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This Is What Democracy Looks Like

Today's Note From a Madman

September 5, 2007


"Partially Met"

It's how our military - or should I say the Bush Military? - would like the new Government Accountability Office's report on two of the eighteen benchmarks judged by the non-partisan agency to be rephrased. However, "partially met" still means "not met" in anyone's book on any subject, let alone the Iraq war and the struggles that persist over there today.

According to the GAO report, the White House, after four-and-a-half years of struggles in Iraq, has met just three of the eighteen benchmarks which should have been met by now.

If terms of Major League Baseball batting averages, the Bush administration is hitting under the Mendoza line at just .167. (Mario Mendoza was a light-hitting major league shortstop whose career average was a mere .200 - the ignominious baseball stat is name for him.)

It is now up to Iraq Ambassador Ryan Crocker and top US Commander in Iraq, General David Petraues to put smiley faces on the nation we all know is a wreck.

Petraeus' testimony is the one which the Congress, the President and the nation seem to be looking forward to more than any other. Although Crocker is the US Ambassador in Iraq, he is a Bush appointee, whereas Petraeus, although indirectly a Bush appointee (as he is appointed by the Pentagon), is looked at as more objective.

However, it should also be noted that the General was the man in charge of the weapon distribution plan which lost (misplaced?) 190,000 weapons to unknowns in Iraq. It was his charge to keep track of those weapons and run the distribution plan. It was his job to keep the records so we had an idea of where those weapons went. It was his responsibility to make sure those weapons ended up in the hands of our allies, not with our enemies killing our own troops,


As the Washington Post reported: "Overall," the report concludes, "key legislation has not been passed, violence remains high, and it is unclear whether the Iraqi government will spend $10 billion in reconstruction funds," as promised. While it makes no policy recommendations, the draft suggests that future administration assessments "would be more useful" if they backed up their judgments with more details and "provided data on broader measures of violence from all relevant U.S. agencies."

The GAO staffer who leaked the report to the Washington Post prior to the Bush administration's getting their hands on it wanted to make sure that the report saw the light of day prior to the re-write and interpretations (spins) which the Bushies will, no doubt, attempt to apply to it. And, make no mistake about it, the administration of 'executive privilege" would have attempted to keep secret many of the really damaging parts of the report by declaring it "classified" and unavailable to the general public. However, you could have bet your bottom dollar that the three met benchmarks would have been released right away.

We do have a pattern here, don't we?

In an early effort at damage control, the Bushies sent out their own Joseph Goebbels/ Karl Rove-like troops:

"while we've all seen progress in some areas, especially on the security front, it's not surprising the GAO would make this assessment, given the difficult congressionally mandated measurement they had to follow."
-White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe

Of course, Mr. Johndroe's statement belies the fact that the GAO is merely following the instructions of the Iraq Study Group, which made its recommendations during the GOP-dominated 109th Congress. We all know by now that we can't trust anything which comes out of the mouths of the Bushies. The question is, can we trust what General Petraeus is going to say in front of Congress next week?

"General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker are there on the ground every day in Iraq, and it's important to wait to hear what they have to say."

Statements like that are truly scary.

And even where one might think that there is agreement between the GAO and the Bush administration, none exists.

"Some army units sent to Baghdad have mixed loyalties, and some have had ties to Shiia militias making it difficult to target Shiia extremist networks,"
-the GAO report

The Bushies have already counted those Iraqi troops, part of three brigades termed to having shown "satisfactory progress". The GAO said that have "performance problems".

And no matter how many trips the Bushies make to Iraq (even after their big, one-month vacation), the people of Iraq have suffered and will continue to suffer under the current "stay the course" policies of this administration.

