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Army in Worst Recruiting Slump in Decades
(Robert Burns, AP Military Writer, Sep 30, 2005)
The Army is closing the books on one of the leanest recruiting years since it became an all-volunteer service three decades ago, missing its enlistment target by the largest margin since 1979 and raising questions about its plans for growth. . . . Many in Congress believe the Army needs to get bigger -- perhaps by 50,000 soldiers over its current 1 million -- in order to meet its many overseas commitments, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Army already is on a path to add 30,000 soldiers, but even that will be hard to achieve if recruiters cannot persuade more to join the service. . . . "The bad news is that any shortfall shows how hard it would be to increase the Army's size by 50,000 or more as many of us think appropriate," O'Hanlon said. "We appear to have waited too long to try." . . . The Army has not published official figures yet, but it apparently finished the 12-month counting period that ends Friday with about 73,000 recruits. Its goal was 80,000. A gap of 7,000 enlistees would be the largest -- in absolute number as well as in percentage terms -- since 1979, according to Army records. . . . The Army National Guard and the Army Reserve, which are smaller than the regular Army, had even worse results. . . . The active-duty Army had not missed its target since 1999, when it was 6,290 recruits short; in 1998 it fell short by 801, and in 1995 it was off by 33. Prior to that the last shortfall was in 1979 when the Army missed by 17,054 during a period when the Army was much bigger and its recruiting goals were double today's. . . . Army officials knew at the outset that 2005 would be a tough year to snag new recruits. By May it was obvious that after four consecutive months of coming up short there was little chance of meeting the full-year goal. . . . The outlook is dimmed by several key factors, including: * The daily reports of American deaths in Iraq and the uncertain nature of the struggle against the insurgency have put a damper on young people's enthusiasm for joining the military, according to opinion surveys. . . . * The Army has a smaller-then-usual reservoir of enlistees as it begins the new recruiting year on Saturday. This pool comes from what the Army calls its delayed-entry program in which recruits commit to join the Army on condition that they ship to boot camp some months later. . . . Normally that pool is large enough at the start of the recruiting year to fill one-quarter of the Army's full-year need. But it has dwindled so low that the Army is starting its new recruiting year with perhaps only 5 percent "in the bank." The official figure on delayed entry recruits has not been released publicly, although Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff, has said it is the smallest in history. . . . The factors working against the Army, Hilferty said, are a strong national economy that offers young people other choices, and "continued negative news from the Middle East." To offset that the Army has vastly increased the number of recruiters on the street, offered bigger signup bonuses and boosted advertising. . . . As it stands, the Army faces a tough challenge for the foreseeable future. . . . "The future looks even grimmer. Recruiting is going to get harder and harder," Moskos said.
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posted by Lorenzo 1:46 PM

Criminal probe threatens leading Republicans
(Jonathan D. Salant, Bloomberg.com, September 22, 2005)
The widening investigation of lobbyist Jack Abramoff is moving beyond the confines of tawdry influence-peddling to threaten leading figures in the Republican hierarchy that dominates Washington. . . . This week's arrest of David Safavian, the former head of procurement at the Office of Management and Budget, in connection with a land deal involving Abramoff brings the probe to the White House for the first time. . . . Safavian once worked with Abramoff at one lobbying firm and was a partner of Grover Norquist, a national Republican strategist with close ties to the White House, at another. Safavian traveled to Scotland in 2002 with Abramoff, Representative Robert Ney of Ohio and another top Republican organizer, Ralph Reed, southeast regional head of President George W. Bush's 2004 re-election campaign. . . . House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who once called Abramoff "one of my closest and dearest friends," already figures prominently in the investigation of the lobbyist's links to Republicans. The probe may singe other lawmakers with ties to Abramoff, such as Republican Senator Conrad Burns of Montana, as well as Ney. . . . Abramoff, 46, a top fund-raiser for Bush's re-election campaign, is under investigation by a government task force consisting of the Justice Department's public integrity section, the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service and the Interior Department's inspector general. The Senate Indian Affairs Committee is conducting another inquiry. . . . Safavian, 38, who in the 1990s worked with Abramoff at the Washington-based lobbying firm of Preston Gates Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds, was charged Sept. 19 by the Justice Department with making false statements about whether he had any dealings with the lobbyist in the course of Abramoff's attempts to obtain government land. He was also charged with obstructing an investigation. . . . Abramoff diverted funds paid to him by Indian tribe clients that were supposed to be used on lobbying activities to a variety of personal projects, according to testimony and e-mails released at a Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing. The personal projects ranged from an Orthodox Jewish academy to an Israeli sniper school; some money also went to pay off a personal debt, according to the testimony and e-mails. . . . Abramoff and Scanlon took in more than $66 million in fees from 2001 to 2004 from tribal clients, according to Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican who chairs the Indian affairs panel. In one e-mail released by the Senate committee, Abramoff wrote to Scanlon, "I have to meet with the monkeys from the Choctaw tribal counsel." . . . Abramoff also has a relationship with Ney, the Ohio congressman. Ney's former chief of staff, Neil Volz, worked with Abramoff at the Miami-based law firm of Greenberg Traurig LLP. . . . Abramoff's links to the party go beyond lawmakers. He worked with Reed, a former director of the Republican-oriented Christian Coalition, and Norquist to kill an effort to bring legalized gambling to Alabama. . . . At Abramoff's behest, one of his tribal clients, whose casino could have been hurt by the competition, sent money to Norquist's anti-tax group, Americans for Tax Reform, which in turn wrote a check to help Reed's effort. . . . One of Norquist's former partners in another venture was Safavian. The two men worked at Janus-Merritt Strategies LLC, a Washington lobbying firm that was later sold to a Richmond, Virginia-based law firm, Williams Mullen. . . . "Safavian is a small fish, but in combination with Abramoff and his ties to Norquist and DeLay, it presents a very inviting target to Democrats," said Ross Baker, a political scientist who studies congressional politics at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. . . . Safavian was one of three former Abramoff associates who joined the Bush administration. Another was Patrick Pizzella, assistant secretary of labor for administration and management. The third was Susan Ralston, special assistant to White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove.
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posted by Lorenzo 5:56 PM

Bush is hitting the bottle again!
George Bush is drinking again.
(Jennifer Luce and Don Gentile, National Enquirer, 9/21/05)
Bush, who said he quit drinking the morning after his 40th birthday, has started boozing amid the Katrina catastrophe. . . . Family sources have told how the 59-year-old president was caught by First Lady Laura downing a shot of booze at their family ranch in Crawford, Texas, when he learned of the hurricane disaster. . . . Following the shocking incident, disclosed here for the first time, Laura privately warned her husband against "falling off the wagon" and vowed to travel with him more often so that she can keep an eye on Dubya, the sources add. . . . "When the levees broke in New Orleans, it apparently made him reach for a shot," said one insider. "He poured himself a Texas-sized shot of straight whiskey and tossed it back. The First Lady was shocked and shouted: "Stop George!" . . . Bush is under the worst pressure of his two terms in office and his popularity is near an all-time low. The handling of the Katrina crisis and troop losses in Iraq have fueled public discontent and pushed Bush back to drink. . . . A Washington source said: "The sad fact is that he has been sneaking drinks for weeks now. Laura may have only just caught him -- but the word is his drinking has been going on for a while in the capital. He's been in a pressure cooker for months. . . . Another source said: "I'm only surprised to hear that he hadn't taken a shot sooner. Before Katrina, he was at his wit's end. I've known him for years. He's been a good ol' Texas boy forever. George had a drinking problem for years that most professionals would say needed therapy. He doesn't believe in it [therapy], he never got it. He drank his way through his youth, through college and well into his thirties. Everyone's drinking around him." . . . Another source said: "A family member told me they fear George is 'falling apart.' The First Lady has been assigned the job of gatekeeper." Bush's history of drinking dates back to his youth. Speaking of his time as a young man in the National Guard, he has said: "One thing I remember, and I'm most proud of, is my drinking and partying. Those were the days my friends. Those were the good old days!" . . . Dr. Justin Frank, a Washington D.C. psychiatrist and author of Bush On The Couch: Inside The Mind Of The President, told The National Enquirer: "I do think that Bush is drinking again. Alcoholics who are not in any program, like the President, have a hard time when stress gets to be great. . . . "I think it's a concern that Bush disappears during times of stress. He spends so much time on his ranch. It's very frightening."
. . . Read more!

posted by Lorenzo 3:44 PM

Credit card companies to increase minimum payment amount
(Knight Ridder News, September 18, 2005)
Consumers who make only minimum payments on their credit cards are in for a shock. . . . Spurred by a new federal mandate, card companies over the next three months plan to raise - in some cases double - the amount card holders must pay each month. . . . A consumer carrying a $10,000 balance may see a minimum payment jump from $200 to $400. . . . The new minimums are designed to prevent consumers from being hobbled for decades by credit card debt. An estimated one-third to one-half of American families carry credit card debt, with many making only minimum payments. . . . "Many credit card borrowers don't realize that if they just pay the minimum monthly payment, they may never pay off their card," said Mike Peterson, vice president of the Salt Lake City-based credit counseling group, American Credit Foundation. . . . It would take a consumer making only the minimum monthly payment nearly 30 years to pay off a $2,000 credit card balance at 18 percent interest. Total interest payments over that period would be about $5,000, Peterson said. . . . Increasing the monthly payment from 2 percent to 4 percent of the outstanding balance will require only 10 years and $1,100 in financing costs to pay off the same amount. . . . "This is a positive for consumers," Peterson said. "They won't be able to carry as much debt and they will get out of debt faster." . . . While long-term benefits of the change are clear, Peterson and others worry about how families will react in the short term. . . . Increased payments certainly will catch most families by surprise. And short-term costs may be more than many low to moderate-income families can bear . . . [COMMENT by Lorenzo: And I'll bet that most of the credit card companies won't spring this change on their customers until after they load up with debt during the holiday season.] . . . Many low-income families use credit cards for emergencies or just to get by, he said. "Some aren't in a position to make a higher payment. A change like this could drive a lot of people into food pantries." . . . While the federal Office of the Comptroller of the Currency said it is giving credit card companies some leeway in how they raise monthly payments, all are required to do so by the end of December. "This isn't optional," said Comptroller spokesman Dean DeBuck. "We will be making sure they comply." . . . Credit card companies have indicated they will, even if several have said they would not have mandated the increase on their own. The companies will notify card holders in coming months of when to expect higher monthly payments -and how much higher they will be.
. . . Read more!

