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September 4, 2005 - Things Fall Apart

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Noted on the morning of the first day of September - how August ended.

It wasn't all "Hurricane News." There was a brief flurry of minor discussion of the war and foreign policy as Francis Fukuyama, one of the original neoconservatives - the fellow who suggested "the end of history" and all that - published an op-ed piece in the New York Times saying the Bush administration had made a mess of everything. Of course, as noted the month before the last election, he said he wouldn't vote for Bush - "I just think that if you're responsible for this kind of a big policy failure, you ought to be held accountable for it."  (See this quoting him in "The Neoconservative Moment," his twelve-page contribution to the Iraq debate, published in the Summer 2004 issue of The National Interest, a really conservative foreign–policy journal.)

What he said in the Times


The Bush administration could instead have chosen to create a true alliance of democracies to fight the illiberal currents coming out of the Middle East. It could also have tightened economic sanctions and secured the return of arms inspectors to Iraq without going to war. It could have made a go at a new international regime to battle proliferation. All of these paths would have been in keeping with American foreign policy traditions. But Mr. Bush and his administration freely chose to do otherwise.


That's a lot of "could haves." None of it was done. Over at American Future you get this:


Fukuyama ... errs by assuming that the U.S. had power to create a "true alliance of democracies" and that tightening economic sanctions and securing the return of arms inspectors to Iraq would have removed the necessity for war. Any "true" alliance of democracies would have to include France. In light of the French fixation on establishing a multipolar international system to constrain American "hyperpower," it's highly doubtful that such an effort would have met with success. As for economic sanctions, it's now well known that the other members of the UN Security Council (except for Great Britain) were already ignoring existing sanctions and advocating their elimination. Finally, an agreement on a new international regime to battle proliferation would have required considerable time to negotiate, and it's highly problematic that Saddam would have abided by it.


Does it matter? People are dying in New Orleans, thousands it seems. And Sterling Newberry here says it doesn't matter - Iraq will disintegrate, "followed by the elevation of a strong man who promises to pump oil so long as no questions are asked," and that will have to do.

The immediate problem is the end of New Orleans. September 1, from the New York Times - Officials Struggle to Reverse a Growing Sense of Anarchy - "National Guard troops by the thousands moved into this storm-ravaged city today as state and local officials struggled to reverse a growing sense of anarchy sparked by reports of armed looters, bodies floating untouched in stagnant floodwaters, and food and water supplies dwindling for thousands of trapped and desperate residents." See also Reuters: New Orleans makes 'desperate SOS' relief plea and all the rest. Just watch the news.

And now New Orleans seems to have turned into "Lake George" - that seems to be what some folks down there are calling it. As least that seems to be the case if this email from an EPA guy is correct: "We're naming it Lake George, 'cause it's his frickin fault."

How can this be George Bush's fault?

Well, here's a summary from Editor and Publisher, reading the New Orleans Times-Picayune so you don't have to. Try this:


On June 8, 2004, Walter Maestri, emergency management chief for Jefferson Parish, Louisiana; told the Times-Picayune: "It appears that the money has been moved in the president's budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that's the price we pay. Nobody locally is happy that the levees can't be finished, and we are doing everything we can to make the case that this is a security issue for us."

Also that June, with the 2004 hurricane season starting, the Corps' project manager Al Naomi went before a local agency, the East Jefferson Levee Authority, and essentially begged for $2 million for urgent work that Washington was now unable to pay for. From the June 18, 2004 Times-Picayune:

"The system is in great shape, but the levees are sinking. Everything is sinking, and if we don't get the money fast enough to raise them, then we can't stay ahead of the settlement," he said. "The problem that we have isn't that the levee is low, but that the federal funds have dried up so that we can't raise them."


At least nine articles in the Times-Picayune from 2004 and 2005 specifically cite the cost of Iraq as a reason for the lack of hurricane- and flood-control dollars.

Fair?  Andrew Sullivan here: "Yes, some would even blame Bush and the war for a hurricane. But blaming Bush and the war for the poor state of New Orleans' levees is a legitimate argument. And it could be a crushing one."

A crushing argument? Maybe.

Is the administration in trouble? He came back and gave a speech to the nation.

