Saturday, September 17, 2005

The French Quarter, New Orleans. Posted by Picasa

Captain Future's Log

The Other Shoe Drops

Faced with increasing criticism from conservative allies, Bushcorps began talking about federal spending cuts to “offset” the massive commitment to rebuilding in the Katrina zone.

The LA Times reports:

Bush did not specify the kind or extent of budget cuts he wanted Congress to consider, saying the White House budget office would "work with Congress to figure out where we need to offset, when we need to offset," he said.

But administration officials said a good place to start would be reducing discretionary and entitlement spending proposed in the president's budget for the 2006 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

"Entitlements" in this lingo doesn't mean the big breaks given to corporate special interests or the massive tax cuts that the rich feel they are entitled to; it means programs badly needed by precisely the same kinds of people that Bush promised to help in New Orleans---the poor (who have steadily and alarmingly grown in number in the Bushcorps era) and minorities.

This budget-cutting pledge is not long after the White House helped push through an energy bill and an transportation bill loaded with pork for GOP congressional districts but mainly for Bushcorps corporate buddies.

So what will the price of Bush’s program for New Orleans, which is loaded with giveaways to these same corporate interests, and very cheap on help to ordinary people?

Just another excuse for cutting what’s left of healthcare, education, consumer protection, environmental protections and mitigations, and possibly above all, the agencies like public health on all levels that are likely to be on the front lines of the next big crisis, again without the resources and direction they need.

Just how badly Bushcorps crippled federal emergency preparedness and resources is revealed today in a story by
Adam Entous in Reuters, which reveals that Bush " sought to cut a key program to help local governments raise their preparedness, and state officials warned of a "total lack of focus" on natural disasters by his homeland-security chief, documents show.

"The disclosures add to questions over the administration's emergency-response planning, Homeland Security' Secretary Michael Chertoff's priorities and the way the White House budgets for disaster preparedness after the September 11, 2001, attacks.

Organizations representing emergency-response and security officials at state and local agencies had complained of funding shortages and what they saw as an excessive shift by the Homeland Security Department away from preparing for natural disasters, as it focused increasingly on terrorism.

In July, the National Emergency Management Association wrote lawmakers expressing "grave" concern that still-pending changes proposed by Chertoff would undercut the Federal Emergency Management Agency. "Our primary concern relates to the total lack of focus on natural-hazards preparedness," David Liebersbach, the association's president, said in the July 27 letter to Sens. Susan Collins, a Republican, and Joseph Lieberman, a Democrat, the leaders of a key Senate committee overseeing the agency.

He said Chertoff's emphasis on terrorism "indicates that FEMA's long-standing mission of preparedness for all types of disasters has been forgotten at DHS."

Does this sound familiar? Before 9/11 the Bush White House steadfastly ignored the information and advice of various agencies to pay attention to the threat of terrorism.

Then, after terrorism became a political bludgeon, there was nothing else but efforts to use the terrorist threat to advance political and crony corporate ambitions.

As Paul Krugman points out, Bushcorps got away with all this because they paid no political price. But this time they may not escape responsibility. Information continues to emerge about the almost unbelievable bureaucratic incompetence of the FEMA hacks that Bushcorps hired, who not only failed to mount rescue operations but actively hindered them. The latest examples are in a Tierney column in the New York Times. (Read 'em while you can, before the Times columnists withdraw behind the veil of pay-for-view.)

Still waiting, ten days at Houston's Reliant Center. AP photo. Posted by Picasa
American support for Iraq war at all-time low
(Reuters) -[excerpts, emphasis added]

Support for the war in Iraq among Americans has tumbled to an all-time low, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll published on Saturday.

Only 44 percent of those surveyed said the United States did the right thing by invading Iraq, the lowest rating since the question was first asked by the poll more than two years ago, the poll showed, according to The New York Times.

Furthermore, more than eight in 10 Americans are very or somewhat concerned that the war is costing money and resources needed in the United States, the poll showed.

The poll also showed sharp racial divides in how the war is perceived by Americans. Only 36 percent of white Americans felt the war was having a negative impact in their communities, compared to 58 percent of black Americans.

Nearly 60 percent now disapprove of the president's handling of the Iraqi conflict and nearly half of all Americans are not proud of what the United States is doing in the war, the poll found.

The nationwide telephone poll was conducted from September 9 through September 13 among 1,167 adults and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The results of the poll were published at the end of one of the bloodiest weeks in and around Baghdad since U.S. troops invaded Iraq in 2003, as a wave of bombings and shootings claimed more than 200 lives.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Gort, from "The Day the Earth Stood Still," directed by
Robert Wise, who died Wed. at 91. Posted by Picasa

The Daily Quote

"And yet, the ways we miss our lives are life
to have one's life add up to yet!"

Randall Jarrell
Not the New Deal

from the New York Times

Now it begins: America's biggest relief and recovery program since the New Deal. And the omens aren't good.

It's a given that the Bush administration, which tried to turn Iraq into a laboratory for conservative economic policies, will try the same thing on the Gulf Coast. The Heritage Foundation, which has surely been helping Karl Rove develop the administration's recovery plan, has already published a manifesto on post-Katrina policy. It calls for waivers on environmental rules, the elimination of capital gains taxes and the private ownership of public school buildings in the disaster areas. And if any of the people killed by Katrina, most of them poor, had a net worth of more than $1.5 million, Heritage wants to exempt their heirs from the estate tax.

