercation Book Club

“The Liberal Argument Against Pornography” from PORNIFIED: How Pornography is Transforming Our Lives, Our Relationships and Our Families, by Pamela Paul (published today).

It’s a very simple and very wrong political equation: If you’re liberal, you’ve got to be pro-porn.  Being pro-pornography means you’re sex-positive, open-minded and progressive.  You care about the First Amendment, women’s rights and sexual freedom.  And you most certainly stand against the reactionary voices of the anti-porn movement – repressive, anti-civil libertarian, moralizing hypocrites, all of them.

Nonsense.  More specifically, outdated and misguided nonsense.

The drawing of political battle lines over pornography dates back in large part to two conflicting federal reports designed to study and address the issue.  In 1968, the United States President’s Commission on Obscenity and Pornography was charged with understanding the effects of pornography “upon the public and particularly minors and its relationship to crime and other anti-social behaviors.”  After two years of research, the Commission issued a report that concluded, “In sum, empirical research designed to clarify the question has found no evidence to date that exposure to explicit sexual materials plays a significant role in the causation of delinquent or criminal behavior among youths or adults.  The Commission cannot conclude that exposure to erotic materials is a factor in the causation of sex crime or sex delinquency.” [i] Sixteen years later, the Reagan administration commissioned what later came to be known as the Meese Report (for the Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography), which came to the exact opposite conclusion: Pornography, the Meese Report explained, leads to sexual violence, rape, deviation and the destruction of families.  Yet while the earlier report exonerating pornography was widely distributed and published by a commercial press, the Meese Report was difficult to track down, unpublished commercially and immediately distorted and vilified in a popular pro-pornography book published by Penthouse and distributed on newsstands everywhere.

As a result of these two contradictory reports, many Americans, especially liberals, came to the conclusion that the first report was accurate while the second was politically motivated hackwork, created to crack down on family values and promulgated by a man who was himself under investigation for corruption.  Who was he to talk?  While there may well be truth to the political motivation behind the second study, concluding that the results were inaccurate distorts the report’s findings.  In truth, the second report contained valuable, nonpartisan data from reliable academicians and social scientists.

Regardless of the motivations behind and differing conclusions of each of these two major reports, it’s hard to argue with the fact that both reports are outdated.  The first report was generated back when Playboy didn’t include full frontal nudity and before most hardcore magazines had even been launched.  Penetration shots were rare.  Hustler, for example, wasn’t created until four years after the first Commission issued its final report.  Not only was the magazine world relatively tame at the time of the 1970 report, but both it and the Meese Report were drawn before cable television, the VCR and especially the Internet took pornography to a whole new level.  Further, the 1970 report’s goals were narrow – trying to forge a link between pornography and sexual violence – without exploring the vast area of influence that stops short of violence.  There was no effort to study or document other negative effects of pornography on men, women or children, an area that the Meese report took up to a greater, though still not complete, extent.

In the wake of the two reports and their distortion in the popular media, pornography became a politically progressive cause, a convenient tool in the culture wars.  Pornographers successfully fomented a bogus fight between Victorian prudishness and modern sexual freedom that has been taken up by everyone from libertarians to Web-heads to feminists to liberal Democrats – and the battle lines haven’t budged for decades.  Not surprisingly, given such politicization of the issue, one’s point of view on pornography often lines up with one’s political philosophy.  While people identifying themselves as Republicans or Democrats show little difference in their opinions about pornography, those who self-identify as liberal are more likely to support pornography than those who consider themselves conservative.  For example, liberals are more likely than conservatives to believe that pornography improves peoples’ sex lives and less likely to believe that pornography changes men’s expectations of how women should behave.  In a new Harris poll, 54 percent of conservatives say pornography harms relationships between men and women and 39 percent see pornography as cheating, compared with 30 percent and 15 percent respectively of liberals.  And when it comes to measures to control pornography, conservatives are more likely to advocate reforms: 45 percent of conservatives believe that government should regulate Internet pornography so that kids cannot access X-rated Web sites, compared with 32 percent of liberals who champion such measures.

Were pornography actually so sexually liberating, there would be little outré or taboo about it all.  Hypocrisy and guilt still dominate sexuality in many ways, and pornography isn’t the cure for Puritanism or the sign of its defeat – it’s an emblem of its ongoing power to isolate and stigmatize sexuality.  A truly liberated society would be one in which there were no need to “rebel” via commercialized images of sex.  Moreover, pornography is hardly revolutionary.  Indeed, pornography may be the ultimate capitalist enterprise: low costs, large profit margins; a cheap labor force, readily available abroad if the home supply ever fails to satisfy; a broad-based market with easily identifiable target niches; multiple channels of distribution.  Pornography is big business, and it’s out to protect its interests in the face of what it sees as excessive governmental and societal interference.  The industry even has its own lobbying arm, whose head, a former defense industry lobbyist told 60 Minutes, “Corporations are in business to make money.  This is an extremely large business and it’s a great opportunity for profit for it…When you explain to [legislators] the size and the scope of the business, they realize, as all politicians do, that it’s votes and money that we’re talking about.” [ii]  Pornographers distort pornography into an issue of progressivism and civil liberties precisely because they have millions of dollars of profit on the line.  The industry--which in the face of a receptive audience likes to position itself as just another all-American enterprise trying to earn an honest dollar despite government interference, excessive regulation and taxation--isn’t different from any other large corporation, be it Halliburton or GlaxoSmithKline.  The idea of progressives lining up to defend a notoriously corrupt and abusive industry would seem implausible.

But there’s more to the pro-porn “rebellion.”  The latest wave of pornography crusaders is not only railing against moralizing on the part of the government and organized religion, the argument that dominated the family values-obsessed Eighties.  Today, pornography advocates are also and perhaps equally rebelling against what it views as the excesses of liberalism and feminism of the early 1990s, in particular, the extremes of political correctness.  Defending pornography seems to be a way for people who think of themselves as progressive, liberal and open-minded to revolt against the close-minded, PC police of university campuses and corporate human resources guidelines.  Denouncing pornography is akin to what they derisively refer to as “sexual correctness.”

Yet it’s hard to find anything more retrograde, repressive, or closed-minded than the sexual clichés peddled by pornographers.  Rather than a mark of escape from the past, the dominant morality of pornography reeks of Puritan and Victorian prudery; it creates a world populated by virgins and whores, by women who are used and then shamed for being sexually voracious.  Their degradation is deserved, according to the prim sexual vision of the pornographer.  Even when the woman isn’t overtly degraded, she is deemed lesser than the man watching her by dint of being paid to please him sexually in a public forum.  Even when pornography is made specifically “for” women, as in the case of “indie” magazines like Sweet Action, the model often replicates that experience, unthinkingly substituting men’s bodies for women’s.  In pornography, sexuality accompanies or provokes disgust and hatred – something to be done quickly and just as quickly, disposed of.  In the world of pornography, sex is generally dirty, cheap, and in the end, not much fun.  Surely it is this pornified version of sexuality that deserves denigration, mockery and rebellion.  Surely any good liberal could in all good conscience, exercise his right to free speech and condemn porn for what it really is.

For more, go here and here.

Correspondence Corner

Name: Shannon Jaronik
Hometown: Chicago, IL
Hey Chief- Like virtually every American - I was in awe of the utter incompetence of FEMA and the federal response to a disaster that was obviously waaayyyy too big for any state or local apparatus to deal with (10.5 billion in emergency, stopgap aid from Congress -- Louisiana's entire FY 2004 budget was less than 17 billion).  It truly astounded me that everything could be done so wrong and so late -- if at all.  Of course, that's nothing compared to the shock and awe of the PR disaster response.  Suddenly - the media is focusing on what apparently needs to be an engraved request with some super secret wording from the locals when they need aid.  While Bush couldn't be bothered for 3 days - he now has all the time he needs for photo ops and PR disaster management.  Given that there seems to be such incompetence in every corner of our government that actually serves the people, but such spell-binding brilliance in the spin department - not to mention that we seem to be stuck with this administration until January of 2006 at minimum, I have a small request.  Can Karl Rove be tapped to run FEMA?

Name: Brian Donohue
Hometown: Daily Revolution
This just in...all Arabian show horses that had been stranded in the city of New Orleans have been successfully rescued.  You're doing a heck of a job, Brownie.

