Wednesday, September 14, 2005

EERIE ....From The Plaid Adder

Unexcused Absence

September 15, 2004
By The Plaid Adder

I learned this during the Lewinsky debacle: you never want to say that we have reached the low water mark of American politics, because it can always get lower.

As the lawyers would put it, by introducing an attack on Kerry's military record, the Bush team "opened the door" for the current discussion of his own Vietnam-era service record.

CBS, to everyone's surprise, went out and did an actual piece of journalism in which they unearthed some actual evidence to substantiate the charges that have been circulating since 2000 about George W. Bush having been sleazed into the National Guard by his father's friends and then deserted his post for several months so he could work on his father's campaign (or so he could avoid failing a physical due to his drug and alcohol abuse, or both).

The rest of the media, shamed by this example, responded the only way they knew how: by picking up some bullshit that had been posted on right-wing blogs and websites and repeating it as if it were credible.

Now, CBS is in the absurd position of having to defend itself for having a few reporters on staff who can still do their jobs; and all over the country thousands of people, sane and insane, are getting into heated arguments about which kinds of typewriters were capable of producing a superscript TH in 1972.

Outside our borders, there's an entire world waiting with bated breath to see whether the American political system is still functioning well enough to allow us to vote out a government that is obviously and breathtakingly corrupt after having endured four years of their mismanagement, mistakes, and outright pillage. And it's got to be depressing to them, too, to feel as if the fate of the world is going to hinge on the history and development of the IBM Selectric.

I personally do not care that much about the fact that Bush went AWOL in 1972. My problem is that he's AWOL now. This was crystallized for me this past April, when the fighting in Iraq started to boil over after a long period of comparatively quiet seething.

As you may recall, on April 8 of this year, Condoleeza Rice testified before the 9/11 Commission. Most of the subsequent commentary focused on the moment at which she was forced to reveal the title of the infamous Presidential Daily Briefing from August 6, 2001: "I believe the title was 'Bin Laden Determined To Attack In The United States.'"

That certainly was a startler, especially since she then went on to insist that this memo was not any kind of a warning about any kind of terrorist attack or anything like that. They had had no warning, she said; they could never have imagined such a thing; anyway they hadn't had enough time to do anything to prevent something like 9/11. After all, they had only been in office for 233 days when it happened.

Rice repeated "233 days" frequently during her testimony. Dana Milbank and Robin Wright at the Washington Post must have been struck by it, since they were at work on a piece about the recent uprising in Iraq, and the fact that while Americans were dying there in unprecedented numbers, Bush was on vacation in Crawford:

This is Bush's 33rd visit to his ranch since becoming president. He has spent all or part of 233 days on his Texas ranch since taking office, according to a tally by CBS News. Adding his 78 visits to Camp David and his five visits to Kennebunkport, Maine, Bush has spent all or part of 500 days in office at one of his three retreats, or more than 40 percent of his presidency.

So by last April, the amount of time that Bush had spent goofing around on his movie set in Crawford exactly equaled the amount of time that Condoleeza Rice and the gang had had to work out their anti-terrorism strategy before 9/11/01. And, in fact, Bush was at Crawford when that August 6 PDB was issued.

It's the kind of coincidence that just makes a person think. Specifically, it makes a person think, hey, maybe those first 233 days of the Bush Administration might have been put to better use if the President currently in office had actually been, you know, IN THE OFFICE.

If your employers allowed you to spend 40% of your time on vacation, you'd get five months of vacation every year. You could knock off in April and come back in September. Which would be nice for a while, until you started to feel some nagging doubts about whether the people stuck covering for you back in the office were really covering for you, or whether you were going to show up and find out that of the eight important projects you had been working on when you left, three have been fucked up beyond recall, three have been transformed into something you never envisioned, and the two most important ones haven't been touched since you left your desk.

And that's why most people don't get 40% of their work days as paid vacation, whether they're President of the United States or not.

Between the photo-ops and the fund-raisers and the campaign appearances and the trips to the three different vacation spots, it is perhaps not surprising that so many of the moments of crisis that we've faced during his presidency have occured when he was somewhere other than where you might expect a President to be. The big one, of course, was September 11, which found him sitting in an elementary school classroom in Florida listening to the students read The Pet Goat.

Thanks to Fahrenheit 911, an enormous number of Americans have had the chance to watch footage of those now-infamous seven minutes, during which Bush, having been told by Andrew Card that the nation is under attack, sits petrified on his chair at the front of the room while the children go through their drill.

