Saturday, September 10, 2005

Blackwater Mercenaries in New Orleans

Man, this just keeps getting freakier and freakier. Now we have mercenaries working as law enforcement officers in the U.S. Does anyone have a strange feeling in their stomach, as if Iraq was a rehearsal for this? This is just making the tinfoil meter go off the scale. From Truthout:

Blackwater Mercenaries Deploy in New Orleans
By Jeremy Scahill and Daniela Crespo
t r u t h o u t | Report

Saturday 10 September 2005

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. Some of the mercenaries say they have been "deputized" by the Louisiana governor; indeed some are wearing gold Louisiana state law enforcement badges on their chests and Blackwater photo identification cards on their arms. They say they are on contract with the Department of Homeland Security and have been given the authority to use lethal force. Several mercenaries we spoke with said they had served in Iraq on the personal security details of the former head of the US occupation, L. Paul Bremer and the former US ambassador to Iraq, John Negroponte.

"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. Some of the men now patrolling the streets of New Orleans returned from Iraq as recently as 2 weeks ago.

What is most disturbing is the claim of several Blackwater mercenaries we spoke with that they are here under contract from the federal and Louisiana state governments.

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. The company rose to international prominence after 4 of its men were killed in Fallujah and two of their charred bodies were hung from a bridge in March 2004. Those killings sparked the massive US retaliation against the civilian population of Fallujah that resulted in scores of deaths and tens of thousands of refugees.

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."

Officially, Blackwater says it forces are in New Orleans to "join the Hurricane Relief Effort." A statement on the company's website, dated September 1, advertises airlift services, security services and crowd control. The company, according to news reports, has since begun taking private contracts to guard hotels, businesses and other properties. But what has not been publicly acknowledged is the claim, made to us by 2 Blackwater mercenaries, that they are actually engaged in general law enforcement activities including "securing neighborhoods" and "confronting criminals."

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. One of them wore a gold Louisiana state law enforcement badge and said he had been "deputized" by the governor. They told us they not only had authority to make arrests but also to use lethal force. We encountered the Blackwater forces as we walked through the streets of the largely deserted French Quarter. 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."

Posted by crimnos @ 6:54 PM :: (0) comments

Toot Toot! While we're on the Colin Powell Train...

Colin Powell is bustin' out all over. Check this he says that he regrets his infamous cartoon-strip-totin' UN speech on Iraq and has "never seen evidence to suggest" a connection between 9/11 and Saddam. Ya think??

So what is Colin angling for? I'm curious. 2008 run? Here's the story from the OTHER ABC:

Powell regrets UN speech on Iraq WMDs

Former US secretary of state Colin Powell says his United Nations speech making the case for the US-led war on Iraq was "a blot" on his record.

Mr Powell has also said that he had "never seen evidence to suggest" a connection between the September 11, 2001 terror attacks in the United States and the Saddam regime.

In the February 2003 presentation to the UN Security Council, Mr Powell forcefully made the case for war on the regime of Saddam Hussein, offering "proof" that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

The presentation included satellite photos of trucks that Mr Powell identified as mobile bioweapons laboratories.

After the invasion, US weapons inspectors reported finding no Iraqi nuclear, biological or chemical weapons.

In an interview with American ABC TV news to be broadcast on Friday (US time), Mr Powell said "it's a blot" on his record.

"I'm the one who presented it on behalf of the United States to the world, and (it) will always be a part of my record. It was painful. It's painful now," he said.

Mr Powell spent five days at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) headquarters ahead of the speech studying intelligence reports, many of which turned out to be false.

He said he felt "terrible" at being misinformed.

However, he did not blame CIA director George Tenet.

Mr Tenet "did not sit there for five days with me misleading me," he said.

"He believed what he was giving to me was accurate."

Some members of the US intelligence community "knew at that time that some of these sources were not good, and shouldn't be relied upon, and they didn't speak up," Mr Powell said.

"These are not senior people, but these are people who were aware that some of these resources should not be considered reliable," he said.

"I was enormously disappointed."
Civil war concern

As for post-Saddam Iraq, Mr Powell said there was little choice but to keep investing in the Iraqi armed forces.

"What we didn't do in the immediate aftermath of the war was to impose our will on the whole country, with enough troops of our own, with enough troops from coalition forces, or, by (quickly) recreating the Iraqi (armed) forces," he said.

"It may not have turned out to be such a mess if we had done some things differently."

Mr Powell also voiced concern over a possible civil war in Iraq.

"A way has to be found for the Sunnis to be brought into the political process. You cannot let ... Iraq devolve into a mini-state in the north, a larger mini-state in the south, and sort of nothing in the middle," he said.

"The mission we set for ourselves at the beginning, and which we told the Iraqis that we were going to do, is to keep this as a single state. And that's the challenge that we have now."

Mr Powell downplayed his reported differences with Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld, and said he was on good terms with President George W Bush.

"There are some who say, 'well, you shouldn't have supported (the war), you should have resigned', but I'm glad that Saddam Hussein is gone," Mr Powell said.

On Washington's differences with Tehran, Mr Powell also said he does not see "a clear military option with respect to Iran".

Posted by crimnos @ 3:01 PM :: (0) comments

Colin Powell Speaks out on Katrina

Okay, so he uses some of the tired talking points - local and state problems - but it's encouraging to see him at least looking at the federal level for errors and ESPECIALLY pointing out that the poor response is, at least at some level, based on economic class of the victims. This is coming from someone who worked with the people handling the response for four years; I tend to value his word on it, and know he'll take some heat for it. I have to respect him for it, even if his association with the Bush administration has left him a damaged man.

From Yahoo! News:

Former secretary of state Powell critical of US response to Katrina

Thu Sep 8, 6:30 PM ET

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Former US Secretary of State
Colin Powell had tough words for federal, state and local authorities on their response to Hurricane Katrina in a television interview to air Friday.

"I think there have been a lot of failures at a lot of levels --- local, state and federal," Powell said in an interview with the ABC News program "20/20," to air late Friday.

"There was more than enough warning over time about the dangers to New Orleans. Not enough was done. I don't think advantage was taken of the time that was available to us, and I just don't know why," he said.

Powell was asked if the slipshod government response to the disaster was due to racism, since the overwhelming majority of the victims are poor African-Americans.

"I don't think its racism, I think its economic," Powell said.

"When you look at those who werent able to get out, it should have been a blinding flash of the obvious to everybody that when you order a mandatory evacuation, you cant expect everybody to evacuate on their own.

"These are people who dont have credit cards; only one in ten families at that economic level in New Orleans have a car. So it wasn't a racial thing --- but poverty disproportionately affects African-Americans in this country. And it happened because they were poor,"
he said.

Posted by crimnos @ 12:35 PM :: (0) comments

Bush Pulls the Tired, Ragged 9/11 Card Once Again

This time in response to Katrina. It's like he just can't help himself. From the Columbia Daily Tribune:

Bush links hurricane, Sept. 11 attacks

Published Friday, September 9, 2005

WASHINGTON (AP) - President George W. Bush, linking hurricane recovery and the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks four years ago, declared today that the nation was ready to "overcome any challenge."

"America is a strong and resilient nation," Bush said.

Meanwhile, the federal bill for Hurricane Katrina relief soared past $62 billion, and the White House and members of Congress said it was bound to keep climbing. Bush scheduled his third trip to the devastated region for the weekend.

Congress rapidly and overwhelmingly voted last night to fulfill an urgent plea for $51.8 billion, adding to $10.5 billion that was approved last week for hurricane victims.

Today, he spoke about the hurricane at the swearing-in for Karen Hughes, the Department of State’s new undersecretary for public diplomacy - a post designed to lift America’s image abroad to help win the war on terror.