Name: Charlton Price
Hometown: Kansas City, MO
I also have been wondering why Fort Polk wasn't used.  I was there in 1946, as a draftee, for Army basic training, when it was Camp Polk.  It had been the training ground for Patton's Third Corps, and was closed after they shipped to North Africa.  Then it was reopened two years later at the behest of the extremely powerful LA senator of that day, Allan Ellender.  A tank training site -- lots of huge sheds.  Completely inappropriate as a light infantry training site (its use in 1946) but would be very appropriate for temporary housing of New Orleans evacuees.  The fort is west of Alexandra, near Leesville.  Even today Camp/Fort Polk is much more acceptable as a site for disaster evacuees than Walter Wichell claimed, in a 1946 broadcast: Winchell: "If your son is overseas, write to him.  If he's at Camp Polk, pray for him."

Name: Janet
Hometown: SoddyDaisy, TN
Dear Eric, Where is Charles Pierce?  I sure would love to hear his take on this Katrina hurricane we need some good old common sense direction.

Name: Bill Heber
Hometown: Torrance, CA
Hi Eric; The link on that Al Gore story didn't work right.  I think this will work better.

--------------------------------------------

[i] Hunter, Christopher D. “The Dangers of Pornography? A Review of the Effects Literature” Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania, March 2000

[ii] “60 Minutes” September 5, 2004

September 7, 2005 | 2:13 PM ET| Permalink

Shock and staging

We are a little late and light today for reasons of personal obligation, but here are a few links, the most important of which is this one.  "But as specific orders began arriving to the firefighters in Atlanta, a team of 50 Monday morning quickly was ushered onto a flight headed for Louisiana. The crew's first assignment: to stand beside President Bush as he tours devastated areas."

Examine it, as well as Mary Landrieu's press release that the President's visit to Louisiana involved faked repairs to the levees (see here) and the German newspaper Der Spiegel's coverage of the faking of repairs (see here) — The English translation:

On the last state of things here's Christine Adelhardt live from Biloxi

2 minutes ago the President drove past in his convoi.  But what has happened in Biloxi all day long is truly unbelievable. Suddenly recovery units appeared, suddenly bulldozers were there, those hadn't been seen here all the days before, and this in an area, in which it really wouldn't be necessary to do a big clean up, because far and wide nobody lives here anymore, the people are more inland in the city. The President travels with a press baggage [big crew].  This press baggage got very beautiful pictures which are supposed to say, that the President was here and help is on the way, too.  The extent of the natural disaster shocked me, but the extent of the staging is shocking me at least the same way. With that back to Hamburg.

(Thanks to Melanie Zoltan)

Also this stuff:

I had to chuckle reading this from New York Mag: "Although the Post and Journal editorial pages reside on opposite sides of the political aisle," because I'm thinking about the Post's Katrina editorial, which will hopefully go down in history:

"So far, the federal government's immediate response to the destruction of one of the nation's most historic cities does seem commensurate with the scale of the disaster."
Here.

And speaking of Post:  David Broder embarrassed himself over the weekend by suggesting the Katrina aftermath represented "an advantageous setting" for Bush.

And too bad for New Orleans Katrina didn't hit during an election year.

Lifted from Nathan Newman:

Help ACORN: Make Sure New Orleans Poor Have a Voice

Amidst the general tragedy, the national office of ACORN, one of the key national advocates on behalf of the poor and working families in the country, has been destroyed.

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

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

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

Salon subhead of the week, “Should I mention in my personal ad that I'm bipolar and have three ex-wives?"

Not much left of Christopher, I’m afraid, after Juan Cole is done with him (despite the counter-productive, pseudo-Marxist rhetorical overkill).

Oh, and I wrote a rather embarrassingly personal reminiscence of the Summer of ’75 and the release of “Born to Run” for The Nation Web site, here.  If you want the full version, buy the book.

Alter-reviews:

It’s weird how easy it is to live with other people’s misery.  This weekend, a friend and I went to see Dave Mason at the Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett, and it was a lot of fun.  His expansive five piece band played picture-perfect versions of the stuff from his long and storied career and I like the feeling of old-farty bald guys playing rock n roll just as they did forty years ago, and making it feel new.  There were some slow points, but he had the whole room dancing to “Only You Know and I Know,” followed up with a “Feelin’ Alright” that could have and maybe should have gone on forever.  And yet…  Well, this is a great thing about music, but it’s also a depressing aspect of human nature.

And while we are on a seventies jag here, my friends at Rhino have just released a massive and beautifully packaged CHICAGO- AT CARNEGIE HALL, which looks just like it did when it overpowered the record shelves at Korvettes back in the seventies, except smaller.  As my man Sal notes, “Before this band turned into "Schlock Kings Supreme," the Chicago Transit Authority were an amazing band that took perfect pop melodies, funk, and jazz fusion, and created a unique sound highlighted by their now legendary horn section, led by the brother of that guy who played the shlub on "Mad About You."  These famous shows from 1971 are represented here remastered with tons of bonus material, in a specially priced 4 CD set from Rhino.  "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?," "Lowdown," "25 Or 6 To 4," "Make Me Smile," "Questions 67 And 68," and "Beginnings."  The full song list is here

In addition, there’s a handsome new three CD boxed, YES- WORD IS LIVE featuring live recordings from the "masters of prog," dating back to 1970 and continuing up to 1988.  It does not suffer quite as much as the usual best of Yes does from including stuff when they stopped being good. Most of this stuff is the good stuff and all but two tracks have never been released before. There’s a song list here.  As always, cover art designed by Roger Dean.

Correspondence corner:

Name: Bob Rothman
Hometown: Providence, RI
Amid all the well-deserved recriminations, let's give a shout-out to the brave folks who write and edit the New Orleans Times Picayune.  Not only have they worked incredibly hard under exceedingly difficult conditions to continue to publish a paper for a readership that has evacuated their city, they have created a vital communications link for a scattered population.  And their editorials have named names and shown no mercy.  Here's to you, T-P!

Name: Pete Andres
Hometown: Evergreen CO
Eric,
I have not read about this anywhere, but why wasn't Fort Polk, LA (with 2 hours of NOLA) used as an evacuation destination (using at least tents), and since there are approx 15k troops there, how come they were not used immediately after the hurricane striking?  They had a few days notice that Katrina was going to strike and they could have been put on alert.  Doing this could have allowed the Federal troops to be used as a quick reaction force to move in to NOLA and then as the Guard was available could then have move back to their post.  I believe that this would have saved lives and was a lot closer than Houston thus allowing faster turnaround of the buses taking people from the Superdome and the convention center.  Additionally, staying in LA would be giving those NOLA refugees a place closer to home than TX.  I live in the Rockies and I could figure out what was going to happen from the Weather Channel.  I guess there was no TV in Crawford or at DOD.

Name: Sandra Coppola
Hometown: Short Hills, N.J.
Dear Eric--
Like almost everyone who visited New Orleans, I loved the city dearly.  I also have a personal connection, since my sister and her family live there.  As I write this, I am taking care of her two school-age children while my sister and her husband try to sort out their lives following Katrina.  One George Bush comment that I haven't seen anyone in the media take issue with was something that he said when he made his "save-my-reputation" trip to Biloxi Mississippi.  While there, he spoke to two black women, one of whom was 23-years-old and had all her earthly possessions in a bag.  She began to cry when she met the President, and told him that her young son needed clothes.  So, what does the leader of the free world say to her?

  1. "I know how you feel."  What????
  2. "Hang in there."  For how long???? and most unbelievable of all
  3. "You can get help from the Salvation Army."

Now, I deeply respect the Salvation Army as a charity, and believe that they are good and honest people, and one of the most trustworthy charities you can contribute to (and I have).  I do not mean to belittle their very significant and good work.  But was George Bush actually suggesting that, at a time of a major disaster, Americans' best (only?)-source of help is a charity whose major fund-raising drive consists of ringing bells during the Christmas season to encourage people to make donations by dropping change into a bucket?  Doesn't George realize that, considering the billions of tax dollars Americans have paid, most people expect the federal government to help these poor people before the Salvation Army?  Never mind the fact that the federal government revealed it's massive stupidity and incompetence five years into George Bush's reign.  Never mind the fact that George's folly in Iraq has stripped his government of any resources to respond to Katrina, even if they had the brains to do so, isn't it incredible that the President of the United States doesn't even recognize how ludicrous it is to suggest such a thing, or that the press doesn't take him to task for it?  My theory?  At this point, the media has to cover its own ***, since George wouldn't be President if the media hadn't given him cover, at the very least.  And they know, as we Democrats and "liberals" have been ranting for five years, that the emperor has no clothes. 

