September 02, 2005

Incredible. The man in charge of FEMA, the government agency that was supposed to coordinate disaster relief in New Orleans, Mike Brown, had to resign from his previous job, as the "Judges and Stewards Commissioner" for the International Arabian Horses Association, due to incompentence and mismanagement. After 9/11, the notion that the President would cull from the ranks of failed executives at horse breeding associations for a position like FEMA Director is mind-boggling.
What they were saying last year at around this time:
There was a heatwave in Europe this summer. It made life uncomfortable everywhere, from London to Rome. But only in France did the death toll climb up and up. The "brutal Iraqi summer" so eagerly anticipated by the Continent's anti-Americans is believed to have killed two US soldiers. The brutal Gallic summer wound up killing well over 10,000.

Why? It seems to have been a combination of factors.

Snobbery: The French regard air-conditioners as vulgar and American. Big government: The French healthcare system is designed for the convenience of its employees, so in summer it's on vacation. Heartlessness: The entire country goes to the beach in August, and having grand-mere along would be too much of a drag, so it's easier to leave her in her airless city apartment.

Bernard Mazeyrie, managing director of France's largest undertakers', noted that many of the bereaved were in no hurry to bury their aged loved ones, preferring to leave them on ice while they stayed sur la plage to finish their holidays.

By the standards of the world, Iran, China and France are all wealthy societies. They're vulnerable to "events" because of their organizational principles – a primitive theocracy which disdains modernity; a modified totalitarianism which thinks you can reap the benefits of capitalism without the institutions of liberty; and a cradle-to-grave welfare state that has so enfeebled its citizens' ability to act as responsible adults that even your dead mum is just one more inconvenience the government should do something about.
--Mark Steyn
In a period of two weeks during August, more than 11,000 elderly French men and women died of heat stroke. It is important to note this is not nearly the scandal in France that it would be in America. In fact, upon hearing the news, French president Jacques Chirac decided to stay on vacation in Quebec, Canada.

Why not? Because, in the words of British historian Paul Johnson, the French – like most Europeans, and like most left-thinking people anywhere – love ideas more than people.


[T]he future of the world is either European secular socialism, Islamic totalitarianism or the unique American combination of Judeo-Christian religiosity and political and economic liberty.

Few Americans are attracted to the second possibility, but vast numbers look to Europe as a model. One hopes that the next time they do, they will note the 11,000 elderly dead in France. But don't bet on it.
--Dennis Prager
As of writing, there are in excess of 300 corpses yet unclaimed. It is the normal policy in France that if a body is not claimed within six days, it is buried in a pauper’s grave. But, given that it’s the month of the grande vacance, the French are cutting the relatives a little slack. As an official indicated understandingly, it’s August and many of the relatives may not wish to cut into their month long vacation to come home early to claim a body.

As the numbers of heat deaths climb, a final figure of close to 20,000 is being seen as not unrealistic – in other words, a humanitarian disaster.

Meanwhile, the death toll in Guantanamo Bay, which the French are in the habit of condemning with dainty disgust as barbaric, sweltering, fetid and inhuman, remains remarkably stable: None.
--Dennis McQueen, World Net Daily
Does anyone else find this claim suspicious? "France's worst heat wave on record has killed an estimated 3,000 people across the nation, the Health Ministry said Thursday, as the government faced accusations that it failed to respond to a major health crisis," the Associated Press reports from Paris.

Three thousand deaths? In a Western European country? Because of the weather? This is the kind of death toll usually reserved for Third World natural disasters--Chinese earthquakes, Bangladeshi floods and the like. Has the heat really killed 3,000 Frenchmen?
--James Taranto, WSJ
I root for hurricanes. When, courtesy of the Weather Channel, I see one forming in the ocean off the coast of Africa, I find myself longing for it to become big and strong--Mother Nature's fist of fury, Gaia's stern rebuke. Considering the havoc mankind has wreaked upon nature with deforesting, stripmining, and the destruction of animal habitat, it only seems fair that nature get some of its own back and teach us that there are forces greater than our own.
--James Wolcott

[all links via Crooked Timber, exc. for the Wolcott post, which the author had the good sense to apologize for before Katrina struck landfall]

UPDATE: My bad. The French heat wave occurred two years ago, and most of the above quotes originated then.

