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Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Oppose John Roberts

Culture Kitchen has posted a letter from bloggers to the Judiciary Committee opposing the confirmation of John Roberts on the basis of certain rulings that make it clear he is hostile to Roe vs. Wade. I think it's perfectly obvious that he's going to vote to overturn and have, therefore, signed this letter.

I believe that a woman's right to choose gets to the very heart of what it means to be an autonomous, free human being. Control of one's own body is fundamental to individual liberty. If the church believes that abortion is morally wrong it should instruct its voluntary membership not to do it. Individuals must always be allowed to follow their own consciences. But there should be no legal coercion on such a personal matter.

The only issue the government could be called upon to arbitrate is if the fetus has an equal right to life as the woman in whose body it lives. But there is really no argument about that. There is almost nobody who believes that an abortion is wrong if the life of the woman is at stake. Indeed, the vast majority (80%+) of Americans believe that abortion should be available at least in cases of rape or incest, so it is clear that the "abortion is murder" argument is illegitimate. No one can believe that it is moral to murder a person because of the way he or she was conceived, or by whom.

Therefore, the right of the fetus is not the real issue --- the reasons a woman wants an abortion are the issue. This leads us to ask which particular circumstances are so difficult for a woman that she may be allowed to have an abortion. 80% or so of Americans think that rape or incest are such circumstances. But how about a failing, abusive marriage? A terminal illness? Five other children and no job? Being 43 years old and carrying a child with serious birth defects? Being a foolish 15 year old girl in love? Should we make exceptions for some of those? Any of them? Who decides? You? Me? John Roberts?

This isn't about murder and it isn't about the right of the fetus. It's clearly about controlling women's personal moral behavior. I don't think the government has any business doing that.

Unlike some others, I think it's quite likely that the court will overturn with these two new Bush justices as soon as they get the right case. This is simply too vital to the conservative cause. The notion that they want to milk it is quite right, of course, but I think they will happily run on abortion in individual states for as long as they can. Milking the issue seems to me to be much more likely if it's turned back to the states than if it's not.

John Roberts is a professional movement conservative at the very top of the food chain. His wife is the president of "Feminists For Life." He will vote to overturn and make women fight in more than half the states of this country for a basic right they've taken for granted for over a generation. It is depressingly likely he will be confirmed, but I'm glad to go on record opposing him.

He Comes from Such A Nice Family, Too

The clueless Richard Cohen is predictably making the vapid cocktail party argument that Bush can't be a racist because some of his best cabinet members are black and because he thinks little black children are just adorable. Here's Cohen scolding those of us who suspect that all those black people down in Louisiana might be giving some red state Republicans the vapors:

We owe the poor our special consideration. We especially owe the black poor an appreciation of their plight and their dolorous history. But in general it was incompetence, not racism, that slowed the relief effort -- incompetence on the local and state levels, too, and incompetence on the part of black as well as white public officials. The search for racist scapegoats does the poor no good. This relief effort ought to start, above all, with some clear thinking.

How about simple minded bullshit? Apparently, one can't be racist and incompetent at the same time. Or racism is impossible if some of one's best friends are black and you are kind to little black children when you see them. And if some black people are incompetent then whites can't be racist. My goodness, just look at all the things that make it impossible for George W. Bush's administration to have even one racist bone in its collective body! You have to be out of your mind to think that George W. Bush isn't completely color blind.

Bush, in this case, was an equal opportunity bungler -- but ... it rests on a stereotype: Republicans tend to wear lime green pants in the summer and dislike black people all year round. There was more than a little truth to this at one time. The GOP, after all, became a safe haven for Southern bigots who fled the Democratic Party (as Lyndon Johnson knew they would) in the civil rights era. The fight for the rights of blacks turned Dixie as Republican as it once was Democratic. To its everlasting shame, the GOP continues to benefit from raw bigotry.

But Bush is not cut from that cloth. He is a contemporary Republican, a person of another generation who, you may have noticed, has a black woman as secretary of state and had a black man before her. Under him, the GOP began an outreach to black Americans, and unless the Democrats wake up it will ultimately succeed. As Karl Rove well knows, all he has to do is pick up a small percentage of the black vote and he ends the current 50-50 electoral split. Bush, who won an impressive 27 percent of the black vote in his reelection bid for Texas governor, could have been the man to do this. His task is a lot harder now.

That nice man George W. Bush is being unfairly tarred with all that old racist nonsense when all he wanted was to reach out. Damn you Kanye West, you little stereotyping bastard.

But it isn't just Kanye, is it? The more than 90% of African Americans who vote for the Democrats also need to be schooled about what a nice friendly color blind party the GOP is. They seem to think that Republican racism still exists and that George W. Bush leads a party that could quite believably refuse to respond to a national disaster promptly because many of the victims were black. Somebody needs to clue them all in about how racism is dead and the Republicans have their best interests at heart. They don't seem to have gotten the memo.

