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The Nation

White House Whitewash on Katrina?

I first posted this at www.davidcorn.com....

We all know how much this White House cherishes self-examination and accountability. So it was safe to assume that its just-released report on Hurricane Katrina would be a no-holds-barred, blistering, tell-all account of what went wrong--from the streets of New Orleans all the way to the Oval Office. But--can you believe it?--the report somehow managed to miss the missteps that occurred at the White House. There's no accounting of why George W. Bush, Dick Cheney or Andrew Card didn't move quickly to supervise the federal response to Katrina. Perhaps a chapter was lost on the way to the printer. I've done a word search on the main body of the 228-page report. Looking for the phrase "White House," I found six pages on which the White House is mentioned; four of those are in the recommendation section and describe how the White House can be involved in a better response next time.

Here are the other references to the White House (the bold emphasis is mine):

* p. 36 -- [A]s late as 6:00 PM EDT that day [August 29, the day Katrina made landfall, the DHS Homeland Security Operations Center (HSOC) reported to senior DHS and White House officials that, "Preliminary reports indicate the levees in New Orleans have not been breached, however an assessment is still pending."

....At 6 PM EDT aboard a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter, Marty Bahamonde, a FEMA Public Affairs Official, observed the extent of the flooding and was "struck by how accurate" the earlier local reporting was of the levee breaches. He then called FEMA Director Michael Brown and other FEMA officials with his eyewitness account at approximately 8 PM EDT that day. Director Brown has testified that he subsequently called the White House to report the flooding information he received from Bahamonde. Following the calls, Mr. Bahamonde arranged a conference call with State, regional, and FEMA officials to recount what he had seen. An HSOC report marked 10:30 PM EDT, but not received at the White House until 12:02 AM EDT the next day, summarized the conference call and reported Mr. Bahamonde's observations on the extent of flooding throughout New Orleans.

* p. 49 -- These [faith-based groups] groups succeeded in their missions, mitigated suffering and helped victims survive mostly in spite of, not because of, the government. These groups deserve better next time. Jim Towey, Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, said these folks were the foot soldiers and armies of compassion that victims of Katrina so desperately needed.

Did Bush do anything wrong? Apparently not. Well, to be fair, the report does gently suggest that he apparently failed to act on his vision. The foreword notes,

Hurricane Katrina prompted an extraordinary national response that included all levels of government--Federal, State, and local--the private sector, faith-based and charitable organizations, foreign countries, and individual citizens. People and resources rushed to the Gulf Coast region to aid the emergency response and meet victims' needs. Their actions saved lives and provided critical assistance to Hurricane Katrina survivors. Despite these efforts, the response to Hurricane Katrina fell far short of the seamless, coordinated effort that had been envisioned by President Bush when he ordered the creation of a National Response Plan in February 2003.

So Bush had done the appropriate pre-disaster work. He had "envisioned" a "seamless, coordinated effort." Yet somehow that envisioned response did not happen on its own--while Bush was playing guitar at a Navy base in San Diego the day after Katrina hit. Well, shouldn't Bush have fired whoever was responsible for not putting his vision into practice? I supposed that would not be too compassionate.

And here's an interesting comparison. The House report on Katrina (written by Republicans) was titled, A Failure of Initiative. Bush's report is called Lessons Learned. Its not called Lessons Learned Quickly, for there still is no director of FEMA (to replace Michael Brown)--just an acting director.

L.A. Labor Thrown Into Crisis

The country's most dynamic and progressive union coalition – The Los Angeles County Federation of Labor--finds itself in a world of pain this week, just a few months out from a looming hotel workers' showdown.

Earlier this week, the charismatic County Fed leader Martin Ludlow – a close ally of L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa--was forced to resign under the cloud of a criminal investigation. Ludlow reportedly took a plea deal to avoid jail by stepping down after a multi-agency probe turned up evidence that he violated campaign laws when he accepted undisclosed union phone banking support during his 2003 election to the City Council.

This is the second shock to the 800,000 member County Fed in less than a year. Last May, its highly successful leader, Miguel Contreras, died of a sudden heart attack. Contreras had forged the Fed into a political powerhouse whose endorsement was readily sought by aspiring candidates. Contreras, however, had thrown the Fed's support to then-incumbent Mayor James Hahn against challenger Villaraigosa. It was a decision that had deeply split labor ranks; Villaraigosa, a former union organizer, had been considered labor's best friend and seemed the natural favorite for the Fed.

