Wednesday, September 21, 2005

fall has fell

I don't want to make a habit of relying on other people's words here, but (and there's always a but isnt' there) Garrison Keillor's piece today at begs to be cited (and it's a pay-for-content sit—which I commend as a bargain at $35 a year for the premium membership—so you can't read it unless you join, which I hope you will). Anyway, Mr. Keillor's piece today is...well, it includes the following:

"It's a hard fall for George W. Bush. His career was based on creating low expectations and then meeting them, but Katrina was a blast of reality. The famous headline said, 'Bush: One of the Worst Disasters to Hit the U.S.' and many people took that literally. Poor black people huddled together in the Superdome were seen on national TV, people stretched out asleep between the goal lines, and a 911 operator broke into sobs telling what it was like to talk to little kids in flooded houses and two weeks later the president had become a New Deal liberal and was calling for a major anti-poverty program in the Gulf and hang the expense. The annual deficit is running around $300 billion, but the president says we can afford a few hundred billion in hurricane repair without a tax increase, even if we call it a 'hurricane impact fee.'

"Meanwhile we are pushing a large deception down the road -- the idea that the war in Iraq is to defend us against terrorism -- at enormous expense to our armed services and also to the Treasury, and for Americans who remember the last time a Texas president told us we must 'stay the course,' there is a certain sinking feeling.

"But that's life. It happened to the Romans and the Mayans and the Sumerians and it's happening to us. In our society, as in those, the Grand Poobah gives the orders and the lackeys, minions, henchmen and stooges carry them out, and when the experimental plane with the lead-covered wings crashes, the minions return to His Eminence and lick his boots and he dispatches a yes man to chastise the fall guy, and then the fall guy whips the whipping boy, and then both of them pound on the goat. And construction begins on a new lead-covered airplane, except this time the lead is twice as thick. It's a supply-side theory: The greater the weight, the greater the buoyancy.

"Solomon said, 'The thing that has been is the thing that shall be; and the thing that is done is that which shall be done: There is nothing new under the sun.' Or, to put it a slightly different way, a man walked into the house with a handful of dog waste and said, 'Look what I almost stepped in.'"

Monday, September 19, 2005

mucking around

I stumbled on this annotated Katrina timeline tonight. Boy did I stumble.

Follow the official links to the offices of the Governors of Louisiana and Mississippi, The White House, the Department of Defense, FEMA, the Department of Homeland Security. Skip the media reports altogether if you like.

I don't have a category for this behavior.

Wait. Maybe I do...

accountability is to responsibility as competence is to ____________.

"Michael Brown…is to Katrina what Paul Bremer is to peace in Iraq; what George Tenet is to slam dunk intelligence; what Paul Wolfowitz is to parades paved with flowers in Baghdad; what Dick Cheney is to visionary energy policy; what Donald Rumsfeld is to basic war planning; what Tom Delay is to ethics; and what George Bush is to “Mission Accomplished” and "Wanted Dead or Alive." The bottom line is simple: The "we'll do whatever it takes" administration doesn't have what it takes to get the job done." — John Kerry in a speech at Brown University, September 19, 2005

Friday, September 16, 2005


Maybe Malfunction54 was being ironic. I love irony!

the high road

Malfunction54 hopes Halliburton and other no-bid contractors working in the Gulf states (US, not Persian) will be released by the suspension of the Davis-Bacon Act to bring in outside workers at higher than the prevailing rate of pay.

I appreciate the optimism inherent in that hope. That said, there are no laws limiting the upper limits of pay for laborers as this has not yet been a problem of any legal consequence.

The problem is officially sanctioned oppression. The President of the United States issued an Executive Order to ensure that the hands that (re)build America need not be paid a living wage.

Does anyone reading these words live independently on $9 an hour?
$9 x 40 hours = $360 a week.
x 4 = $1440 a month.
- rent
- utilities
- food
- transportation to and from work
- health insurance (who are we kidding?)

Who are we kidding? This is a shame.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

let them eat more cake

Last week Mr. Bush signed an executive order suspending something called the Davis-Bacon Act. The 1931 law requires federally-funded contractors to pay laborers the prevailing wage in the area where the construction takes place. In New Orleans, the prevailing rate for construction workers is $9 an hour.

The weight of Mr. Bush's suspension of Davis-Bacon is that contractors who have been given no bid and cost plus contracts in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina may pay workers as little as they will take.

Hmm...let's see: homeless, unemployed, workers offered five or six bucks an hour on a take-it-or-leave-it basis by corporations guaranteed a fixed percentage of profit… That sounds about right. That's the American spirit I celebrate each and every Labor Day. And it's certainly what I imagine Jesus would do.

Is there no upright man or woman in the Congress who will call this man to account for this evil? Is there no prophet in the land to wake him from this spell? Does he not have a single friend with the heart to break his heart on behalf of the oppressed?

Not today. Today is business as usual.

It's a good thing Mr. Bush doesn't read. Otherwise he might hear the words of God and turn in mid-stride and spoil everything.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

will they or won't they

I've declared in this space a conviction that the U.S. Senate will have to take on this Administration in the weeks ahead to rein in behavior that appears consistently mad.