It's guys like Richard Cohen, millionaire liberal beltway pundit who know the score. African Americans are the racists and it's the millionaire conservative Republicans who are being unfairly stereotyped. He knows this because he knows George Bush. Like when he wrote:

Given the present bitterness, given the angry irresponsible charges being hurled by both camps, the nation will be in dire need of a conciliator, a likable guy who will make things better and not worse. That man is not Al Gore. That man is George W. Bush."

He's got quite the insight, doesn't he?

Pay no attention to the fact that the modern Republican Party remains in the clutches of a strong minority of racists --- potentially as large a faction as their conservative Christian base, which likely overlaps it. Bush may not personally be a racist, I have no way of knowing what's "in his heart." But he is quite well aware of the fact that all the racists in the country who voted, voted for him.

And this is what that racist constituency thinks of Bush's famous choices of black faces for his cabinet:


to·ken·ism Pronunciation Key (tk-nzm)

1. The policy of making only a perfunctory effort or symbolic gesture toward the accomplishment of a goal, such as racial integration.

2. The practice of hiring or appointing a token number of people from underrepresented groups in order to deflect criticism or comply with affirmative action rules: “Tokenism does not change stereotypes of social systems but works to preserve them, since it dulls the revolutionary impulse” (Mary Daly).

While Bush's tokenism is designed to soothe gullible dipshit white urbanites like Richard Cohen it also placates the racist base with winks and nods. Cohen may not know tokenism when he sees it, but African Americans, neo-confederates and general bigots certainly do.

Tokenism does not mean that the token is unqualified. Condi Rice and Colin Powell were completely qualified for their jobs. But their purpose in this administration was to soothe the white Republicans who are uncomfortable with overt racism into believing that the Party is no longer affiliated with such unpleasantness.

We know exactly what game they are playing by simply observing that in South Carolina, George Bush made a trek to the notoriously racist Bob Jones University to make sure that certain people understood that his happy talk about Condi and compassionate conservatism wasn't anything they had to worry about. They needed to make sure they stopped John McCain dead in his tracks and they did --- with a purely racist appeal that included some very nasty stuff about his having a black daughter. This is the line they walk. The majority in this country are no longer comfortable with overt racism and frowns upon those who embrace it openly. But it is completely absurd to think that it has been eradicated or that the leader of the Republican Party rejects it. He can't reject it, even if he wants to. Racists are a significant part of his constituency.

As to whether it affected the hurricane response, it's highly unlikely that anyone sitting in Washington said, "take your time Brownie, it's just a bunch o' negroes." I don't know why people persist in thinking that this must work on the most obvious level in order to be true. It is, as I've written, far more likely that the response was delayed because the authorities in New Orleans at all levels held back out of fear of a black mob.

It's what happens going forward that will really show how the lines are drawn. Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, after all, are red states. (Louisiana is only ever Democratic by dint of the African Americans in New Orleans --- a problem that may have been solved by Katrina if Karl Rove has his way. ) These are his people and it's the very heart of the Republican south; you had better bet that Haley Barbour expects him to deliver the goods. But he also has to be careful that this federal money isn't seen as going to blacks at the expense of whites. So, they are sending signals, loud and clear, to anyone who's paying attention.

For instance, the Section 8 issue. It seems that many Washington types still harbor some idea that if only the government would beef up Section 8 money all these displaced people in New Orleans could find apartments and there wouldn't have to be any Bushville trailer parks built. And it is a nice thought. However, nobody wants to admit why it isn't being pushed despite it's long history of bipartisan support. It isn't a big guvmint liberal program after all. It's a voucher program, used in the private sector.

The reason the Bush administration is not pushing this is two-fold. The first, of course, is that the contracts for the Bushvilles are going to be very lucrative and Brownie's bud Joe Allbaugh needs to deliver some love to his employers. The other is that Karl Rove knows very well that many people in the region are very hostile to the idea of all these black New Orleanians moving into their neighborhoods. Section 8 is one of those neat idealistic conservative ideas that comes smack up against long term racist attitudes. It's all well and good in theory, but when it comes to living next door to these displaced victims, a lot of southern Republicans hit their limits. Yet these people have to live somewhere, hence the segregated Bushville trailer parks that will serve everyone's needs very well --- except, of course, the black citizens of New Orleans who have no place else to go.

One might also ask why are they making a show of eliminating affirmative action plans? It's just a three month temporary exemption for certain small firms that have never worked for the feds before, yet the headlines are screaming. Why would they hit the hornets nest at a time like this for something so insignificant? Plenty of work is going to be available so there is no serious competition for jobs. But it does make a serious statement, doesn't it, and one that seems inexplicable in light of the fact that there are so many poor black people who need jobs. Unless, of course, it's to placate a base that wants federal money but believes that blacks are always the beneficiaries instead of them. This says that Bush is making sure the money is going to the "right" people --- the ones who really deserve the jobs.

