Friday, September 16, 2005

A Song for America's Poor 

Music That Bush Clearly Doesn't Hear
by John Nichols

Last spring, in an attempt to make President Bush appear to be more of a regular guy, the White House released a list of the tunes the commander in chief was listening to on his iPod.
The list featured mostly country, alt-country and blues artists, including John Fogerty, John Hiatt, Alan Jackson, George Jones and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Perhaps the most interesting name on Bush's listening list was that of James McMurtry, the brilliant Austin-based songwriter who used his 2004 live album to poke fun at the president's attempts to fake a Texaser-than-thou accent.
McMurtry responded to the news that Bush's playlist included his song "Valley Road" by politely suggesting that the president might not be the most serious listener of his songs, which frequently detail the damage done to Americans by rampaging corporatists and an uncaring government.
In case there was any doubt about the differences between George W. Bush's worldview and James McMurtry's, the musician posted a savage critique of the president and his pals, "We Can't Make It Here," on his Web site shortly before last year's election. That song, a haunting reflection on corporate globalization and wars of whim, was the highlight of McMurtry's set last month when he played at Camp Casey, the protest vigil organized outside the president's Crawford, Texas, ranch by Cindy Sheehan, whose son Casey was killed in Iraq.
McMurtry did not write the song to cheer on Sheehan's demand that the president meet with her, but it sure sounded as if he had when he sang out its cry for attention to the working poor who have lost their jobs to "free trade" and their children to a war founded on lies.
Written in the voice of a textile worker whose job was lost when a factory was shuttered and the production sent overseas, McMurtry closes his opus by asking:

Should I hate a people for the shade of their skin
Or the shape of their eyes or the shape I'm in
Should I hate 'em for having our jobs today
No I hate the men sent the jobs away
I can see them all now, they haunt my dreams
All lily white and squeaky clean
They've never known want, they'll never know need
Their sh- don't stink and their kids won't bleed
Their kids won't bleed in the damn little war
And we can't make it here anymore
Will work for food
Will die for oil
Will kill for power and to us the spoils
The billionaires get to pay less tax
The working poor get to fall through the cracks
Let 'em eat jellybeans let 'em eat cake
Let 'em eat sh-, whatever it takes
They can join the Air Force, or join the Corps
If they can't make it here anymore

And that's how it is
That's what we got
If the president wants to admit it or not
You can read it in the paper
Read it on the wall
Hear it on the wind
If you're listening at all
Get out of that limo
Look us in the eye
Call us on the cell phone
Tell us all why

George Bush refused to look Cindy Sheehan in the eye. And James McMurtry won't be singing at the White House anytime soon. But he will be playing at 9:30 p.m. Saturday at Madison's Cafe Montmartre. Don't miss the man whose songs speak more truth about America in five minutes than George W. Bush has in five years.

John Nichols is associate editor of The Capital Times. E-mail: jnichols@madison.com
© 2005 The Capital Times

Thursday, September 08, 2005

"How Rotten the Structure has Become..." 

Published on Wednesday, September 7, 2005 by the Globe & Mail (Canada)

Legacy of Neglect

by Roger Morris

The calamity was enormous, the toll in lives and ruin like nothing the country knew. Yet the ultimate disaster was in the staggering negligence of the government and its oblivious leader. Despite years of warnings and then the stark sight of suffering, help was disgracefully slow, too late for so many. "People must realize now," one witness wrote in her diary, "how rotten the structure has become." Long afterward, historians would think it a breaking point in trust, the moment when the future began.