He says nothing. He is not following the story, but it's hard to tell if anything else is going on inside his head, apart from the slow expansion of those black pools of fear in his eyes. This has never happened before. He is not prepared for it and there is no script to follow. He has no idea what is supposed to happen next. So he does what he's always done: he sits where he's been put and waits for the handlers to come in once this appearance is over and tell him where he's supposed to go.

My brother went through a Steve Martin phase when we were younger, and on one of Martin's albums he loses his place in the middle of a routine and has to stop talking. Then he picks up a few seconds later, saying, "Sorry, my brain went to Bermuda there for a minute." I have used that line on occasion myself; let's face it, we all have moments when our brains go AWOL. Seven solid minutes, however, is a long time for one's brain to spend vacationing in Bermuda; it's so long, in fact, that Moore made the decision not to include the entire sequence in his film, presumably because he felt he couldn't ask the audience to spend that much time watching nothing happen.

But this isn't just about those seven minutes. To understand the importance of the Pet Goat Incident, you have to look at what it reveal about the way Bush approached his job.

On a morning when more than 3,000 people died in New York City because they had gotten up and gone to the office that day, Bush was out on yet another school reading photo op. He went on an astonishing number of these visits during the first months of his presidency - so many, in fact, that by August of 2001 he was starting to get ribbed for it in the press, especially because regardless of the age and grade level of the children, he always read The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

Now when I say "the press" here, of course, I'm not talking about mainstream outlets like CNN. Far from wondering aloud, as Ariana Huffington and others had done, why the President of the United States was apparently incapable of reading anything more challenging than a book pitched at four year olds, the good people at CNN's Inside Politics let us all know why Bush was sent out on those photo-ops in the first place:

ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico (CNN) - In recent days, it's been hard to tell that President George W. Bush has been on vacation for this month of August. Yes, he's been spotted on the golf course at times, but other images have prevailed over pictures of the president engaged in summertime leisure activities. There he was on Wednesday reading a book to second graders in Albuquerque, and delivering a speech about his thoughts on education. He then planned to head to a job training center located in a predominantly Hispanic, working class part of town, before wrapping up a two day trip away from his vacation base - his ranch in Crawford, Texas.

In other words, these tours to elementary school classrooms had been arranged as a way of making it look as if Bush was still working when he was actually taking "the longest vacation taken by any recent president":

Perhaps the most important effect of Bush's 2-day trip and other recent events, some political analysts say, is simply that Bush is seen at work. "I think they're trying to stifle the inference that when he's working he doesn't work, so they have him working while he's on vacation," said Lee Miringoff, an independent pollster who heads the Marist Institute for Public Opinion in New York.

This little gem is dated August 16, 2001 - ten days after a vacationing Bush either read or maybe didn't read the "Bin Laden Determined to Attack" PDB. And apart from the valuable lesson it gives us about how tamely the media allows itself to be led - look back at that opening paragraph, which reproduces the very spin that it discusses further down in the piece - what this piece shows us is that although Bush's handlers were aware that the American public were starting to get the feeling that Bush was playing hooky, their solution was not to have him actually do some work, but to try to make it look as if he were working.

Sticking Bush in a classroom full of cute kids and having him recite a book he had no doubt already memorized was apparently enough to fool CNN into believing that Bush was on top of things. It was not enough to fool Bin Laden.

By the time 19 of Bin Laden's operatives hijacked four American planes 26
days later, Bush's handlers had indeed gotten together and made one very
important decision. They had figured out, no doubt after a lot of late-night poring over many thousands of opinion polls, that it was crucial to get Bush away from The Very Hungry Caterpillar before people started to get the idea that he could not, in fact, read. So they decided to give The Pet Goat a whirl.

And while Bush was listening to the children read about this goat, we were all learning, among other things, that in these times it is not good enough to have a president who is capable of looking busy for the cameras. In these times, there is no substitute for actual, honest-to-God work. And unfortunately, we are being led through these times by a man who either cannot or will not show up day after day and do the job.

September 11, 2001 taught us a lot. It does not appear to have taught Bush much. In April 2004, he was, once again, on vacation in Crawford when the latest phase of the Iraqi resistance began surging forward. He remained on vacation while people continued to die in the war he and his advisors had moved heaven and earth to start. I well remember staring at my computer screen, reading the mechanical expressions of concern that Bush had phoned in to the media from Crawford, and thinking, forget Vietnam. This bastard can't even be bothered to show up for his own fucking war.