George Bush doesn't know the role of the federal government because he is a FIGURE HEAD.  He was put in the Oval Office by his handlers to carry out their agenda, and his role is to carry out their wishes, and to speak in public a little (although as little as possible, so as not to reveal the extent of his stupidity.)  He is infantalized by the neo-cons who actually run the government, and whatever "presidential" actions he takes are actually carried out by those around him.  He can't be expected to govern, in time of crisis or otherwise, and to ask him to do so is unfair, the way it would be to ask a mentally-disabled child to do so.  HE CAN'T GOVERN, BECAUSE HE NEVER HAS!!!  Now, those on the Left know it, and have been telling it like it is for five years.  And the press knows it too, so it is infuriating to watch Tim Russert and Co. feign outrage at what happened in New Orleans, as if they were actually duped by George Bush, and they really thought that Jr. had a brain.  If the press really wants to be "honest" in this time of national crisis, it is time for a mea culpa.  This tragedy is, just as 9/11 was, the fault of George Bush, the federal government, the Republican voters', and last, but not least, the almighty Press.

Name: Adam Upper West Side
Hometown: New York, New York
Dear Eric,
Just a thought.  What with the massive job loss in the Gulf Coast resulting from Katrina, and the fact that most people get their health insurance through work, wouldn't it have been nice if America had guaranteed health care for everyone so that no one who just lost everything in their world would have to worry about going to the doctor?  Katrina should expose all of the breached levees in our society.

Name: Ron Peregoy
Hometown: San Jose, CA
You were asking for Al Gore to stand up, I was just wondering if you saw this:  Gore accompanies about 140 arrivals from New Orleans but declines to take credit By ROBERT WILSON, September 4, 2005

Name: Larry Vlodica
Hometown: Bend, Or

Brown did a great job!  Near as I can tell not one Arabian horse was hurt in Katrina!

Name: Sal
Hometown: NYCD

To paraphrase a dear friend, "Now you really know what it feels like to have a broken heart."

I don't think anyone could comprehend exactly what is going on in New Orleans.  I know I can't.  Words cannot express the sadness I feel for this wonderful city and it's amazing, beautiful people.

I don't have a lot of money to send to New Orleans.  If I did, I would send every dime.  Until I find the best way to help, I have been coming up with smaller ways of helping.  I just know I need to give back to the city that has given me so much in the last 6 years.

NEW ORLEANS RELIEF PART ONE:

I have a collection of DVDs.  I have been collecting in my obsessive way from the day the first DVD was released.  I have so many, that close to half are still in their original wrapper.  There's not enough time in the world to watch what I've collected.  Movies, music, TV series, rarities... 1000 titles, give or take.  I need to do something.

Starting Thursday, 9/8, the day Melissa and I were scheduled to leave for our late summer weekend to New Orleans, all of these DVDs will be for sale, with ALL proceeds going to New Orleans relief.  They will be available for purchase at:

NYCD
173 WEST 81ST STREET
NEW YORK, N.Y. 10024
ATTENTION:
NEW ORLEANS RELIEF

Please feel free to pass this on to everyone.

September 6, 2005 |11:55 AM ET| Permalink

New Orleans 2005, Lost in the Flood

“And I said, "Hey, gunner man, that's quicksand, that's quicksand, that ain't mud
Have you thrown your senses to the war, or did you lose them in the flood?"
—Bruce Springsteen, Lost in the Flood.

Readers of this site will know that we sometimes find ourselves at a loss as to whether we should be more appalled at the Bush Administration’s ideological obsession, its incompetence, its arrogance, its anti-intellectualism, or its dishonesty.  In New Orleans, we see all of these forces at work in a manner that the mainstream media finally finds itself unable to ignore.  In the name of fighting “terrorism,” the administration has sent 40 percent of the National Guard to Iraq and Afghanistan in order to create more terrorists and let bin Laden get away.  Remaining units across the country have about half their usual equipment.  It has also wasted more than $200 billion increasing our insecurity.  In the meantime, it has done next to nothing to alleviate the many obvious weaknesses in its ability to respond to a crisis at home, whether it be another 9/11-style terrorist attack, or something like this catastrophic (but entirely predictable) flood.  What we see at work now is the logical conclusion of its unwillingness to choose between fighting two wars, looting the treasury for its campaign contributors, ignoring sound scientific advice, and defending the nation from genuine, rather than imaginary threats.  The Guard is in Iraq and unable to do what they are supposed to in this country.  Coordination at the local, state, and federal level is nil.  Resources are either unavailable or available, but undeployed.  FEMA has been stripped of funding and purged of competence and expertise, stocked instead with Bush cronies and hacks, with no relevant training, and that’s putting it kindly. 

(Via Josh and Atrios:

Louisiana Gov. Blanco accepted an offer of state National Guard troops from New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson on Sunday, just before the storm hit.  But the paperwork from Washington, allowing the troops to deploy, didn't come until Thursday.
...
A White House press release announcing Brown's appointment as Deputy Director of FEMA in December 2001 states simply that: "From 1991 to 2001, Brown was the Commissioner of the International Arabian Horse Association, an international subsidiary of the national governing organization of the U.S. Olympic Committee,"

and it appears he was fired from that job, here.)

The result?  Thousands of people starving and (metaphorically) bleeding to death as if this were some Third World nation without any kind of national health or emergency system.  While no one could have known the exact nature of this disaster in terms of time and place, we knew full well that something like it was likely—just as we knew that bin Laden, or someone, was likely to attack the U.S. using planes as weapons.  Until now, no one in America has been asked to sacrifice a thing for the war in Iraq save those giving their lives and limbs, their mothers, fathers, daughters and sons.  They censored the photos of the coffins coming home—much less the mangled corpses--and lied about he budget numbers they were exploding.  (What have “future generations” ever done for Karl Rove?)  And a compliant media in some cases—a deliberately propagandistic media in others—played along.  Now, finally, Americans are seeing just a small part of the cost of that murderous folly.  Responding to disasters is one of the basic functions of government, and our government has been looted.  What’s left of it—an empty shell in the case of helping the needy cope with catastrophe—is nowhere near competent, much less consistent with the measure of a great nation.  (The Post does a decent job on the story here.)  And don’t miss this or this, or this or this or this or this.

I am not usually a prayerful man, but after reading and listening to the stories of parents losing their babies forever owing to the lack of coordination between planning agencies and Fox News “journalists” condemning “looters” who, in many case, are desperately seeking food, drink, diapers and the like to feed their starving families in face of near apocalyptic chaos all around them, I do find myself hoping for an afterlife in which a just and all-powerful deity visits a swift and merciless justice upon those responsible for making this horror so much worse for its poor and powerless victims than ever needed to be.

P.S.  How many little bin Ladens are out there now, smacking their lips, seeing just how unprepared the Bush administration and this Congress have left us in the case of another urban attack?

P.P.S.   Thanks again, Ralph.

P.P.P.S.  You know, I think it turns out to have been useful to re-visit The Bell Curve just as this catastrophe was unfolding.  Murray’s pseudoscientific racism—still championed to this day by the likes of Little Roy – are what gave America permission to write off the kind of people forgotten in this flood as too poor, stupid or morally compromised to be of concern in the first place.

P.P.P.P.S.  Mission, um, accomplished (for Al-Qaeda, that is.)

P.P.P.P.P.S.  Earth to Media, Hello, they lie.

P.P.P.P.P.P.S.  Why do David Horowitz, Zell Miller and Judge Roy Moore, like D. James Kennedy, Jerry Falwell and Tim LaHaye hate America?

And finally, nice job Tom T. 

The Politics:

What does it mean?  Recall that George W. Bush was already tipping the scales toward being the most unpopular postwar president we’ve ever had before the flood revealed to most people, and most particularly, to the media, just how catastrophic his presidency was likely to be.  Bush’s numbers will almost certainly sink into the mid-thirties, which is his base, and will stay there.  But Bush’s popularity is not really an important number.  He is not running for re-election, and neither, in all likelihood is Cheney.  What’s more, with a Republican Congress, it does not matter so much what Bush wants when it comes to legislation.  Social Security reform was already nailed into its coffin.  He cannot really start any more wars.  Sure he has a ton of Executive powers, but he has those irrespective of his popularity.  The unanswered questions are these.