No, not the great New Orleans flood of 2005. The great Russian drought and famine of 1891. Not George W. Bush. But a similarly fey Nicholas II. Not a breaking point in America perhaps, though there are intriguing parallels.
As most of the world knows, the grim search for the dead has now begun in New Orleans, and among the casualties already is much of the credibility of the Bush Administration. From startlingly bold coverage, the scenes of tragedy in picture and print are indelible: Frail old ladies slumped rag-doll dead across their wheelchairs. Lifeless babies in someone's helpless arms. Families on rooftops waving frantically and in vain. A hospital patient who could not be rescued amid the rising water and was euthanized by a desperate nurse - "We're going to help him to heaven," she said to the sobbing young doctor who later told the story. Not least, the barely describable horror of thousands trapped and left in the Superdome, the enveloping squalor symbolic of the building's own squalid history as another of America's coliseum monuments to public plunder for private greed.
Then, of course, there were those other scenes: As sodden, long-neglected levees crumbled and a great city sank beneath the tide, President Bush flew off heedlessly to the West Coast to celebrate his triumphs of national security. As Americans begged to be taken from catastrophe, Vice-President Dick Cheney continued taking his vacation in Wyoming. As bloated corpses went floating on the flood, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice went shopping Fifth Avenue for a small fortune in shoes. Asked later her thoughts on the victims from her kindred South, the Secretary offered with her usual authority, "The Lord Jesus Christ is going to come on time. If we just wait."
Like an old French graveyard upturned by the torrent, the history of the debacle near and far has come bobbing inescapably to the surface. There were chillingly graphic warnings for decades, of course, from the files of federal, state and local governments to the pages of National Geographic. Developers came to eat away the fragile shield of shoreline, but no funding came to shore up what everyone knew to be the last line of defense at the levees.
It took five to six days for us to watch much of New Orleans die, the cries go silent, the rooftop begging vanish. But the real killing of the city took a quarter century and more. The Corps of Engineers budgets slashed and states starved by Washington's tax cuts for the wealthy, endless enriching of special interests, gathering orthodoxy of greed and abandonment of the common good - all grotesquely garbed as conservatism or fiscal responsibility.
It hardly began with George W. Bush and the Republicans. The oligarchy that left New Orleans to its fate for so many years of borrowed time was thoroughly bipartisan. The disaster could never have happened without the Democrats, from Congress after Congress to the spectacle of Bill Clinton last week adding his clubbish alibi for the inexcusable failure of a government to read its own files.
Nor are we surprised to see racism lurking naked in policy and practice, or the regrettable atavism of the administration's primitive theology and its energy lobby accommodations that stoutly denied the global warming that may well have spawned Katrina. But no freedom from prejudice or ignorance now would have saved New Orleans from the criminal negligence of those decades that left a grindingly poor population at the mercy of decrepit dikes.
Of course, the war on Iraq and those who perpetrated it must bear the blame for the atrocity in New Orleans. Of course national guardsmen were in Mesopotamia, not Mississippi where they belong. Of course helicopters were running gauntlets in a lost war, not rescuing our own lost souls. But the war that presents so ready and simple a target is only part of the larger disaster, and the eventual going of Mr. Bush only part of coming to terms with the far wider, longer misrule.
Even then, hundreds, perhaps thousands, might still have been saved. A general of the Northern Command tells the BBC his relief force was in place over the precious final days, and was only awaiting presidential orders. The USS Bataan, it turns out, was offshore all along with vital help never mounted in time.
But nothing could save New Orleans from the dithering incompetent crony bureaucrats and insensate politicians who together have been the inevitable, necessary accompaniment of the oligarchy. Thus the cruel joke of FEMA Director Michael Brown, the former horse association impresario entrusted with the lives of tens of thousands, easily matched by Republican Speaker of the House J. Dennis Hastert, the ex- wrestling coach as statesman, who helpfully suggested that much of New Orleans should be "bulldozed."
All this, we should note, in a New Orleans already one of the poorest of America's cities, a redolent casualty of the system long before Katrina. Where half the households make less than $28,000 a year, schools are a disgrace, the murder rate among the highest in the country, and a police force with more than 50 officers recently convicted of crimes. Into the cesspool of state politics will now pour at least $10-billion in federal aid with the same able bureaucrats and politicians overseeing it, adding appreciably to the "looting" of New Orleans.
It all gives new meaning to Homeland Security. Katrina has shown us unmistakably that there are two homelands, two distinct versions of Security in 2005 America. As New Orleans symbolizes so vividly, the country has its high ground and low, its rescued and expendable. In health care, education, jobs and a dozen other ways, in the far-reaching meaning and impact of the war on Iraq, one homeland will be secure, the other left to face the century's floodtides alone.
The plundering and heedlessness will go on as long as the system endures. Even now the blame is shifting to state and local officials. In the end, millions will believe, as millions already do, that the poor, thus benighted, city committed suicide - and, in sentiment suitably muted, good riddance.
I've worked with presidents Johnson and Nixon - tough nuts but capable of changing their minds. Those in power in Washington now speak directly to God; I have no hope that Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney are going to undergo some spontaneous conversion to a different way of thinking post-Katrina. What we can hope is that both Republicans and Democrats - in the Congress and those contemplating running in 2008 - sense the pressure for a major reversal of priorities, for troops to be brought home and resources reapportioned to true homeland security. And this pressure may just force the administration's fiercely grudging hand at least to begin the process. A slim hope.
And what of charming old New Orleans and environs, portal to a fourth of the nation's trade, refinery of every tenth tank of gas, that and more. Perhaps foolishly rebuilt and wanly defended as the funds inevitably dwindle. Perhaps turned into a Cajun Venice in a country where tourism is always a last resort.
In any case, it will be a busy autumn. Supreme Court confirmations. The Plame scandal indictments. By Thanksgiving, between shots of feasting soldiers in Baghdad and turkey at the Crawford Ranch, the media should be showing smiling faces at the long-term shelters.
But who knows? Somewhere, as in the tortured Russia of 1891 there may be a diarist recording, "People must realize now....." Perhaps somewhere in the suffering and stench, the seeming immunity of the misbegotten powerful, there really has been a breaking point, however difficult to see or feel. Perhaps another future has begun for America, after all.

Roger Morris, who served on the National Security Council under presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, is the author of several acclaimed books, and is completing for Knopf Shadows of the Eagle, a history of US policy and covert intervention in the Middle East and South Asia.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

A Breaching of the Political Levees? 