posted by Lorenzo 11:17 AM

Bush Official Arrested in Corruption Probe
effrey Smith and Susan Schmidt, Washington Post, September 20, 2005)
The Bush administration's top federal procurement official resigned Friday and was arrested yesterday, accused of lying and obstructing a criminal investigation into Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff's dealings with the federal government. It was the first criminal complaint filed against a government official in the ongoing corruption probe related to Abramoff's activities in Washington. . . . The complaint, filed by the FBI, alleges that David H. Safavian, 38, a White House procurement official involved until last week in Hurricane Katrina relief efforts, made repeated false statements to government officials and investigators about a golf trip with Abramoff to Scotland in 2002. . . . It also contends that he concealed his efforts to help Abramoff acquire control of two federally managed properties in the Washington area. . . . Until his resignation on the day the criminal complaint against him was signed, Safavian was the top administrator at the federal procurement office in the White House Office of Management and Budget, where he set purchasing policy for the entire government. . . . The arrest occurred at his home in Alexandria. . . . Abramoff was indicted by federal prosecutors in Miami last month on unrelated charges of wire fraud and conspiracy. He remains the linchpin of an 18-month probe by a federal task force that includes the Internal Revenue Service, the Interior Department and the Justice Department's fraud and public integrity units. . . . Abramoff's allegedly improper dealings with Indian tribes -- which netted him and an associate at least $82 million in fees -- prompted the federal probe. But investigators have found that his documents and e-mails contain a trove of information about his aggressive efforts to seek favors for clients from members of Congress and senior bureaucrats. . . . Accompanying Safavian and Abramoff on the 2002 trip to Scotland, for example, were Rep. Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Administration Committee, lobbyist and former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed and Neil Volz, a lobbyist with Abramoff at the Washington office of Greenburg Traurig. . . . At the time of the golf trip, Safavian was chief of staff at the General Services Administration, where ethics rules flatly prohibited the receipt of a gift from any person seeking an official action by the agency. When Safavian asked GSA ethics officers for permission to go on the trip, he assured them in writing that Abramoff "has no business before GSA," according to the affidavit signed by FBI special agent Jeffrey A. Reising. . . . Reising alleged, however, that Abramoff had by then already secretly enlisted Safavian in an effort to buy 40 acres of land that GSA managed in Silver Spring for use as the campus of a Hebrew school Abramoff founded. Safavian also allegedly tried to help Abramoff lease space for Abramoff's clients in an old post office building downtown. . . . On the same day Safavian discussed the golf trip with the ethics office, he sent an e-mail to Abramoff from his home computer, advising him how to "lay out a case for this lease." Abramoff subsequently wrote in an e-mail to his wife and two officials of the school that Safavian had shown him a map of the property at his GSA office but had cautioned that Abramoff should not visit again "given my high profile politically." . . . Safavian nonetheless arranged a meeting for Abramoff's wife and business partner with officials at GSA on the day before he departed for Scotland aboard Abramoff's chartered jet. The trip cost more than $120,000 and was paid for mostly by a charity founded and run by Abramoff, the Capital Athletic Foundation.
. . . Read more!

posted by Lorenzo 3:36 PM

Presiding Over the Destruction of the U.S. Army
(Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch, September 11, 2005)
Interview of James Carroll by Tom Engelhardt:
Tomdispatch: In September 2003, only five months after the invasion of Iraq, you wrote in a column, "The war in Iraq is lost. What will it take to face that truth this time?" Here we are two years later. What has it taken, what will it take, to face that truth? . . . James Carroll: It's interesting to me that the tribunes of the truth right now are the people who have felt the loss of the war most intensely, the parents of the dead American soldiers. I find it astounding that facing the truth in the month of August has been the business almost solely of these parents, pro and con. Cindy Sheehan on the one side, clearly saying that, whatever its imagined values, this war's not worth what it's costing us and it's got to end immediately; on the other side, parents, desperately trying to make some sense of the loss of their child, who want the war to continue so that he or she will not have died in vain. . . . It's already become clear to people that we can't win this. Who knows what being defeated means? I said we had lost because there's no imposing our will on the people of Iraq. That's what this constitutional imbroglio demonstrates. A month ago, Donald Rumsfeld was insisting that there had to be a three-party agreement. In August, it became clear that there would be none. So now there's a two-party agreement and the Sunnis are out of it. Basically, this political development has endorsed the Sunni resistance movement, because they've been cut out of the future of Iraq. They have no share of the oil. They have no access to real political power in Baghdad. They have nothing to lose and that's a formula for endless fighting. . . . TD: I was struck by recent statements by top American generals in Iraq about draw-downs and withdrawals, all of them clearly unauthorized by Washington. At the bottom, you have angry military families, lowering morale, and the difficulties of signing people on to the all-volunteer army; at the top, generals who didn't want to be in Iraq in the first place and don't want to be there now. . . . Carroll: Well, they've been forced to preside over the destruction of the United States Army, including the civilian system of support for the Army -- the National Guard and the active Reserves. This is the most important outcome of the war and, as with Vietnam, we'll be paying the price for it for a generation. . . . TD: Knowing the Pentagon as you do, what kind of a price do you think that will be? . . . Carroll: I would say, alas, that one of the things we're going to resume is an overweening dependence on air power and strikes from afar. It's clear, for instance, that the United States under the present administration is not going to allow Iran to get anywhere near a nuclear weapon. The only way they could try to impede that is with air power. They have no army left to exert influence. If the destruction of the United States Army is frightening, so is the immunity from the present disaster of the Navy and the Air Force, which are both far-distance striking forces. That's what they exist for and they're intact. Their Tomahawk and Cruise missiles have basically been sidelined. We have this massive high-firepower force that's sitting offshore and we're surely going to resume our use of such power from afar. . . . One of the things the United States of America claims to have learned from the ‘90s is that we're not going to let genocidal movements like the one in Rwanda unfold. Well, we've basically destroyed the only military tool we have to respond to genocidal movements, which is a ground force. You can't use air power against a machete-wielding movement. And if you think that kind of conflict won't happen in places where poverty is overwhelming and ecological disaster is looming ever more terrifyingly, think again. What kind of response to such catastrophe will a United States without a functional army be capable of? . . . You know, in this way, we're now like the Soviet Union once it collapsed into Russia. When it could no longer pay the salaries of its soldiers, Russia fell back on its nuclear arsenal as its only source of power. In a way the Soviet Union never was, Russia is now a radically nuclear-dependent military power. The Red Army doesn't really count for much any more. And we've done that to ourselves in Iraq. This is what it means to have lost the war already. We didn't need an enemy to do it for us. We've done it to ourselves. . . . TD: "We" being the Bush administration? . . . Carroll: Yes, the Bush administration, but "we" also being John Kerry and the Democrats who refused to make the war an issue in the presidential election campaign last year. I fault them every bit as much as I fault the Republicans. At least Bush is being consistent and driven ideologically by his unbelievably callow worldview. The Democrats were radical cynics about it. They didn't buy the preventive war doctrine. They didn't buy the weapons of mass destruction justification for this war. They didn't buy any of it and yet they didn't oppose it! The cynicism of the Democrats is one of the most stunning outcomes of this war. And even now, as the political conversation for next year's congressional election begins, where's the discussion from the Democrats about this, the second self-inflicted military catastrophe since World War II. . . . A Civilizational War against Islam . . . TD: In the first column you wrote after September 11, 2001, you said, "How we respond to this catastrophe will define our patriotism, shape the century, and memorialize our beloved dead." Four years later, how do you assess our response to each? . . . Carroll: Patriotism has become a hollow, partisan notion in our country. It's been in the name of patriotism that we've turned our young soldiers into scapegoats and fodder. The betrayal of the young in the name of patriotism is a staggering fact of our post-9/11 response. The old men have carried the young men up the mountain and put them on the altar. It's Abraham and Isaac all over again. It's the oldest story, a kind of human sacrifice, and that's what's made those cries of parents so poignant this August. But those cries also have to include an element of self-accusation, because parents have done it to their children. We've done it to our children. That's what it means to destroy the United States Army. Night after night, we see that the actual casualties of that destruction are young men, and occasionally women, between the ages of 18 and 30. And this in the name of patriotism. . . . On the second point, the shape of the world for the century to come, look what the United States of America has given us -- civilizational war against Islam! Osama bin Laden hoped to ignite a war between radically fundamentalist Islam and the secular West. And he succeeded. We played right into his hands. Now, we see that war being played out not just in Iraq and the Arab world generally, but quite dramatically in Europe. . . . We don't sufficiently appreciate how the paradigm of the crusades never ended for Europe. Europe came into being in response to the threat of Islam. The European structure of government, the royal families of Europe, they're all descended from Charlemagne, grandson of the man who defeated the Islamic armies at Tours. More than a thousand years ago, a system of identity first took hold in Europe that defined itself against Islam. This is the ultimate political Manichaeism in the European mind. . . . We're the children of this. Of course, Islam had been forgotten in our time. Never mind that there were more than a billion Muslims in the world. All through the Cold War, we thought that the other, the stranger, the enemy was the Communist. But the Muslim world never forgot about us. The crusades are yesterday to them. They've understood better than we have that the West has somehow defined itself against them. . . . It's in this context that we have to understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A thousand years ago, as now, the political fate of Jerusalem was the military spark for the marshaling of a holy war. The crusaders, after all, were going to Jerusalem to rescue the Holy Land from the infidel, and the infidel was defined as a twin-set, Muslims and Jews. The attack on Muslims happened simultaneously with the first real attacks against Jews inside Europe. The ease with which, in the Middle East, the conflict in Israel has come to be subsumed as the defining conflict with the West is part of this phenomenon. . . . The Mosquito and the Hammer . . . Carroll: When George W. Bush responded to the crisis of 9/11, two things came into play: his own temperament -- his ideological impulses which were naïve, callow, dangerous, Manichaean, triumphalist -- and the structure of the American government, which was sixty years in the making. What's not sufficiently appreciated is that Bush had few options in the way he might have responded to 9/11. . . . What was called for was vigorous diplomatic activity centered around cooperative international law enforcement, but our government had invested little of its resources in such diplomatic internationalism in the previous two generations. What we had invested in since World War II was massive military power, so it was natural for Bush to turn first to a massive military response. The meshing of Bush's temperament and a long-prepared American institutional response was unfortunate, but there it was. As somebody said, when he turned to his tool bag to respond to the mosquito of Osama bin Laden, the only tool he had in it was a hammer, so he brought it down on Afghanistan and destroyed it; then he brought it down on Iraq and destroyed it, missing the mosquito, of course. . . . Something has happened in our country since the time of Franklin Roosevelt that we haven't directly reckoned with. . . . We've created for ourselves the disaster an enemy might have liked to create for us. That was the essence of the Eisenhower warning. We've sacrificed democratic values. What accounts for Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo? What accounts for the abandonment of basic American principles of how you treat accused people? We've abandoned this fundamental tenet of American democracy ourselves! We didn't need an invading force to take away this one chief pillar of the Constitution. We took it down ourselves.
. . . And we've barely begun to reckon with the war machine that we created to fight the Soviet Union and that continued intact when the Soviet Union disappeared. Of course, that was the revelation at the end of the Cold War when the threat went away and our response didn't change. This isn't a partisan argument, because the person who presided over the so-called peace dividend which never came was Bill Clinton; the person who presided over the time when we could have dismantled our nuclear arsenal, or at least shrunk it to reasonable levels (as even conservative military theorists wish we had done) was Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton was the person who first undercut the ideas of the International Criminal Court, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. When George Bush became president, he stepped into space created for him by Bill Clinton. This isn't to demonize Clinton. It's just to show that our political system had already been corrupted by something we weren't reckoning with -- and the shorthand for that something was "the Pentagon." . . . TD: The bomb also arrived at that moment 60 years ago and you often write about it . . . We're not sufficiently attuned to the fact that we of the West are descended from the Roman Empire. It still exists in us. The good things of the Roman Empire are what we remember about it -- the roads, the language, the laws, the buildings, the classics. We're children of the classical world. But we pay very little attention to what the Roman Empire was to the people at its bottom -- the slaves who built those roads; the many, many slaves for each citizen; the oppressed and occupied peoples who were brought into the empire if they submitted, but radically and completely smashed if they resisted at all. . . . We Americans are full of our sense of ourselves as having benign imperial impulses. That's why the idea of the American Empire was celebrated as a benign phenomenon. We were going to bring order to the world. Well, yes… as long as you didn't resist us. And that's where we really have something terrible in common with the Roman Empire. If you resist us, we will do our best to destroy you, and that's what's happening in Iraq right now, but not only in Iraq. That's the saddest thing, because the way we destroy people is not only by overt military power, but by writing you out of the world economic and political system that we control. And if you're one of those benighted people of Bangladesh, or Ghana, or Sudan, or possibly Detroit, then that's the way we respond to you. We'd do better in other words if we had a more complicated notion of what the Roman Empire was. We must reckon with imperial power as it is felt by people at the bottom.

