Thursday, September 15, 2005

Molly Says,"Someone from Texas should NOT be President of the United States!"

Follow the Money for the Real Story
By Molly Ivins
The Chicago Tribune

Thursday 15 September 2005

Austin, Texas - Here's a good idea: Consumer groups and progressive congress-folks have joined in an effort to stop hundreds of thousands of victims of Hurricane Katrina from being further harmed by the new bankruptcy law, scheduled to take effect Oct. 17. This law was written of, by and for the consumer credit industry and is particularly onerous for the poor.

The bill was passed with massive support from the Republican leadership in Congress and from a disgusting number of sellout Democrats. While it was being considered in committee earlier this year, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) offered an amendment to protect victims of natural disasters. It was defeated, without debate, on a party-line vote.

Now, Congress has a chance to rethink some of the most punitive parts of the bill. Katrina victims who were planning to file before the new law goes into effect are out of luck - where are they gonna find a lawyer, let alone an open courthouse?

Under the new law, anyone whose income is above the state median must file under Chapter 13, a more restrictive category that requires some repayment of debt. The new law grants no exemption for natural disaster, even though it's going to be a little tough for some citizen sitting in the Houston Astrodome who no longer has a home to come up with tax statements, pay stubs and six months of income and expense data.

Meanwhile, it's an ill wind that blows no one good, so we should not be surprised to learn the first winner out of the gate on Katrina is Halliburton Co., whose deserving subsidiary Kellogg, Brown and Root already has been granted a $29.8 million contract for cleanup work in the wake of Katrina.

Of course, no one would suggest Halliburton and its subsidiaries get government contracts (it already has billions of dollars of Iraq rehab work) just because Vice President Dick Cheney is still on the payroll. Heavens no. The veep continues to get deferred pay from the company he once headed - $194,852 last year.

But Cheney has nothing to do with the Halliburton contracts - that, friends, goes through none other than the noted lobbyist and former head of - of all things - the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Since Joe Allbaugh, who was Bush's campaign manager in 2000, announced that he was leaving FEMA in December 2002, it appears he has been busy making sure reconstruction contracts in Iraq go to companies that give generously to the Republican Party.

Now, aren't you ashamed of yourself for thinking there's something wrong with that? Besides, Allbaugh is now with a big-time Washington lobbying firm, where he also represents Shaw Group Inc., and - voila - Shaw Group, too, already has a $100 million emergency contract from FEMA for housing management and construction and a $100 million order from the US Army Corps of Engineers for Katrina repair.

Congress has appropriated $51.8 billion in emergency funding for recovery costs, and it's estimated that the final costs could top $100 billion.

Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, told Reuters: "The government has got to stop stacking senior positions with people who are repeatedly cashing in on the public trust in order to further private commercial interests."

Now, Ms. Brian, get a grip. Not all the money goes to big, politically connected firms.

Michael ("You're doing a heckuva job") Brown liked to spread federal money around. In fact, Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) was so annoyed by Brownie's distribution of largesse in Miami after Hurricane Frances that he urged President Bush to fire Ol' Brownie last January. What upset Wexler about the $30 million in FEMA checks to cover new wardrobes, cars, lawnmowers, vacuum cleaners, furniture and appliances was that the hurricane did not affect Miami. It landed 100 miles away.

Some of you may have heard me observe a time or two - going back to when George W. was still governor of Texas - that the trouble with the guy is that while he is good at politics, he stinks at governance. It bores him, he's not interested, he thinks government is bad to begin with and everything would be done better if it were contracted out to corporations.

We can now safely assert that W. has stacked much of the federal government with people like himself. And what you get when you put people in charge of government who don't believe in government and who are not interested in running it well is ... what happened after Hurricane Katrina.

Many a time in the past six years I have bit my tongue so I wouldn't annoy people with the always obnoxious observation, "I told you so." But I did.

Next time I tell you someone from Texas should not be president of the United States, please pay attention.

From The Thinker Blog

Wednesday, September 14, 2005
More fun with Pat

Note: It appears the Robertson quote was a parody piece (see, but heck, I still think it's funny! The interview with God below is of course genuine!

Once again, everyone's favorite psycho-evangelist has graced us with his thoughts:

"By choosing an avowed lesbian for this national event, these Hollywood elites have clearly invited God's wrath," Pat Robertson said on "The 700 Club" on Sunday. "Is it any surprise that the Almighty chose to strike at Miss Degeneres' hometown?"

Now I bet you think this is going to be just another inane Robertson-bashing piece. Well, it is, but we here at The Thinker spare no expense to bring you the news you need. This is a blog exclusive, my interview with......God...

The Thinker: Well, thanks be to God for joining me tonight! The Lord be with me! By the way, how should I address you, the name too sacred to be spoken, the Lord most high?

God: Actually, you can call me Art.

The Thinker: Art?

God: Yeah, you know, "Our father who Art in heaven?"