It's possible to spend large sums honestly, as Franklin D. Roosevelt demonstrated in the 1930's. F.D.R. presided over a huge expansion of federal spending, including a lot of discretionary spending by the Works Progress Administration. Yet the image of public relief, widely regarded as corrupt before the New Deal, actually improved markedly.

How did that happen? The answer is that the New Deal made almost a fetish out of policing its own programs against potential corruption. In particular, F.D.R. created a powerful "division of progress investigation" to look into complaints of malfeasance in the W.P.A. That division proved so effective that a later Congressional investigation couldn't find a single serious irregularity it had missed.

This commitment to honest government wasn't a sign of Roosevelt's personal virtue; it reflected a political imperative. F.D.R.'s mission in office was to show that government activism works. To maintain that mission's credibility, he needed to keep his administration's record clean.

But George W. Bush isn't F.D.R. Indeed, in crucial respects he's the anti-F.D.R.

President Bush subscribes to a political philosophy that opposes government activism - that's why he has tried to downsize and privatize programs wherever he can. (He still hopes to privatize Social Security, F.D.R.'s biggest legacy.) So even his policy failures don't bother his strongest supporters: many conservatives view the inept response to Katrina as a vindication of their lack of faith in government, rather than as a reason to reconsider their faith in Mr. Bush.

Is there any way Mr. Bush could ensure an honest recovery program? Yes - he could insulate decisions about reconstruction spending from politics by placing them in the hands of an autonomous agency headed by a political independent, or, if no such person can be found, a Democrat (as a sign of good faith).

He didn't do that last night, and probably won't. There's every reason to believe the reconstruction of the Gulf Coast, like the failed reconstruction of Iraq, will be deeply marred by cronyism and corruption.

This Day in Boomer History

September 16

1963_ “Outer Limits” premieres

1964 "Shindig" premiers

1968 Richard Nixon appears on "Laugh-in"

1974 Pres Ford announces conditional amnesty for Vietnam War deserters

1983 Arnold Schwarzenegger becomes a US citizen

click image to enlarge: second panel presents Bush plan
for New Orleans Posted by Picasa

Captain Future's Log

Meanwhile Back in the Iraqmire...

It's been another murderous week in Iraq. In the wake of Katrina, it's easy to underestimate reaction to the conduct of that war in the plunge of Bushcorps in the polls. But get this: on Wednesday, the CITY OF CHICAGO, via the City Council, voted 29-9 in favor of a resolution calling for the immediate withdrawal of American troops from Iraq.

The Captain currently orbits the town of Arcata, CA, where the city council of Greens and a minority of Dems and Others officially expressed similar sentiments awhile back. But it wasn't exactly an earthshaking surprise. Nor was Santa Cruz or even San Francisco.

But Chicago? The ghost of Abbie Hoffman must be chortling about now.

Then there's this, from the Political Wire:

Most Americans Want Troops Home
A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News Poll shows that President Bush's overall approval "has fallen to a record-low for Mr. Bush of 40%, reflecting a shrunken core of base supporters."The big news: 55% of those surveyed favor bringing soldiers home from Iraq, while just 36% back Bush's position that current levels should be maintained to help secure peace and stability. In addition, some 60% say "rebuilding the Gulf Coast should be a higher national priority than establishing democracy in Iraq; 5% say Iraq, while 34% say the two are equally important."

Senator John Kerry, before taking a planeload
of supplies to New Orleans. His bill to aid
small business in the Katrina zone passed
Congress Thurs. Funny Bush didn't mention it. Posted by Picasa
An Early Review

After Bush's speech from New Orleans, Senator John Kerry provided this response to Raw Story:

"Leadership isn't a speech or a toll-free number. Leadership is getting the job done. No American doubts that New Orleans will rise again, they doubt the competence and commitment of this Administration.

Weeks after Katrina, Americans want an end to politics-as-usual that leaves them dangerously and unforgivably unprepared.

Americans want to know that their government will be there when it counts with leadership that keeps them safe, not speeches in the aftermath to explain away the inexcusable."
Bush-Bashing? You Call That Bush-Bashing? That's Not Bush-Bashing-- THIS IS BUSH-BASHING

From the most recent column of Molly Ivins:

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

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

Many a time in the past six years I have bit my tongue so I wouldn't annoy people with the always obnoxious observation, "I told you so." But, dammit it all to hell, I did tell you, and I've been telling you since 1994, and I am so sick of this man and everything he represents -- all the sleazy, smug, self-righteous graft and corruption and "Christian" moralizing and cynicism and tax cuts for all his smug, rich buddies.

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

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Flora Severini 1944 Posted by Picasa

The Daily Quote

"What is not realized is not real."

Marie-Louis von Franz

Two Smirks don't make a right: Pres. Bushcorp
and Sec. of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff. Posted by Picasa
A Higher Power of Clueless Apathy and Reckless Disregard

From The Political Wire, emphasis added:

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

The National Response Plan says that Chertoff -- not Brown -- "was in charge of managing the national response to a catastrophic disaster." Furthermore, "according to a memo obtained by Knight Ridder, Chertoff didn't shift that power to Brown until late afternoon or evening on Aug. 30, about 36 hours after Katrina hit Louisiana and Mississippi.