Breaching the Political Levees?

Ian Buchanan of the Charles Darwin University in Darwin, Northern Australia, has written an interesting account of the fascinating book, "After the New Economy" by Doug Henwood. The Tom Frank to whom he refers was an off-stage character in "Uncle Rupert". Frank has a feeling for what is happening in the United States and to our present society, that is sensitive and compelling.

I'm reminded by all this - and Katrina - of stories that go back to the early years of the twentieth century - stories, including those on "Oil", told by Upton Sinclair; the tragedy of the scapegoat unionists, Saccho and Vanzetti; and, I suppose, stories told by Richard Wright when now we have poor blacks trapped in the chaos of New Orleans and orders of "shoot to kill" are made to sound like those of decent, reasonable people protecting the innocent from thuggery.

My friend, Jozef Imrich, knew double-speak at first hand before he swam the "Cold River" twenty-five years ago to escape from Stalinism; but that double-speak wasn't as sophisticated and as compelling as that with which the "democracies" wash our brains today. Bush and Blair - and Howard! - are spreading "freedom" everywhere, they're making the savage and the heathen in the darker continents familiar with our brand "democracy" and they're fighting a war against "terror" at home and abroad that will enable a great many of their people to live on the edge of misery - and on the edge of "terror" about what the future might hold.

It's an interesting coincidence that Huey Long came to prominence after floods hit New Orleans in 1927. There seems little doubt that he was assassinated, at the age of 42, because he was determined to install economic and social arrangements that would be more equitable and would offer more stability than the speculative prosperity for the rich that America enjoyed in the run-up to the Great Depression.

I know of no Huey Long equivalent today - in America or anywhere else. Huey wasn't all pure goodness but at least he had a program - and one that had some of the basic features of what became Roosevelt's New Deal. I see nothing of that today.

There is complaint, there is some analysis of the economic and political situation; but there is no practical program of what we should do. Indeed, there is no effective analysis of how, in economic terms, we got to where we are today with the massive instabilities which - quite apart from disasters like Katrina - are likely to be so destructive for all of us, not necessarily in years but perhaps even in days, weeks or months.

There is still a horrifying irrelevance in what our policy-makers are talking about right now. In Australia, the whole thing is hilarious and at the same time tragic. We're obsessed, for example, with the petty struggle between two mighty political gladiators, Howard and Costello, for the prime-ministership. They belong to the same party; their contest is one, not of principle or policy but of personal ambition and gratification. We talk about tax reform in terms of lowering the rate that billionaires like Kerry Packer will have to endure - if they pay any tax at all. We talk about privatising Telstra - and whether we'll now manage to get the $30 billion or so that the government expected when it set off on this visionary enterprise. What is assured is that, like other privatisations, it will creatively distribute the worth that the society has laboriously created over the decades to create more millionaires, even billionaires, from the "disposal" of our public assets.

Of course, Australians are not the first to fiddle while Rome burns - nor are they the only ones, south of the Equator or north.

In a matter of days, German voters will be required to choose between Angela Merkel and Gerhard Schröder - a choice that, in terms of the "New Economy", is hardly a choice at all. Angie says Gerhard didn't try hard enough and didn't go far and fast enough. She boasts that she'll bring on what could be a thoroughgoing economic and social disaster more quickly and more efficiently than Gerhard ever could. There is also a "Party of Democratic Socialism" and Lafontaine and other "leftist" groups might get something like 12% of the national vote. One commentator describes the lefties' effort as "an embittered ex-politician's attempt to stage a political comeback with a scratch alliance of left-wingers, ex-communists and globalisation critics."

I suppose it would be stupid and remiss of us to speak in any more favourable terms of those who are hostile to the Angies and Gerhards who are set on delivering another but rather different and probably excruciating "Wirtschaftswunder" to the German people.

The situation is really too menacing to write in those light-hearted terms. I do not think that the German electorate will, in the poll this month, head off down the path that destroyed Weimar; but, on the other side of the Atlantic, New Orleans has demonstrated that anger is mounting and could become difficult to control.

That applies anywhere.

So far, protest around the world - going back several years - has been unfocussed or has "focussed" on too many discomforts to result in any effective political campaign.Bush might be the catalyst that is needed. In the 1920s, the president famous for his "active inactivity", Calvin Coolidge, proclaimed that "What this country needs is a good five-cent cigar". Hoover, who had said, in 1928, that "We in America today are nearer to the final triumph over poverty than ever before in the history of any land", could not contain the gathering storm that, so soon after, broke in 1929.

Were those presidents - with their cohorts of supporters inside and outside government - anything like as unsavoury and incompetent as the lot we have now? The 1920s policy-makers brought forth Huey Long and eventually a more effective Democratic Party and FDR. Are Bush and his crowd what was needed to perform the same service for the United States - and for many other countries, including Australia - today?