Richard Cohen does not want to believe that a nice well-educated baby boomer from a good family can be a racist. And when he sees that Bush can sit in the same room with the extremely well educated, accomplished Condi and Colin, he is assured that it is impossible for him to be one. But even if that were true, Richard Cohen needs to open his eyes and see that the Republican party's base contains a significant faction of racists who must be catered to by the well bred son of the white pompadoured lady, Barbara Bush. It's unpleasant. I understand that. But unless liberals at least learn to read the language these people are speaking we are never going to be able to combat it.

If we want to break the electoral hold the Republicans have on the south we had better recognise that listening to Mudcat Saunders wax on about fast cars and big guns doesn't really address the problem. Bill Clinton had a good ear for this kind of thing and was able to make enough inroads in the south to eke out two wins in two three person races. But he was a very talented fellow who was able to walk a fine line, drawling a middle of the road code that leaned heavily on "welfare reform" and "putting 100,000 cops on the streets" to convince certain wafflers that he felt their pain. (Of course, his FEMA would have done a much better job of managing the recovery so perhaps he could have succesfully mitigated the knee jerk racist recoil against big guvmint.)

We will never get there as long as anyone on the planet thinks that the likes of Richard Cohen speak for the Democrats. As I've said before, guys like Cohen are what's killing us. Here is exhibit #567.


Monday, September 19, 2005


If you like Paul Krugman, Gary Farber has a post you need to read.

Dubious Honor

Andrew Sullivan has named an award after Matt Yglesias for pointing out that the DHS was a stupid Democratic idea in the first place. Huzzah for Matt. Sullivan says:

Good stuff. Keep the honesty coming. If you see a right- or left-wing writer fessing up to their own side's errors or mistakes, let me know. We need more of it.

He is going to be very, very busy. It seems that all I ever read on the left is complaints about how the Democrats are spineless, useless fuck-ups --- which the right agrees with wholeheartedly. I could find endless examples every day of lefty bloggers howling complaints about the Democrats' errors and mistakes.

I've got one. How about the amazingly stupid idea of the leadership of the Democratic Party supporting the Iraq war?

Or how about this one? All the wimpy Democrats who signed on to the Defense Of Marriage Act and the wimpy Democratic president who signed it?

I've got a million of them.

Do I win a prize?

I Fear Huckabee and Other Blogger Laments

Along with MSNBC's Tom Curry, CNN's Jackie Schechner, the NYT's Matt Bai and a sprinkling of party operatives and interest group reps, The Note attended a regular meeting of the Internet Left at Townhouse Tavern in Dupont Circle on Sunday. Here is what we took away:

1. Mike Huckabee instills fear.

2. Hillary Clinton provokes scorn.

3. Russ Feingold inspires passion.

4. And John Edwards' early focus on poverty — coupled with Elizabeth Edwards' statement of support for Cindy Sheehan — is getting him a second look from this crowd.

How typical that the Kewl Kidz at The Note need to attend a DC gathering of bloggers to find out what the Internet Left really thinks. Bloggers' defining characteristic, after all, is that they write down every single passing political thought right on these here internets for everybody to see.

Or do they? This fear of Huckabee thing had me stumped. I haven't heard anything about it, but then it's always possible that the Internet Left is an exclusive club that someone such as I wouldn't know about. I thought I did. I even get the e-mails. I spend neurotic amounts of time scouring the blogs for the latest news and here I find out that there's a whole level of insight that apprently exists only at the elite personal Internet Left level.

So, left to my own out-of-it devices, I resorted to the outsider's friend, Mr Google, and I find out that Mike Huckabee is running for president (or acting a lot like he is, anyway.) Here's an editorial from the September 16, Arkansas Dem Gazette:

Having watched Mike Huckabee in action for nine years now, it’s clear the man has his priorities straightest when times are worst. The highlights of his career tend to coincide with lowlights: the day Jim Guy Tucker wouldn’t leave the governor’s post, the aftermath of 9/11, the ice storm, the 40 th anniversary of the Central High Crisis . . . .

Each time, Mike Huckabee stepped up. Big time.

How does he do it? It’s a simple formula, really: Do what’s right and worry about the bureaucratic red tape later. Or to quote Governor/still-Reverend Huckabee:

"What would Jesus do? What would Jesus do? I’ll tell you what he’d do. He would try to make sure these needs were met."

This guy's running for president and he appears to have all the rhetorical gifts of George W. Bush without the gravitas (although he did successfully manage Arkansas' response to 9/11 and the 40th anniversary of the Central High Crisis Crisis so he's a proven leader. Big Time.)

Ok. I'm on board with the Inner Internet Left's fear of Mike Huckabee. Dear Gawd, save us.

Atrios has more today on the Karl Rove official fan club and fluffing society, otherwise known as The Note. This one's a killer:

The press and the Democrats are still demonizing Karl Rove's involvement in anything and everything, expressing shock and horror that a deputy White House chief of staff with wide-ranging applicable experience is helping to oversee the Katrina response.