[NOTE: Click the title link above for the full interview.]
. . . Read more!

posted by Lorenzo 12:07 PM

FEMA Chief Brown Paid Millions in False Claims to Help Bush Win Fla. Votes in '04
(Jason Leopold, September 9, 2005)
Michael Brown, the embattled head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, approved payments in excess of $31 million in taxpayer money to thousands of Florida residents who were unaffected by Hurricane Frances and three other hurricanes last year in an effort to help President Bush win a majority of votes in that state during his reelection campaign, according to published reports. . . . "Some Homeland Security sources said FEMA's efforts to distribute funds quickly after Frances and three other hurricanes that hit the key political battleground state of Florida in a six-week period last fall were undertaken with a keen awareness of the looming presidential elections," according to a May 19 Washington Post story. . . . Homeland Security sources told the Post that after the hurricanes that Brown "and his allies [recommended] him to succeed Tom Ridge as Homeland Security secretary because of their claim that he helped deliver Florida to President Bush by efficiently responding to the Florida hurricanes." . . . The South Florida Sun-Sentinel uncovered emails from Florida Gov. Jeb Bush that confirmed those allegations and directly implicated Brown as playing politics at the expense of hurricane victims. . . . As the second hurricane in less than a month bore down on Florida last fall, a federal [FEMA] consultant predicted a "huge mess" that could reflect poorly on President Bush and suggested that his re-election staff be brought in to minimize any political liability, records show," the Sentinel reported in a March 23 story. . . . "Two weeks later, a Florida official summarizing the hurricane response wrote that the Federal Emergency Management Agency was handing out housing assistance to everyone who needs it without asking for much information of any kind." . . . The explosive charges of mismanagement of disaster relief funds made against Brown and FEMA were confirmed earlier this year following a four-month investigation by Richard Skinner, the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general. George Bush doesn't care about black people.Skinner looked into media reports alleging that residents of Miami-Dade were receiving windfall payments from FEMA to cover losses from Hurricane Frances they never incurred. . . . "Miami-Dade County residents collected Hurricane Frances aid for belongings they didn't own, temporary housing they never requested and cars worth far less than the government paid, according to a federal audit that questions millions in storm payouts." . . . Responding to those allegations, Brown held a news conference Jan. 11 blaming the overpayments on a "computer glitch" . . . "The review found waste and poor controls in every level of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's assistance program and challenges the designation of Miami-Dade as a disaster area when the county did not incur any hurricane force winds, tornados or other adverse weather conditions that would cause widespread damage." . . . In identifying one of the overpayments, the inspector general's report said FEMA paid $10 million to replace hundreds of household items even though only a bed was reported to be damaged, the inspector general's report said. . . . "Millions of individuals and households became eligible to apply for [money], straining FEMA's limited inspection resources to verify damages and making the program more susceptible to potential fraud, waste and abuse," the report states. . . . But the most interesting charge against Brown is that he helped speed up payments in Florida and purposely bypassed FEMA's lengthy reviews process for distributing funds in order to help Bush secure votes in the state during last year's presidential election. . . . Bob Hunter, director of insurance for the Consumer Federation of America, who was a top federal flood insurance official in the 1970s and 1980s and a Texas insurance commissioner in the 1990s, told the Post "that in the vast majority of hurricanes, other than those in Florida in 2004, complaints are rife that FEMA has vastly underpaid hurricane victims. The Frances overpayments are questionable given the timing of the election and Florida's importance as a battleground state."a member of the governor's Hurricane Housing Work Group, said in a different memo to Gov. Bush that FEMA was allocating short-term rental assistance to "everyone who needs it, without asking for much information of any kind," the Sentinel reported. . . . In addition, "standard housing assistance," of up to $25,600, Cabrera wrote, is "liberally provided without significant scrutiny of the request made . . . The DHS audit report found that, under Brown, FEMA erroneously distributed to Miami-Dade residents: $8.2 million in rental assistance to 4,308 applicants in the county who "did not indicate a need for shelter" when they registered for help. In 60 cases reviewed by auditors, inspectors deemed homes unsafe without explanation, and applicants never moved out. . . . $720,403 to 228 people for belongings based on their word alone. . . . $192,592 for generators, air purifiers, wet/dry vacuum cleaners, chainsaws and other items without proof that they were needed to deal with the hurricane. . . . $97,500 for 15 automobiles with a "blue book" value of $56,140. In general, the report states that FEMA approved claims for damaged vehicles without properly verifying that the losses were caused by the storm.
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posted by Lorenzo 1:17 PM

Behind America's crumbling facade
(John Pilger, New Statesman, September 14, 2005)
When I lived in the United States in the late 1960s, my home was often New Orleans, in a friend's rambling grey clapboard house that stood in a section of the city where civil rights campaigners had taken refuge from the violence of the Deep South. . . . The Facade was how we described the dividing line between the America of real life - of a poverty so profound that slavery was still a presence and a rapacious state power that waged war against its own citizens, as it did against black and brown-skinned people in faraway countries - and the America that spawned the greed of corporatism and invented public relations as a means of social control; the "American Dream" and the "American Way of Life" began as advertising slogans. . . . The wilful neglect of the Bush regime before and after hurricane Katrina offered a rare glimpse behind The Facade. The poor were no longer invisible; the bodies floating in contaminated water, the survivors threatened with police shotguns, the distinct obesity of American poverty - all of it mocked the forests of advertising billboards and relentless television commercials and news sound-bites (average length 9.9 seconds) that glorify the "dream" of wealth and power. . . . As if by accident, the American media, which is the legitimising arm of corporate public relations, reported the truth. For a few days, a selective group of liberal newspaper readers were told that poverty had risen an amazing 17 per cent under Bush; that an African-American baby born within a mile of the White House had less chance of surviving its first year than an urban baby in India; that the United States was now ranked 43rd in the world in infant mortality, 84th for measles immunisation and 89th for polio; that the world's richest oil company, ExxonMobil, would make 30 billion dollars in profits this year, having received a huge slice of the 14.5 billion dollars in "tax breaks" which Bush's new energy bill guarantees his elite cronies. . . . In his two elections, Bush has received most of his "corporate contributions" - the euphemism for bribes totalling 61.5 million dollars - from oil and gas companies. The bloody conquest of Iraq, the world's second biggest source of oil, will be their prize: their loot. . . . Iraq and New Orleans are not far apart. . . . Before the moment passes, and Bush's atrocities and lies in Iraq are again allowed to proceed, it is worth connecting his disregard for the suffering in New Orleans with other truths behind The Facade. The unchanging nature of the 500-year western imperial crusade is exemplified in the unreported suffering of people all over the world, declared enemies in their own homes. The people of Tal Afar, a northern Iraqi town now in the news as "an insurgent stronghold", refused to be expelled from their homes, and as you read this, are being bombed and shelled and strafed, just as the people of Fallujah were, and the people of Najaf, and the people of Hongai, a "stronghold" in Vietnam, once the most bombed place on earth, and the people of Neak Loeung in Cambodia, one of countless towns flattened by B-52s. The list of such places consigned to notoriety, then oblivion, is seemingly endless. Why? . . . Behind The Facade, the destruction of democracy has been a long-term project. The millions of poor, like most of the people of New Orleans, have no place in the American system, which is why they don't vote.
. . . Read more!

posted by Lorenzo 3:44 PM

Bush brothers hand out ice in devastated area of Florida in 2004

George Bush doesn't care about black people.Let
us not forget that just before the 2004 presidential election, Bush joined his little brother Jeb, soon after hurricane Frances hit the state of Florida, and
personally handed out water to the survivors. Of course, that storm came just before an election, and the people Bush personally helped were mostly white.
Contrast Bush's quick response to help the white people in Florida with his 2,500 foot fly-over to see the poor black people stranded without food or water at the Convention Center in New Orleans three days after Katrina hit.
. . . Read more!

posted by Lorenzo 11:17 AM

Guantanamo hunger strike expands to 128
(BBC NEWS, 14 September 2005)
Dozens of detainees have joined a hunger strike at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, bringing the number refusing food to 128, US officials say. . . . Eighteen prisoners have been hospitalised, including 13 who are being tube-fed. . . . Lawyers for the detainees say they are demanding release or immediate trial. . . . This is the latest in a series of hunger strikes since 2002 by detainees, who are held at the facility on Cuba as part of the US war on terror. . . . Lawyers for the detainees said as many as 200 were involved in the protest. . . . Many of the inmates have been held without charge for more than three years. A hunger strike in July ended when the Pentagon agreed to talk to inmates. . . . The prison at Guantanamo holds about 500 prisoners from nearly 40 countries. . . . The New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which has provided lawyers for many detainees, say some prisoners have threatened to starve to death unless they are put on trial or released, the Associated Press reports. . . . As most inmates are held as enemy combatants they are not protected by the Geneva Convention and can be held indefinitely, the US government says.
. . . Read more!

posted by Lorenzo 3:15 PM

Reason Magazine on Flood Insurance
Federal flood insurance transfers wealth from lower income earners to the more affluent, encourages people to build homes where they should not be built, and promotes disasters such as the one in New Orleans.

Reason magazine provides excellent background information on federal flood insurance.

All Wet by James V. DeLong
A recent study by the National Wildlife Federation, a leading environmental group, documents the high tide of insanity that is the federal flood insurance program.

Confessions of a Welfare Queen by John Stossel
ABC News reporter John Stossel writes about how he personally benefited from federal flood insurance on his beach-side home. A classic example of welfare for the affluent, as Stossel honestly reports.

End federal flood insurance. Visit DownsizeDC.org - Where you can send your message to Congress asking them to repeal the National Flood Insurance Program.

Confessions of a Welfare Queen
How rich bastards like me rip off taxpayers for millions of dollars
John Stossel

My Life as a Welfare Queen
In 1980 I built a wonderful beach house. Four bedrooms -- every room with a view of the Atlantic Ocean.

It was an absurd place to build, right on the edge of the ocean. All that stood between my house and ruin was a hundred feet of sand. My father told me: "Don't do it; it's too risky. No one should build so close to an ocean."