All of that skates over the fundamental errors of economic policy that have brought us to the brink of what I have called "The Multiple Abyss". I have explained so many times how we have got to our present pass that it would be grossly redundant for me to go over it all again. However, the analysis of Henwood and his like, important as it may be, still does not explain the economic process that we must correct and how we must go about correcting it.

Sadly, that suggests a latter-day Huey Long and FDR, even if they turn up, may - as so often happens; we did not need Katrina's reminder - be able to offer us much too little, much too late.

James Cumes

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Huey Long: A Voice from the Past 

Huey Long says he came to the U.S. Senate for only one purpose--to push his "Share The Wealth" philosophy. And push it he did (see the excerpts from the section on his Senate speeches). This excerpt from his autobiography makes the case for the crisis that Long sought to address with his plan.
"I HAD come to the United States Senate with only one project in mind, which was that by every means of action and persuasion I might do something to spread the wealth of the land among all of the people.
I foresaw the depression in 1929. . . I had predicted all of the consequences many years before they occurred.
The wealth of the land was being tied up in the hands of a very few men. The people were not buying because they had nothing with which to buy. The big business interests were not selling, because there was nobody they could sell to.
One per cent of the people could not eat any more than any other one per cent; they could not wear much more than any other one per cent; they could not live in any more houses than any other one per cent. So, in 1929, when the fortune-holders of America grew powerful enough that one per cent of the people owned nearly everything, ninety-nine per cent of the people owned practically nothing, not even enough to pay their debts, a collapse was at hand.
God Almighty had warned against this condition. Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Daniel Webster, Theodore Roosevelt, William Jennings Bryan and every religious teacher known to this earth had declaimed against it. So it was no new matter, as it was termed, when I propounded the line of thought with the first crash of 1929, that the eventful day had arrived when accumulation at the top by the few had produced a stagnation by which the vast multitude of the people were impoverished at the bottom.
There is no rule so sure as that one that the same mill that grinds out fortunes above a certain size at the top, grinds out paupers at the bottom. The same machine makes them both; and how are they made? There is so much in the world, just so much land, so many houses, so much to eat and so much to wear. There is enough--yea, there is more--than the entire human race can consume, if all are reasonable.
All the people in America cannot eat up the food that is produced in America; all the people in America cannot wear out the clothes that can be made in America; nor can all of the people in America occupy the houses that stand in this country, if all are allowed to share in homes afforded by the nation. But when one man must have more houses to live in than ninety-nine other people; when one man decides he must own more foodstuff than any other ninety-nine people own; when one man decides he must have more goods to w ear for himself and family than any other ninety-nine people, then the condition results that instead of one hundred people sharing the things that are on earth for one hundred people, that one man, through his gluttonous greed, takes over ninety-nine parts for himself and leaves one part for the ninety-nine.
Now what can this one man do with what is intended for ninety-nine? He cannot eat the food that is intended for ninety-nine people; he cannot wear the clothes that are intended for ninety-nine people; he cannot live in ninety-nine houses at the same time; but like the dog in the manger, he can put himself on the load of hay and he can say:
'This food and these clothes and these houses are mine, and while I cannot use them, my greed can only be satisfied by keeping anybody else from having them.'
Wherefore and whence developed the strife in the land of too much, beginning in the year 1929."

Is there a Democratic Party - Anywhere? 

Bush Strafes New Orleans, Where's Huey Long?
by Greg Palast

The National Public Radio news anchor was so excited I thought she'd piss on herself: the President of the United had flown his plane down to 1700 feet to get a better look at the flood damage! And there was a photo of our Commander-in-Chief taken looking out the window. He looked very serious and concerned.
That was yesterday. Today he played golf. No kidding.
I'm sure the people of New Orleans would have liked to show their appreciation for the official Presidential photo-strafing, but their surface-to-air missiles were wet.
There is nothing new under the sun. In 1927, a Republican President had his photo taken as the Mississippi rolled over New Orleans. Calvin Coolidge, "a little fat man with a notebook in his hand," promised to rebuild the state. He didn't. Instead, he left to play golf with Ken Lay or the Ken Lay railroad baron equivalent of his day.
In 1927, the Democratic Party had died and was awaiting burial. As depression approached, the coma-Dems, like Franklin Roosevelt, called for balancing the budget.
Then, as the waters rose, one politician finally said, roughly, "Screw this! They're lying! The President's lying! The rich fat cats that are drowning you will do it again and again and again. They lead you into imperialist wars for profit, they take away your schools and your hope and when you complain, they blame Blacks and Jews and immigrants. Then they push your kids under. I say, Kick'm in the ass and take your rightful share!"
Huey Long laid out a plan: a progressive income tax, real money for education, public works to rebuild Louisiana and America, an end to wars for empire, and an end to financial oligarchy. The waters receded, the anger did not, and Huey "Kingfish" Long was elected Governor of Louisiana in 1928.
At the time, Louisiana schools were free, but not the textbooks. Governor Long taxed Big Oil to pay for the books. Rockefeller's oil companies refused pay the textbook tax, so Long ordered the National Guard to seize Standard Oil's fields in the Delta.
Huey Long was called a "demagogue" and a "dictator." Of course. Because it was Huey Long who established the concept that a government of the people must protect the people, school, house, and feed them and give every man or woman a job who needs one.
Government, he said, "We The People," not plutocrats nor Halliburtons, must build bridges and levies to keep the waters from rising over our heads. All we had to do was share the nation's wealth we created as a nation. But that meant facing down what he called the "concentrations of monopoly power" to finance the needs of the public.
In other words, Huey Long founded the modern Democratic Party. Franklin Roosevelt and the party establishment, scared senseless of Long's ineluctable march to the White House, adopted his program, called it the New Deal, and later The New Frontier and the Great Society.
America and the party prospered.
America could use a Democratic Party again and there's a rumor it's alive -- somewhere.
And now is the moment, as it was in '27. As the bodies float in the streets of New Orleans, now is not the time for the Democrats to shirk and slink away, bleating they can't "politicize" this avoidable disaster.
Seventy-six years ago this week, Huey Long was shot down, assassinated at the age of 43. But the legacy of his combat remains, from Social Security to veterans' mortgage loans.
There is no such thing as a "natural" disaster. Hurricanes happen, but death comes from official neglect, from tax cuts for the rich that cut the heart out of public protection. The corpses in the street are victims of a class war in which only one side has a general.
Where is our Huey Long? America needs just one Kingfish to stand up and say that our nation must rid itself of the scarecrow with the idiot chuckle, who has left America broken and in danger while he plays tinker-toy Napoleon on other continents.
I realize that the middle of rising flood is a hell of a bad time to give Democrats swimming lessons; but it's act up now or we all go under.