  1. Will Bush’s deep unpopularity—and media hostility—turn Roveworld into an armed camp?  In other words, will they go for a “keep the base happy under all circumstances because that’s all we have” strategy?  That means finding a replacement for Rehnquist who is more Bork-like than Roberts-like and risking a filibuster; inviting one, actually.  (The Roberts-as-Chief-Justice gambit is genius, I’m afraid, and the timing as infuriating as it is impressive.  The Note will no doubt have an orgasm…)

  2. Will they, finally, do what Tim Russert and Joe Klein promised us they would do five years ago which is play to the middle to re-assure the Washington Establishment?  (Not bloody likely…)

  3. Will Bush’s new found image as a bumbling incompetent ideologue hurt the legislation that the Republicans want to pass anyway, like doing away with the estate tax?  (Again, NBL…)

  4. Will the Democrats find their voice as an opposition party or will they continue to fear their own shadows, based on the fact that they are guilty in smaller ways, of virtually everything upon which the Republicans are vulnerable?  (Um, need I say it?)

  5. In the unlikely event they do, who will be its voice?  My nominee: Russ Feingold

  6. Now that people have been reminded of why we need competent government, have we got a new paradigm in which extremist Republicans are discredited; cultural issues cease to crowd out the “reality” agenda?  And as a subset of this question, will the media demonstrate anything like the energy and anger they they’ve shown on this issue to the rest of the Bush agenda?  I think those two go hand-in-hand, but the order in which they take place need not be a given.  (It’s not, after all, as if we need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.)

  7. Does all this augur well for the return of divided government in 2006?  (I think the structural disadvantages the Democrats face in terms of state population and DeLay-style redistricting, make this one extremely unlikely, unless they do the new paradigm thing.)

  8. What does this do to the Democratic race for 2008?  I’d say it strengthens the appeal of good-government governors, like Mark Warner and Bill Richardson—unless Hillary pulls one out of her hat and makes a brilliant speech that pundits credit with helping to fill the national void and pull the country together.  John Edwards could also benefit if he turns his “Two Americas” into the basis of a national conversation of why this country—the world’s wealthiest—sucks so much for poor people.  Personally, I would like to see Al Gore jump in here with a combination “I told you so about this guy and here is an agenda for the future” but he really does seem to care more about that nutty television station of his and so I won’t hold any proverbial breath….  Which leads me to Russ Feingold, for now.

  9. (A contest perhaps:) Predict the next disaster.  Predict the Bush excuse.

A friend writes:

The best night I ever had in New Orleans was with an American basketball coach, a Russian basketball coach, and a voodoo lady who confounded the Russian completely.  (I had to explain the John the Conqueror Root to him, and he didn't get it, I don't think.)  However, this is not the time for fond reminiscences -- Hear that, Mr. President?  Nobody wants to hear about how you "used to enjoy yourself, sometimes too much" down there.  Feckless, feckless.  -- Because anyone with eyes and a conscience knew that New Orleans, in many of its areas, was a Soweto that had been allowed to happen right here in America.

Gone now, a city of the dead and the dying, according to the heroic souls at the Times-Picayune.  There are two things that the nation should remember:

  1. Some of the high-water vehicles owned by the Louisiana National Guard are in Iraq, where there hasn't been high-water since Noah, and
  2. If you're keeping score at home, under this administration, the Federal Emergency Management Administration has been headed by, in order: the president's former campaign bagma...er...manager, and a guy who was fired from his previous job managing a luxury horse federation for being incompetent, and that this last guy's deputy, of whom you will see a lot on TV, qualified for that post by being a campaign advance man and a local TV anchor.

Bungling horse whisperers and campaign hacks.
Dead babies in the streets of America.
Jesus wept.

Sivacation:

From: Siva Vaidhyanathan
Hometown: New York City
Dear Eric:
Our president actually said this on Friday. Seriously. This is not a joke.

We've got a lot of rebuilding to do.  First, we're going to save lives and stabilize the situation.  And then we're going to help these communities rebuild.  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.)

The increasingly cowardly National Public Radio on Friday ran this statement, but cut it off before the Trent Lott comment and sickening laughter.

Friday W showed everyone that once again, governing is all about the photo op and quip.  I wish I could say that this comment finally reveals the fact that this president shows utter contempt for the lives of poor and black Americans.  I wish that this statement nailed that down for everyone.  But alas, reality already did this.  The thousands who cry out for help are living and dying evidence of the regard to which this government holds poor people.  When you wish, as right-wing pundits have for years, for ineffective, invisible government, the size where we can "drown it in a bathtub," this is what you get.  Poor people die.  Rich people sip mint juleps on other rich people's porches.

To this president, poor people are invisible in good times, disposable in bad.

Speaking of incompetence, do you remember those thousands of people left behind on the beaches of Dunkirk in 1940?  The rampant disaster that engulfed Berlin during the airlift in 1948?  The hundreds of thousands who lost homes, lives, loved ones, and dreams during the Mississippi floods in 1993?  Of course you don't.  These were not disasters. They were triumphs of collective responsibility and responsible governance.  These actions were executed by competent leaders.  These presidents (and prime minister) had a clue.  These governments were committed to action and results.  The leaders did not pass bucks, make excuses, pose for photo ops, or blame victims.  No one complained about how no one could coordinate massive actions because cell phones didn't work.  Repeat after me, What Would Truman Do?

Of course, there have been precedents to the flood of New Orleans.  We have a good case study of official indifference and incompetence that doomed poor and black people yet spared the rich.  My buddy and NYU colleague Eric Klinenberg wrote a powerful, important, award-winning book called Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of a Disaster in Chicago.  Friday he wrote an  article for Slate.com called When Chicago Baked:

... Katrina is in some ways a different species of trouble.  The hurricane has destroyed New Orleans and damaged smaller cities in addition to killing people.  Yet the parallels are striking.  Federal officials ignored several urgent pleas—from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Army Corps of Engineers, members of Congress, Gulf Coast politicians, and scores of disaster experts—for major infrastructure improvements to prevent catastrophic flooding on the Gulf Coast.  Paul Krugman reports in the New York Times that FEMA rated this crisis one of the top three threats to American security.  Yet the White House denied requests to shore up levees or build larger drainage systems for the lower Mississippi River.

People died in Chicago and New Orleans because they were segregated by ethnicity and class from the mainstream of American society.  Their social networks broke down.  Officials saw no reason to respond to their needs.  There was no democratic accountability to ensure that poor people do not suffer and die during emergencies.

It's Labor Day.  So it's a good day to take stock of the massive shift of wealth from the poor to the rich in this country.  After 30 years of progress toward justice, the slide toward a less equal and more dangerous society began with the Reagan years, slowed during the Clinton years, and has accelerated in frightening terms since W took office.

All that surplus money that Clinton left us could have gone to relief and rebuilding the Gulf Coast.  It could have made people healthier and safer.  It could have made this country better for our children and grandchildren.  It could have brought us together as Americans.  Instead, we gave our hard-earned surplus to rich people.  We made children sicker and working people poorer.  We segregated this country all over again.  And now we see bodies floating in the streets of New Orleans as evidence of our foolishness.

Segregation, racism, and hostility to the poor are our original and continuing sins.  Forgive me if I cry no tears over the death of our segregationist Chief Justice William Rehnquist.  He was responsible for much of the immoral injustice that we see in stark relief this past week.  This man did not believe that schools should be integrated.  He fought efforts to end discrimination in public accommodations.  And he tried to keep black people from voting when he was a Republican operative in Arizona in the 1960s.  But perhaps his worst sin was his usurpation of the power of the electorate.  He led the 5-4 majority that appointed George W. Bush president over the expressed will of the people of the United States and the State of Florida.  For this, his body should be laid to rest in a flooded New Orleans street rather than interned in Arlington.