But I built anyway.

Why? As my eager-for-the-business architect said, "Why not? If the ocean destroys your house, the government will pay for a new one."

What? Why would the government do that? Why would it encourage people to build in such risky places? That would be insane.

But the architect was right. If the ocean took my house, Uncle Sam would pay to replace it under the National Flood Insurance Program. Since private insurers weren't dumb enough to sell cheap insurance to people who built on the edges of oceans or rivers, Congress decided the government should step in and do it. So if the ocean ate what I built, I could rebuild and rebuild again and again -- there was no limit to the number of claims on the same property in the same location -- up to a maximum of $250,000 per house per flood. And you taxpayers would pay for it.


I did have to pay insurance premiums, but they were dirt cheap -- mine never exceeded a few hundred dollars a year.

Why does Uncle Sam offer me cheap insurance? "It saves federal dollars," replied James Lee Witt, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), when I did a 20/20 report on this boondoggle. "If this insurance wasn't here," he said, "then people would be building in those areas anyway. Then it would cost the American taxpayers more [in relief funds] if a disaster hit."

That's government logic: Since we always mindlessly use taxpayer money to bail out every idiot who takes an expensive risk, let's get some money up front by selling them insurance first.

The insurance, of course, has encouraged more people to build on the edges of rivers and oceans. The National Flood Insurance Program is currently the biggest property insurance writer in the United States, putting taxpayers on the hook for more than $640 billion in property. Subsidized insurance goes to movie stars in Malibu, to rich people in Kennebunkport (where the Bush family has its vacation compound), to rich people in Hyannis (where the Kennedy family has its), and to all sorts of people like me who ought to be paying our own way.

. . . Read more!

posted by Hal 9:17 PM

Bush Becoming Increasingly Unstable
(Dan Froomkin, Special to washingtonpost.com, September 12, 2005)
Amid a slew of stories this weekend about the embattled presidency and the blundering government response to the drowning of New Orleans, some journalists who are long-time observers of the White House are suddenly sharing scathing observations about President Bush that may be new to many of their readers. . . . Is Bush the commanding, decisive, jovial president you've been hearing about for years in so much of the mainstream press? . . . Maybe not so much. . . . Judging from the blistering analyses in Time, Newsweek, and elsewhere these past few days, it turns out that Bush is in fact fidgety, cold and snappish in private. He yells at those who dare give him bad news and is therefore not surprisingly surrounded by an echo chamber of terrified sycophants. He is slow to comprehend concepts that don't emerge from his gut. He is uncomprehending of the speeches that he is given to read. And oh yes, one of his most significant legacies -- the immense post-Sept. 11 reorganization of the federal government which created the Homeland Security Department -- has failed a big test. . . . Maybe it's Bush's sinking poll numbers -- he is, after all, undeniably an unpopular president now. Maybe it's the way that the federal response to the flood has cut so deeply against Bush's most compelling claim to greatness: His resoluteness when it comes to protecting Americans. . . . But for whatever reason, critical observations and insights that for so long have been zealously guarded by mainstream journalists, and only doled out in teaspoons if at all, now seem to be flooding into the public sphere. . . . An emperor-has-no-clothes moment seems upon us.
. . . Read more!

posted by Lorenzo 11:38 AM

The Long Emergency Ahead
(James Howard Kunstler, AlterNet, September 8, 2005)
When Hurricane Katrina swept through New Orleans and the Gulf Coast two weeks ago, a lot of the delusions cherished by the American public about the kind of nation we are becoming were washed away. The inhabitants of a region nearly the size of Italy now face real hardship and the loss of all their presumed entitlements to a way of life that is supposed to be non-negotiable. . . . People often ask me why we are getting such poor leadership on the issues that comprise the Long Emergency, as I have called the difficulties advanced civilizations face in the decades ahead. Specifically, why haven't President Bush or the leaders of the Democratic opposition uttered a word about our extreme car dependency? . . . The answer, I think has to do with the nature of our economy. The dirty secret of the American economy for at least a decade now is that it has come to be based on the creation of suburban sprawl and the activities associated with it -- the building of cul-de-sac McMansions, highway retail pods, car sales, real estate sales, the creation of false liquidity in the form of easy mortgages and the deployment of that debt into tradable instruments. The sprawl-building industry comprises over 40 percent of what we do in this country. . . . Our leaders don't have the courage to tell us that we can't continue to live this way, because too many jobs, incomes, and votes would have to go with it. They may not have the courage to even face the facts themselves. They may be hostages -- like most other Americans -- to the belief that a drive-in society is the only conceivable way to live, or the best, or simply normative. . . . The suburban project, which has preoccupied us since the end of the Second World War, can be seen now in light of the gathering global energy predicament as the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world. Having put so much of our post-war wealth into this massive infrastructure for daily living, we are captives of it, subject to a corrosive psychology of previous investment, which does not permit us to imagine letting go of this way of life, or even reforming it. . . . Vice-President Dick Cheney's declaration that this way of life is "not negotiable" is a prime symptom of this collective psychology. . . . With the city of New Orleans now being drained, proposals for rebuilding it are flying around the noosphere. . . . More sensible proposals will be made by the New Urbanists, leading proponents for walkable neighborhoods and compact development -- which is, in fact, consistent with the original template for most of the neighborhoods ruined by floods. . . . Finally, we would be faced with the economic paradox that new construction tends not to fall into the "affordable housing" category, and those displaced might not be able to acquire new houses to replace the ones they lost in the places where they stood. It's too early to tell what will become of New Orleans' downtown core of skyscrapers and megastructures. . . . On Tuesday, news began to leak out that the Superdome was damaged beyond saving and may have to be torn down. The modernist office and hotel towers have liabilities on their own terms that detract from their usefulness in the years ahead, for instance the fact that they were designed with cheap air conditioning in mind. Since cheap A.C. may not be on the menu in an energy-scarcer future, one has to wonder whether these buildings would be worth rehabilitating. . . . The public may recognize that commuting 80 miles a day to a job just isn't financially possible for many of them anymore. They may even balk at driving four miles to a food market. If the collective culture that brings us redevelopment does not change its methods -- and by this I mean everyone from the bankers to the builders to the government planning officials -- then the people of the Gulf Coast will be stuck with an infrastructure for daily life with no future. . . . For the moment, reality is intervening in the form of gasoline prices exceeding $3 in most parts of the nation. While the price of gasoline may go down for a while, it is not liable to stay down for long, and it is just as likely to shoot above $3 before New Year's Day 2006. . . . What if, all of a sudden, with a full tank in their Ford Expedition costing almost $100, they begin to calculate that living 38 miles from town isn't such a great idea anymore? Surely this is occurring to some potential buyers. We won't really know until the home sales figures come in a month from now. What's more, many of them may decide that a new McMansion in a distant suburb is a bad idea not only for themselves, but an even worse idea from an investment point-of-view, in case they are buying the house just to "flip" it for the expected 10 percent annual rise in value that such houses have enjoyed in recent years. . . . Even if the price of gasoline retreats a bit, there will probably be resistance among the gas retailers to drop it much below the $3 range once it has been breached, and despite what you think you hear in the news, help is not necessarily on the way. . . . Another dot to connect. We arguably are in more trouble with our natural gas supply than with gasoline. I'm speaking of methane -- the gas we use to run our furnaces and stoves. Fully half the houses in America heat with natural gas. The gas supply was extremely tenuous even before the Hurricane struck. A great deal of it comes out wells in the Gulf of Mexico -- because we have depleted so many of our land-based wells. Natural gas sold for $3 a unit (1000 cubic feet) in 2003. The price is now around $12. Nearly half of that growth is just since the previous heating season. Imagine your heating bill doubling in a year. It could go up beyond $16 before the coming season is over. . . . Interestingly, The New York Times ran a front-page headline on September 4 to the effect of, "U.S. Economy Not Affected by Hurricane." This is the thinking now at the highest levels of news gathering among a group I hesitate to label the power elite -- but they do exist, even for those of us allergic to conspiracy theories. . . . This is why we have such poor leadership: an utter failure of imagination among our leaders, including politics, business and the media. . . . The hurricane that shredded the Gulf Coast will have consequences, but mainly in accelerating structural problems already present in American society, with its gross imbalances and collectively suicidal economic behavior. . . . The next thing to look for: If fewer suburban houses are sold because of higher energy prices, the creation of false liquidity in the form of mortgages spun out of thin air will cease. If this stream of false liquidity ceases, the government-sponsored entities who bundle all this debt into tradable instruments will find themselves in trouble. If they go off the rails, the American finance sector will follow like a choo-choo train. . . . Things could get very serious. And just because of some bad weather. . . . In the meantime, Americans in all ranks of society will resist the idea that we might have to make other arrangements for daily life in the 21st century.
. . . Read more!

posted by Lorenzo 1:36 PM

Good riddance to Chief Justice Rehnquist, a horrible judge
(Alan Dershowitz, Huffingtonpost, 9-4-05)
So here's the truth about Chief Justice Rehnquist you won't hear on Fox News or from politicians. Chief Justice William Rehnquist set back liberty, equality, and human rights perhaps more than any American judge of this generation. His rise to power speaks volumes about the current state of American values. . . . When he was nominated to be an associate justice in 1971, I learned from several sources who had known him as a student that he had outraged Jewish classmates by goose-stepping and heil-Hitlering with brown-shirted friends in front of a dormitory that housed the school's few Jewish students. He also was infamous for telling racist and anti-Semitic jokes. . . . "[H]e helped challenge the voting qualifications of Arizona blacks and Hispanics. He was entitled to do so. But even if he did not personally harass potential voters, as witnesses allege, he clearly was a brass-knuckle partisan, someone who would deny the ballot to fellow citizens for trivial political reasons -- and who made his selection on the basis of race or ethnicity." In a word, he started out his political career as a Republican thug. . . . Rehnquist later bought a home in Vermont with a restrictive covenant that barred sale of the property to "any member of the Hebrew race." . . . He generally opposed the rights of gays, women, blacks, aliens, and religious minorities. He was a friend of corporations, polluters, right wing Republicans, religious fundamentalists, homophobes, and other bigots. . . . Rehnquist served on the Supreme Court for thirty-three years and as chief justice for nineteen. Yet no opinion comes to mind which will be remembered as brilliant, innovative, or memorable. He will be remembered not for the quality of his opinions but rather for the outcomes decided by his votes, especially Bush v. Gore, in which he accepted an Equal Protection claim that was totally inconsistent with his prior views on that clause.