Greg Palast is the author of the New York Times bestseller, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy. Subscribe to his commentaries or view his investigative reports for BBC Television at www.GregPalast.com

In America: Poverty - and Shame 

Published on Friday, September 2, 2005 by CommonDreams.org

In America

by Joy-Ann Reid

It's hard to look at the images coming out of New Orleans and believe that you are looking at scenes from America. If our eyes are not playing tricks on us, we're watching helplessly as the world's only remaining superpower declares itself unable to rescue some 15,000 people abandoned in a lonely convention center, and tens of thousands more waiting for rescue from a football stadium.
The city's poor, left behind in a state that called for a mandatory evacuation, but had no plans for their evacuation -- those without cars or SUVs or money for plane fare. We're watching an American Somalia -- children, including infants, pregnant women, old people and young people huddled together in a filthy, anarchic hell for five days without food or water -- the sick and the exhausted, mothers and fathers, thrown together with the criminal elements of a city where 7 in ten are Black, and of those, three in ten were poor even before the storm. In our American Somalia, women have much to fear when darkness falls -- in the pitch black they must fear robbery and rape. There are no receiving stations inside that convention center in New Orleans. There are no triage areas, no police guards, no National Guardsmen handing out MREs, water and ice. There is just the teeming masses of the uncared for -- the good and the bad, the sick and the well, forced to face the darkness together, and alone. This is New Orleans, in America.
Let's not fool ourselves. If the floodwaters had taken Liberty City or Opa-locka, Florida, the south side of Chicago, Red Hook or Watts, in California, or the ghettos of Washington D.C., would things have been any different? We are a nation that roots our poor out of our consciousness. We do the Rush Limbaugh, snorting that no one forced them to live that way. For all our puffery about being the most churchgoing and Godly of Western nations, we spend the least on the world's poor, the least on our own. A Census Bureau report showing poverty rising for the fourth straight year in 2004 and claiming nearly 13 percent of the American population passed almost without comment in America last Tuesday. Nearly a quarter of Black and Hispanic children go hungry every night, hurricane or no hurricane, in America. And we have abandoned the left-behind of an entire city -- condemning them even to death, in America.
A singer, Harry Connick Jr., managed to ignore the warnings of authorities and drive into New Orleans to set eyes on the left behind of his hometown, while the president flew 1,700 miles overhead. There was no fireman's mound for Mr. Bush this time. But his tardiness to the scene was a true echo of 9/11.

In America the president demands "zero tolerance" for looting, but not "zero tolerance" for want.

National Guardsmen who face down insurgents in Iraq are told it's too dangerous to face the angry, abandoned and desperate Americans in New Orleans.

And now the superpower will go begging to the world for aid. The French have offered planes and ships. Germany and Venezuela have offered condolences, help, and wry "I told you so's." Our shame is to pass the hat to the world we used to sneer at. We sure hope they're "with us" now. And we, who spend less than 1 percent of our gross national product on the world's poor, and dwindling sums on our own, with every budget and every fat corporate tax break, seem not to have enough money to save 15,000 Americans in New Orleans.

Congress has offered $10 billion -- two and a half weeks' worth of war in Iraq. Is this who we are? Is this America?

Joy-Ann Reid is a freelance writer and communications consultant in Miami. Her website and blog are located at reidreport.com.

