Before the John Roberts confirmation hearings began, progressive opponents of Bush's pick to be chief justice were fretting that the media attention given to the Katrina mess would prevent Democrats from using the hearings to make a public case against Roberts. Now I'm thinking that maybe--in a way--it was good that the public is not seeing much of the Roberts hearings. The Democrats have not succeeded in depicting him as a danger to Americans. As I previously wrote, most of the Democratic members of the judiciary committee spent the first day of the hearings--the warm-up day--fixating on process questions, such as whether they had the right to ask Roberts questions about his views. (See the post below.) Day 2 was the supposed to be the main attraction: question time for Roberts. And it came as no surprise that a fellow who has argued dozens of cases before the Supreme Court was able to deftly handle the queries from the Dems. That's not to say that he always was right in his answers or bested his interrogator on debate points. But the Democrats landed few blows. They can huff that he did not answer questions about Roe while he did about Brown v. Board of Education. But Roberts--as was his mission--provided them little ammunition. He displayed a gentle and thoughtful manner. And appearances do matter. (Just ask Robert Bork if he wishes he had shaved off his less-than-stylish beard.) Roberts sounded reasonable, as he ducked critical matters or parried with Democrats.
Right off, Republican Senator Arlen Specter, the chairman of the committee, led Roberts through the critical issue of the hearings. He asked Roberts about Roe and the principle of stare decisis. Roberts quoted James Hamilton in the Federalist Papers that judges need to be "bound down by rules and precedents." He said all the right things about the importance of precedent and the value of stare decisis. He noted that precedent can only be overturned in limited cases. But he would not talk specifically about Roe, noting he feels "the need to stay away from the discussion of specific cases." Specter several times described Roe as well-established precedent, calling it a "super-duper" precedent. Roberts thoughtfully discussed the abstract notion of precedent. But he said nothing about how stare decisis might be applied to future cases involving abortion rights. This duet produced rhetoric useful to each participant. Specter trumpeted his support for abortion rights and argued that Roe should not be overturned. Roberts praised precedent as a guiding but not inviolable principle without making any commitments to protect Roe.
Then various Democrats took their turns. Senator Pat Leahy tussled with Roberts about a decades-old memo in which he seemed to suggest presidents--not Congress--can decide whether to wage war. Roberts claimed--politely--that Leahy was "vastly over-reading" the memo and added that he merely had been representing the position of his boss at the time, the president. Senator Ted Kennedy challenged Roberts on positions he had taken--or represented--on civil rights law when he worked for the Reagan administration. Roberts revived arguments the Reaganites had used to oppose certain remedies for discrimination. This produced much spirited much back and forth over legal matters years old. That's not to say this stuff is not important. But I doubt the debate over the Grove City decision would resonate with a general audience. Under the questioning of Senator Joseph Biden and other Democrats, Roberts did say that the Constitution contained a right to privacy. But he would not say whether such a right covered abortion. Biden cornered Roberts once or twice--but not in any fashion that would matter much beyond the committee room.
Don't forget about DAVID CORN's BLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent postings on Hurricane Katrina and other subjects in the news.
Senator Russell Feingold inquired about an ethics matter. In April, Roberts, an appellate court judge, heard a case involving the Bush administration six days after he was interviewed by administration officials for a possible Supreme Court vacancy. Feingold asked why did he not recuse himself. Roberts refused to explain. At the hearings, Roberts opponents were telling reporters that Senator Dianne Feinstein was likely to cause the biggest sparks of the day by questioning Roberts on Roe. But she fared no better. As she pressed him, he continued to bob and weave in his artful and unflappable manner. At the end of the day, the Democrats had extracted little of political use. The Democratic Party did issue a press release headlined: "Roberts Watch--Day Two: A Day of Evasion, Obstruction and Distortion." Its examples were not unconvincing. But neither were they likely to change the course of the nomination.
There was probably not much the Democrats could have done. Roberts is a smart, savvy, and smooth attorney. The legal issues at hand do not translate well into soundbites. But I wonder what might have happened had one Democratic senator taken a less conventional approach to the legalistic questioning. Imagine if Feinstein had asked Roberts: "You indicated that Brown v. Board of Education was decided correctly. Would you tell us if you believe Roe v. Wade was decided correctly?" Roberts would have ducked and dodged, of course. But what if she asked the question again. Maybe once more. Then looked at the clock and said, "I have 28 minutes left. I am going to wait all that time for an answer because I think Americans should know whether the next chief justice of Supreme Court believes abortion rights ought to be protected or not." And then stared at him for 28 minutes. Would that have been a galvanizing moment? Who knows? But it sure would have made the point more strongly than any of the exchanges that occurred.
Good news on Roberts? In Tuesday's Washington Post, reporter Chuck Lane writes about a study compiled by a professor who studied all of Roberts' decisions in his two-year stint as a federal appeals court judge and found that he was four times more conservative than the average appeals court judge on civil rights and civil liberties cases, about average on criminal justice cases, and sort of liberal on cases involving economic and labor matters. Kenneth Manning, the University of Massachusetts professor who did this study, said, "The general read I got was of a non-activist stance--a general reluctance to go out of his way and rule against government regulators. If the EPA ruled against the chemical industry, the general tendency was to defer to the agency." I don't vouch for this study. But maybe Roberts is not as awful-awful as his foes fear. In any event, given how the hearings are going, wishing is a reasonable exercise.