[COMMENT by Lorenzo: This is one of the rare instances in which I agree with Alan Dershowitz, who is generally out there pimping for corporate Amerika.]
. . . Read more!

posted by Lorenzo 1:01 PM

FEMA Chief Waited until After Storm Hit to Mobilize
(The Associated Press, 06 September 2005)
The government's disaster chief waited until hours after Hurricane Katrina had already struck the Gulf Coast before asking his boss to dispatch 1,000 Homeland Security employees to the region - and gave them two days to arrive, according to internal documents. . . . Michael Brown, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, sought the approval from Homeland Security Secretary Mike Chertoff roughly five hours after Katrina made landfall on Aug. 29. Brown said that among duties of these employees was to "convey a positive image" about the government's response for victims. . . . Before then, FEMA had positioned smaller rescue and communications teams across the Gulf Coast. But officials acknowledged Tuesday the first department-wide appeal for help came only as the storm raged. . . . Brown's memo to Chertoff described Katrina as "this near catastrophic event" but otherwise lacked any urgent language. The memo politely ended, "Thank you for your consideration in helping us to meet our responsibilities." . . . Brown's memo told employees that among their duties, they would be expected to "convey a positive image of disaster operations to government officials, community organizations and the general public." . . . "FEMA response and recovery operations are a top priority of the department and as we know, one of yours," Brown wrote Chertoff. He proposed sending 1,000 Homeland Security Department employees within 48 hours and 2,000 within seven days. . . . Knocke said the 48-hour period suggested for the Homeland employees was to ensure they had adequate training. "They were training to help the life-savers," Knocke said. . . . [COMMENT by Lorenzo: WHAT? They didn't even begin to train their people until after the storm already hit New Orlenas! This is beyond incompetence, it is criminal neglect at least and possibly something even more sinister.] . . . Employees required a supervisor's approval and at least 24 hours of disaster training in Maryland, Florida or Georgia. . . . The same day [August 29th] Brown wrote Chertoff, Brown also urged local fire and rescue departments outside Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi not to send trucks or emergency workers into disaster areas without an explicit request for help from state or local governments. . . . the airline industry said the government's request for help evacuating storm victims didn't come until late Thursday afternoon [September 1st, three days AFTER the storm hit]. The president of the Air Transport Association, James May, said the Homeland Security Department called then to ask if the group could participate in an airlift for refugees.
. . . Read more!

posted by Lorenzo 12:16 PM

Navy Pilots Who Rescued Victims Are Reprimanded
(David S. Cloud, New York Times, 7 September 2005)
Two Navy helicopter pilots and their crews returned from New Orleans on Aug. 30 expecting to be greeted as lifesavers after ferrying more than 100 hurricane victims to safety. . . . Instead, their superiors chided the pilots, Lt. David Shand and Lt. Matt Udkow, at a meeting the next morning for rescuing civilians when their assignment that day had been to deliver food and water to military installations along the Gulf Coast. . . . "I felt it was a great day because we resupplied the people we needed to and we rescued people, too," Lieutenant Udkow said. But the air operations commander at Pensacola Naval Air Station "reminded us that the logistical mission needed to be our area of focus." . . . The episode illustrates how the rescue effort in the days immediately after Hurricane Katrina had to compete with the military's other, more mundane logistical needs. . . . Only in recent days, after the federal response to the disaster has come to be seen as inadequate, have large numbers of troops and dozens of helicopters, trucks and other equipment been poured into to the effort. Early on, the military rescue operations were smaller, often depending on the initiative of individuals like Lieutenants Shand and Udkow. . . . The two lieutenants were each piloting a Navy H-3 helicopter - a type often used in rescue operations as well as transport and other missions - on that Tuesday afternoon, delivering emergency food, water and other supplies to Stennis Space Center, a federal facility near the Mississippi coast. . . . "Their orders were to go and deliver water and parts and to come back," Commander Holdener said. . . . But as the two helicopters were heading back home, the crews picked up a radio transmission from the Coast Guard saying helicopters were needed near the University of New Orleans to help with rescue efforts, the two pilots said. . . . Out of range for direct radio communication with Pensacola, more than 100 miles to the east, the pilots said, they decided to respond and turned their helicopters around, diverting from their mission without getting permission from their home base. Within minutes, they were over New Orleans. . . . Lieutenant Udkow said, but he noticed that there were few rescue units around the flooded city of New Orleans, on the ground or in the air. "It was shocking," he said. . . . Seeing people on the roofs of houses waving to him, Lieutenant Udkow headed in their direction. Hovering over power lines, his crew dropped a basket to pick up two residents at a time. He took them to Lakefront Airport, where local emergency medical teams had established a makeshift medical center. . . . Meanwhile, Lieutenant Shand landed his helicopter on the roof of an apartment building, where more than a dozen people were marooned. Women and children were loaded first aboard the helicopter and ferried to the airport, he said. . . . Returning to pick up the rest, the crew learned that two blind residents had not been able to climb up through the attic to the roof and were still in the building. Two crew members entered the darkened building to find the men, and led them to the roof and into the helicopter, Lieutenant Shand said. . . . Recalling the rescues in an interview, he became so emotional that he had to stop and compose himself. At one point, he said, he executed a tricky landing at a highway overpass, where more than 35 people were marooned. . . . Lieutenant Udkow said that he saw few other rescue helicopters in New Orleans that day. The toughest part, he said, was seeing so many people imploring him to pick them up and having to leave some. . . . "I would be looking at a family of two on one roof and maybe a family of six on another roof, and I would have to make a decision who to rescue," he said. "It wasn't easy." . . . According to the pilots and other military officials, they rescued 110 people. . . . The next morning, though, the two crews were called to a meeting with Commander Holdener, who said he told them that while helping civilians was laudable, the lengthy rescue effort was an unacceptable diversion from their main mission of delivering supplies. With only two helicopters available at Pensacola to deliver supplies, the base did not have enough to allow pilots to go on prolonged search and rescue operations. . . . "We all want to be the guys who rescue people," Commander Holdener said. "But they were told we have other missions we have to do right now and that is not the priority." . . . The order to halt civilian relief efforts angered some helicopter crews. Lieutenant Udkow, who associates say was especially vocal about voicing his disagreement to superiors, was taken out of the squadron's flying rotation temporarily and assigned to oversee a temporary kennel established at Pensacola to hold pets of service members evacuated from the hurricane-damaged areas, two members of the unit said. . . . In protest, some members of the unit have stopped wearing a search and rescue patch on their sleeves that reads, "So Others May Live."

[COMMENT by Lorenzo: I am a former U.S. Naval Officer and I am appalled, dismayed, and disgusted with the idiot in charge of air operations at the Pensacola Naval Base. This jerk should not only be driven out of the Navy, he should be stripped of his citizenship and kicked out of this country. His squadron's motto was "So Others May Live". Apparently this now means "So our buddies can be comfortable and to hell with the people up to thier necks in toxic water and drowning in their attics." CDR Mike Holdener, Operations Officer, NAS Pensacola, who believes saving civilians isn't as important as getting a little water to his buddies, is an embarrasment to this country.]
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posted by Lorenzo 11:49 AM

Firing Michael Brown Is Not Enough. How About Bush and Cheney?
by Norman Solomon
First published on Tuesday, September 6, 2005 by CommonDreams.org

Calls for firing Michael Brown are understandable. Aptly described as "the blithering idiot in charge of FEMA" by columnist Maureen Dowd a few days ago, he's an easy and appropriate target. President Bush met with Brown last Friday and publicly told him: "You're doing a heck of a job."

In the grisly wake of the hurricane, Brown's job performance cannot be separated from Bush's job performance. To similar deadly effect, the president has brought to bear on people in New Orleans the same qualities that he has inflicted on people in Iraq -- refusal to acknowledge basic realities, lethally misplaced priorities, lack of compassion (cue the guitar), and overarching arrogance.

The Bush administration is guilty of criminal negligence that killed thousands of people last week.

Estimates of the death toll in New Orleans are now in the vicinity of 10,000 people. Whatever the number, many would be alive today if the federal government had given minimal priority to evacuation of those who had no way of exiting the city.

Now, key issues involve accountability and decency.

We should force a genuine national debate on whether George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are fit to be president and vice president of the United States. They should be held accountable.

And we should insist that the country deserves to be governed with decency.

Last Saturday, a headline on the front page of the New York Times summarized a nationwide outlook: "Across U.S., Outrage at Response."

But unless it finds avenues for full expression, outrage is apt to dissipate or implode. The many people across the country who are sickened by the Bush administration's actions and inaction -- before, during and after the hurricane -- need adequate and immediate ways to respond.

Donations to charities for relief efforts are necessary but insufficient. Traditional political structures offer labyrinths with many twists and turns of cooption. Only independent political activism has a chance to prevent conventional political wisdom from reasserting itself.

Yes, Bush has undergone fierce media criticism during the past week. But it's notable that you could watch wall-to-wall network TV coverage, listen to dozens of hours of NPR News, and read countless daily newspapers -- and never hear or see a single reference to the idea that Bush and Cheney should not remain in office.

Could a broad-based grassroots movement heighten political pressure to the point that Bush and Cheney might feel compelled to resign? Even under the most optimistic scenarios, the odds are very long. But demands for their resignation should become part of the media landscape.

Still in effect, the conventional mode in media and politics is to complain without calling for sufficient action. The public discussion of the government's response to the hurricane has got to be widened.

Most pundits and politicians are saying that the Bush administration's behavior in connection with Hurricane Katrina was unacceptable. But failure to demand full accountability sends a message of tacit acceptance.

A grassroots upsurge, encouraged by coalitions working together without reference to political party or ideology, is desperately needed. People should insist that what has happened is literally unacceptable. If a president abdicates his basic responsibility to such a terrible extent, then he should be forced to abdicate his throne in the Oval Office.

Norman Solomon is the author of the new book "War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death." For information, go to: www.WarMadeEasy.com

Editor's Note: Some Matrixmasters members are going to Washington, D.C. around September 24th for an impeachment rally and march on Washington. You can collaborate with us by joining this email group.

For more information, read "People Judge Bush" Call for Action, Impeachment March on Washington Planned for September 24, and Vote to Impeach

Expect on-the-ground coverage from one of our blogists on A Backpack and a Keyboard
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posted by JJW 5:24 PM

Regarding Katrina, Everybody Knows
by Bill C. Davis
First published on Tuesday, September 6, 2005 by CommonDreams

On the Television screen appears - "President expected to speak shortly." I see that and I think of a lyric from the Leonard Cohen song, Everybody Knows. "....Everybody knows the Captain lied - Everybody's got that broken feeling - like their father or their dog just died..." That's the feeling coming out of the Gulf region of America and permeating the rest of the country...The racism inherent in the epic event in the US Gulf Region is being battled quickly...Dubya is flying around with Bishop Jakes - photo ops with Bush glad-handing every vetted African-American that the lead team can find are being distributed faster than bottled water. But everybody knows.

The new charity initiative is called "Bush/Clinton Katrina" - Clinton says critical questions need to be asked later. He told Bush Sr. that he was watching his back as the press asked pressing questions. Bush Sr. says criticism of his son will invite the wrath of his wife. Clinton reminded the press in an almost hushed voice that "We're still finding bodies there." This was meant to trump and silence criticism out of respect for the dead. But everybody knows...I read somewhere that real news is what they hide from us - everything else is advertising. The advertising campaign is on - real news slipped out for a few days and even the journalists who usually do most of the advertising, were stunned and emotional. They will be put back in place soon by the bombast of General Honore and the earnest level-headed drama of Clinton and the threat of Bush the Matriarch. But what the journalists saw in New Orleans was not just grisly images - they saw the barbaric consequences of the policy drift of America - a drift they must wonder if they had a hand in creating. President Bush is now his own walking Potemkin Village, which is defined as "a pretentiously showy or imposing façade intended to mask or divert attention from an embarrassing or shabby fact or condition."