You hear all the pundits now wringing their hands and wondering why we're still talking about Vietnam in this day and age. Well, I'll tell you why: it's because after banging our heads against the wall of media complicity for the past three years, we have all learned that it is impossible to have a frank conversation about what's going on right now.

You can't talk about the fact that during one of the worst periods in American history, Bush has been an absentee president. You can't get a conversation started about what that really means. You can't get the pundits to wonder whether Bush's extraordinary neglect of his responsibilities is the result of negligence, malice, incompetence, or some combination of the three. You can't talk about what it means that Bush has held fewer press conferences than any recent president, that his campaign staff is going to unheard-of lengths to make sure that every single person at every one of his campaign events is a bona fide Bush supporter who understands that he can't be expected to answer substantive questions, or that Bush is now trying to duck out of a debate that would require him to respond on live television to questions put to him by undecided voters. You cannot get anyone at the major outlets to acknowledge the obvious fact that Bush's inability to do his job has been making us more and more vulnerable with every day that passes.

You can't talk about any of this. The media are all dedicated to telling us day after day that this is a normal state of affairs and that everything is just fine, and that all we have to worry about is what might happen one day if, God forbid, we replaced Bush with someone who could and would actually work. To talk about Bush's record of absenteeism in the twenty-first century would require them to acknowledge that the ship of state is in the middle of a category five hurricane and the captain is somewhere down in the cabin watching Veggie Tales on DVD. And nobody wants to be the first to tell their viewers that.

So instead it all has to be done in code. We can only talk about Bush's failure to do his duty now by talking about his failure to do his duty then. As much as I enjoy a good mudfight, I just get sick of the game sometimes. Would it really cost us so much to confront the danger we're in, and to just come out and say that we could forgive Bush for skipping out on his duty in the Texas National Guard if only he hadn't skipped out on his duty as President? Or that it would be possible to overlook the fact that in 1972 Bush exploited his family connections to keep his own ass safe and his own secrets hidden while other men went off to die in a war that he supported, if only he wasn't doing the exact same thing right now?

So. To hell with the superscript, with Ben Barnes's daughter, with CNN and Fox and all the rest of them. I don't give a shit about where Bush was in 1972. I know exactly where he was on September 11, 2001. That's enough for me; and it ought to be enough for everyone else in this country. Forget 30 years ago.

Since January 2000, Bush has racked up a piss-poor attendance record and even worse job performance, and if he were anyone else he would have been fired long ago. And when he finally is fired in November, even I am not going to bitch about how much vacation he takes. Once we've got a real President, Bush can take all the vacation he wants.

The Plaid Adder's demented ravings have been delighting an equally demented online audience since 1996. More of the same can be found at the Adder's Lair

JOE CONASON on the Crony Capitalists

Bush’s Crony Capitalism
Shows G.O.P.’s True Face

By: Joe Conason
Date: 9/19/2005
Page: 5

Politically as well as physically, the destructive force of nature can rip away surfaces and expose layers of decay. With the floodwaters of Katrina receding, we can see beneath the veneer of modern conservatism and gaze upon its rotten center.

For in the nation’s capital, at least, that traditional philosophy of society and statecraft appears to have degenerated into a public-relations scam.

The obvious fact is that Republicans are the party of big spending, big deficits and big government, no matter how indignantly their leaders profess to despise all those terrible things. Yet the history of the Bush administration and the G.O.P. Congress makes it equally obvious that they’re also incompetent at governing. So the question that Americans now confront is why these fakers should be allowed to waste hundreds of billions of dollars, adding to the hundreds of billions they have already squandered, when the results of their exertions are so unsatisfactory—and so self-serving.

Although George W. Bush is universally acknowledged to be the most conservative President in recent memory, he is now doing exactly what he and his ideological allies have always mocked liberals for doing. In the classic right-wing cliché (which isn’t heard much these days), he is “throwing money at the problem” of the hurricane’s aftermath.

According to journalists familiar with the panicky deliberations inside the White House, the President and his aides are ready to jettison their cherished principles of federal frugality and limited government, with little ceremony and few regrets. Time magazine reports that they will pursue a simple approach in hopes of reviving the Bush Presidency: “Spend freely, and worry about the tab and the consequences later.”

There probably isn’t any other way to relieve suffering and restore civilization down there. But knowing what we know about this administration, there can be little confidence that those billions will be spent wisely and competently.

In fact, there is every reason to worry that far too much will be wasted on partisan patronage and no-bid contracts. The flaming right-wingers who have controlled Congress since 1995 long ago proved eager to grease their friends with federal money. Their excesses make the old-line Democratic pols who used to run Congress look stingy.