That same memo suggests that Chertoff may have been confused about his lead role in disaster response and that of his department."

Ophelia hangs around the Carolinas 9/14 Posted by Picasa
Hurricane Ophelia pummels North Carolina coast
By Gene Cherry

RALEIGH, North Carolina (Reuters) - Hurricane Ophelia battered coastal North Carolina with heavy rains and gusting winds on Wednesday in a slow-moving assault that was expected to last for two days and trigger dangerous flooding.

It was expected to hit Cape Lookout early on Thursday then move near the Outer Banks, the chain of islands along the state's northern coast.

The storm's strongest winds hammered the state's south and central coast on Wednesday. Schools, seaports, ferries and businesses were closed and 1,700 people went into shelters along the North Carolina coast. More than 123,000 customers had lost electricity.

Flora Severini Kowinski, late 1940s Posted by Picasa

Captain Future's Log

Random Notes and Other Links...

Is anybody real actually reading this site? The tracking numbers are confusing, and the many spam comments I need to delete (nothing but ads which seem to appear automatically with new posts) is discouraging. The site did go over 100 visitors one day last week, with several days approaching that. But what it means is unclear.

If you are actually reading this blog, please leave a comment, before I shut that function off. If automated bunnies advertising their commercial sites are all that's visiting, it's not worth the time policing the comments.

The series on why Star Trek became the best known mythology of the future continues with more structural examination on Trek as science fiction and TV drama. Baby boomers as well as Trek fans should enjoy the tour: there's also a brief note about the death of Robert Wise, legendary director of "The Day the Earth Stood Still" and "West Side Story," at Soul of Star Trek here.

And this may be more for family and friends, but I've posted some photos and a brief remembrance of my mother, Flora Severini Kowinski (that's her photo up top) to mark what would have been her 85th birthday. It's at Blue Voice here.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Bush announces he takes full responsibility for being clueless,
and admits that his government may not be able to protect
Americans from terrorist attack or natural disaster. Posted by Picasa
Bush Admits He's Failed: America Not Safe

excerpts with emphasis added from "President Says He's Responsible in Storm Lapses" The New York Times


President Bush said on Tuesday that he bore responsibility for any failures of the federal government in its response to Hurricane Katrina and suggested that he was unsure whether the country was adequately prepared for another catastrophic storm or terrorist attack.

"Katrina exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government, and to the extent that the federal government didn't fully do its job right, I take responsibility," Mr. Bush said in an appearance in the East Room with President Jalal Talabani of Iraq. "I want to know what went right and what went wrong."

In response to a reporter who asked if Americans, in the wake of the hurricane, should be concerned about the government's ability to respond to another disaster or a terrorist attack, Mr. Bush said: "I want to know how to better cooperate with state and local government, to be able to answer that very question that you asked: Are we capable of dealing with a severe attack or another severe storm? And that's a very important question."

The on again off again hurricane Ophelia still threatening
Carolinas Posted by Picasa
Hurricane Looting Not Over Yet
by Jesse Jackson

Published on Tuesday, September 13, 2005 in the Chicago Sun Times ; reprinted by Common Dreams excerpts:

The victims have been dispersed to states across the country. Many still sleep on cots in arenas, desperately trying to locate family members separated in the furies of Katrina. They are struggling with a staggering psychological toll -- destruction of homes, loss of jobs, suffering, abandonment, displacement to a new city, prospects unclear, past literally under water.

But while the victims are simply trying to get their bearings, the barracudas are circling. Naomi Klein, who witnessed this in Iraq, calls it "disaster capitalism." Congress has appropriated $62 billion already. Hundreds of billions more will be spent on reclaiming the Gulf Coast, rebuilding and relocation. The feeding frenzy has begun.

Already Halliburton is on hand with a no-bid contract for reconstruction. Fluor, Bechtel, the Shaw Group -- Republican-linked firms -- are lining up for contracts. Lobbyists like Joe Allbaugh, close friend of George Bush, and James Lee Witt, close friend of Bill Clinton -- both former heads of the Federal Emergency Management Agency -- are advising their corporate clients to get teams on the scene. Normal rules of contracting and competition are being waived in the emergency. Big bucks are on the table. It is a time to be wired politically.

The ideologues are in the hunt, too. Newt Gingrich is circulating memos calling for turning the region into a massive enterprise zone, slashing corporate taxes, reducing regulations. The oil lobby is pushing for drilling in Alaska and off the shores of the United States. Right wing activist Grover Norquist calls for cutting taxes on the wealthy even more to stimulate the economy. Arizona Republican Rep. Jeff Flak suggests conservatives use the crisis to try out their favorite ideas -- vouchers for education and health care.

We shouldn't let disaster capitalists make a killing while those who suffered the greatest devastation are left out of the mix. We need a serious plan to rebuild vital infrastructure, to make New Orleans sustainable, to develop affordable housing and mass transit, to rebuild schools. Tax breaks and enterprise zones will end up building floating casinos and luxury condos. We need public investment, linked to a Civilian Construction and Conservation Corps that gives priority to housing, hiring, training and putting to work the poor people who lost.

