|DEMOCRACY: DEAD OR ALIVE|
Part 4 of 5
Racism and Thievery in Florida
The final official tally put Bush just hundred of votes ahead of Gore in Florida's 2000 Presidential Election: 2,912,790 for Bush to 2,912,253 for Gore. When the Supreme Court illegaly prevented the counting of votes in Florida, Gore was less than 300 votes behind and counting.
I. REPUBLICAN THEFT OF BLACK VOTES
Florida is part of a minority of states who do not allow ex felons to vote in Presidential Elections. Of the 35 states who do allow ex-felons to vote, they vote 90% for the Democrats. Florida has nearly half a million ex-felons who are denied the right to vote. Clearly if these people were allowed to vote, Gore would have won. The law remains the law, however, we need not point to that stat to establish a stolen election. Still it's worth noting that nearly all of these people are poor blacks and latinos.
The problem with the purge of ex-felons from the voter list is that the Republican appartus went way too far and broke the law. In 1998, Florida became the first state in the union to privatize the purge of felons from the voting rolls. The Republican Secretary of State handed the firm over to a friendly Republican company, Database Technologies (now known ans ChoicePoint, Inc.).
If you commit a felony in a state which does not deny ex-felons the right to vote, you retain voting rights when you move to a state that denies ex-felons voting rights. Nonetheless, 3000 people who committed felonies in states where they retained their voting rights were purged from the rolls in 2000 and made ineligble to vote. The full faith and credit clause of the Constitution guarantees that each state honor the judicial decrees of the other states. These felons all were guaranteed the restoration of their voting rights at the end of a given period through the statutes relating to their convictions in other states. Florida had to honor their voting rights without asking them to do anything more. The only 2 Florida cases on point, one of which was at the Court of Appeals, and both explained that the law was clear: Florida must let these people vote. Jeb Bush, believing himself to be a dictator, ignored the courts and the legislature. No statute authorized Bush’s action to unilaterally purge all of these people from the rolls.
Another list of purged voters include 8,000 people convicted of misdemeanors. Misdemeanants have the right to vote; that purge was patently illegal. It was up to local election officials to try and sort out who really could vote, something which likely didn’t happen for most of those purged voters. The NAACP later sued the state of Florida for the illegal voter purge and ended up settling for an undisclosed large amount. Unfortunately, by then George W. Bush had already been “selected” President.
II. "SPOILED VOTES"
The Republican Party continued their terrorist attack upon our nation’s democracy by gaming the system to destroy black votes. In heavily black, Democratic Gadsden county, one in 8 votes was ruled “spoiled” and discarded. The Republican Secretary of State Katherine Harris equipped Gadsden with an optical vote machine that labeled votes as “spoiled” if they had just one extra mark anywhere on the ballot. Further, the ballots were unusually confusing. In a nearby white, heavily Republican Tallahasse county, they used the same confusing ballots. Yet there, local officals examined the votes to ensure people were filling them out correctly. Voters were able to revote until they got it right. The black voters in Gadsden county did not get the same treatment. This is the equal protection violation, not the nonsense the Supreme Court shoveled to us when they awarded the Election to Bush.
53% of the 180,000 “spoiled” votes belonged to Black voters. Blacks constitute just 13% of the voting population in Florida. Do the math: blacks lost votes disproportionately and this cost Gore the election.
III. VIOLATING THE RULE OF LAW: THE BROOKS BROTHERS RIOT AND MEDIA COMPLICITY
Although both Bush and Gore had to fight the same fight in the courts, Bush spent 4 times as much money on the recount than Gore. How can this be? The answer is simple and sadistic: while Gore's money went almost entirely to lawyers, Bush's money went mostly to funding a PR war. The idea of Bush was that the law would follow the PR, despite the fact that the law exists independtly of political spin. Bush was right.
Thousands of dollars went to Republican operatives across the nation. They appeared on TV shows, speeches all over America and demonstrations in Florida itself. The common thread: Democrats were inventing votes and trying to steal the election. (It's often effective to denounce the exact practice one is guilty of committing; it's a classic trick of scam artists to deflect attention.)
The Republican disdain for the rule of law showed itself when George W. Bush began publicly denouncing the Florida Supreme Court for trying to usurp the power of the legislature. Bush seemed to forget that the role of the courts is to interpret law. Gore, on the other hand, said that he disagreed with the Supreme Court's ultimate decision but that he would respect the rule of law. The Republicans shared no such respect.
This Republican hatred of the rule of law culminated in an immoral riot to subvert the legal process. On November 22, 2000, the Miami canvassing board announced that they would begin to review 10,750 disputed ballots which had not previously been counted. Brendan Quinn, the executive director of the Republican Party of New York, told two dozen Republican operatives to storm the room and stop the recount. The media and most onlookers were stunned; the popular assumption at the time was that mere concerned citizens had broken through. To the Republicans, the idea that concerned citizens would try and physically stop illegal counting of votes presented the ideal message with which to sell their story about Democratic vote theivery. The canvassing board had that a Republican conspiracy was actually responsible for the mob. The mob entered the room and began screaming to try and get the vote count shut down. Proof positive evidence later emerged that at least 12 of the rioters were Republican operatives; 6 were directly paid from Bush's recount fund.
The Republican mod succeeded. Fearing physical violence, the canvassing board stopped the recount within minutes. The Brooks Brothers Riot was an organized Republican effort to defeat the rule of law by acting like ravenous animals fighting for food: no rules, no laws, winning is everything.
The media never bothered to investigate the Brooks Brothers riot. Since the discussion is beyond the scope of this article, I won't get into detail, but suffice it to say the corporate media played a huge role in Election 2000. First, the media crucified Al Gore for a series of alleged “lies” that had nothing to do with governance while gave Bush a free pass to viciously lie about his tax and social security plans. Gore never said he created the internet or that he “found” Love Canal, but the media repeated those lies anyways. To the media, it was ok to lie about complex details that actually affect America, but not ok to misspeak about pointless events. Second, the media's so-called "objectivity" turned the corporate media into a bullhorn for Republican propaganda. Objectivity is reporting the truth without the spin; the facts as they present themselves. The media doesn't report in this manner -- to the media, "objectivity" is just reporting what the Democrats said and then what the Republicans said and equating both views as equally plausible. Objective analysis of the facts, however, plays no role in the modern day media. Bush can keep saying that "the verdict is out" on global warming and the news keeps repeating it without adding that the verdict is in fact NOT out on global warming. In Election 2000, Democrats tried to argue like professors in a salon while Republicans argued whatever served their position best, regardless of the truth of their claims. Third, the media helped give legitimacy to Bush's Presidency that was undeserved. Despite findings that Gore would have won the election had a statewide recount been conducted, the media spun the results heavily for Bush. He was the President and his party were the ones paying their bills. The truth mattered not to the corporate media. Evil logic, but logic nonetheless. Finally, the media didn’t care about the Supreme Court’s theft or about the massive theft of votes in Florida. Once 2001 rolled around, they had bigger fish to fry: Gary Condit and Chandra Levy.
IV. CONCLUSION; OTHER SHENANIGANS
The 2000 election contained the trademark of past Republican victories: massive disenfranchisement of solidly Democratic black voters. But 2000 was far more troubling than usual. The felon purge reflected a conscious violation of the rule of law in order to “win” elections. The design of poor voting machines in black districts pointed to a more specific plan than normal. Events like the Brooks Brothers Riot showed that a right-wing army of foot soldiers had been assembled to throw the election to Bush at all costs.