Were the Kewl Kidz still tugging on their thongs at Club Med when the whole "Man Called Brownie" thing came down? Apparently so, or these astute observers of the political scene would notice that the optics of Bush putting his primo political advisor in charge of a massive reconstruction job might just look a little as if he's putting politics over competence --- again. But hey, there's no margin in taking on the Rovester, at least if you want to be invited to insider fetes where the great man freely speaks his mind off the record:

Karl Rove, President Bush's top political advisor and deputy White House chief of staff, spoke at businessman Teddy Forstmann's annual off the record gathering in Aspen, Colorado this weekend. Here is what Rove had to say that the press wasn't allowed to report.

On Katrina: The only mistake we made with Katrina was not overriding the local government...

On The Anti-War Movement: Cindy Sheehan is a clown. There is no real anti-war movement. No serious politician, with anything to do with anything, would show his face at an anti-war rally...

On Bush's Low Poll Numbers: We have not been good at explaining the success in Iraq. Polls go up and down and don't mean anything...

On Iraq: There has been a big difference in the region. Iraq will transform the Middle East...

On Judy Miller And Plamegate: Judy Miller is in jail for reasons I don't really understand...

On Joe Wilson: Joe Wilson and I attend the same church but Joe goes to the wacky mass...

In attendance at the conference, among others were: Harvey Weinstein, Brad Grey, Michael Eisner, Les Moonves, Tom Freston, Tom Friedman, Bob Novak, Barry Diller, Martha Stewart, Margaret Carlson, Alan Greenspan, Andrea Mitchell, Norman Pearlstein and Walter Isaacson.

We have the president's top advisor and political machine builder speaking before this group of media elites, all of whom are sworn to secrecy. We hoi polloi wouldn't know anything about this if it weren't for a wee whistelblower who told Arianna. Can we all see the problem here folks? (Hint: it ain't partisanship.)

Which brings me to this very intriguing article in this week's LA Weekly. Read it all, but this passage was particularly on point:

If big media look like they’re propping up W’s presidency, they are. Because doing so is good for corporate coffers — in the form of government contracts, billion-dollar tax breaks, regulatory relaxations and security favors. At least that wily old codger Sumner Redstone, head of Viacom, parent company of CBS, has admitted what everyone already knows is true: that, while he personally may be a Democrat, “It happens that I vote for Viacom. Viacom is my life, and I do believe that a Republican administration is better for media companies than a Democratic one.”

I don't know how many of you have worked for a corporation, but those of you who have know what that means. If you want to make it in a big organization you listen when the big bosses say things like that.

Whoever wrote that little blurb on The Note about Karl Rove (this past week-end's marquee entertainment for all the movers and shakers in Big Media) knows that his or her corporate bosses believe that Republicans are better for business --- and they will appreciate any employees who recognise that corporate priorities are career makers. None of this has to be stated out loud. Any ambitious journalist who wants to sit at Tom Friedman's table knows what to do without even being told. Indeed, he knows what to do without even consciously thinking about it. It's the way the world works.

And as for the people listening to Uncle Karl regale them with delicious little tidbits about which they can only talk to other privileged establishment players and courtiers, well let's just say that I cannot help but laugh out loud at the notion that they are committed to truth --- or even reality. Indeed, it seems to me that we are living in entirely different worlds. They are not custodians of democracy, they are insider usurpers of it.

This is not to say that blogs are the answer to our woes. I recognise that blogs (such as Time's blog of the year just today) are living in an echo chamber of a different sort --- as do many of us on the left. But, I think we are, or have been, a populist voice which is at this point a very necessary counterpoint to the effete, arid babble of the insider cognoscenti. There is, at least, some fresh air to breathe in the blogosphere.

Peter Daou has written an extremely interesting piece that speaks to this today in which he reveals some of his travails as someone who tried to explain the emerging power of the netroots to the staid strategists of the Kerry campaign. Among other things, he concluded that blogs need to engage the mainstream media and the party structure in order to influence the conventional wisdom.

Should we conclude, then, that the inability of bloggers on the left and right to alter or create conventional wisdom means that they have negligible political clout? If the netroots can’t change CW without the mass media and the political establishment, and if the mass media and the political establishment can change CW without the netroots (which seems undeniable), then isn’t the blog world a relatively powerless echo chamber? The answer, of course, is no.

Bloggers can exert disproportionate pressure on the media and on politicians. Reporters, pundits, and politicians read blogs, and, more importantly, they care what bloggers say about them because they know other reporters, pundits, and politicians are reading the same blogs. It’s a virtuous circle for the netroots and a source of political power. The netroots can also bring the force of sheer numbers to bear on a non-compliant politician, reporter, or media outlet. Nobody wants a flood of complaints from thousands of angry activists. And further, bloggers can raise money, fact-check, and help break stories and/or keep them in circulation long enough for the media and political establishment to pick them up.

Consequently, bloggers, though unable to change conventional wisdom on their own, are able to use these proficiencies and resources to persuade the media and political establishment to join them in pushing a particular story or issue.