The Bush administration's inaction and indifference after Katrina hit abandoned the poor and added to their suffering. It would be tragic now if action by the Republican Congress and the Bush administration added to the misery. These people already have had their past swept away by Katrina's furies. We should ensure that their future is not erased by right wing ideologues rewarding disaster capitalists and excluding those who suffered the most from the deal.
© 2005 Chicago Sun-Times

New Orleans survivors lined up to fill out endless forms
at Camp Edwards in Mass. Posted by Picasa
New FEMA Head's Troubling Record

Very quickly after Mike Brown's resignation as FEMA director, President Bush appointed U.S. Fire Administrator R. David Paulison to the post. He" has served 30 thirty years as a fire fighter and has significant emergency management experience. However, there are several past incidents that may cloud Paulison's confirmation hearing."

excerpts from E Pluribus Media:

Paulison's questionable recommendation that families stock up on duct tape and plastic sheeting to protect against bio-terror attacks caused a stampede on hardware stores and considerable embarrassment for former Homeland Security director Tom Ridge.

Days before Bush originally nominated Paulison to the Homeland Security Department, the Miami-Dade Fire Chief suspended three African-American firefighters who removed an American flag from a fire truck claiming that the banner was blocking their view. The incident turned into a high-profile case where Paulison was accused of discrimination and violating the free-speech rights of his employees.

Paulison's tenure as Miami-Dade County Fire Chief included several major accusations of unfair treatment of African-American employees. A history of allegations of racial basis is not an attractive quality for the new leader of an agency that has been perceived as not responding quickly enough to take care of the needs of African-American citizens.

Paulison's money management skills were called into question in 2000 over a major capital project whose final cost was more than double the budgeted amount. A record of sound fiscal management should be a mandatory requirement for the leader of an agency that has been tasked with overseeing the expenditure of tens of billions of disaster recovery funds.

In work apparently unfit for high paid mercenaries,
Canadian Navy volunteers clean up New Orleans
Convention Center. Posted by Picasa
Still Horrendously Slow

(Reuters) - Louisiana's governor condemned the Federal Emergency Management Agency'on Tuesday for moving too slowly to recover the dead from New Orleans and said she has signed a contract directly on behalf of the state with the recovery company originally hired by FEMA.

"I have taken action today to resolve a matter that involves life, death and dignity," Gov. Kathleen Blanco told reporters, adding she expressed her "absolute frustration" with the pace of the recovery to federal authorities to no avail.

"I cannot stand by while this vital operation is not being handled appropriately," she said.
Authorities have confirmed 423 deaths in Louisiana since Hurricane Katrina hit two weeks ago, though fears have begun to abate that New Orleans alone could hold 10,000 dead or more beneath its floodwaters.
Russia warns U.S. against new nuclear doctrine

BERLIN (Reuters) - Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov warned the United States on Tuesday against any change of its defense doctrine to allow pre-emptive use of atomic weapons, saying it would prompt others to seek nuclear arms.

A draft revision of the U.S. Defense Department's nuclear operations doctrine was made available at the weekend, outlining the use of nuclear weapons to pre-empt an enemy's attack with weapons of mass destruction.

"Lowering the threshold for use of atomic weapons is in itself dangerous," Ivanov told a news conference ahead of a NATO defense ministers meeting in Berlin.

"Such plans do not limitSuch plans do not limit, but in fact promote efforts by others to develop (nuclear weapons)," said Ivanov, who was speaking through an interpreter.

He said he hoped U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld would inform him if such a change to the U.S. military doctrine were planned.

Judge Roberts at the opening of Senate hearings on Tuesday.
Doesn't he own stock in Visene or something? Posted by Picasa
Chief Corporate Justice?

excerpts with added emphasis from "The moneyed scales of justice?John Roberts' ties to corporate America, and his potential for conflicts of interest, would be unprecedented for a sitting justice. Will the Senate notice?" salon
- - - - - - - - - - - -By Dan Noyes

Sept. 13, 2005 "I have no platform," said Chief Justice-designate John Roberts to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee when hearings convened Monday on Capitol Hill. "I come before the committee with no agenda."

But what Roberts does bring before the committee is a long list of ties to corporate America from his years of working as a lobbyist and an attorney in Washington on behalf of business and special interest groups. He also gives the Judiciary Committee a golden opportunity to shed light on a thorny but still largely ill-defined issue: how Supreme Court justices should contend with potential conflicts of interest, including whether they should recuse themselves from a case.

Within minutes of the White House announcement of Roberts' nomination in July, U.S. Chamber of Commerce president Thomas J. Donohue praised him as "highly regarded and well-respected by the legal and business communities." On its Web site, the National Association of Manufacturers prominently features a photo of Roberts (along with a new blog on judicial nominations), accompanied by the headline "The Business Case for Supreme Court Chief Justice Nominee John Roberts."

Roberts is the beneficiary of the organization's first-ever lobbying campaign for a Supreme Court nominee. Two members of its executive committee represent corporate interests that Roberts himself represented as an attorney: Toyota and the coal mining industry.
As the Senate deliberates whether Roberts should lead the nation's highest bench for what may be decades to come, the issue of judicial conflict of interest is relevant like never before. With respect to corporate America, Roberts' career and financial-investment profile stand out among sitting judges: His 2005 financial-disclosure form lists 78 stock holdings, which range from high-tech to healthcare, to mass media and corporate real estate. His net worth has been listed at roughly $5.3 million, and his earnings at law firm Hogan & Hartson were more than a million dollars in 2003.