The 2000 election left a lot of people with a bad taste in their mouths. The Republicans had long been disdainful of democracy, but after 2000 no one could ignore the GOP's massive war against the democratic process. What could come next? And now that the world would closely follow future US elections for election fraud, would the Republicans still be able to openly flaunt democracy?
My argument in Democracy: Dead or Alive is that it would be foolish to assume that the war on democracy ended in 2000. The motive and opportunity remained there, although massive felon purges weren’t going to work anymore in the future. New tactics would be required, and perhaps have been tried. In my final post in this series, I will examine allegations of voter fraud in subsequent elections.
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This Date in History
Tuesday, September 27, 2005
Monday, September 26, 2005
|Halliburton: An Example of the Pro-Welfare, Anti-Free Market Ideology of the Republican Party|
When the United States invaded Iraq, Halliburton's stock stood at $20 per share. As of September 20th, 2 and a half years of war profiteering had brought Halliburton's stock to $66 per share. Clearly, this business deal worked for Halliburton. Unlike most companies, however, Halliburton didn't earn profit for high quality work. They earned profit for shoddy work they obtained by subverting the free market.
Halliburton took $10.7 billion for "work" in Iraq between 2003 and 2004 alone. This constitutes a staggering 52% of all money given to contractors in Iraq. Some of this payment has been pure profit: Halliburton famously charged the United States $2.68 per gallon to import Gas to Iraq from Kuwait; a government agency did the exact same job for $1.57 per gallon. Halliburton provided 10,000 meals a day but charged us for 20,000.
Halliburton didn't get a no bid contract to remove gold fillings from the victims of Hurricane Katrina, but these days that's not so far from the mark. Let's recap the situation: First, paying Halliburton for twice as much work as they actually do equals corporate welfare. See, as conservatives love to point out, welfare is money for free. That's what we are giving Halliburton every single day. Second, no-bid contracts belong only in Communist countries; the very essence of the free market is competition. My tax dollars go subsidize a corporation who has proven to cheat America. Continuing to give cash to people doing shit work defies the free market.
I challenge any Republican reading this to answer a simple question: If you are in favor of a free market and against welfare, how can you justify the Republican treatment of Halliburton?
I don't expect an answer because there is no way to rationalize the Republican talk with the Republican walk. A vote for the Republican Party is a vote against the free market, for wasteful spending and for massive welfare, albeit only to mega-rich corporations.
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
|DEMOCRACY: DEAD OR ALIVE|
Part 3 of 5
The Court Goes Corporate: Abandoning the Rule of Law to Appoint Bush
On Saturday, December 9, 2000, five people stole the election for George W. Bush. Justices Rehnquist, Scalia, Thomas, Kennedy and O'Connor favored Republican politics to the rule of law and the will of the people.
This series marks my attempt to prove that the Republican Party devalues democracy and manipulates elections. The proof of my argument lies in the GOP's actions over the past 50 years; Part 1 explained the GOP's role in widespread voter disenfranchisement in 1960s; Part 2 focused on the illegal impeachment of President Clinton which attempted to undermine the legitimate results of the 1996 election. The story continues today with Republican malfeasance in 2000, this time coming from the Supreme Court. The goal of the Democracy: Dead or Alive series is to provide the framework for a legitimate debate as to whether democracy can truly be said to exist in light of the Republicans' recent actions.
In 2000, two potentially treasonous efforts launched by Republican Party and its operatives stole the election from Al Gore, the rightful winner of both Florida and the popular vote: 1) The unconscionable Supreme Court decision that prevented the counting of votes and 2) the coordinated Republican voting fraud centered around the illegal disqualification of eligible black voters. Both Republican efforts served to negate the democratic process in 2000. Today, I focus only on the Supreme Court’s role; the next post in this series will look at the shameful theft of votes in 2000.
II. THE ELECTORAL TIE GOES TO THE COURTS
We all remember the deadlocked election and the subsequent recount. No one wanted a recount, but a recount to ensure the most accurate tabulation of the citizen’s votes was obviously a paramount concern. Soon, however, all the Republicans wanted to talk about was time tables, not getting the job done right.
Federal law gives state broad discretion as to the time for choosing electors. As such, on November 21, the Florida Supreme Court decided to extend the time for ballot certification past the time designated by statute. On December 1, the United States Supreme Court first intervened and unanimously sent the case back to the Florida Supreme Court with instructions to rewrite its opinion to avoid creating a federal question.
On December 8, the Florida Supreme Court ordered a statewide recount of all ballots. This was easily the most sensible approach to take at this time. The election was hotly disputed by both sides; Republicans and Democrats alike were unsure if all the votes had been counted. A complete recount, scrutinized throughout America and the world, would be the most fair, equitable way to resolve the 2000 dispute.
On Saturday December 9, the conservative justices panicked. The recounts had begun and Bush’s lead had been cut in half. With Gore only trailing by less than 200 votes, the Supreme Court issued a 5-4 opinion that stopped the recounts and handed the election to Bush. Had the Supreme Court been legally compelled to issue this decision, I wouldn’t be writing this article and we would have no story. The problem was that the Court abused its power and acted contrary to the law to turn the election towards their Republican hero. As a result, Corporate Evil won this battle.
III. THE SUPREME COURTS' DECISION TO FORCE FLORIDA TO STOP COUNTING VOTES HAD NO REASONABLE BASIS IN LAW, HENCE IT WAS AN ILLEGITIMATE ATTEMPT TO UNDERMINE DEMOCRACY.
A. The Court Has No Reasonable Basis For Its Claim That the Florida Supreme Court Violated Article II by “Impermissibly Distorting” Florida Election Law
The Yale Journal of Law (110 YLJ 1407, no link available) considers the Court’s strongest legal argument to be Rehnquist’s concurring decision, not the 5-4 majority opinion which focused on Equal Protection. The concurring opinion finds its basis in Article II, Section 1, Clause 2 of the Constitution: “[E]ach State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct," electors for president and vice president. Rehnquist argued that the legislature had complete plenary power to determine how to choose electors. The Florida Supreme Court could not alter that power in any way, even to avoid a conflict with the Florida Constitution.
The problem with Rehnquist’s view is that one cannot divorce the courts from legislature. Both are equal components of the lawmaking process. The legislature makes laws, but when it comes to conflict in laws, the courts resolve disputes, just as they always do. More importantly, the legislature specifically delegated authority to the Courts to decide election contests.
The Florida legislature specifically created the right to sue in federal courts to contest election results. That is part of the “manner as the legislature thereof may direct.” The Florida Supreme Court used its power to interpret a conflict in laws when it ordered a statewide recount. Rehnquist acknowledges that courts can interpret election law, that interpretation cannot involve a “significant departure” from the prior law and cannot “impermissibly distort” the statutes “beyond what a fair reading required.” Since the Florida election statutes were rewritten in 1999, nearly all questions of interpretation were of first impression for the Florida Supreme Court. A “significant departure” would be nearly impossible in the absence of precedent.
Rehnquist argued that a legal vote was only the vote punched out and read by the punch card machine. He claimed that voters were given clear instructions on how to vote properly and if they didn’t vote so that the machine read their votes, they were illegal no matter if the intent of the voter was otherwise clear. The Florida Supreme Court took had argued that these votes, called “undervotes”, should be counted if the intent of the voter was clear. This constituted a "fair reading" of the election statutes that failed to "impermissibily distort" them.
Rehnquist and the Bush team longed argued that December 12, 6 days before the electoral college meets, was the drop dead date for the end of the recounts. Hence, no more recounts could occur under the Court’s decision because the Court believed that they would never be finished in time. But by federal law (3 U.S.C. §5), this only creates a “safe harbor” that guarantees a state that its votes will be counted; electoral votes have come in late all sorts of times and always had been counted. Rehnquist believed that since the Florida Legislature wrote that the votes had to be in by December 12th, that was enough. Yet the court had to balance meeting an artificial deadline with counting all the legal votes in the state of Florida. Given a balance between a legal fiction and a fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution, Rehnquist chose the fiction to select George W. Bush.
