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Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Supreme Joke

Bob Somerby brings up something today that has bothered me for some time:

A caller to C-SPAN’s Washington Journal said that Roberts should be required to state his views on the case. As a general matter, we agree. But [Charles]Lane expressed a different view—a familiar view which has never seemed to make any real sense to us:

LANE (9/12/05): Well, the dilemma of this situation is that everybody wants to know this, everybody wants to know about it, and yet if Judge Roberts were to declare flatly at his hearing, “I would vote to overturn Roe. v. Wade,” the decision that established, or recognized, the constitutional right to choose abortion, he would then be in a position where he might have to recuse if such a case came to the Court later on because the person bringing the case could sday, “He’s already said how he’ll vote.” So in a way, Judge Roberts, just like many others who have come before the Court, face that essential dilemma.

But where’s the dilemma? Surely, Roberts knows whether he thinks Roe was correctly decided. If he thinks it was wrongly decided, he must know, as a general matter, what he thinks the decision should stand as a matter of “settled law.” (Indeed, he called Roe “settled law” in his confirmation hearing for the District Court.) Would Roberts have to recuse later on if he said what he thought about Roe? We can’t imagine why. As matters stand, sitting Justices like Scalia and Thomas have openly said, in prior rulings, what they think of Roe v. Wade; indeed, in a January 30 Post profile, Lane himself described Scalia as “an opponent of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that established a constitutional right to abortion.” Does anyone think that Scalia’s prior statements would force him to recuse in the future? The notion is completely absurd—and yet the logic is widely applied to Roberts, as Lane does above.

For years judges have been dancing around hot button issues in their confirmation hearings. I understand they do this for political reasons. But people seem to just blithely accept this notion and it's never made any sense to me either.

John Roberts has repeatedly asserted today that he cannot answer questions about any cases that may come before the court because to do so would prejudge the case. He says, for instance.

"Let me explain very briefly why. It's because if these questions
come before me either on the court on which I now sit or if I am confirmed on the Supreme Court, I need to decide those questions with an open mind, on the basis of the arguments presented, on the basis of the record presented in the case and on the basis of the rule of law, including the precedents of the court - not on the basis of any commitments during the confirmation process."

So, he's basically saying that he can only speak in the vaguest of terms about abstract legal issues because otherwise he would jeopardise his objectivity.

Now consider this dissent from Planned Parenthood vs. Casey by Antonin Scalia:

My views on this matter are unchanged from those I set forth in my separate opinions in Webster v. Reproductive Health Services, 492 U.S. 490, 532 (1989) (Scalia, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment), and Ohio v. Akron Center for Reproductive Health, 497 U.S. 502, 520 (1990) (Akron II) (Scalia, J., concurring). The States may, if they wish, permit abortion on demand, but the Constitution does not require them to do so. The permissibility of abortion, and the limitations upon it, are to be resolved like most important questions in our democracy: by citizens trying to persuade one another and then voting. As the Court acknowledges, "where reasonable people disagree the government can adopt one position or the other." Ante, at 8. The Court is correct in adding the qualification that this "assumes a state of affairs in which the choice does not intrude upon a protected liberty," ante, at 9--but the crucial part of that qualification is the penultimate word. A State's choice between two positions on which reasonable people can disagree is constitutional even when (as is often the case) it intrudes upon a "liberty" in the absolute sense. Laws against bigamy, for example--which entire societies of reasonable people disagree with--intrude upon men and women's liberty to marry and live with one another. But bigamy happens not to be a liberty specially "protected" by the Constitution.

His views are exquisitely clear. Why then are we to assume that he can view any new case on this issue that comes before the court with an open mind?

Meanwhile, we are forced to believe that future Chief Justice John Roberts, whom Lindsey Graham just called one of the finest minds in our time, will not be able to keep an open mind if he tells the Senate where he actually stands on issues about which virtually every American has an opinion. What kind of silly kabuki is this?

Clarence Thomas got around this by saying he'd never thought about these issues, which was absurd. I don't think anyone thinks they can get away with that again. So they've created this ridiculous rationale that if prospective judges discuss their political philosophy, express their views on commonly discussed issues or even their views on a particular settled laws, they will be unable to keep an open mind when a related case comes before them. Indeed, Charles Lane said that they would have to recuse themselves!

As Somerby asks, does anyone think that Antonin Scalia believes that he should recuse himself from hearing any cases that Roe vs Wade may be a part of since he has clearly stated that it was wrongly decided in his dissents? Of course not.

Roberts certainly cannot discuss a specific case that is coming before the court.But there is no reason that he or any other judge can't say publicly whether they believe a specific case was decided correctly or if they agree with the principles on which it was decided. That's what judges do. Or so I thought. I guess now we must pretend that a person is a blank slate until the day she decides her first casepertaining to any issue, at which point she can express opinions freely ever after and still maintain objectivity.

I realize that this little misdirection makes it possible to pretend that we have confirmation hearings instead of anointment pageants, but it's insulting nonetheless.

Roberts is obviously a very, very smart lawyer. He talked circles around everybody on the committee today. There is no doubt in my mind that he will craft beautifully reasoned, elegant decisions that will result in as much destruction of the last 75 years of social and economic progress as he can politically get away with.

Report Confirms that Louisiana Took Necessary and Timely Steps

Pursuant to a September 7 request by Representative John Conyers to review the law and legal accountability relating to Federal action in response to Hurricane Katrina, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) issued a report today about whether the Governor of Louisiana took the necessary and timely steps needed to secure disaster relief from the federal government. The report unequivocally concludes that she did.

Congressman Conyers issued the following statement:

"This report closes the book on the Bush Administration's attempts to evade accountability by shifting the blame to the Governor of Louisiana for the Administration's tragically sluggish response to Katrina. It confirms that the Governor did everything she could to secure relief for the people of Louisiana and the Bush Administration was caught napping at a critical time."

In addition to finding that "...it would appear that the Governor did take the steps necessary to request emergency and major disaster declarations for the State of Louisiana in anticipation of Hurricane Katrina. (p.11)" The report found that:

* All necessary conditions for federal relief were met on August 28. Pursuant to Section 502 of the Stafford Act, "[t]he declaration of an emergency by the President makes Federal emergency assistance available," and the President made such a declaration on August 28. The public record indicates that severa additional days passed before such assistance was actually made available to the State;

* The Governor must make a timely request for such assistance, which meets the requirements of federal law. The report states that "[e]xcept to the extent that an emergency involves primarily Federal interests, both declarations of major disaster and declarations of emergency must be triggered by a request to the President from the Governor of the affected state";

* The Governor did indeed make such a request, which was both timely and in compliance with federal law. The report finds that "Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco requested by letter dated August 27, 2005...that the President declare an emergency for the State of Louisiana due to Hurricane Katrina for the time period from August 26, 2005 and continuing pursuant to [applicable Federal statute]" and "Governor Blanco's August 27, 2005 request for an emergency declaration also included her determination...that 'the incident is of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capabilities of the State and affected local governments and that supplementary Federal assistance is necessary to save lives, protect property, public health, and safety, or to lessen or avert the threat of disaster."


Monday, September 12, 2005

Music City

Austin must be a swingin' town right now. I want to go there and have a beer with Amanda and Twisty Faster and listen to some fineNew Orleans music.

This is a good idea:


Ernest L. Johnson, President of the Louisiana NAACP called today for Katrina evacuees in shelters to take control of their own destinies by forming SHELTER COMMITTEES.

"Each SHELTER COMMITTEE should elect a Chairperson and a Secretary and begin holding meetings, organizing, and working as a team for better treatment," Johnson said. "In unity there is strength."

Johnson called for each committee to begin writing down the name, telephone number, and next of kin of every shelter resident.

This contact information must be put into the FEMA database for evacuees to receive financial assistance.

Johnson urged each SHELTER COMMITTEE to send this information to 1755 Nicholson Drive, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70802, or to fax it to (225) 334-7491.

The Louisiana NAACP is airing public service announcements on radio stations that explain the process for bringing participatory democracy to the shelter system.

"The Louisiana NAACP is with you in solidarity," Johnson said. "The NAACP will stand with all displaced people until each and every one return to a brand-new New Orleans."

Poeple need to take some control of their lives when they are at the mercy of strangers. I suspect that a lot of them are going to find themselves in need of advocacy very soon. It would be nice if they had a system set up to advocate for themselves.

Our Little Man

When that storm came through at first, people said, whew. There was a sense of relaxation, and that's what I was referring to. And I, myself, thought we had dodged a bullet. You know why? Because I was listening to people, probably over the airways, say, the bullet has been dodged. And that was what I was referring to.

