Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Pandering to bigotry, from the GOP to the far right-wing.The Blog | Art Levine: Far Right's Dilemma: Hate Jews or just blacks, Hispanics and Muslims? | The Huffington Post

Monday, August 28, 2006

The horrific inside story of FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security: it's worse than you think. In an important new book, Disaster: Hurricane Katrina and the failure of Homeland Security, co-author Christopher Cooper looks at the Katrina disaster from inside the highest levels of the federal bureaucracy. One nugget among many: the top information gate-keeper at the Department of Homeland Security, Gen. Matthew Broderick,, who judged whether to pass along reports about the severity of the damage to Michael Chertoff, determined, in part, that it wasn't a major disaster because he saw a 30-second CNN clip of college kids drinking beer in the French Quarter. Apparently, he and the other top leadership weren't watching the rest of the television coverage for a full week.

The same misguided official, Gen. Matthew Broderick, with no emergency management or hurricane experience, also concluded that he didn't believe FEMA's man on the ground who reported that the levees had breached and people were drowning because the evidence wasn't conclusive enough for him.

Here's a dramatic, but condensed, timeline of the disaster.

And an Amazon reviewer of the Disaster book provides a useful guide to the Kafkaesque response to disaster in a timeline of ineptitude (although with a few spelling mistakes) drawn from the book:

Cooper and Block begin by reviewing the years of complacent and misdirected efforts by those responsible for levee and floodwall maintenance, then proceeding to the disaster itself, followed by the subsequent finger-pointing and continuing malfeasance.

President Bush's first budget (2001) proposed cutting .5 million from FEMA's $2.5 billion. He also reversed Clinton's precedent of putting someone experienced in charge, and returned to Bush I's placing an inexperienced politico in charge - ending up with the Hurricane Andrew disaster). This appointee (Allbaugh), in turn, drove out many talented and experienced Witt protégés. Then, in 2004 federal, state, and local officials participated in a large-scale planning exercise (Hurricane Pam) in preparation for a severe hurricane striking New Orleans. While better than most (and close to what happened in Katrina), it ended up as only the latest of many such exercises - accepted with little comment and filed on a shelf. Then came 2005 and the real thing - Hurricane Katrina.

Saturday evening the mid-level FEMA manager in New Orleans (the only representative on-site) realized that efforts were less intense than appropriate - eg. there was not even an effort to organize a bus evacuation. Fortunately, the lead government weather forecaster took the initiative to call local and state leaders to motivate their getting more serious. Governor Blanco and Mayor Nagin then appealed to N.O. ministers to emphasize evacuation, and their self-help message got many out. Meanwhile, the Superdome had no food stockpiled, FEMA's pre-staged supplies were three hours away, limited to one day's worth of food and 50 generators (half that promised in the Pam exercise), and included no buses (vs. 400 buses and 800 drivers called for in Pam).

The Louisiana National Guard (LNG) center had never flooded in 170+ years - yet, it was under 8 feet of water 7:30 A.M. Monday, rendering its high water transport trucks unusable. Chertoff, Bush, etc. later maintained the levees didn't breach until the day after the storm. However, this major break was reported to FEMA at 7:30 A.M. by the New Orleans' disaster chief, and by 8 A.M. TSA reported to the Homeland Security Operations Center (HSOC) that the Industrial Canal was breached. Unfortunately, the Army Corp of Engineers (COE) representative buried the topic in page 5 of a 6-page report that covered pay and congratulatory prose more prominently. The local FEMA man cadged two late Monday afternoon chopper rides to get a better assessment - saw water over most of the city, people on rooftops, and a quarter-mile levee gash - his report to HSOC was discounted as hype.

Tuesday: Efforts to have the Pentagon fly in 8 water rescue teams from California failed - Rumsfeld could not be located (was at a ballgame). Brown videoconferences Bush, Chertoff, Cheney at 8:30 A.M. Tuesday - 90% of N.O. people displaced, job "too big for FEMA and the LNG." Mayor Nagin then gave FEMA's Michael Brown a list of equipment and support needed, and later that morning Governor Blanco requested buses to get people out of the Superdome. (Due to paperwork, etc. delays they did not begin to show up until Friday A.M.) COE officers saw a several hundred feet long breech in the 17th St. Canal, with a small state crew tossing 25 lb. sandbags into the breech (immediately swept back out) - asked if they needed help, and when they said "No," left the area and did not become involved for two more days. Secretary Chertoff became angered that Brown did not answer his phone, and when he finally got through, ordered him to the FEMA communications center in Baton Rouge (located there because the staff did not realize that dry roads existed into N.O.).

