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Thursday, September 22, 2005

I Love New York

If you know me at all, you know that’s not true. But I got am email this week from a friend who truly does love New York. He was pursuing a job in Milwaukee, of all places, which he did not get. Disappointed as he was to not get the job, he was happy – one might say thrilled (“I am sooooooooo glad”) – to not have to leave the city he loves.

I know a number of people who live in New York, and they talk every now and then about leaving it, but I know they’re lying. And not just because, as my friend Jim observed, that when you live in New York you feel like you’re in line, and you don’t want to get out of line. It’s because they’re addicted to it. Not “Bright Lights, Big City” addicted, more “Sex and the City” addicted. Their relationship with New York is their primary relationship, and they wouldn’t have it any other way.

And they’re not the only ones. A lot of us feel that way about the places we live. We’ve gotten to know each other over the years, and we’ve developed an emotional connection. Truth be told, the city doesn’t care: he would drop us in a minute and not even notice we were gone. If ships and cars and maybe even computers are girlfriends, cities are boyfriends. Cold hearted assholes, but sexy as hell.

I like Chicago because he's smart and serious, but even after all these years, he can still make me laugh. His moods run hot and cold, but it’s nothing personal. Sometimes, he’ll surprise you by how beautiful he is. He gives you your space, and doesn't always need to know what you're doing. Above all, he's reliable and sensible, and knows the value of a buck.

New York always has something new up his sleeve, even though there are parts of him you know you can always count on. He's terribly vain, which can make you feel neglected, but when he shows you he loves you, you're on top of the world. He has a lot of money, and he can make you feel like you do too, even when you don't.

I don't know LA that well, but I recognize that glamorous people can be intoxicating. He can be very charming, and he has really interesting friends. He has a lot of crazy ideas, but he has enough enthusiasm to make you believe in them, and sometimes he actually follows through. He's like a kid, always on to the next new toy, but he’s happy to let you play.

New Orleans is the boyfriend your parents don’t approve of. He indulges all your worst habits, and doesn't make you feel bad about it. He’s trouble, but he doesn’t hurt anyone but himself. He’s into the harmless Deadly Sins -- lust, gluttony, sloth, maybe pride -- rather than the harmful ones -- greed, anger, envy. I don’t trust him, but I hope he gets well soon.

By the way, my prediction? Mardi Gras 2006 – huge. Yuge. It seems impossible that the city will be ready in 5 months, and I’m sure much of it will still be uninhabitable. But somehow or other, people are going to party. Sodom will rise again!

Sowanyway. I’m sure plenty of you are in dysfunctional relationships with your own city. Let me know what that’s all about. Feel free to add to or correct statements I’ve made about your town. Let me hear about your love/hate relationship with San Francisco or Santa Fe or Las Vegas. Or Oil City or Coralville. I’ll publish the results in an upcoming edition.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

The Buck Stops. Briefly.

President George W. Bush shocked the nation on Tuesday by accepting a spoonful of responsibility for the role the federal government played in the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. It is the first time the president has accepted responsibility for anything negative that has happened anywhere in the past 5 years. Maybe longer.

“Katrina exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government,” Bush said at a White House news conference. “And to the extent that the federal government didn't fully do its job right, I take responsibility. I want to know what went right and what went wrong.”

A partial list of what went wrong might include allowing a complete amateur to run FEMA, having a Director of Homeland Security who considered the hurricane and its aftermath unpredictable (despite repeated warnings, even in the popular press), and cutting the budgets of the agencies responsible for maintaining the levees and providing disaster relief.

But I quibble.

I’m sure supporters of the president will take this acceptance of blame as a sign of leadership. For me, it’s too little too late. And I don’t mean Hurricane Katrina too late. I mean 5 years too late.

Some of the Republican Apologists I know – people who admit to being put off by a number of Mr. Bush’s policies and opinions, but who voted for him nonetheless in the last election – have explained that they felt he would do a better job than his opponent of “protecting them.” From what, I don’t know. Terrorists I suppose, though homosexuals or non-Christians could just as easily have been on their minds. Let’s put that fairy tale to bed once and for all, shall we? I don’t know that the government response would have been any better under John Kerry, but it certainly could not have been worse. In any case, a Democratic president might have taken a glimpse at the disaster mitigation plans that were in operation under the Clinton administration, and possibly even resurrected some of them.