Boo Hoo Hoo

I just threw up a little bit in my mouth watching that addled freakshow Tom Coburn shed crocodile tears about "incivility" at the Roberts hearings. Clearly he forgot to take his meds this morning. This is the same Coburn who famously said:

"lesbianism is so rampant in some of the schools in southeast Oklahoma that they'll only let one girl go to the bathroom. Now think about it. Think about that issue. How is it that that's happened to us?"

That claim is, of course, completely false, not to mention "uncivil" beyond belief.

Everybody's asking what's the matter with Kansas. I'd like to know what the hell is wrong with Oklahoma that they send both Coburn and Inhofe, two certifiably insane politicians, to the US senate.

Tripping Over His Gum

Junior just said that the American people need to understand that he can do more than one thing at a time and that the government and other individuals can do more than one things at a time.

How does that square with this?:

"We've got to solve problems; we're problem-solvers. There will be ample time for people to figure out what went right and what went wrong. What I'm interested in is helping save lives."

The American people need to understand that he can do more than one thing at a time --- unless it's answering questions about what went wrong. He's too busy solving problems and saving lives for that.

Deja Vu All Over Again

BUSH:"Look, there will be plenty of time to play the blame game," he said. "That's what you're trying to do. You're trying to say somebody is at fault. And, look, I want to know. I want to know exactly what went on and how it went on, and we'll continually assess inside my administration."

Yes, he always wants to know the truth. Indeed he demands it.

BUSH: ... There's just too many leaks. And if there is a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is. And if the person has violated law, the person will be taken care of.


I want to know the truth. If anybody has got any information inside our administration or outside our administration, it would be helpful if they came forward with the information so we can find out whether or not these allegations are true and get on about the business.

He has held his staff to the highest standards on that case and I'm sure he'll do the same on this one.

(Now that poor little Brownie has resigned, some enterprising reporter needs to tell him that he's measured for a scapegoat suit. He might be feeling raw enough to spill some beans.)

American Welfare

I promise that I will write about something else today, but I want to follow up on the post below just a bit to address an issue that comes up continually among liberals. It came up during the Democratic primaries and it will come up again I'm sure. There is a great desire to pivot the conversation to poverty rather than race because people believe that we will then be able to create a class argument that can appeal to working class whites and blacks alike.

Unfortunately, in America these issues are inextricably intertwined. You will never be able to separate them because the bedrock value of American "individualism" and the belief that the poor are simply unwilling to work is directly a result of our attitudes about race.

I linked to this moldy piece of mine in the post below, but I would like to put just a part of it on the front page so that people can see what I'm talking about. Ask yourself why America has never been able to put together a decent modern welfare state (or in less politically incorrect parlance --- a robust safety net) when all the other first world democracies (and some second world democracies) have.

It comes down to the veto power or dominance of the conservative southern states in electoral politics, just as we see it today. And it is one reason we have been unable to advance liberal government programs short of a national crisis or brief period of consensus --- and win much in the south since 1968.

The question has always been, why don’t southern working class whites vote their economic self-interest?

In this paper (pdf) Sociologist Nathan Glazer of Harvard), who has long been interested in the question of America’s underdeveloped welfare state, answers a related question --- “Why Americans don’t care about income inequality” which may give us some clues. Citing a comprehensive study by economists Alberto Alesina and Edward Glaeser of Harvard and Bruce Sacerdote of Dartmouth called, "Why Doesn't the United States have a European-Style Welfare State?" (Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, 2/2001) he shows that the reluctance of Americans to embrace an egalitarian economic philosophy goes back to the beginning of the republic. But what is interesting is that both he and the economists offer some pretty conclusive evidence that the main reason for American “exceptionalism” in this case is, quite simply, racism.

AGS [Alesina, Glazear and Sacerdote] report, using the World Values Survey, that "opinions and beliefs about the poor differ sharply between the United States and Europe. In Europe the poor are generally thought to be unfortunate, but not personally responsible for their own condition. For example, according to the World Values Survey, whereas 70 % of West Germans express the belief that people are poor because of imperfections in society, not their own laziness, 70 % of Americans hold the opposite view.... 71 % of Americans but only 40% of Europeans said ...poor people could work their way out of poverty."


"Racial fragmentation and the disproportionate representation of ethnic minorities among the poor played a major role in limiting redistribution.... Our bottom line is that Americans redistribute less than Europeans for three reasons: because the majority of Americans believe that redistribution favors racial minorities, because Americans believe that they live in an open and fair society, and that if someone is poor it is his or her own fault, and because the political system is geared toward preventing redistribution. In fact the political system is likely to be endogenous to these basic American beliefs."(p. 61)

"Endogenous" is economics-ese for saying we have the political system we do because we prefer the results it gives, such as limiting redistribution to the blacks. Thus the racial factor as well as a wider net of social beliefs play a key role in why Americans don't care about income inequality, and why, not caring, they have no great interest in expanding the welfare state.

Glazer goes on to point out how these attitudes may have come to pass historically by discussing the roles that the various immigrant support systems and the variety of religious institutions provided for the poor:

But initial uniformities were succeeded by a diversity which overwhelmed and replaced state functions by nonstate organizations, and it was within these that many of the services that are the mark of a fully developed welfare state were provided. Where do the blacks fit in? The situation of the blacks was indeed different. No religious or ethnic group had to face anything like the conditions of slavery or the fierce subsequent prejudice and segregation to which they were subjected. But the pre-existing conditions of fractionated social services affected them too. Like other groups, they established their own churches, which provided within the limits set by the prevailing poverty and absence of resources some services. Like other groups, too, they were dependant on pre-existing systems of social service that had been set up by religious and ethnic groups, primarily to serve their own, some of which reached out to serve blacks, as is the case with the religiously based (and now publicly funded) social service agencies of New York City. They were much more dependant, owing to their economic condition, on the poorly developed primitive public services, and they became in time the special ward of the expanded American welfare state's social services. Having become, to a greater extent than other groups, the clients of public services, they also affected, owing to the prevailing racism, the public image of these services.

Glazer notes that there are other factors involved in our attitudes about inequality having to do with our British heritage, religious backround etc, that also play into our attitudes. But, he and the three economists have put their finger on the problem Democrats have with white Southern voters who “vote against their economic self-interest,” and may just explain why populism is so often coupled with nativism and racism --- perhaps it’s always been impossible to make a populist pitch that includes blacks or immigrants without alienating whites.

So, we are dealing with a much more complex and intractable problem than “southerners have been duped by Nixon’s southern strategy” or that liberals have been insulting them for years by supposedly devaluing their culture. Indeed, even the nostalgia ... for FDR’s coalition is historically inaccurate. A majority of whites have never voted with blacks in the south. (In the 30’s, as we all know, southern blacks were rarely allowed to vote at all.) In fact, FDR had an implicit agreement with the southern base of his party to leave Jim Crow alone if he wanted their cooperation on other economic issues. The southern coalition went along out of desperation (and also because they were paying very little in taxes.) But, as soon as the economy began to recover, and Roosevelt began to concentrate on programs for the poor, the division that exists to this day re-emerged.

When you all get a chance to read Rick Perlstein's new book (which he generously allowed me to excerpt a bit of here) you will see how fragile and ephemeral the consensus that allowed the civil rights bills to pass in the mid-60's was. You will see that almost immediately the backlash formed against the anti-poverty programs despite the fact that, contrary to myth, they worked quite well and actually lifted a lot of people out of poverty, black and white alike.

Racism informs many Americans' ideas about poverty. It is also one of the darker philosphical underpinnings of our vaunted American individualism. From the beginning we had problems because government programs often had to help blacks as a last resort. It is why today many people believe that welfare has a black face even though far more welfare recipients are white. It is why we have developed the idea that the poor (pictured in our minds' eye as black and brown) are lazy and shiftless rather than unfortunate. (Europe, with its long history of class division doesn't see poverty this way.) It's why certain people made the assumption that the poor and black in New Orleans were all on welfare rather than the truth, which is that many of them are members of the urban working poor.

There are certainly many conservatives who hold a philosophy of small government for different reasons than racism. They may believe that power corrupts or that big government is inefficient. But there is no sense of economic self-interest in working class whites being against high taxes for millionaires and corporations and there is no reason that they should be worried about big government takeover of healthcare when thiers is terrible if it exists at all. And yet many of them vote against the party that promises to tax millionaires and corporations and provide national health insurance.

The sad fact is that in that great sea of Republican red, there are many whites who would rather do without health care than see money go to pay for programs that they believe benefit blacks to the detriment of whites. Their prejudice overwhelms their economic self-interest and always has. They vote for the party that reinforces their belief that government programs only benefit the undeserving african american poor.

