Political And Other Miscellany From A Stout Democrat In Dallas Texas.
"Politics is the only game for adults." --from Robert A. Heinlein's Double Star

Thursday, September 15, 2005

NOTES FROM UNDERWATER: [This rant was an editorial by me in this week's Roundup from the Dallas County Democratic Party. Usually it just lists local events and candidate info, but Katrinagate provoked me.]

"I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever." --Thomas Jefferson

The victims of Katrina in the city of New Orleans itself were mostly poor, uneducated, black working people (and mostly Democrats), so their possible permanent dispersal doesn't trouble the conscience of people like Texas Republican Congressman Tom Delay, who asked young evacuees "Now tell me the truth boys, is this kind of fun?" Nor does it bother First Mother Barbara Bush, who chuckled when visiting a Houston relocation site, "And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them." (Or in the original French attributed to Marie Antoinette, "Laissez-les manger le gâteau".)

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reported how some others were holding out: "The mostly African-American neighborhoods of New Orleans are largely underwater, and the people who lived there have scattered across the country. But in many of the predominantly white and more affluent areas, streets are dry and passable. ... Mr. O'Dwyer has cellphone service and ice cubes to cool off his highballs in the evening. ... A pair of oil-company engineers, dispatched by his son-in-law, delivered four cases of water, a box of delicacies including herring with mustard sauce and 15 gallons of generator gasoline. ...

"The power elite of New Orleans ... insist the remade city won't simply restore the old order. New Orleans before the flood was burdened by a teeming underclass, substandard schools and a high crime rate. ... The new city must be something very different, Mr. Reiss says, with better services and fewer poor people. 'Those who want to see this city rebuilt want to see it done in a completely different way: demographically, geographically and politically,' he says. ... Some black leaders and their allies in New Orleans fear that it boils down to preventing large numbers of blacks from returning to the city and eliminating the African-American voting majority."

Now all the criminals in their coats and their ties
Are free to drink martinis and watch the sun rise
--Bob Dylan, Hurricane

Before the long-promised busses finally arrived to carry away those of the "underclass", thousands too poor to evacuate themselves by car or bus were disarmed and kept locked inside the Superdome for days without water, food, or power, at the mercy of stronger criminals. Some stayed in their attics as the water rose, from fear they would be shut up in that hellhole. We now know that some who tried to flee the city on foot were stopped by thugs with badges from Gretna, Louisiana, firing guns over their heads and blocking them at the bridge.

Now the "economic cleansing" is continuing. The New Orleans Mayor, a Bush donor who had supported the losing Republican candidate for Governor, ordered a mandatory evacuation. Forces broke into houses and confiscated all weapons, even legally registered ones, leaving homeowners defenseless against looters. That also left them helpless to resist the return visits, when those refusing to leave were handcuffed and marched out at gunpoint. The official policy seems to be "leave no civilian behind", unless they can afford their own private security guards. First by delay, and now by design, the eradication of the lower classes in the crescent city seems to have been decided upon. Walled mansions, tourist attractions and largely automated port facilities may be all that remains.

Among the hundreds of thousands who fled or were effectively evicted, many of them now right here in Dallas, there is pain and anger. Their children are saying "I see my mommy and daddy scared", according to one local Democratic volunteer who called me last week. (Those with the free time, and the emotional strength to handle it, can contact the Volunteer Center, among other groups.) The outpouring of millions of dollars in charity from around the nation and the world is heartening evidence that the human spirit can transcend the Spencerian disinterest and elitist antipathy of the clique in charge of our country today.

The President say "Little fat man, isn't it a shame,
What the river has done to this poor crackers land"
--Randy Newman, Louisiana 1927

Seventy-eight years ago there were terrible floods in Louisiana and the government didn't help the ordinary people, because it was too busy helping the powerful. "In 1927, the planters succeeded in taking over relief efforts ... National guardsmen were used to keep sharecroppers imprisoned in the refugee camps until they could return to working the land, and local officials charged homeless blacks -- on credit, ever deepening their debts -- for food and medical supplies the Red Cross had intended to be free."

Angry people turned instead to a petty tyrant, Huey Long, who at least gave them roads, hospitals and textbooks. A similar impulse drove Germany into the hands of outright fascists. Despair is a dangerous breeding ground for demagogues and dictators. The worst result of this malevolent incompetence may be political rather than physical. We need to get rid of the gang of looters around Bush and Delay, but we need to make sure it is done through due process of law, and with respect for civil liberties. We need indictments instead of guillotines.

(As ever, the opinions in this rant are my own. Don't blame the candidates or the party for my own anger. Blame George Bush and his clueless political hack appointees instead.)