It's time for the cowards in the Democratic party to take a stand for poor people.  No one else will.  It's time to campaign for "Katrina Taxes" that will take that money back from millionaires and re-build the infrastructure of the Gulf Coast.  It's time to speak some truth about the persistence of racism in America.  It's time to stop pretending that only rich people matter because only rich people write checks to campaigns.  It's time for someone to take charge and take responsibility.  Are there no grown ups willing to do the job and speak the truth?  Again, What Would Truman Do?

The past few days have seen the much-delayed arrival of federal troops in New Orleans.  But the crisis is far from over.  I have many more questions that we all should be asking:

Eric, I thought I was suffering from outrage fatigue.  I thought I could get no more angry.  I thought this administration could get no lower.  I thought I would never see the day that my government would allow thousands of Americans to die of malign neglect.

But once again, my anger is tempered by the stunning generosity of so many Americans who are determined to do what they can to mitigate the mistakes of this administration. Once again, every day Americans are paying the price for the government's lies and sins. We have so much more to give and so much more to do. It does make me as proud to be an American as it does ashamed of having to call George W. Bush "president."

Here it is:  “ George Bush does not care about black people. ”  (And isn’t Mike Myers quite the ad libber?)

It’s important to be able to laugh about almost anything.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Stephen Hirsch
Hometown: Passaic, NJ
You know Eric, as I sit here just before Shabbos, I watch in helpless rage as I view the pathetic response of our government.  I feel just like when I first saw the second tower struck; I was screaming at my laptop "Where the f*** is the Air Force"?  The worst military defeat in American history, now the worst man-made natural disaster in American history.  As we say in Yeshivish, what a shanda before the neighbors.  And Mr. Norquist, please check out New Lake George--this is what your fantasy of government drowned in a bathtub looks like.  Oh, and thanks, Ralph.

Name: Bruce Hilpert
Hometown: Kill Devil Hills, NC
I have been appalled at the statements coming from FEMA Director Michael Brown in the past week.  He has not only displayed extreme ineptitude in the response of his agency, but also extreme insensitivity in blaming the victims for this tragedy, stating, "Well, I think the death toll MAY go into the thousands and, unfortunately, that's going to be attributable to people who didn't heed the evacuation warnings."  Is Michael Brown qualified to hold this position?  Here is Michael Brown's professional background prior to being appointed by Pres. Bush as Undersecretary of Homeland Security for FEMA.  I can't find what year he joined FEMA.  Clinton had a different director (See below).  Both excerpts are from the fema.gov Web site.

Prior to joining FEMA, Mr. Brown practiced law in Colorado and Oklahoma, where he served as a bar examiner on ethics and professional responsibility for the Oklahoma Supreme Court and as a hearing examiner for the Colorado Supreme Court.  He had been appointed as a special prosecutor in police disciplinary matters.  While attending law school he was appointed by the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee of the Oklahoma Legislature as the Finance Committee Staff Director, where he oversaw state fiscal issues.  His background in state and local government also includes serving as an assistant city manager with emergency services oversight and as a city councilman.  Mr. Brown was also an adjunct professor of law for the Oklahoma City University.A native of Oklahoma, Mr. Brown holds a bachelor's degree in Public Administration/Political Science from Central State University, Oklahoma. He received his J.D. from Oklahoma City University's School of Law.

[From: Here.]

This is from here:

In 1993, President Clinton nominated James L. Witt as the new FEMA director. Witt became the first agency director with experience as a state emergency manager. He initiated sweeping reforms that streamlined disaster relief and recovery operations, insisted on a new emphasis regarding preparedness and mitigation, and focused agency employees on customer service. The end of the Cold War also allowed Witt to redirect more of FEMA's limited resources from civil defense into disaster relief, recovery and mitigation programs. In 2001, President George W. Bush appointed Joe M. Allbaugh as the director of FEMA. Within months, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11th focused the agency on issues of national preparedness and homeland security, and tested the agency in unprecedented ways. The agency coordinated its activities with the newly formed Office of Homeland Security, and FEMA's Office of National Preparedness was given responsibility for helping to ensure that the nation's first responders were trained and equipped to deal with weapons of mass destruction.

Albaugh was Bush's chief of staff as governor and chair of Bush's national election committee for the 2000 election. Prior to his appointment as Bush's COS, he had no professional disaster management experience.

Name: W.K.
Hometown: New Orleans, LA.
Dr. Alterman,
I have never written, but read your blog daily.  The Speaker of the House has torqued my cookies.  How can someone in that position say federal funds shouldn't be used to rebuild my city?  My only hope for the great state of Illinois is they do not suffer an ice storm or blizzard this winter or another heat wave (which killed 500 Chicago citizens) and the Speaker comes to the same solution.  Thank you and your readers and contributors to your blog for your great support.

Name: B Thompson
Hometown: Annandale, VA
Much to my total amazement...the following countries have offered to help us here in America... Australia, Austria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Belgium, Canada, China, Columbia, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, France, Germany, Guatemala, Greece, Guyana, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Paraguay, Philippines, Portugal, South Korea, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Slovakia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Sweden, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela.

What is more amazing is that in all of the recent politicians thanking each other for failed rescue efforts in New Orleans, not one of those thanks went out to one these countries.  So here I am...Just one broke American ashamed of what we have become... but, I want to say one thing.  Thank You Very Much From the Bottom of my Heart to... Australia, Austria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Belgium, Canada, China, Columbia, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, France, Germany, Guatemala, Greece, Guyana, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Paraguay, Philippines, Portugal, South Korea, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Slovakia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Sweden, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela.

Peace

Name: Justin Greene
Hometown: Denver, CO
I don't care which side the politicians sit on the fence, but I have something to say: Americans say, we are created equal, we are a can-do nation, we have some of the best "quality-of-life" levels in the world, but where were our leaders -- Democrats and Republicans -- before the storm stuck and shortly after?  I'm sick of hearing about the Administration's long vacations and shopping trips and even more vacations.  Even the local and state levels dropped the ball at certain levels.  But when I watched Aaron Broussard, on "Meet the Press" relate about FEMA's outrageous stunts (Wal-Mart trucks, fuel, etc.) and listening to the Mayor of Hattiesburg relay further FEMA stunts regarding the refusal to release trucks with loaded with water and ice, I just couldn't take anymore.  This situation requires accountability from the top down right NOW, not just a nice and tidy "commission" that will criticize everyone and no one at the same time, and just in general terms a year or two after the fact.  But if the events that unfold down in New Orleans, Mississippi, and Alabama, don't make your blood boil, here is a doozy that should.  I called a friend of mine in China, she has a cousin down in Fujian...she (the cousin) was moved within *four* hours of the evacuation notice.  If China can move 600,000 people, then we should have been able to do so too.  I mean, China is a country that so many people are quick to label as a "third world" country, a country where I lived for two years and saw firsthand that queuing in line is not practiced in normal, everyday situations like at the bank or the morning/evening bus stop commute but they were still able move that many people in a "panic" situation.  I don't know about you, but I feel if the President wants to throw down the cop out that we shouldn't politicize this, then he should have never played with the heartstrings of Americans when it comes to 9/11 and Iraq and patriotism and the Patriot Act. Why is it the politicians want to quiet us about debating critical topics just by saying, "This is the time to be unified"? This is a shame, we Americans don't really seem to care about the poor, especially poor blacks, until the situation is staring us in the face and we cannot ignore it.  Say what you will about Kanye West and his remarks on the telethon, but as a white man who grew up in a black-majority, inner-city neighborhood I agree with him 100%.  Bush gives off this aura that he only cares if they are black *and* Republican (i.e. Condi Rice or Colin Powell before he jumped ship).  When so many of the poor -- of all races-- are our front-line soldiers in "the war on terror", then maybe Bush and all of the other politician from both parties should really wake up and feel lucky.

Name: Patricia Lavins
Hometown: Aiken, SC
Dear Mr. Alterman:
I have been surprised that in all the electronic media discussion and in the print media "analysis" of the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina that there is virtually no discussion on the national security consequences.  The whole world has watched the Bush regime's ineffectual response to the wrath of nature and learned that the Bush regime has no domestic security plan to protect this nation.  The lack of a viable national security plan was identified in 2002 in the update to the bipartisan Commission on National Security report.  This identified that the Bush regime had made NO real progress in augmenting security at our (1) borders, (2) seaports, (2) nuclear and chemical plants, (4) infrastructure, and (5) national monuments.  Now those who hate this nation have seen first hand that the Bush regime has no plan to protect the homeland.  In September 2005 our nation was assaulted by the forces of nature but our response would have been just as inadequate if terrorists had launched a biological attack in the region.  This sad reality should make every American citizen angry enough to finally demand that the Bush regime pay attention to the real and still present duties for domestic national security within the USA.  How many more attacks on Americans have to occur before the citizenry recognizes the criminal negligence and malfeasance which has been the standard operating procedure of George W. Bush since January 2001?