But everybody knows the facts here are more criminal than shabby. Many questions need to be asked now. The dry-ice theatrical fog is moving in and the clarity of what was exposed will be hidden and forgotten. The questions asked later will become the questions that will be dubbed as questions, "not worth asking now. Look at everything we've accomplished in impossible circumstances." The reality is that 20 million dollars from Wal-Mart and one million dollars from Celine Dion and Nicolas Cage is charity. Government for the people means government for the people. Allocation of the U.S, treasury determined by vision and caring is the long range pre-emptive action that will avoid the trauma that creates the national post traumatic stress disorder we're all experiencing. The cry "We need help" began as "please be smart - please be fair." Political action by the population must re-write those phrases and make them sharper - "be smart - be fair - be government for the people - let's have government policy instead of adrenaline drama." T

he president standing with Bishop Jakes doesn't do it - Clinton being Sundance to George Sr.'s Butch Cassidy doesn't do it - General Honore being the attack dog for Chertoff and Brown is just further embarrassment. It may be the shifty-eyed John Wayne action figure is the look of the next phase of the occupation; another folksy take-charge guy who will not suffer fools - fools being anyone who asks a question he doesn't like. We don't know who will be killed or who will be allowed to die or who will be forced to go where they don't want to go. Someone might find the courage to ask those questions but they are questions that should be asked now... We'll see soldiers holding babies - we'll see Bush hugging evacuees and signing autographs - we'll hear Laura encourage student enrollment - we'll see reunions and slow motion tapestries with gooey underscoring - we'll see cardboard checks being handed to agencies by potential 2008 presidential candidates - we'll hear Bush pray with the people - but everybody knows.
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posted by JJW 5:13 PM

U.S. Asks EU, NATO for Hurricane Aid
(Yahoo, Sep 4, 2005)

The United States has asked the European Union and NATO for emergency assistance, requesting blankets, first aid kits, water trucks and food for the victims of Hurricane Katrina, the two organizations said Sunday.

********COMMENT: I never thought I'd see the day when the United States would have to ask for foreign aid to handle any emergency...but that's just this old Curmudgeon's opinion.*********
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posted by An Old Curmudgeon 10:00 AM

Has Bush planned an ethnic cleansing of New Orleans?
(Glen Ford, Counterpunch, September 2, 2005)
One of the premiere Black cities in the nation faces catastrophe. There is no doubt in my mind that New Orleans will one day rise again from its below sea level foundations. The question is, will the new New Orleans remain the two-thirds Black city it was before the levees crumbled? . . . Some would say it is unseemly to speak of politics and race in the presence of a massive calamity that has destroyed the lives and prospects of so many people from all backgrounds. But I beg to differ. As we have witnessed, over and over again, the rich and powerful are very quick to reward themselves as soon as disaster presents the opportunity. . . . Remember that within days of 9/11, the Bush regime executed a multi-billion dollar bailout for the airline industry. By the time you hear this commentary, they may have already used the New Orleans disaster to bail out the insurance industry ­ one of the richest businesses on the planet. But what of the people of New Orleans, 67 percent of whom are Black? . . . From the early days of the flood, it was clear that much of the city's housing stock would be irredeemably damaged. The insurance industry may get a windfall of federal relief, but the minority of New Orleans home owners will get very little ­ even if they are insured. The renting majority may get nothing. . . . [COMMENT by Lorenzo: Meanwhile, U.S. tax dollars are paying Jewish settlers $200,000 to $300,000, per family, to relocate from Gaza and the West Bank. But the poor black people of New Orleans will be lucky to get $2,000. Face it, the USA is no longer a great nation. It is becoming nothing more than a place where rich white people live off the sweat of the world's poor, including our own poor.] . . . Poor people cannot afford to hang around on the fringes of a city until the powers-that-be come up with a plan to accommodate them back to the jurisdiction. . . . And we all know that the prevailing model for urban development is to get rid of poor people. The disaster provides an opportunity to deploy this model in New Orleans on a citywide scale, under the guise of rebuilding the city and its infrastructure. . . . In place of the jobs that have been washed away, there could be alternative employment through a huge, federally funded rebuilding effort. But this is George Bush's federal government. Does anyone believe that the Bush men would mandate that priority employment go to the pre-flood, mostly Black population of the city. And the Black mayor of New Orleans is a Democrat in name only, a rich businessman, no friend of the poor. . . . What we may see in the coming months is a massive displacement of Black New Orleans, to the four corners of the nation. The question that we must pose, repeatedly and in the strongest terms, is: Through whose vision, and in whose interest, will New Orleans rise again.

An overheard conversation in Washington
(September 1, 2005)
This afternoon, I was having lunch at the Cosmos Club out on Massachusetts Avenue. A good friend is a member of the posh club, and while at lunch, I was privy to a very vocal conversation at one of the big round center tables in the club dining room. . . . One man was giving an overview of the situation to a group of his friends. The speaker was an undersecretary of an important department, well-liked by Bush and often in the White House to consult. The others ranged from an academic economist whose writings can be seen in a right wing paper and a number of Washington-based businessmen, all of whom are active and heavy contributors to the Bush White House. . . . The loud one had obviously had a few drinks at the bar and this is probably why he was not more discreet. The gist of his comments was horrible to contemplate and it sounded like a top Nazi discussing Jews. . . . It is well known here that the Bush family and many of the top advisers at the White House are racists but instead of detesting Jews, in this case, they all detest blacks. Their rationale, aside from their view of racial superiority, is that blacks are all "welfare queens, unwed mothers and drug dealers." It was the very firmly stated view of the host that it was better for everyone that New Orleans was under water for the time being. . . . In that way, we were told (and I was not the only person in the dining room who heard all this), this served to "chase out the niggers" and permit Bush-supporting businessmen from buying up the soon-to-be condemned sodden houses for five cents on the dollar from friendly insurance companies (which one of them was a CEO of) and put up an enlarged and very profitable combination of industrial park and office building section. The money for this would, naturally, come from government grants which a terrified Congress (Mid Term elections are coming) had just voted for and the contracts to demolish the wrecked low-income slums would go, as a no-bid contract, to another stellar Bush supporter. . . . As for the refugees, our table of proto-fascists all commented on the fact that most of them were on welfare and probably all voted Democratic so they could all be shipped to California or Chicago at the public expense and allowed to occupy less valuable public housing there. . . . This conversation went on in a similar vein for some time and it was difficult for both myself and my host to refrain from making nasty comments or, for that matter, to enjoy our meal. These people are greedy and purely evil and I am positive from the overall conversations that Bush is conversant with this attitude and has no intentions of interfering with it.
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posted by Lorenzo 12:05 PM

Rapes, killings hit Katrina refugees in New Orleans
(Mark Egan, Reuters, September 3, 2005)
The killing of a good Samaritan by guards, threats to beat up reporters, and other stories of rape and horror from the Homeland Security Superdome . . . People left homeless by Hurricane Katrina told horrific stories of rape, murder and trigger happy guards in two New Orleans centers that were set up as shelters but became places of violence and terror. . . . Police and National Guard troops on Saturday closed down the two centers -- the Superdome arena and the city's convention center -- but them penned them in outside in sweltering heat to keep them from trying to walk out of the city. . . . Military helicopters and buses staged a massive evacuation to take away thousands of people who waited in orderly lines in stifling heat outside the flooded convention center. . . . The refugees, who were waiting to be taken to sports stadiums and other huge shelters across Texas and northern Louisiana, described how the convention center and the Superdome became lawless hellholes beset by rape and murder. . . . Several residents of the impromptu shantytown recounted two horrific incidents where those charged with keeping people safe had killed them instead. . . . In one, a young man was run down and then shot by a New Orleans police officer, in another a man seeking help was gunned down by a National Guard soldier, witnesses said. . . . Police here refused to discuss or confirm either incident. National Guard spokesman Lt. Col Pete Schneider said "I have not heard any information of a weapon being discharged." . . . "They killed a man here last night," Steve Banka, 28, told Reuters. "A young lady was being raped and stabbed. And the sounds of her screaming got to this man and so he ran out into the street to get help from troops, to try to flag down a passing truck of them, and he jumped up on the truck's windshield and they shot him dead." . . . Wade Batiste, 48, recounted another tale of horror. . . . "Last night at 8 p.m. they shot a kid of just 16. He was just crossing the street. They ran him over, the New Orleans police did, and then they got out of the car and shot him in the head," Batiste said. . . . The young man's body lay in the street by the Convention Center's entrance on Saturday morning, covered in a black blanket, a stream of congealed blood staining the street around him. Nearby his family sat in shock. . . . A member of that family, Africa Brumfield, 32, confirmed the incident but declined to be quoted about it, saying her family did not wish to discuss it. But she spoke of general conditions here. . . . "There is rapes going on here. Women cannot go to the bathroom without men. They are raping them and slitting their throats. They keep telling us the buses are coming but they never leave," she said through tears. . . . People here said there were now 22 bodies of adults and children stored inside the building, but troops guarding the building refused to confirm that and threatened to beat reporters seeking access to the makeshift morgue. . . . People trying to walk out are forced back at gunpoint - something troops said was for their own safety. "It's sad, but how far do you think they would get," one soldier said. . . . "They have us living here like animals," said Wvonnette Grace-Jordan, here with five children, the youngest only six weeks old. "We have only had two meals, we have no medicine and now there are thousands of people defecating in the streets. This is wrong. This is the United States of America." . . . One National Guard soldier who asked not to be named for fear of punishment from his commanding officer said of the lack of medical attention at the center, "They (the Bush administration) care more about Iraq and Afghanistan than here." . . . The Louisiana National Guard soldier said, "We are doing the best we can with the resources we have, but almost all of our guys are in Iraq." . . . Across town at the Superdome, where as many as 38,000 refugees camped out until Wednesday night when evacuation buses first came, the 4,000 still there were corralled outside, hoping to get on four waiting buses with seats for only 200. . . . The scene at the sports stadium was one of abject filth. Crammed into a small area after the building was shut to them last night, those remaining sat amid heaps of garbage, piled in places waist high. The stench of human waste pervaded the interior of the now vacant stadium. . . . One police officer told Reuters there were 100 people in a makeshift morgue at the Superdome, mostly people who died of heat exhaustion, and that six babies had been born there since last Saturday, when people arrived to take shelter. . . . At the arena, too, there was much talk of bedlam after dark. . . . "We found a young girl raped and killed in the bathroom," one National Guard soldier told Reuters. "Then the crowd got the man and they beat him to death."
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posted by Lorenzo 3:12 PM

Dangerous Incompetence
(Cindy Sheehan, t r u t h o u t, 03 September 2005)
George Bush has been an incompetent failure his entire life. Fortunately for humanity, he was just partying his way through school, running companies into the ground, and being an alcoholic and cocaine abuser for most of that time - and his incompetence was limited to hurting the people who worked for him and his own family. The people in his life who were hurt by his incompetence probably have been able to "get on" with their lives. Now, though, his incompetence affects the world and is responsible for so many deaths and so much destruction. How many of us did not foresee the mess he would make of the world when he was selected the first time? We saw what he had done to Texas. How many of us marveled and were so discouraged and amazed when he was "re-elected" the second time? We saw what he had done to the world. Dangerous incompetence should never be rewarded, let alone be rewarded so handsomely as in George's case. . . . This is an email that our tour received from Gordon, who is one of the bus drivers who bravely drove to Covington. I left it intact without editing:

I can't recommend coming here but, if you must, we do need help! During the day we are going out into the community with water and baby supplies and lunch foods. But, there has been an attack on the Armory and the cops are scared. We have move into Covington middle school, and we are giving the red cross our assistance with medical supplies and food services. Until we arrived, they only had MRE's. They just brought in 5 new born babies from the hospital as they are expecting more casualties. We brought in a generator and solar powered lights, no power, no phone service here, our satellite link is the only connection to the outside. The Marshal Law enforcement that will be coming to New Orleans with the Army, could create mass panic. That will lead to more refugees, we have twenty right now and room for 100. Don't come here unless you're prepared to work!.