That is why liberals have to accept that race must be part of the argument. We are making progress. Things are better. But progress requires staying focused on the issue and ensuring that there is no slippage, no matter how difficult and cumbersome this debate feels at times. The liberal agenda depends upon forcing this out of the national bloodstream with each successive generation not only for moral reasons, which I know we all believe, but it also depends upon forcing it out of the bloodstream for practical reasons. Until this knee jerk reaction to black poverty among certain whites (and Pat Buchanan), particularly in the south, is brought to heel we are fighting an uphill battle to muster the consensus we need to create the kind of nation that guarantees its citizens a modern, decent safety net regardless of race or class.


Sunday, September 11, 2005

Dusting Off The Manual

Kevin reports that Time magazine says the Republicans have a three point plan for a comeback after Katrina:

By late last week, Administration aides were describing a three-part comeback plan. The first: Spend freely, and worry about the tab and the consequences later....The second tactic could be summed up as, Don't look back. The White House has sent delegates to meetings in Washington of outside Republican groups who have plans to blame the Democrats and state and local officials.

....The third move:...Advisers are proceeding with plans to gin up base-conservative voters...focused around tax reform....no plans to delay tax cuts...veto anticipated congressional approval of increased federal funding for embryonic-stem-cell research.

There's one other little way to gin up base conservative voters that we can already see developing on the shout fest and gasbags shows. But this is one that the leakers know very well mustn’t be mentioned to writers for Time magazine. They are already dusting off their old tried and true southern strategy manual and after more than 40 years it's like a favorite old song --- they just started regurgitating their coded talking points without missing a beat. They'll need to. This happened deep in Red territory.

On This Weak, George Will basically said that the problem in New Orleans is that blacks fuck too much. Or rather, the problem of the "underclass" can be traced to so many "out of wedlock births." I think it's pretty clear he wasn't suggesting that abortions be made available to poor women. (If Bill Clinton thought he neutralized that line with welfare reform, he was sadly mistaken.) As far as the right is concerned, it's all about that old racist boogeyman "dependency." Last night on the McLaughlin Group, Pat Buchanan was foaming at the mouth about "the welfare state." He was in his element, getting his "we're gonna take our cities block by block" Pitchfork Pat mojo back. These are code words. They aren't about class --- although they will certainly claim that's what they're talking about. These are code words for blacks. (And if you want to understand how it's affected our ability to create a decent liberal government, read this.)

Immigration had already reared its ugly head out of nowhere, and now this. I believe the Republicans already see the elections of 06 and 08 as an opportunity to revert to a tried and true code saturated "law 'n order" strategy. The War on Terrorism has been losing its juice for sometime --- and Iraq is nothing but an embarrassment now. It's time to go back to what works.

For those who think that we are in a post racist world because George W. Bush appointed blacks to his cabinet, think again. The modern Republican Party was built on the back of an enduring national divide on the issue of race. George Bush may not personally be racist (or more likely not know he's racist) but the party he leads has depended on it for many years. The coded language that signals tribal ID has obscured it, but don't kid yourselves. It is a party that became dominant by exploiting the deep cultural fault of the mason dixon line.

I know that people are uncomfortable with this, but that doesn't make it any less true or relevant. Remember that famous electoral map of 2004:

Here again is that famous map of the slave and free states.

Whether or not you believe that Ohio was overtly stolen, there can be little doubt after reading the Conyers report that African American disenfranchisement likely resulted in that close election going to the Republicans. The same was true in Florida in 2000. Nobody wants to talk about that or deal with it. It interferes with our liberal insistence that all problems must be seen through the prism of class. But white voters have not been systematically disenfranchised, regardless of class, that's just a fact. And that speaks to the larger issue.

There are strong forces at work that rival economics in people's minds --- tribalism, religion, culture, and tradition all have strong pulls on the human psyche. We are complicated creatures. And the complicated creatures who call ourselves Americans have an issue with race. It's been there from the beginning of this republic and it affects our political system in profound ways.

In the modern era, the Republicans party has developed a patented technique for exploiting it. It's been in disuse for the last few years --- war superseded their need for it. But, they only have to pull it out of the package, wipe off the filth from the last time they used it and put it back in action.

The good news is that each time they use it; it is less effective than before. Things are improving. Racism is not as immediate for younger people as it once was and the virulent strain is much less potent than it was when I was a kid. On race, this country takes two steps forward one and a half steps back. I'm hopeful that we can eradicate the systemic nature of this illness from our culture over time.

But we aren't there yet. It was only forty years ago that this country was still living under apartheid. Since then, overt public racism became socially unacceptable. That's huge and is the reason why, in my opinion,you see so much less of it among the young. But we've also seen the Republican Party very deftly develop an alternate language to appeal to those for whom this issue is still very salient --- and who talk about it among themselves. That language has helped to remake the map we see above. It's not a coincidence that the lines that divided the slave, free and "open to slavery" states are the lines that form the political divide today.

In the right wing litany of family values, small government, low taxes, god and guns the missing word is racism. They don't have to say it. It's part of all those things.

These last two weeks I've heard the old school racists dragging out the "n" word, but they are dying out. We aren't going to see a lot of that anymore, thank god. But the code words were being slung around more freely than I've seen in ages. The first thing I heard out of people's mouths was that these people had been "irresponsible" for not following the directions they were given. The next thing I heard was that "looters" were taking over the city and they should be shot. Then there was the "why do they have so many kids" and "why can't they clean up after themselves" and "defecating where they stood."

I've heard all of this before. Just as racist code language sounds sweet and familiar to the true believers, it sets off alarm bells for people like me; when you grow up in a racist household, (just as when you grow up in a black household, I would assume) you know it when you hear it.

And throughout I've heard many good people insist that race is not a factor. They seem to think that racism is only defined as an irrational hatred of black people. It's not. It also manifests itself as an irrational fear of black people.

Here's a good example of what I'm talking about. This slide show of the destruction of the city from the beginning of the hurricane until the photographer managed to finally get out on day four is spectacular. Look all the way through it. It's great. When he finally realized that he would have to evacuate from the city he went to the convention center with a friend as authorities told him to do. And when he got there he saw long lines of people. This is the caption to his picture:

My jaw dropped and a sudden state of fear grasped my body. However, I maintained utter calmness. It was obvious that they were NOT going to help these people evacuate any time soon. They had been forgotten and obviously and shamelessly ignored. And it was evident that Andy and I were merely two specs of salt in a sea of pepper. Not only would we have to wait forever, but more than anything, we would probably suffer dire conditions after it would be obvious that we wouldn't "fit in". It was clear to me that we would have to find another way out. We left the Convention Center and my first intuition is to walk around the city. I wanted to clear my head, but I also had a weird and crazy plan in mind.

This was number 193 out of 197 pictures with captions. In earlier pictures he was pretty judgmental about looters but I thought that he was maybe just a law and order type. He is also Nicaraguan, so I didn't chalk up his vague condemnation of looters to racism although I've known many non-whites who actively dislike black people. And I don't chalk the above to overt racism. It is, as I've pounded the last few days, a sub-conscious fear of the black mob. If you look at that picture (#193) you don't see a rampaging mob. You see a bunch of black people standing around. He sees their plight. But he also assumes that he is personally in danger because he doesn't "fit in." He had been walking around lawless New Orleans taking pictures throughout the crisis and the only time he expressed fear for his personal safety was when something exploded nearby. But when faced with a large group of African Americans he immediately feels terribly threatened. He is proud that he "maintained utter calmness" in the face of it.

That's subconscious racism. And many white people succumb to it without even knowing what they are doing. The New York Times reported that the Louisiana authorities were "terrified" --- just as this guy was frozen with fear. He is not a bad person. Neither are most of the cops or the others who succumbed to this fear. They just do not know themselves. And that lack of self-knowledge ends up coloring their decisions, both political and social, in ways they don't understand.

The fact is that at this point, white people don't appear to have been the primary victims of crime during that time. As far as I am able to ascertain, the deaths at the evacuation centers were all black people.

(Incidentally, the weird and crazy plan that this gentleman had was to hotwire a car and drive it out of New Orleans. That is an action that Peggy Noonan and others considered worthy of being shot on the spot. Do you think she would have thought this guy should have been shot?)

If Karl Rove is going back to basics and shoring up the base you'll hear a lot of talk about Jesus as always. But after Katrina when they rail about traditional values, they will also be talking up the traditional value of southern racism again. The Republican base is that sea of red in the deep south and Karl and his boys are going to have to reassure those people that all this talk about rebuilding and federal money isn't going to benefit black people at the expense of whites. That's always been the sticking point.