The events of the past two weeks have laid bare America's secret: that poverty abounds in this profoundly unequal nation. As the body count in New Orleans rises, it has become abundantly clear that the plight of America's poor--who have suffered particularly harsh setbacks in the past three decades--is nothing short of an epidemic. Yet throughout this era of rollbacks and blind-eye politics, the Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now (ACORN) has tirelessly fought back on behalf of our nation's other half. This week, we offer a special Sweet Victory tribute to a fearless organization that has long stood on the forefront of the movement for economic justice.
In 1970, Wade Rathke arrived in Little Rock, Arkansas, and organized a drive to help welfare recipients attain clothing and furniture. Months later, the Arkansas Community Organization for Reform Now--a broad-based coalition that had grown out of Rathke's early efforts--was taking on Arkansas Power and Light, one of the state's largest corporate players. ACORN demanded compensation for local farmers whose livelihoods were endangered by AP&L's plans for a new power plant. After months of organized pressure from ACORN, AP&L backed down and dropped the plans altogether.
A decade later, ACORN had expanded into twenty different states and was creating national headlines with its nine-point "People's Platform" and squatting campaign, which hammered the issue of affordable housing into the national discourse. Throughout the 1980s and '90s, ACORN fought vigilantly against insurance redlining--a practice that, thanks largely to ACORN's efforts, is now illegal--and helped secure housing for thousands of low-income individuals.
In recent years, ACORN has been a critical player in the living wage movement and has battled courageously against the practice of predatory lending, winning a landmark settlement in a nationwide class-action suit against Household Finance (now under HSBC) in 2003. ACORN has also created alternative public schools in several cities, improved health conditions for residents living in toxic environments and worked to tear down barriers to enfranchisement across the country. In 2004 alone, ACORN members registered more than 1.1 million new voters.
Today, ACORN has an active membership of 175,000 member families, with 850 neighborhood chapters in seventy-five cities across America. In 2004, ACORN became an international organization, opening chapters in Canada, the Dominican Republic and Peru. ACORN's website features more on the organization's history and a complete list of its astounding accomplishments.
It is a tragic irony that ACORN--an organization that has perhaps done more than any other to support those whom our government has left behind--was among the victims of Katrina's aftermath. Its national headquarters, which are located New Orleans, have been severely damaged, and now ACORN needs your help. As I've suggested in previous weblogs, please consider making a donation so that ACORN can build a temporary headquarters, get back on its feet and continue to do its vital work. In times like these, we need ACORN more than ever.
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Finally, a brief Sweet Victory nod to Representative John Conyers and his fellow Progressive Caucus members Representative Mel Watt, Representative Jerrold Nadler, and Representative Sheila Jackson Lee for their stand against the Bankruptcy Bill. The bill, which is slated to take effect on October 17, will be another devastating blow to the tens of thousands of displaced and debt-ridden New Orleanians. Conyers and others need our help in their effort to exempt the victims of Katrina from this cruel bill that unjustly penalizes the poor. Contact your representatives and urge them to act in the interests of people over corporate interests. If not now, when?
The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the nomination of John Roberts to serve as Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court began with an appropriate message from Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold.
A maverick within his own Democratic party and the Senate as a whole, Feingold called upon the committee, the full Senate and all of official Washington -- a city that frequently is more concerned about images than Constitutional duties -- to get serious about the monumental task that lies ahead.
"Some have called for a 'dignified process,'" Feingold said of the confirmation process. "So have I. But at times it sounds like what some really want for the nominee is an easy process. That is not what the Constitution or the traditions of the Senate call for. If by "dignified" they mean that tough and probing questions are out of bounds, I must strongly disagree. It is not undignified to ask questions that press the nominee for his views on the important areas of the law that the Supreme Court confronts. It is not undignified to review and explore the nominee's writings, his past statements, the briefs he has filed, the memos he has written. It is not undignified to ask the nominee questions he would rather not answer should he prefer to remain inscrutable, or, worse yet, all things to all people."
Feingold continued, "This process is not a game. It is not a political contest. It is one of the most important things that the Senate does – confirm or reject nominees to the highest court in the land. And we as Senators must take that responsibility very seriously."
The unfortunate reality is that Roberts is unlikely to face an appropriate level of scrutiny. That's because, in many senses, the process is a game. Most members of the Judiciary Committee wear their responsibilities lightly. They want to appeal to the interest groups that they need to advance their political ambitions, so they will ask some tough questions. But they do not want to appear so "ideological" or "passionate" that the greater mass of voters in their home states might be offended, so they will not push as aggressively -- or vote as courageously -- as they should.
This political calculus has played out for a number of years. For the most part, nominees for lifetime sinecures on the highest and most definitional court in the land are given a free pass. That was certainly the case the last time that the Senate weighed a Supreme Court nomination.
In 1994, a less-than-appealing nominee of then President Bill Clinton, Stephen Breyer, swept through the confirmation process and was approved by an overwhelming Senate vote of 87-9.
Breyer, whose record as a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judge displayed an overwhelming bias in favor of corporate interests over those of consumers and workers, should have had a hard time getting on the court. He didn't. Though consumer activists warned that Breyer's confirmation would move the court in "an anticonsumer, antiworker, antienvironmental" direction, only one senator, Ohio's Howard Metzenbaum, challenged Breyer on his pro-corporate proclivities. In the end, even Metzenbaum (and, it should be noted, Feingold) voted for the nominee. Only a handful of conservative Republicans, who were mainly interested in poking at Clinton, rejected Breyer.