The real problem with the Republican Court’s opinion lies in the complete disregard for standards of review. The Florida Supreme Court had the most authoritative understanding of Florida election law. The standard of review when interpreting state statutes is not purely de novo but requires some deference to the state court interpreting its only statutes. By Rehnquist's own phrasing of the standard of review, the Supreme Court could only overturn Florida's decision if a “significant departure” existed that “impermissibly distorted” the statutes “beyond what a fair reading required.” But Rehnquist's interpretation wasn’t any more legally sound than Florida's decision. The Florida Supreme Court’s reasoning failed to meet Rehnquist's standard that would allow the Court to overturn its decision and announce a violation of Article II.
B. The Court has No Reasonable Basis for Its Claim That Recounts Violated Equal Protection by Using Different Standards of Vote Tabulation Because the Majority of Elections Use Different Standards of Vote Tabulation.
The 5-4 majority used Equal Protection, not Article II, to justify handing the election to Bush.
The majority pointed to the fact that just three counties in Florida were counting overvotes – votes which machines read as voting for “2” candidates but which the voter’s intent could clearly be ascertained by human inspection. All other counties limited their count to the undervotes – votes with no recorded vote but where the voter intent can clearly be ascertained – which is as the Florida Supreme Court had ordered in its December 8 opinion. Since this discrepancy meant that certain votes could get counted in some places but not in others, the Court found an Equal Protection violation.
The fundamental flaw in this argument is that within states, different methods of counting ballots across different counties occur all the time. Hence, the court's logic only holds water if its reasoning is that states can count votes differently the first time, but on a recount one must employ a uniform standard. There is no logical justification for distinguishing the two methods of counting votes since a recount replaces the first count and involves the exact same means and end.
The court further held that is decision was “limited to the present circumstances,” which has been treated as making the decision “not precedent.” Black voters seeking to remedy equal protection violations had no ammo as the political Republican Justices exposed their flagrant disregard for the rule of law. The common law follows precedent; to declare a decision that effects a Presidential Election “not precedent” stands above the rule of law.
The Court created brand new Equal Protection doctrine created from scratch to justify Bush’s appointment. If the Court was really concerned with a serious Equal Protection violation affecting a Presidential Election, the Court easily could have remanded the case and conducted a recount using a uniform standard. This was Justice Breyer’s opinion; he agreed with the 5 conservatives that an Equal Protection violation existed, but he wanted to send the case back to the Florida Supreme Court to conduct a manual recount. The majority dismisses this argument in a sentence – the Florida statute says the 12th is the day, and violating that day would not make an “appropriate order” of the court. The court reasons that since a a conflict in laws exists, a minor, technical statutory violation should take precedence over a massive Constitutional violation. This is unbelievable. When two laws conflict, a weighing test must be conducted. The balancing test here reveals the remedy of the Equal Protection Violation to take precedence. The Court, however, cared little for the rule of law. They wanted Bush as President and were prepared to misuse their positions to do it.
IV. JUSTICES WITH CRIMINAL INTENT
It’s fairly obvious that the Court knew that its legal reasoning had no merit. Is this a crime? No, because no statute on the books provides for such a crime. Prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi argues that although the Court violated no statute, the Justices had criminal intent because they knew their actions were “morally reprehensible.” Regardless of whether it’s called a crime or not, no justification exists under the spirit of the Constitution for stealing elections .
The 2000 “selection” shocked Americans into the reality that an objective Supreme Court ceased to exist. The Court revealed itself as political institution despite the contrary intent of the founding fathers. The Republican members of the court became the very judicial activists that the GOP propaganda machines rail against. The Supreme Court, effectively, caved into the interests of corporate evil rather than obey their oath to the Constitution. This decision by the 5 conservative Justices has resulted in the death of thousands of Americans and enormous wealth transfers from poor to mega-rich. The maintenance of free elections is key to American democracy and essential to the hearts of human beings. To undermine these values demonstrates a profound disrespect for our nation and our Constitution.
Misusing the power of the Supreme Court was not the only manner in which the Republicans stole the 2000 election. In my next post in this series, I’ll address the more troubling issue of massive racism and voting fraud that helped send the election to the courts to begin with.
Tuesday, September 20, 2005
A Raw Deal.
Republicans Plan to Exploit the Katrina Recovery Effort to Mask a Massive Conservative Overhaul of Government
Hints about how the reconstruction money will be used and where the money could come from have begun to emerge. In the first few days after Katrina, Bush gave no-bid contracts exclusively to Republican donors such as Halliburton and Bechtel. Bush allowed contractors to pay below the prevailing wage in violation of the 1931 Davis-Beacon Act. The GOP quickly attacked any attempt at conservation and instead suggested more oil drilling was needed to meet any gas shortages. Karl Rove was put in charge of the Katrina Reconstruction Effort.
1. The GOP will gut Medicare/Medicaid to Finance Tax Cuts for the Mega-Rich
All these hints suggest a more sinister motive: remaking government without anyone noticing. Grover Norquist, head of the group Americans for Tax Reform and one of the leaders of the modern conservative movement, once famously said that conservatives should shrink government "down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub." The idea, long held by conservatives, is to spend so much on war, tax cuts and other programs that benefit GOP interests so that there is simply no room in the budget for any progressive social programs. Our current budget is 2.56 trillion dollars. 20% of that goes to interest on government debt. Another 20% goes to defense, which cannot be cut in the post 9/11 era, at least with Republicans in charge. 20% goes to Social Security payments, which are historically a political third rail, but could potentially get cut if the GOP can somehow justify doing so. Another 20% goes to Medicare and Medicaid; Medicare will be difficult to cut but Medicaid will likely get slashed. It's always easier to hurt the poor than to hurt the elderly. The last 20% goes to everything else, from paying for security for Bush, to supporting every federal government agency, to giving corporate welfare to GOP donors. These will get cut, but likely the only agencies who will suffer are those that help the non-donating poor, unlike the rich who finance and control the Republican Party.
We had a huge deficit before Katrina hit. Now it's even bigger. The most obvious thing to do is increase our revenue base in the face of a huge deficit. Just like if you had to do your personal budget and you simply couldn't cut costs anymore, you might have to get a second job. Only in America, it's easier than that: just raise taxes on the mega-rich. I've detailed before how Big Oil's profits are simply out of control. The Center for Economic and Policy Research estimates that $10 billion could be raised merely by taxing the windfall profits of these corporate evil-doers.
Of course, George W. Bush didn't get elected because he was the best steward of our economy. He got elected to help the mega-rich at all costs. So despite a huge budget problem, Bush has made one thing clear : No new taxes, period. Unlike his dad, I believe him too.
2. Conservative Policy Goals Will Be Enacted Under Trojan Horse Labels of "Katrina Reconstruction"
We've already seen this happen when Bush allowed contractors to pay below the prevailing wage in violation of the 1931 Davis-Beacon Act. Vast right wing machinery such as the American Enterprise Institute are frothing at the mouth: "If there is a silver lining in this tragedy it is that it is creating an atmosphere to try new approaches to ending long-term poverty." On their website, AEI recommends slashing social programs to pay for the entire cost of recovery. Undoubtedly, the goal of rebuilding New Orleans on the cheap will lead to exploitation of workers and will likely make it difficult for the poor in exchange for making things like home ownership for the rich easier.