We can hope that this has a galvanizing effect on the country and that there will be a reckoning for the Republicans. But prepare for the fact that there will also be a reaction. That's how these things work in Murika.

I wrote some things last year in the wake of the election, when I contemplated that election map that some of you may remember. If you are interested in this subject and you haven't read them, you might find these posts interesting:

Resentment Tribe
A very old story
It won't work
More culture war


Saturday, September 10, 2005

Is There Any Other Option?

Darrell Plant sent me this partial transcript of an interview with Ray Nagin on Nightline from last Sunday. He has the full interview, but doesn't have the bandwidth to take a lot of hits, so don't watch it unless you really have to verify what I'm posting. (Or if one of you hotshit videobloggers would like to host this vid, that would be good too.)

Nagin talks about the Crescent Connection bridge issue that I and others have been writing about:

JOHN DONOVAN, ABC NEWS: The last thing I want to ask you about is the race question.

So, I'm out at the highway — it was last Thursday — huge number of people stuck in the middle of nowhere. Jesse Jackson comes in, looks at the scene, and says it looks like the scene of a, from a slave ship. And I said, "Reverand Jackson,, the imagery suggests you're saying this is about race." And he didn't answer directly, he said, "Take a look at it, what do you think it's about?"

What's your response to that?

RAY NAGIN, MAYOR OF NEW ORLEANS: (Sighs) You know, I haven't really thought much about the race issue. I will tell you this. I think it's, it could be, but it's a class issue for sure. Because I don't think this type of response would have happened if this was Orange County, California. This response definitely wouldn't have happened if it was Manhattan, New York. And I don't know if it's color or class.

DONOVAN: In some way, you think that New Orleans got second-class treatment.

NAGIN: I can't explain the response. And here's what else I can't explain: We are basically, almost surrounded by water. To the east, the bridge is out, you can't escape. Going west, you can't escape because the bridge is under water. We found one evacuation route, to walk across the Crescent City Connection, on the overpass, down Highway 90 to 310 to I10, to go get relief.

People got restless and there was overcrowding at the convention center. They asked us, "Is there any other option?" We said, "Well, if you want to walk, across the Crescent City Connection, there's buses coming, you may be able to find some relief." They started marching. At the parish line, the county line of Gretna, they were met with attack dogs and police officers with machine guns saying "You have to turn back..."

DONOVAN: Go back.

NAGIN: "...because a looter got in a shopping center and set it afire and we want to protect the property in this area."

DONOVAN: And what does that say to you?

NAGIN: That says that's a bunch of bull. That says that people value their property, and were protecting property, over human life.

And look, I was not suggesting, or suggesting to the people that they walk down into those neighborhoods. All I wanted them to do and I suggested: walk on the Interstate. And we called FEMA and we said "Drop them water and supplies as they march." They weren't gonna go into those doggone neighborhoods. They weren't going to impact those neighborhoods. Those people were looking to escape, and they cut off the last available exit route out of New Orleans.

DONOVAN: And was that race? Was that class?

NAGIN: I don't know. You're going to have to go ask them. But those questions need to be answered. And I'm pissed about it. And I don't know how many people died as a result of that.

They imprisoned those poor people in a catastrophic disaster area with no food and water because they were afraid of them. What a bunch of chickenshits.

Update: Nagin speaks out again today --- and mentions the incident at the bridge:

Stale CW

Why is that I keep hearing that Democrats are held in the same low esteem as Bush and the Republicans? The new Newsweek poll says:

Reflecting the tarnished view of the administration, only 38 percent of registered voters say they would vote for a Republican for Congress if the Congressional elections were held today, while 50 say they would vote for a Democrat.

This kind of question is actually pretty meaningless. When an election is in sight it will make more sense. Still, it seems as if the conventional wisdom of "Republicans may be unpopular but the Democrats are just as unpopular" continues to have the same shelf life as that stale a moldy trope that Bush is a popular president. He had to dip below 45 percent for many successive weeks before the media could bring themselves to refer to him as anything but popular and well-liked.

And for those who accuse the Democrats of having the same lock-step kool-aid drinking partisan impulses as the right wing borg, there's this:

The president and the GOP’s greatest hope may be, ironically, how deeply divided the nation remains, even after national tragedy. The president’s Republican base, in particular, remains extremely loyal. For instance, 53 percent of Democrats say the federal government did a poor job in getting help to people in New Orleans after Katrina. But just 19 percent of Republicans feel that way. In fact, almost half of Republicans (48 percent) either believes the federal government did a good job (37 percent) or an excellent job (11 percent) helping those stuck in New Orleans.

Not surprisingly, the Democrats are more forgiving of local and state governments (the New Orleans mayor and Louisiana governor are Democrats), though Democrats are not as forgiving as Republicans are of the Feds. More than a quarter (28 percent) of Democrats either believe the state and local governments did a good job (24 percent) or an excellent job (4 percent.) While 30 percent of Democrats believe the local and state governments did a poor job, 43 percent of Republicans believe the state and local officials did a poor job. (Thirty-five percent of Democrats and 29 percent of Republicans say they did a fair job.)

I think we need to start asking how much this Republican loyalty is for Dear Leader and how much is for the party. That's an important question going forward. Perhaps that 38/50 split mentioned at the top will turn out to have been a portent of good things to come. We'll see.

Brownie Pledge

Perhaps this made the rounds of the blogosphere and I missed it, but it truly is a great insight into why our preznit was so reluctant to dump a lowly, second rate factotum like Brownie. It's not like he's Karl Rove or something.

Via PERRspective blog, this article from November 3, 2004 in GovExec.com spells it out quite clearly. Junior owes him big-time:

How FEMA delivered Florida for Bush

By Charles Mahtesian

Now that President Bush has won Florida in his 2004 re-election bid, he may want to draft a letter of appreciation to Michael Brown, chief of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Seldom has any federal agency had the opportunity to so directly and uniquely alter the course of a presidential election, and seldom has any agency delivered for a president as FEMA did in Florida this fall.

It is almost impossible to overstate the political importance of Florida, the fourth biggest election prize, with 27 electoral votes. In 2000, when Bush and Democratic nominee Al Gore battled to a 49 percent draw in the state, the official recount that gave Bush a 537-vote win also gave him the presidency. In 2004, both presidential campaigns targeted Florida with an intensity that assumed the state would be just as competitive as four years before.

Neither party, however, could have foreseen the role that Mother Nature would play. Beginning in August, Florida was flattened by four successive hurricanes that ripped up broad swaths of the state. Between hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne, the storm damage was estimated to run as high as $26 billion.

In 1992, the last time a major hurricane pummeled Florida in the homestretch of a presidential election, FEMA was caught with its pants down. Its response to Hurricane Andrew was disorganized and chaotic, leaving thousands without shelter and water. Cleanup and resupply efforts were snarled in red tape. After watching the messy relief efforts unfold, lawmakers questioned whether FEMA was a Cold War relic that ought to be abolished.

For then-President George H.W. Bush, the scene proved to be a public relations nightmare. He managed to regain his footing and win Florida three months later, but his winning margin was dramatically reduced from 1988.

In 2004, George W. Bush and FEMA left little room for error. Not long after Hurricane Charley first made landfall on Aug. 13, Bush declared the state a federal disaster area to release federal relief funds. Less than two days after Charley ripped through southwestern Florida, he was on the ground touring hard-hit neighborhoods.

Bush later made a handful of other Florida visits to review storm-related damage, but the story on the ground was not Bush's hand-holding. Rather, it was FEMA's performance.

Charley hit on a Friday. With emergency supply trucks pre-positioned at depots for rapid, post-storm deployment, the agency was able to deliver seven truckloads of ice, water, cots, blankets, baby food and building supplies by Sunday. On Monday, hundreds of federal housing inspectors were on the ground, and FEMA already had opened its first one-stop disaster relief center.

By the end of September, three hurricanes later, the agency had processed 646,984 registrations for assistance with the help of phone lines operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Fifty-five shelters, 31 disaster recovery centers and six medical teams were in operation across the state. Federal and state assistance to households reached more than $361 million, nearly 300,000 housing inspections were completed, and roughly 150,000 waterproof tarps were provided for homeowners, according to FEMA figures.

It's impossible to know just how much of an effect FEMA had on the Florida vote. Many of the citizens the agency served there presumably had more important things to worry about. It's also hard to imagine that, even with its shock-and-awe hurricane response, a bureaucracy like FEMA pleased all its customers. Even so, in a closely contested state where hundreds of thousands of voters suffered storm-related losses, it's equally hard to imagine that they didn't notice the agency's outreach.