The money quote on this topic was uttered by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey. Asked once why his revolutionary Republican comrades were consuming so much more federal pork than the Democrats ever did, the Texas conservative replied smugly: “To the victors go the spoils.” (He now leads Freedomworks, a national organization advocating limited government and lower taxes.)

The Bush conservatives resolve the contradiction between their ideology and their compulsion to spend by channeling public funds to their corporate cronies. Such corrupt logrolling hardly qualifies as traditional conservatism, but that is what currently defines governance in the White House, the Capitol and along K Street.

The Medicare prescription-drug benefit, designed to entice elderly voters, disguised a massive subsidy to the pharmaceutical industry—which returns many millions to Republican causes and conservative institutions. The energy bill provided still more enormous subsidies to the oil and utility industries, which likewise recycle millions to right-wing candidates and think tanks. Thanks to Republican tax policies, the money to grease these highly profitable corporations comes increasingly from middle-income families, redistributing national income upward.

All the boodling might be less troubling if they were using public money to accomplish an important public purpose. Waste and corruption accompany almost every major enterprise. But crony capitalism—the governing philosophy of the Bush family—is a notoriously inefficient way to run a government.

Enormous sums have simply disappeared in Iraq, where Halliburton has battened on its cozy relationship with the White House and the Pentagon by billing for hundreds of millions of dollars in “questioned” and “unsupported” expenses. How has the Bush administration punished its favorite firm for those abuses? By almost instantly awarding Halliburton new contracts for cleaning up the Gulf Coast destruction, with the prospect of much more to come.

Emphasizing the Halliburton embarrassment was the presence in New Orleans of the company’s “consultant,” Joe Allbaugh, a longtime Bush staffer and friend who also happens to be the former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He is the man responsible for the elevation of Michael D. (Brownie) Brown, the unqualified pretender who just resigned in disgrace from that same FEMA post.

The story of the FEMA buddies offers a paradigm of public service in the Bush era. Behind their anti-government rhetoric, the Republicans have learned how to make government work for them, by employing the unemployable and enriching the super-rich. Critical needs are left unmet, and gigantic deficits are left to posterity.

This isn’t conservatism, but a con—and they’re taking us all for suckers.

copyright © 2005 the new york observer, L.P. | all rights reserved

What Did You Know? Whend Did You Know It?

September 14, 2005
F.A.A. Alerted on Qaeda in '98, 9/11 Panel Said

WASHINGTON, Sept. 13 - American aviation officials were warned as early as 1998 that Al Qaeda could "seek to hijack a commercial jet and slam it into a U.S. landmark," according to previously secret portions of a report prepared last year by the Sept. 11 commission. The officials also realized months before the Sept. 11 attacks that two of the three airports used in the hijackings had suffered repeated security lapses.

Federal Aviation Administration officials were also warned in 2001 in a report prepared for the agency that airport screeners' ability to detect possible weapons had "declined significantly" in recent years, but little was done to remedy the problem, the Sept. 11 commission found.

The White House and many members of the commission, which has completed its official work, have been battling for more than a year over the release of the commission's report on aviation failures, which was completed in August 2004.

A heavily redacted version was released by the Bush administration in January, but commission members complained that the deleted material contained information critical to the public's understanding of what went wrong on Sept. 11. In response, the administration prepared a new public version of the report, which was posted Tuesday on the National Archives Web site.

While the new version still blacks out numerous references to particular shortcomings in aviation security, it restores dozens of other portions of the report that the administration had considered too sensitive for public release.

The newly disclosed material follows the basic outline of what was already known about aviation failings, namely that the F.A.A. had ample reason to suspect that Al Qaeda might try to hijack a plane yet did little to deter it. But it also adds significant details about the nature and specificity of aviation warnings over the years, security lapses by the government and the airlines, and turf battles between federal agencies.

Some of the details were in confidential bulletins circulated by the agency to airports and airlines, and some were in its internal reports.

"While we still believe that the entire document could be made available to the public without damaging national security, we welcome this step forward," the former leaders of the commission, Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton, said in a joint statement. "The additional detail provided in this version of the monograph will make a further contribution to the public record of the facts and circumstances of the 9/11 attacks established by the final report of the 9/11 commission."

Bush administration officials said they had worked at the commission's request to restore much of the material that had been blacked out in the original report. "Out of an abundance of caution, there are a variety of reasons why the U.S. government would not want to disclose certain security measures and not make them available in the public domain for terrorists to exploit," said Russ Knocke, spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security.