It's difficult to predict what cases will come before the court in the coming years, but Roberts' personal investments in numerous top companies across a variety of industries make him a prime candidate for appearances of impropriety. Companies whose stock he owns in the high-tech and telecom sectors include Dell Computer, Microsoft, Texas Instruments, Intel, Agilent, Cisco, Novellus, Hewlett-Packard, Lucent and Nokia. In healthcare: Pfizer, Merck, Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca, Hillenbrand, and Becton, Dickinson. In big media: Time Warner, Disney and Blockbuster. In finance and real estate: Citigroup, State Street and Washington REIT.

Roberts' mentor, the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist, expressed in 2000 his widely held but stringent take on one facet of the matter: "[A] judge should recuse himself whether he holds one share or a thousand shares of stock in a corporation that is party in a case before his court."

But that may be just the beginning of the issue. Rehnquist's approach, which is based in federal law, lets judges avoid grappling with messier potential conflicts -- including, in Roberts' case, those involving business clients that helped him finance his investment portfolio.

Beyond his stock holdings, some of the corporate clients Roberts represented while in private practice at Hogan & Hartson, where he was a partner for 12 of his 13 years, could also present the appearance of impropriety if Roberts were to rule on a high-court case involving them. They include Fox Television, Digital Equipment, Peabody Coal and the National Mining Association, Litton Industries, Rush Prudential HMO, Toyota, Chrysler and NBC. In addition, Roberts lobbied successfully for the peanut industry in 1996 and 1997 to keep huge federal peanut farming subsidies intact; he was a registered lobbyist for the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association; and he represented the cattle industry.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

82nd Airborne in New Orleans. Armed
Forces and police not enough? Heavily
armed and heavily paid mercenaries
patrol the nearly empty city. AP photo. Posted by Picasa
Bush Mercenary Storm Troopers Invade New Orleans

excerpts from "Overkill: Feared Blackwater Mercenaries Deploy in New Orleans" at Democracy Now!
By Jeremy Scahill and Daniela Crespo

NEW ORLEANS -- Heavily armed paramilitary mercenaries from the Blackwater private security firm, infamous for their work in Iraq, are openly patrolling the streets of New Orleans.

They say they are on contract with the Department of Homeland Security and have been given the authority to use lethal force.

"This is a totally new thing to have guys like us working CONUS (Continental United States)," a heavily armed Blackwater mercenary told us as we stood on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter. "We're much better equipped to deal with the situation in Iraq."

Blackwater mercenaries are some of the most feared professional killers in the world and they are accustomed to operating without worry of legal consequences. Their presence on the streets of New Orleans should be a cause for serious concern for the remaining residents of the city and raises alarming questions about why the government would allow men trained to kill with impunity in places like Iraq and Afghanistan to operate here.

Blackwater is one of the leading private "security" firms servicing the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. It has several US government contracts and has provided security for many senior US diplomats, foreign dignitaries and corporations.

As the threat of forced evictions now looms in New Orleans and the city confiscates even legally registered weapons from civilians, the private mercenaries of Blackwater patrol the streets openly wielding M-16s and other assault weapons. This despite Police Commissioner Eddie Compass' claim that "Only law enforcement are allowed to have weapons."

That raises a key question: under what authority are Blackwater's men operating? A spokesperson for the Homeland Security Department, Russ Knocke, told the Washington Post he knows of no federal plans to hire Blackwater or other private security. "We believe we've got the right mix of personnel in law enforcement for the federal government to meet the demands of public safety." he said.

But in an hour-long conversation with several Blackwater mercenaries, we heard a different story. The men we spoke with said they are indeed on contract with the Department of Homeland Security and the Louisiana governor's office and that some of them are sleeping in camps organized by Homeland Security in New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

We were talking with 2 New York Police officers when an unmarked car without license plates sped up next to us and stopped. Inside were 3 men, dressed in khaki uniforms, flak jackets and wielding automatic weapons. "Y'all know where the Blackwater guys are?" they asked. One of the police officers responded, "There are a bunch of them around here," and pointed down the road.

"Blackwater?" we asked. "The guys who are in Iraq?"

"Yeah," said the officer. "They're all over the place."

Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! interviewed a woman in New Orleans' French Quarter who would identify herself only as Sandra. The Quarter wasn't flooded and much of it is undamaged, but residents have been pressured to leave. Goodman also spoke with police officers, regular Army troops, and National Guard, all heavily armed, in what appeared to be a constant stream of patrols. She also encountered Blackwater mercenaries. The "storm troopers" in Sandra's account weren't identified.

SANDRA: Yes. They have told us to – well, we had some storm troopers come into our house at 3:00 in the morning the other night. I didn't tell you about this, banging on the door with sirens. It was kind of like being in Germany – Nazi Germany. They came with guns and told us we had to leave our home. And very, very nasty, and said they would come back the next day and drag us out of our homes. We have gotten in touch with the authorities. They cannot do that. There's no reason to. Our house is in perfectly good shape. We even have a swimming pool. We are doing very fine. They can't make us leave our homes.