Bush said that more than 100 nations had offered help after the hurricane, and he compared that to "a similar outpouring of support when another tragedy struck our nation" - the 2001 attacks in New York and Washington.

His speech marked the first of several steps in which the White House is seeking to intertwine the challenge of the anti-terror battle with the effort to recover from the hurricane.

Bush was to travel to Mississippi and Louisiana over the weekend, Press Secretary Scott McClellan said. That trip was to follow Bush’s attendance at a church service and a White House moment of silence marking the fourth anniversary on Sunday of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Posted by crimnos @ 8:00 AM :: (0) comments

Friday, September 09, 2005

CNN Sues the Government

Talking Points Memo is reporting that CNN is suing the agencies that are trying to bar press coverage in NOLA. Go CNN!

Posted by crimnos @ 7:38 PM :: (0) comments

Judges to Padilla: Indefinite Detention A-Okay!

Thumbs up, guys! Touchdown for Authoritarianism!

From Fox News, of all places:

Court: Padilla Can Be Held Without Charges
Friday, September 09, 2005

RICHMOND, Va. — A federal appeals court has sided with the Bush administration and ruled that "dirty bomb" suspect Jose Padilla (search) can be detained without charges.

In July, a lawyer for Padilla, an American accused of plotting to detonate a radioactive "dirty bomb," told a federal appeals court that the U.S. government should either charge his client with a crime or set him free.

But a Bush administration lawyer told the court that the president must have authority to indefinitely detain suspected terrorists who come to the United States intent on killing civilians.

Padilla, a former Chicago gang member and Muslim convert suspected of being an Al Qaeda (search) operative, was seized in 2002 after flying from Pakistan to Chicago on what authorities said was a scouting mission for a plot to set off a conventional bomb laced with radioactive material. Padilla also is suspected of planning to blow up apartment buildings in several cities by filling them with natural gas.

President Bush declared Padilla an "enemy combatant," a designation that allows the military to hold someone indefinitely without charges. Padilla is in the Navy brig in Charleston, S.C., and has been held for the past three years.

At issue before the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (search) was whether Padilla — an American seized on U.S. soil — should have been designated an enemy combatant.

The 4th Circuit received the case after a South Carolina judge ruled that the government must charge Padilla with a crime or release him.

The same court two years ago upheld the president's right to detain another U.S. citizen designated as an enemy combatant, Yaser Esam Hamdi. However, Hamdi was released and flown to Saudi Arabia after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled he could challenge his detention in U.S. courts.

A key difference in the two cases is that Hamdi was captured while fighting alongside the Taliban on the battlefield in Afghanistan, while Padilla was taken into custody in the United States.

Posted by crimnos @ 3:08 PM :: (0) comments

Congressional "Bipartisan" Commission Not Looking so Bipartisan

Ain't this grand. Politics as usual is getting in the way of actually making progress. Thanks, folks, for standing up for what actually matters to Americans: more partisan bickering.

From the Post:

As a day of dueling speeches and news conferences made clear yesterday, the two parties will battle intensely to influence the inevitable investigations into the serious shortcomings in the government's response to the catastrophe in New Orleans and its environs. While Republicans have more members in the House and Senate, Democrats say they have more credibility and enthusiasm for the government services that Katrina's wreckage will require: urban renewal, aid to the poor and robust social programs.

With the midterm congressional elections 14 months away, both parties see high stakes in where blame will eventually fall for the government's lagging response to Katrina. Yesterday, congressional Republicans tried to get a head start, announcing the formation of an investigative commission that they can control.

They rejected Democratic appeals to model the panel after the Sept. 11 commission, which was made up of non-lawmakers and was equally balanced between Republicans and Democrats. That commission won wide praise for assessing how the 2001 terrorist attacks occurred, and for recommending changes in the government's anti-terrorism structure.

House and Senate GOP leaders announced the "Hurricane Katrina Joint Review Committee," which will include only members of Congress, with Republicans outnumbering Democrats by a yet-to-be-determined ratio. The commission, which will have subpoena powers, will investigate the actions of local, state and federal governments before and after the storm that devastated New Orleans and other portions of the Gulf Coast.

"Congress is actively responding to the disaster caused by Hurricane Katrina," House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said in a statement released during an appearance attended only by Republicans, after an all-GOP planning session.

The announcement came a day after President Bush said his administration would conduct an investigation into the Katrina response and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) ordered the House Government Reform Committee to suspend plans for immediate hearings. Democrats denounced both actions, and they called the Frist-Hastert plan inadequate. They vowed to push their own proposals for helping the storm's victims and investigating government agencies' responses.

A Republican-led Congress cannot be trusted to make a thorough investigation of a Republican administration, said Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.). "Democrats strongly prefer that the response to Hurricane Katrina be investigated by a commission of independent experts like the 9/11 commission," he said.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the new commission "is not truly bipartisan, will not be made up of equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans, cannot write legislation and will not have bipartisan subpoena power."

From the moment the dimensions of New Orleans' devastation became apparent, Democrats and some nonpartisan groups have said the Bush administration's response was slow, uncertain and unenergetic. Some said the tragedy required a strong and visceral devotion to social services, which are dearer to Democrats than to Republicans.

Posted by crimnos @ 2:07 PM :: (2) comments

Olbermann Shines Some Light on the Conservative Response to Katrina

Keith Olbermann has come up with a fairly nice reaction to the charge that those asking for accountability are only partisan shills. Read on...

With friends like these (Keith Olbermann)

SECAUCUS — It should be no surprise that criticism of the president, or the federal response, in the wake of the disaster that followed Hurricane Katrina, has been portrayed as partisan pot-shooting. That is the default setting of our world, after all. We take sides on everything.

Well, except for 9/11, when Mr. Bush's approval rating was 90% and his disapproval, 6%.

And also, except for right now, when the idea that only Liberals or political opportunists are being critical, is not just intuitively nuts — it's factually ludicrous. Read this:

The language is, to say the least, uncategorical. "Democrats have seized on the administration's performance in handling Katrina to bash George W. Bush," the nationally-syndicated columnist writes. "But Republicans are not much happier with him... When Republican House members participated in a telephone conference call September 1, the air was blue with complaints about the handling of Katrina... the GOP lawmakers were unhappy with their administration's performance."

That's from today's column from Robert Novak — not exactly known as a thorn in the administration's side.

For the President, it actually gets worse. Many editorials in major newspapers have been almost venomous towards Mr. Bush and the federal response. An excerpt from one this morning: "Mayor Nagin's responses to this crisis, while flawed, have shown better leadership than both Governor Blanco's and President Bush's."

That's from today's official editorial in The Union-Leader of Manchester, New Hampshire. That's the newspaper that has previously identified itself as the most conservative in the country. It has six national columnists: Novak, Jonah Goldberg, Charles Krauthammer, Michelle Malkin, Deroy Murdock, and George Will. Not exactly a hotbed of commies.

And what it wrote about Mr. Bush today is nothing compared to what it wrote about him last Wednesday — decrying his decision to continue with his ordinary schedule, " if nothing important had happened the day before."

"A better leader," the paper continued on August 31st, "would have flown straight to the disaster zone and announced the immediate mobilization of every available resource to rescue the stranded, find and bury the dead, and keep the survivors fed, clothed, sheltered and free of disease.

"The cool, confident, intuitive leadership Bush exhibited in his first term, particularly in the months following September 11, 2001, has vanished. In its place is a diffident detachment unsuitable for the leader of a nation facing war, natural disaster, and economic uncertainty."