That was summarized in the New York Times in their lead editorial: "George W. Bush gave one of the worst speeches of his life yesterday, especially given the level of national distress and the need for words of consolation and wisdom. In what seems to be a ritual in this administration, the president appeared a day later than he was needed. He then read an address of a quality more appropriate for an Arbor Day celebration: a long laundry list of pounds of ice, generators and blankets delivered to the stricken Gulf Coast ..."

Ah, the Times should be discounted? What about this letter in the highly conservative National Review?


... Doesn't he realize that more people may have died from this storm than died on September 11? I don't expect him to say he's gonna get Katrina "dead or alive" for what she's done to America. But for crying out loud, can he put off the laundry list of all the things his wonderful bureaucracy has done so far until the end of the speech and begin by addressing the pain we all feel as this tragedy is unfolding in slow-motion on live TV? We're talking death on a massive scale, and within 2 minutes he's thanking Texas for housing refugees (way to perpetuate that "I'm all about Texas" stereotype).

And don't get me started about how the first image of Bush coming back to Washington as thousands have died in a tragedy was him walking down the stairs of Air Force One with Barney tucked under his arm…

I love President Bush, but that was a pathetic performance and I agree with what Byron wrote about his vacation. And I'm with you: Bring in the troops. Lead! Don't tell me that the federal government will be working "with" state and local governments...


And the highly conservative, pro-Bush Union-Leader up in "Live Free or Die" New Hampshire is forced to print this, on the speech Bush gave the day before, out here in California, saying the man was a day late:


As the extent of Hurricane Katrina's devastation became clearer on Tuesday - millions without power, tens of thousands homeless, a death toll unknowable because rescue crews cant reach some regions - President Bush carried on with his plans to speak in San Diego, as if nothing important had happened the day before. Katrina already is measured as one of the worst storms in American history. And yet, President Bush decided that his plans to commemorate the 60th anniversary of VJ Day with a speech were more pressing than responding to the carnage.

A better leader would have flown straight to the disaster zone and announced the immediate mobilization of every available resource to rescue the stranded, find and bury the dead, and keep the survivors fed, clothed, sheltered and free of disease.

The cool, confident, intuitive leadership Bush exhibited in his first term, particularly in the months immediately following Sept. 11, 2001, has vanished. In its place is a diffident detachment unsuitable for the leader of a nation facing war, natural disaster and economic uncertainty.


Kevin Drum over at the Washington Monthly say the man is oddly detached from reality


While New Orleans was undergoing a slow motion catastrophe on Monday and Tuesday, Bush was mugging for the cameras, cutting a cake for John McCain, playing the guitar for Mark Wills, delivering an address about V-J day, and continuing with his vacation. Then, on Wednesday, when he finally got around to saying something, it turned out to be a flat, defensive, laundry list of a speech.

These are not the actions of a president in touch with the country - especially a president who usually excels at reacting to tragedies like this. When you put this together with his increasingly robotic speeches about progress in Iraq, his tone-deaf reaction to Cindy Sheehan's vigil, and the continuing meltdown in public support for the war, I think that for the first time in his presidency Bush has found himself in a corner he doesn't know how to get out of. And it's showing.


Of course, he's not alone. See the many links here where we learn Condoleezza Rice, our Secretary of State, spent the last day of August in Manhattan – playing tennis with Monica Seles, buying thousands of dollars worth of snazzy shoes at Ferragamo on 5th Avenue, then attending an evening performance of Spamalot for some good laughs. Reports are that at Ferragamo one of the other shoppers screamed at her - "How dare you shop for shoes while thousands are dying and homeless!" Our Secretary of State had security physically remove the woman.

The peasants can be so bothersome?

Perhaps the administration image people who handle PR took the month off. Rice might have put off her shopping trip to Manhattan. And who would approve the release of this photo, or this one? Let them eat cake?

But the president claims he's not to blame. Thursday, September 1, on "Good Morning America" - an actual live interview with Diane Sawyer - "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees." He is not to blame. No one is to blame. Remember the 9/11 hearings when Condoleezza Rice carefully explained that "no one could have imagined" folks using airplanes as weapons? Sure it was in the reports, bur "no one could have imagined" it. She was not to blame. No one is to blame.
Consider Mike Parker, former Republican congressman from Mississippi who briefly served as head of the Army Corps of Engineers from late 2001 to early 2002 - before he was fired for criticizing administration budget cuts.