End their impunity; Truth must have Consequences. James Cumes 

End their impunity; Truth must have Consequences.
James Cumes

Sep 02, 2005 22:16 PDT
Published on Friday, September 2, 2005 by CommonDreams.org Ending the Impunity of the Bush White House by Norman Solomon

The man in the Oval Office is fond of condemning "killers." But his administration continues to kill with impunity. "They can go into Iraq and do this and do that," Martha Madden, former secretary of the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, said Thursday, "but they can't drop some food on Canal Street in New Orleans, Louisiana, right now? It's just mind-boggling."

The policies are matters of priorities. And the priorities of the Bush White House are clear. For killing in Iraq, they spare no expense. For protecting and sustaining life, the cupboards go bare. The problem is not incompetence. It's inhumanity, cruelty and greed. Media outlets have popularized some tactical critiques of U.S. military operations in Iraq. But the administration is competent enough to keep the military-industrial complex humming. It's good at generating huge profits for "defense" contractors, oil companies and the like. First things first, and first things last.

Why shore up levees when the precious money it would take can be better used for war in Iraq? Why allow National Guard units to remain home when they can be useful, killing and being killed, in a faraway war based on lies? And when catastrophe hits people close to home, why should the president respond with urgency or adequacy if their lives don't figure as truly important in his political calculus?

It's time to end the impunity of President George W. Bush. Of course he doesn't pull the triggers, drop the bombs or oversee the torture himself. And he avoids the dying that he has facilitated in the wake of the hurricane. White-collar criminals -- in this case, white-collar war criminals -- rarely get close to their dirtiest work.

Every minute has counted in the wake of the hurricane. While dawdling and compounding the massive tragedy, Bush wants to shift responsibility. We should stop and think about why he noisily rattled a big tin cup midway through the week. While the death toll rises in New Orleans and criticisms of his inaction grow more outraged across the country, the man wants us to think about making a charitable contribution, not taking political action. But George Bush and Dick Cheney must not be let off the hook. There is something egregiously obscene about the people in charge of the U.S. government telling citizens to donate money for a hurricane relief effort while the administration, from the president on down, has viciously abdicated its most basic responsibilities.

For the activities it views as really important, like the war on Iraq, the Bush White House hardly requires private contributions while siphoning off vast quantities of taxpayer funds. But when the task is to save lives instead of destroying them, kids are supposed to bust open their piggy banks.

"True compassion," Martin Luther King Jr. pointed out, "is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring." He accused the federal government of demonstrating "hostility to the poor" -- appropriating "military funds with alacrity and generosity" but providing "poverty funds with miserliness."

Four decades later, de facto hostility to the poor remains government policy, and its results include widespread deaths in New Orleans that could have been prevented. Respect must be paid, and justice must be created. The dead cannot be brought back; the suffering of recent days can't be undone. But it's up to us to create maximum pressure for a truly adequate rescue effort -- and to organize effectively while demanding political accountability. That means depriving Bush, Cheney and their congressional allies of the power they ruthlessly enjoy. And that means ending their impunity, so that truth has consequences.

Norman Solomon is the author of the new book "War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death." For information, go to: www.WarMadeEasy.com ###

Friday, September 02, 2005

Post-Katrina Economic Prospects 

The evidence seems to be emerging that, just as Bush contrived to convert his negligence vis a vis Al Quaeda into robust strength through his "leadership" of the war on terror after 9/11, so now he is trying to convert the major disaster of Katrina into a means of restoring his fortunes and his standing - and even perhaps of advancing his claims to an honourable place in the history books.

The success of this attempt might in part depend on how far his gross negligence of the need to protect New Orleans and the Gulf States against hurricanes, is headlined or not by the media and his critics in the general public.The evidence seems to be that much of the worst flooding from Katrina could have been avoided if the White House had not refused funding - largely apparently because of the demands of the Iraq quagmire and perhaps also because of the tax cuts handed out to the President's wealthy supporters.

Just how far this evidence is sound and, if so, how far it will be headlined, have yet to be seen. However, it may be one of those famous "smoking guns" that, in the end, could ensure, not Bush's honourable place in history but rather the opposite.
One eminent analyst correctly points out that recovery and reconstruction after a "natural disaster" usually boost the economy. It is especially comforting that he thinks America "will be going gangbusters for the next year" - comforting not only for the Americans but for all those around the world who fear and would be hurt by serious economic decline in the United States.

What makes me uncertain is that we still do not know the extent of the disaster in what is a large and significant section of the American economy. How much production, productive capacity and employment has been destroyed in New Orleans and other cities in the region? How far will the stimulus of reconstruction fall short of the blow to the economy struck by the disaster and its aftermath?

Until we know the answers, we might have to do a lot of whistling to keep our courage up. The impact on the twin deficits that have been worrying us for so long - the budget and trade deficits - are likely to be put under even more strain too. If Greenspan slows or reverses his tightening of interest rates, that might help or it might simply mean that the crash, when it comes, will be all the more devastating.