George Bush and his government blew it in 2001. That attack was also considered “unpredictable,” despite a bipartisan report that suggested just such an attack was imminent, and which lay untouched on the Vice President’s desk for four months prior to the attack. (The report was delivered to the President, since the previous occupant of his office had commissioned it, but he didn’t consider it worth his time.) He it in 2001, he blew it in 2005. The only thing he’s done successfully is removing from power the leader of the one nation which didn’t have the capacity to attack us. When is he going to start “protecting us”?

Certainly not while he’s on vacation.

There are people out there who dislike (one might say “hate”) George Bush a lot more than I do. To me, he is the Wizard of Oz. Not just in that once you get past the smoke and mirrors, there’s nothing more than a little man behind a curtain. After all, Karl Rove has to have something to do. But when Dorothy discovers his identity, she accuses of him of being a very bad man. The Wizard replies, “Oh no, my dear, I’m a very good man. I’m just a very bad wizard.” Even if you believe George Bush is a very good man, by now you must admit he’s a very bad president.


I’m writing this before the President makes his prime time address announcing his recovery plan for areas affected by Katrina. I imagine he’ll tie it to the War on Terror. I’ll skip the address. I’ve seen enough advertising in my life to know that “New and Improved” is rarely anything more than old and crappy in a new box.


Meanwhile, the loveable lefties over at are pushing for an independent Katrina Commission to – in the words of Hillary Clinton, who is sponsoring legislation to support such a commission – “provide a comprehensive and unbiased evaluation of what could and should have been done to avoid the extraordinary damage, the loss of life, the evacuation problems and the inadequate relief efforts that have exacerbated the dislocation and suffering of thousands of Americans affected by Hurricane Katrina.”

I feel about MoveOn the way I imagine a number of my counterparts on the Right feel about the NRA: their enemies are my enemies, and God bless ‘em if they accomplish anything worthwhile, but most of the time they just make people on my side look crazy.

MoveOn has sent out two email blasts in support of this Commission. The first one, sent last Friday, is the one that bugged me. The subject was “We need a Katrina Commission. Tell the media.” The gist was that any investigation led by the White House will be more concerned with making the President look good than uncovering real problems (given), and that the White House fought against the 9/11 Commission until the families of the victims made that a politically untenable position (granted). This email called for supporters to write letters to the editors of their local media outlets, urging the formation of an independent commission to investigate causes and suggest solutions for the problems which led to the bungling of the response to Katrina.

I have two problems with this approach. First, I’m not a big supporter of government commissions, independent or otherwise. I’ve never known them to accomplish much. Consider, if you will, the Whitewater Commission, which wasted millions of dollars and untold hours to eventually decide that, well, the Clintons did nothing wrong in their dealings with the Whitewater Development Corporation after all. Granted, through this investigation, the Independent Counsel discovered that the president had an affair and lied about it on an affidavit, thus leading to an eventual impeachment that – guess what! – wasted millions of dollars and untold hours. Perhaps if you hated Bill Clinton enough, this incredible waste of time and money was worth it to you. To which I can offer only two words: Tax and Spend. Or perhaps, Big Government.

Meanwhile, the investigation into the Valerie Plame outing? Not much happening there. Even the trumpeted 9/11 Commission, which published a best-selling report which nobody really read, hasn’t led to any real reforms in government or homeland security, the establishment of an office by that name notwithstanding. As former New Jersey Governor Thomas Kean, the moderate Republican who led the Commission, said of Katrina: “The same mistakes made on 9/11 were made over again, in some cases worse. Those are system-wide failures that can be fixed and should have been fixed right away.” Obviously, they have not been fixed. And as I noted earlier, we saw what happened to the 2001 report prepared by a bipartisan commission that determined a terrorist attack on US soil was likely to occur in the near future.