It was Chesterton (in Orthodoxy, I think) who described the utter consistency of the madman. Normal people leave room for all the things that don't fit -- all life's rough edges and incongruities. The mad man, he said, constructs a mental system into which every detail fits tongue in groove. Think Mel Gibson's character in Conspiracy Theory.

I've seen this in meth addicts -- the capacity to make everything fit, including those strangers causing these heart palpitations somehow connected to that dollar bill that keeps showing up in stores and restaurants: "NO, NO, YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND! I KNOW THEY ALL LOOK ALIKE BUT THIS IS THE SAME DOLLAR BILL AND IT'S FREAKING ME OUT!"

I've also witnessed this apitute in fundamentalists of just about every persuasion. This is one reason I have so little regard for systematic theologies; it's crazy how neat they are.

I say all that to say this: Even if they aren't madmen, I believe Mr. Bush and his associates are political fundamentalists whose philosophically-driven behavior seems crazy and yields crazy results. Or maybe they're just on drugs.

I'm willing to be persuaded on this but I don't see anyone except the United States Senate positioned to rebuff the Bush Doctrine and it's assault on the common good. This is not to diminsh the House of Representatives. They just seem too scattered to make a difference any time soon.

What troubles me lately is the number of people -- especially those in their 20s and 30s -- who simply don't believe the Senate is capable of standing up to the President. They base this opinion on recent behavior and I have to admit they have a point.

Most don't have the historical memory to know that they're grandparents' Senators put a stop to the madness of Richard Nixon (I know it's more complicated than that, but bear with me if you can).

I have vivid recollections of the work of Senators Sam Ervin, the Democrat from North Carolina, Howard Baker, the Republican from Tennessee, Edward Gurney, the Republican from Florida, Daniel Inouye, the Democrat from Hawaii, Joseph Montoya, the Democrat from New Mexico, Herman Talmadge, the Democrat from Georgia and Lowell Weicker, the Republican from Connecticut.The Senate commissioned them to build a case against the President if there was a case to be made. Their findings fueled articles of impeachment in the House of Representatives, which led to Mr. Nixon's resignation.

I remember precisely where I was when I heard that Mr. Nixon resigned. And I remember my first thought: It works. Our democracy works.

I tend to believe it still.

We can, and I think we must, tell our hundred Senators what we want them to do about the war, easy access to assault weapons, the ugly underbelly of the Patriot Act, retaining the estate tax, rescinding tax cuts to our wealthiest citizens and ensuring health care for our most vulnerable citizens.

I think this is too important to leave to pollsters. I'm convinced now is the time to speak directly to our Senators. It's never been easier: Here are their email addresses.

We have nothing to lose by speaking our minds and a great deal to gain when they hear us. Will they or won't they? History suggests they will.

Friday, September 09, 2005

a rising tide or let them eat cake

This today from Eugene Robinson in the Washington Post.

"To be poor in America was to be invisible, but not after this week, not after those images of the bedraggled masses at the Superdome, convention center and airport. No one can claim that the post-Reagan orthodoxy of low taxes and small government, which does wonders for the extremely rich, also inevitably does wonders for the extremely poor.

"What was that about a rising tide lifting all boats? What if you don't have a boat?"

I think everyone who dogged John Edwards for saying there are two Americas owes someone an apology. I think they (and we) should pay the debt with generous, sustained, redemptive action.

Monday, September 05, 2005

as i feared...and then some

It has long been my suspicion that President Bush chooses -- or has been chosen by -- an unfortunate group of associates.

The goings-on of the past week -- the federal government's shockingly dismal failure -- in the wake of hurricane Katrina blows right past my worst apprehensions about cronyism and deadly incompetence.

I don't often rely on other people's words in this space but Bob Schieffer and Keith Olberman have, quite simply, said it better than I can.

Yesterday Mr. Schieffer said:

"We have come through what may have been one of the worst weeks in America's history, a week in which government at every level failed the people it was created to serve. There is no purpose for government except to improve the lives of its citizens. Yet as scenes of horror that seemed to be coming from some Third World country flashed before us, official Washington was like a dog watching television. It saw the lights and images, but did not seem to comprehend their meaning or see any link to reality.

"As the floodwaters rose, local officials in New Orleans ordered the city evacuated. They might as well have told their citizens to fly to the moon. How do you evacuate when you don't have a car? No hint of intelligent design in any of this. This was just survival of the richest.

"By midweek a parade of Washington officials rushed before the cameras to urge patience. What good is patience to a mother who can't find food and water for a dehydrated child? Washington was coming out of an August vacation stupor and seemed unable to refocus on business or even think straight. Why else would Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert question aloud whether New Orleans should even be rebuilt? And when he was unable to get to Washington in time to vote on emergency aid funds, Hastert had an excuse only Washington could understand: He had to attend a fund-raiser back home.

"Since 9/11, Washington has spent years and untold billions reorganizing the government to deal with crises brought on by possible terrorist attacks. If this is the result, we had better start over."

Today, Keith Olberman had his turn.

Please: Get past the opening volley of angry sarcasm and heed the point of Mr. Olberman's rant on The "city" of Louisiana.