Commission officials said they were perplexed by the administration's original attempts to black out material they said struck them as trivial or mundane.

One previously deleted section showed, for instance, that flights carrying the author Salman Rushdie were subjected to heightened security in the summer of 2001 because of a fatwa of violence against him, while a previously deleted footnote showed that "sewing scissors" would be allowed in the hands of a woman with sewing equipment, but prohibited "in the possession of a man who possessed no other sewing equipment."

Other deletions, however, highlighted more serious security concerns. A footnote that was originally deleted from the report showed that a quarter of the security screeners used in 2001 by Argenbright Security for United Airlines flights at Dulles Airport had not completed required criminal background checks, the commission report said. Another previously deleted footnote, related to the lack of security for cockpit doors, criticized American Airlines for security lapses.

Much of the material now restored in the public version of the commission's report centered on the warnings the F.A.A. received about the threat of hijackings, including 52 intelligence documents in the months before the Sept. 11 attacks that mentioned Al Qaeda or Osama bin Laden.

A 1995 National Intelligence Estimate, a report prepared by intelligence officials, "highlighted the growing domestic threat of terrorist attack, including a risk to civil aviation," the commission found in a blacked-out portion of the report.

And in 1998 and 1999, the commission report said, the F.A.A.'s intelligence unit produced reports about the hijacking threat posed by Al Qaeda, "including the possibility that the terrorist group might try to hijack a commercial jet and slam it into a U.S. landmark."

The unit considered this prospect "unlikely" and a "last resort," with a greater threat of a hijacking overseas, the commission found.

Still, in 2000, the commission said, the F.A.A. warned carriers and airports that while political conditions in the 1990's had made a terrorist seizure of an airliner less likely, "we believe that the situation has changed."

"We assess that the prospect for terrorist hijacking has increased and that U.S. airliners could be targeted in an attempt to obtain the release of indicted or convicted terrorists imprisoned in the United States."

It concluded, however, that such a hijacking was more likely outside the United States.

By September 2001 the F.A.A. was receiving some 200 pieces a day of intelligence from other agencies about possible threats, and it had opened more than 1,200 files to track possible threats, the commission found.

The commission found that F.A.A. officials were repeatedly warned about security lapses before Sept. 11 and, despite their increased concerns about a hijacking, allowed screening performance to decline significantly.

While box cutters like those used by the hijackers were not necessarily a banned item before Sept. 11, some security experts have said that tougher screening and security could have detected the threat the hijackers posed. But screening measures at two of the three airports used by the hijackers - Logan in Boston and Dulles near Washington - were known to be inadequate, the commission found. Reviews at Newark airport also found some security violations, but it was the only one of the three airports used on Sept. 11 that met or exceeded national norms.

Richard Ben-Veniste, a former member of the Sept. 11 commission, said the release of the material more than a year after it was completed underscored the over-classification of federal material. "It's outrageous that it has taken the administration a year since this monograph was submitted for it to be released," he said. "There's no reason it could not have been released earlier."

* Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Secretive Roberts.....What WILL HE DO?

Fireworks at Roberts confirmation hearings
Biden accuses him of not being forthright on privacy
- Bob Egelko, Chronicle Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Click to ViewClick to ViewClick to ViewClick to View

(09-14) 11:53 PDT Washington (SF Chronicle) --

Chief justice nominee John Roberts’ refusal today to spell out his position on the scope of constitutionally protected privacy or the right to die led an angry Democratic senator to accuse him of forcing lawmakers to cast a blind vote on his confirmation.

“Without any knowledge of your understanding of the law, because you will not share it with us, we are rolling the dice with you, judge,’’ Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., told Roberts Wednesday on the third day of his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing.

Roberts, a federal appeals court judge nominated by President Bush to succeed the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist, countered that he is ethically forbidden to comment on any issue likely to reach the Supreme Court. The court is scheduled next month to consider the Bush administration’s attempt to nullify an Oregon law that allows doctors to prescribe lethal medication to terminally ill patients who ask for it.

“The litigants before me are entitled to have a justice with an open mind deciding their case,’’ Roberts said.

Roberts, 50, who would become the youngest chief justice in 200 years, gave the same explanation he gave Tuesday in declining to say whether he agreed with the Roe vs. Wade abortion rights ruling or other past decisions raising issues that might return to the court.

At today’s hearing, he similarly rebuffed a senator’s query about the Bush vs. Gore case that settled the 2000 presidential election, saying he didn’t want to reveal his views on any future election challenge that wound up in the court.