What I do believe in – or used to, before they became shills for corporations and the White House – is the Press. And indeed, if MoveOn was encouraging us to lean on the media to conduct their own investigations into the layer upon layer of problems that led to our governments’ – local, state and federal – inabilities to cope with this disaster, I’d be right there with them. But MoveOn is something of a mad dog, scratching and biting at every new thing that crosses its path. This is the organization that put its effort into a movement to censure Bush, mere months before the election. And for all their sniping, MoveOn believes in the efficacy of government, a policy with which I cannot agree. Depending on a government commission, independent, bipartisan or otherwise, to solve a problem is lazy. The approach says, “Someone’s investigating this; I can ignore it now.” Which, history tells us, is the furthest thing from the truth. It was the Washington Post, after all, which did the legwork for the commission that eventually investigated Watergate, and not vice versa.


Brian Williams, who succeeded Tom Brokaw as the anchor of NBC Nightly News last year, offered a ray of hope when he predicted that the Katrina story might bring “a healthy amount of cynicism back to a news media known for it.” We can only hope.


Not that I didn’t sign MoveOn’s damn petition to Congress. You can do so too.


Anything you ever wanted to know about government commissions* was answered this week by the John Roberts hearings. I didn’t watch much of the hearings myself (is 15 minutes much?), but from what I’ve read and heard, they were pretty much content free. One analyst said that by his count, for every 15 words the senators said, Roberts said 5. That sounds about right. There’s nothing a politician likes more than the sound of his or her own voice. The point of most of the questions seemed to be to demonstrate how smart the questioners were, rather than to evoke any meaningful answers from the candidate. Politicians are people who are too ugly or too lazy to get into show business.

Roberts, meanwhile, proved that however he turns out to be as a Justice, he is the ultimate lawyer. Given a choice between straight answers and sophistry, he chose the latter every time. Time and again he invoked the “Ginsburg rule,” which allows a judicial nominee to not answer questions that suggest how he or she would rule on a future case. The rule refers to Canon 5 of the American Bar Association's Model Code of Judicial Conduct – yes, the Bar Association has a code of conduct: who knew? – which “prohibits a candidate for judicial office from making statements that commit the candidate regarding cases, controversies or issues likely to come before the court. As a corollary, a candidate should emphasize in any public statement the candidate’s duty to uphold the law regardless of his or her personal views.” [This is a disappointment to those of us who wish it referred instead to Alan Ginsberg: “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by the Senate Judiciary Committee, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the Washington streets at dawn looking for an angry decaf latté…” Oh, that’s the Bork rule.] The nickname for the Canon refers to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who chose not to answer 30 questions during her confirmation hearings in 1993. Though Roberts claimed to be “more forthcoming than any of the other [Supreme Court] nominees,” he relied on Canon 5 more that twice as often as Ginsburg. He all but quoted the last line of the Canon directly, asserting time and again that he “not an ideologue.”

In fact, though they may be loath to admit it at this time, John Roberts is exactly the sort of lawyer Americans say they hate. All along he has all but claimed to have no beliefs of his own, but to have spent his career essentially following the money. When Dick Durbin questioned him about a case he argued before the Supreme Court which would allow an HMO to refuse to pay for surgery deemed medically necessary by an independent arbiter – a case he lost – Roberts said he did not take the case based on whether he thought it was right, but because it had legal merits. “In representing clients, in serving as a lawyer, it's not my job to decide whether that's a good idea or a bad idea. The job of the lawyer is to articulate the legal arguments on behalf of the client.” That’s true enough, but there’s something very “path to hell” about it. [On the other hand, there’s also something very old-fashioned conservative – with both a capital and small “c” – about it which I find reassuring.] The irony of all this is that Roberts is the very lawyer who Bush excoriates when he rails against tort reform: someone to whom winning is more important than right or wrong.

In the long run, the Roberts hearings are nothing but show anyway – “Kabuki,” according to Joe Biden. Roberts will be confirmed under any circumstances. The question facing Democrats is whether to vote for him, in order to not seem partisan, or to vote against him, in order to demonstrate that they have the votes to filibuster the next nominee. Whether to stretch and stretch and stretch their legs, or whether to hold their breath indefinitely.

*But were afraid to ask. It’s lame, but once I wrote that first line I had no choice.