"Given the fact that significant progress has not been made in improving the living conditions of the Iraqis on a day-to-day basis with regard to things that all citizens care about -- safe streets, clean water, reliable electricity, a variety of other basic things," he concluded, "I think you'd have to say it's dysfunctional -- the government is dysfunctional."
-The GAO head, Comptroller General David Walker

The object of spin is simply to make one look good in the eyes of others. Even as Baghdad was falling in 2003, there were still Saddam Hussein loyalists telling everyone that the Iraqi troops were beating back the Americans. Lies don't get things done and lies are all the Bushies have.

-Noah Greenberg

by Victoria A. Brownworth
copyright c 2007 Journal Register Newspapers, Inc.

August 29th marked the second anniversary of the worst natural disaster in American history, Hurricane Katrina, which devastated all of New Orleans and a large swathe of the Gulf Coast from Alabama through Mississippi to Louisiana. Katrina killed nearly 2,000 people, injured many more and left a million people displaced. Before Katrina, a 500,000 people lived in New Orleans. Two years after Katrina, the population is half what it was before the storm hit.

There are many things to say about this anniversary: there’s the political and the social, the cultural and the racial, the changes and lack of changes, the frustrations and the triumphs. There’s a story about devastation and a story about survival.

Few reporters *weren’t* in Louisiana and Mississippi this past week. The major network anchors were all there, like NBC’s Brian Williams who had done remarkable reporting during Katrina and who has repeatedly returned to the city for updates, without any anniversary to prompt him. There were cable news show hosts like CNN’s Anderson Cooper, who was one of the reporters to alert disgraced FEMA director Michael Brown of the suffering at the Convention Center mere blocks from where Brown was headquartered, yet unaware.

Oprah’s people were there, of course. Oprah, born in Katrina-devastated Waveland, Mississippi, and her celebrity friends had been in the region in the days after the storm, rescuing people and animals by boat. Oprah built homes for over 150 families displaced by Katrina and donated $10 million of her own money to the recovery efforts.

The morning show people were there, including Good Morning America co-host Robin Roberts, who is from Pass Christian, Mississippi, which was almost completely wiped out by Katrina. Roberts had breast cancer surgery only two weeks ago, but she made the trek to the Gulf to recap and reconnect, post-Katrina.

Politicians were there, including Sen. Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and Sen. Barack Obama, each making promises about recovery and rebuilding and reconstructing a failed FEMA system, each lambasting the failures of the current Administration to fix anything.

Even George Bush was there for the anniversary, despite the fact that he was unable to get there when the actual crisis happened, because he was returning from a five-week vacation.
There were so many outsiders in New Orleans this week that it’s been almost like Mardi Gras, except this isn’t a celebratory event, it’s a solemn and enraging one.

I used to live in New Orleans, and for years I returned to visit the city and friends. I had sat out several tropical storms and a hurricane or two in my years living in and visiting the Gulf Coast. Like most New Orleanians, I had served time removing mud and snakes and the other unsavory things that come into a house when it floods in New Orleans. But we’d never actually been underwater. Flooded, yes. Drowned, no.

I fell irrevocably in love with New Orleans and hardly a day goes by that I don’t think about the city. It was heart-breaking to see it so damaged by Katrina. It’s devastating to know it will never be the city it once was, that I can never share *that* place with my friends and family because it simply doesn’t exist anymore.

When I lived in New Orleans, I worked in a neighborhood called Treme, which was decimated by Katrina and where there has been little rebuilding. It was a scrubby little area on the fringe of Louis Armstrong Park with low-lying housing projects in white, clapboard houses. I also worked Uptown, on Magazine, near Tulane University, where the sweet olive trees lined the streets and the air was redolent of those trees and japonica and the roses that just grew wild along the avenue. Uptown was also flooded, the University closed.

I lived in several neighborhoods, including Desire, which was submerged by Katrina and the Irish Channel district and Bayou St. John, which were not so badly damaged.

An essay I wrote about the New Orleans I knew before Katrina appeared in the award-winning collection *Love, Bourbon Street: Reflections of New Orleans,* edited by Greg Herren and Paul J. Willis. In it I told the story of the New Orleans I knew for those who would never get to see *that* New Orleans, because it no longer exists.