Blanco's assistant spends most of the day getting Pentagon approval to use four idling choppers at Fort Polk - after finally succeeding, is unable to use them because the pilots' allowable "flight hours" were exhausted. FEMA promises buses will arrive Wed. at 7 A.M., so Governor Blanco's staff drops there efforts to get buses. Meanwhile, requests for Gulfport, MS. evacuees to get water/ice were delayed 36 hours - the trucks sate 43 miles away while paperwork was completed. (Similar results for the requested generators to operate their sewage system.)

Wednesday: At noon the buses had not arrived, nor was there any word about where they were. A chopper sent up to look for them did find 35 school buses marshaled through Blanco's efforts (FEMA discouraged their use - not comfortable enough), and directed them to proceed. By this time it was clear that FEMA was making things worse by not living up to its promises - thus delaying real help.

Blanco had also asked Bush for 40,000 troops to help with logistics and rescue efforts - late that night General Honore arrived with a staff of about twelve to "survey" the situation.

Thursday: FEMA withdrew its staff by noon out of fear of violence - greatly overstated by many, including the N.O. Police Chief. This also delayed delivering food to the Convention Center and Superdome. Meanwhile, the HSOC was unaware of the Convention Center crisis - thought was part of the Superdome; regardless, Broderick (its leader) refused to forward any information that did not come from what he thought to be a reliable source. FEMA had been working to start airline evacuations - delays due to working out schedules and destinations, TSA insisting on searching all passengers and luggage and the presence of undercover air marshals stretched out to take up two more days.

Near midnight, Mississippi learns that only 86 of the 900 trucks promised were on the road. Meanwhile, Brown finds himself increasingly irrelevant as Governor Blanco brings in his highly respected FEMA predecessor (James Witt), Chertoff assigns his deputy to be in charge, and the Army ignores him.

Friday: The buses start arriving. HSOC gets the Convention Center situation wrong again - claims only 1,000 there, with food and water. Bush twice tries to get Blanco to federalize the disaster (just as things were starting to work out) - Blanco suspects he is trying to grab credit at this point, and refuses. (Mississippi's Governor also refused - neither governor saw any added resources that would result.)

Saturday: President Bush announces the 82nd Airborne was being sent to N.O. - they had been waiting for days. Negotiations to bring in cruise ships for temporary housing bogs down - could not agree whether the Pentagon or FEMA was in charge. Rations arrived from Germany, but were immediately impounded by the FDA, pending inspection. A Wal-Mart executive calls to complain about the National Guard looting its warehouses - a mid-level FEMA manager defuses the anger by getting Wal-Mart (with its excellent distribution and tracking system) to supply needs and bill later. The manager is later threatened by FEMA lawyers, and resigns when a similar proposal is turned down.

Afterwards: The last of the trailers FEMA ordered for shelter will be produced in 3.5 years - no matter, they do not comply with flood-plain regulations (should have been campers), so they all sit on an Arkansas field. FEMA contracts for roof repair provide highly inflated funds for middle-men.

"Disaster" ends with stories of some of the local officials and volunteers that just jumped into the fray with a "get it done" attitude. Unfortunately, their excellence is not able to make up for FEMA's ineptness. So, FEMA then busied itself by trying to take over management of several subsequent minor hurricanes (irritating competent local leaders), and trying to shift the blame to Louisiana and New Orleans' officials.

Amazon.com: Disaster: Hurricane Katrina and the Failure of Homeland Security: Books: Christopher Cooper,Robert Block

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Great roots music, blues and jazz show -- three hour's worth. After Dylan's XM radio show and Neil Spitzer's American Routes show (which has limited online replay optins), Laura Cantrell's 3-hour radio show may be one of the very best shows featuing roots music, often with country flavorings, and early jazz. She's a strong singer in her own right who has toured with Elvis Costello, and modestly doesn't seem to plug her singing career or CDS on the air. Take a listen to the archive of shows. You'll smile when you listen.