Roberts’ age, which was initially of some concern to me, is becoming a comfort. John and his wife Jane have two small children, Josie and Jack. Yeah, I know. Someone’s been playing with the Play-Doh White Christian America Fun Factory. Anyway, there’s plenty of time for Josie to face that unwanted pregnancy and for Jack to come out of the closet (Did you see him dancing when his dad’s nomination was announced?), and dad’s smart enough to have that idea somewhere in the back of his mind.


News Flash!

Jack Roberts (and doesn’t Mom look swell) is actually Batboy!


Andrew Sullivan is a conservative who hates Bush, and for all the right reasons. From Thursday’s blog: “Fiscal conservatism as we have known it is over. No liberal Democrat would ever have managed to spend as much and as incompetently as this administration. Even in opposition, the GOP would have mounted a defense of the country's fiscal standing against such reckless big government liberalism. But in power, the only difference between the GOP and, say, a Ted Kennedy administration is that the Republican free spending goes to different interest groups, has no restraint or domestic opposition, and rests on borrowing rather than taxing. Yes, Katrina reconstruction is inevitable and important. But $200 billion doesn't grow on trees. Where is it going to come from? Part of the point of fiscal responsibility, after all, is that disasters do happen and the government should have fiscal lee-way to respond to them. But we have no lee-way at all, thanks to this president and his party. Tonight, the president will try and rescue himself politically by spending money he doesn't have. As Margaret Thatcher once remarked, the only thing socialists are good at is spending other people's money. That's the one thing this president has known how to do – whether it was daddy's money or yours.”


On the Docket …

As you may have heard, the Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional again.

Michael Newdow, the atheist who brought the suit against the California public schools in 2002, is at it again. Newdow’s suit doesn’t actually claim that the Pledge is unconstitutional, but that the phrase “under God” is. A federal judge has agreed, ruling that the reference to one nation under God violates school children's right to be “free from a coercive requirement to affirm God.”

The Supreme Court dismissed Newdow’s case last year, saying he “lacked standing” because he did not have legal custody of the daughter on whose behalf he sued. He got around that problem this time by filing an identical case on behalf of three other children and their parents. The case is likely to find its way to Chief Justice Roberts’ desk in no time.

I’ve written about this case twice before: once when the 9th Circuit Court first found on Newdow’s behalf, and again last year, when the Supreme Court skirted the issue.

I wonder what Arnold’s take is on this. After all, just last week he said the Court, rather than the Legislature, should determine the issue of gay marriage. Is he still such a staunch supporter of the Court?

Personally, I don’t care what Pledge they say, as long as they don’t sing that horrid musical version.


In Entertainment News

I meant to plug the return of “House,” my favorite network TV show (Tuesdays at 8pm Central on Fox) last week, but then I got all swamped with hurricane news and ran out of time and space. Well here we are again. Dag, yo! I’ll try to get to it next week, along with why “Rome” is no “Deadwood” (or “Sopranos”) and the weirdness that is “Ghost Hunters.”

Meanwhile, if you’re free this weekend, you may be able to catch one (or both!) of the final two performances of David Kodeski’s one man show, “And Some Can Remember Something of Some Such Thing,” at Live Bait Theater, 3914 N Clark. Tickets are only 10 bucks, and are available at 773.871.1212. I’ll be there on Saturday. I’d send you to Live Bait’s website for more information, but it sucks.


Bushemantics: The agency of the Department of Agriculture that used to be called Animal Damage Control is now known as Wildlife Services. What services do they offer wildlife? In 2004 the agency killed 2.7 million animals, including bears, coyotes, wolves, and wild turkeys and chickens. Such service!


Thursday, September 08, 2005

Here Comes the Flood

“When the flood calls,
You have no home, you have no walls”
– Peter Gabriel

I’m glad I had a chance to visit New Orleans – albeit briefly – before it was swept away in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. When I wrote about the city last October, I was forced to mock it – me being me and this being the Reader and all – but if you’re looking for excessive drinking and acts of public lewdity – and you know I am – there’s no better place for it.

I am amused by the Religiati who have declared the Hurricane to be a sign of God’s wrath against a wicked city – a sort of Sodom and Gomorrah with andouille sausage. Michael Marcavage of Repent America issued a statement saying, "Although the loss of lives is deeply saddening, this act of God destroyed a wicked city. … May this act of God cause us all to think about what we tolerate in our city limits, and bring us trembling before the throne of Almighty God." If this is the case, God must really hate Florida, considering what a battering He put it through last summer. Not that I can blame him.