Posted by crimnos @ 11:34 AM :: (0) comments

Sweet Jesus: More on Mike Brown

And the walls come tumbling down. Just received this from intrepid reporter George. From the New Republic (registration required), claims that Brown essentially earned his law degree from a fly-by-night operation, as well as other issues that make his appointment even more of a farce:

Legal Brief
by Paul Campos, professor of law at the University of Colorado-Boulder

By now, the basic contours of Mike Brown's ascendancy to director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have come to light. Journalists have uncovered that Brown had almost no relevant experience for the position and got hired by FEMA because he was a longtime friend of George W. Bush's close associate Joe Allbaugh. The story being reported, in other words, is that Brown was a lawyer who ended up
with a crucial post in the Bush administration because of rank cronyism.

This is a well-known Washington narrative: hotshot lawyer gets appointed to a high government office despite lacking the expertise someone in the position ought to possess. For example, on September 6, The Washington Post fit the Brown scandal into this narrative in a front-page story, saying that Brown has been "caricatured as the failed head of an Arabian horse sporting group who was plucked from obscurity to become President Bush's point man for the worst natural disaster in U.S. history."

Yet, far from being a caricature, this description, if anything, understates the absurdity of the situation. The real story of Brown's meteoric rise from obscurity is far more disturbing, as well as a good deal more farcical. It's clear that hiring Brown to run fema was an act of gross recklessness, given his utter lack of qualifications for the job. What's less clear is the answer to the question of exactly what, given Brown's real biography, he is qualified to do.

To understand the Mike Brown saga, one has to know something about the intricacies of the legal profession, beginning with the status of the law school he attended. Brown's biography on fema 's website reports that he's a graduate of the Oklahoma City University School of Law. This is not, to put it charitably, a well-known institution. For example, I've been a law professor for the past 15 years and have never heard of it. Of more relevance is the fact that, until 2003, the school was not even a member of the Association of American Law Schools (aals)--the organization that, along with the American Bar Association, accredits the nation's law schools. Most prospective law students won't even consider applying to a non- aals law school unless they have no other option, because many employers have a policy of not considering graduates of non- aals institutions. So it's fair to say that Brown embarked on his prospective legal career from the bottom of the
profession's hierarchy.

So what did Brown, who received his J.D. in 1981, do with his non- aals law degree? In 1985, Brown joined the firm of Long, Ford, Lester & Brown in Enid, Oklahoma. When I spoke to one of its former members,Andrew Lester (the firm no longer exists), he recalled that Brown was with the firm for only "about 18 months." Lester, who is a longtime friend of Brown, believes that Brown spent most of his time in the first few years after law school pursuing his own legal practice and representing the interests of a prominent local family. Lester vigorously defended his friend's overall abilities, as well as his qualifications for the fema directorship, pointing out that fema had dealt with more than 100 federal emergencies during Brown's tenure. In any case, despite the claim of Brown's fema biography that he practiced
law for 20 years prior to his 2001 appointment as fema 's general counsel, it appears that, by 1987, he had already more or less abandoned his nascent legal career. From 1987 to 1990, Brown's resumé includes being the sacrificial lamb for the Oklahoma Republican Party in a 1988 congressional election, in which he won 27 percent of the vote against the incumbent Democrat, and stints as an assistant city
manager and city councilman in Edmond, Oklahoma. (According to fema, because of these positions, "Mike Brown has a lot of experience managing people.") By 1991, he had moved to Colorado, where he became commissioner of judges and stewards for the International Arabian Horse Association (iaha). This position, which never made his fema bio, was Brown's full-time job from 1991 to 2001, and it had nothing to do with
the practice of law.

Brown's job was to make sure that horse show judges followed the rules,and his enthusiasm for their strict enforcement won him the nickname of "the czar," as well as the enmity of contestants, some of whom sued the Association, as well as Brown himself. According to a September 6 Denver Post article, Brown became embroiled in controversy when allegations were made that, to help pay his legal fees, Brown solicited a nearly $50,000 contribution from an iaha member whose conduct he was
supposed to regulate. Lester, who represented Brown in the iaha 's suits, told me that this was a misunderstanding, due in part to the iaha 's initial unwillingness to fulfill its contractual obligation to cover Brown's legal costs. "People are focusing on these attacks made against him when he was with the iaha ," Lester says, rather than looking at the work that Brown had actually done at fema . Brown
resigned from his position in 2001 under pressure, and the iaha was reorganized as the Arabian Horse Association.

What, then, are we to make of the claim in Brown's fema biography that, prior to joining the Agency, he had spent most of his professional career practicing law in Colorado? Normally, an attorney practicing law in a state for ten years would have left a record of his experience in public documents. But just about the only evidence of Brown's Colorado legal career is the Web page he submitted to , an Internet site for people seeking legal representation. There, he lists himself as a member of the "International Arabian Horse Association Legal
Dept." and claims to be competent to practice law across a dizzying spectrum of specialties--estate planning, family law, employment law for both plaintiffs and defendants, real-estate law, sports law, labor law, and legislative practice. With all this expertise, it's all the more striking that one can't find any other evidence of Brown's legal career in Colorado.

So what legal work did Mike Brown perform before his stunning reversal of fortune? According to his fema biography, "[H]e served as a bar examiner on ethics and professional responsibility for the Oklahoma Supreme Court and as a hearing examiner for the Colorado Supreme Court." Translation: In Oklahoma, he graded answers to bar exam questions, and, in Colorado, he volunteered to serve on the local attorney disciplinary board.

When Brown left the iaha four years ago, he was, among other things, a failed former lawyer--a man with a 20-year-old degree from a semi-accredited law school who hadn't attempted to practice law in a serious way in nearly 15 years and who had just been forced out of his job in the wake of charges of impropriety. At this point in his life, returning to his long-abandoned legal career would have been very difficult in the competitive Colorado legal market. Yet, within months of leaving the iaha , he was handed one of the top legal positions in the entire federal government: general counsel for a major federal agency. A year later, he was made its number-two official, and, a year after that, Bush appointed him director of fema .

It's bad enough when attorneys are named to government jobs for which their careers, no matter how distinguished, don't qualify them. But Brown wasn't a distinguished lawyer: He was hardly a lawyer at all. When he left the iaha , he was a 47-year-old with a very thin resumé and no job. Yet he was also what's known in the Mafia as a "connected guy." That such a person could end up in one of the federal government's most important positions tells you all you need to know
about how the Bush administration works--or, rather, doesn't.

Paul Campos is a professor of law at the University of Colorado-Boulder.

Posted by crimnos @ 9:11 AM :: (1) comments

More on FEMA's (un)qualifications

The Post is reporting on it now:

Leaders Lacking Disaster Experience
'Brain Drain' At Agency Cited

By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 9, 2005; Page A01

Five of eight top Federal Emergency Management Agency officials came to their posts with virtually no experience in handling disasters and now lead an agency whose ranks of seasoned crisis managers have thinned dramatically since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

FEMA's top three leaders -- Director Michael D. Brown, Chief of Staff Patrick J. Rhode and Deputy Chief of Staff Brooks D. Altshuler -- arrived with ties to President Bush's 2000 campaign or to the White House advance operation, according to the agency. Two other senior operational jobs are filled by a former Republican lieutenant governor of Nebraska and a U.S. Chamber of Commerce official who was once a political operative.

Meanwhile, veterans such as U.S. hurricane specialist Eric Tolbert and World Trade Center disaster managers Laurence W. Zensinger and Bruce P. Baughman -- who led FEMA's offices of response, recovery and preparedness, respectively -- have left since 2003, taking jobs as consultants or state emergency managers, according to current and former officials.

Because of the turnover, three of the five FEMA chiefs for natural-disaster-related operations and nine of 10 regional directors are working in an acting capacity, agency officials said.

Patronage appointments to the crisis-response agency are nothing new to Washington administrations. But inexperience in FEMA's top ranks is emerging as a key concern of local, state and federal leaders as investigators begin to sift through what the government has admitted was a bungled response to Hurricane Katrina.