That was not as it should have been.
In its failure to scrutinize and effectively challenge Breyer's biases, the Senate let the country down.
Breyer certainly enjoyed a "dignified" confirmation process. But that dignity came as the expense of the Senate's Constitutional mandate to provide not merely "advice and consent" but to serve as a check and a balance upon the executive and his nominees.
Now, for the first time since Breyer was approved more than a decade ago, the Senate is called upon to accept or reject a new nominee to the high court. Again, the nominee has a record of extreme pro-corporate bias -- a record that has received scant notice as the debate over Roberts, such as it is, has tended to focus on so-called "hot-button" issues, such as reproductive rights.
Feingold set the proper standard when he suggested that Roberts must be subjected to the sort of broad, unapologetic scrutiny that Breyer so unfortunately avoided.
"It goes without saying that the Supreme Court is one of the most important institutions in our constitutional system and that the position of Chief Justice of the United States is one of the most important positions in our government," the Wisconsin senator explained. "The impact of this nominee on our country, should he be confirmed, will be enormous. That means our scrutiny of this nominee must be intense and thorough. In my view, we must evaluate not only his qualifications, but also his ability to keep an open mind, his sensitivity to the concerns of all Americans and their right to equal protection under the laws; not only his intellectual capacity, but his judgment and wisdom; not only his achievements, but his fairness, and his courage to stand up to the other branches of government when they infringe on the rights and liberties of our citizens."
This confirmation process will be a test for Roberts. But it will also test the Senate. Hopefully, the chamber's members -- including Feingold, himself -- will challenge John Roberts as aggressively as they should have Stephen Breyer.
When Senator Arlen Specter, the Republican chairman of the judiciary committee, opened the confirmation hearings for John Roberts Jr., George W. Bush's nominee for Supreme Court chief justice, he pointed out that this session was occurring in the ornate Senate Caucus Room, the site of some of the most famous hearings in the republic's history: "the Titanic, Teapot Dome, the Army-McCarthy, Watergate, Iran-contra." Did Specter notice these past episodes all involved scandal or disaster? But there was no sense of foreboding in the air. As Roberts sat and smiled in the crowded room before the committee--with Ed Gillespie, a former Enron lobbyist and GOP chairman recruited by the White House to assist in the nomination process, at Roberts' side--it was clear that Roberts needed only get through a few days without drooling or disrobing to win the number-one judicial post in the nation. Little would matter. Not Roberts' answers--or lack thereof--to questions regarding his judicial philosophy or his views on privacy rights, presidential authority, or congressional power. Thus, the verbiage of the first day of the Roberts hearings--in which all the senators and the nominee delivered opening remarks--was mostly an academic exercise. There were grand statements about rights, judicial power, and the American experiment. Roberts talked about "infinite possibilities" conveyed by the "endless fields" of his native Indiana and vowed to be a judicial umpire, not to "pitch or bat." But these scripted statements of little intrinsic value did outline the political stratagems of each side.
In his opening remarks, Specter raised several pointed topics. He whacked the Supreme Court for voting to undermine congressional prerogatives, recalling that the court ruled against the Americans with Disability Act in 2001 (on a 5-4 split) and then four years later ruled for it (on a 5-4 split). He criticized the court for invalidating portions of legislation designed to protect women against violence--a ruling in which the court claimed Congress' "method of reasoning" was defective. Specter declared he would not ask Roberts whether he would overrule Roe v. Wade, but he said he would ask whether Roberts believes the Constitution contains a right to privacy. But, of course, there was no implied threat: say the wrong thing, and I might vote against you. Specter did not even say he expected candid replies: "Senators have the right to ask whatever questions they choose, and you, Judge Roberts, have the right to answer as you see fit--or not answer." (Nod, nod, wink, wink?) In fact, most GOP senators defined the central issue of the hearing as how far committee members (meaning, Democrats) could go in grilling a judicial nominee. Democrats responded by saying that with so much at stake it was vital to press Roberts on a host of crucial subjects. Senator Patrick Leahy, the senior Democrat on the committee, devoted most of his remarks to the premise that an "open and honest public conversation with the nominee...is an important part of this process."
But process never gets a political side too far. (How many Americans are inspired by the Democrats' demand that Roberts shares his views on past Supreme Court decisions?) The critical question is whether Roberts is good or bad for the United States. Democrats spent too much time on countering the Republican strategy (questioning the questioning of judicial nominees) and not enough on dissecting what's already known about Roberts. Senator Ted Kennedy gave an impassioned speech on the importance of various individual rights. He only devoted one sentence to challenging Roberts' record: "There are real and serious reasons to be deeply concerned about Judge Roberts' record. Many of his past statements and writings raise questions about his commitment to equal opportunity and the bipartisan remedies we have adopted in the past."
In perhaps the only highlight of the day (for depressed Democrats), Senator Joseph Biden went further. He first enthusiastically derided constitutional literalism and defended the idea of a living and adaptable Constitution that recognizes a right to privacy and that permits the federal government to "act as a shield to protect the powerless against major economic interest" and to "stamp out discrimination." Then he declared, "Judge, if I looked only at what you've said and written in the past, I'd feel compelled to vote no. You dismissed the Constitution's protection of privacy as a 'so-called right,' you derided agencies like the Securities and Exchange Commission that combat corporate misconduct as 'constitutional anomalies,' and you dismissed 'gender discrimination' as merely a--and I quote--'perceived problem.'"