The blogosphere is full of calls to arms and polemics and analysis all of which are, to varying degrees, politically empowering. I've often said that we are the heirs to the revolutionary war era's pamphleteers, only in electronic form and I proudly number myself amongst them. But, like Peter, I think that the blogosphere's most important purpose at this point in its very new history is to serve as a check on the insular journalistic elites that make up the corporate media hierarchy and the DC beltway press. And I think we already do this in a couple of different ways, neither of which were invented by bloggers but which were made possible for the masses to participate in by technology.

I realize that he is long out of fashion and probably politically incorrect to evoke in these conservative times, but I think that bloggers can be, at our best, the heirs to IF Stone, who famously said that the Washington Post was an exciting paper to read because "you would never know on what page you would find a page one story." Like Stone, we are always looking for the page one story that's buried on page 15. Our capacity to use collective energy to scour newpapers and other publications for the small details that can lead to a bigger story is one of the innovations of blogging. We are using the modern investigative tools at our disposal to follow up on the "shirt tail hanging out" as he used to call it --- the little detail that leads one to delve more deeply into the story and get to the larger truth. Technology, of course, is key --- but so is the aggregate energy of thousands of individuals putting it to work.

And I also think we change the dialog in a way that's too subtle to measure but is vital nonetheless. While we were unable to influence the media prior to the Iraq war, our arguments, honed over the course of two years of non-stop writing, analysing and fist shaking, meant that when the tide of public opinion began to turn, the media and at least some members of the public had an understanding of events that they wouldn't have had if we had not been screaming into the void. I believe that the concentration of words that had been pushed into the ether helped opinion to move faster than it would have otherwise. And it prepared the press to finally admit what they saw with their own eyes when confronted with the Katrina cock-up.

Like Stone, who was an early skeptic of Vietnem, the bloggers of the left, operating outside any party hierarchy and completely outside the establishment, were the earliest off the mark on the debacle that has become Iraq. We were skeptical because we weren't immersed in the conventional beltway wisdom that said we had to support the war. Unlike those who were angling for jobs or social approbation or credibility among the beltway elites, we just said what we thought. There is value in that.

We outsiders can probably be the worst cynics around --- but I would say that when it comes to power, we are far more likely to be right than wrong. As Stone said, "If you want to know about governments, all you have to know is two words: Governments lie."

For structural reasons as much as anything, the blogosphere is filling a void that IF Stone's retirement left unfilled during those long years in which the right built up its media infrastructure. We are telling the truth as we see it. That's not to say that it is always a pure and clear reflection of reality. But it is, at least, authentic and sincere which is something that one cannot say about the media elite or the climbers who aspire to it. There is value in that too.

In other blogging news:

EvolveTV, which many of my readers have asked me about about, and about which I knew absolutely nothing, is done teasing and has announced its intentions. It looks to be a lot of fun -- a streaming TV show featuring all your favorite bloggers like Atrios, Kos, Juan Cole, PZ Myers etc. Check it out.


Friday, September 16, 2005

Boondoggle Part Deux

Yesterday morning a friend sent me the following article from the Wall Street Journal:

After Katrina, Republicans
Back a Sea of Conservative Ideas
September 15, 2005; Page B1

Congressional Republicans, backed by the White House, say they are using relief measures for the hurricane-ravaged Gulf coast to achieve a broad range of conservative economic and social policies, both in the storm zone and beyond.

Some new measures are already taking shape. In the past week, the Bush administration has suspended some union-friendly rules that require federal contractors pay prevailing wages, moved to ease tariffs on Canadian lumber, and allowed more foreign sugar imports to calm rising sugar prices. Just yesterday, it waived some affirmative-action rules for employers with federal contracts in the Gulf region.

Now, Republicans are working on legislation that would limit victims' right to sue, offer vouchers for displaced school children, lift some environment restrictions on new refineries and create tax-advantaged enterprise zones to maximize private-sector participation in recovery and reconstruction. Yesterday, the House overwhelmingly passed a bill that would offer sweeping protection against lawsuits to any person or organization that helps Katrina victims without compensation.

"The desire to bring conservative, free-market ideas to the Gulf Coast is white hot," says Rep. Mike Pence, the Indiana Republican who leads the Republican Study Group, an influential caucus of conservative House members. "We want to turn the Gulf Coast into a magnet for free enterprise. The last thing we want is a federal city where New Orleans once was."

Many of the ideas under consideration have been pushed by the 40-member study group, which is circulating a list of "free-market solutions," including proposals to eliminate regulatory barriers to awarding federal funds to religious groups housing hurricane victims, waiving the estate tax for deaths in the storm-affected states; and making the entire region a "flat-tax free-enterprise zone."

Members of the group met in a closed session Tuesday night at the conservative Heritage Foundation headquarters here to map strategy. Edwin Meese, the former Reagan administration attorney general, has been actively involved.

Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R., Kan.) said that the plans under development "are all part of a philosophy of lowering costs for doing business." He said southern Louisiana,Mississippi and Alabama offer a "microcosm" where new ideas can be applied to speed the rebuilding.

The proposals to cut taxes and waive regulations come after Congress quickly approved $62.8 billion in federal spending for the Gulf Coast, and is expected to approve further spending that will push the price tag above $100 billion.