Posted by crimnos @ 9:01 AM :: (0) comments

Mike Brown a Complete and Utter Phony

Hah! I’m a little slow getting this out, but boy is this…well, funny is not quite the word for it because thousands have suffered and died because of his lying. This is…something. First off, here’s the story from Time:

How Reliable Is Brown's Resume?
A TIME investigation reveals discrepancies in the FEMA chief's official biographies

When President Bush nominated Michael Brown to head the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in 2003, Brown's boss at the time, Joe Allbaugh, declared, "the President couldn't have chosen a better man to help...prepare and protect the nation." But how well was he prepared for the job? Since Hurricane Katrina, the FEMA director has come under heavy criticism for his performance and scrutiny of his background. Now, an investigation by TIME has found discrepancies in his online legal profile and official bio, including a description of Brown released by the White House at the time of his nomination in 2001 to the job as deputy chief of FEMA. (Brown became Director of FEMA, succeeding Allbaugh, in 2003.)

Before joining FEMA, his only previous stint in emergency management, according to his bio posted on FEMA's website, was "serving as an assistant city manager with emergency services oversight." The White House press release from 2001 stated that Brown worked for the city of Edmond, Okla., from 1975 to 1978 "overseeing the emergency services division." In fact, according to Claudia Deakins, head of public relations for the city of Edmond, Brown was an "assistant to the city manager" from 1977 to 1980, not a manager himself, and had no authority over other employees. "The assistant is more like an intern," she told TIME. "Department heads did not report to him." Brown did do a good job at his humble position, however, according to his boss. "Yes. Mike Brown worked for me. He was my administrative assistant. He was a student at Central State University," recalls former city manager Bill Dashner. "Mike used to handle a lot of details. Every now and again I'd ask him to write me a speech. He was very loyal. He was always on time. He always had on a suit and a starched white shirt."

Now Oliver Willis has run to ground a second story, from MSNBC, revealing that “Five of eight top Federal Emergency Management Agency officials came to their posts with virtually no experience in handling disasters and now lead an agency whose ranks of seasoned crisis managers have thinned dramatically since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.”

Will there be any accountability on this? Not bloody likely.

Posted by crimnos @ 8:18 AM :: (0) comments

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Witness the Birth of the Bushville!

Oh man, I am so approving of this idea right now. Great thinking.

March to Bushville-DC on 9/11/05

On 9/11 survivors of Katrina will commit a NONVIOLENT act of Civil Disobedience – building an encampment on the Washington DC Mall.

Spread the word and join us. We will post info here as we progress. It’s up to you to be creative and spread this link:

See you on the Mall on 9/11.


10,000 Katrina survivors will eventually camp on Bush’s doorstep.

They will camp in the seat of power and media demand truth and action.

They will stay there as long as it takes.

-Through 9/11
-Through the Katrina investigations
-Through the Supreme Court Hearings

On 9/11 Bush will use the flag to try to blind us.

Founding Bushville-DC on 9/11 will keep America’s attention on the criminal negligence of Bush.

History of Protest Encampments in Washington DC and elsewhere:

Hooverville – 1929 – 40’s

Villages of homeless that appeared following the Great Depression.

Bonus Army – June 17th, 1932

assemblage of about 20,000 WWI veterans, their families, and other affiliated groups, who demonstrated in DC during the spring and summer of 32

Dewey Canyon III - Washington, D.C., April 1971

Vietnam Veterans Against the War stage "a limited incursion into the country of Congress."


This site will be donated to the Katrina survivors who will run Bushville-DC.

This site created as an act of spontaneous outrage.

This site created as an act of love and hope for all humans killed or endangered by Bush’s gross dereliction.

Demand a trustworthy, truthful, and competent government.


Also see: The Name is under discussion.

Posted by crimnos @ 4:24 PM :: (2) comments

Pat Robertson Must Have Been Praying for This!

My apologies for the spotty updating today, but I've had one whopper of a day. I expect to update again this evening. Received this from Cub Reporter George earlier and wanted to share it. You know how much we love Robertson 'round these parts. From the Nation:

Pat Robertson's Katrina Cash
Max Blumenthal

Every cloud has a silver lining. Hurricane Katrina has devastated New Orleans, leaving thousands dead and hundreds of thousands homeless, and plunging the entire city into chaos. In the hurricane's wake, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and its director, Michael Brown, forced out of his former job at the International Arabian Horse Association, with no credentials in disaster relief, have become targets of withering criticism. Yet FEMA's relief efforts have brought considerable assistance to at least one man who stands to benefit from Hurricane Katrina perhaps more than any other individual: Pat Robertson.

With the Bush Administration's approval, Robertson's $66 million relief organization, Operation Blessing, has been prominently featured on FEMA's list of charitable groups accepting donations for hurricane relief. Dozens of media outlets, including the New York Times, CNN and the Associated Press, duly reprinted FEMA's list, unwittingly acting as agents soliciting cash for Robertson. "How in the heck did that happen?" Richard Walden, president of the disaster-relief group Operation USA, asked of Operation Blessing's inclusion on FEMA's list. "That gives Pat Robertson millions of extra dollars."

Though Operation USA has conducted disaster relief for more than twenty-five years on five continents, like scores of other secular relief groups currently helping victims of Hurricane Katrina, it was omitted from FEMA's list. In fact, only two non-"faith-based" organizations were included. (One of them, the American Red Cross, is being blocked from entering New Orleans by FEMA's parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security.) FEMA, meanwhile, has reportedly turned away Wal-Mart trucks carrying food and water to the stricken city, teams of firemen from Maryland and Texas, volunteer morticians and a convoy of 1,000 boat owners offering to help rescue stranded flood victims. While relief efforts falter in the face of colossal bureaucratic incompetence, the Bush Administration's promotion of Operation Blessing has ensured that the floodwaters swallowing New Orleans will be a rising tide lifting Robertson's boat.

Robertson recently ignited a media firestorm when he called for the assassination of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez during a broadcast of The 700 Club. He has also blamed the 9/11 attacks on America's tolerance of abortion and homosexuality and declared the Supreme Court a greater threat to the United States than Al Qaeda. Robertson assiduously cultivates his celebrity with remarks like these, casting himself as a divisive bigot to his foes and a righteous prophet to his allies in Christian right circles. But there is much more to Robertson than the headline-grabbing hothead he plays on TV.

Far from the media's gaze, Robertson has used the tax-exempt, nonprofit Operation Blessing as a front for his shadowy financial schemes, while exerting his influence within the GOP to cover his tracks. In 1994 he made an emotional plea on The 700 Club for cash donations to Operation Blessing to support airlifts of refugees from the Rwandan civil war to Zaire (now Congo). Reporter Bill Sizemore of The Virginian Pilot later discovered that Operation Blessing's planes were transporting diamond-mining equipment for the African Development Corporation, a Robertson-owned venture initiated with the cooperation of Zaire's then-dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.

After a lengthy investigation, Virginia's Office of Consumer Affairs determined that Robertson "willfully induced contributions from the public through the use of misleading statements and other implications." Yet when the office called for legal action against Robertson in 1999, Virginia Attorney General Mark Earley, a Republican, intervened with his own report, agreeing that Robertson had made deceptive appeals but overruling the recommendation for his prosecution. Two years earlier, while Virginia's investigation was gathering steam, Robertson donated $35,000 to Earley's campaign--Earley's largest contribution. With Earley's report came a sense of vindication. "From the very beginning," Robertson claimed, "we were trying to provide help and assistance to those who were facing disease and death in the war-torn, chaotic nation of Zaire."

(Earley is now president of Prison Fellowship Ministries, an evangelical social-work organization founded by born-again, former Nixon dirty-trickster Charles Colson. PFM has accepted White House faith-based-initiative money and is currently engaged in hurricane relief efforts in Louisiana. Earley remains a close ally of Robertson.)