Granted, Katrina struck New Orleans a mere two days before the annual “Southern Decadence” festival – an event that makes Mardi Gras look like a Quaker picnic – was to begin. Unfortunately for Marcavage and his ilk, Bourbon Street was one of the areas of the city least affected by the storm and floods. While the tony homes and churches of the Garden District are under feet of water and the poor neighborhoods are devastated, much of the French Quarter has remained relatively high and dry. In fact, a couple of bars on Bourbon Street have already reopened for business, and handful of hardy homos and fairy princesses celebrated Southern Decadence with a “Life Goes On?” parade.

The lesson of which is, when it comes to destruction, fags seem to be the only ones God doesn’t hate.


Not to be left out, some Jewish religious leaders are also attributing the destruction in Katrina’s wake to God’s wrath. But they’re not blaming the faigelah. Rabbi Avraham Shmuel Lewin, executive director of the Rabbinic Congress for Peace, says "Katrina is a consequence of the destruction of Gush Katif [the Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip] with America's urging and encouragement. The US should have discouraged Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon from implementing the Gaza evacuation rather than pushing for it and pressuring Israel into concessions."

Rabbi Joseph Garlitzky, of Chabad Lubavitch, has unearthed the sort of parallels that make conspiracy theorists tremble with glee. Among them:

* 10,000 Jews were expelled from the Gaza Strip. Katrina's death toll is expected to reach at least 10,000.

* The ratio of the population of the US to that of Israel is about 50:1. 10,000 Jews who lost their homes in Gaza is the equivalent of about 500,000 Americans who are now reported to be displaced as result of Katrina.

* Katrina, written in Hebrew, has a biblical numerical equivalent of 374. Two relevant passages in the Torah share the same numerical equivalent: "They have done you evil" (Genesis 50:17) and "The sea upon land" (Exodus 14:15).

* George Bush is from Texas and Condoleezza Rice is from Alabama. They are the Americans held most responsible for the Gaza evacuation. Hurricane Katrina hit the states in between Texas and Alabama – Louisiana and Mississippi. (One would think it would have hit Texas and Alabama, but God works in mysterious ways.)

* The day Katrina hit, Israel began disinterring bodies from the area's Jewish cemetery. Now corpses are floating in flooded areas of New Orleans.

One renowned conspiracy theorist, Israeli Barry Chamish, has been reading his Bible Code. Early this week, he sent a mass email in which he noted: "GUsh is like GUlf, and KATif is like KATrina. If you take 'KAT' from KATif and KATrina, you are left with 'IF' and 'RAIN.' If you support Gush Katif evacuation, it will rain."

That’s the kind of crazy talk even Pat Robertson would be forced to admire.


Speaking of crazy, there are an estimated 10,000 citizens who are still unwilling to leave New Orleans. Hard to believe, when the government is offering each household 2,000 bucks to start over. Woo hoo! Some of these folks are actively hiding from the police who are seeking to evacuate them. You thought New Orleans was great before, just check it out now, the streets running with raw sewage and floating corpses!

As it turns out, leaving town is no guarantee of safety. A smattering of refugees have died due to vibrio vulnificus, a bacterium associated with cholera. Though uncommon under normal circumstances, the floodwaters of Louisiana are rich with the stuff. If the vulnificus doesn’t get you, the E. coli surely will. Levels in the water are at least 10 times higher than acceptable limits set by the CDC, and have been measured at a million times higher than what the EPA allows for recreational waters. Which is fine, as long as you don’t get any on your skin, especially if you have cuts or open wounds. Which never happens during a disaster.

By the way, more than 1000 sources of drinking water in Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama are affected by the poisoned waters. But a quarter teaspoon of bleach will clear that right up. Skol!

Nasty as the raw sewage may be, it’s the bobbing corpses that would keep me out of the streets. (No surprise that a number of the holdouts are in the French Quarter, where the streets are free of corpses, though they still run with the traditional junkies.) News stories have focused on the newly dead, found in hospitals, nursing homes and by the side of the road. But I’m wondering how many bodies came bobbing out of those shallow graves or washed, half decayed, out of above-ground vaults. By this time, the place must look like the end of Poltergeist.