A Los Angeles Times report, first published earlier this month, identifies the new CEO of Blackwater USA as the Bush Defense Department Inspector General, who just resigned while being suspected of blocking investigations of senior Bush officials. Excerpts with emphasis added:

"Pentagon Investigator Resigning"By T. Christian MillerTimes Staff Writer September 3, 2005WASHINGTON — The Pentagon's top investigator has resigned amid accusations that he stonewalled inquiries into senior Bush administration officials suspected of wrongdoing.

Defense Department Inspector General Joseph E. Schmitz told staffers this week that he intended to resign as of Sept. 9 to take a job with the parent company of Blackwater USA, a defense contractor.

Schmitz will go to work for Prince Group, the Virginia-based parent company of Blackwater USA, as chief operating officer and general counsel. Schmitz formally recused himself in June from any cases involving Blackwater, a private security company with millions of dollars in contracts in Iraq.

Schmitz's departure to the private sector raised concerns among government watchdog groups."He's a person who did not put the appearance of ethics above all else," said Danielle Brian, the executive director of the Project on Government Oversight. "That is not the way the government should function. These are the kind of things that make the general public distrust government."

Turning the corner in New Orleans? Posted by Picasa
Bushcorps Disaster Profiteering

excerpts with emphasis added from: "Katrina contracting: Bringing Iraq back home" in salon

By Tim Grieve
The White House would like us all to think of Hurricane Katrina as another 9/11 -- a time for Americans to come together and rally around our beleaguered commander in chief -- but it seems to be treating the disaster more like another Iraq. There's the cavalier attitude, the disconnect between the words in Washington and the reality on the ground, the rejection of the warnings of experts, and, of course, Halliburton.

And now, as the Wall Street Journal reports today, the Bush administration is "importing" into the Katrina recovery efforts "many of the contracting practices blamed for spending abuses in Iraq." The Journal says that the first large Katrina-recovery contracts have been awarded without competitive bidding and using "so-called cost-plus provisions that guarantee contractors a certain profit regardless of how much they spend." The problem with such contracts? They encourage waste because they provide no incentive for the contractors to control costs, the Journal says.

If it all sounds familiar, that's because it is. "You can easily compare FEMA's internal resources to what you saw in the early days of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq: a small, underfunded organization taking on a Herculean task under tremendous time pressure," Steven Schooner, a contracting expert at George Washington University, tells the Journal. "That is almost by definition a recipe for disaster."

The Journal says that "politically connected companies" like Fluor Corp. and Bechtel will profit from the arrangement. Halliburton will get its share of the Katrina money, too: As we've noted previously, its subsidiary, Kellogg, Brown & Root, is already at work at naval facilities in Mississippi.

excerpt with emphasis from American Progress:

The White House mindset, according to Time magazine: "Spend freely, and worry about the tab and the consequences later. 'Nothing can salve the wounds like money,'" one official said. It's the same mindset that has governed the reconstruction efforts in Iraq, which have lined the pockets of politically connected corporate interests while leaving Iraqis with an infrastructure less capable than it was under Saddam Hussein. "This is very painful," says Danielle Brian, director of the Project on Government Oversight, a nonprofit government spending watchdog group. "You are likely to see the equivalent of war profiteering -- disaster profiteering."

Lafon Nursing Home, New Orleans 9/12 Posted by Picasa
A Plan to Nuke Iran?

excerpts from"Pentagon Revises Nuclear Strike Plan/
Strategy Includes Preemptive Use Against Banned Weapons"
By Walter Pincus
Washington Post

The Pentagon has drafted a revised doctrine for the use of nuclear weapons that envisions commanders requesting presidential approval to use them to preempt an attack by a nation or a terrorist group using weapons of mass destruction.

The draft also includes the option of using nuclear arms to destroy known enemy stockpiles of nuclear, biological or chemical weapons.

The draft, dated March 15, would provide authoritative guidance for commanders to request presidential approval for using nuclear weapons, and represents the Pentagon's first attempt to revise procedures to reflect the Bush preemption doctrine. A previous version, completed in 1995 during the Clinton administration, contains no mention of using nuclear weapons preemptively or specifically against threats from weapons of mass destruction.

Titled "Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations" and written under the direction of Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the draft document is unclassified and available on a Pentagon Web site. It is expected to be signed within a few weeks by Air Force Lt. Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, director of the Joint Staff, according to Navy Cmdr. Dawn Cutler, a public affairs officer in Myers's office.

Hans M. Kristensen, a consultant to the Natural Resources Defense Council, who discovered the document on the Pentagon Web site, said yesterday that it "emphasizes the need for a robust nuclear arsenal ready to strike on short notice including new missions."

Kristensen, who has specialized for more than a decade in nuclear weapons research, said a final version of the doctrine was due in August but has not yet appeared.

"This doctrine does not deliver on the Bush administration pledge of a reduced role for nuclear weapons," Kristensen said. "It provides justification for contentious concepts not proven and implies the need for RNEP."

One reason for the delay may be concern about raising publicly the possibility of preemptive use of nuclear weapons, or concern that it might interfere with attempts to persuade Congress to finance the bunker buster and other specialized nuclear weapons.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

9/11/05: A moment alone while searching
for bodies in New Orleans suburb. AP photo Posted by Picasa
September 11, 2005

Disarray Marked the Path From Hurricane to Anarchy

A New York Times Special Report

The official autopsies of the flawed response to the catastrophic storm have already begun in Washington, and may offer lessons for dealing with a terrorist attack or even another hurricane this season. But an initial examination of Hurricane Katrina's aftermath demonstrates the extent to which the federal government failed to fulfill the pledge it made after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to face domestic threats as a unified, seamless force.