Saturday, September 10, 2005

THE VULTURES ARE LICKING THEIR BEAKS: Not even all of the bodies have been found, but the Corporatists are not letting any mud settle under their cloven hoofs. Today's N.Y. Times reports that
Republican leaders in Congress and some White House officials see opportunities in Hurricane Katrina to advance longstanding conservative goals like giving students vouchers to pay for private schools, paying churches to help with temporary housing and scaling back business regulation.

"There are about a thousand churches right here in Houston, and a lot of them are helping people with housing, but FEMA says they can't reimburse faith-based organizations," Representative Tom DeLay of Texas, the House majority leader, said, referring to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Mr. DeLay, who joined three of President Bush's top economic advisers on a tour of relief efforts near the Houston Astrodome, added that Congress should also allow students displaced by the hurricane to use vouchers to pay for tuition at private schools. ...

The Bush administration has already moved to relax a variety of regulations in areas damaged by the hurricane. Many of the changes are small, like letting people take bigger tax deductions for the miles they drive while doing charitable work. Another change, announced on Friday by Treasury Secretary John W. Snow, will give preference to investment groups from hurricane areas that are seeking tax credits for community development projects.

But other changes are more ideological and more controversial. On Thursday, Mr. Bush issued an order that exempts federal contractors working on disaster relief projects from a longstanding federal requirement that they pay workers "prevailing wages," which are usually pegged to union pay rates.

The exemption strikes at the heart of a requirement that labor unions and Democratic lawmakers have ferociously defended for years.

Friday, September 09, 2005

THE DREAM IS DYING: "John Edward Emerich Dalberg, better known to history as Lord Acton, once described liberty as that which was not, until the last quarter of the Eighteenth Century in Philadelphia." Now we may redefine liberty as that which ended in the first quarter of the Twenty-first Century in New Orleans.
Soldiers and police confiscated guns from homeowners as they went house to house, trying to clear the shattered city of holdouts.... As many as 10,000 people were believed to be stubbornly staying put in the city, despite Katrina's filthy, corpse-strewn floodwaters and orders from Mayor Ray Nagin earlier this week to leave or be removed by force. ...

Some residents said they left under extreme pressure. "They were all insisting that I had to leave my home," said Shelia Dalferes, who said she had 15 minutes to pack before she and her husband were evacuated. "The implication was there with their plastic handcuffs on their belt. Who wants to go out like that?"

Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Jason Rule said his crew pulled 18 people from their homes Thursday. ...

Police and soldiers also seized numerous guns for fear of confrontations with jittery residents who have armed themselves against looters. "No one will be able to be armed. We are going to take all the weapons," Riley said.

On Thursday, in the city's well-to-do Lower Garden District, a neighborhood with many antebellum mansions, members of the Oklahoma National Guard seized weapons from the inhabitants of one home. Those who were armed were handcuffed and briefly detained before being let go.

Some of our ancestors fought a British empire over far less oppressive violations of our rights than these. The proper response to this theft and confiscation, leaving people defenseless not only against roving criminals, but against the badge-wearing thugs who will come back later to forcibly evacuate innocent people to detention camps, is found in Article II, Section 4, of our rapidly vanishing Constitution. But remember:

A federal appeals court ruled today that the president can indefinitely detain a U.S. citizen captured on U.S. soil in the absence of criminal charges, holding that such authority is vital to protect the nation from terrorist attacks.

The decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit came in the case of Jose Padilla, a former Chicago gang member who was arrested in Chicago in 2002 and designated an "enemy combatant" by President Bush. ...

Padilla, a U.S. citizen, has been held without trial in a U.S. naval brig for more than three years ....

The decision by a three-judge panel was written by Judge J. Michael Luttig, who sources have said is under consideration by President Bush for nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

GALL TO SPARE: Texas's Republican Congressman Joe Barton displayed a new form of chutzpah in the Washington Post today: "Finally, he said, "if there is a silver lining in this," it will be renewed political impetus to expand oil exploration beyond the Gulf region, especially in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge." As he seeks to make this tragedy an excuse for pushing his own agenda, right-wing pundits are denouncing those who criticize the sloppy government response for "exploiting the catastrophe for political purposes".

Saturday, September 03, 2005

ANOTHER ONE BITES THE DUST: A vicious enabler of oppression has passed. Rehnquist was not the worst Chief Justice ever (that would have to be Taney, who wrote the Dred Scott decision and helped bring on the uncivil war), but he was very very bad. He got his start trying to keep poor and minority voters from casting ballots in Arizona, and was rewarded finally by getting the chance to help steal an entire Presidential election. Along the way he did all he could to deny life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to hundreds of millions of people. Good riddance.