Other victims of the storm include some of the 1400 animals from the city’s Audubon Zoo. The dead include two sea otters that died from stress. That would have been me.


The one ray of hope in this event is that people are staying pissed off. And not just because of the political implications. Granted, the government screwed the pooch on this puppy – more about that in a minute – but I’m not enough of an idealist to believe that if the other side had been in power, they would have done much better.

No, I’m glad people are pissed off because we’ve become such a country of pantywaists who are so afraid to be angry about anything, that it pleases me that a small group have been able to hold on to their anger. Granted, they’re a bunch of Looziana hotheads, so what would you expect.

Aaron Broussard, the president of Jefferson Parish, blew his top on The Early Show on CBS, saying, “Bureaucracy has murdered people in the greater New Orleans area. … Take whatever idiot they have at the top of whatever agency and give me a better idiot. Give me a caring idiot. Give me a sensitive idiot. Just don't give me the same idiot.” Love him. This is like my dad proposing voting against whoever was in office, on the grounds that he was bound to have done something illegal by now. The Fire Chief of St. Bernard, noting that a task force of police and firefighters from Canada arrived before the Feds had sent any help, said, "If you can get a Canadian team here in four days, US teams should be here faster than that. When they're paying $5 to $6 a gallon for gas, they're going to realize what this place means to America." More on that later. And an Air Force captain told the AP, "I've been in a lot of Third World countries where people were better off than the people here are right now. We've got 28 miles of coastline here that's absolutely destroyed, and the federal government, they're not here."

Norlins Mayor Ray Nagin has kept his head a bit better than those surrounding him. Early on, he was even a tad optimistic about how quickly the city could recover. Even then, though, he was predicting a death toll of 10,000. And Tuesday, when the levee was repaired enough to start pumping out the city, he warned reporters that there were untold horrors just waiting to be uncovered.

In these days when even war is sanitized for our protection, a little unvarnished truth is bracing.


Don’t expect such truth from energy analysts. While a number of folks are understandably worked up about the effects the damage to Gulf energy production and processing will have on the economy, the official word is that the next storm is the one we have to worry about. I thought that was what they said about this one.

Tom Bentz, vice president of BNP Paribas Commodity Futures, says, "We certainly can't stand another storm." Tim Evans, senior oil market analyst for IFR Energy Services, adds, "If we were to see another major storm, we could have damage on damage." Peter Beutel, president of Cameron Hanover, an energy risk management company, warns that "Having one beneath Texas would be an unmitigated disaster."

This is like the impotent parent who says, “The next time you sass back at me, you’re gonna be sorry.” It’s Chicken Little in reverse. The sky is not falling, but it could fall at any minute, and the next piece of sky that falls will be really bad.

If you want to get a little paranoid about where we’re heading, perform a Google search for “peak oil.” Or check out this article. But don’t call me in the middle of the night when you can’t sleep.


Of course, there’s no way we could have predicted this, right? I mean, the combination of the storm and its aftermath. Or even if we could, there’s nothing we could have done about it. Certainly, that was the take of Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff. "That 'perfect storm' of a combination of catastrophes [a powerful hurricane and a breach of levees] exceeded the foresight of the planners, and maybe anybody's foresight," Chertoff told reporters early this week.

Except that FEMA, during the Clinton administration, had developed a program called Project Impact, which was designed specifically to mitigate the aftermath of such disasters. The scenario that played out in New Orleans was at the top of their list. Unfortunately, this program was cancelled at the end of February 2001.

Last year, FEMA conducted a drill to prepare for a massive hurricane hitting New Orleans. Scenarios included a helicopter evacuation of the Superdome. This year, the agency planned to fix unresolved problems as such evacuating sick and injured people from the Superdome and housing tens of thousands of stranded citizens. Unfortunately, funding for that planning was cut.