September 2, 2005 |12:10 PM ET| Permalink

Super-Disaster Slacker Friday

I’ve got a new “Think Again,” here, called, "The Grilling of the President.”  I’ve not had much personally to add to the disaster discussion in part due to personal circumstances but largely because I think I haven’t had much of value to add.  I will, when I do.  (And forgive me, but I do think some people might take a lesson in that despite the fact that the victims are largely "decadent coastal elites?")

In the meantime, many people below have plenty to contribute, and I’m grateful.  Here are a few useful links first:

Today’s Papers notes, here,

Yesterday, President Bush said, "I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees."  The NYT backs him up, "GOVERNMENT SAW FLOOD RISKS, BUT NOT LEVEE FAILURE."  TP isn't so sure that.  Here, for example, is a story last year from the AP, nabbed from Nexis: "Officials have warned that if a major hurricane hits New Orleans, thousands of people could be killed and the city could be flooded for weeks as flood waters breach the levees ringing the city.

There’s more from Think Progress here.

Quote of the Day:  "No one would have checked on a lot of the black people in these parishes while the sun shined," said the mayor of one Mississippi town.  "So am I surprised that no one has come to help us now?  No."   Here.

Required Reading from Knight-Ridder here, and here from the Times, and here from the invaluable Paul Krugman, and here from the Post.

A friend writes:

Doc,
You know, it might just be time for the commercial now.  Gin ourselves up with one of those sparkly right-wing jargon names -- The Committee For The Foundation Of The Defense Of The Foundation, or something -- and just go to town.  Put up the president saying, "Bring 'em on," and then cut to shots of wounded men being medevac'ed out of Baghdad.  Put up, "Major combat operations are over," and then cut to the most recent insurgent bombing.  Put up the "Mission Accomplished" speech, and then cut to soldiers ducking for cover, or barreling through the desert, last week.  Then, at the end, a montage -- Condi saying that "nobody could have anticipated" people using airplanes as missiles, and then put up the report warning the G-8 conference of that very thing, and then cut to one of the 9/11 videos, and then cut to the president, yesterday, telling Diane Sawyer that "nobody could have anticipated" that the levees would break, and then cut to the Times-Picayune series from last year about that very thing, and then cut to the poor, drowned city.  Sprinkle in a laugh track where appropriate.

The old pols used to say that a particularly incompetent one of their number could "screw up a two-car funeral."  This guy could do it if you spotted him the hearse.

From: Siva Vaidhyanathan
Hometown: New York City
Eric:
While filling up my car on Long Island yesterday at a rate of $3.59.9 per gallon, I came up with a list of important questions we should be asking about the Crisis in the Gulf (Mexico, not Persian):

  • After years of top-notch investigative reports by the New Orleans Times-Picayune describing the sorry erosion of federal funding for levees and pump systems in the New Orleans area, why did the Bush administration once again reject requests to fund the system better?  Why can't it even admit that it screwed up again?
  • Did the administration misjudge the Katrina threat because, as U.S. Rep Charles Rangel suggested, it received bad intelligence?
  • Why aren't there enough National Guard personnel deployed to the Gulf Coast.
  • Why can't the National Guard and FEMA get water and food to people in the NO Convention Center?
  • Why aren't there cops or soldiers in the Convention Center?
  • Why didn't FEMA arrange for satellite phones for all emergency services?
  • Why can't FEMA and the National Guard evacuating the three major hospitals that have not had power for four days?
  • Why doesn't Michael Chertoff take this crisis seriously?
  • Why is FEMA director Michael Brown blaming the victims?
  • Why is FEMA's Web site asking us to give money to the leader of the UnChristian Right, Pat Robertson?
  • How come Sri Lanka's government handles disasters better than this country's government does?
  • Why is the Bush administration rejecting offers of aid from other countries?
  • When all these people reassemble their lives, when they realize their businesses and jobs are gone forever, when they count the damage of their lost property, when insurance companies are unable or unwilling to pay them what they need for their houses, will the new bankruptcy law that Congress passed this year slam them once again?
  • Why can't this administration do anything right?
  • When survivors in New Orleans began chanting "Where's George Bush?" yesterday how come the BBC was the only major network to show it?
  • At what point will this government realize that platitudes are not policies?
  • Is there any limit to the generosity of the American people? It's been truly moving and inspiring. We live in the greatest nation on Earth. But we could use a better government. One, as Jimmy Carter used to say, as good as the American people.

All week, this song has been going through my head:

Randy Newman - Louisiana 1927 Lyrics By Randy Newman:

What has happened down here is the wind have changed
Clouds roll in from the north and it started to rain
Rained real hard and rained for a real long time
Six feet of water in the streets of Evangeline

The river rose all day
The river rose all night
Some people got lost in the flood
Some people got away alright
The river have busted through clear down to Plaquemines
Six feet of water in the streets of Evangeline

Horrific if true...

Relief Links

From MoveOn:

MoveOn.org Civic Action, formerly known as MoveOn.org, launched a new web site today, HurricaneHousing.org asking its 3.3 million members and the public to post any available housing for the thousands of people left homeless by Hurricane Katrina.  The organization will directly connect evacuees with volunteer hosts, and also provide the housing information to the Red Cross and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

The emergency drive connects empty beds with hurricane victims in need of housing.  The public can post free housing offers (a spare room, extra bed, even a decent couch), then evacuees and aid workers can search for available housing online at: HurricaneHousing.org  Tens of thousands of newly homeless families are being bused to the Houston Astrodome, where they may wait for weeks or months. At least 80,000 are competing for area shelters and countless more are in motels, cars, or wherever they can find shelter. FEMA and the Red Cross are working hard to provide shelter for the displaced.

Housing is most urgently needed within reasonable driving distance (about 300 miles) of the affected areas in the Southeast, especially New Orleans.

The process is simple:

  • You can sign up to become a host by posting a description of whatever housing you have available. You can change or remove your offer at any time.

  • Hurricane victims, local and national relief organizations, friends and relatives can search the site for housing. MoveOn will do everything they can to get housing offers where they are needed most, even distributing them to social workers helping families in shelters.

  • Hurricane victims or relief agencies can submit requests to people who post housing offers.  They decide if it's a good match and then reply to make the necessary arrangements. The host's contact information is hidden from view until they decide to respond to a particular request.

From Barry R:

Charities:

From BestFriends.org

Just to let everyone know that Best Friends Animal Society is working to help rescue pets lost and stranded in Louisiana, Mississippi and Louisiana after the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina.  See their web site at BestFriends.org for the Hurricane Relief  Fund set up to help these animals and for daily updates on what is being done to help the animals.

It's a terrible time for everybody in those areas and that includes animals.

Eric adds:  Thank you. Also, Humane Society of U.S. and United Animal Nations.

From: Steve Anderson
As the New Orleans weather and political disaster continues to unfold, many of us will try to help, in various ways. Many in the blogosphere are organizing to this end.

Some of us are once and future musicians, so this from BitchPhD tells of a way to help we previously didn't know about:

And finally, an additional source for donations that is especially dear to jazz-loving me: the Preservation Hall Hurricane Relief Fund, which will donate 100% of the money raised to New Orleans musicians. Most working musicians, as you know, live a pretty hand-to-mouth existence. Preservation Hall will even give you a free t-shirt if you can donate $150 or more.