At this point, these kinds of ideas are really just floating around in Rove and Bush's head, but when you start seeing these kinds of laws, don't say I didn't tell you so. I intend to document these conservative trojan horse laws as they come through Congress.
III. Conclusion The sad reality of the Katrina disaster is that, under normal conditions, our economy would be in much better shape to handle the costs. However, we've already spent over $100 billion on an illegal war in Iraq. Illegal war has already worked to eliminate the possibility of social progress; Katrina promises to become another conservative tool to further "drown" the government. To continue to help the mega-rich buy yachts while poor people must do without medical care constitutes a crime against the American people. Bush's actions in the coming months could potentially reshape our government for generations by squeezing the welfare state and undoing much of the progress made during FDR's New Deal.
The sad reality of the Katrina disaster is that, under normal conditions, our economy would be in much better shape to handle the costs. However, we've already spent over $100 billion on an illegal war in Iraq. Illegal war has already worked to eliminate the possibility of social progress; Katrina promises to become another conservative tool to further "drown" the government. To continue to help the mega-rich buy yachts while poor people must do without medical care constitutes a crime against the American people. Bush's actions in the coming months could potentially reshape our government for generations by squeezing the welfare state and undoing much of the progress made during FDR's New Deal.
Friday, September 16, 2005
Karl Rove to Head Katrina Reconstruction Effort
Buried in paragraph 9 of a New York Times article previewing Bush's speech on Katrina laid this implausible fact: Karl Rove, Bush's chief political adviser, has been put in charge of the reconstruction effort for Katrina.
First, this makes me think about how Michael Brown, former head of the International Arabian Horse Association, found his way to head FEMA. Bush didn't learn his lesson that people with no experience in disaster management have no business rebuilding New Orleans. Rove's entire body of experience relates only to political matters.
Second, it's a perfect example of how everything is politics to the Republican Party. Rove clearly won't be micromanaging the finer points of levee restoration and soil toxicity. Rove has been put on the job to handle this in such a way as to make the Republicans look good and their enemies look bad. Karl Rove, if you don't already know, once charged the Democratic opponent of his candidate Bill Clements with bugging Clements' office. Rove announced this at a press conference the night before the candidates' debate. The problem with the story: the battery on the bug only had a three hour lifespan. Unless Democrats were able to get in and out of Perry's office every three hours, there was no way Rove's story could be true. Karl Rove also was behind push-polls in 2000 that asked far-right voters in the South whether they would be less likely to vote for John McCain if they knew he fathered a black child out of wedlock. The truth is that McCain adopted a girl from Bangledish; the trick was to make McCain look bad to racist Republicans. Karl Rove has been willing to employ shady, often illegal, tactics to ensure Republican victories. He is Bush's right hand man who Bush referred to as "the architect" of his campaign in his victory speech last fall. I highly recommend everyone watch the documentary Bush's Brain for more Rove stories.
Third, Rove's involvement means that the rebuilding effort won't be non-political. Pay for play governance promises to be in order, as we have already seen Halliburton receive no bid contracts to rebuild in New Orleans. Bush's speech last night hinted as this conservative policy goal:
Federal funds will cover the great majority of the costs of repairing public infrastructure in the disaster zone, from roads and bridges to schools and water systems. Our goal is to get the work done quickly. And taxpayers expect this work to be done honestly and wisely -- so we'll have a team of inspectors general reviewing all expenditures.
Hmmm....who builds roads and bridges and schools and water systems? Big Republican Party cronies like Halliburton, that's who. Dan Froomkin of the Washington Post postulates that the Republicans want to "transform the Gulf Coast into a big test bed for conservative social policy, where tax breaks flow to big business and tax money flows to Halliburton, churches and private schools." Rove, Bush and the Republicans are licking their chops at the chance to spread some corporate evil in New Orleans. Considering the scope of their power, it's going to happen.
Thursday, September 15, 2005
|Revealed as Propaganda|
Columnist David Brooks reveals that Bush administration officials "decided that our public relations is not going to be honest."
On the September 11th edition of "The Chris Matthews Show," New York Times columnist made a stunning admission: "From Day One," the Bush White House "decided our public relations is not going to be honest," and that "privately they admit mistakes all the time." Brooks further claimed that he debated this policy with administration officials.
The impact of this news is clear: Bush's public relations team really serve as propagandists. It is one thing to spin things in favor of your man -- that's public relations. It's quite another thing to boldly lie to deflect the truth. Of course, myself and most other thinking people already knew that Bush serves up propaganda like Joseph Gobbels. To announce such a strategy to a columnist at the nation's #1 newspaper serves as an amazing display of hubris.
MediaMatters discusses how, considering Brooks' knowledge of the Bush team as propagandists, Brooks' failed to make analytical connections between the Bush team's goal and message. After Hurricane Katrina, Bush administration officials immediately went on television to attack local and state officials.
Recently, the Washington Post mentioned a "fact" in an article -- that the governor of Louisiana had not declared a state of emergency as of Sunday, September 3. A senior Bush official was cited as the source, quite unusual considering that "facts" do not come from administration officials but are rather handled by the fact-checking department. The truth, as a simple Google search would have revealed, was that the governor of Louisiana had declared a state of emergency on August 26. Clearly, the Bush team's lie was designed to play "the blame game" and pass it on to someone else.
The Republican Party actively engages in deceit and propaganda. The media's failure to connect these simple dots sends a clear message to those who still believe that the corporate media actually does a quality, objective job: They don't.
Tuesday, September 13, 2005
|A Foul Mess|
The official death count in New Orleans has already topped 400. Bodies are still being recovered. Yet the most frightening aspect of Katrina could be that the vast majority of those who will die have yet to get sick. The reason is that Katrina turned New Orleans' existing toxic waste into a deadly toxic dump.
Some of the toxic waste seeping into water in New Orleans could not have been prevented. The grease and gas from 350,000 automobiles; cleaning supplies in 160,000 homes; the spread of raw sewage. Many of the 66 chemical plants surrounding New Orleans were damaged and leaked chemicals into the floodwater.
The tragedy, however, lies in the preventable toxic damage. The Agricultural Street Landfill takes up 95 acres of New Orleans. It contains both city garbage and industrial waste. The site was sprayed with tons of DDT in the 40s and 50s. For a few years the area has been fenced and covered with soil. Unfortunately, the landfill now lies three feet below water. A real fear exists that the contents of the landfill will now spread into the floodwaters and pollute large areas of New Orleans.
The landfill is a Superfund site, just waiting to get cleaned up. 2 other Superfund sites were also flooded: Bayou Bonfouca site in Slidell, La., and the Madisonville Creosote Works.
Cancer and other health problems are certain to result from the seepage of toxic waste in New Orleans. These deaths can be traced back to actions taken by the Republican Party. In 1980, the Democratic Congress created Superfund to clean up toxic waste dumps left by corporate interests. Superfund created a tax on oil and chemical companies that funded a trust fund used to clean up toxic waste dumps. The idea of the tax made a lot of sense -- for some companies, they would be better off going bankrupt than cleaning up their mess, but the American people still had an interest in cleaning up the toxic waste. Pooling the resources of the polluters and forcing them to pay a tax -- a kind of toxic waste insurance -- is the most efficient, effective way of ensuring the cleanup of toxic waste dumps. Tax dollars from American citizens supplemented the fund, but the vast majority was paid by polluters.
In 1995, the Republicans retook Congress after Newt Gingrich's infamous "Contract with America." One of their first acts was to repay their corporate cronies. As such, Congress failed to renew the tax on polluters that made up the vast majority of Superfund's resources.