September 01, 2005

The combination of cataclysmic property damage and the near-doubling of gasoline prices in the wake of Hurricane Katrina will certainly exacerbate the YBK problem. The personal devastation that millions in the Gulf Coast area have suffered has led a number of Congressman to propose an amendment to the recently-passed bankruptcy law, which will waive the hardships imposed by the new law on victims of this disaster. Let's hope Congress speedily passes this legislation before the draconian provisions go into effect.
One area where it is fair to take the current regime to task is their complete lack of preparation for the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. It was not simply a matter of levee repairs that were never funded, or grasslands that were allowed to atrophy; those were problems that existed before the 2000 Election, and the fact that Democrats never used their position in the opposition to draw a line in the sand on those issues is a pretty good indicator that blame for those problems crossed party lines.

Instead, FEMA has been made to look utterly incompetent over the last few days, dealing with problems that one would have thought would have been in the forefront of this Administration's priorities, since those were problems dealing with refugees, emergency rescue and damage control: in other words, the same problems that would exist after a major terrorist attack. Bush chose to handpick political cronies to run the agency, and the utter lack of preparation in evacuating masses of people without access to cars, getting food and water to survivors, and having immediate access to medical care is unforgivable. [link via Smirking Chimp]

Ironically, the professional ran FEMA during the Clinton Administration, James Lee Witt, is a major reason why Bush made it to the White House in the first place. Prior to their first debate in 2000, major fires broke out in Texas, and FEMA assistance was required. In that debate, Mr. Witt's decisive actions drew praise from then-Governor Bush, and Vice President Gore seconded that praise, stating that he had accompanied Mr. Witt down to Texas. It turned out that he had accompanied Mr. Witt's assistant, and hadn't spoken to the FEMA director until later, but the Bush camp was able to spin that discrepancy into yet another Gore "prevarication" (in an age of fictitious WMD's, Nigerian Yellow Cake, and the billions of dollars that have disappeared in the reconstruction of Iraq, it is poignant what we used to be consider "dishonest"). What had been a debate that most of the public thought had been decisively won by Al Gore suddenly shifted, and Bush moved out to a lead in the polls that he didn't relinquish until Election Day.

August 31, 2005

The sick and the disabled were the first to be led out. But late Wednesday afternoon, as the slow evacuation of the Superdome began, it was not always easy to distinguish them from the rest of the 20,000 or more storm refugees who had steeped for days in the arena's sickening heat and stench, unbathed, exhausted and hungry.

They had been crammed into the Superdome's shadowy ramps and corridors, spread across its vast artificial turf field and plopped into small family encampments in the plush orange, teal and purple seats that rise toward the top of the dome.

They had flocked to the arena seeking sanctuary from the winds and waters of Hurricane Katrina. But understaffed, undersupplied and without air-conditioning or even much lighting, the domed stadium quickly became a sweltering and surreal vault, a place of overflowing toilets and no showers. Food and water, blankets and sheets, were in short supply. And the dome's reluctant residents exchanged horror stories, including reports, which could not be confirmed by the authorities, of a suicide and of rapes.

By Wednesday the stink was staggering. Heaps of rotting garbage in bulging white plastic bags baked under a blazing Louisiana sun on the main entry plaza, choking new arrivals as they made their way into the stadium after being plucked off rooftops and balconies.

The odor billowing from toilets was even fouler. Trash spilled across corridors and aisles, slippery with smelly mud and scraps of food.

"They're housing us like animals," said Iiesha Rousell, 31, unemployed after four years in the Army in Germany, dripping with perspiration in the heat, unable to contain her fury and disappointment at being left with only National Guardsmen as overseers and no information about what might lie ahead.
--New York Times, 9-1-2005

UPDATE: Billmon has a more detailed list of relief providers. Check it out.
Eric Alterman has a list of relief agencies and philanthropies that are providing assistance to the victims of Hurricane Katrina, here.

There has been an unhealthy desire of many bloggers to use Katrina to justify their political position, whether pro- or anti-Bush. Hurricanes of the size and devastation we've seen this week, although rare, do happen, and will continue to happen, regardless of whether we deal with global warming, maintain the wetlands, or keep a sufficient National Guard presence in the homeland. Of all people, the son of Robert F. Kennedy should be the last person who uses human misfortune as orginating from the temper of a vengeful god. And rightists who are attempting to shift the blame to the state and local government of Louisiana as a way of scoring racist points (not to mention the coverage of "looting", which is suspiciously focused on African-Americans) may try to explain the similar destruction in Republican Mississippi and Alabama.

Anyone would be hard-pressed to point to a single policy that this President pursued that would have alleviated the damage, or stengthened our ability to protect the Gulf Coast from such a disaster, although it's not Bush's (or Congress') fault New Orleans is 20 feet under water; it just happened. Being unprepared for the Worst Case Scenario is an all-too-human fault. That was true last week, before the hurricane, and it will be true next week as well. Partisan blame has nothing to do with the immediate problem, which is saving lives.