There is also the allegation that Brownie used 30 million in FEMA funds to pay for damage in Miami-Dade --- which was 100 miles away from the hurricane.

It's not that Junior is refusing to fire Brownie out of loyalty. It's that he can't fire Brownie --- he knows too much.

Sealing Them In

A couple of days ago I wrote about the "single worst decision" that was made in the wake of the hurricane. I was wrong; there were actually two horrible decisions that created one horrible Catch-22.

The first part of the catch was the decision to keep relief workers with food and water out of the city. Early reports had the Red Cross saying straightforwardly that they were told by Homeland Security that the plan was to keep relief out of the city because they wanted everyone to evacuate and believed survivors might not go if they could eat or drink --- and that security was so bad they feared "feeding stations might get ransacked."

Yesterday, the story changed:

Marsha Evans, the national Red Cross president, first made the request to open its relief effort on Sept. 1, three days after Katrina struck, officials say.

"We had adequate supplies, the people and the vehicles," said Vic Howell, chief executive officer of the agency's Louisiana Capital Area Chapter. "It was the middle of a military rescue operation trying to save lives. We were asked not to go in and we abided by that recommendation."

Col. Jay Mayeaux, the deputy director of the Louisiana Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, said he had asked the Red Cross to wait 24 hours for conditions to be "set" for the operation. But by then a large scale evacuation was under way.

According to Media Matters, the Red Cross spokespeople have issued some rather strange and contradictory statements recently and point out that the head of the Red Cross is a major GOP bigwig. I don't think anyone knows yet exactly what went on. Whatever the truth of why they held back, nobody disputes the fact that the Red Cross was ready to go in last Thursday and didn't. The question is why.

The second half of the catch was that it now appears that while people were told for days they would be rescued, and were denied aid during that period, they were also shuffled all over the city and not allowed to leave on foot over the bridges. The story of the EMTs (confirmed by the NY Times today) and the reports by Shepard Smith and Geraldo Rivera on Friday confirm that this was true.

Yesterday UPI was able to get an interview with Arthur Lawson the chief of the Gretna police whom the EMTs accused of blocking the Crescent City connection bridge --- the bridge to which they had been sent by New Orleans police. He said this:

"We shut down the bridge," Arthur Lawson, chief of the City of Gretna Police Department, confirmed to United Press International, adding that his jurisdiction had been "a closed and secure location" since before the storm hit.

"All our people had evacuated and we locked the city down," he said.

The bridge in question -- the Crescent City Connection -- is the major artery heading west out of New Orleans across the Mississippi River.

Lawson said that once the storm itself had passed Monday, police from Gretna City, Jefferson Parrish and the Louisiana State Crescent City Connection Police Department closed to foot traffic the three access points to the bridge closest to the West Bank of the river.

He added that the small town, which he called "a bedroom community" for the city of New Orleans, would have been overwhelmed by the influx.

"There was no food, water or shelter" in Gretna City, Lawson said. "We did not have the wherewithal to deal with these people.

"If we had opened the bridge, our city would have looked like New Orleans does now: looted, burned and pillaged."


He says that his officers did assist about 4000 people who "arrived at the doorstep of (Gretna City)" either by crossing the bridge before it was closed or approaching from another route.

"We commandeered public transit buses and we took them to higher and safer ground" at the junction of Interstate-10 and Causeway Boulevard where "there was food and shelter," he said.

Kevin Drum asks the same question I asked when I read this. If the police could do this for people "approaching from another route" (not New Orleans) why couldn't they have helped others? And when it became clear that the evacuation was terribly late, why couldn't they let people walk out? I asked that question last Thursday night when I saw the report by Smith and Rivera on Fox news.

I was told by commenters at the time that it would be suicide for people to walk out, but that's turned out not to be true. As Kevin points out, it was a 20 mile trip on dry roads to safety. Many people would have gladly made that trek. I know that's exactly what I would have done --- or tried to do anyway.

As Teresa Neilson Hayden points out in this amazing post on the same subject, that's exactly what New Yorkers all did on September 11th. Indeed, New Yorkers expect to walk across bridges to safety in the case of an emergency. There is nothing about letting people walk out of a disaster zone that is in any way unusual. In fact, it's something that people have done forever. But not this time.

The reason they weren't allowed to walk out that night, of course, is simple. The police chief says it right out. They decided that saving their fully evacuated "bedroom community" from what they assumed would be "looting, pillaging and burning" by victims of the hurricane was more important than allowing people to save their own lives by walking through their town to safety up the road.

Picture for a moment young women with their children, old people, families, single people gathered together in a make-shift community in the middle of chaos approaching police officers on a bridge begging for help. Picture them being white. Do you think the police would shoot over their heads and push them back? Even if they did that would they then land a helicopter in thier midst in the middle of the night, not to rescue dying elderly, but to force their somewhat safe, visible make-shift community out into the pitch black anarchy of the city?

I'm pretty sure that the police would have let them walk through their precious bedroom community. They might have guarded their town, but they would have let them walk. And if they were under orders from others not to let them through, they surely would not have dispersed them back into New Orleans in the middle of the night.

Think about how many children we saw during those days. Lots and lots of them. And fragile elderly. Young women with tiny babies. That's who was fleeing that chaos.

Again, I'm sure there were looters and thugs in this mix. I have little doubt that people felt unsafe on the streets. Which is all the more reason that the authorities should have brought in national guard immediately and allowed the red cross to set up some relif centers so that people could feel safe, organize themselves and be evacuated in an orderly fashion. And the fact that everyone was terrified of being on the streets is the reason they should have let them flee the city across the bridge.

As it was, the victims were victimized first by the hurricane, an unpreventable act of nature, and were then frightened half to death by lawlessness, both real and imagined. When they turned to the cops for help, their lives were deemed less valuable than some well insured storefront in Gretna, Louisiana. Police, whom I assume are mostly good people doing difficult jobs, looked at mothers with 6 month old babies and saw a criminal who was going to "loot, pillage and burn" their town.

Kevin asks why the National Guard and other authorities right under the bridge at the convention center did nothing if suburban cops from the other side of the bridge were preventing people from leaving. It's a good question, but it kind of answers itself. The authorities were obviously either in a similar state of mind and obliging each other's civic desire to keep out the "mob" or they were operating under the same orders. We don't know the answer to that yet.

It's possible that FEMA issued a directive to to seal off the city, nobody in nobody out, but it's actually more likely that the second half of the catch is the result of local cops and other authorities making it clear that they weren't going to have a bunch of crazed negroes marauding through the suburbs. (The reports of "we always knew this would happen" from Baton Rouge illustrate that point.)

The New York Times, linked above, reports this:

The lawlessness that erupted in New Orleans soon after the hurricane terrified officials throughout Louisiana, and even a week later, law enforcement officers rarely entered the city without heavy weaponry.

It is becoming clear to me that this is also one of the main reasons for the delayed response. The question is whether it was true that the city had erupted into wild anarchy in the streets that required the deployment of thousands upon thousands of military to quell, or whether it was another example of primal white fear of black revolt.

We don't have the facts yet. It's clear that there were violent young men who intimidated and assaulted people at both the rescue sites, although there are differing accounts of how pervasive they were. There was looting --- but nothing on the scale of what we saw in Bagdad, when people stripped the electical wiring out of buildings and stole the toilets from the bathrooms. We will probably never know how much was stolen, but considering how hard it was to transport anything, it's probably not as bad as some thought. There were certainly reports of shots fired and snipers, but as in earlier examples of civic chaos, it's often difficult to say who is shooting and who is shooting back.

Oddly, the press wasn't able to capture much of it, at least not that they showed or wrote about. There was some footage of looting of TV's (I might have stolen a TV myself, with the thought that I could get to some electricity or a generator and find out what was going on.) There were a couple of broadcasts of men with guns being confronted by police. But, if the city was overrun by criminals, the media failed to capture the full force of the anarchy with pictures and that is curious.

I suspect it was people's imaginations that supplied that.

I may be wrong. It's possible that authorities were wise to hold back food and water for five long days because it was too dangerous to proceed into the city. Perhaps the gangs of thugs were so numerous and so dangerous that police had to keep women and children from leaving the city on foot because some criminals might sneak out with them. This could all turn out to be the case. But my suspicion is that a decision was made somewhere along the line that they were going to contain what they believed to be certain anarchy in New Orleans until they could assemble an overwhelming force of men with guns. (Why it took so long to assemble that force is another question.) Irrational fear of the mob was the reason the Red Cross didn't enter the city. And this was the reason the police didn't allow people to leave the city on foot in large numbers.