I mark this anniversary with deep sadness and continued outrage. All week the cameras have been on New Orleans and the Gulf region. Reporters cannot get enough of the human interest and tragedy recalled and the stunning reality that so little has been rebuilt and so much has yet to be done. Why, one has to wonder, are there still houses strewn like matchsticks for blocks and blocks as if the storm happened days, not years, ago?

The news today from New Orleans is almost as shocking as the disaster itself: thousands are still living in FEMA trailers and tens of thousands more are still waiting for their federal rebuilding loans to come through two years after they applied for them. For two years FEMA moved trucks filled with ice–ice that would have saved lives if it had been delivered right after the storm, as needed–around the South at a cost of $13 million. In June, the ice was finally dumped. How much rebuilding would that $13 million have accomplished?

There are few doctors and fewer hospitals in New Orleans and some hospital personnel who stayed at Charity Hospital during the storm were just acquitted of homicide in a case that should never have been brought to trial. The doctor and three nurses were accused of allowing patients to die. No one talked about how many lives they saved, just by staying.

New Orleans is not like a Third World country as so many have suggested, but more like one of those Eastern bloc nations where things don’t quite run properly. Gas lines aren’t reconnected, new wells haven’t been dug. Kids are still attending classes in trailers and using port-o-potties as their bathroom facilities. A handful of rebuilt homes stand next to acres of rubble or big squares of cement foundations where neighboring houses once stood. Almost everything you need still has to be gotten from another place outside the city. New Orleans is very much still a city in progress–or in stasis.

A lot of reporters have focused on the crime in New Orleans, which is up exponentially since Katrina, but crime was always bad in New Orleans–it’s not a new phenomenon, it’s just a more painful one, now. Insult to injury. We used to say that the police waited until all threat of danger passed before they answered the calls. It was no surprise to some of us that so many police were the among the first to head out of town when disaster struck. Missing in action when they were most needed.

If you go up to anyone in New Orleans this week and ask about Katrina, they have a story. My close friend, New Orleans writer Greg Herren, has been battling outrage since he had to pack up his family and flee the city mere hours before the levees broke. He’s written several books about New Orleans. He’s headed literary festivals in the city for five years. He is committed to staying, but every day brings a new frustration, he told me. Unnecessary frustration. “It’s been two years, and we still don’t have adequate levee protection,” he noted. “Still.”

A report issued last week noted that the levees are wholly unequipped to save the city if another big storm hits.

Others I spoke with note that the only defense New Orleans has right now against a storm is, as one woman told me, “Pray the rain stops before we’re underwater again.” Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco was excoriated in the hours before the levees broke for saying much the same thing: Pray.

Property taxes have gone up, even as the costs of rebuilding the city have grown exponentially. It’s a near-fatal combination for those attempting to remain in the city, many with far less income than they had pre-Katrina.

Herren, who recently became involved in Democratic politics, spurred in part by the Katrina disaster said, “The city is recovering incredibly slowly and the Bush Administration is too busy covering their own behinds regarding their violations of the Constitution to care about a great American city and its citizens. The Founding Fathers are undoubtedly rolling in their graves.”

When, he asked, will the priority be placed on rebuilding New Orleans?

It’s a question that needs to be asked again and again. President Bush was in Minneapolis after the tragic bridge collapse where 14 people died and another couple dozen were injured, pledging support and federal recovery dollars. Thousands died in Katrina. A million people were displaced. Where is the follow-through on the promises Bush made in front of St. Louis Cathedral when most of the city was still underwater?

I had a lot of arguments with people in the days after Katrina, some of which I detailed in this column space. I asserted that the extent of the tragedy was exacerbated by the poverty of the city–it’s always been a very poor town, tourism dollars notwithstanding–and the racial and economic breakdown of the people who were stranded there. No one cared about the poor and the black. Apparently no one does, still.