In 1995, taxpayers paid only 18% of Superfund. On September 30, 2003, Superfund ran out of polluter contributed funds due to the Republican abolishment of the tax in 1995. As such, today taxpayers pay 100% of Superfund. Funding has become insufficient and many locations simply aren't getting cleaned up now. 46 sites this year alone received inadequate funding.
The Republicans deny the moral responsibility of polluters to clean up their own mess. Murdering citizens by exposing them to toxic waste so that your corporate cronies can buy that 4th vacation home constitutes absolute moral bankruptcy. The Democratic Party created Superfund, the Republican Party defunded it and allowed toxic waste sites to increase. My final logical connection cannot be denied: The Republican Party bears responsibility for the coming deaths in New Orleans due to its reckless war on Superfund.
Monday, September 12, 2005
|The Republican Party: Helping Big Oil at All Costs|
The Republican War on Reality proceeds unabated by the events of Hurricane Katrina. Today I have just two points. 1) The Republicans are again exploiting tragedy to benefit their rich corporate cronies and 2) The Republican denial of climate change presents a threat to national security. Any "commitment" by the Republicans to "securing our borders" consists of complete hogwash when you consider their dishonest denial of the environmental havoc that their policies create.
I. Exploiting Tragedy to Help the Rich
After Katrina, there have been fuel shortages across the nation. In response, Democrats and even some Republicans have pointed to increasing fuel efficiency for automobiles. The Republicans holding the real power, however, have another solution: give oil companies more of my tax dollars so that they can drill more oil.
Representative Joe Barton (R-TX) is one of the most powerful people you've never heard of. As chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, he has enormous power when it comes to our environment . What was his answer to gas shortages after Katrina? Not forcing auto makers to make more fuel efficient cars, which he openly admits "is not a good policy if you want to stay in the majority." Heaven forbid the Republicans do something good for America regardless of what their corporate cronies want. He also is in favor of giving oil producers like ExxonMobil -- who even Barton admits recently posted "the world's largest net profit ever", should be given government subsidies to drill for more oil. Unreal. Instead of actually addressing our oil dependency, we should just rape the Earth for as much as we can and continue to waste. This way of governing stands opposite to economic efficiency, because pillaging the Earth now and failing to take steps to use less fuel now means a future without oil and without a solution. The party in power must be cautious stewards of our country's natural resources; the Republican party continues to rape and exploit our resources to give immediate financial gratification to their filthy rich corporate cronies. How any thinking American can willingly go along with the Republican plan to destroy the future so that oil companies can continue to post record profits is beyond me.
Worth noting is that the Republicans dropped their plan to repeal the estate tax this week after initially promising to go ahead with the repeal despite the massive costs of Katrina. Republican operatives call it the "Death Tax" despite the fact that you need to have $1.5 million in assets to even qualify for the tax. I'll call it the "Tax on the Entrenched Power of the Mega-Rich." There is no "death tax" because the estate tax only applies to the mega-rich. If you want to defend the mega-rich, go ahead. I don't really need to repeat this here, but the "Death Tax" is just another example of the Republicans' manipulation of words to market their radical agenda.
Regardless, the repeal of the Estate tax will return soon enough. Its repeal means too much to the disgustingly rich.
II. The Republican Plan for Fighting Climate Change: Deny it and Launch a Witch Hunt
Joe Barton is actively involved in a witch hunt designed to silence key climate change scientists. Even Republicans admit that Barton has gone too far in his war on reality. From The Guardian:
A far-reaching inquiry into the careers of three of the US's most senior climate specialists has been launched by Joe Barton, the chairman of the House of Representatives committee on energy and commerce. He has demanded details of all their sources of funding, methods and everything they have ever published.
Mr Barton, a Texan closely associated with the fossil-fuel lobby, has spent his 11 years as chairman opposing every piece of legislation designed to combat climate change.
. . .
Alan Leshner protested on behalf of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, expressing "deep concern" about the inquiry, which appeared to be "a search for a basis to discredit the particular scientists rather than a search for understanding".
Political reaction has been stronger. Henry Waxman, a senior Californian Democrat, wrote complaining that this was a "dubious" inquiry which many viewed as a "transparent effort to bully and harass climate-change experts who have reached conclusions with which you disagree".
But the strongest language came from another Republican, Sherwood Boehlert, the chairman of the house science committee. He wrote to "express my strenuous objections to what I see as the misguided and illegitimate investigation".
He said it was pernicious to substitute political review for scientific peer review and the precedent was "truly chilling". He said the inquiry "seeks to erase the line between science and politics" and should be reconsidered.
The Republicans want to find an error somewhere in the findings of these brilliant scientists so that they can discredit their work. The Republican attack here clearly has no basis in science, but rather in politics. It's all about ensuring that their bills are paid on time by the oil lobby. They don't care about Americans or the world and their dangerous environmental policies will certainly lead to massive death and destruction. In short: a vote for the Republicans is a vote against our national security interests. If you want to be a Republican, you need to justify their war against the environment in some way. Denial is a common emotion; it solves the problem easily and allows you to move on. But denial of reality -- as the sole way to justify your party's environmental misdeeds -- requires you to lie to yourself every day.
Friday, September 09, 2005
Exploiting Tragedy, Hurting Workers
Conservatives exploited 9/11 as a way to further their foreign policy goals in the Middle East. Instead of simply resolving the problem by banning weapons aboard planes and militarizing the cabin door, Bush led us on a foreign policy adventure in Iraq. Thousands of lives later, 9/11 still burns and we have accomplished nothing but killing.
Bush's executive order does two things for him: 1) It helps giant contractors earn more profit. These rich contractors are Republican donors. 2) The government may get to pay less to help rebuild New Orleans. The savings can then be spent on the illegal war in Iraq and on tax cuts for Bush's disgustingly rich cronies. For workers, this means only one thing: making less money than normal and struggling to provide for their families.
What it does not do is help rebuild New Orleans quicker, better or more efficient. Most of the people working on these jobs will be locals from the area (hopefully). By paying them less for their labor, they are going to have an enormously difficult time reconstructing their own lives. Surely everyone in New Orleans suffered thousands of dollars of damage at least. Further, the government is going to need to help whether it's at a fair wage or at a sweat shop wage. Bush opted for sweat shop labor. In the wake of a tragedy such as Katrina, inflicting further terror on these people constitutes an evil act on the part of Bush.
It's good to see Democrats like Ted Kennedy attack Bush's move, but sadly it's not even a major story. The press, despite a bit of a resurgence is recent days, fails to point out the Republican tactic of exploiting tragedy to further their own far right goals.
1. The man who received the most votes in 2000 , Al Gore, acted more Presidential than Bush during Katrina. Al Gore spent $100,000 and arranged for 270 people to be airlifted out of New Orleans. Meanwhile Bush barely made it back from vacation. Think about how many lives would have been saved had the Republicans not stolen the 2000 election and forced their incompetent candidate upon America.
2. Professor George Lakoff on how, in addition to the natural disaster and governmental incompetence, conservative ideology itself also deserves blame for the horrendous tragedy of New Orleans:
The moral of Katrina is mostly being missed. It is not just a failure of execution (William Kristol), or that bad things just happen (Laura Bush). It was not just indifference by the President, or a lack of accountability, or a failure of federal-state communication, or corrupt appointments in FEMA, or the cutting of budgets for fixing levees, or the inexcusable absence of the National Guard off in Iraq. It was all of these and more, but they are the effects, not the cause.
The right-wing conservatives now in power have the opposite values and principles. Their main value is Rely on individual discipline and initiative. The central principle: Government has no useful role. The only common good is the sum of individual goods.