Don't forget about DAVID CORN's BLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent postings on Hurricane Katrina, a sophisticated hacking job, John Roberts, and "net-roots" politics in NYC.
Most of the Democrats used their handful of minutes to lay the foundation for their questions to come rather than to define Roberts as a poor choice. Senator Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, came close to accusing Roberts of being an ideologue but said that would be determined by how--and whether--Roberts answers Schumer's queries: "If you refuse to talk about already decided cases, the burden is on you...to figure out a way, in plain English, to help us determine whether you will be a conservative--but mainstream conservative--chief justice, or an ideologue....You told me that you are not an ideologue and that you share my 'aversion' to ideologues; yet you have been embraced by some of the most extreme ideologues in America, like the leader of Operation Rescue [an antiabortion outfit]. That gives rise to a question. What do they know that we don't know?"
The problem, said a former Democratic Senate aide, "is that Democrats feel responsible and actually want to get more information before expressing a position, and the Republicans have already made up their minds." But that's only a partial (if not self-serving) explanation. By all accounts, most Democratic senators have already made a decision on the preexisting record--the slate is not blank--and most have concluded that Roberts ought not to be confirmed. So why worry and speechify about all the process stuff instead of the main point? "The Democrats want to come out, talk about their ideals and look affirmative and not appear defensive," one leader of the Roberts opposition told me. "Some were even mad at Biden for so clearly saying that he found Roberts wanting."
With Republicans in lockstep on message--Roberts is a great pick and nominees should not be pushed too hard--the Democrats were establishing a hard task for themselves: beat the GOPers on the process fight (which few Americans give a damn about) and then trying to deploy strategic questions that will yield answers--or non-answers--that demonstrate Roberts warrants opposition. Why not frame the real debate--or attempt to do so--from the get-go? Would that be too confrontational for them? Not sufficiently senatorial? In any event, it was a miscalculation. True, the game was over before it began. But it seemed that the Democrats lost the chance to fight the best fight possible.
The Democrats cannot stop Roberts. Consequently, they can only have one political objective: to boost the number of no votes. This would allow them to claim their party is the one that cares about privacy rights. Moreover, a large no vote would signal the White House that the Democrats might be able to rough up--perhaps even stop--Bush's next Supreme Court pick if that nominee is a rightwing extremist (to use the term of choice). Bush, as is his way, probably would not pay much heed to such a signal. But the Democrats at least have to try--especially since their base supporters expect them to do all that is possible to beat back Bush's effort to steer the federal judiciary to the right.
As he kicked off the hearings, Specter said, "Now we face the biggest challenge of the year--and perhaps the biggest challenge of the decade." If only. With the Senate Republicans in love with Roberts and opposed to any serious grilling, there's not much challenge at hand. When the Democrats hurl tough questions at Roberts on Tuesday (and maybe Wednesday), it will only be for the record. In his opening statement, Specter noted that Roberts once wrote a memo in which he suggested that a justice's tenure should be limited to 15 years, given that life expectancy had become much longer than when the Constitution was drafted. Specter said he might question Roberts about this. Lets hope so. It seems a good time to consider that proposal.
Yesterday's New York Times's Sunday Styles section had a story about those of us called Katrina, and how we are handling the fact that we share a name with a Hurricane which has caused such enormous suffering and destruction.
The article notes how angry I was that Rush Limbaugh stooped so low as to link me to this human suffering. (He referred to the catastrophic storm as "Hurricane Katrina vanden Heuvel"). The Times reporter says that I dismissed the personal attack "and wheeled the issue into more comfortable terrain" by raising serious questions about the disaster in a recent piece.
Yes, I did raise questions about the shamefully inadequate response to the worst natural disaster in US history. But what the Times article didn't report were my personal reactions to the suffering. Nor did it convey my abiding hope that out of this tragedy--which has so starkly exposed our country's racial and class divide--will come a renewed understanding of the positive role of government in building a more just and equal America. Nor did it mention my search for how to most effectively help those hardest hit, spurred on, in part, by letters from many Nation readers asking our advice on the best ways to help.
On behalf of The Nation--and my colleagues who care so deeply about supporting grassroots relief efforts--I have made contributions to each of the following organizations listed below. I encourage Nation readers to consider these and other grassroots efforts in making your own gifts. Our website has also collected information about other ways you can help. (Click here for additional info.)
ACORN is a national, grassroots, dues-based organization of low-income people with 175,000 members. It's been highly effective in the campaigns for living wage-ordinances in 100 cities. Its headquarters was in New Orleans, and the group needs funds to establish temporary offices in nearby cities. More than 9,000 ACORN members lived in New Orleans before Katrina hit. Donations are going to locate missing members and provide housing for those who have been found. ACORN is holding town hall meetings around the country to discuss the hurricane response, and in the coming months, decisions about how to rebuild the city will take place. ACORN is one of the best hopes to ensure that the voices of those most affected by the hurricane are heard.
For more information: acorn.org
To donate: groundspring.org
Southern Mutual Help Association was founded in 1969 to help develop strong, healthy, prosperous rural communities in Louisiana. Working alongside southern Louisiana's fishermen and farmers, it is an advocate for preserving threatened livelihoods even as it assists in the process of change towards more sustainable futures.