Roberts rejected Biden’s entreaty to “talk to me as a father’’ about the possibility of removing life support from a comatose family member, saying, “I won’t take to the court whatever personal views I have on those issues. They’ll be based on my understanding of the law.’’

The exchange followed Roberts’ statement Tuesday that he accepts the Supreme Court’s conclusion that the Constitution protects the right to privacy, despite a memo he wrote as a government lawyer more than 20 years ago that referred to a “so-called right to privacy.’’ That right, declared by the court in a 1965 case, is the underpinning of Roe vs. Wade as well as the 2003 gay-rights ruling striking down state criminal laws restricting private sexual conduct.

But Roberts didn’t say whether he defined privacy narrowly or broadly, and blurred the picture further by saying that the privacy right he accepts is endorsed by every current Supreme Court justice “to some extent or another.’’ Biden noted that the views of the remaining eight justices vary widely – some agreeing that privacy extends to the decisions to have an abortion or refuse life-sustaining medical care, and others, such as Justice Antonin Scalia, strongly disagreeing.

When Roberts said he would decide the scope of privacy by examining “the nation’s history, traditions and practices,’’ Biden said Scalia and more liberal justices used the same test.

By refusing to spell out how he would approach the issue, Biden said, Roberts is acting “as if the public doesn’t have a right to know what you think about fundamental issues.’’

Senators who followed a similar course could never be elected, Biden said, and the authors of the Constitution couldn’t have meant to allow judges to conceal their views before being confirmed to lifetime positions.

“Judges don’t stand for election,’’ Roberts retorted.

The judiciary committee is expected to finish its hearings by Friday, setting up a vote next week. While analysts expect most, if not all, of the eight Democrats on the 18-member committee to oppose Roberts, he is expected to win confirmation by the full Senate sometime later this month. Republicans hold 55 seats in the 100-member Senate to 44 Democrats and one independent.

Bush initially nominated Roberts to succeed retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, but chose Roberts for the chief justice post after Rehnquist died Sept. 3. Roberts is a former lawyer for the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations and argued cases before the Supreme Court as a private lawyer before joining the federal Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia circuit in May 2003.

On another issue today, Roberts suggested he would not necessarily accept the government’s claim of the need to exclude the public and the news media from certain events.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said the Bush administration has carried secrecy to unprecedented lengths, barring the media from photographing coffins of soldiers killed in Iraq, opposing disclosure of pictures of abuses in military prisons and recently trying to discourage photographing victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Roberts said he didn’t think secrecy would be justified simply because the government thought an event was inappropriate for public view.

“I do start with a general principle in this area,’’ he said, paraphrasing the late Justice Louis Brandeis’ statement that sunshine was the best disinfectant. The framers of the Constitution, who guaranteed freedom of speech, “appreciated the benefits of public awareness,’’ he said.

©2005 San Francisco Chronicle

Smirking Amongst the Dead?

September 14, 2005
A Fatal Incuriosity
I hate spending time in hospitals and nursing homes. I find them to be some of the most depressing places on earth.

Maybe that's why the stories of the sick and elderly who died, 45 in a New Orleans hospital and 34 in St. Rita's nursing home in the devastated St. Bernard Parish outside New Orleans, haunt me so.

You're already vulnerable and alone when suddenly you're beset by nature and betrayed by your government.

At St. Rita's, 34 seniors fought to live with what little strength they had as the lights went out and the water rose over their legs, over their shoulders, over their mouths. As Gardiner Harris wrote in The Times, the failed defenses included a table nailed against a window and a couch pushed against a door.

Several electric wheelchairs were gathered near the front entrance, maybe by patients who dreamed of evacuating. Their drowned bodies were found swollen and unrecognizable a week later, as Mr. Harris reported, "draped over a wheelchair, wrapped in a shower curtain, lying on a floor in several inches of muck."

At Memorial Medical Center, victims also suffered in 100-degree heat and died, some while waiting to be rescued in the four days after Katrina hit.

As Louisiana's death toll spiked to 423 yesterday, the state charged St. Rita's owners with multiple counts of negligent homicide, accusing them of not responding to warnings about the hurricane. "In effect," State Attorney General Charles Foti Jr. said, "I think that their inactions resulted in the death of these people."