But if the Democratic Party doesn't heed the lessons of this tragedy, than it truly is unworthy to be an opposition party. As with the tsunami in the Indian Ocean last year, we, as a species, should be well past the point where thousands of people get killed in a disaster of this magnitude. Tsunami warning systems, reinforcing dikes, retrofitting building to withstand most earthquakes: we can do all of that, right now. We know Bush and the Republican Congress have a misplaced set of priorities, and that money has been drained from FEMA to pursue less important objectives. But what have liberals done to sound the trumpets? What did Clinton do? Why was the possibility that a disaster like this could strike perceived by all sides as less important in the last election than abortion or gay marriage?

As a society, our first priority should be to protect each other from predictable disasters, even before we focus on luxuries like fighting wars and such. This wasn't the first hurricane to hit the Gulf Coast, and New Orleans is not the first American city to be nearly destroyed by such a disaster. Even if it is in poor taste to immediately point accusatory fingers at your ideological adversaries right now, it is not inappropriate to ask what we do now to make sure that something like this, or something like the Christmas Day Tsunami, does not have the same impact on humanity in the future.

UPDATE: A challenge to progressive bloggers. Clearly, this project is going to entail more than just donating money and blogging up a storm.

August 30, 2005

Why Bush sucks, or at least why that suckiness has brought us to defeat in the War on Terror. To put it another way, if Clinton had been President, is there any doubt that at the very least, bin Laden would have been killed or captured by now? Or that Iraq would have been pacified? Of course not. I'm not saying he could have prevented 9/11, or that there wouldn't have been other problems with terrorism, but Clinton would have done a better job managing them. Elvis was knowledgeable, listened to other people, and knew how to charm his political adversaries. Bush, on the other hand, is an asshole, perhaps the biggest asshole in the White House since Nixon, but without Tricky Dick's shrewdness and understanding of the big picture.

August 29, 2005

To answer Prof. Kleiman's question, the last (and heretofore only) child of a President who was eligible to serve in the Armed Forces at a time of war, but failed to do so was...John Payne Todd, step-son of James Madison. Very interesting character, that Mr. Todd. He was the only surviving son of Dolley Madison from her first marriage, and was still a toddler when his mother met the future President in 1794 (at the time, Todd's guardian was a friend and political ally of Madison's named Aaron Burr). When the War of 1812 started, he had just turned 20.

He seems to have been spoiled by his mother, and spent much of his early years at school, far away from the political world his parents occupied. He quickly gathered some worrisome vices, including a proclivity for drinking and gambling that would, over the fullness of time, bankrupt his widowed mother. Rather than putting the boy in harm's way, at a time when the British were sacking the White House, his step-father sent him on a diplomatic mission to Europe in 1813. By all accounts, he embarrassed himself on the junket with his public drunkenness, and the nation remained at war for two more years.

In short, nothing at all like the current situation....
Headline of the Year.
Another newspaper dumps Ann Coulter, in light of her recent mocking of the brave firemen and police officers of New York City.

Matt Welch brings up an interesting point: that the people who enable this bigot always justify their tolerance by saying what a "funny" or "nice" person Ilsa is in real life. I think there ought to be a circle in hell reserved for people who are willing to excuse those who are hateful simply because they have a genial manner. C'mon, Josef Stalin had a very biting sense of humor; Hermann Goering also could be quite charming and witty, when the occasion demanded it. The fact that Ms. Coulter can be generous to her friends or occasionally crack a joke about herself is insignificant, when compared to the debasement she has brought to political rhetoric in this country.

I used to have a friend in law school who was a social acquiantance of Alexander Cockburn, the Stalinist apologist for The Nation. Supposedly, he was quite the raconteur, with a flirtatious charm and a passion for the vintage Ford Thunderbird. He sounded like a pretty interesting character, and I can appreciate the temptation to associate with such notoriety. But not everyone is entitled to my good will, and especially not those who gloss over Soviet genocide. With the Coulters and Cockburns of the world, it's important for the rest of us to set some standards, lest we succumb to the temptation of political relativism.
Free Judy Miller ?!? To even make that demand shows an enormous amount of entitlement and privilege. She's a percipient witness in an on-going criminal investigation, a court having determined that her testimony is critical, and her silence leads to the suspicion that she may have been a source for a criminal act. The most generous interpretation of her actions is that she's protecting an anonymous source who gave her disinformation in order to justify the outing of an undercover agent; the least generous is that she was, in fact, the disseminator.

Reporters have no more of a First Amendment right to be a part of a criminal conspiracy than any other citizen. Let her rot.