The question is if there was a real mob to fear or if the sight of large numbers of displaced black people made people assume there was one. Our history suggests the latter. As I wrote before, that's one of the oldest stories in the book.


Friday, September 09, 2005


I can't wait to hear what Chris Matthews is going to say about the new Bigfoot that Bush has named today --- Admiral Thad Allen.

Here's a picture of him:

I think he looks the part and he certainly has the experience. And everybody loves a man in uniform. But he's no matinee idol like Rudy or Stormin' Norman. I suspect that Tweety is going to be very disappointed. Big Dick Cheney just flew on home and they appointed an Admiral nobody's ever heard of to be the new Viceroy.

He should have known better. This is the Bush administration we're talking about. They could barely tolerate having Powell in the administration. They are not going to bring in a "czar" that will show the president for the callow cheerleader he is.

"... some top Bush aides think a brand-name disaster boss like Giuliani, dubbed "America's Mayor" for his leadership after 9/11, or former secretary of state Colin Powell would remind Americans of the administration's sluggish initial response to the hurricane.

"You don't want someone overshadowing the President," said an official in the "ride it out" camp. "That leaves him looking weak."

Poor Tweety. He so badly wanted a big macho super star to head down there and take over. (I'm still willing to give him Schwarzenneger.) This admiral seems more like someone who knows how to actually do things. Tweety needs a man's man who can act like a man and talk like a man and make him feel like a man. This guy just doesn't have the "grandeur" he was looking for.

Snippy the Pinhead

I've been thinking about Nancy Pelosi's comments about Bush the other day:

At a news conference, Pelosi, D-Calif., said Bush's choice for head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency had "absolutely no credentials."

She related that she had urged Bush at the White House on Tuesday to fire Michael Brown.

"He said 'Why would I do that?'" Pelosi said.

"'I said because of all that went wrong, of all that didn't go right last week.' And he said 'What didn't go right?'"

"Oblivious, in denial, dangerous," she added.

He wasn't oblivious or in denial. He was pissed. That is a standard immature, spoiled, frat boy comment. And he is nothing if not a spoiled, immature frat-boy.

Remember this?

Around the same time, for the 1972 Christmas holiday, the Allisons met up with the Bushes on vacation in Hobe Sound, Fla. Tension was still evident between Bush and his parents. Linda was a passenger in a car driven by Barbara Bush as they headed to lunch at the local beach club. Bush, who was 26 years old, got on a bicycle and rode in front of the car in a slow, serpentine manner, forcing his mother to crawl along. "He rode so slowly that he kept having to put his foot down to get his balance, and he kept in a weaving pattern so we couldn't get past," Allison recalled. "He was obviously furious with his mother about something, and she was furious at him, too."

That's the kind of person who comes back in someone's face with an "I know you are but what am I" comment like he gave Pelosi. Of course he knew he'd fucked up. He was just showing his snotty little shithead stripes. You can't blame him. He's under pressure. Presidentin' is hard work for a lazy, mediocre richie rich.

Wishin' and a Hopin'

When asked about why there was such a failure of response to the hurricane considering the lessons of 9/11, McClellan just launched into a litany of "that horrible day...never again...preventing terrorists attacks" as if bringing up the attacks mitigates the scope of their malfeasance rather than exacerbates it. I doubt they can wring much more out of that sponge, but maybe they can. It's been four years since 9/11 and clearly they have actually gotten worse at disaster response, not better. It doesn't seem very smart to keep pointing that out.

As the chairmen of the 9/11 commission said yesterday:

"The same mistakes made on 9/11 were made over again, in some cases worse," Kean said. "Those are system-wide failures that can be fixed and should have been fixed right away."

Added Hamilton: "I'm surprised, I'm disappointed and maybe even a little depressed that we did not do better four years after 9/11. It says we're still very vulnerable."

Josh Marshall has a full rundown on the various implications of this NY Times article, which seems to indicate that while hurricane victims were dying on national television, the Justice Department was debating the fine points of posse commitatus and worrying about whether it would look good to take command from a female governor. This is the same justice department that has declared torture to be legal and asserted a previously unheard of doctrine that the president has unlimited powers during wartime.

Perhaps Bush should have declared war on Mexico, then nobody would have been confused about whether the president of the United States could legally respond when the Governor of Louisiana said she needed all the help she could get.

Leaders prove their mettle in times of crisis. And 9/11 was a fairly simple crisis to manage. It was a terrible tragedy and a shocking act of violence but it happened quickly in one small area and then was over. The primary response required by the federal government was to figure out how it happened and take steps to prevent it from happening again. The only immediate decision the president had to make was an easy one --- whether to depose the Taliban and break up al Qaeda. And even that decision didn't have to be made on the spot in the midst of a rapidly changing situation on the ground and ongoing death and destruction. During the event itself and its immediate aftermath he was famously reading "My Pet Goat" and then flying all over the country like a chicken with his head cut off stopping only to make timorous speeches about how we were going to find "these folks" who had done this.

His reputation for great leadership and crisis management consists solely of going before the American paople with a bullhorn and saying "... and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear from all of us soon." That's not leadership --- that's cheerleading. Bush and his minions have never understood the difference.

This hurricane crisis required a series of on the spot decisions to be made over the course of several days, in terms of preparation and coordination. His delayed response to the event was to tell people how he "understood" there was a lot of work to do. And, of course, his administration was johnny on the spot with slime and defend. For that they have an instant response team of professionals in place.

Leaders also prove their mettle by how they learn from mistakes. Apparently, all the hoohaa we've been listening to on a loop over the past five years about 9/11 changing everything was crap. The NY Times article reports this:

... officials realized that Hurricane Katrina had exposed a critical flaw in the national disaster response plans created after the Sept. 11 attacks. According to the administration's senior domestic security officials, the plan failed to recognize that local police, fire and medical personnel might be incapacitated.

The same people who never imagined that planes could fly into buildings apparently never imagined that a terrorist attack or natural disaster could incapacitate local first responders. Dear God. has there ever been a more incompetent administration?

I know it's not polite to bring this up, but the DHS has received $95.5 billion dollars over the last three years. I think we need to ask what they've been spending it on because I can't see any results.

It appears to me that the lesson that the Bush administration took from 9/11 was that we needed to prevent terrorists from ever hijacking airplanes and flying them into the world trade center again. I think we can feel confident that that will not happen again. After all, there is no world trade center to fly into.

Other than that, we are more vulnerable than we've ever been before to every other disaster scenario both manmade and natural --- they simply can't imagine them. This is the faith based, best case scenario, Peter Pan government. They literally believe that wishin' and a-hopin' is a plan.


Thursday, September 08, 2005

The Single Worst Decision

Many of you have probably already read this report from two EMTs who ended up part of that group stuck on the freeway overpass for days in New Orleans. If you haven't, read it. It's amazing.

If the order to deny relief in order to keep people from resisting evacuation is true, then somebody has committed a horrible, cruel mistake. As these two emergency techs write:

When individuals had to fight to find food or water, it meant looking out for yourself only. You had to do whatever it took to find water for your kids or food for your parents. When these basic needs were met, people began to look out for each other, working together and constructing a community.

If the relief organizations had saturated the City with food and water in the first 2 or 3 days, the desperation, the frustration and the ugliness would not have set in.

This makes sense to me. The conditions we saw at the convention center were awful and I think much of the despair and helplessness was due to the fact that these people were told repeatedly that they were going to be taken out of there at any moment. If the Red cross had been allowed in to set up their usual relief, with help from the authorities, they could have calmed that situation right down. People can organize themselves and settle in for a wait when they have the basic necessities. It was the hell of feeling abandoned and then locked in the city when they became desperate to leave, that must have been the most horrible. And as these EMT's showed, it wasn't a matter of having personal pluck or being able to organize themselves, they were actually inhibited by the authorities from dealing with the situation in a civilized fashion. The authorities actively created chaos so that people would not be comfortable:

From a woman with a battery powered radio we learned that the media was talking about us. Up in full view on the freeway, every relief and news organizations saw us on their way into the City. Officials were being asked what they were going to do about all those families living up on the freeway? The officials responded they were going to take care of us. Some of us got a sinking feeling. "Taking care of us" had an ominous tone to it.

Unfortunately, our sinking feeling (along with the sinking City) was correct. Just as dusk set in, a Gretna Sheriff showed up, jumped out of his patrol vehicle, aimed his gun at our faces, screaming, "Get off the fucking freeway". A helicopter arrived and used the wind from its blades to blow away our flimsy structures. As we retreated, the sheriff loaded up his truck with our food and water.