Katrina has devastated the communities in which SMHA works. Louisiana's commercial fishers, the thousands of very poor families whose livelihood depends on fish, shrimp and shellfish from the bayous, have been virtually wiped out by the hurricane. Boats, docks and other infrastructure were destroyed, and the very waters they depend on have filled with salt, silt, and pollution, damaging and destroying fisheries. SMHA is still assessing the situation: It already knows the Acadiana region around Lafayette will have approximately 150,000 refugees looking for places to stay during the wait to return home (likely to be lengthy), and wondering how to recover and rebuild their future.
People throughout these fragile bayou communities will need long-term assistance, especially in the form of loans. But first SMHA must help stabilize the situation. SMHA has the commitment to be there for the long haul, and its mutually-trusting relationships with local communities will enable it to be effective in responding to local needs.
For more information: southernmutualhelp.org
To donate: southernmutualhelp.org/RuralRecoveryFund
Federation of Southern Cooperatives was established in 1967 to work with African-American rural communities in the South to save Black-owned land. In 1990 it successfully led efforts to pass the first "Minority Farmers Rights Bill." This membership-based organization can make sure aid is used not to deepen dependency, but to rebuild viable rural livelihoods. Their on-the-ground networks and local knowledge make them good candidates to loosen logistical bottlenecks and navigate complex politics; something national or international aid organizations cannot match. FSC is a member of Via Campesina, a global coalition of small farmers' organizations struggling for resource rights from the Mississippi to the Mekong deltas.
For more information: federationsoutherncoop.com
To donate: federationsoutherncoop.com/relief05.htm
Having finished the search for a luxury vacation home on the eastern shore of Maryland – which preoccupied him during the critical initial days of what is being called the worst natural disaster in American history – Vice President Dick Cheney jetted south late last week to inspect the damage.
With the wheels rolling for the purchase of his own $2.9 million home on the east coast, the Cheney was more or less ready to commiserate with the folks who had lost their homes on the Gulf Coast. Unfortunately, not all of the locals were prepared to thank the vice president for finally showing up.
Cheney was greeted in Gulfport, Mississippi, by a survivor of the disaster who – recalling the veep's blunt salutation for Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy during a visit to Capitol Hill last year – repeatedly shouted: "Go f--- yourself, Mr Cheney."
After Secret Service agents dragged the local man away, Cheney was asked by a reporter: "Are you getting a lot of that Mr. Vice President?"
Cheney answered: "First time I've heard it."
If Cheney had actually interacted with anyone on the ground, however, he would have heard a lot more. But the vice presidential visit was merely the latest in a series of photo opportunities by administration aides who are scrambling to undo the damage done by their plodding and disengaged responseto a catastrophe that was made much worse by initial federal neglect and incompetence.
Gulf Coast coast residents may be in shock. But they haven't lost their sense of outrage. As Cheney posed for the cameras, Gulfport resident Lynn Lofton approached reporters and told them: "I think the media opportunity right here is a complete waste of time and taxpayer money. They should have been here last week."
In fact, Cheney arrived just in time to, as he put it, "make certain that we're doing everything that needs to be done."
The former CEO of Halliburton needn't have worried. As has been the case since the Bush-Cheney administration took office: When trouble hits, Halliburton hits it big.
The firm that has collectedjbv more than $10 billion in Iraq-war related revenues is just
One of the first corporations to be awarded a reconstruction assignment after the hurricane hit was Halliburton's KBR (Kellogg Brown & Root) subsidiary, which has been tapped to repair damaged naval facilities in Louisiana and Mississippi.
KBR, which according to the able watchdogs at HalliburtonWatch.org has an ongoing $500 million contract with the Navy, will be in thick of the reconstruction process. And don't doubt that there may be more work coming KBR's way.
Joe Allbaugh, the former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, has a new job. He's lobbying for the Halliburton subsidiary in Washington and elsewhere. Conveniently, Allbaugh showed up in Louisiana on the day before Cheney's visit with the purpose, in the words of a Washington Post report, of "helping his clients get business."
Even if Allbaugh drops the ball, Halliburton is well covered.
The vice president can always be counted on to "make certain that we're doing everything that needs to be done."
John Nichols' book on Cheney, Dick: The Man Who Is President, was published by The New Press. Former White House counsel John Dean, the author of Worse Than Watergate, says, "This page-turner closes the case: Cheney is our de facto president." Arianna Huffington, the author of Fanatics and Fools, calls Dick, "The first full portrait of The Most Powerful Number Two in History, a scary and appalling picture. Cheney is revealed as the poster child for crony capitalism (think Halliburton's no bid, cost-plus Iraq contracts) and crony democracy (think Scalia and duck-hunting)."
Dick: The Man Who Is President is available from independent bookstores nationwide and at www.amazon.com*****************************************************************
It's Time for a New "New Deal"
New Orleans is destroyed, the Gulf Coast'sinfrastructure is in tatters and tens of thousands ofcitizens are without jobs as gas prices nationwiderise to record levels. Television sets brought thedestruction into all of our homes. But this WhiteHouse seemed unable to grasp the misery unfoldingbefore its own eyes.
Instead, President Bush treated the disaster as if hewere a loutish frat boy when he joked to Americansthat he had had good times partying in New Orleans asa young man and hoped in the near future to be able tosit on Senator Trent Lott's rebuilt porch in Mississippi.