The question now is how this will affect the nomination of The Dread Pirate Roberts. When O'Connor announced her resignation, the Bu'ushistas were all begging for Rehnquist to go too, so that two nominees at once would dilute the opposition to either, and allow them to stuff through at least one ultra-reactionary. His hanging on forced a pick of one whose had a plausible surface of reasonableness.

The long summer vacation has allowed digging to undermine much of that frosting, but Robby the right-wing robo-judge still looked like a possible, though wounded, winner -- as a replacement for just one seat. Now, his cover has been blown, and folks are suddenly reminded that with two seats up total control of the court is in the grasp of the worst President ever, from the point of view of respect for the law and Constitution. This may force a more moderate choice, or just help obstruct one of the two.

George has just shown himself as an incompetent after Katrina, when his polls were already net negative over ability and honesty. He has hurt himself more this week. Now this wounded very lame duck may still grasp greedily and overreach himself. There is one problem. None of that will matter unless Democrats in the Senate have the guts to stand up and shout "No more" and say why. This may be the last battle of our small-"r" republican small-"d" democratic form of government. If our "leaders" fail us, the outward form of the institutions will go on but the internal organs will be dead.

The Roman empire continued to "elect" its old republican officials for generations after the Caesars became the de facto tyrants there. We could do the same, and plenty of people would just ignore that reality and watch the Bread and Circus channels. The window is closing. We need to wedge a brick in the frame to prop it open while we still can. Write and call and urge the Dems to find or fake a backbone, for the sake of the futures of everyone on the planet.
MISE EN SCENE ACCOMPLISHED: Katrina of Fact-esque spotted a link to this at AMERICAblog. The news release from U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu, D-La., is at From The Roots:
"Yesterday, I was hoping President Bush would come away from his tour of the regional devastation triggered by Hurricane Katrina with a new understanding for the magnitude of the suffering and for the abject failures of the current Federal Emergency Management Agency. 24 hours later, the President has yet to answer my call for a cabinet-level official to lead our efforts. Meanwhile, FEMA, now a shell of what it once was, continues to be overwhelmed by the task at hand.

"I understand that the U.S. Forest Service had water-tanker aircraft available to help douse the fires raging on our riverfront, but FEMA has yet to accept the aid. When Amtrak offered trains to evacuate significant numbers of victims – far more efficiently than buses – FEMA again dragged its feet. Offers of medicine, communications equipment and other desperately needed items continue to flow in, only to be ignored by the agency.

"But perhaps the greatest disappointment stands at the breached 17th Street levee. Touring this critical site yesterday with the President, I saw what I believed to be a real and significant effort to get a handle on a major cause of this catastrophe. Flying over this critical spot again this morning, less than 24 hours later, it became apparent that yesterday we witnessed a hastily prepared stage set for a Presidential photo opportunity; and the desperately needed resources we saw were this morning reduced to a single, lonely piece of equipment. The good and decent people of southeast Louisiana and the Gulf Coast – black and white, rich and poor, young and old – deserve far better from their national government."
NOMINATE THIS ONE FOR A PULITZER: Scott Gold of the Los Angeles Times begins his story with the hell inside the Superdome:
A 2-year-old girl slept in a pool of urine. Crack vials littered the restroom. Blood stains the walls next to vending machines smashed by teenagers.

The Louisiana Superdome, once a mighty testament to architecture and ingenuity, became the biggest storm shelter in New Orleans the day before Katrina's arrival Monday. About 16,000 people eventually settled in. Within two days, it had degenerated into unspeakable horror. A few hundred were evacuated from the arena yesterday, and buses will take away the remaining people today.

"We pee on the floor. We are like animals," Taffany Smith, 25, said as she cradled her 3-week-old son, Terry. ...

At least two people, including a child, have been raped as the arena darkened at night. At least three people have died, including one man who jumped 50 feet to his death, saying he had nothing left to live for. ...

There is no sanitation. The stench is overwhelming. The city's water supply, which had held up since Sunday, gave out early yesterday, and toilets in the Dome became inoperable and began to overflow.

"There is feces on the walls," said Bryan Hebert, 43, who arrived at the dome Monday. "There is feces all over the place."
Then he concludes with a triumph of the human spirit.
Suddenly, incongruously, the first notes of Bach's Sonata No. 1 in G Minor, the Adagio, pierced the desperation.

Samuel Thompson, 34, is trying to make it as a professional violinist. He had grabbed his instrument ... as he fled the youth hostel Sunday where he had been staying in New Orleans for the past two months. ...