Finally: New Bruce tour dates: Here.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Brian Kresge
Hometown: Lancaster, PA
Dr. Alterman,
My unit from the Pennsylvania National Guard is being sent tomorrow to provide aid in the Gulf Coast region.  I'm happy to report that the men I serve with are compassionate and wonderful, and are equally moved, as are we all, by the images of despair among the poor folk of New Orleans.  We are to be on the ground tomorrow, with ammunition in our guns.  I hope we're bringing water and food and diapers for the kiddies more than we are protecting Wal Mart.  Plasma TVs I could give a rip less about...human life on the other hand, way too important.  I am concerned that the emphasis has been on property rather than the horrible conditions that the impoverished residents of Nawlins have to endure, while FEMA sits with its thumb up its proverbial ass.  Additionally, I received some good news from the director of the Southern Conference of United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.  The shul in Biloxi still stands, and even though the shul in New Orleans was right along the lake and undoubtedly was wiped out, they managed to save the Torahs.  Hopefully, if we're down there over the High Holidays, the Jewish community can rally together in a beautiful and meaningful way in the wake of this destruction.  Avinu malkenu, we're sorry our state went Republican... I'll keep you posted on how it goes down there.

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago
Briefly, a pre-emptive response to any conservative who says criticizing the Administration for not funding the Louisiana Levee repairs is unfair hindsight.  How quickly we forget 1997 and the " Flood of the Century."  Now consider Winnipeg.  That city, which is to Canada what Chicago is the United States, was saved from the same fate by having the foresight to build a floodway in the 1960's.  Dubya's budget cuts were the equivalent of forgetting about the 2003 Northeast power outages and cutting funds for the power grid.

Name: Merrill R. Frank
Hometown: Jackson Hgts, NYC
One of those issues that always fly under the radar is the nation's crumbling infrastructure.  Every year the good folks at the American Society of Civil Engineers issue a Report Card for the Nation's Infrastructure.  Maybe in context of the coverage on this calamity some intrepid reporter will take off their rain slicker, let it dry out and give it a look.

Name: Barry L. Ritholtz
Hometown: The Big Picture
Hey Doc,
One again, we see the Internet is an unbelievable resource whenever these disasters -- both man made or Acts of God -- strike.  In particular, the images, maps, satellite views and photojournalism are truly astonishing.

Katrina Overview (or, we've gone map crazy, Part IV)

Name: David Shaffer
Hometown: Harleysville, PA
Dr A -
In regards to the link yesterday to the Editor and Publisher article: If I'm reading this correctly, $60-70 million in Federal aid for infrastructure improvements over the past couple of years could have prevented a significant amount of damage in New Orleans.  Now the cleanup cost will probably exceed $20 billion.  Let's see, spending $60 million to save $20 billion sounds like a good idea, even if you're not a member of the reality-based community.  It should sound even better to a Harvard MBA, but then again, consider the guy with the MBA.  Once again, this Administration's short-sightedness is costing us.  Sigh...

Name: Patrick Weidinger
Hometown: Lancaster, PA
Dear Mr. Alterman:
What is the world thinking of the U.S., right now?  Here we are, the so-called most powerful country on earth, and we are allowing this to happen to our own people.  It's Baghdad, May 2003 all over again.  Lawlessness as the few peacekeepers that are there are powerless to stop it.  "Free people are free to do bad things" said Donald Rumsfeld.  Yes, so are poor, hopeless, and down-trodden people, with nothing left to lose.  Where is the help?  It is day four of this tragedy.  It's New Orleans, not like it's Indonesia half a world away.  Why is the city still without security?  As a professional involved in local emergency planning efforts, the first thing we learn, in post-emergency response training, is to control the scene, to control the perimeter.  Until you establish control of the perimeter around the disaster area, and establish control inside it for those who remain, those who need help and assistance, you can't even begin to mitigate the disaster and start recovery efforts.  There is no control, there is no perimeter, and there is no one setting it up.  This is appalling, unforgivable.  This is a gross example of incompetence.  And it is firmly laid at the feet of George Bush, the Republicans, and the neocons who feel we can dismantle federal assistance, preparedness, safety and health agencies and programs like FEMA, OSHA, EPA, etc.  Who send the National Guard troops we need to control these emergencies to fight a misguided war in the Middle East.  Who change environmental laws to allow development and destruction of wetlands.  Who fail to fund the repair and strengthening of levees.  Who cut Corp of Engineer budgets to send the money to the President's Iraq war.  Who dismantle FEMA, rolling it into Homeland Security, without first establishing a person, let alone a sub-agency inside Homeland Security, with the responsibility for national emergency response and preparedness for natural disasters.  No one is to blame for the hurricane and its destruction, but these Republican bastards are to blame for this aftermath.  Bush is going to the area to have a look around.  I want to see if they actually dare let him out of the helicopter or jet to meet with actual people on the ground?  I doubt it, they don't dare let this maniac get close to these people, they are likely to tear him to shreds.  More likely, they won't let Bush near these people because he is cracking up, the guy is losing it, and the handlers don't dare let Americans see that their so-called decisive, strong leader is actually a shell of a human being.  He couldn't face Cindy Sheehan, how can he face this?  He can't.

Name: Anne Sullivan
Hometown: Washington, D.C.
Eric --
I agree with Mr. Pisano, Old Navy Guy, that the poor have borne the brunt of Katrina throughout the Gulf, for all the reasons he mentioned.  It is the sorriest indictment of our rich country in this horrifying crisis.  I also agree with him about the worst of that the need to evacuate the poor wasn't anticipated.  Why wasn't transportation and shelter and health care available for those who had no cars or cash?  The country had three days to prepare for this level 5 hurricane, but why didn't we already have overall emergency plans for such an eventuality, especially in New Orleans?  I am grateful for the emergency workers who are working heroically, but I don't think it's too early to point out, as you do, that our normal emergency resource, the National Guard, is sorely stretched. 

The Bush Administration contributed to this appalling situation in many ways:

  1. by reducing funds for maintenance of the levees in New Orleans (much more important to free the Corps of Engineers to provide pork for important members of Congress!);
  2. by putting old political friends into FEMA, and then putting FEMA into Homeland Security, without any care for its important role.
  3. by greatly increasing the numbers of Americans who live in poverty; and
  4. as mentioned above, by failing to have any sort of comprehensive plan to help poor Americans threatened by a major hurricane.

Bush's first response is to ask for prayer, something that doesn't cost his biggest supporters much.  We're supposed to be impressed that Bush cut his month-long vacation by two days?

Name: John Caruso
Hometown: Portland, OR
Dan C. from Minneapolis makes some good points.  This record year for hurricanes provides serious evidence against those still trying to claim that global warming is a myth.  And in this time of national disaster, it would be refreshing if pundits could refrain from ascribing hurricanes to the will of an angry god and claiming storms as divine judgment demonstrating that some deity is on their side politically.  Unfortunately, in his hurry to make the connection between the recent apocalyptic weather and the undeniable (for people who believe in science) changes in global weather patterns, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., falls into a trap on the second point in his recent posting to The Huffington Report.  Noting the irony of Gov. Barbour's ignorant position on CO2 emissions in light of his state's bearing the brunt of Hurricane Katrina would be fine, if perhaps more than a little insensitively timed, but then Kennedy concludes his post by echoing Pat Robertson:

In 1998, Republican icon Pat Robertson warned that hurricanes were likely to hit communities that offended God.  Perhaps it was Barbour's memo [urging the Bush Administration to ignore global warming as a radical fringe non-issue] that caused Katrina, at the last moment, to spare New Orleans and save its worst flailings for the Mississippi coast.

If Kennedy is trying to be tongue-in-cheek here, he misses the mark entirely, coming off as a callous heel at best and as every bit as wacky as Robertson himself at worst.  If he hopes to remain a voice of liberal reason, Kennedy can't afford to go around making remarks like this.  Obviously the temptation to mimic the childish insult-politics of right-wing mouthpieces must be strong.  Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation, makes this same mistake in her attempts to fight back against conservative court jesters making merry with the coincidence of her name being shared by Hurricane Katrina. After correctly pointing out the immaturity and lack of professionalism exhibited by those who get their jollies by linking her name to that of a storm responsible for death and destruction, vanden Heuvel tries to even the score with a few stupid remarks of her own.  But her digs against Limbaugh and others fall terribly flat.  You don't do yourself any favors by first criticizing and then proceeding to imitate the behavior of jackasses.  Okay, so maturity, clear thinking and responsible discourse might not provide the same thrill of instant gratification found in resorting to the gutter-snipe tactics commonly employed by right wing icons, but we need to remember that we're better off keeping ourselves above that. Once we stoop to using their cheap rhetorical strategies, how long will it be before we succumb to the very real dangers of their political thinking?  Isn't this the same slippery slope that leads neocons to rationalize the torture of suspected terrorists because "those people" somehow don't deserve human rights?  Even if those on the right have abandoned any legitimate claim to moral values, we on the left need to continue holding ourselves to higher standards.