Absolved of his sins, Robertson dug his heels back in African soil. In 1999 he signed an $8 million agreement with Liberian tyrant Charles Taylor that guaranteed Robertson's Freedom Gold Ltd.--an offshore company registered to the same address as his Christian Broadcasting Network--mining rights in Liberia, and gave Taylor a 10 percent stake in the company. When the United States intervened in Liberia in 2003, forcing Taylor and the Al Qaeda operatives he was harboring to flee, Robertson accused President Bush of "undermining a Christian, Baptist president to bring in Muslim rebels to take over the country."

Robertson's scheming hasn't abated one bit. He is accused of violating his ministry's tax-exempt, nonprofit status by using it to market a diet shake he licensed this August to the health chain General Nutrition Corp. (Robertson continues to advertise the shake on his personal website.) He has withstood criticism from fellow evangelicals for investing $520,000 in a racehorse named Mr. Pat, violating biblical admonitions against gambling. He was even accused of "Jim Crow-style racial discrimination" by black employees who successfully sued his Christian Coalition in 2001 for forcing them enter its offices through a back door and eat in a segregated area (Robertson has since resigned).

The Bush Administration has studiously overlooked Robertson's misdeeds. In October 2002, just months after he denounced the White House's faith-based initiative as "a real Pandora's box"--and one month before midterm elections--Robertson pocketed $500,000 in government grants to Operation Blessing. Since then, with the sole exception of his criticism of the US intervention in Liberia, Robertson has served as a willing surrogate for the Administration. His Regent University gave John Ashcroft a cushy professorship to cool his heels after his contentious tenure as US Attorney General. And Robertson's legal foundation, the American Center for Law and Justice, is spearheading the effort to rally right-wing Christian support for Judge John G. Roberts Jr.'s confirmation as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Now, as fallout from the President's handling of Hurricane Katrina threatens to derail the GOP's long-term agenda, Robertson is back at the plate for Bush, echoing the White House's line that state and local authorities--and even the disaster victims themselves--are to blame for the tragedy engulfing New Orleans.

The September 5 edition of The 700 Club included a report by Christian Broadcasting Network correspondent Gary Lane from outside the ruined New Orleans Convention Center, which had housed mostly impoverished black disaster victims throughout the weekend. "A number of possessions left behind suggest the mindset of some of the evacuees," Lane said. "They include this voodoo cup with the saying, 'May the curse be with you.' " A shot of a plastic souvenir cup from one of New Orleans's countless trinket shops appeared on the screen. "Also music CDs with the titles Guerrilla Warfare and Thugs 'R' Us," Lane stated, pointing out a pile of rap CDs strewn on the ground.

The 700 Club's featured guest was Wellington Boone, a black minister invited by Robertson to provide a counterpoint to the ubiquitous Rev. Jesse Jackson. Boone is a member of the Coalition on Revival, a Christian Reconstructionist organization that advocates replacing the US Constitution with biblical law. Throughout his career, he has distinguished himself from his black clerical colleagues with such remarks as "I believe that slavery, and the understanding of it when you see it God's way, was redemptive" and "The black community must stop criticizing Uncle Tom. He is a role model."

Though Boone's appearance on The 700 Club consisted mostly of benign appeals for "laser-beam prayer," CBN featured a separate interview with Boone on its website in which he declared, "We need to consider the culture of those people still stranded in New Orleans. The looting of property, the trashing of property, et cetera, speaks to the basic character of the people." He added, "These people who have gone through slavery, segregation and the Voting Rights Act are doing this to themselves."

Boone's appearance on The 700 Club had been preceded by an interview with Operation Blessing President Bill Horan. Horan discussed his group's activities in Biloxi, Mississippi, where it plans to set up a mobile kitchen, and in Houston, Dallas and Beaumont, Texas, where it is disbursing cash grants to numerous, mostly unspecified mega-churches, purportedly to support their work with evacuated hurricane victims.

As for the people still stranded in New Orleans who "are doing this to themselves," as Boone said, Operation Blessing has a special plan: avoid them like the plague.

"I've actually heard reports that they [the people of Mississippi] were in worse trouble" than those in New Orleans, claimed Gordon Robertson, the son of Pat Robertson and vice president of The 700 Club. "They were actually harder hit."

"Oh, absolutely," agreed Horan.

At the segment's conclusion, Gordon Robertson asked Horan, "What can people do today? If you were asking for help today, what's the number-one need?"

"It's cash. Cash is what we need more than anything," Horan pleaded. "The more cash we get, the more good we can do." And the Bush Administration, through FEMA, is doing its best to insure that Pat Robertson is getting that cash just as quickly as humanly possible.

Posted by crimnos @ 4:17 PM :: (2) comments

More on the Media in NOLA


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

Let’s make this clear again. The media is attempt to document a major American disaster. This is not Iraq. When the federal government was busy touting its bloated, inefficient carcass around to fundraisers and shows on Broadway, the media was on the ground in NOLA, reporting about the horrible conditions, some even exposed to it by reporting inside the Superdome. They put a lot of pressure on the government and put themselves in danger by walking up to people looting and asking questions.

The military presence in the city is now overwhelming. Someone commented on NBC that New Orleans is by far the safest city in America, yet we can't get full access to something we all should see.

Meanwhile, firefighters called to help out are now being used to hand out fliers for FEMA rather than participating in search and rescue operations.

Just what the hell is going on? What is the true story that is even now being obfuscated and spun beyond any recognizable comprehension? How is this happening in America? Here’s a great quote from Brian Williams that sums up the situation as it stands:

the fact that the National Guard now bars entry (by journalists) to the very places where people last week were barred from LEAVING (The Convention Center and Superdome) is a kind of perverse and perfectly backward postscript to this awful chapter in American history.

What’s going on? I’ll tell you what’s going on: this is the moment in the movie when the mask slips off and reveals the monster beneath. America has become that monster. Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo said it best:

Take a moment to note what's happening here: these are the marks of repressive government, which mixes inefficiency with authoritarianism. The crew that couldn't get key aid on the scene in time last week is coming in in force now. And one of the key missions appears to be cutting off public information about what's happening in the city.

I highly recommend you read the whole thing…it’ll make you realize that what we’re witnessing now is the dismantling of the last of our civil liberties in this country. We have to stay on top of this, but I really don’t know what we can do at this point. I’m terrified that this is the future of America.

Posted by crimnos @ 10:13 AM :: (1) comments

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Blame Game. Blame Game? Blame. Game. Blame-Gaming. Blamers. Blame gaming.


Q So your answer to the Senator would be that the presence of officials in Washington would not have improved the response?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think that my answer is that you all are very well aware of what we were doing in terms of preparations for Hurricane Katrina. And I'd just assume that he is not informed of everything we were doing and all the updates that were being provided at that point.

Q Scott, does the President retain confidence in his FEMA Director and Secretary of Homeland Security?

MR. McCLELLAN: And again, David, see, this is where some people want to look at the blame game issue, and finger-point. We're focused on solving problems, and we're doing everything we can --

Q What about the question?

MR. McCLELLAN: We're doing everything we can in support --

Q We know all that.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- of the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA.

Q Does he retain complete confidence --

MR. McCLELLAN: We're going to continue. We appreciate the great effort that all of those at FEMA, including the head of FEMA, are doing to help the people in the region. And I'm just not going to engage in the blame game or finger-pointing that you're trying to get me to engage.

Q Okay, but that's not at all what I was asking.

MR. McCLELLAN: Sure it is. It's exactly what you're trying to play.

Q You have your same point you want to make about the blame game, which you've said enough now. I'm asking you a direct question, which you're dodging.


Q Does the President retain complete confidence in his Director of FEMA and Secretary of Homeland Security, yes or no?

MR. McCLELLAN: I just answered the question.

Q Is the answer "yes" on both?