It’s the difference between We’re-all-in-this-together and You’re-on-your-own-buddy.
Events like Katrina will occur constantly should we give in conservatives' wishes to provide no social safety net. The Republicans weren't worried about Katrina because their rich friends all flew or drove out. Poor people obviously didn't have the same options. The Republicans prepared for a major disaster by doing nothing but it's not the exception to the rule -- it is the rule when you govern conservatively.
Thursday, September 08, 2005
|DEMOCRACY: DEAD OR ALIVE|
Part 2 of 5
A Political Impeachment
In the first part of this series, I explained the Republicans' sordid past of voter disenfranchisement. This legacy of undermining democracy continued on and ultimately infected the democratic process itself. Today we shift forward to the late 1990s.
The seminal case is Bronston v. United States. The issue in Bronston was "whether a witness may be convicted of perjury for an answer, under oath, that is literally true but not responsive to the question asked and arguably misleading by negative implication."
The case arose because Mr. Bronston was involved in bankruptcy proceedings. Attorneys for his creditors were examining him, under oath, regarding assets that he personally owned in various countries, as well as assets owned by companies under his control. During this examination, the following exchange occurred:
Q. Do you have any bank accounts in Swiss banks, Mr. Bronston?
A. No, sir.
Q. Have you ever?
A. The company had an account there for about six months, in
The "truth" was that Bronston had had a large personal bank account in
Bronston was convicted of perjury, and his conviction was affirmed on appeal. But the Supreme Court reversed. The Court acknowledged that in ordinary conversation, Bronston's response would probably be understood to imply that he had never had a personal bank account in
Since Bronston established a “literal truth” defense to perjury,
I don’t believe oral sex involves any sort of “relationship” and a few minutes in the Oval Office doesn’t make it an affair either. Both of those connotate long term, quasi-committed people. When
The definition used by the parties in court referred to sexual relations by the term "engaging in" sexual relations.
II. No High Crime or Misdemeanor
In some instances, I agree that the “will of the people” is not enough to sustain a Presidency. Democracy can lead to strange results and, on occasion, absolute criminals will be revered by the people. Should a President truly commit “high crimes and misdemeanors” – “injuries done immediately to the society itself “, in the words of Alexander Hamilton– Impeachment should remain as option. Yet impeachment is not a power to take lightly, especially when it involves undermining the will of the people. If it’s unclear whether to do it or not, you err on the side of not doing it. The stakes are enormous.
In a scholarly presentation of the Republicans' case on this issue, the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, argues that perjury (22 Harv. J.L. & Pub. Pol'y 619 -- no link for this one, you need to sign in to Westlaw or Lexis) . It's worth noting that the writer of this article is Charles J. Cooper, a former clerk to Rehnquist and former deputy assistant attorney general to Ronald Reagan. He's also heavily involved with the Federalist Society. Cooper relies upon an exchange between two of the founders arguing whether impeachment should be for "maladministration" or "high crimes and misdemeanors." Madison objected to "maladministration" because it is "[s]o vague a term [would] be equivalent to a tenure during pleasure of the Senate." Cooper implies that because maladministration, which implies poor governance, was considered by one of the founders, then clearly the founders intended for just about anything to qualify as impeachment. Cooper goes back and cherrypicks quotes from history to back up his point.
But this one isolated exchange says nothing about what the founders as a whole thought. Just as when you analyze legislative history, you never know the meaning of a term based solely on the comments of one person. The founders, as a whole, decided to use the lofty phrase "high crimes and misdemeanors." They did not say "any crimes". The founders also spoke of how the crimes must injure society itself. Cooper says that perjury is such a crime. But arguing that Clinton's perjury somehow effects society is preposterous. This is not what the founders intended. They never could have contemplated a society like ours where the President of the United States would get called under oath and asked who he's had sex with. The crimes contemplated were obviously those that a President could actually commit in the late 18th century -- crimes related to the office.
Further, the founders' intentions alone do not control the Constitution. Unlike so-called originalists, I see the Constitution as a living, breathing document. We should interpret the Constitution to the fullest intent of the founders and the basic principles of this Nation. So-called originalists often say that we should ignore these basic principles due to some parsing of miniscule language and words. Regardless of what words were written or said, it's clear that the founders never wanted a President impeached for something as irrelevant a perjury about your personal life.
III. A Massive Conservative Propaganda Machine Set
a. The Propaganda Machine Starts Rolling
When Nixon resigned, Republicans fumed. Never again they promised. From this came the birth of the counter-establishment. Because academia consistently told the Republicans they were wrong on social issues and the economy, because the Republicans were in fact wrong, the GOP decided to form a new conservative establishment. Instead of the media simply reporting that leading scholars condemned the next tax cuts, the existence of a counter establishment forced the media to report that the verdict is still out -- with scholars on one side and the counter establishment on the other.
Today we take the existence of the counter establishment for granted. Who are they? After Nixon's resignation, what Hillary Clinton would later term "the vast right wing conspiracy" was born. After Nixon, 4 billionaire Republican families began massively funding a conservative propaganda campaign that would resemble actual media or scholarly outlets. The families became known as the "four sisters" of the counter-establishment movement: Richard Mellon Scaife's Sarah Scaife Foundation, the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, the John M. Olin Foundation and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation. They funded both intellectual "think tanks" as well as the publication of conservative magazines like the "American Spectator."
Creating organizations like the Federalist Society, the Heritage Society and the American Enterprise Institute had a two fold purpose for the "four sisters": 1) they could undermine academia with polished, well reasoned retorts and 2) it provided an ample base for future conservative leaders. Indeed, many, if not the majority, of President Bush's appointees are tied to one of the "four sisters" groups in some way.
A quick side note: Republican disrespect for academia stems from the fact that they need to lie to sell most of their ideas. If they went out in public and said that they wanted to give huge tax cuts to the top 1% because they funded their campaigns, they'd never get elected. The perfect example of this is how Bush never mentioned a massive, radical "reform" of Social Security in 2004, but as soon as he got reelected he made it priority number one. A lie of omission indeed.
b. The Arkansas Project
Richard M. Larry, the lifelong senior aide of "four sisters" charter member Richard Mellon Scaife, came up with the idea of investigating Clinton's activities as a way to undermine his Presidency in 1993. Scaife and Larry pressured the American Spectator, a right wing tabloid that has received at least $3.3 million from Scaife over the years, to start looking into the random accusations of backwoods kooks in Arkansas. The Spectator began by putting out pieces based upon statements from former Arkansas state troopers. They alleged Clinton arranged sexual affairs and they had all sorts of juicy details. Later on, these troopers and their juicy details were discredited. The author of the piece, David Brock, later admitted that he invented most of the story as well as a subsequent book on Anita Hill. He further admitted that he wasn't a journalist at the American Spectator, he was a propagandist whose mission was to attack Clinton at all costs. Brock had a nervous breakdown, came out of the closet and moved to the left. His sole mission today is to expose the "vast right wing conspiracy" and their lies. You can find his work at mediamatters.org , an invaluable website that tracks the news.
In his book The Republican Noise Machine, Brock explains how the counter establishment works: You start by printing a story in the American Spectator that lacks journalistic credibility, either due to lack of sources, invented facts or both. Soon Rush Limbaugh or Michael Savage mentions the story on the air. Next conservative news outlets like Fox News and Newsmax mention that Rush Limbaugh and the Spectator have mentioned it, increasing its credibility. Soon Conservative politicians and pundits start talking about it. And suddenly, the mainstream corporate media mentions that many conservative outlets are talking about the story, thereby legitimizing it. With this powerful infrastructure, the Republicans are able to invent stories, push them through their noise machine and turn those invented stories into actual reported news.