Don’t get me started on the funding cuts to the Army Corps of Engineers, the group responsible for maintaining the levees. ‘Cause I could go on for an entire article. Ands nobody needs that. But as a result of these cuts, the Corps essentially stopped work on the levee system in 2004. For the first time in 37 years. Federal money for flood control in southeastern Louisiana has been cut in half since 2001, and funding for hurricane protection is about one-third of what it was is 2002.

Of course, Chertoff’s got a lot on his plate. Maybe he missed all that.

Well, in July of this year, US News & World Report ran an article about the danger of a Category 3 storm hitting New Orleans. Katrina was Category 4. The article quoted Ivor van Heerden, the director of Louisiana State University's Center for the Study of Public Health Impacts of Hurricanes, who said, "If a hurricane comes next month, New Orleans could no longer exist." The author, Dan Gilgoff, explains: “New Orleans sits below sea level and is locked in by an extensive levee network, like a giant flood-prone bowl; a modest Category 3 storm could deposit up to 27 feet of water in some neighborhoods. A few years ago, the American Red Cross ranked the prospect of a hurricane's hitting New Orleans as the country's deadliest natural disaster threat, with up to 100,000 dead.”

So US News & World Report – in addition to a number of experts Gilgoff interviewed for his article – had imagined the storm which Chertoff called "breathtaking in its surprise."


Bear with me, if you will, for an extensive description of the disaster:

“It was a broiling August afternoon in New Orleans, Louisiana, the Big Easy, the City That Care Forgot. Those who ventured outside moved as if they were swimming in tupelo honey. Those inside paid silent homage to the man who invented air-conditioning as they watched TV "storm teams" warn of a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico. Nothing surprising there: Hurricanes in August are as much a part of life in this town as hangovers on Ash Wednesday. “But the next day the storm gathered steam and drew a bead on the city. As the whirling maelstrom approached the coast, more than a million people evacuated to higher ground. Some 200,000 remained, however – the car-less, the homeless, the aged and infirm, and those die-hard New Orleanians who look for any excuse to throw a party. “The storm hit Breton Sound with the fury of a nuclear warhead, pushing a deadly storm surge into Lake Pontchartrain. The water crept to the top of the massive berm that holds back the lake and then spilled over. Nearly 80 percent of New Orleans lies below sea level – more than eight feet below in places – so the water poured in. A liquid brown wall washed over the brick ranch homes of Gentilly, over the clapboard houses of the Ninth Ward, over the white-columned porches of the Garden District, until it raced through the bars and strip joints on Bourbon Street like the pale rider of the Apocalypse. As it reached 25 feet (eight meters) over parts of the city, people climbed onto roofs to escape it. “Thousands drowned in the murky brew that was soon contaminated by sewage and industrial waste. Thousands more who survived the flood later perished from dehydration and disease as they waited to be rescued. It took two months to pump the city dry, and by then the Big Easy was buried under a blanket of putrid sediment, a million people were homeless, and 50,000 were dead. It was the worst natural disaster in the history of the United States.”

Pretty accurate, eh? This was published in National Geographic in October 2004. 11 months ago. Enough people knew enough of what was at risk nearly a year ago that an author (Joel K. Bourne, Jr.) could write a chillingly prescient account of what we’ve just seen.

It’s reason enough to be pissed off.


I assume you know by now that the current head of FEMA, Michael Brown, not only has no background in disaster relief, he was fired from his last job, overseeing judges for horse shows, after a series of lawsuits which alleged failures of supervision on his part. That sentence makes at least four incredible assertions. It would tax the White Queen’s ability to believe six impossible things before breakfast. Brown got his current job because his college roommate was the former head of FEMA. When the roomie left FEMA to work for the president's re-election campaign, Brown took over.

Not to worry, though. Last March, Brown testified to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security that, "Our nation is prepared, as never before, to deal quickly and capably with the consequences of disasters and other domestic incidents." So we got that goin’ for us. Which is nice.


Some people can always see the silver lining. And one of them, I’m happy to say, is former First Lady Barbara Bush. On touring the Astrodome complex last Monday, Bar noted that "So many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them."

Bar’s husband has teamed up with Bill Clinton to raise money for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. As you may recall, the boys teamed up earlier this year to raise money for the victims of the tsunami that devastated portions of Asia. Apparently they’re all fine now. You’d think George Bush, of all people, would know a few other guys with some connections he could call on. This seems right up Jimmy Carter’s alley. Rumor has it the slogan for the new fund is, “Fuck You Slopes, We’ve Got Trouble At Home.”