Some of the proposals are attracting fire from Democrats. "They're going back to the playbook on issues like tort reform, school vouchers and freeing business from environmental rules to achieve ideological objectives they haven't been able to get in the normal legislative process," said Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D., Ill.)

In response, Democrats are pressing for other proposals that suit their ideology. Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois has suggested creating a national emergency airlift program so that U.S. airlines can help evacuate Americans from areas before a natural disaster strike. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Louisiana Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu unveiled a plan that would, among other things, preserve victims' Medicaid health coverage, provide $2,500 education grants to displaced students and give victims a 180-day extension on outstanding loan payments.

Trial lawyers were quick to attack the bill the House passed yesterday on a voice vote to limit lawsuits against volunteers saying it prevents airlines, hospitals, stadiums, and bus companies from being held accountable for misconduct or negligence. In a statement, the Association of Trial Lawyers of America said, "If a nursing home resident evacuated from New Orleans to a nursing home in a neighboring state dies of untreated, infected pressure sores, the out-of-state home would be protected."

The bill's chief sponsor, Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, said in a statement that the legislation removes the "threat of legal fear that stands between many willing and able Good Samaritans and the victims of Hurricane Katrina." The bill does permit lawsuits for injuries that were caused "by willful, wanton, reckless, or criminal conduct."

Some conservatives expressed concern about the growing reach of the reconstruction effort. "Everyone is attaching their own agenda to this," said William A. Niskanen, a former Reagan White House economic adviser now at the libertarian Cato Institute. "It's being seen as a test of the conservative agenda, from enterprise zones to school vouchers and the repeal of labor laws, and these ideas deserve careful thought," he said. "But [the massive spending] could also create expectations that we can do this every time a disaster hits."

Some of the proposals are unlikely to win quick passage. But congressional tax-writing committees hope to approve legislation within days to offer $5 billion in
tax relief and other aid to residents of areas hit by the storm. The legislation would, among other things, let victims withdraw money from retirement accounts without penalty, give tax incentives to those who house evacuees and give companies incentives to hire displaced workers.

Republicans, meanwhile, say they will also press for a new round of energy concessions, including incentives to rebuild and expand offshore drilling and clear the way for new refineries that were dropped from a 500-page energy bill that passed last month.

House Energy and Commerce Chairman Joe Barton of Texas and Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman James Inhofe are working on bills that would encourage refineries to build new plants and expand existing ones by rolling back environmental rules and making it easier for refineries to navigate regulatory channels in Washington.

Republicans hope Hurricane Katrina prods Congress to approve a second energy
bill this fall that includes several provisions that were dropped from the first bill.

The National Petrochemical & Refineries Association would like lawmakers to reduce the depreciation period from 10 years to five years in order to stimulate investment. Some refineries are talking about reviving an effort to get liability protection for producing the fuel additive methyl tertiary butyl ether, or MTBE. Both were dropped from the earlier energy bill at the insistence of Democrats.

Then last night Bush gave a speech which many liberals are lauding, and conservatives are decrying, as a capitulation to liberal ideals. They seem to be convinced that our man Bush has had a change of heart and is going to spend lots of money on big government programs to help the poor. And, by gosh, he even admitted that the history of racism in this country had contributed to African American poverty. Praise Jesus! He's seen the light.

I missed the speech last night but I was on the road and tuned into KTALK shortly , the liberal talk radio station here in LA shortly after it was over and heard Johnny Wendell, whom I usually quite like, saying that he hadn't heard a politician say anything like this in 30 years. And he thought that it was such good news that we should give George W. Bush the benefit of the doubt. It just proved that the era of Republican small government conservatism was over and liberalism was back, baby!

I was confused. I had read that article in the morning, after all. Then I came home and fired up the creaky computer and saw that Karl Rove was in charge of the rebuilding effort. Ah.

Bush ran as a "compassionate conservative" pushing the slogan of the very liberal Children's Defense Fund as one of his signature issues (No Child Left Behind.) He's always used liberal rhetoric and programmatic boilerplate to sell himself as a "new kinda Republican." It's just that being kinder and gentler has been out of fashion since he donned the codpiece after 9/11. There is nothing new in this. And it is in no sense some sort of capitulation. Republicans have been stealing liberal rhetoric for some time now, particularly when it comes to pretending to care about people they really don't care about. Gingrich showed that hard edged conservative rhetoric is deeply unpopular. People want to hear their leaders pretend to care, even if they don't. Karl Rove knows what works --- and they know that the dipshit pundits love it when a Republican says it because anything counter-intuitive becomes "bold" and "politically courageous."

And, I thought we all understood by now that there is no relationship between what the Republicans say and what they do.

The model we should look at is the Coalition Provisional Government in Iraq. That too was going to be a bold and courageous experiment in laissez-faire wet-dream governance. Instead it was the biggest boondoggle in history with more than 8.8 billion dollars officially unaccounted for and undoubtedly tens of billions more wasted on fraud and corruption. Bush's base, by which I mean corporate America, did very, very well. They will undoubtedly do well in Boondoggle Part Two as well.