In the 1990s, these awful lies about Clinton involved allegations of rape and cocaine smuggling. They were discredited; the cocaine story cost the editor of the American Spectator his job in one of the few "just desserts" moments of the whole thing.
The Clintons were exonerated from Whitewater but here are the facts: David Hale, a convicted felon and former municipal judge, also owned a Small Business Administration lending company. Hale subsequently made a $300,000 loan to Susan McDougal, one of Clinton's partners in a piece of rural Arkansas property named Whitewater. McDougal apparently didn't qualify for the loan. The Clintons were passive business partners with the McDougals and ended up losing money. Here the facts end.
In order to pin this shady situation on Clinton, Hale claimed that Bill Clinton as governor personally called him to pressure him into making the loan. Many other shady allegations came through over the years, all of which were discredited and could all be traced back to one of the "four sisters" propaganda foundations.
The Republican noise machine in early 1993 starting revving up its engines on Whitewater and pressured Clinton to appoint a special prosecutor through its manipulation of the news media. A conservative three judge panel, including D.C. Circuit Judge Sentelle (I just spent the weekend attacking one of his dissents), selected Kenneth Starr as independent counsel in 1994. The independent counsel, created by act of Congress after Carter, creates a "fourth branch" of government accountable to no one. They have ultimate authority to as they please to investigate the President and ultimately file impeachment papers. Republicans hated this law for a long time because they were the ones doing shady things; the Independent Counsel Act has since expired. Don't expect to see it ever revived again now that Democrats hate it too. In my view, it's not constitutional because it interferes with the division of powers.
Starr himself was a member of the Federalist Society and a close personal friend of Richard Mellon Scaife. Despite new evidence or any signs that Clinton did anything illegal, Starr ruthlessly investigated Clinton for another 4 years before Monica Lewinsky broke in 1998. In effect, Starr became a check on Presidential power who had the ability to conduct a nonstop investigation of Clinton for his entire Presidency. The first time they caught him committing any sort of crime, about oral sex, they impeached him. This had been the intent of the Republicans all along.
Starr himself violated the power given to him through the independent counsel. Connecting Lewinsky with Paula Jones and somehow connecting that to Whitewater is strained logic at best, certainly not enough for a so-called brilliant legal mind like Starr's. Clinton and Lewinsky simply were not relevant to Starr's legal objective in pursuing Clinton. His personal objective, however, was to attack Clinton at all costs in order to remove him from the Presidency.
Starr resigned his post at the Independent Counsel in 1997 to take a high paying job as Pepperdine's Dean of its Law School and the School of Public Policy. The Washington Post reported, however, that Richard Mellon Scaife had recently given $1.1 million to the school in order to underwrite that very position. When these allegations surfaced, Starr un-resigned his post and kept on hunting Clinton. Clearly, however, Starr was prepared to get some payback for his war on Clinton.
Finally, if you ever have the stomach to read the Starr report, here it is. Don't read it with kids, it's an overly kinky bizarre romp that probably indicates a high level of porn stashed on Ken Starr's home computer. Regardless, the Starr report came to nothing when the Senate failed to convict Clinton of impeachment. Their legal case was weak and the public despised them for what was going on. The Republicans no longer found it valuable to investigate Clinton after their devastating electoral defeats of 1998. Instead of gaining seats, as the party not holding the Presidency had done in every midterm election during a President's second term in the last century, the Republicans lost seats. The Democrats made gains. Seeing the writing on the wall, the Republicans decided to fold up shop and just steal the Presidency in 2000. Oops, I meant "try and win" in 2000.
The legal argument that Clinton needed to be impeached is weak at best. He may not have committed perjury and certainly didn't commit a "high crime or misdemeanor" as is required under the Constitution to impeach. Further, the Republicans placed him in a situation where he would be under oath answering questions about his private sex life. He had two options: 1) publicly humiliate himself or 2) lie. It was a win-win for the Republicans. Imagine if George Bush went on the stand and Democrats got to ask him about cocaine use in the 1970s. The result would be the same, but it would be unfair.
The lesson of Clinton's Impeachment is that the Republican Party will fight for power at all costs. The considerations of whether impeachment was justified in light of Clinton's two electoral victories and high approval rating never emerged. The will of the people, it seemed, could be ignored in favor of a large goal of attaining power. The plan was to impeach Clinton, then Gore, and then do whatever they pleased with the Presidency. The impeachment, however, marked the first time of a massive, coordinated Republican effort to undermine democracy. It would provide the blueprint for 2000, 2004 and the elections in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The next part in this occasional series will study the Republican attack on democracy in the 2000 Presidential Election.
Monday, September 05, 2005
|When Government Fails.|
Thousands of people are likely dead. Thousands more lost everything they own. The city of New Orleans lies beneath water.
The fury of Katrina inflicted horrendous damage, but the sad reality is that the bureaucracy of Bush increased the harm. Republican incompetence, which began with unsound tax cuts and continued with Iraq, reached a new level during the aftermath of Katrina. The federal government’s response was borderline criminal, Bush’s budget priorities increased the death toll, Iraq weakened the response and Republican environmental policies may have contributed to the strength of Katrina. Bill Maher called this Bush’s Waterloo. Indeed this may be the breaking point of a dismal Presidency.
I. IN THE CONTEXT OF MAJOR DISASTERS SUCH AS 9/11, THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT’S RESPONSE TO KATRINA WAS UNACCEPTABLE
Katrina came as no surprise. In the long term, we knew a large hurricane was coming, and in the short term we knew that Katrina was on her way. Hurricanes are a multi-state event that are more efficiently planned at the federal level. Although the state bears some responsibility, the federal government has the final say in disasters. At this point, even President Bush has admitted that the initial federal response to Hurricane Katrina was unacceptable.
In response to 9/11, the Bush administration folded FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, into the Department of Homeland security. Bush promptly then went on to appoint 2 of his cronies to head the organization, both of whom were men with no experience in disaster management. The New Orleans Times-Picayune demanded Bush fire FEMA chief Michael Brown for his incompetence handling Katrina.
The GOP’s propaganda spin that the state and local governments didn’t ask for the federal government’s help in time has proven false. This letter proves that the state did, in fact, ask for help last Sunday. Federal assistance began coming in earnest starting on Friday. The Washington Post reports that “[o]ne reason for the slow White House response, said a Republican who has been in contact with several officials, is that so many high-level officials and aides were on vacation.”
The New Orleans Times-Picayune points out that by Monday it was clear that New Orleans needed 2 things and only 2 things: buses and gas. Yet the Federal government took until Friday to do nothing. Not caring about the social welfare, of course, isn’t just an accident when it comes to Republicans – that’s in their platform. A big part of this is racism. Bush and his cronies don’t seem to understand why poor people can’t just pick up and leave anytime a hurricane arrives. While the rich can vacation wherever they choose, normal folks often need to work the next day just to have enough to eat. Picking up and leaving isn’t an option and the federal government needs to help alleviate these burdens in a major disaster.
Typically, governors control the National Guard. But the President has the power to “federalize” the National Guard in an instant and divert the collective guardsmen of the states to where they are needed most. Bush 41 did this during the Rodney King riots. In light of this ability, Newsweek reveals massive imcompetence:
“For days, Bush's top advisers argued over legal niceties about who was in charge, according to three White House officials who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the negotiations. Beginning early in the week, Justice Department lawyers presented arguments for federalizing the Guard, but Defense Department lawyers fretted about untrained 19-year-olds trying to enforce local laws, according to a senior law-enforcement official who requested anonymity citing the delicate nature of the discussions.”