In the weeks after Katrina, there was a lot of talk about not rebuilding the city. That talk is less voluble now, two years later, but it’s still mentioned as an option. And certainly the laissez-faire response of the Bush Administration to the catastrophe and its aftermath makes it clear that rebuilding the city from the levees up is no one’s priority, except perhaps the residents themselves.

If you’ve never been to New Orleans, you might not see the significance of the city in the national landscape. You might actually think that it doesn’t matter if it is never returned to some semblance of its former self.

You would be so wrong.

It isn’t just a matter of economics, although that element is huge. What happens to New Orleans impacts the entire nation. Remember how gas prices rose after Katrina? You might not have noticed how the price of fruit and vegetables rose as well. New Orleans is the largest port *in the country.* New Orleans is the port through which all the agricultural goods from the East Coast and South travel out of the country and the place through which all goods coming from South America, the Caribbean and Africa arrive. New Orleans is the gateway to oil coming from the Gulf to the rest of America and from where all oil exports leave.

New Orleans is an economic necessity. For that reason alone, all Americans should be concerned about its being rebuilt.

But it isn’t just the economics, it’s the mystery and beauty and *je ne sais quoi* of the town. It’s the taste of freshly caught Gulf shrimp, unlike anything else anywhere. The smell of beignets and chicory coffee. The sounds of jazz leaching out of club after club. It’s the history of the Wild Tchoupitoulas Indian musical tribe. It’s the jazz funerals and above-ground grave sites and the touch of voodoo in certain shops. It’s the artists on Jackson Square and the biscuits at the Hummingbird Grill and the sound of the foghorns off the Mississippi and the gospel-choir Sundays.

There’s a lot that can be said about this anniversary, but others are saying those things. There are reporters noting that after the war on Iraq, the greatest disgrace of the Bush Administration is the response to Katrina. Others have commented on the trauma so many suffered and are still suffering, unable to fully re-start their lives because it takes money and help and there’s a dearth of both. And of course, there’s the scandals–like the ice trucks traveling endlessly from place to place for two years–the scandals are many, the triumphs of a broken bureaucracy, few. Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), for example, was busy with prostitutes in brothels when he should have been demanding help for his constituents forced to breathe in formaldehyde in their trailers. And there are those showing us the footage and reminding us of the pivotal moments. Few of us will forget, for example, Mayor Ray Nagin’s anguished cry on national television in the days after Katrina, “Won’t somebody *please* help us?”

The need is not so dire today, two years after the storm changed the city forever and left the world with the indelible images of people on rooftops screaming, bodies floating in the water, dogs abandoned and howling on porches in ghost-town neighborhoods almost wholly underwater, red crosses marking houses where dead bodies lay rotting in the 90 degree heat.
I saw my former city going down for the third time in those days, two years ago, and I wept constantly for who and what was lost.

Today, I am sad and angry. It doesn’t take two years to rebuild a city the size of New Orleans. If ABC can build a house in a week on *Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,* why can’t the federal government rebuild a neighborhood or two or three in two long years in New Orleans? Couldn’t some of the $700 billion ear-marked for Iraq have gone to rebuild one of America’s most extraordinary cities?

Two long years later, it’s past time to fix the broken city of New Orleans. Build the levees, bulk up the wetlands and the delta to help break the storms as they come in. Get the neighborhoods running again. Take the half-built places back from the criminals. Make the police do their job. It’s not insurmountable. There aren’t insurgents behind every pile of rubble or on every rooftop. Much of New Orleans might still look like a war zone, but it isn’t one. No one will stand in the way of rebuilding. In fact, everyone will help.

New Orleans is one of the most unique cities in the world. Could we live without New York? Without Paris? Without Rome? Without London? Well we cannot live without New Orleans, either.