But to really understand what went wrong with theAdministration's shameful response, we need to lookbeyond Bush's blame-the-other, pass-the-buck andwho-gives-a-____ attitude.
The Administration's ineptitude, as New York Timescolumnist Paul Krugman put it, was "a consequence ofideological hostility to the very idea of usinggovernment to serve the public good."
The government's failure was the result not of "simpleincompetence" in the Administration but "of a campaignby most Republicans and too many Democrats tosystematically vilify the role of government inAmerican life," LA Times columnist Robert Scheerargued. And as the Financial Times observed, "For thepast quarter-century in Washington...US politics hasbeen dominated by the conviction that what was wrongwith America would be solved by getting government offthe people's backs"--an attitude that contributed tothe criminal inaction on the part of the federalgovernment.
Indeed, you could see what the dog-eat-dog,antigovernment philosophy of the far right has reapedin the bloated bodies and raw sewage in New Orleans'sflooded streets.
That philosophy has attained new power under PresidentBush. While the Louisiana Army Corps of Engineersproposed $18 billion in projects that would haveshored up the protective levees, improved floodcontrol and perhaps prevented last week's breaches inthe levees' walls, none of these projects were funded.Instead, the White House cut the Corps' budget andactually proposed a further 20 percent cut in 2006.
Which raises the question: What steps should we taketo repair the breach that has become so apparent inour social fabric?
Here's one answer: Let's seize this moment bylaunching a twenty-first-century New Deal--with programsmodeled after the Works Progress Administration,updated for these times. Why?
A modernized version of the WPA would help ournation to rebuild New Orleans and Mississippi's GulfCoast, and repair the racial and class dividesthat we saw in such dramatic relief these past fewdays. It would rebuild and improve our nation'spublic infrastructure and (hopefully) alter the terms of ourpolitical discourse in the years ahead.
After all, Roosevelt's New Deal was so much more thansimply a vehicle for providing economic relief tocitizens in need. It gave Americans a sense of solidarity, a new social contract, as well as the chance to go to work. It also helped bring the country's infrastructureinto the twentieth century.
Take a moment to consider these statistics: The WPA, according to historian William Leuchtenburg, "built or improved more than 2,500 hospitals, 5,900school buildings, 1,000 airport landing fields, andnearly 13,000 playgrounds."
When the hurricane happened the poverty rate in NewOrleans stood at 28 percent--more than double thenational average. Fully half the children of Louisiananow live in poverty, the second-highest child povertyrate in the country (its neighbor, Mississippi, isnumber one). And as if to underscore the poverty ofour politics, the same week the hurricane devastatedthe poorest regions the Census Bureau released areport that found the number of Americans living inpoverty has climbed again--for the fourth straightyear under President Bush.
African-Americans, who are two-thirds of the city'spopulation, suffered the most in the hurricane's wake.As Professor Mark Naison wrote in a letter circulating on the web, this event is nothingshort of "a humanitarian challenge of unprecedentedproportions."
It showed "how deeply divided our nation is and howfar our social fabric has been strained" by the Iraqwar and by "policies which have widened the gapbetween rich and poor."
A post-New Orleans WPA could help to spark a new anddesperately needed moral struggle for economicrights. It could provide jobs to Louisiana andMississippi's poor and promote the goals ofequality, justice and economic opportunity acrossAmerican society.
(Bush's approach, in contrast, favors cronyism. Lastweek, Halliburton's stock hit a fifty-two-week high,presumably because Dick Cheney's former colleagues mayreap the benefits of this tragedy securinggovernment contracts to rebuild the Gulf Coast. Bush'sapproach has been a complete failure for the poor,elderly and largely African-American population ofNew Orleans.)
A WPA-style program could also begin to address therelated crisis of the inner cities--a crisis that, asthe Center for American Progress points out, thisAdministration has contributed to--as it has"repeatedly slashed job training [to the tune of morethan $500 million] and vocational education programs."
The Milton Eisenhower Foundation has argued that thefederal government should fund 1.25 million public-sector inner-city jobs. (Its website lays out a series of "what work" programs.)
We need a twenty-first-century WPA to restore theinfrastructure not only in Louisiana and Mississippi,but in every state in America. As Representative DennisKucinich said this past week, the task ahead that is required torebuild New Orleans includes a need for "new levees,new roads, bridges, libraries, schools, colleges anduniversities and...all public institutions, includinghospitals." The government's highest priority shouldbe on affordable housing and public infrastructure,not on casinos and luxury hotels, which skewdevelopment and contribute to environmentaldegradation.
We're "the only major industrialsociety that is not...renewing and expanding its publicinfrastructure," the Eisenhower Foundation reported.Instead of pork barrel spending on absurd bridges like"Don Young's Way" in Alaska, let's have the federalgovernment spend our money wisely to modernize ourhospitals, highways, universities and otherinstitutions.
Senator Kennedy said in a Senate floor speech this weekthat "we can't just fix the hole in the roof. We needto rebuild the whole foundation." He proposedestablishing "a New Orleans and Gulf CoastRedevelopment Authority modeled after the TennesseeValley Authority in its heyday." His good idea is to"plan, help fund and coordinate for thereconstruction of that damaged region."
Finally, we must seek to upend twenty-five years of right-wingpolitical dogma that is responsible for what wentwrong in responding to this disaster.