After 9/11, this kind of disaster preparation should already have been taken care of. How could the billions that we have spent on homeland security not included scenarios for evacuating and maintaining law and order in disaster areas? Apparently, it did not. This is malpractice of the first degree and for this reason alone, Bush deserves impeachment. Perhaps I sound too serious here, but we are dealing with a President who ran mostly based on his reputation following 9/11. A basic, fundamental task of the 9/11 aftermath was to invent and implement emergency plans for every major region of the country. The idea that no one though of the legal implications behind federalizing the guard – and making a decision as to what to do – until after the disaster struck, lies beyond incompetence. The buck stops with Bush and his administration failed miserably.
Unfortunately, Bush’s visit to the region only exacerbated the problems. Three tons of food ready for hurricane survivors sat on a bridge for hours as air traffic was cancelled due to Bush’s visit. The fact that Bush would harm survivors in order to stage a publicity stunt is appalling. And apparently is was indeed a publicity stunt – since the background George Bush stood in front of was dismantled after the “show.”
II. REPUBLICANS UNDERFUND LEVEE REPAIR
One of the essential functions of government is to pool our resources collectively to ensure our safety. Government has a moral duty to prevent the death of its citizens, within reason. Considering that New Orleans lies below sea level and hurricanes occur regularly, the maintenance of quality levees is a top governmental priority.
Bush also bears blame for the New Orleans disaster due to his misplaced budget priorites. While we have spent over $200 billion in Iraq as part of a near manical campaign to avenge 9-11 in any way against any one available, Bush failed to come up with the $27 million needed for the Army Corps of Engineers to protect New Orleans against hurricanes. Bush put $3.9 million in his budget; Congress’ final budget gave $5.7 million to the project. The Chicago Tribune makes a key analytical connection:
“Because of the shortfalls, which were caused in part by the rising costs of the war in Iraq, the corps delayed seven contracts that included enlarging the levees, according to corps documents.
Much of the devastation in New Orleans was caused by breaches in the levees, which sent water from Lake Pontchartrain pouring into the city. Since much of the city is below sea level, the levee walls acted like the walls of a bowl that filled until as much as 80 percent of the city was under water.”
In response, Former Congressman Mike Parker adds "I'm not saying that this would not have occurred in New Orleans in this situation," Parker told The Associated Press. "I am saying that there would have been less flooding if all the projects had been funded."
One can only come to the conclusion that but for the Republicans’ under-funding of the levees, many people would be alive today. The costs of Iraq directly impact every project under federal consideration. It may be true that far more so-called “pork” projects exist than there is money to pay for them. But preventing a foreseeable flood of a large American city should be an utmost concern of homeland security, not relegated to consideration as a “pork” issue. Certainly if New Orleans were as white as Dallas, the Republicans would have treated the levees with more urgency.
The corporate media bears blame for spreading Republican propaganda on this issue. George W. Bush went on “Good Morning America” and said “I don’t think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees.” The New York Times reprinted this statement without a challenge. Of course as I address above, that isn’t the truth. To rephrase, Bush lied, the media reported it, and didn’t dare question him on it. When someone like Kayne West tries to call attention to how racism killed people in New Orleans, the corporate media acts as Bush’s cronies and switches the camera to someone who sticks to the script.
III. HOMELAND SECURITY OFFICERS ARE FIGHTING IN IRAQ
The New York Times’ lead editorial on September 2 argued that the decreased number of National Guardsmen available for homeland security due to Iraq led to problems during Katrina’s wake. Active duty troops have been deployed to New Orleans due to the lack of National Guardsmen in America. Deploying the army within America’s borders is highly unusual and puts them in situations that they are not trained for. Homeland security is the province of the National Guard; they are the ones fully training in disaster management.
In any war, the number of military forces available for emergencies is necessarily diminished. That’s the reason why war needs to be used only as a last resort. According to George Bush himself, we went to war with Iraq as a last resort because they wouldn’t get rid of weapons of mass destruction:
We are now acting because the risks of inaction would be far greater. In one year, or five years, the power of Iraq to inflict harm on all free nations would be multiplied many times over. With these capabilities, Saddam Hussein and his terrorist allies could choose the moment of deadly conflict when they are strongest. We choose to meet that threat now, where it arises, before it can appear suddenly in our skies and cities.
The cause of peace requires all free nations to recognize new and undeniable realities. In the 20th century, some chose to appease murderous dictators, whose threats were allowed to grow into genocide and global war. In this century, when evil men plot chemical, biological and nuclear terror, a policy of appeasement could bring destruction of a kind never before seen on this earth.
Terrorists and terror states do not reveal these threats with fair notice, in formal declarations -- and responding to such enemies only after they have struck first is not self-defense, it is suicide. The security of the world requires disarming Saddam Hussein now.
(Btw, this should be exhibit A in Bush’s Impeachment case)
Bush’s lies in Iraq have now come home to kill as we deal with weakened homeland security. How many Americans died in New Orleans because of Bush’s folly in Iraq? Hundreds? Thousands?
IV. REPUBLICAN ENVIRONMENTAL POLICIES MAY HAVE INCREASED THE DAMAGE FROM KATRINA
During an appearance on Real Time with Bill Maher on September 2, 2005, Prof. Steven Schneider, a Biological Science at Stanford and owner of Climatechange.net confirmed that global warming likely contributed to the increased power behind Katrina:
"Global warming has been proven to increase the power of hurricanes. Hurricanes don’t occur in the winter or spring, they do happen in the summer and do happen in fall. Why? Everybody knows why -- warm water is the power behind it. So there’s a very complicated set of factors that determines how hurricanes work and how many in a season and all that, but if all those factors were constant and you just increased the heat of the ocean, you’d have to increase the intensity of storms.
. . .
We’ve increased the planet’s temperature by 1 degree. Most scientists believe that at least half of that is due to human product."
Considering that global warming exists, hurricane strength and frequency increases with warmer water and that the Republicans have fought environmental initiatives at every turn, it’s hard not to argue that the Republican Party bears blame for some of the destruction of Katrina. Of course, by that logic, so does the Democratic Party. Let’s not forget that the Senate voted 95-0 against the Kyoto Treaty. The environment remains one of those issues where the Democrats are good only when considered relative to the Republicans. Despite Kyoto, the Democratic Party’s record on the environment outdistances the Republicans in every quantifiable way.
As long as corporations work solely for a profit motive without considering the costs to society from their actions, disasters like Katrina will increase.
Republican incompetence and the wrath of nature teamed up to create one of the worst disasters of our time. Perhaps the following quote from the New York Times best exemplifies the exasperation of people right now:
“The administration's problems in the crisis seemed to crystallize in a dramatic appearance on the NBC program "Meet the Press" by Aaron Broussard, president of Jefferson Parish near New Orleans. Sobbing, he told of an emergency management official receiving phone calls from his mother, who, trapped in a nursing home, pleaded day after day for rescue. Assured by federal officials, the man promised her repeatedly that help was on the way.
"Every day she called him and said, "Are you coming, son? Is somebody coming?' " Mr. Broussard said. "And he said, 'Yeah, Mama, somebody's coming to get you.' Somebody's coming to get you on Tuesday. Somebody's coming to get you on Wednesday. Somebody's coming to get you on Thursday. Somebody's coming to get you on Friday. And she drowned Friday night. She drowned Friday night."
Mr. Broussard angrily denounced the country's leadership. "We have been abandoned by our own country," he said. "It's not just Katrina that caused all these deaths in New Orleans here. Bureaucracy has committed murder here in the greater New Orleans area, and bureaucracy has to stand trial before Congress now."’