All of this goes far beyond oil supply and prices; but those too are highly unlikely to be any more stable and predictable in the months to come.

In the light of the record not only of the American Government but also other governments around the world, we can only hope that our leaders will somehow stumble into the right policies - or at least into policies that do not magnify Katrina into an even more terrible catastrophe than it already is.

A really robust and imaginative effort at reconstruction - perhaps reminiscent of the reconstruction of devastated areas after World War Two - would be a good start. Perhaps that might then be the spark that will ignite larger fires of real public and private investment in many developed countries that has been so sadly lacking for so long.

James Cumes

The Traffic in Arms 

Published on Thursday, September 1, 2005 by the Associated Press

U.S. Sells the Most Weapons to Developing Nations
by Lolita Baldor

The United States is the largest supplier of weapons to developing nations, delivering more than $9.6 billion in arms to Near East and Asian countries last year.
The U.S. sales to the developing countries helped boost worldwide weapons sales to the highest level since 2000, a congressional study says.
The total worldwide value of all agreements to sell arms last year was close to $37 billion, and nearly 59 percent of the agreements were to sell weapons to developing nations, according to the Congressional Research Service report.
The weapons being sold range from ammunition to tanks, combat aircraft, missiles and submarines.
As economic pressures led to a worldwide decline in weapons orders — from about $42 billion in 2000 to $37 billion last year — competition is forcing the U.S. and European countries to forge agreements to develop weapons jointly.
The CRS report released Monday said worldwide arms deliveries to developing nations rose from $20.8 billion in 2003, to $22.5 billion last year. Agreements to sell weapons, meanwhile, shot up from $15.1 billion to nearly $21.8 billion last year. China, Egypt and India were the heaviest buyers of the weapons.
Last year, for example, the U.S. completed agreements to sell helicopters and other weapons to Egypt, radar systems to Taiwan, helicopters to Brazil and Israel and other weapons systems to Oman and Pakistan.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack explained the transfers as "a very serious national security and a foreign policy matter" carried out under "a very rigorous set of rules and regulations and laws."
"And just as we exercise restraint in our own transfers, we encourage restraint by other countries," including the European Union, which McCormack said should reconsider its decision to resume arms shipments to China.
Developing countries are the weapons' primary buyers. And the U.S. has been the most active seller for the past eight years, resulting mainly from agreements made in the aftermath of the first Gulf War. The U.S. was responsible for more than 42 percent of the deliveries to developing nations in 2004.
Russia, which ranks second, sells mostly to China and India, as well as a number of smaller, poorer countries.
The CRS study, which is done each year, was written by national defense specialist Richard Grimmett. He said in the study that developed nations have tried in recent years to emphasize joint projects rather than simply buying the weapons from each other, so they can preserve their own industrial bases.
© 2005 Associated Press

"Funding for Hurricane planning was cut..." 