We need a new politics of shared sacrifice and arenewed commitment to a politics of shared prosperity--with a federalgovernment playing a vital role in creating a fairer, more just,full-employment economy. These proposals are common sense ideas; how could they be considered heretical in the hurricane'swake?
This is a moment ripe to reshapeAmericans' view of government. A twenty-first-century version of the WPA wouldhalt the dismantling and begin the rebuilding of our nation'scommunities, of lives enmeshed in deep poverty and squalor, and provide some hope that thehorrific abandonment by government ofthousands of citizens will be an aberration,not a nightmarish portent of what lies ahead.
In a perfect world--or, at least one not so imperfect--people who make the right call about important stuff would be rewarded and those who are wrong would not be. That's not how things work in Bushland. Remember those lovely medals George W. Bush handed to CIA chief George Tenet and then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, even though both were responsible for tremendous miscalculations on Iraq? In recent days, there have been calls for the firing of Michael Brown, the FEMA director--who got his job because he was a college chum of George W. Bush's 2000 campaign manager. Like DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff, Brown screwed the pooch, and both in recent days have issued CYA statements rather than acknowledge responsibility. Yet Bush praised his FEMA guy last week, saying, "Brownie, you're doing a heckuva job."
Let's consider an obvious comparison: Michael Brown and James Lee Witt, who Bill Clinton appointed head of FEMA. As has been widely noted, before joining FEMA, Brown was a lawyer for the International Arabian Horse Association. Before Witt was tapped as FEMA chief, he had served for four years as director of the Arkansas Office of Emergency Services. Bush placed a crony--Brown was also an attorney for the Oklahoma Republican Party--in charge of FEMA (and permitted the agency's disaster work to be downgraded). Clinton gave the job to a fellow with years of experience in disaster management and maintained a close connection to Witt and FEMA, which then had Cabinet-level status.
Don't forget about DAVID CORN's BLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent postings on Hurricane Katrina, William Rehnquist, and John Roberts.
Brown, Chertoff and Bush were not prepared for this foreseen tragedy, but FEMA's lack of readiness was predicted. By Witt, it turns out. In March 2004, he testified at a hearing conducted by two House subcommittees. The issue at hand was DHS's plan to consolidate--that is, reduce the number of--FEMA's regional and field offices. Witt's comments were all-too perceptive. He practically predicted the mess to come in New Orleans. As you read his remarks--which I excerpt below--think about two things. First, disaster-management experts outside the administration were worried about FEMA long before Hurricane Katrina came howling. Second, the poor people of New Orleans might have been much better off had someone who knew about disaster relief been in charge during this tragedy. Here's a portion of Witt's testimony:
As you continue to examine DHS and its growth, I want you to know that I and many others in the emergency management community across the country are deeply concerned about the direction FEMA is headed. First, we are greatly concerned that the successful partnership that was built between local/state/federal partners and their ability to communicate, coordinate, train, prepare, and respond has been sharply eroded. Second, FEMA, having lost its status as an independent agency, is being buried beneath a massive bureaucracy whose main and seemingly only focus is fighting terrorism while an all hazards mission is getting lost in the shuffle.
I firmly believe that FEMA should be extracted from the DHS bureaucracy and reestablish it as an independent agency reporting directly to the President, but allowing for the Homeland Security Secretary to task FEMA to coordinate the Federal response following terrorist incidents. Third, the FEMA Director has lost Cabinet status and along with it the close relationship to the President and Cabinet Affairs. I believe we could not have been as responsive as we were during my tenure at FEMA had there had been several levels of Federal bureaucracy between myself and the White House. I am afraid communities across the country are starting to suffer the impact of having FEMA buried within a bureaucracy rather than functioning as a small but agile independent agency that coordinates Federal response effectively and efficiently after a disaster.
FEMA was assembled in 1979 in much the same way that the various agencies of DHS have been put together. Although the reorganization that brought the various agencies together under FEMA was on a much smaller and more manageable scale, it took our country close to 15 years to get it right. When FEMA was formed there were several cultures all being thrown together under one new roof. The dominant "top down" culture within early FEMA traced its roots to the days of civil defense. This culture was probably necessary for those types of national security oriented activities. As a State Director of Emergency Management, I was often on the receiving end of FEMA's "top down," rigid, and sometimes inflexible approach. It is for this reason that I was determined, as FEMA Director, to take the Agency in a new direction. I wanted to move towards becoming an organization where the needs of the stakeholders and employees were valued and heeded. DHS is struggling with growing pains similar to what FEMA struggled with for the first 15 years of its existence.
However, I continue to be concerned about the scope of the task that has been given to Under Secretary Hutchinson and Secretary Ridge. FEMA was an agency of 2,600 permanent employees and 4,000 disaster reservists and it took 15 years to get on the right track. The reorganization taking place with DHS is several scales above the FEMA reorganization and they are being asked to accomplish this massive effort in a world full of uncertainty regarding future terrorist activity and the certainty of future natural disasters. As you may know, I was not in favor of creating such a large Department all at once. I supported the creation of a Department of Homeland Security, but I do not think this was accomplished in the right way. I always thought we should start with the areas that needed the greatest and most immediate attention--specifically those activities involving the gathering, assimilation, and dissemination of terrorist intelligence to state and local officials. Also, I thought it made sense to engage in efforts to improve the security of our most vulnerable critical infrastructure and targeted industries. I felt that many of the pieces in place to manage the consequences of a disaster or terrorist attack were not broken and didn't need "fixing." I saw no need to reinvent the wheel on the consequence management side of emergency management--particularly when there were several other more pressing areas that needed to be addressed regarding counterterrorism efforts.