From the Jackson, Mississippi Clarion-Ledger of March 7, 2002 –


The assistant secretary of the Army, Mississippi's former U.S. Rep. Mike Parker, was forced out Wednesday after he criticized the Bush administration's proposed spending cuts on Army Corps of Engineers' water projects, members of Congress said.

"Apparently he was asked to resign," said U.S. Rep. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., a member of the House Appropriations Committee's energy and water development subcommittee that oversees the corps' budget.

Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, also said Parker was dismissed.

Parker's nomination to head the corps drew heavy criticism last year from environmental groups pushing to downsize the agency, calling its flood control projects too costly and destructive.

Parker earned the ire of administration officials when he questioned Bush's planned budget cuts for the corps, including two controversial Mississippi projects.

"I think he was fired for being too honest and not loyal enough to the president," said lobbyist Colin Bell, who represents communities with corps-funded projects.

Bell said Parker resigned about noon after being given about 30 minutes to choose between resigning or being fired.


Josh Marshall found that and says, "Pretty much the Bush administration in a nutshell."


But FEMA is there to save us. Maybe.

Kevin Drum reminds us than in 1995 Dan Franklin wrote a piece in the about FEMA, and its reputation for poor planning and bureaucratic incompetence in the 80s and early 90s:


FEMA was, in the words of former advisory board member and defense analyst Lawrence Korb, a "political dumping ground," a backwater reserved for political contributors or friends with no experience in emergency management.

... Because FEMA had 10 times the proportion of political appointees of most other government agencies, the poorly chosen Bush [Sr.] appointees had a profound effect on the performance of the agency. Sam Jones, the mayor of Franklin, Louisiana, says he was shocked to find that the damage assessors sent to his town a week after Hurricane Andrew had no disaster experience whatsoever. "They were political appointees, members of county Republican parties hired on an as-needed basis. ... They were terribly inexperienced."


No kidding.  In 1986 or 1987 I found myself chatting with the second in command at FEMA - a high-school dropout with a GED who had worked as a psychiatric nurse for a time.  How did she get that job?  She was the wife of one of the Assistant Secretaries of Defense in the Reagan administration (and my step mother-in-law at the time).  Curious.

Drum points out Bush has appointed, to head FEMA, in succession, his 2000 campaign manager and an Oklahoma lawyer whose only emergency management experience prior to joining FEMA was as an assistant city manager. Laura Rosen puts it this way:


My lord, the guy heading FEMA has no qualifications. What was he doing before getting pulled into FEMA by the Bush administration in 2003? He was an estate planning lawyer in Colorado and of counsel for the International Arabian Horse Association Legal Department. And yes, it is the same Michael D. Brown.


And so it goes. Yep, not much emergency management experience, but I'm sure he means well. And he's going to have a fresh ten billion dollars to manage.

Let's see - anarchy in New Orleans, corpses rotting in the streets, hundred of thousands of refugees to manage - we'll see how he does.

The president didn't get much of a vacation, what with that pesky Sheehan woman, and now this hurricane. When asked why he wouldn't meet the Sheehan woman, he famously said he understood her loss, but he just "needs to get on with his life." And now this hurricane, of all things.

And to add to his woes there's the race issue. Most of those stuck in the bedlam of "Lake George" are not white folks. And, expect for the stranded tourists, they're all poor. All over the right-side commentary sites there's a whiff of "they only have themselves to blame." Everyone was told to get out, but there are more and more news items pointing out that they just couldn't, because they're poor. They didn't have the means.

Jack Shafer, on the last day of August, pointed out even the press has some difficulty with this


To be sure, some reporters sidled up to the race and class issue. I heard them ask the storm's New Orleans victims why they hadn't left town when the evacuation call came. Many said they were broke - "I live from paycheck to paycheck," explained one woman. Others said they didn't own a car with which to escape and that they hadn't understood the importance of evacuation.

But I don't recall any reporter exploring the class issue directly by getting a paycheck-to-paycheck victim to explain that he couldn't risk leaving because if he lost his furniture and appliances, his pots and pans, his bedding and clothes, to Katrina or looters, he'd have no way to replace them. No insurance, no stable, large extended family that could lend him cash to get back on his feet, no middle-class job to return to after the storm.