Here's one review from the Times:

"She has the sort of east Tennessee accent that seems to keep your coffee warm. Her decidedly uncatchy signature line — 'Well, there you have it folks' — has become a lazy weekend mantra for her fans. And over the last six years, her noon-to-3-P.M. show, 'The Radio Thrift Shop' on WFMU, the famously eclectic New Jersey radio station, has made her one of the city's best-known deejays among music lovers with a country-and-western bent." — The New York Times

She plays more than just country, and mixes in old-fashioned novelty songs, jazz, blue and modern singers with a soulful sound. Hear for yourself:

Playlists and Archives for The Radio Thrift Shop with Laura Cantrell

Sunday, August 20, 2006

A smart take by a British paper on the most influential records of the modern era. Anything missing here? The Observer | Review | The 50

Saturday, August 19, 2006

A biologist offers a Mencken-style takedown of Ann Coulter's harebrained book on evolution, scientists and liberals. My friend David Dennie tipped me to this very useful critique of Coulter's nutty ideas and her appeal to hundreds of thousands of Americans who believe her. Powell's Books - Review-a-Day - Godless: The Church of Liberalism by Ann Coulter, reviewed by The New Republic Online
As scientist Jerry Coyne writes:

The furor caused by her vicious remarks about the 9/11 widows ("I've never seen people enjoying their husbands' deaths so much.") has distracted people from the main topic of her book: evolutionary biology, or rather the pathetic pseudoscientific arguments of its modern fundamentalist challenger, Intelligent Design (ID). This occupies four of Coulter's eleven chapters. Enamored of ID, and unable to fathom a scientific reason why biologists don't buy it, Coulter suggests that scientists are an evil sub-cabal of atheist liberals, a group so addicted to godlessness that they must hide at all costs the awful "truth" that evolution didn't happen. She accuses evolutionists of brainwashing children with phony fossils and made-up "evidence," turning the kids into "Darwiniacs" stripped of all moral (i.e., biblical) grounding and prone to become beasts and genocidal lunatics. To Coulter, biologists are folks who, when not playing with test tubes or warping children's minds, encourage people to have sex with dogs. (I am not making this up.)

Any sane person who starts reading Godless will soon ask, Does Coulter really believe this stuff? The answer is that it doesn't much matter. What's far more disturbing than Coulter herself (and she's plenty disturbing: On the cover photo she has the scariest eyes since Rasputin) is the fact that Americans are lapping up her latest prose like a pack of starved cats. The buyers cannot be political opponents who just want to enjoy her "humor"; like me, those people wouldn't enrich her by a dime. (I didn't pay for my copy.) Rather, a lot of folks apparently like her ravings -- suggesting that, on some level at least, they must agree with her. And this means that the hundreds of thousands of Americans who put Coulter at the top of the best-seller lists see evolution as a national menace.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

George Allen's multi-lingual racial slur: a history. George Allen wrecked his chances for a presidential bid with his "macaca" slur aimed at an Indian-American filming his talks for an opponent.Stepping in "macaca" | Salon News
As Salon explains:
But those three syllables do not often come together by accident. In fact, George Allen may well have been the only one at the rally whose family background would have introduced him to the word "macaca."

Though he doesn't like to use it, the senator's full name is George F. Allen. He gets the middle initial from his grandfather, Felix Lumbrosso, a French-Italian who was incarcerated by the Nazis during World War II. Felix raised Allen's mother, Etty, in Tunisia, a French protectorate in North Africa. As a child, Allen's grandparents lived near the family home, and Etty spoke five languages around the house. Allen makes no secret of his heritage on the campaign trail. "I have my grandfather's bloodlines," he said at a recent swing through a suburb of Richmond. "My grandfather is French-Italian. I have about one-sixteenth Spanish in me."

In North Africa, the word "macaca," often spelled "macaco" or "macaque," is far more than a string of random syllables. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word dates back to the mid-1600s, as a Flemish approximation of the Bantu word for monkey in the Congo and southern Gabon. The word migrated north, taking on all the racist connotations that followed African colonization. By the early 1800s, Jacko Maccacco, a famous fighting monkey, could be found on display in Westminster Pit, a notorious London arena for dog fights. The word had entered the common vernacular, and it eventually became a racist shorthand for blacks.