President Bush continued to try to spin his own inaction yesterday, but he may finally have reached a patch of reality beyond spin. Now he's the one drowning, unable to rescue himself by patting small black children on the head during photo-ops and making scripted attempts to appear engaged. He can keep going back down there, as he will again on Thursday when he gives a televised speech to the nation, but he can never compensate for his tragic inattention during days when so many lives could have been saved.

He made the ultimate sacrifice and admitted his administration had messed up, something he'd refused to do through all of the other screw-ups, from phantom W.M.D. and the torture at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo to the miscalculations on the Iraq occupation and the insurgency, which will soon claim 2,000 young Americans.

How many places will be in shambles by the time the Bush crew leaves office?

Given that the Bush team has dealt with both gulf crises, Iraq and Katrina, with the same deadly mixture of arrogance and incompetence, and a refusal to face reality, it's frightening to think how it will handle the most demanding act of government domestic investment since the New Deal.

Even though we know W. likes to be in his bubble with his feather pillow, the stories this week are breathtaking about the lengths the White House staff had to go to in order to capture Incurious George's attention.

Newsweek reported that the reality of Katrina did not sink in for the president until days after the levees broke, turning New Orleans into a watery grave. It took a virtual intervention of his top aides to make W. watch the news about the worst natural disaster in a century. Dan Bartlett made a DVD of newscasts on the hurricane to show the president on Friday morning as he flew down to the Gulf Coast.

The aides were scared to tell the isolated president that he should cut short his vacation by a couple of days, Newsweek said, because he can be "cold and snappish in private." Mike Allen wrote in Time about one "youngish aide" who was so terrified about telling Mr. Bush he was wrong about something during the first term, he "had dry heaves" afterward.

The president had to be truly zoned out not to jump at the word "hurricane," given that he has always used his father's term as a reverse playbook and his father almost lost Florida in 1992 because of his slow-footed response to Hurricane Andrew. And W.'s chief of staff, Andy Card, was the White House transportation secretary the senior President Bush sent to the rescue after FEMA bungled that one.

W. has said he prefers to get his information straight up from aides, rather than filtered through newspapers or newscasts. But he surrounds himself with weak sisters who don't have the nerve to break bad news to him, or ideologues with agendas that require warping reality or chuckleheaded cronies like Brownie.

The president should stop haunting New Orleans, looking for that bullhorn moment. It's too late.


The Storm That Ate the GOP...mark morford's thoughts

The Storm That Ate The GOP
Who will pity the soulless Republican Party now that Katrina is mauling their regime?
- By Mark Morford, SF Gate Columnist
Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Can you hear that? That low scraping moan, that painful scream, that compressed hissing wail like the sound of an angry alligator caught in a vice?

Why, it's the GOP, and they're screaming, "No, no it can't be, oh my God, please no, this damnable Katrina thing is just an unstoppable PR disaster for us!"

After all (they wail), who woulda thought dissing all those poor black people and letting so many of them die in filth and misery in the Superdome while our pampered CEO president enjoyed yet another vacation would cause such an ugly backlash, such harsh criticism of the glorious, rich-über-alles GOP creed?

Who knew it would lay bare our deeply inbred agenda of social injustice and civil neglect, and our systematic abuse of the country? This storm thing is so not the thing we need right now because, oh my God look, just look! We've been so golden! We've had the run of the candy store! We have been gods among swine!

Can you hear them? Hastert to DeLay to Frist to Santorum to Rove to Cheney to Bush himself, across the board and all down the snickering party line they keen, "It's not fair! We've been planning this regime, this overthrow for 40 years! We've worked so damn hard to drive a wedge into the culture and an ice pick into the heart of the nation, working like demons on meth to mangle this country's economy and sense of pride so as to boost corporate profits and lock down our wealth and empire!"

And now Katrina. And now a furious backlash we never predicted that could very well spell the death of our wanton free-for-all gluttony. Damn you, Mother Nature! Damn you, uppity female!

Just listen. Isn't that Dick Cheney, lying awake at night as the leeches drain his soul, muttering his woes to a well-narcotized Lynne? "Dammit, Lynney, what went wrong? We've got the House locked up and the Senate locked up and we can cram through any law or any referendum or toxic Patriot Act we like with next-to-zero outcry and no discussion on the floor ..."

We're successfully stuffing the lower courts with hundreds of homophobic neoconservative misogynist appointees and now we even own the Supreme Court -- the Supreme Court, pudding-thighs! -- and even the increasingly impotent California governor is more in our back pocket than we imagined. We've had the whole goddamn country under our thumb for five years, squirming like a stuck rat as we make out like robber barons.