Once again, at gunpoint, we were forced off the freeway. All the law enforcement agencies appeared threatened when we congregated or congealed into groups of 20 or more. In every congregation of "victims" they saw "mob" or "riot". We felt safety in numbers. Our "we must stay together" was impossible because the agencies would force us into small atomized groups.

In the pandemonium of having our camp raided and destroyed, we scattered once again. Reduced to a small group of 8 people, in the dark, we sought refuge in an abandoned school bus, under the freeway on Cilo Street. We were hiding from possible criminal elements but equally and definitely, we were hiding from the police and sheriffs with their martial law, curfew and shoot-to-kill policies.

This is the group that Shepard Smith was freaking out about on O'Reilly last Thursday night. I wonder if he knew what happened after he made that report.

I think we can all understand the overwhelming nature of this disaster. And there should have been more adequate planning and a better response, no doubt about it. But the decision to deny immediate aid to people in the city is the worst decision of all. Read that story. These tourists were treated like shit by the authorities everywhere they went, just like the locals. Whoever made the decision to deny those people relief and then deny them the ability to leave when they tried to save themselves has blood on his or her hands.

Waiting For Bigfoot

Chris Matthews is having an orgasm on national television. For days he has spoken of almost nothing but the necessity of Bush sending in a "big foot" like Powell or Giuliani to take charge of the situation. He has pounded on this issue over and over again.


MATTHEWS: You know, let me ask you a more general—that‘s a pretty good answer. I like quick answers on HARDBALL. Let me ask you this. During the hell of 9/11, the one good thing about it was—well, we had a president who seemed to be in charge, but we also had somebody on the ground, Rudy Giuliani, who seemed to be the guy who was there every day standing on the street corner, answering questions. You got a sense that there was one person taking the heat, being accountable, being authoritative and being authentic.

I still don‘t see a face of this relief effort. I don‘t see one person. Would that help? Or am I being naive, one person standing there saying, I‘m in charge of relief and reconstruction right now; I will make the calls?


Congressman Livingston, you love that area. You grew up there. That‘s your home. Do you think we should have somebody like a Rudy Giuliani or a Colin Powell, some big shot on the site who says, I will make the big decisions at federal, state and level right now? Somebody is in charge.


MATTHEWS: OK. We‘re going to come back. We are going to be covering this.
Joe Scarborough, do we need one man in charge down there, do you think?

MATTHEWS: You know, during the 9/11 tragedy, we had at least a face on the ground. We had a face in the White House, the president‘s, obviously. And we had the face on the ground, Giuliani. To really make this relief effort work and this reconstruction effort work in the next several months and years, even, does the president have to name one person as sort of a man in charge, a woman in charge, who is out there and says, look, state, federal and local, come to me; we are going to make this thing work?


MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, Howard Safir, the big question. Should the president have a person of high prestige and command ability, almost like a young Douglas MacArthur or a younger, perhaps, Colin Powell—I don‘t want to knock him—he might be the right guy—who stands ready to take charge in these tragic situations? Or should he pick them on the spot, like right now pick somebody?


MATTHEWS: Well, there‘s been a lot of buzz around Washington, as you know, David, as to whether the president will name a big name to go down there, like a Giuliani or a Colin Powell to be the man on the spot. Making the vice president that man on the spot, is he in fact not promoting the vice president once again to a very high executive position?



MATTHEWS: But with what mandate? Is Cheney‘s challenge to show the flag, to show the administration cares about the suffering and wants to smarten up the relief effort and thereby lower the heat on President Bush? Is Cheney‘s challenge to chop off heads? Will Dick Cheney be the butcher who lops off some bureaucrat heads, starting with FEMA Director Michael Brown, and thereby reforge the federal relief effort? Is Cheney‘s challenge to take charge personally of the reconstruction?

Will the most powerful vice president in American history become the man who ramrods the rise of the new South and with it a legacy that could promote a draft for a Cheney presidency? The question is a big one. Is Cheney charging down South to serve as President Bush‘s executioner or full-fledged viceroy?


MATTHEWS: Coming up, Vice President Dick Cheney is headed, with or without the boots, to the Gulf Coast. Will he take the lead in the rescue of those Gulf states and save President Bush‘s legacy in the process? Is this about public relations, this trip? Is it about lopping heads in the bad work some of people have done in this relief effort? Or is he taking on a very big job down there, as the president‘s viceroy for cleaning up that area?

Former New York Police Chief Bernie Kerik was a towering figure in New York after the terrorist attacks on 9/11. He‘s going to come here and talk about whether it should be Dick Cheney‘s job or maybe Rudy Giuliani‘s job.

MATTHEWS: You know, whenever we have, Mr. Commissioner [Kerik}, a big challenge, like rebuilding Tokyo after World War II or rebuilding Berlin or saving Berlin from the communists, the president of the United States, whoever he was, would name a big figure, Lucius Clay in Berlin airlift, of course, the general, or, of course General MacArthur in Tokyo.

He became basically an American Caesar over there. I want to ask you when we come back whether the president doesn‘t have to do something like that now and pick somebody big to go in there, whether it‘s the vice president, to go down there and move down in New Orleans for six months, or put in Rudy Giuliani or Colin Powell in there, somebody who is a power figure that will take—who will give orders and put everything together and do something like you folks did up in New York during 9/11.


MATTHEWS: OK. One last time with David Gregory. Will the president let Dick Cheney be his big foot down there this week, and that‘s enough, or does he still feel the need to put a Giuliani in there or a Colin Powell in there as his viceroy in that part of the country?

He has OCD on this issue, desperate to have Bush put a big ... "foot" in charge of the disaster.

Today, he found sweet relief for his hard-on. Big Daddy Cheney has arrived:

"a tough guy...smart politician.. trying to figure out how to get his president out of a jam... smart guy, tough warrior..aware that now that he's put his [huge] boots on the ground he has a stake in this. How big a foot is he going to land on this issue."

I get the sense that he's suffering from a bad case of post coital melancholy, though. He just isn't satisfied. He wanted Rudy so badly he could taste it. And all he got was Dick.

Update: Ooops. Apparently he isn't going to have to settle for old Dick after all. According to David Gregory the buzz all over town is that the president should apppoint a Katrina Czar. Wow! (I guess "viceroy" didn't take.) Chris is back in the saddle.

He's talking up Jack Welch and Norman Schwartzkopf today. I hear Bernie Kerik is available. So is Ken Lay. How about a statue of Ronald Reagan?

And since Chris seems top think that the most important things is for the president to appoint "someone of grandeur, visible and public in America" I am personally willing to offer up Schwarzenneger. In Bush's America it's every citizen for him or herself.

Good Luck

Kevin passes on an article pointing out that there is already a high apartment vacancy rate in the south central region and that the government should just issue section 8 vouchers for people to use to house themselves in already vacant dwellings. He says this seems like something that could be passed right away on a bipartisan basis.

The only problem with this is that you would also have to pass a law that required landlords to accept them. And that, I'm afraid, is a non-starter. A large number of property owners are not going to stand for being forced to accept New Orleans evacuees as tenents and those who would be their neighbors will not accept it either.

I wish it were not true. And I wish that someone could propose something like this on the floor of congress so we could see where people stand --- it would be very illustrative of how far we've come since the discrimination in housing wars of the 1960's. That single issue almost succeeded in getting the civil rights act repealed. Sadly, I suspect we haven't come as far as we might have hoped.

Wrong Turn

There is something very dangerous happening in New Orleans and I'm not talking about the diseased gumbo that has become the flood waters. The combination of blocking the media, forcing evacuations and too many guns is a recipe for disaster. There is going to be trouble.

Via Atrios
and Josh Marshall I see that Brian Williams reported on his blog last night:

An interesting dynamic is taking shape in this city, not altogether positive: after days of rampant lawlessness (making for what I think most would agree was an impossible job for the New Orleans Police Department during those first few crucial days of rising water, pitch-black nights and looting of stores) the city has now reached a near-saturation level of military and law enforcement. In the areas we visited, the red berets of the 82nd Airborne are visible on just about every block. National Guard soldiers are ubiquitous. At one fire scene, I counted law enforcement personnel (who I presume were on hand to guarantee the safety of the firefighters) from four separate jurisdictions, as far away as Connecticut and Illinois. And tempers are getting hot. While we were attempting to take pictures of the National Guard (a unit from Oklahoma) taking up positions outside a Brooks Brothers on the edge of the Quarter, the sergeant ordered us to the other side of the boulevard. The short version is: there won't be any pictures of this particular group of Guard soldiers on our newscast tonight. Rules (or I suspect in this case an order on a whim) like those do not HELP the palpable feeling that this area is somehow separate from the United States.