Published on Thursday, September 1, 2005 by Knight-Ridder Federal Government Wasn't Ready for Katrina, Disaster Experts SayThe slow response to Katrina and poor federal leadership is a replay of 1992's mishandling of Hurricane Andrewby Seth Borenstein WASHINGTON - The federal government so far has bungled the job of quickly helping the multitudes of hungry, thirsty and desperate victims of Hurricane Katrina, former top federal, state and local disaster chiefs said Wednesday. What you're seeing is revealing weaknesses in the state, local and federal levels. All three levels have been weakened. They've been weakened by diversion into terrorism. former Bush administration disaster response manager Eric Tolbert The experts, including a former Bush administration disaster response manager, told Knight Ridder that the government wasn't prepared, scrimped on storm spending and shifted its attention from dealing with natural disasters to fighting the global war on terrorism. The disaster preparedness agency at the center of the relief effort is the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which was enveloped by the new Department of Homeland Security with a new mission aimed at responding to the attacks of al-Qaida. "What you're seeing is revealing weaknesses in the state, local and federal levels," said Eric Tolbert, who until February was FEMA's disaster response chief. "All three levels have been weakened. They've been weakened by diversion into terrorism." In interviews on Wednesday, several men and women who've led relief efforts for dozens of killer hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes over the years chastised current disaster leaders for forgetting the simple Boy Scout motto: Be Prepared. Bush administration officials said they're proud of their efforts. Their first efforts emphasized rooftop rescues over providing food and water for already safe victims. "We are extremely pleased with the response of every element of the federal government (and) all of our federal partners have made to this terrible tragedy," Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff said during a news conference Wednesday in Washington. The agency has more than 1,700 truckloads of water, meals, tents, generators and other supplies ready to go in, Chertoff said. Federal health officials have started setting up at least 40 medical shelters. The Coast Guard reports rescuing more than 1,200 people. But residents, especially in Biloxi, Miss., said they aren't seeing the promised help, and Knight Ridder reporters along the Gulf Coast said they saw little visible federal relief efforts, other than search-and-rescue teams. Some help started arriving Wednesday by the truckloads, but not everywhere. "We're not getting any help yet," said Biloxi Fire Department Battalion Chief Joe Boney. "We need water. We need ice. I've been told it's coming, but we've got people in shelters who haven't had a drink since the storm." The slow response to Katrina and poor federal leadership is a replay of 1992's mishandling of Hurricane Andrew, said former FEMA chief of staff Jane Bullock, a 22-year veteran of the agency. Bullock blamed inexperienced federal leadership. She noted that Chertoff and FEMA Director Michael Brown had no disaster experience before they were appointed to their jobs. The slowness is all too familiar to Kate Hale. As Miami's disaster chief during Hurricane Andrew, Hale asked: "Where the hell's the cavalry?" "I'm looking at people who are begging for ice and water and (a) presence," Hale said Wednesday. "I'm seeing the same sort of thing that horrified us after Hurricane Andrew. ... I realize they've got a huge job. Nobody understands better than I do what they're trying to respond to, but ..." Budget cuts haven't made disaster preparedness any easier. Last year, FEMA spent $250,000 to conduct an eight-day hurricane drill for a mock killer storm hitting New Orleans. Some 250 emergency officials attended. Many of the scenarios now playing out, including a helicopter evacuation of the Superdome, were discussed in that drill for a fictional storm named Pam. This year, the group was to design a plan to fix such unresolved problems as evacuating sick and injured people from the Superdome and housing tens of thousands of stranded citizens. Funding for that planning was cut, said Tolbert, the former FEMA disaster response director. "A lot of good was done, but it just wasn't finished," said Tolbert, who was the disaster chief for the state of North Carolina. "I don't know if it would have saved more lives. It would have made the response faster. You might say it would have saved lives." FEMA wasn't alone in cutting hurricane spending in New Orleans and the surrounding area. Federal flood control spending for southeastern Louisiana has been chopped from $69 million in 2001 to $36.5 million in 2005, according to budget documents. Federal hurricane protection for the Lake Pontchartrain vicinity in the Army Corps of Engineers' budget dropped from $14.25 million in 2002 to $5.7 million this year. Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu requested $27 million this year. Both the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper and a local business magazine reported that the effects of the budget cuts at the Army Corps of Engineers were severe. In 2004, the Corps essentially stopped major work on the now-breached levee system that had protected New Orleans from flooding. It was the first such stoppage in 37 years, the Times-Picayune reported. "It appears that the money has been moved in the president's budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that's the price we pay," Jefferson Parish emergency management chief Walter Maestri told the newspaper. "Nobody locally is happy that the levees can't be finished, and we are doing everything we can to make the case that this is a security issue for us." The Army Corps' New Orleans office, facing a $71 million cut, also eliminated funds to pay for a study on how to protect the Crescent City from a Category 5 storm, New Orleans City Business reported in June. Being prepared for a disaster is basic emergency management, disaster experts say. For example, in the 1990s, in planning for a New Orleans nightmare scenario, the federal government figured it would pre-deploy nearby ships with pumps to remove water from the below-sea-level city and have hospital ships nearby, said James Lee Witt, who was FEMA director under President Clinton. Federal officials said a hospital ship would leave from Baltimore on Friday. "These things need to be planned and prepared for; it just doesn't look like it was," said Witt, a former Arkansas disaster chief who won bipartisan praise on Capitol Hill during his tenure. FEMA said some of its response teams were prepared. The agency had 18 search-and-rescue teams and 39 disaster medical teams positioned outside storm areas and moved them in when the hurricane died down. Nonetheless, victims of this week's hurricane should have gotten more, said John Copenhaver, a former southeastern regional FEMA director. "I would have difficulty explaining why there has not been a visible presence of ice, water, tarps - the kind of stuff that typically get delivered to hurricane areas," Copenhaver said. A FEMA spokesman, James McIntyre, blamed the devastation in the region for slowing down relief efforts. Roads were washed out and relief trucks were stopped by state police trying to keep people out of hazardous areas, he said. That explanation didn't satisfy Joe Myers, Florida's former emergency management chief. "I would think that yesterday they could have flown in," said Myers. "Everyone was flying in. Put it this way, FOX and CNN are there. If they can get there ..." FEMA moved quickly with its search-and-rescue teams, which took precedence over delivering water and ice, McIntyre said. "We're trying to save lives," McIntyre said. "The rescue teams are FEMA people. The medical assistance are FEMA people. Right now, getting people off roofs and keeping people from drowning are a priority." Further complicating the relief effort in Louisiana is scandal within the state agency. Recently, three top officials of Louisiana's emergency management office were indicted in an investigation into the misuse of hurricane funds from last year's Ivan. None of this matters to residents of the Gulf Coast. "We're lost," said Steve Loper of Pascagoula, Miss. "We have no direction, no leadership. People are in bad trouble." Alison Young, Ron Hutcheson and Tish Wells of the Knight Ridder Newspapers Washington Bureau, Pete Carey of the San Jose Mercury News and Scott Dodd of the Charlotte Observer contributed to this report. © 2005 Knight Ridder###

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