Thompson closed his eyes and leaned into each stretch of the bow as he played mournfully. ... A National Guard soldier applauded quietly when the song ended, and Thompson nodded his head and began another piece, the Andante from Bach's Sonata in A Minor.

Like most in the shelter, Thompson's family in Charleston, S.C., has no idea where he is and whether he is alive. Thompson figures he is safe for now and will get in touch when he can. Meanwhile, he will play, and, once in a while, someone at the sports complex will manage a smile.

"These people have nothing," he said. "I have a violin. And I should play for them. They should have something."
When I posted these quotes, the whole story was reprinted by the Seattle Times at this site, but may not stay there. I found it linked at ypsi~dixit. Thank you to both Thompson and Gold for the reminder of how art can transcend tragedy.
TOXIC SCUM FLOATS TO THE TOP: "Doghouse" Riley of Bats Left Throws Right chews up and spits out the man who wields the gavel:
Dennis Hastert (Blob of Protoplasm-Ill) says New Orleans should be bulldozed, then says he was just talking about Federal assistance, then takes a nap, then says of course all he was trying to do was assure that we'll rebuild the bestest damn city there ever was and he was just thinking about all those poor suffering people.

Just in case no one else has done it, I emailed the Speaker explaining that a) the City of New Orleans is actually a port of some minor importance and b) the New Madrid Fault is active, and considering the general state of earthquake preparedness and the structural integrity of buildings throughout the Midwest, if God decides to punish all the gays in Illinois Hassert will be representing a pile of bricks. Which would be fitting, I admit.
THE UNITER'S TALE: brooke shelby biggs of the bitter shack of resentment (apparently having contracted shiftless skippyitis) reveals Der Fooler's Caligula-like attempt to combine all his foes into one, at Bush Reveals Katrina-Terrorism Link:
President Bush took a moment out from edging his lawn today to shout over Cindy Sheehan and other terrorist sympathizers to reveal that the CIA has documented a direct link between between Hurricane Katrina, Communism, OPEC, global warming, immigration, Hugo Chavez, and Al Quaeda.

"Religious extremists in the Middle East are clearly behind this devastating attack on US soil," said Bush at a convention of Boy Scout knitters. "Their reckless production of fossil fuels clearly contributed to the warming of ocean waters over the Gulf of Mexico. (I know I used to not believe in that, but that was before the swarthy Arabs figured out how to use it as a weapon of mass destruction.) If you look carefully at the radar images from the weekend, you can see how there was nothing random about the hurricane's path. It passed near the known communist outposts of Havana before truning northward to hit one of America's richest oil-producing regions. ..."
HAVE FUN STORMING THE CUMULUS: Jeneane Sessum of allied reports:
President Bush today declared war on Weather, which will be waged alongside other attention-diverting war efforts, including the War on Terror and the War on Drugs, to protect Americans from an enemy with unlimited resources that have recently been targeted against the south and southeastern United States. ...

Without another country to blame for the chaos in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, President Bush dedicated the full capacity of the U.S. military to defeating dangerous atmospheric pressure changes.

"Look, you're either with us or against us," President Bush said. "The weather has the potential to affect every American, and it is only through a direct, targeted effort that we can contain this enemy and overwhelm it. And we will do so."
"ALL RIGHT WE ARE TWO NATIONS*": Scott Shields at MyDD elucidates the dichotomy, with quotes from John Edwards giving the Democratic vision of post-Katrina America, and from Bill Frist giving the Republican vision of post-Katrina America. I think you'll agree with Scott's conclusion. And if you want evidence from the ground:
At one point Friday, the evacuation was interrupted briefly when school buses pulled up so some 700 guests and employees from the Hyatt Hotel could move to the head of the evacuation line — much to the amazement of those who had been crammed in the Superdome since last Sunday.

"How does this work? They (are) clean, they are dry, they get out ahead of us?" exclaimed Howard Blue, 22, who tried to get in their line. The National Guard blocked him as other guardsmen helped the well-dressed guests with their luggage.

The 700 had been trapped in the hotel, near the Superdome, but conditions were considerably cleaner, even without running water, than the unsanitary crush inside the dome.
There are more pointed contrasts and cutting comments from Tbogg, from Sisyphus Shrugged, and from James Wolcott, and Mad Kane helpfully provides a new 404 Error page for the MIA CEO. A Mockingbird's Medley spots Betty Bowers giving us the hidden explanation:
I see that our gallant President has decided that it is taking far too long for Iraq to look like America. So he has decided to meet them halfway by making New Orleans look like Baghdad.
(*the title is from John Dos Passos)