The Thinker: Oh right...Art. OK, let's get right to it. Did you smite New Orleans with wind and water because of your rage at a lesbian hosting the Emmys?

God: Does anyone smite anything anymore? OK, first things first, up here, I get 1,256,356 digital channels in full high def plus Tivo, do you think I'm wasting my time watching CBS???? If I wanted to extract vengeance on a town because of what celebrities have done, I think I'd take out Boston first for giving us Ben Affleck. Did you see Gigli? Paycheck? Those were Me-damned awful!.

The Thinker: So Pat is completely off base?

God: Well, we all know that Pat's off his rocker and he really is annoying my kid. Dear Jesus this, dear Jesus that, over and over again. Nice turn by the youngster, though, Pat prays for a Supreme Court vacancy so we off Rehnquist instead! Nice touch, huh? But back to smiting. First of all, if I'm going to take someone out, I'm not using a hurricane. Jesus Christ (no not you, sorry, go back to watching the Notre Dame game), those things are impossible to control. Lightning, yeah, that's pretty easy, I can even zip off a tornado or two, but hurricanes? Wind one of those suckers up and you have no idea where they're going. I can aim it for New Orleans but it's like one of those old electronic vibrating football games, once you turn on the switch, it could end up anywhere. There's a real good chance that if I aim at Boubon Street that I wipe out most of Corpus Kiddo. And besides, you know that whole divine wrath thing? Way overblown. Look, I'm not as young as I used to be, I can't go getting that worked up about every little thing.

The Thinker: Well, I suppose I should let you get back to work. Thank God you were here! Is there anythink you would like to say before you go?

God: Well, I will leave you with this. First of all, on celibacy. Who in My name came up with that one? Please. And pants would be good, lose the robes, let's go with pants. The pointy hats can go too, ever sit behind one of them in a movie theater, Sweet Jesus, what a pain (no, not you! All right there sonny, watch the attitude, don't make me get cross with you!)

And the hymns, can we do a little better there? There are only so many times you can hear "Amazing Grace," how about some Stones or Van Morrison? Finally, yes, let me close with the fact there is a hell. I've been working on Pat's for a while, it is still a work in progress, but right now I'm at Harvey Fierstein, Jane Fonda and a couple of hamsters for starters. Good night! Me bless you, and may I be with you!

Chertoff Needs to GO....NOW

Chertoff delayed federal response, memo shows

Knight Ridder Newspapers

WASHINGTON - (KRT) - The federal official with the power to mobilize a massive federal response to Hurricane Katrina was Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, not the former FEMA chief who was relieved of his duties and resigned earlier this week, federal documents reviewed by Knight Ridder show.

Even before the storm struck the Gulf Coast, Chertoff could have ordered federal agencies into action without any request from state or local officials. Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Michael Brown had only limited authority to do so until about 36 hours after the storm hit, when Chertoff designated him as the "principal federal official" in charge of the storm.

As thousands of hurricane victims went without food, water and shelter in the days after Katrina's early morning Aug. 29 landfall, critics assailed Brown for being responsible for delays that might have cost hundreds of lives.

But Chertoff - not Brown - was in charge of managing the national response to a catastrophic disaster, according to the National Response Plan, the federal government's blueprint for how agencies will handle major natural disasters or terrorist incidents. An order issued by President Bush in 2003 also assigned that responsibility to the homeland security director.

But according to a memo obtained by Knight Ridder, Chertoff didn't shift that power to Brown until late afternoon or evening on Aug. 30, about 36 hours after Katrina hit Louisiana and Mississippi. That same memo suggests that Chertoff may have been confused about his lead role in disaster response and that of his department.

"As you know, the President has established the `White House Task Force on Hurricane Katrina Response.' He will meet with us tomorrow to launch this effort. The Department of Homeland Security, along with other Departments, will be part of the task force and will assist the Administration with its response to Hurricane Katrina," Chertoff said in the memo to the secretaries of defense, health and human services and other key federal agencies.

On the day that Chertoff wrote the memo, Bush was in San Diego presiding over a ceremony marking the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II.

Chertoff's Aug. 30 memo for the first time declared Katrina an "Incident of National Significance," a key designation that triggers swift federal coordination. The following afternoon, Bush met with his Cabinet, then appeared before TV cameras in the White House Rose Garden to announce the government's planned action.

That same day, Aug. 31, the Department of Defense, whose troops and equipment are crucial in such large disasters, activated its Task Force Katrina. But active-duty troops didn't begin to arrive in large numbers along the Gulf Coast until Saturday.

White House and homeland security officials wouldn't explain why Chertoff waited some 36 hours to declare Katrina an incident of national significance and why he didn't immediately begin to direct the federal response from the moment on Aug. 27 when the National Hurricane Center predicted that Katrina would strike the Gulf Coast with catastrophic force in 48 hours. Nor would they explain why Bush felt the need to appoint a separate task force.