I should say, stay out on the road and raise money for the relief effort. But make up your own minds.

We need to keep the public aware of what is going on here and all over SOLA.

If you want to help go an established refugee camp and provide your internet access to document who is there and what they plan to do to the website. Use your satellites access to maximize the story of the relief effort!


There it is. . . . I think we should finish the tour so we can talk about what an abject failure this administration is. The unnecessary tragedy in New Orleans is directly related to the unnecessary tragedy in Iraq: Unnecessary being the operative word. . . . Innocent people are dying daily in this world. In the crush of the hurricane story, the fact that 950 people (mostly women and children) were trampled to death in Iraq was buried in the back sections. Those are 950 people who would still be alive if George Bush were not president. 950 people in Iraq and how many thousands in the Gulf States died while the emperor strummed a guitar and knocked a golf ball around? Additionally, eight of our brave and wonderful soldiers have been needlessly killed in Iraq since Monday. . . . I really believe that George and his band of incompetent and dangerous thugs need to resign. It would be the only honorable and competent thing to do.
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posted by Lorenzo 12:32 PM

New Orleans and the Death of the Common Good
(Chris Floyd, Counterpunch, September 1, 2005)
The destruction of New Orleans represents a confluence of many of the most pernicious trends in American politics and culture: poverty, racism, militarism, elitist greed, environmental abuse, public corruption and the decay of democracy at every level. . . . Much of this is embodied in the odd phrasing that even the most circumspect mainstream media sources have been using to describe the hardest-hit victims of the storm and its devastating aftermath: "those who chose to stay behind." Instantly, the situation has been framed with language to flatter the prejudices of the comfortable and deny the reality of the most vulnerable. . . . It is obvious that the vast majority of those who failed to evacuate are poor: they had nowhere else to go, no way to get there, no means to sustain themselves and their families on strange ground. While there were certainly people who stayed behind by choice, most stayed behind because they had no choice. They were trapped by their poverty and many have paid the price with their lives. . . . Yet across the media spectrum, the faint hint of disapproval drips from the affluent observers, the clear implication that the victims were just too lazy and shiftless to get out of harm's way. There is simply no understanding ­ not even an attempt at understanding ­ the destitution, the isolation, the immobility of the poor and the sick and the broken among us. . . . This is from the "respectable" media; the great right-wing echo chamber was even less restrained, of course, leaping straight into giddy convulsions of racism at the first reports of looting in the devastated city. In the pinched-gonad squeals of Rush Limbaugh and his fellow hatemongers, the hard-right media immediately conjured up images of wild-eyed darkies rampaging through the streets in an orgy of violence and thievery. . . . Not that the mainstreamers ignored the racist angle. There was the already infamous juxtaposition of captions for wire service photos, where depictions of essentially the same scene ­ desperate people wading through flood waters, clutching plastic bags full of groceries ­ were given markedly different spins. In one picture, a white couple are described as struggling along after finding bread and soda at a grocery store. But beneath an almost identical photo of a young black man with a bag of groceries, we are told that a "looter" wades through the streets after robbing a grocery store. In the photo I saw, this evil miscreant also had a ­ gasp! ­ pack of diapers under his arm. . . . Almost all of the early "looting" was like this: desperate people ­ of all colors ­ stranded by the floodwaters broke into abandoned stores and carried off food, clean water, medicine, clothes. Perhaps they should have left a check on the counter, but then again ­ what exactly was going to happen to all those perishables and consumer goods, sitting around in fetid, diseased water for weeks on end? . . . Where were the resources ­ the money, manpower, materiel, transport ­ that could have removed all those forced to stay behind, and given them someplace safe and sustaining to take shelter? Where, indeed, were the resources that could have bolstered the city's defenses and shored up its levees? Where were the National Guard troops that could have secured the streets and directed survivors to food and aid? Where were the public resources ­ the physical manifestation of the citizenry's commitment to the common good ­ that could have greatly mitigated the brutal effects of this natural disaster? . . . Well, we all know what happened to those vital resources. They had been cut back, stripped down, gutted, pilfered ­ looted ­ to pay for a war of aggression, to pay for a tax cut for the wealthiest, safest, most protect, to gorge the coffers of a small number of private and corporate fortunes, while letting the public sector ­ the common good ­ wither and die on the vine. These were all specific actions of the Bush Administration ­ including the devastating budget cuts on projects specifically designed to bolster New Orleans' defenses against a catastrophic hurricane. Bush even cut money for strengthening the very levees that broke and delivered the deathblow to the city. All this, in the face of specific warnings of what would happen if these measures were neglected: the city would go down "under 20 feet of water," one expert predicted just a few weeks ago. . . . But Bush said there was no money for this kind of folderol anymore. The federal budget had been busted by his tax cuts and his war. And this was a deliberate policy: as Bush's mentor Grover Norquist famously put it, the whole Bushist ethos was to starve the federal government of funds, shrinking it down so "we can drown it in the bathtub." As it turned out, the bathtub wasn't quite big enough -- so they drowned it in the streets of New Orleans instead. . . . But as culpable, criminal and loathsome as the Bush Administration is, it is only the apotheosis of an overarching trend in American society that has been gathering force for decades: the destruction of the idea of a common good, a public sector whose benefits and responsibilities are shared by all, and directed by the consent of the governed. For more than 30 years, the corporate Right has waged a relentless and highly focused campaign against the common good . . . The destruction of New Orleans was a work of nature ­ but a nature that has been worked upon by human hands and human policies. As global climate change continues its deadly symbiosis with unbridled commercial development for elite profit, we will see more such destruction, far more, on an even more devastating scale. As the harsh, aggressive militarism and brutal corporate ethos that Bush has injected into the mainstream of American society continues to spread its poison, we will see fewer and fewer resources available to nurture the common good. As the political process becomes more and more corrupt, ever more a creation of elite puppetmasters and their craven bagmen, we will see the poor and the weak and even the middle class driven further and further into the low ground of society, where every passing storm ­ economic, political, natural ­ will threaten their homes, their livelihoods, their very existence.

[COMMENT by Lorenzo: During the entire hurricane Katrina emergency, no one has seen Dick Cheney in public. You don't think he was deliberately sabotoging the relief efforts, as some are now suggesting, so he can begin to extend fascist rule throughout the land. Before you reject this idea, give it a little thought. After all, there is a mountain of evidence that the Cheney-Bush junta was behind 9-11.
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posted by Lorenzo 9:38 AM

U.S. pays Israeli settlers $300,000 per family to relocate
Oh, One More Thing, America...

As you're watching all this footage of people in Louisiana and Mississippi sleeping in overcrowded gymnasiums, their homes destroyed, loved ones missing, jobs lost... just remember that YOUR money is going to pay Gaza "settlers" $200,000 to $300,000 per family to relocate from their cushy housing projects along the Mediterranean. Think any of your fellow citizens will get a deal anywhere near that sweet?
. . . Posted by: Matthew Barganier on Sep 01, 05 | 1:04 pm |
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posted by Lorenzo 9:23 AM

Criticism of Bush mounts as more than 10,000 feared dead
Victims of hurricane Katrina in peril at the New Orleans Convention Center(Gary Younge, Guardian Unlimited, September 3, 2005--Photo: Melissa Phillip/AP)
George Bush arrived last night in the ravaged Gulf coast region amid mounting criticism of his handling of the crisis and a prediction by one senator that the death toll in Louisiana alone could top 10,000 people. . . . As thousands of people sat on the streets of New Orleans, having spent their fourth day waiting to be rescued, the city fell deeper into chaos, with gangs roaming the city and corpses rotting in the sun. . . . Kathleen Blanco, the Democrat governor of Louisiana, threatened looters with a shoot-to-kill policy. . . . "These troops are battle-tested. They have M16s and are locked and loaded," she said. "These troops know how to shoot and kill and I expect they will." . . . Plumes of thick black smoke rose after an explosion rocked an industrial area hit hard by Katrina and an apartment complex in the city centre was also in flames. The explosion was later said to have taken place in a chemical storage facility. . . . Stunned residents stumbled around bodies that lay rotting and untouched. . . . Others trudged along flooded and debris-strewn streets toward the Superdome football stadium where they hoped to be bussed to safety. . . . Calling for the immediate deployment of regular combat troops in New Orleans, David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican senator said: "My guess is that it [the death toll] will start at 10,000, but that is only a guess." He said this estimate was not based on any official death toll or body count. . . . Even before he set off, Mr Bush was forced to admit that the relief effort had been inadequate: "The results are not acceptable," he said. . . . Live television broadcasts showed a queue of military vehicles loaded with crates making their way through the flooded streets. Troops with rifles rode in the convoy. . . . New Orleans has descended into anarchy since it was devastated by Katrina on Monday. . . . Yesterday the US Congress broke away from its holiday to implement a $10.5bn (£5.6bn) aid package, while the Pentagon promised 1,400 national guardsmen a day to stop looting in the city. . . . But these moves did little to quell the mounting anger of the hurricane's victims and local officials, particularly in New Orleans. . . . At the increasingly unsanitary convention centre, the crowds swelled to about 25,000 as people sought food, water and attention, while dead bodies lay in wheelchairs or wrapped in sheets both inside and outside the centre. At the city's Charity hospital, the dead were stacked up on the stairways. New Orleans airport was transformed into a huge field hospital, with fleets of military and coastguard helicopters ferrying the sick for treatment. . . . Ray Nagin, the mayor of New Orleans, broke down in tears on Thursday during an interview on local radio, saying that federal officials "don't have a clue what's going on". . . . "Let's figure out the biggest crisis in the history of our country," he continued. After September 11, he said, the president had been given "unprecedented powers" to send aid to New York. . . . The same response should be applied in this case, too, he said. "Get off your asses and let's do something." . . . At a news conference in Washington yesterday, the Congressional Black Caucus criticised the rescue effort and the failure to assist many of the mostly poor and black victims. "I'm ashamed of America. I'm ashamed of our government," said a Democrat congresswoman, Carolyn Kilpatrick, from Michigan. "I'm outraged by the lack of response ..." . . . The additional troops would be getting into areas that were previously inaccessible. Asked why the civil unrest continued, Gen Blum said: "There are not enough police and soldiers to be everywhere all the time." . . . But as troops arrived yesterday they were told to point their guns downward, to avoid any comparison with Iraq. . . . The movement of thousands of refugees from the Superdome to the Astrodome in Houston was halted late on Thursday, after it was feared that the Astrodome was becoming a fire hazard.
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posted by Lorenzo 9:01 AM