MR. McCLELLAN: And what you're doing is trying to engage in a game of finger-pointing.

Q There's a lot of criticism. I'm just wondering if he still has confidence.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- and blame-gaming. What we're trying to do is solve problems, David. And that's where we're going to keep our focus.

Q So you're not -- you won't answer that question directly?

MR. McCLELLAN: I did. I just did.

Q No, you didn't. Yes or no? Does he have complete confidence or doesn't he?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, if you want to continue to engage in finger-pointing and blame-gaming, that's fine --

Q Scott, that's ridiculous. I'm not engaging in any of that.

MR. McCLELLAN: It's not ridiculous.

Q Don't try to accuse me of that. I'm asking you a direct question and you should answer it. Does he retain complete confidence in his FEMA Director and Secretary of Homeland Security, yes or no?

MR. McCLELLAN: Like I said -- that's exactly what you're engaging in.

Q I'm not engaging in anything. I'm asking you a question about what the President's views are --

MR. McCLELLAN: Absolutely -- absolutely --

Q -- under pretty substantial criticism of members of his administration. Okay? And you know that, and everybody watching knows that, as well.

MR. McCLELLAN: No, everybody watching this knows, David, that you're trying to engage in a blame game.

Q I'm trying to engage?


Q I am trying to engage?

MR. McCLELLAN: That's correct.

Q That's a dodge. I have a follow-up question since you dodged that one. Does the White House feel like it missed opportunities to alleviate or head off some of the damage in the New Orleans area, flood damage? Did it miss an opportunity to head any of that off?

MR. McCLELLAN: In what way?

Q In responding to requests to make structural improvements, or other improvements to alleviate flood damage, and so forth?

MR. McCLELLAN: Maybe you ought to look at what General Strock said, because General Strock briefed on this the other day and he talked about the design issues relating to the levees and how that was a design issue. And he talked about that. And we provided, I think it was some $300 million in additional funding over the course of the administration for flood control in the Southeast Louisiana area. But General Strock talked about that and he talked about some of those issues. And any suggestion that it would have prevented something, that there could have been action that would have prevented something, I think he dismissed because of those reasons.

Q So if the President still has confidence in the FEMA Director, how is it that the FEMA Director is suddenly invisible? No briefings, nowhere out front, it's all gone to Secretary Chertoff.

MR. McCLELLAN: I think he's going to brief later today. I think he's briefing later today.

Q Brown is?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes. And, again, that's clearly now just an attempt to try to engage in this finger-pointing, and we're going to continue focusing on solving problems.

Q He's been the focus of an enormous amount of criticism. You know that, and yet, you choose not to respond.

Posted by crimnos @ 8:48 PM :: (0) comments

Katrina and the Federal Response: A Timeline

Intrepid Eagle Scout George sent in a piece from Think Progress. It's long and windy, but I think it's a definitive piece for anyone who might doubt the timeline of just how things went down. Bush apologists: please note the dates that martial law was declared as well as the movements that Governor Blanco went through, and come back with a better argument than that weak "blame the victim" sauce.

Posted by crimnos @ 7:41 PM :: (0) comments

Bush Outright Banning Media from New Orleans

NOTE: I posted this when I was running out of the office. Now that I've had some time to dig, it turns out that there is only one source on this so far. I wouldn't file it as "likely", but it is a possibility. I'll keep it up for historical purposes, but I'm not hitting the roof just yet.

Not too much time to comment, but wanted it up here. HOW is this happening in America? From Americablog:

BREAKING: Bush banning all media from New Orleans
by John in DC - 9/07/2005 03:07:00 PM

UPDATE: Will someone from the ACLU please contact me immediately about this. We need a lawsuit, now.

Bob Brigham has just reported - and this is why we need OUR folks on the ground, to report this stuff - the military is banning all reporters from New Orleans. Outrageous. If you kill a couple thousand people, you definitely want to keep the media and the public from finding out.

Bush is literally trying to hide the bodies. This is beyond outrageous.

They're trying to hide the bodies. Who the hell does Bush think he is? So much for the First Amendment, so much for the Constitution, so much for a democratic government.

Hey, Democrats, time to speak up LOUDLY. This is what military regimes do, what dictatorships do, it's not what democracies do. We don't hide our dead bodies in our to spare our leaders their well-due shame.

I hope the media is all over this.

As we already know, Bush is banning the media from taking any photos of the dead. So here's a thought:

Get a media helicopter, fly in, and let them shoot you down. Do you really think the Natl Guard is going to shoot down CNN? Especially if they have a few Democratic congressmen on board? Doubt it. And are they going to arrest those Democratic congressmen for taking photos of the recovery? Doubt it.

PS And Kyle is still on his way as our correspondent - we're not gonna let some petty dictator stop us.

Posted by crimnos @ 3:46 PM :: (0) comments

Let's do a little compare and contrast.

Received this in an email from "George"...'s sister.

(NOTE: The actual article can be found at Common Dreams.)

Here’s a case of gov’t efficiency, as noted by Thom Hartmann:

It's not that these conservatives are incompetent or stupid. When their interests are at stake, they can be very efficient. Consider when Hurricane Charley hit Jeb Bush's state - a year earlier than Katrina - on the second weekend of August, 2004, just months before the elections. The White House website notes:

As of noon Monday [the day after the hurricane left], in response to Hurricane Frances, FEMA and other Federal response agencies have taken the following actions:

-- About one hundred trucks of water and 280 trucks of ice are present or will arrive in the Jacksonville staging area today. 900,000 Meals-Ready-to-Eat are on site in Jacksonville, ready to be distributed.

-- Over 7,000 cases of food (e.g., vegetables, fruits, cheese, ham, and turkey) are scheduled to arrive in Winter Haven today. Disaster Medical Assistance Teams (DMAT) are on the ground and setting up comfort stations. FEMA community relations personnel will coordinate with DMATs to assist victims. -- Urban Search and Rescue Teams are completing reconnaissance missions in coordination with state officials.

-- FEMA is coordinating with the Department of Energy and the state to ensure that necessary fuel supplies can be distributed throughout the state, with a special focus on hospitals and other emergency facilities that are running on generators.

-- The Army Corps of Engineers will soon begin its efforts to provide tarps to tens of thousands of owners of homes and buildings that have seen damage to their roofs.

-- The National Guard has called up 4,100 troops in Florida, as well as thousands in other nearby states to assist in the distribution of supplies and in preparation for any flooding.

-- The Departments of Health and Human Services, Veterans Affairs, and Defense together have organized 300 medical personnel to be on standby. Medical personnel will begin deployment to Florida tomorrow.

-- FEMA is coordinating public information messages with Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, and North Carolina so that evacuees from Florida can be informed when it is safe to return. -- In addition to federal personnel already in place to respond to Hurricane Charley, 1,000 additional community relations personnel are being deployed to Atlanta for training and further assignment in Florida.

All of this aid was vitally important to Bush family political fortunes in the upcoming election of 2004. Disaster relief checks were in the mail within a week. In just the first thirteen days after Hurricane Charley hit Florida, the White House web site notes that the Bush administration had succeeded in:

-- Registering approximately 136,000 assistance applicants

-- Approving over 13,500 applications for more than $59 million in housing assistance

-- Establishing 12 disaster recovery centers, which have assisted nearly 19,000 disaster victims

-- Deploying medical teams that have seen nearly 3,000 patients

-- Disbursing 1.2 million liters of water, 8.1 million pounds of ice, and 2 million meals and snacks

-- Delivering over 20,000 rolls of plastic sheeting and nearly 170 generators

-- Treating more than 2,900 individuals through FEMA Disaster Medical Assistance Teams, supporting damaged hospitals

That, of course, was for a Republican State, with a Republican governor, the crony brother of the President

Posted by crimnos @ 12:06 PM :: (5) comments

Here We Go Again: FEMA wants to block photos of New Orleans Dead

Here it comes:

The U.S. government agency leading the rescue efforts after Hurricane Katrina said on Tuesday it does not want the news media to take photographs of the dead as they are recovered from the flooded New Orleans area.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, heavily criticized for its slow response to the devastation caused by the hurricane, rejected requests from journalists to accompany rescue boats as they went out to search for storm victims.