In Related News …

You may not know this – I certainly didn’t – but Oregon has 4 of the 18 most active volcanoes in the nation: Mount Hood, Crater Lake, Newberry and South Sister. Well it seems there is a “bulge” which covers about 100 square miles near South Sister. That makes it about the size of Portland. The bulge is just that – a bulge in the Earth which has been rising for nearly 10 years at the rate of 1.4 inches a year. 14 inches in 10 years may not seem like much. But the cause of the bulge seems to be a pool of magma the size of a lake 1 mile across and 65 feet deep. This magma lake is rising 10 feet each year, but it’s under tremendous pressure, so it only deforms the surface 1.4 inches.

That sounds less good.

Oh, by the way, the magma is moving. Geologists know this because there was a swarm of 350 small earthquakes in the area a year and half ago. 350. The bulge could be a new volcano in the making, or it may result in nothing more than a small cinder cone that spews ash and lava.

Based on our experience in Louisiana, I say we ignore it.


In Other News …

The California legislature has passed a bill which would allow gay marriage in that state. Governuhr Arnold Schwarzenegger said on Wednesday that although he "believes that gay couples are entitled to full protection under the law and should not be discriminated against based upon their relationship," he will veto the bill. He went on to say that the issue should be decided by the courts or by voters directly but not by the legislature.


When the courts allow gay marriage, they’re run by activist judges. When the legislature allows gay marriage, it should be left to the courts. Even Clarence Thomas, when he dissented against overturning sodomy laws in Texas, said that although he thought the law was foolish, it was up to the legislature to change the law.

You can’t win for losin’ around here.

Arnold’s complaint is that California voters approved a ballot measure five years ago defining marriage as between a man and a woman. According to his mouthpiece, Margarita Thompson, the issue of gay marriage should be put to voters in a referendum. "We cannot have a system where the people vote and the legislature derails that vote," Thompson said.

Well in fact we can. And we do. It’s called Representative Democracy. You may have heard of it. In this form of government, people elect representatives to do the day to day work of governing, rather than voting on everything themselves. If the people don’t like the decisions their representatives make, they don’t vote them back into office. I think we’re trying to set one up in Iraq.


My favorite headline of the past week: “Workers Disappearing From Hay Fields.” Unfortunately, the article turned out to be about mechanization on farms.


Monday, September 05, 2005

Won't You Come Home, John Roberts

As you must know by now, Chief Justice William Rehnquist shuffled off this mortal coil, complete with gold chevrons on the sleeve, Saturday night. And as I’m sure you’ve heard, President Bush has chosen to elevate John Roberts, his current nominee for the bench, to the nominee for the open slot.

This is a fine thing for liberals. At least for now.

Roberts is likely to be confirmed. He was likely to be confirmed before this, and despite any statements by Senate Democrats, he is just as likely to be confirmed this week as last. Roberts is a conservative, but does not seem to be as conservative as Rehnquist was.

In addition, Sandra Day O’Connor has agreed to stay on the Court until a replacement can be named and confirmed. So for now, the Court is no more conservative than it was before O’Connor’s retirement was announced.

Despite the title, the Chief Justice does not have significantly more power than the other Justices. He has a variety of administrative duties, many of which are nominal at best. In practice, most of the real work of the Court is carried out by several or all of the Justices, in consultation. The real power of the Chief lies in his ability to build consensus, which is what will make Roberts a more effective Chief than, say, Scalia would be.

I expected the White House would use the death of Rehnquist to try to draw attention from the hubbub surrounding the mismanagement of the situation in New Orleans. This is its usual tactic. But apparently they realized that Katrina and her aftermath were too big for this sort of distraction. Human suffering trumps judicial nominees any day. And with his political capital at its nadir, Bush wisely chose to avoid confrontation.

For now.

It will be interesting to see who he eventually nominates to fill the renewed O’Connor opening. The choice will likely be tied to the ebb and flow of his political fortunes over the next weeks to months. Let’s hope things stay bad.