Chertoff's hesitation and Bush's creation of a task force both appear to contradict the National Response Plan and previous presidential directives that specify what the secretary of homeland security is assigned to do without further presidential orders. The goal of the National Response Plan is to provide a streamlined framework for swiftly delivering federal assistance when a disaster - caused by terrorists or Mother Nature - is too big for local officials to handle.

Dana Perino, a White House spokeswoman, referred most inquiries about the memo and Chertoff's actions to the Department of Homeland Security.

"There will be an after-action report" on the government's response to Hurricane Katrina, Perino said. She added that "Chertoff had the authority to invoke the Incident of National Significance, and he did it on Tuesday."

Perino said the creation of the White House task force didn't add another bureaucratic layer or delay the response to the devastating hurricane. "Absolutely not," she said. "I think it helped move things along." When asked whether the delay in issuing the Incident of National Significance was to allow Bush time to return to Washington, Perino replied: "Not that I'm aware of."

Russ Knocke, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, didn't dispute that the National Response Plan put Chertoff in charge in federal response to a catastrophe. But he disputed that the bureaucracy got in the way of launching the federal response.

"There was a tremendous sense of urgency," Knocke said. "We were mobilizing the greatest response to a disaster in the nation's history."

Knocke noted that members of the Coast Guard were already in New Orleans performing rescues and FEMA personnel and supplies had been deployed to the region.

The Department of Homeland Security has refused repeated requests to provide details about Chertoff's schedule and said it couldn't say specifically when the department requested assistance from the military. Knocke said a military liaison was working with FEMA, but said he didn't know his or her name or rank. FEMA officials said they wouldn't provide information about the liaison.

Knocke said members of almost every federal agency had already been meeting as part of the department's Interagency Incident Management Group, which convened for the first time on the Friday before the hurricane struck. So it would be a mistake, he said, to interpret the memo as meaning that Tuesday, Aug. 30 was the first time that members of the federal government coordinated.

The Chertoff memo indicates that the response to Katrina wasn't left to disaster professionals, but was run out of the White House, said George Haddow, a former deputy chief of staff at FEMA during the Clinton administration and the co-author of an emergency management textbook.

"It shows that the president is running the disaster, the White House is running it as opposed to Brown or Chertoff," Haddow said. Brown "is a convenient fall guy. He's not the problem really. The problem is a system that was marginalized."

A former FEMA director under President Reagan expressed shock by the inaction that Chertoff's memo suggested. It showed that Chertoff "does not have a full appreciation for what the country is faced with - nor does anyone who waits that long," said Gen. Julius Becton Jr., who was FEMA director from 1985-1989.

"Anytime you have a delay in taking action, there's a potential for losing lives," Becton told Knight Ridder. "I have no idea how many lives we're talking about. ... I don't understand why, except that they were inefficient."

Chertoff's Aug. 30 memo came on the heels of a memo from Brown, written several hours after Katrina made landfall, showing that the FEMA director was waiting for Chertoff's permission to get help from others within the massive department. In that memo, first obtained by the Associated Press last week, Brown requested Chertoff's "assistance to make available DHS employees willing to deploy as soon as possible." It asked for another 1,000 homeland security workers within two days and 2,000 within a week.

The four-paragraph memo ended with Brown thanking Chertoff "for your consideration in helping us meet our responsibilities in this near catastrophic event."

According to the National Response Plan, which was unveiled in January by Chertoff's predecessor, Tom Ridge, the secretary of homeland security is supposed to declare an Incident of National Significance when a catastrophic event occurs.

"Standard procedures regarding requests for assistance may be expedited or, under extreme circumstances, suspended in the immediate aftermath of an event of catastrophic magnitude," according to the plan, which evolved from earlier plans and lessons learned after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. "Notification and full coordination with the States will occur, but the coordination process must not delay or impede the rapid deployment and use of critical resources."

Should Chertoff have declared Katrina an Incident of National Significance sooner - even before the storm struck? Did his delay slow the quick delivery of the massive federal response that was needed? Would it have made a difference?

"You raise good questions," said Frank J. Cilluffo, the director of George Washington University's Homeland Security Planning Institute. It's too early to tell, he said, whether unfamiliarity with or glitches in the new National Response Plan were factors in the poor early response to Katrina.

"Clearly this is the first test. It certainly did not pass with flying colors," Cilluffo said of the National Response Plan.

Mike Byrne, a former senior homeland security official under Ridge who worked on the plan, said he doesn't think the new National Response Plan caused the confusion that plagued the early response to Katrina.

Something else went wrong, he suspects. The new National Response Plan isn't all that different from the previous plan, called the Federal Response Plan.

"Our history of responding to major disasters has been one where we've done it well," Byrne said. "We need to figure out why this one didn't go as well as the others did. It's shocking to me."

Chertoff's Aug. 30 memo is posted at

To read the National Response Plan, go to:


(Knight Ridder Newspapers correspondents Seth Borenstein and William Douglas contributed to this report.)


© 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.