An agency spokeswoman said space was needed on the rescue boats and that "the recovery of the victims is being treated with dignity and the utmost respect."

"We have requested that no photographs of the deceased be made by the media," the spokeswoman said in an e-mailed response to a Reuters inquiry.

Okay, seriously, it’s come to this: How do we know they're not killing them? I’m 100% serious. Not that I actually believe they are – but come on now, that’s what a media blackout like this will achieve.

Is this really still America? How long until the airspace over NOLA is restricted so there are no aerial photos? And what happens if some photographers choose to take pictures anyway – will their cameras be seized?

It all boils down to this – if this administration really cared about the “dignity” of these victims, then why did they let them rot in the streets for DAYS? Who the hell are they trying to kid?

I’ll tell you who they’re trying to kid – you and me. Yet again we pay for these people to lie and hide, just like they have in Iraq, only this time the turf doesn’t belong to them, so we get this bid to shut down the media when it’s showing bad news. They couldn't do it the way they originally envisioned, by forcing Blanco to cede control of the National Guard so they could seal the area, so this is the next best thing. Shut them out any way possible and you stop the flow of bad news. People “feel protected” rather than actually being protected.

I think it’s time Americans let them know that we’re not prepared to swallow their lies and Soviet-style suppression of the truth. FEMA has blocked anything and everything going to that site - rescuers, food, water, oil, boats, communications, cars, trucks, buses, helicopters, planes, and now journalists, and they must pay the price.

Just watch. Next comes the cooking of the body count statistics.

And for the record, I will run photos, even if it’s eventually in defiance of some bullshit law. The American people deserve to know just what their corrupt, morally bankrupt government is doing to them. RIP, Alcene. May your suffering not be in vain.

Posted by crimnos @ 8:52 AM :: (0) comments

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Keith Olbermann's Comments on the Tragedy of New Orleans

There is no way I could put this any better than he did. Here is the transcript.

Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff said it all, starting his news briefing Saturday afternoon: "Louisiana is a city that is largely underwater..."

Well there's your problem right there.

If ever a slip-of-the-tongue defined a government's response to a crisis, this was it.

The seeming definition of our time and our leaders had been their insistence on slashing federal budgets for projects that might’ve saved New Orleans. The seeming characterization of our government that it was on vacation when the city was lost, and could barely tear itself away from commemorating V.J. Day and watching Monty Python's Flying Circus, to at least pretend to get back to work. The seeming identification of these hapless bureaucrats: their pathetic use of the future tense in terms of relief they could’ve brought last Monday and Tuesday — like the President, whose statements have looked like they’re being transmitted to us by some kind of four-day tape-delay.

But no. The incompetence and the ludicrous prioritization will forever be symbolized by one gaffe by of the head of what is ironically called “The Department of Homeland Security”: “Louisiana is a city…”

Politician after politician — Republican and Democrat alike — has paraded before us, unwilling or unable to shut off the "I-Me" switch in their heads, condescendingly telling us about how moved they were or how devastated they were — congenitally incapable of telling the difference between the destruction of a city and the opening of a supermarket.

And as that sorry recital of self-absorption dragged on, I have resisted editorial comment. The focus needed to be on the efforts to save the stranded — even the internet's meager powers were correctly devoted to telling the stories of the twin disasters, natural... and government-made.

But now, at least, it is has stopped getting exponentially worse in Mississippi and Alabama and New Orleans and Louisiana (the state, not the city). And, having given our leaders what we know now is the week or so they need to get their act together, that period of editorial silence I mentioned, should come to an end.

No one is suggesting that mayors or governors in the afflicted areas, nor the federal government, should be able to stop hurricanes. Lord knows, no one is suggesting that we should ever prioritize levee improvement for a below-sea-level city, ahead of $454 million worth of trophy bridges for the politicians of Alaska.

But, nationally, these are leaders who won re-election last year largely by portraying their opponents as incapable of keeping the country safe. These are leaders who regularly pressure the news media in this country to report the reopening of a school or a power station in Iraq, and defies its citizens not to stand up and cheer. Yet they couldn't even keep one school or power station from being devastated by infrastructure collapse in New Orleans — even though the government had heard all the "chatter" from the scientists and city planners and hurricane centers and some group whose purposes the government couldn't quite discern... a group called The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

And most chillingly of all, this is the Law and Order and Terror government. It promised protection — or at least amelioration — against all threats: conventional, radiological, or biological.

It has just proved that it cannot save its citizens from a biological weapon called standing water.

Mr. Bush has now twice insisted that, "we are not satisfied," with the response to the manifold tragedies along the Gulf Coast. I wonder which "we" he thinks he's speaking for on this point. Perhaps it's the administration, although we still don't know where some of them are. Anybody seen the Vice President lately? The man whose message this time last year was, 'I'll Protect You, The Other Guy Will Let You Die'?

I don't know which 'we' Mr. Bush meant.

For many of this country's citizens, the mantra has been — as we were taught in Social Studies it should always be — whether or not I voted for this President — he is still my President. I suspect anybody who had to give him that benefit of the doubt stopped doing so last week. I suspect a lot of his supporters, looking ahead to '08, are wondering how they can distance themselves from the two words which will define his government — our government — "New Orleans."

For him, it is a shame — in all senses of the word. A few changes of pronouns in there, and he might not have looked so much like a 21st Century Marie Antoinette. All that was needed was just a quick "I'm not satisfied with my government's response." Instead of hiding behind phrases like "no one could have forseen," had he only remembered Winston Churchill's quote from the 1930's. "The responsibility," of government, Churchill told the British Parliament "for the public safety is absolute and requires no mandate. It is in fact, the prime object for which governments come into existence."

In forgetting that, the current administration did not merely damage itself — it damaged our confidence in our ability to rely on whoever is in the White House.

As we emphasized to you here all last week, the realities of the region are such that New Orleans is going to be largely uninhabitable for a lot longer than anybody is yet willing to recognize. Lord knows when the last body will be found, or the last artifact of the levee break, dug up. Could be next March. Could be 2100. By then, in the muck and toxic mire of New Orleans, they may even find our government's credibility.

Somewhere, in the City of Louisiana.

Posted by crimnos @ 11:43 AM :: (0) comments

Why are People Still Waiting Around?

What is going on with this wait? I don’t understand it. Why can’t the National Guard accompany rescuers who are going in? We saw that the college students who went in were able to rescue people without any sort of protection – what is the game that actual rescue crews are being kept out? What is the government not telling us?

From the Dallas Times:

Would-be rescuers cool their heels
Chaos in New Orleans delays California team eager to enter fray

08:56 AM CDT on Tuesday, September 6, 2005
By JASON TRAHAN / The Dallas Morning News

They have been trimming one another's hair, lounging on hotel chairs, chatting on cellphones. They've been up at dawn, exercising in front of the hotel, trying to stay busy.

What they haven't been doing is dangling from helicopters over flooded neighborhoods or going into half-collapsed buildings searching for hurricane victims to rescue.

The 83 members of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Urban Search and Rescue team from Orange County, Calif., have been told to stay downtown at the Hyatt Regency Dallas at Reunion.

Since Friday, FEMA rescuers have been stuck in Dallas, waiting for the call to head to New Orleans. From left: John Belles, Bill Lackey and Andy Ogren watch TV reports. Since Friday, they have been sitting tight at the luxury hotel with members of five other teams of specialists from California, Nevada and Washington state – about 500 people all diverted to Dallas on the way to the Gulf Coast.