Name: Ping Shen
Hometown: Shanghai, China
Hi Eric,
I'm concerned that amidst all the looting, death, and destruction, that one important point is going overlooked.  What happened prior to Katrina is obviously less important than what we do now, but it is worth looking at to see what it really says about our society.  A society that we all want to believe is the most civilized, the most advanced in the world.  But is that really the case?  Many times it takes a disaster to reveal the true character of a person, or even a society.  What nobody has yet mentioned, and what I hope somebody will, is that Katrina provided us with a perfect look at modern-day Darwinism at its finest.  Who evacuated New Orleans while they had the chance?  Those with cars, money, the physical ability, a place to go outside of The Big Easy.  Who was left behind?  The poor, the elderly, the infirm (OK, yes, some left behind did so by choice and we can put them in the 'stupid' category).  Thus, who died in disproportionate numbers?  The poor, the elderly, and the infirm (and of course, the stupid).  And of course, who is disproportionately represented in the 'poor' category (especially in N.O.)?  Minorities.  Doesn't a society as affluent as ours have the responsibility to take care of those unable to take care of themselves?  Didn't we have the responsibility to provide transportation for those who had none?  The responsibility to provide physical assistance for the elderly who could no longer provide it for themselves?  Don't we have school buses, national guardsmen, police officers, firemen - we have the resources, why weren't they utilized?  When does a 'mandatory evacuation' turn into a 'Forced Eviction'?  Or does 'mandatory evacuation' really mean, 'Get out now and save yourselves while you can, but only IF you can'??  Don't let me hear the excuse that 'we didn't know it would be this bad'.  Every single news outlet imaginable was calling Katrina 'devastating', 'once in a lifetime', 'the perfect storm.'  What was it, all the white people got out of New Orleans in their SUVs so everyone thought everything would be OK?  What the heck is that?

September 1, 2005 |11:43 AM ET| Permalink

Altercation Book Club

From: Siva Vaidhyanathan
City: New York
Dear Eric:
I am glad you were as shocked as I was with the fact that NPR asked Jonah Goldberg of all people to do political commentary on Saturday Weekend Edition.  And I am glad you told everyone yesterday about the disgusting joke that Goldberg told at the expense of poor people who are suffering in New Orleans right now.

Yesterday I wrote to NPR and expressed my shock and outrage that they would allow such a person on their programs to offer "expert commentary."  The man is immoral to his core.  Please join me by writing to NPR and demanding that they never allow this horrible person back on the air.

NPR has taken a severe turn to the right this past year.  It's been very troubling.  The quality of reporting is declining and the vapidity of the commentary is increasing.  It's time those of us who depend on decent public radio to take a stand and demand some standards of quality and decency from NPR.  Only if they hear from good, concerned members and citizens will they fix their problems.

A friend writes...
   
Doc:

Last year:

(At) Oxford, England, for two years as a Rhodes Scholar, (David) Vitter said he excitedly kept up with what President Reagan was accomplishing back home with an agenda for shrinking government through tax cuts and nondefense budget reductions. At the same time, Vitter said he saw firsthand the economic problems England was enduring because of its "socialist policies" and emphasis on big government.

Yesterday:

Also, U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., said he has spoken with President Bush, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., about putting together a "major" financial relief package for Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama when Congress returns from its August recess next week.

Some day, a long time from now, this might even be funny.

And now the book club:

The Republican War on Science
By Chris Mooney

BIG PICTURE (Excerpted from Chapter 14)

On February 18, 2004, the Republican war on science--which had been gathering momentum for decades--finally jolted the media and American public to attention.  All it took was a little star power.

That morning, the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Union of Concerned Scientists held a phone-in press conference to announce a dramatic development.  Over sixty leading scientists and former government officials, among them twenty Nobel Laureates, had signed a statement denouncing the administration of George W. Bush for misrepresenting and suppressing scientific information and tampering with the process by which scientific advice makes its way to government officials.  Examples included distorting the science of climate change, quashing government scientific reports, and stacking scientific advisory panels. "Other administrations have, on occasion, engaged in such practices, but not so systematically nor on so wide a front," the statement read.

The UCS document, which solely targeted George W. Bush, didn't purport to address a modern conservative or Republican war on science.  But in fact, that's what it had uncovered.  From acid rain to global climate change, from "creation science" to "intelligent design," conservatives had been meddling with science for years--largely on behalf of their industry and religious supporters.  Now an impressive roster of scientists and former policymakers had lain the problem at the doorstep of a conservative Republican president.

The UCS statement signatories shared, among them, considerable experience of the political right's abuses of science, both past and present.  For example, Nobel Laureates Mario Molina and F. Sherwood Rowland, who watched the Gingrich Congress attack their work on the role of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in causing depletion of the ozone layer, signed the UCS statement.  So did many climate experts, who work in the single most politicized scientific field today: Rosina Bierbaum, Michael Oppenheimer, Michael MacCracken, James McCarthy, and numerous others.  So did wildlife biologists Gordon Orians and Stuart Pimm, familiar with "sound science" attempts to undermine the Endangered Species Act.  And so did former Clinton science adviser Jack Gibbons, who'd seen the congressional Office of Technology Assessment, which he shepherded for more than a decade, cast aside by conservatives who never understood its value.  Science politicization, Gibbons told me, has "never been this blatant or this bad.  We almost wistfully think back to the Reagan years."

Because of their sweeping, systemic nature, and because they have pervaded much of the federal government, the Bush administration's abuses push the issue of science politicization to the point of all out crisis.

First, these abuses spread vast amounts of misinformation to the American public.  If women can't turn to the National Cancer Institute for accurate information on breast cancer risks, then where can they turn?  Similarly, the Bush administration has misinformed the public about the reality of human-caused global warming, about the number of stem cell lines that would be available for research under Bush's policy, and much else.  In short, the Bush government has rendered itself downright untrustworthy when it comes to scientific claims.

But perhaps even more serious than misinforming the public, we must rate the disturbing implications of the Bush administration's actions for the relationship between science and policy, and (relatedly) for the role of scientists serving in government.  Politicized questioning of advisory committee nominees and politicized editing of government reports suggest a willingness to twist--or as a scientist might say, torque--analyses to make them seem supportive of preexisting policy positions.  This approach blatantly undermines the proper role of science in government: As a valuable resource to inform decision-making.  When politicians use bad science to justify themselves, rather than good science to make up their minds, we can safely assume that wrongheaded and even disastrous decisions lie ahead.

The actions of the Bush administration, especially its meddling with the activities of scientists at federal agencies, threaten to impair government itself. If agencies like the EPA become viewed as irretrievably corrupted by politics, they could find themselves unable to recruit the talent they need to address the nation's technical problems in areas ranging from pollution control to drug safety to homeland security.

Finally, all of these assaults culminate in a severe blow to science itself.  By failing to respect the integrity of science, and instead repeatedly undercutting it and employing it opportunistically, the Bush administration erodes public confidence in the scientific endeavor and leaves it crippled and undermined.  This fosters outright relativism about the value of science as opposed to other way of knowing--outright "faith," for example.  "What's intriguing about the Bush administration, given their views on most issues," explains Thomas Murray, president of the bioethics think tank the Hastings Center, "is that they have a postmodern take on science.  It's the first postmodern science administration we've ever known.  They don't seem to understand science, quite frankly--or if they do, they really seem to not care.  They just want to use it for political purposes."

And lest this concern about a postmodern approach to science seem overly alarmist, consider that we have actually seen this type of thinking take root. In a famous October 2004 New York Times article on the Bush administration, journalist Ron Suskind described his encounter with a "senior adviser" to the president:

The aide said that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality."

This adviser seems to have been referring more to foreign policy, but the lesson carries over to science as well.  Who needs careful, painstaking inquiry into the nature and causes of problems, or how the world works, when power and ideology can mould the nature of truth itself?  Whoever's speaking here has become the most dangerous sort of relativist.  To such a person, the realities accessed (however imperfectly) by scientific inquiry can mean nothing.  And these are our leaders.

For more from The Republican War on Science, go here.

© 2013 MSNBC Interactive

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