I cannot believe that any liberal in the country would take George W Bush's word about anything at this point, but apparently we all haven't learned our lesson yet. I'm not sure what it will take, to tell you the truth. But for those of you who believe he has somehow capitulated to liberal ideals, I would like to introduce you to a friend of mine from an African nation whose funds have been frozen ....


Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Brownie's Brotherhood

When the argument about civil service protections first surfaced during the intitial debates about the Department of Homeland Security, a lot of us knew that the danger was that the department would become a dumping ground for political patronage jobs. That's one of the ways a party builds a successful political machine. (You need to have a way to reward your loyal ground troops --- the government contracts and tax loopholes don't get out the vote.) Indeed, it was the creation of the civil service that succesfully reduced the dominance of the political machines at the beginning of the last century.

As poor little Brownie shows, this presents serious problems for government efficiency. Working on campaigns or in a press office does not qualify someone to run a large department or give them any expertise in anything but politics.

MPetrelis over at DKos* has unearthed this little gem of an example. Meet Matt Mayer the "Acting Executive Director, Chief of Staff, and Senior Policy Advisor for the Office of State and Local Government Coordination and Preparedness (SLGCP) in the Office of the Secretary in the Department of Homeland Security (Homeland Security)."

Guess what Matt's department does?

SLCGP is the primary office responsible for terrorism preparedness in Homeland Security. SLGCP provides training, funds for the purchase of equipment, support for the planning and execution of exercises, technical assistance and other support to assist states and local jurisdictions prevent, plan for, and respond to acts of terrorism. SLCGP also is the primary point of contact for state and local governments with Homeland Security.

Mayer is a young Republican lawyer who graduated from law school in 1997 and worked on redistricting issues in Colorado in 2000. Colorado Governor Owens appointed him to a Judicial District Nominating Commission in 2001.

Somewhere along the line Mayer hooked up with a rising politician named Rick O'Donnell and ran his losing campaign for congress in 2002. Shortly thereafter, O'Donnell was appointed to run a state regulatory agency where Mayer worked as his Deputy. On February 1st, 2004 Matt Mayer became the Acting Executive Director, Chief of Staff, and Senior Policy Advisor for the Office of State and Local Government Coordination and Preparedness (SLGCP) in the Office of the Secretary in the Department of Homeland Security.

Matt Mayer is no Brownie, but he had almost no experience before he took on a huge role in the Department of Homeland security. His resume is a thing of padded beauty.

This article, which mentions Mayer's start date, discusses the brain drain at DHS as political appointees were brought in in 2004. It isn't only FEMA.

*My information is a bit different from the original DKOS diary. I can't account for why the news stories he cited say what they say, but it's clear that Mayer went to DHS in 2004, not 2005.

Who's Sorry Now

Kevin Drum, noticing the pundits' amazed tone yesterday, asked last night whether it was true that Bush accepted blame less often than other presidents and noted that Clinton didn't step up for anything but Lewinsky and that was after months of prevaricating.

I don't think it's that other president's accept blame more often, although some, like JFK, famously did and enhanced their popularity by doing so. The reason why it's so amazing is that Bush has presided over a terrorist attack on US soil and an intelligence failure of epic proportions in Iraq and has not only failed to take even one iota of responsibility, but actually rewarded the people who dropped the ball. It's the scope of his errors that sets his unwillingness to take responsibility on a different level than other presidents.

There are many ways that presidents admit responsibility besides publicly issuing the big mea culpa. Clinton fired people and withdrew nominations and did many things in response to public outcry. He changed course when it was clear things weren't working and announced it publicly. Bush, on the other hand, goes out of his way to pretend that he is "staying the course" even when he has quite obviously changed it. His unwillingness to even admit a small change in policy is absolute. His stubbornness on more petty matters such as his insistence on installing John Bolton at the UN just reinforces the fact that he is not only incapable of admitting a mistake or taking responsibility for his administration's failures --- he will use raw political power to get his way even when he's clearly wrong.

The response to Katrina is just the latest in a series of epic mistakes. And the shock isn't that he's finally admitted that he, as president, bears some responsibility for the failures of this latest cock-up --- it's that it's the first time political conditions have been such that he was required to do so.

It would appear that after hearing four years of "we could never have imagined" and "if we'd known we would have moved heaven and earth" and "stuff happens" people finally (if temporarily) awakened to the idea that these guys are fuck-ups. His approval ratings were sliding so precipitously that they obviously felt they had to try to stop the bleeding in some novel new way --- letting buck stop (sort of) at the president. It may very well be too late though. The cumulative effect of all those excuses and stubborn refusals to admit wrongdoing may be overwhelming now.

This speech Thursday night had better be good.

Hack Diplomacy

Someone (Josh Marshall?) put out the call the other day for examples of other federal departments filled with political hacks. I've just noticed a doozy, featuring my favorite uber-operative, Jim Wilkinson.