At that same fire scene, a police officer from out of town raised the muzzle of her weapon and aimed it at members of the media... obvious members of the media... armed only with notepads. Her actions (apparently because she thought reporters were encroaching on the scene) were over the top and she was told. There are automatic weapons and shotguns everywhere you look. It's a stance that perhaps would have been appropriate during the open lawlessness that has long since ended on most of these streets. Someone else points out on television as I post this: the fact that the National Guard now bars entry (by journalists) to the very places where people last week were barred from LEAVING (The Convention Center and Superdome) is a kind of perverse and perfectly backward postscript to this awful chapter in American history.

The media need to be in that city right now in great numbers. There has to be a record of what is going on --- for the sake of the soldiers and cops who are in there as much as the residents. This is a recipe for mayhem.

Here's a passage
from the Kerner Commission about the Newark riots of 1967:

. . . On Saturday, July 15, [Director of Police Dominick] Spina received a report of snipers in a housing project. When he arrived he saw approximately 100 National Guardsmen and police officers crouching behind vehicles, hiding in corners and lying on the ground around the edge of the courtyard.

Since everything appeared quiet and it was broad daylight, Spina walked directly down the middle of the street. Nothing happened. As he came to the last building of the complex, he heard a shot. All around him the troopers jumped, believing themselves to be under sniper fire. A moment later a young Guardsman ran from behind a building.

The Director of Police went over and asked him if he had fired the shot. The soldier said yes, he had fired to scare a man away from a window; that his orders were to keep everyone away from windows.

Spina said he told the soldier: “Do you know what you just did? You have now created a state of hysteria. Every Guardsman up and down this street and every state policeman and every city policeman that is present thinks that somebody just fired a shot and that it is probably a sniper.”

A short time later more “gunshots” were heard. Investigating, Spina came upon a Puerto Rican sitting on a wall. In reply to a question as to whether he knew “where the firing is coming from?” the man said:

“That’s no firing. That’s fireworks. If you look up to the fourth floor, you will see the people who are throwing down these cherry bombs.”

By this time four truckloads of National Guardsmen had arrived and troopers and policemen were again crouched everywhere looking for a sniper. The Director of Police remained at the scene for three hours, and the only shot fired was the one by the Guardsmen.

Nevertheless, at six o’clock that evening two columns of National Guardsmen and state troopers were directing mass fire at the Hayes Housing Project in response to what they believed were snipers..


Snapping power lines, firecrackers, and nervous, untrained police and national guardsmen caused much indiscriminate firing. The police often faced a very difficult job for which they were unprepared. According to the director of the Newark police, "Down in the Springfield Avenue area it was so bad that, in my opinion guardsmen were firing upon police and police were firing back, at them."

I cannot figure out why they have decided to do this. It's a mistake. In the past government authorities have sent in men with guns for the explicit purpose of taking down troublemakers by any means necessary. I hope that isn't what's happened. (That National Guard Colonel saying "this is going to look like "little Somalia" makes me very nervous.)

It is wrong for the government to be keeping the media out of this situation. If they are willing to take the risk of disease they should be allowed in. I hope they scream bloody murder. The media is a mitigating factor not a complication in situations like this. They need to be there.

Rotting Magnolias

I mentioned before the hurricane hit that I had lived as a child in Mississippi when Hurricane Betsy hit in 1965. I lived in Bay St. Louis, which was at the eye of Hurricane Katrina and seems to have been completely destroyed.

I'm sad to hear it. It was a beautiful little gothic southern town, dripping in drawly, molassas charm and warm hospitality. It was the location for the Natalie Wood and Robert Redford movie version of Tennessee Williams' "This Property is Condemned." I was there when they filmed the scenes down at the abandoned railroad tracks. I haven't been there in many years, but it was like a place out of time when I lived there and I doubt it changed all that much. We had heirloom roses growing in our backyard that locals said had been planted during the antebellum days. Apparently the house was on the site of an old planatation. My school was said to have been Henry Clay's summer home, although I don't know if that was true.

The period I lived in this little town was a momentous time in the south and there was a palpable undercurrent of profound disturbance. In 1965, the march on Selma hit as hard as the hurricane that came along months later.

Many of my readers know that my father is a blazing, unrepentant right wingnut. At 83 he's still going strong, but in those days he was something to behold. He had been career military (WWII and Korea vet) who retired by the mid 60's and went to work for the military industrial complex. He was such a die hard conservative that he had even hated Roosevelt. During the depression! In 1965 he was a formidable and charismatic figure. He was also a racist. Still is, but he's much less open about it. In those days it was no holds barred. And down south, in that period, he had a lot of company.

So, when I was over at Michael Berube's place last night I came across a vile comment by a reader giving a litany of crimes allegedly committed by the hurricane victims in New Orleans during those horrible days at the convention center and the Superdome, I recalled a strange episode from a period of my childhood spent deep in the heart of Tennessee Williams country.

After Selma, somebody wrote a book that made the rounds among my parents' friends in Bay St Louis that supposedly showed that the marchers had defecated in the streets, had sex in public and then made the police dogs aggressive with their "sex smell." I was not allowed to see this book, but my little friends and I got a hold of it. I'll never forget the images. It was racist pornography.

And then, exactly 40 years later I read this inside that amazing comment I linked to above:

“That same day, when it was time to board buses for Houston, soldiers had trouble controlling the crowd. People at the back of the mob crushed the people in front against barricades the soldiers put up to contain the crowd. Many people continued to yell obscenities whenever they saw a patrol go by. Some were afraid of losing their place in line and defecated where they stood.”

The commenter didn't provide links, but the quote above appears to be traced to a story in the Marine Corps Times:

Outside, thousands of civilians were mobbing a walkway leading into a mall that the military is using to process people getting onto the Houston-bound buses. Many civilians have been in the stuck waiting for more than 24 hours. People afraid of losing their places in line have defecated where they stand. People in the front of the mob have been injured from being crushed against steel barricades that separates the civilians from the military men and women trying to conduct the evacuation

Think about what the phrase "defecated where they stood" conjures up. Animals. Cows and Horses defecate where they stand. Humans don't.

The doctored quote from Berube's blog takes it to the next level, of course, and explicitly condemns that evacuees as animals (read the rest of his comment for a real treat.)But the original quote is somewhat jarring in itself. It's a "mob" that somehow "waits." The barricade is described as "separating" the military from the evacuees. The injuries of people pressed against the barricade are portrayed with out emotion as necessary to "processing" which is not defined. There is no discussion of how a "mob" can stand in a crushing line for 24 hours with no food, water or toilets. The defecation quote seems to be in the story as a prurient non-sequitor.

Here's a description of the very same scene from a tourist who stood in the same lines:

Finally, Thursday morning, Major Bush—I’m not making this up—declared on a megaphone that we would be evacuated. There was total calm for two hours.

We got in lines that went out towards the neighboring commercial center by a footbridge. They separated men and women, I don’t know why (I thought it might be in order to search people, but we weren’t searched). A guy who was with us was separated from his wife, and he had already lost his home and job.

The line was like the Paris metro at the height of rush hour. We were packed like sardines, we couldn’t even see our feet. We walked on garbage, diapers that exploded sometimes, bottles full, with urine, perhaps. There were also bottles of liquor. This lasted from midday Thursday until Friday morning, a total hell.
People fainted every two or three minutes. We heard cries of “somebody down.” They evacuated people towards the barriers. A pregnant woman’s water broke. Twice we heard gunshot and everyone dove for cover. We didn’t have anything to eat, only water.

Imagine for a minute what it would be like to stand in a crushing line for more than 24 hours in overpowering stench and blazing heat after having lived in hell for the previous three days inside the Superdome. Imagine how hard it would be to keep control of yourself, how frightened and how frustrated you would feel.

And yet, that Marine Times reporter and his racist reinterpreter do not see human beings stretched to their limits by conditions that are unimaginable --- many of them young mothers with children, old people and others who had no means to get out before the hurricane hit; they see misbehaving animals.

These stories have already become urban legends. Stories of blacks shitting in the streets are making the rounds all over the internet and becoming more and more lurid with each retelling. Just like these very same stories made their way into the homes of racist whites forty years ago and validated all their preconceived notions.

Be skeptical, my friends, and don't let these claims go unchallenged. This is the illness in our American soul that will not die. It lurks inside all of us, of all races, to some degree. I grew up inside the belly of the beast and I know that I must be vigilant to challenge certain assumptions.

Martin Luther King and the freedom marchers weren't shitting in the streets in 1965. Desperate victims of Hurricane Katrina were not animals --- they were treated like animals. Let's make sure that we understand the difference.