Today, the word is used mainly by two groups of people: scientists studying African and Asian primates, and bullies looking to insult others for the color of their skin

My latest investigative piece: How the GOP is scheming to block voting rights this year.Salon's shameful six | Salon News Here's the opening section (FYI: if you're not a subscriber, there will be a short ad displayed before you access the Salon site):

Eva Steele has a son in the military who is supposed to be fighting for freedom in Iraq, but sitting in a wheelchair in her room in a Mesa, Ariz., assisted-living facility, she wonders why it's so hard for her to realize a basic freedom back here in America: the right to vote.

Arriving in Arizona in January from Kansas City, weakened by four heart attacks and degenerative disk disease, Steele, 57, discovered that without a birth certificate she can't register to vote. Under a draconian new Arizona law that supposedly targets illegal immigrants, she needs proof of citizenship and a state-issued driver's license or photo I.D. to register. But her van and purse were stolen in the first few weeks after she moved to Mesa, and with her disability checks going to rent and medicine, she can't afford the $15 needed to get her birth certificate from Missouri. Her wheelchair makes it hard for her to navigate the bus routes or the bureaucratic maze required to argue with state bureaucrats. She's unable to overcome the hurdles thrown in her way -- and in the way of as many as 500,000 other Arizona residents -- by the state's Republican politicians.

"I think everybody should have the right to vote, no matter if you've got two nickels or you're a millionaire," Steele says. "I think it's a shame you have to jump through so many hoops to prove that you're the person who you say you are."

But Steele's plight has gotten relatively little notice from pundits and progressive activists confidently predicting a sweeping Democratic victory in November. Opinion polls show that a majority of the public wants a Democratic Congress, but whether potential voters -- black and Latino voters in particular -- will be able to make their voices heard on Election Day is not assured. Across the country, they will have to contend with Republican-sponsored schemes to limit voting. In a series of laws passed since the 2004 elections, Republican legislators and officials have come up with measures to suppress the turnout of traditional Democratic voting blocs. This fall the favored GOP techniques are new photo I.D. laws, the criminalizing of voter registration drives, and database purges that have disqualified up to 40 percent of newly registered voters from voting in such jurisdictions as Los Angeles County.

"States that are hostile to voting rights have -- intentionally or unintentionally -- created laws or regulations that prevent people from registering, staying on the rolls, or casting a ballot that counts," observes Michael Slater, the election administration specialist for Project Vote, a leading voter registration and voting rights group. And with roughly a quarter of the country's election districts having adopted new voting equipment in the past two years alone, there's a growing prospect that ill-informed election officials, balky machines and restrictive new voting rules could produce a "perfect storm" of fiascos in states such as Ohio, Florida, Arizona and others that have a legacy of voting rights restrictions or chaotic elections. "People with malicious intent can gum up the works and cause an Election Day meltdown," Steele says.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Just what we need during the war on terror: firing Arabic linguists who "may" be gay.The Blog | Chris Durang: Hey Bush � What's All This Firing of Gay Arabic Linguist Specialists? | The Huffington Post

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

New artist -- Bob Dylan -- seeks attention and friends on MySpace.www.myspace.com/bobdylan

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Check it out: Mother Jones has upgraded its website, with useful round-ups of the most trenchant coverage on the Mideast and links to breaking stories from Raw Story.MotherJones.com | Home - Daily News, Political Commentary and Analysis

Sunday, August 06, 2006

See where Mel gets his anti-Semitism. ABC News: Like Father, Like Son?

Looking for summer reading? Here's a place to start.Writers' favorite beach reading.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Tom Friedman, brilliant on Israel, dumb on Iraq, finally throws in the towel on the U.S. occupation of Iraq.Truthdig - Ear to the Ground - Friedman Jumps on the Anti-War Bandwagon

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Here's some easily accessible Jean Shepherd stories for your listening pleasure presented by Max Schmid on WBAI. Radio buffs: check out the wandering but amusing tale of his "private radio hell" on July 27th.Max Schmid on Mass Backwards Here are working links to the Harry Shearer tribute show on Shepherd, A Voice in the Night, parts I and II. The links to the KCRW website aren't working anylonger -- this is from the Shep Archives.

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