What a run we've had! We've threatened major media into numb compliance and we run the FCC the way a pimp runs a cheap hooker and we've got a loudmouth right-wing pundit manning nearly every ideological outpost in every corner of the media globe while millions of stupefied 'Murkins still believe Fox News is a genuine source of integrity and honesty. Look at us go!

And don't forget, to back it all up and shore up the base, we've got so many hate-spitting pseudo-religious bonk jobs broadcasting their bile across roughly 1,600 militant Christian Midwestern talk-radio shows it would make Jesus himself cringe in pain, and even that soulless cretin Pat Robertson is comfy enough to start suggesting we assassinate foreign leaders who dare to dis BushCo.

Look what we've accomplished! We launched two brutal, devastating, unwinnable wars. We've let Osama bin Laden run happy and free for over four years, and counting. We just passed an obscene $12.3 billion energy bill that ensures our heroin-like dependency on foreign oil for the next two decades while misinformed 'Murkin GIs die in Iraq protecting us from $5 gallons of gas. Damn, we're good!

We torture innocent detainees in Iraq and abuse inmates at Guantánamo and chip away at women's rights and demonize homosexuals, and we strip the forests and gut the Clean Air Act and pollute the water and devastate the economy and cut welfare spending (whew!), and still the lemming people think we're gods because we keep them wrapped in fear and a whole pile of carefully orchestrated Rove-ian lies. We are, in short, f--ing geniuses.

But now, this. Now BushCo's spineless Katrina response and our party's obvious contempt for lazy poor people who don't own SUVs and Lockheed-Martin portfolios means Dubya's ratings have plummeted below 40, as many of his precious pet agenda items head for the Dumpster, including the gutting of Social Security and the gutting of Medicare and even more tax cuts for his wealthy cronies. Damn you, Mother Nature!

Even the media has stepped it up, taken off the kid gloves and begun hurling angry, pointed questions at BushCo for the first time in four years, ever since we muzzled them with one part threat and one part Rove and all parts corporate stranglehold. Hell, the damn media was on the ground in New Orleans within 24 hours of Katrina, beating our untrained monkeys from FEMA by three days. Who the hell do they think they are?

Ain't it a bitch? And now there are those who say the impermeable fortress o' pain known as the GOP might just lose the South next election due to its obvious lack of care for the lower classes, unless we can somehow scare them poor people into not voting again, or tell them if they vote Democrat they won't get any health care or food stamps or relief money or any of Barbara Bush's patronizing rich-grandma cookies. Hey, it worked last time.

So goes the GOP lament. Of course, it's not all bad (they say). Hell, the oil companies are as giddy as schoolgirls at being able to falsely jack up prices to over whopping 70 bucks a barrel, despite a recent (temporary) glut of supply. Halliburton is squealing like Jenna Bush at a kegger at scoring the contract to help rebuild New Orleans' infrastructure thanks to the fact that the former head of FEMA is now a Halliburton lobbyist, and the GOP plan to decimate FEMA and militarize emergency efforts is going -- pardon the pun -- swimmingly.

But something has shifted. Something is ugly and toxic in the water. This is what, I imagine, the GOP overlords are asking each other over cocktails and baby seal kabobs and whale-blood transfusions: Do you think the people are finally beginning to sense it? Are they finally waking up? You think they know that the fact that Bush is finally taking a modicum of responsibility for his administration's failure -- something he never, never does -- is a sign of true GOP desperation? Do you think they recognize that BushCo isn't really spending a dime on Katrina relief, that the $52 billion they just crammed through Congress without any discussion isn't actually going toward repairs and rebuilding at all?

You think people sense that all of it, every single dime, is going toward -- you guessed it -- PR? Spin control? You know it's true. Every government truck and every National Guardsman and every aid package and every miserable FEMA agent you see is merely in place to try and shore up Bush's miserable poll numbers, his dwindling support. Hell, it's the only reason Bush -- or his party -- does anything for the "good" of the nation.

But holy crap, it sure is expensive. It sure is annoying. It sure takes the GOP off its game of warmongering and finger-pointing and padding the pockets of the rich and pulverizing the economy like a ... like a ... yes, OK, like a hurricane. Damn you, Mother Nature.

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Mark Morford's Notes & Errata column appears every Wednesday and Friday on SF Gate and in the Datebook section of the SF Chronicle. To get on the e-mail list for this column, please click here and remove one article of clothing. Mark's column also has an RSS feed and an archive of past columns, which includes a tiny photo of Mark probably insufficient for you to recognize him in the street and give him gifts.

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