FEMA appears to have underestimated the storm, despite an extraordinary warning from the National Hurricane Center that it could cause "human suffering incredible by modern standards." The agency dispatched only 7 of its 28 urban search and rescue teams to the area before the storm hit and sent no workers at all into New Orleans until after the hurricane passed on Monday, Aug. 29.

The Louisiana National Guard, already stretched by the deployment of more than 3,000 troops to Iraq, was hampered when its New Orleans barracks flooded. It lost 20 vehicles that could have carried soldiers through the watery streets and had to abandon much of its most advanced communications equipment, guard officials said.

Someone said, "We should be getting buses and getting people out of there," recalled Leo V. Bosner, an emergency management specialist with 26 years at FEMA and president of an employees' union. Others nodded in agreement, he said.

"We could all see it coming, like a guided missile," Mr. Bosner said of the storm. "We, as staff members at the agency, felt helpless. We knew that major steps needed to be taken fast, but, for whatever reasons, they were not taken."

An irony of the much-criticized federal hurricane response is that it is being overseen by a new cabinet department created because of perceived shortcomings in the response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. And it is governed by a new plan the Department of Homeland Security unveiled in January with considerable fanfare.

The National Response Plan set out a lofty goal in its preface: "The end result is vastly improved coordination among federal, state, local and tribal organizations to help save lives and protect America's communities by increasing the speed, effectiveness and efficiency of incident management."

The evidence of the initial response to Hurricane Katrina raised doubts about whether the plan had, in fact, improved coordination. Mr. Knocke, the homeland security spokesman, said the department realizes it must learn from its mistakes, and the department's inspector general has been given $15 million in the emergency supplemental appropriated by Congress to study the flawed rescue and recovery operation.

"There is going to be enough blame to go around at all levels," he said. "We are going to be our toughest critics."

9/11/05: Rivers of oil and water in New Orleans. AP photo Posted by Picasa
Bush pleads for 'spirit of 9/11'

from BBC News
President George W Bush has urged national unity following the Hurricane Katrina disaster and invoked the US response to the 9/11 attacks.

"America will overcome this ordeal, and we will be stronger for it," he said in a national radio broadcast.

He promised that the Gulf Coast would be rebuilt "more vibrant" than before.

But his comments, which came the day before the fourth anniversary of the 11 September attacks, have prompted further criticism from the Democrats.

In his weekly radio address, Mr Bush reminded the American public of the national unity after 9/11 attacks, four years ago on Sunday.

The Democrats responded with further criticism of the federal response to the hurricane.
Senator Edward Kennedy said: "Four years after 9/11, as the administration's bungled response to Hurricane Katrina makes clear, we're obviously not adequately prepared to deal with another devastating attack."

A dog is rescued from flooded house in
New Orleans. AP photo Posted by Picasa
Red Cross needs 40,000 Katrina volunteers

(Reuters) - The American Red Cross said on Saturday it needs 40,000 additional volunteers in the next few weeks to replace worn-out relief workers helping Hurricane Katrina victims.

This is a disaster of such scope and such significance that it is not going to go away in a few weeks or a few months," said Ken Degnan, public affairs specialist for the Red Cross. "We need more people."

The relief agency is sheltering 160,000 survivors, has provided 6 million meals and is operating 675 shelters in 23 U.S. states, an unprecedented effort that is taxing the 114-year-old organization, Degnan said.

The 36,000 Red Cross volunteers currently working the disaster will start rotating back to their homes beginning next week, so replacements are needed, he said.

The agency is asking recruits to contact their local Red Cross, which will provide training in such fields as shelter management, public health and working through government bureaucracies set up to assist disaster victims."It may seem like pretty simple to come into a shelter and help out," Degnan said. "But when you are dealing with large numbers of people in a congregate living facility you need to be trained."
Kerry Delivering Supplies Today

from a story by Rick Klein, Boston Globe Staff

Senator John F. Kerry has chartered a plane to deliver supplies to the New Orleans area tomorrow and is accepting donations in Boston to make deliveries in the coming weeks.

Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, has coordinated local and national corporate donations that will be part of tomorrow's delivery to a supply distribution center in Baton Rouge, La.

''This feels so much like the days after September 11th, when friends and neighbors refused to just sit there in front of their television sets watching the disaster; they just had to get up and give something of themselves," Kerry said. ''The outpouring from Massachusetts has been incredible."

[Today's] shipment includes water, food, medical supplies, infant-care items, and cleaning supplies. Donations came from a range of individuals and businesses.

Collection of the dead from the
8/29/05 storm continues
on 9/11/05. AP photo. Posted by Picasa
Bush Drops to Lowest So Far in New Newsweek Poll

from Raw Story

President George W. Bush's approval ratings have fallen across the board in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and a seemingly flawed government response to the disaster, according to the latest Newsweek Poll. Bush's job-approval rating dropped to 38 percent, the lowest ever in the Newsweek Poll. Sixty-six percent of those polled say they are dissatisfied with the way things are going in the United States at this time; just 28 percent are satisfied, another record low in the poll.