In an effort to build other Directorates within DHS that need more help, vital pieces of the Emergency Preparedness and Response Directorate--FEMA--are being moved or underfunded to prop up these other very critical areas. Programs--like the very successful Fire Grants--are being moved out of FEMA. And the Emergency Management Performance Grants (EMPG) which provide the backbone to our emergency management systems are being cut and significantly restructured in a very detrimental way. In fact some estimates suggest that the 25-percent cap on personnel costs within the EMPG could result in more than half of the country's 4,000-plus emergency managers losing their jobs. By throwing all of these disparate pieces together in the DHS stew, we have not only diluted the concentration on some of the most critical parts of our counterterrorism efforts, but we are allowing scarce resources to be directed away from consequence management. Our Nation's emergency management system has often been held up as an international model; however, this country's well-oiled emergency management infrastructure--that has been built over many years--is now in great jeopardy as DHS attempts to build capabilities in other areas of the Department.
Imagine if Witt--or anyone with such expertise--had been running FEMA in recent years. How many less deaths would there have been in New Orleans and Mississippi? That question cannot be answered. But it is clear that Bush, Chertoff and Brown let FEMA slide. And the cost for that is dead bodies floating in the dirty waters of New Orleans. Now there's a debate over what investigation will come in Katrina's wake. Senators Susan Collins and Joseph Lieberman--who led the effort to create the DHS that swallowed up FEMA--announced on Tuesday that their government affairs committee would conduct hearings. Tom DeLay, though, seemed to say he was not eager to see any House committees do the same. And Bush vowed that he would look into "what went wrong" but did not endorse the creation of an independent investigation. As the Bush administration and the Republican Congress dither over this, here's a suggestion: at least one investigation should be independent of the administration, and it should be led by James Lee Witt.
As Republicans desperately cry out of one corner of their mouths to stop the blame game, they have been blaming everyone but themselves since this catastrophe. Let's look at their ever-evolving buck-passing strategies.
Blame the Victims: Both FEMA's Michael Brown and Homeland Security's Michael Chertoff, the Mutt and Jeff of this calamity, have blamed careless, destitute New Orleaners for not evacuating. "Those who got out are fine," Chertoff told NBC's Tim Russert. FEMA sought to excuse its delays in entering the city by blaming the looters.
Blame the Locals: In a stroke of political luck, both the New Orleans mayor and Louisiana's Governor are Democrats. As the New York Times reported, Karl Rove's PR strategy is to shift the blame to the state and city officials. All Sunday, White House officials and Fox News played this card. Expect more of this line of attack.
Blame the City: In perhaps the most bizarre excuse, Chertoff pointed the finger the city of New Orleans itself, saying, "It is a soup bowl. People have talked for years about whether it makes sense to have a city like that."
Blame the Media: Last week, Brown blamed media coverage for the perception that New Orleans had descended into lawlessness. "I actually think security is darn good.... It seems to me that every time a bad person wants to cause a problem, there's somebody with a camera to stick in their face."
Look on the Bright Side: As Americans continued to drown, Chertoff came up with this gem about the rescue efforts: "There were some things that actually worked very well. There were some things that didn't."
Ignoramus Defense: When FEMA's Brown, who was fired from his last job overseeing Arabian horse shows, said he was as "surprised as everybody else" to discover there were desperate people in the New Orleans convention center, CNN Soledad O'Brien asked, "How is it possible that we're getting better intel than you're getting?" But it was left up to our physically fit President for the whopper of the week: "I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees."
It is likely this last defense will be scrapped for obvious reasons. If only we could do the same to this Administration for painfully obvious reasons.
Finally, we have discovered the roots of George W. Bush's "compassionate conservatism."
On the heels of the president's "What, me worry?" response to the death, destruction and dislocation that followed upon Hurricane Katrina comes the news of his mother's Labor Day visit with hurricane evacuees at the Astrodome in Houston.
Commenting on the facilities that have been set up for the evacuees -- cots crammed side-by-side in a huge stadium where the lights never go out and the sound of sobbing children never completely ceases -- former First Lady Barbara Bush concluded that the poor people of New Orleans had lucked out.
"Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this, this is working very well for them," Mrs. Bush told American Public Media's "Marketplace" program, before returning to her multi-million dollar Houston home.
On the tape of the interview, Mrs. Bush chuckles audibly as she observes just how great things are going for families that are separated from loved ones, people who have been forced to abandon their homes and the only community where they have ever lived, and parents who are explaining to children that their pets, their toys and in some cases their friends may be lost forever. Perhaps the former first lady was amusing herself with the notion that evacuees without bread could eat cake.
At the very least, she was expressing a measure of empathy commensurate with that evidenced by her son during his fly-ins for disaster-zone photo opportunities.
On Friday, when even Republican lawmakers were giving the federal government an "F" for its response to the crisis, President Bush heaped praise on embattled Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Michael Brown. As thousands of victims of the hurricane continued to plead for food, water, shelter, medical care and a way out of the nightmare to which federal neglect had consigned them, Brown cheerily announced that "people are getting the help they need."
Barbara Bush's son put his arm around the addled FEMA functionary and declared, "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job."
Like mother, like son.
Even when a hurricane hits, the apple does not fall far from the tree.