... Race remains largely untouchable for TV because broadcasters sense that they can't make an error without destroying careers. That's a true pity. If the subject were a little less taboo, one of last night's anchors could have asked a reporter, "Can you explain to our viewers, who by now have surely noticed, why 99 percent of the New Orleans evacuees we're seeing are African-American? I suppose our viewers have noticed, too, that the provocative looting footage we're airing and re-airing seems to depict mostly African-Americans."


Jack Cafferty on CNN's "The Situation Room" the next day calls the "the elephant in the room" –


The thing that's most glaring in all of this is that the conditions continue to deteriorate for people who are victims and the efforts to do something about it don't seem to be anywhere in sight.

... The questions that we ask in The Situation Room every day are posted on the website two or three hours before we go on the air and people who read the website often begin to respond to the questions before the show actually starts. The question for this hour is whether the government is doing a good job in handling the situation.

I gotta tell you something, we got five or six hundred letters before the show actually went on the air, and no one - no one - is saying the government is doing a good job in handling one of the most atrocious and embarrassing and far-reaching and calamitous things that has come along in this country in my lifetime. I'm 62. I remember the riots in Watts, I remember the earthquake in San Francisco, I remember a lot of things. I have never, ever, seen anything as bungled and as poorly handled as this situation in New Orleans. Where the hell is the water for these people? Why can't sandwiches be dropped to those people in the Superdome. What is going on? This is Thursday! This storm happened 5 days ago. This is a disgrace. And don't think the world isn't watching. This is the government that the taxpayers are paying for, and it's fallen right flat on its face as far as I can see, in the way it's handled this thing.

We're going to talk about something else before the show's over, too. And that's the big elephant in the room. The race and economic class of most of the victims, which the media hasn't discussed much at all, but we will a bit later.


And later he read an email from a viewer saying he'd be tied up in tax audits for the rest of his life - Rove and his crew don't mess around.

The president's cold quasi-leadership? These are unimportant folks. They're not important. Could be racism, but it could just be they're too poor to matter to his constituency.

As for what real leadership might mean, read this from Wesley Clark.

The president's polling numbers sank again Thursday night to a new low - now forty-one percent approve of his work.

What else as August bled into September?

Note this in the New York Times:


The director of the Food and Drug Administration's office of women's health resigned yesterday to protest the agency's decision last week to further delay approving over-the-counter sales of the morning-after pill.

"I feel very strongly that this shouldn't be about abortion politics," the director, Dr. Susan F. Wood, who is an assistant F.D.A. commissioner, said in a telephone interview. "This is a way to prevent unwanted pregnancy and thereby prevent abortion. This should be something that we should all agree on."

In an e-mail message to staff members, Dr. Wood wrote that she could no longer serve at the agency "when scientific and clinical evidence, fully evaluated and recommended for approval by the professional staff here, has been overruled."


The letter?


Dear Friends and Colleagues,

I regret to tell you that I am leaving the FDA, and will no longer be serving as the Assistant Commissioner for Women's Health and Director of the FDA Office of Women's Health. The recent decision announced by the Commissioner about emergency contraception, which continues to limit women's access to a product that would reduce unintended pregnancies and reduce abortions is contrary to my core commitment to improving and advancing women's health. I have spent the last 15 years working to ensure that science informs good health policy decisions. I can no longer serve as staff when scientific and clinical evidence, fully evaluated and recommended for approval by the professional staff here, has been overruled. I therefore have submitted my resignation effective today.

I will greatly miss working with such an outstanding group of scientists, clinicians and support staff. FDA's staff is of the highest caliber and it has been a privilege to work with you all. I hope to have future opportunities to work with you in a different capacity." [source]


Enough is enough. And even the American Medical Association says the administration just get its facts, and the science, all wrong, and this on another matter.

Some vacation for the president, no?

And lurking in the background, this:


Number of articles touting the "Bush Boom" on nationalreview.com: 44
Change in median income 2001-2004: -$673
Change in the number of Americans in poverty: +4.1 million
Change in the number of Americans without health insurance: +4.6 million


The wheels really are coming off.


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
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