Here's some backround on Jimbo from last fall:

Jim Wilkinson (James R. Wilkinson), who served as General Tommy R. Franks' director of strategic communications, is deputy national security advisor for communications as of December 2003. Wilkinson "will craft long-term messaging strategy for the National Security Council" and report to National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and White House communications director Dan Bartlett.[1]

Prior to his return to the White House, Wilkinson briefly served as director of communications for the Republican National Convention, which will take place in New York City Aug. 30 to Sept. 2, 2004. "His office, on the 18th floor over Madison Square Garden, is furnished with the essentials: leather-bound Bible, Yankee cap, Fox News on the flat-screen TV. ... His task: establish a communications center in the core of the media capital of the Western world."

"Mr. Wilkinson is bringing the lessons about access and message that the Bush administration learned in Gulf War II--where he helped to manage the program of embedding reporters in combat units--to the home front. ... As for talent, he had General Tommy Franks; now he's got [New York] Governor George Pataki."

"Formerly a political operative, Mr. Wilkinson was put in the position of feeding, informing and calming the most motivated media army in the world in Qatar. There, inside the massive telecommunications studio assembled by the U.S. Army and the Bush administration, he earned both the enmity and admiration of various parts of the worldwide press during war in a technologically superb and informationally sparse desert press center. ... 'It was an unprofessional operation,' said Peter Boyer of The New Yorker, who said he landed an interview with General Franks only by going around Mr. Wilkinson to the Pentagon."

"Jim Wilkinson has gone from politics to war and back since he worked for George W. Bush in Florida during the 2000 election, and his journey is a mark of the administration's utilitarian approach to marketing war, politics and the Presidency. 'He's a man who prefers to work behind the scenes,' said the spokesman for the Republican National Committee, Jim Dyke. He's also got as pure a Republican pedigree as you can wish, and an edge honed in the bitter partisan wars between Bill Clinton and the Republican House leadership.

"Mr. Wilkinson grew up in East Texas and attended high school in Tenaha, population 1,046, then gave up plans to become an undertaker to go to work for Republican Congressman Dick Armey in 1992. Mr. Armey soon became House majority leader; his communications director, Mr. Wilkinson's mentor, was Ed Gillespie, now chairman of the R.N.C."

"Wilkinson first left his mark on the 2000 Presidential race in March 1999, when he helped package and promote the notion that Al Gore claimed to have 'invented the Internet.' Then the Texan popped up in Miami to defend Republican protesters shutting down a recount: 'We find it interesting that when Jesse Jackson has thousands of protesters in the streets, it's O.K., but when a small number of Republicans exercise their First Amendment rights, the Democrats don't seem to like it,' he told the Associated Press.

"For his troubles, Mr. Wilkinson was made deputy director of communications for planning in the Bush White House, and was among the aides who set up the Sept. 14, 2001, visit to Ground Zero that redefined George W. Bush's Presidency. During the Afghan war, he managed 'Coalition Information Centers' in Washington, D.C., and London, as well as in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In Qatar, he became the point man on the rescue of Pvt. Jessica Lynch and delivered the most memorable and sellable quote of Gulf War II: 'America doesn't leave its heroes behind,' he told reporters at a late-night briefing."

He was also a member of the famous Iraq Group and one of the authors of the White House paper called "A Decade of Defiance and Deception," (which is not, as you would naturally expect from the title, a short history of the Republican congress.)

I first noticed Wilkinson when I read Michael Wolff's great article in the New York magazine and he described a barking freakshow of a white house flack strutting around the desert in a uniform:

The next person to buttonhole me was the Centcom uber-civilian, a thirty-ish Republican operative. He was more full-metal-jacket in his approach (although he was a civilian he was, inexplicably, in uniform - making him, I suppose a sort of para-military figure): "I have a brother who is in a Hummer at the front, so don't talk to me about too much fucking air-conditioning." And: "A lot of people don't like you." And then: "Don't fuck with things you don't understand." And too: "This is fucking war, asshole." And finally: "No more questions for you."

Imagine my surprise to find our old friend Jim kicked upstairs again to a much more important position in this second term. He's a senior advisor to the Secretary of State. I guess since they moved Bolton out to the UN they needed another Florida Recount hit man to catapault the propaganda.

Pat Robertson has no need to call for a nuke on Foggy Bottom. Between Wilkinson and Hughes, the State Department will be turned into FEMA in no time.

Link via Kevin at Catch, who excerpts some precious Condi quotes from her interview with the CBS editorial board. I especially liked this one:

I always found – there was an argument, you know, was Iraq supporting al-Qaida and all of these things and you know, we could round and round those arguments. I think there is plenty of evidence that there is an al-Qaida presence in Iraq. But let me set that aside for a moment.

Yep. It all depends on what the definition of is, is.

"What The Hell Do You Expect Me To Do About It?"

Do yourself a favor and check out BagNewsnotes' analysis of what is now the iconic image of Bush during the Katrina crisis --- staring out the window of AF One.

There is another picture and it's truly creepy.


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.