A 52-percent majority of Americans say they do not trust President Bush to make the right decisions during a domestic crisis, 45 percent do. The same number-52 percent-do not trust him to make the right decisions during an international crisis, again, 45 percent do. In addition, 57 percent of Americans say the slow response in New Orleans has caused them to lose confidence in the government to deal with another major natural disaster, 41 percent say it has not; 47 percent say it has made them lose confidence in government to prevent another 9/11-type attack; half (50%) say it has not, the poll shows.

The president's ratings on issues having little if anything to do with domestic disasters also declined. Bush's approval on handling terrorism and homeland security is 46 percent, a five-point drop from the August 2-4, 2005 Newsweek Poll. For the first time in the Newsweek Poll, more Americans disapprove of Bush's handling of terrorism and homeland security (48%).

Almost half (49%) of all those polled say taking military action against Iraq two years ago was not the right thing to do; 46 percent say it was. This is the first time ever in the Newsweek Poll that more Americans have said going to war was not the right thing to do than said it was.

Chalmette, LA UP photo Posted by Picasa
September 11, 2005
The Storm Next Time

New York Times (excerpts; emphasis added)

If the White House wants to move the debate about Hurricane Katrina beyond what it calls the "blame game" for bodies decomposing in the streets of New Orleans, then here's a constructive step that President Bush could take to protect people in the future: Tackle global warming.

True, we don't know whether Katrina was linked to global warming. But there are indications that global warming will produce more Category 5 hurricanes. Now that we've all seen what a Katrina can do - and Katrina was only Category 4 when it hit Louisiana - it would be crazy for President Bush to continue to refuse to develop a national policy on greenhouse gases.

Hurricanes derive their power in part from warm water, and so forecasting models show future hurricanes becoming more severe as sea surface temperatures rise. One summary of 1,200 simulations published in the Journal of Climate last year showed that rising levels of greenhouse gases could triple the number of Category 5 hurricanes.

Moreover, there's empirical evidence that hurricanes have already become more intense (but not more frequent). Nature magazine this summer reported a new study by Kerry Emanuel, a hurricane guru at M.I.T., indicating that by one measure hurricanes have almost doubled in intensity over the last 30 years.

That reflects natural cycles as well. But Professor Emanuel writes: "The large upswing in the last decade is unprecedented, and probably reflects the effect of global warming."

He adds: "My results suggest that future warming may lead to ... a substantial increase in hurricane-related losses in the 21st century."

Remembering 9/11

We remember the tragedy of September 11, 2001, and the sacrifice of those who died that day in a horrific terrorist attack. We are often told that the perpetrators "hate our freedom," yet on this September 11, the Bush administration continues to attack basic American freedoms, constitutional and human rights, and international law, especially the Geneva Conventions.

It is in the spirit of freedom that this editorial from the New York Times is a fitting memorial, and a call to action.

Abu Ghraib Unresolved

Ever since the world learned of the illegal detentions and brutal behavior at American military prisons, the Bush administration has bet it could outlast public outrage with phony investigations and stonewalling.

Just before Congress went on summer holiday, Republican leaders actually yanked the military budget from the Senate floor rather than face two amendments intended to impose the rule of law on the camps.

One measure would define the nature of detainees taken in antiterrorism operations according to constitutional principles and international treaties - and prohibit abuse and torture. The other would create a panel like the 9/11 commission to finally give Americans the truth about how the administration's prison policies led to out-of-control camps like Guantánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib.

The new laws were sponsored by two Republicans, Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who have shown remarkable courage on this issue. But they and other Republicans have withheld support for the investigation, which was proposed by Senator Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan.

Mr. McCain and Mr. Graham have said they think it is more important to look forward than to hold an investigation. We respect their views, but they are missing the point. The American public needs answers about the prisons, and it is simply not acceptable that a few low-level reservists go to jail while the civilian lawyers who wrote the torture policies get promoted and the general who devised the interrogations escapes even the mildest rebuke.

Beyond that, the problems have not gone away. Many of the interrogation policies that the military's own lawyers considered repugnant are still in place; American troops have only a vague notion of what is allowed; and the administration still claims that Mr. Bush can ignore the Constitution as long as he does so in regard to foreigners.

Just this week, the White House argued that the Supreme Court should not review the case of a Yemeni prisoner charged with war crimes. He admits he drove Osama bin Laden's car, but says he never attacked American troops. The administration wants to try him without judicial oversight, under ever-changing rules and without letting him see all the evidence. Even if he is acquitted, the administration says it will keep him in jail. In another case, the White House wants to deny hearings to 20 Kuwaitis arrested after 9/11 who want a chance to prove their innocence.

In both cases, the administration says it needs to be able to hold on to dangerous terrorists. Of course it does, and nothing prevents it from doing that. But no amount of concern about terrorism gives it the power to detain innocent people or brutalize even those who are guilty. That is why this nation has laws, courts and judges. We can never be sure any new laws will be enforced until we know the truth about how the old ones were swept aside.

That is why Mr. McCain, Mr. Graham and other Republicans who understand the importance of these issues should support an independent inquiry. Given the need to investigate the Katrina debacle, this may seem one examination too many. But healing the wounds of the prison camps is vital to American values, the country's image and the safety of its soldiers.