There they have watched television reports, itching to help the stranded victims of Katrina but ordered by FEMA officials to stay idle.

"It's been horribly frustrating," said Battalion Chief Marc Hawkins, noting that he understood the reasons the team had been asked to stay put. "Keeping firefighters pent up like this is a chore."

On Sunday, the Orange County team learned where it would finally do the job it was trained to do. By the time the team arrives in Metairie, La., a full week will have passed since it was ordered to leave California.

"We've been trying like hell to get out of here," said Battalion Chief Hawkins, one of the Orange County task force leaders.

The reason for the extended holdover? Team members were told that conditions were too chaotic in New Orleans, which has been plagued by violence and reports of gunfire aimed at rescuers, and the National Guard needed more time to restore order. In addition, problems getting supplies to the rescue crews already there, as well as victims, had not been worked out.

Posted by crimnos @ 10:41 AM :: (1) comments

Monday, September 05, 2005

Three Duke students tell of 'disgraceful scene'

DURHAM -- A trio of Duke University sophomores say they drove to New Orleans late last week, posed as journalists to slip inside the hurricane-soaked city twice, and evacuated seven people who weren't receiving help from authorities.

The group, led by South Carolina native Sonny Byrd, say they also managed to drive all the way to the New Orleans Convention Center, where they encountered scenes early Saturday evening that they say were disgraceful.

"We found it absolutely incredible that the authorities had no way to get there for four or five days, that they didn't go in and help these people, and we made it in a two-wheel-drive Hyundai," said Hans Buder, who made the trip with his roommate Byrd and another student, David Hankla.


Pushing on, they passed through Slidell, La., and tried to get into New Orleans by a couple of routes. Each time, police and National Guard troops turned them away. By 2 p.m. they'd wound up in Baton Rouge.


At 2 p.m., the trio decided to head for New Orleans, Buder said. After looking around, they swiped an Associated Press identification and one of the TV station's crew shirts, and found a Kinko's where they could make copies of the ID.

They were stopped again by authorities at the edge of New Orleans, but this time were able to make it through.

"We waved the press pass, and they looked at each other, the two guards, and waved us on in," Buder said.


The evacuation was basically complete by the time they arrived, at about 6:30 or 6:45 p.m. What the trio saw there horrified them.

"The only way I can describe this, it was the epicenter," Buder said. "Inside there were National Guard running around, there was feces, people had urinated, soiled the carpet. There were dead bodies. The smell will never leave me."

Buder said the students saw four or five bodies. National Guard troopers seemed to be checking the second and third floors of the building to try to secure the site.

"Anyone who knows that area, if you had a bus, it would take you no more than 20 minutes to drive in with a bus and get these people out," Buder said. "They sat there for four or five days with no food, no water, babies getting raped in the bathrooms, there were murders, nobody was doing anything for these people. And we just drove right in, really disgraceful. I don't want to get too fired up with the rhetoric, but some blame needs to be placed somewhere."

Posted by crimnos @ 8:29 PM :: (0) comments

Roberts a Miscalculation?

Okay, maybe it's not so bad after all. Maybe I'm looking at this through the wrong end of the telescope. Read up on The Left Coaster's idea of what the Roberts nomination means, and you might be pleasantly surprised:

Bush’s surprise this an act of political weakness and a miscalculation.

...It is a sign of political weakness because Bush knew he couldn’t get Antonin Scalia or Clarence Thomas confirmed quickly as Chief Justice.

It is a political miscalculation because the White House assumes that with the vetting on Roberts underway, it will be easier to get him through the hopper than to bring in someone new or to push Scalia or Thomas through. It won’t. Democrats will be able to successfully argue, as they already are, that the level of disclosure and transparency in a nominee that is expected for a Chief Justice is higher than what the White House has shown so far on an Associate Justice.

...conservatives will not be happy with this development, no matter what they say publicly, because they were counting on a Chief Justice Scalia and to a lesser degree a Chief Justice Thomas. Conservatives already had doubts about Roberts, and those doubts will increase now that they see that Bush has thrown in the towel on installing a true friend of the American Taliban as Chief Justice.

Third, the math of this court is still interesting, in that O’Connor stays on the court until her successor is named. But therein lies the problem for Bush with Rehnquist’s death at the same time: if Democrats delay Roberts’ confirmation and even eventually stop him, how many reliable conservative votes does this court have in this session if Bush gambles everything on getting Roberts through and doesn’t succeed quickly?

Posted by crimnos @ 2:20 PM :: (3) comments

Stop me if you've heard this one...

Now Roberts as Chief Justice? The man would be in charge forever. Dictator for life? I don't know, I could follow them all. Suffice it to say, it's pretty depressing. Of course, on the other hand, I have to feel that the bar for entry will be raised pretty high. How do you get a guy with no experience and make him chief justice? I don't understand how this administration thinks sometimes.

Oh, and please note how quickly Bush acted in this instance as compared to New Orleans. Here's your lesson:

Politically Advantageous Appointment = Good, Requires Immediate Attention
American People Dying = Not Important.

Here's the story from the Post.

Bush Nominates Roberts as Chief Justice
By Fred Barbash
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 5, 2005; 10:15 AM

President Bush announced this morning that he will nominate John G. Roberts as the 17th chief justice of the United States.

If confirmed, Roberts will replace William H. Rehnquist, who died Saturday from cancer. Roberts clerked for Rehnquist in 1980 when Rehnquist was an associate justice.

Bush had selected Roberts in July to fill the seat of retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Today's move, which was surprising primarily in its speed, avoids a prolonged public vetting of an entirely new nominee for the chief justice's job. While some liberal organizations have stated their opposition to Roberts' appointment as an associate justice, there was little doubt that he was going to be confirmed for that position, barring any startling revelations.

O'Connor has made her resignation effective with the confirmation of Roberts as associate justice. If she sticks to that plan and stays on until a new replacement is confirmed and if Roberts is confirmed as chief justice in the next month, the court could get started on its new term with a full contingent of nine.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said that was the president's expectation.

McClellan suggested that there would be a "short delay" in the schedule for Roberts' confirmation hearings, which were to begin tomorrow.

"Our goal remains to have Judge Roberts in place by the time the court comes back into session. So we're still working from that backstop," McClellan said. He said there had been "some initial discussions" with leaders of the Senate about a new timetable for Roberts' confirmation proceedings.

Posted by crimnos @ 11:14 AM :: (0) comments

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Team Bush spins the crisis

New York Daily News - Home - Team Bush spins the crisis: "The Pentagon also will send another 10,000 members of the National
Guard to Louisiana and Mississippi, and total troop strength will rise
to about 40,000."

WASHINGTON - The White House worked furiously yesterday to try to convince skeptics it had a grip on unrest in New Orleans and make the case that the federal response to Hurricane Katrina was finally pressing forward with a monumental recovery effort.

Still, with critics fuming, Team Bush tried to emphasize some benchmarks, highlighting that the Coast Guard has saved 9,500 victims, evacuated another 25,000 people, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency has delivered 6.7 million liters of water and 1.9 million field rations. Amtrak also will soon run four trains a day out of New Orleans.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff tried to blame the feds' slow response on the disastrous breaches in levees a day after Katrina hit, even though various officials now claim they'd warned about the weaknesses in the levees for years.


Congressional hearings into the response to Katrina are a certainty this fall, as the list of critics - both Republicans and Democrats - who say the feds were a no-show for days want to know what went wrong.

"If a country knows they're going to be attacked whether by Mother Nature or by terrorists, they must be prepared and it's obvious that the federal government was not prepared," Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Queens) said.

Posted by crimnos @ 10:58 PM :: (0) comments