New Orleans is the setting for who we are as a country–it’s a city that’s about confluence and diversity and amalgamation and social and cultural jambalaya. New Orleans is the setting for where our hearts are, it’s America’s most romantic spot, it’s the place where our blood beats and jazz wafts into the night and the fog rolls in mysteriously and softens all the hard edges.
There are certain places that are treasures–there’s no place in the world like Venice, for example, which *is* slowly sinking into the sea and cannot be saved. But the water is gone from New Orleans. It can be rebuilt.

Two years after Katrina I am saying what I said two weeks after Katrina: We have to bring the city back, we have to make it work and tick and beat and breathe again as close to how it did before as possible.

It’s long past time to make rebuilding New Orleans the priority Bush promised it would be two years ago. Philadelphia is the birthplace of our nation’s liberty, New Orleans is the birthplace of our nation’s heart. And just as we cannot live without our liberty, we cannot and must not live without our heart.

Responding to Bush's "people" saying that the President landed the jet onto the USS Abraham Lincoln (and the subsequent denial of such), Jenny Hanniver writes:

I am a former Naval officer--I once was a pilot but not a Naval aviator and certainly not carrier-rated. I was, however, Education Officer--in charge of training--at two Naval Air Stations, and dated several pilots. I also went up as a backseat passenger in jets many times, attended Ground School at Ryan Aircraft where the Spirit of St Louis was built, obtained a small plane pilot's license, and underwent aviation physiology training, including jet ejection seat, full pressure (space) suit tests in an evacuated vacuum chamber, etc. So I know Naval aviation fairly well for someone who wasn't a military aviator.

You don't need to actually land on the deck of a carrier to understand the problems of doing so. All you need do is view a film of a jet landing on one, and you may begin to comprehend why ONLY THE MOST HIGHLY TRAINED AND SPECIALIZED NAVY & USMC AVIATORS would ever be allowed to do so. AIR FORCE PILOTS ARE NOT RATED TO LAND ON CARRIERS. Certainly Air National Guard pilots would never be! This is why Navy and Marine aviators consider themselves the world's best. They have to be, to survive.

During the final carrier approach the landing field is the size of a postage stamp, and until the last couple of seconds looks no larger than a book page, rapidly enlarging to a sheet of paper, a house, then suddenly it's THERE. The deck may be pitching slightly. Sea winds cause shear. You have to position the craft angle and line of descent just exactly right, account for all the variables, cut your engines at just the right moment--and you're still landing at high speed and need to be arrested by a net near the fantail. Even the finest aviators have drowned by overshooting the deck or going over the side. Others have landed too low and crashed into the superstructure or deck, at a high cost in money and sometimes lives. Aviation accidents are far more likely in carrier landings than in any other kind of aircraft landing. If the Navy didn't provide life insurance, carrier aviators would not be able to afford it. It's considered one of the highest-risk occupations in the world. I personally worked with a few aviators who died in carrier accidents.

To think that the Navy would EVER EVEN CONSIDER allowing someone who bombed out of Air National Guard training from not bothering to take a physical exam, and who had no jet pilot experience whatsoever in 30 years, is totally absurd. The president, the Queen of England, the pope, or whoever, would be told flatly, NO. Only rated carrier aviators are allowed to make these landings.

To any person who actually believes that Bush landed a jet on that carrier: have you ever bought the Brooklyn Bridge? I'll bet you would if someone offered it for only $10,000 (great bargain, real cheap). Because you are one of the "Suckers Born Every Minute" P.T. Barnum made his living from. The Bush administration relies on the blind suckerdom of people like you.

In response to, "Dozens of studies have shown that men who participate in cruel and inhumane treatment of animals–which in this case also included actual killing–have an underlying sociopathology. Men who abuse animals are likely to abuse people as well. Every known serial killer convicted in the U.S. tortured and killed animals before moving on to humans. Torturing animals is well outside the realm of normal behavior," David W. writes:

Young Georgie Bush, enjoyed putting M-80's in the mouths of frogs and blowing them up.

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-Noah Greenberg