Vacation is Over... an open letter from Michael Moore to George W. Bush
(Michael Moore, September 2, 2005)
Any idea where all our helicopters are? It's Day 5 of Hurricane Katrina and thousands remain stranded in New Orleans and need to be airlifted. Where on earth could you have misplaced all our military choppers? . . . Also, any idea where all our national guard soldiers are? We could really use them right now for the type of thing they signed up to do like helping with national disasters. How come they weren't there to begin with? . . . Last Thursday I was in south Florida . . . That night the weatherman said this storm was on its way to New Orleans. That was Thursday! Did anybody tell you? I know you didn't want to interrupt your vacation and I know how you don't like to get bad news. Plus, you had fundraisers to go to and mothers of dead soldiers to ignore and smear. You sure showed her! . . . I especially like how, the day after the hurricane, instead of flying to Louisiana, you flew to San Diego to party with your business peeps. Don't let people criticize you for this -- after all, the hurricane was over and what the heck could you do, put your finger in the dike? . . . And don't listen to those who, in the coming days, will reveal how you specifically reduced the Army Corps of Engineers' budget for New Orleans this summer for the third year in a row. You just tell them that even if you hadn't cut the money to fix those levees, there weren't going to be any Army engineers to fix them anyway because you had a much more important construction job for them -- BUILDING DEMOCRACY IN IRAQ! . . . On Day 3, when you finally left your vacation home, I have to say I was moved by how you had your Air Force One pilot descend from the clouds as you flew over New Orleans so you could catch a quick look of the disaster. Hey, I know you couldn't stop and grab a bullhorn and stand on some rubble and act like a commander in chief. . . . There will be those who will try to politicize this tragedy and try to use it against you. Just have your people keep pointing that out. Respond to nothing. Even those pesky scientists who predicted this would happen because the water in the Gulf of Mexico is getting hotter and hotter making a storm like this inevitable. Ignore them and all their global warming Chicken Littles. There is nothing unusual about a hurricane that was so wide it would be like having one F-4 tornado that stretched from New York to Cleveland. . . . No, Mr. Bush, you just stay the course. It's not your fault that 30 percent of New Orleans lives in poverty or that tens of thousands had no transportation to get out of town. C'mon, they're black! I mean, it's not like this happened to Kennebunkport. Can you imagine leaving white people on their roofs for five days? Don't make me laugh! Race has nothing -- NOTHING -- to do with this! . . . You hang in there, Mr. Bush. Just try to find a few of our Army helicopters and send them there. Pretend the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast are near Tikrit. . . . Yours, Michael Moore, MMFlint@aol.com, www.MichaelMoore.com
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posted by Lorenzo 9:15 AM

Katrina scatters a grim diaspora
(BBC NEWS, 1 September 2005)
Across the south hundreds of thousands of Americans have been unceremoniously dumped: displaced by Katrina in rest stops and hotel lobbies; among strangers in shelters and in hospitals. . . . And for most there is no going back, for weeks, and more probably, months. . . . They sleep where they can. . . . The lucky ones, and they are indeed the lucky ones, have hotel rooms. . . . Entire families crowd into one room with little information, power that comes and goes, and no air conditioning. . . . For some, who thought initially Katrina wasn't as bad as the authorities had predicted, fate has dealt them a cruel hand. . . . Having checked out for the long journey home, they now find themselves back in hotel lobbies across the state pleading to have their rooms back. . . . The rooms of course have been filled with others seeking refuge. . . . Today, less than 36 hours after initial relief turned to horror, they are packing their cars again and heading off. . . . Normally they would be heading south - back home to Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. . . . On Wednesday I watched one young couple packing their smart VW Golf. They had two suitcases and a couple of backpacks and could have been starting a road trip or a holiday. . . . They are not, of course. . . . They are headed to Florida and the safety of mum and dad. What they have with them is all they have left. . . . Typically they are smiling, but the smiles are tired, worn and very, very battered.
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posted by Lorenzo 5:10 PM

'Desperate SOS' for New Orleans
(BBC NEWS, 1 September 2005)
New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin has issued a "desperate SOS" for thousands of people stranded with no food or water at the city's convention centre. . . . Up to 25,000 people are at the centre, in addition to tens of thousands more still trapped by the flood waters unleashed by Hurricane Katrina. . . . The state governor has called for 40,000 troops to restore order after a spate of lawlessness, AFP reports. . . . Hundreds or even thousands of people are feared to have drowned in New Orleans, most of which is under water. In Mississippi, 110 people are confirmed dead, but officials warn the toll is expected to rise. . . . According to the White House, nearly 155,350 sq miles (250,000 sq km) has been affected by the hurricane - an area roughly the size of the UK. . . . In New Orleans, people made homeless by the flooding have grown increasingly desperate, with outbreaks of shootings, carjackings and thefts. . . . Police chief Eddie Compass said there were reports of women being raped. . . . He told AP he sent 88 officers to quell the unrest at the convention centre but they were beaten back by an angry mob. . . . Earlier, medical evacuations from the city's Superdome stadium were disrupted after reports that a gun shot was fired at a rescue helicopter. Similar reports have come from the city's hospitals. . . . "We are out here like pure animals. We don't have help," Rev Issac Clark told the Associated Press news agency outside the convention centre, where dead bodies are still lying in the open. . . . People were chanting: "We want help". . . . "Right now we are out of resources at the convention centre and don't anticipate enough buses," Mayor Nagin said in a statement read out by CNN. . . . "Currently the convention centre is unsanitary and unsafe and we are running out of supplies for 15,000 to 25,000 people." . . . There is no electricity in the city, and people who have lost everything are struggling to find food and clean water, reports the BBC's Alastair Leithead in New Orleans. . . . Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said more national guards were being sent to New Orleans in the next few days - more than quadrupling the 2,800 already there. . . . The mayor has ordered a total evacuation and warned it will be months before people can return to their homes. . . . More than a million people fled before the hurricane arrived on Monday, but at least 100,000 were unwilling or unable to leave. . . . At the city's Superdome stadium, the numbers of people seeking refuge has swelled to at least 20,000 and conditions there are appalling. Mass evacuations are under way. . . . The first bus-loads of people have arrived at Houston's Astrodome stadium in Texas, 560km (350 miles) away, where beds and blankets for up to 25,000 people have been set up.
. . . Read more!

posted by Lorenzo 4:59 PM

Republican leader: "Rebuilding New Orleans doesn't make sense"
(Bill Walsh, Times-Picayune, September 01, 2005)
House Speaker Dennis Hastert dropped a bombshell on flood-ravaged New Orleans on Thursday by suggesting that it isn't sensible to rebuild the city. . . . "It doesn't make sense to me," Hastert told the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago in editions published today. "And it's a question that certainly we should ask." . . . Hastert's comments came as Congress cut short its summer recess and raced back to Washington to take up an emergency aid package expected to be $10 billion or more. Details of the legislation are still emerging, but it is expected to target critical items such as buses to evacuate the city, reinforcing existing flood protection and providing food and shelter for a growing population of refugees. . . . The Illinois Republican’s comments drew an immediate rebuke from Louisiana officials. . . . "That's like saying we should shut down Los Angeles because it's built in an earthquake zone," former Sen. John Breaux, D-La., said. "Or like saying that after the Great Chicago fire of 1871, the U.S. government should have just abandoned the city." . . . Hastert said that he supports an emergency bailout, but raised questions about a long-term rebuilding effort. As the most powerful voice in the Republican-controlled House, Hastert is in a position to block any legislation that he opposes. . . . "We help replace, we help relieve disaster," Hastert said. "But I think federal insurance and everything that goes along with it. . . . we ought to take a second look at that." . . . Hastert questioned the wisdom of rebuilding a city below sea level that will continue to be in the path of powerful hurricanes. . . . "You know we build Los Angeles and San Francisco on top of earthquake issures and they rebuild, too. Stubbornness," he said. . . . Hastert wasn't the only one questioning the rebuilding of New Orleans. The Waterbury, Conn., Republican-American newspaper wrote an editorial Wednesday entitled, "Is New Orleans worth reclaiming?" . . . "Americans' hearts go out to the people in Katrina's path," it said. "But if the people of New Orleans and other low-lying areas insist on living in harm's way, they ought to accept responsibility for what happens to them and their property."
. . . Read more!

posted by Lorenzo 1:18 PM

How New Orleans Was Lost
(Paul Craig Roberts, AntiWar.com, September 1, 2005)
Chalk up the city of New Orleans as a cost of Bush's Iraq war. . . . There were not enough helicopters to repair the breached levees and rescue people trapped by rising water. Nor are there enough Louisiana National Guardsmen available to help with rescue efforts and to patrol against looting. . . . The situation is the same in Mississippi. . . . The National Guard and helicopters are off on a fool's mission in Iraq. . . . The National Guard is in Iraq because fanatical neoconservatives in the Bush administration were determined to invade the Middle East and because incompetent Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld refused to listen to the generals, who told him there were not enough regular troops available to do the job. . . . After the invasion, the arrogant Rumsfeld found out that the generals were right. The National Guard was called up to fill in the gaping gaps. . . . Now the Guardsmen, trapped in the Iraqi quagmire, are watching on TV the families they left behind trapped by rising waters and wondering if the floating bodies are family members. None know where their dislocated families are, but, shades of Fallujah, they do see their destroyed homes. . . . The mayor of New Orleans was counting on helicopters to put in place massive sandbags to repair the levee. However, someone called the few helicopters away to rescue people from rooftops. The rising water overwhelmed the massive pumping stations, and New Orleans disappeared under deep water. . . . What a terrible casualty of the Iraqi war – one of our oldest and most beautiful cities, a famous city, a historic city. . . . Distracted by its phony war on terrorism, the U.S. government had made no preparations in the event Hurricane Katrina brought catastrophe to New Orleans. No contingency plan existed. Only now after the disaster are FEMA and the Corps of Engineers trying to assemble the material and equipment to save New Orleans from the fate of Atlantis. . . . Even worse, articles in the New Orleans Times-Picayune and public statements by emergency management chiefs in New Orleans make it clear that the Bush administration slashed the funding for the Corps of Engineers' projects to strengthen and raise the New Orleans levees and diverted the money to the Iraq war. . . . Walter Maestri, emergency management chief for Jefferson Parish, told the New Orleans Times-Picayune (June 8, 2004): "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." . . . How can the Bush administration be so incompetent as to expose Americans at home to dire risks by exhausting American resources in foolish foreign adventures? What kind of "homeland security" is this? . . . All Bush has achieved by invading Iraq is to kill and wound thousands of people while destroying America's reputation. The only beneficiaries are oil companies capitalizing on a good excuse to jack up the price of gasoline and Osama bin Laden's recruitment. . . . What we have is a Republican war for oil company profits while New Orleans sinks beneath the waters.
. . . Read more!

posted by Lorenzo 9:29 AM

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