In an ironic twist, Contreras died just days before Villaraigosa's election. In order to mend fences, the County Fed then turned to 41 year old African-American Ludlow--who had been an aide to Villaraigosa--to take over the helm of the organization.

Ludlow artfully held the County Fed together even as its national affiliates went through a divorce last year that split up the AFL-CIO.

His forced resignation has now tossed the union alliance into a deep crisis. In the last few days there had been open speculation that Contreras' widow – hotel workers' leader Maria Elena Durazo--would be given the top post. But a two hour meeting of the County Fed on Thursday ended inconclusively. Another possible contender is Kent Wong, the popular leader of the UCLA labor center. There's no word when the Fed will meet again to try to elect a new head.

 

Days of Rage in Iraq

Iraq is in the early stages of a civil war, as events on the ground make painfully clear. At least 111 people have been killed since Sunni insurgents attacked one of the holiest Shiite mosques yesterday, in what the AP called "two days of rage." Sunnis claim that 168 of their own mosques have been hit in retaliation by Shiite militias. The crossfire claimed the lives of three Iraqi journalists and seven more US troops.

Think Progress reminds us that the CIA's National Intelligence Council assesment in September 2004 warned President Bush that this could happen. From the Washington Post:

 

In the best-case scenario, the NIC said, Iraq could be expected to achieve a "tenuous stability" over the next 18 months. In the worst case, it could dissolve into civil war.

 

The White House, as they've been known to do, ignored the CIA's findings, labeling the professional intelligence community "pessimists and naysayers." Bush called the assessment a "guess."

Of course, prescient critics of the war, such as Senator Robert Byrd, raised these questions before the war authorization vote:

 

What plans do we have to prevent Iraq from breaking up and descending into civil war?

 

None, it turned out. Bush still doesn't understand the magnitude of the civil war or how America's troop presence inflames it.

You know things are going badly for the Administration when even Bill O'Reilly wants to cut and run.

L'Affair Dubai Spins Beyond Satire

The Onion may have grounds for legal action against the Bush administration for unfair competition.

After all, the administration is supposed to make its best effort to manage the affairs of state in a responsible manner. The Onion, a weekly humor publication that plays the news for laughs much as John Stewart's "Daily Show" does, is supposed to satirize the inevitable mistakes, missteps and misdeeds.

But the month of February has seen the administration stealing The Onion's thunder on a regular basis.

First, the vice president shot a guy in the face and then kept the story under wraps for a day.

Then, before the furor over Deadeye Dick's "peppering" incident had died down, the administration got itself embroiled in a controversy over the determination of the president to approve a deal that would put six major U.S. ports under the operational control of a country that the bipartisan 9-11 Commission warned suffers from "a persistent counterterrorism problem."

The absurdity of the moment was placed in stark relief Thursday afternoon, when senior administration officials from the Departments of Defence, State, Treasury and Homeland Security trooped up to Capitol Hill to brief the Senate Armed Services Committee about the plan to let Dubai Ports World, a firm owned by the government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE)in charge of ports up and down the east coast.

Noting a particularly concerning line in the 9-11 Commission -- "The United Arab Emirates was becoming both a valued counterterrorismally of the United States and a persistent counterterrorism problem" -- U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, asked the administration representatives: "Just raise your hand if anybody (at the witness table) talked to the 9-11 commission," said Levin.

The senator's request was met with blank stares.

It was a priceless moment, indeed, an Onion moment.

That's the problem.

The way the administration is handling L'Affair Dubai is simply unfair to The Onion. How can a satirical newspaper satirize that which is beyond satire? What next? A plan to "fix" Social Security by betting the retirement security of millions of Americans on a stock market gamble? Oh, well, never mind.

One Red State

A friend of mine from South Carolina sent me the most astonishing article on his home state from yesterday's USA Today. Reporter Ron Barnett examines the quixotic quest of Cory Burnell, founder of Christian Exodus, to have all of the nation's evangelical Christian conservatives move to South Carolina.

Hey, why not? Good for the left (we can pick up all those borderline red states) and good for the far right. Tired of all those liberals and activist judges protecting abortion, legalizing gay marriage and funding public schools that teach evolution. Round up the kids, call U-Haul and head to the heart of the Old Confederacy. It's got 750,000 Southern Baptists, Bob Jones University, nice golf courses and rosy real estate values. When the Exodus gets into full swing, Christians can take over state government and pass some real laws. On Burnell's docket: outlaw abortion, mandate life support, install Christian symbols in the statehouse, eliminate public schools, ban government 'taking' of private property. Oh yeah, and one curious item critical of "the perils of imperialist entanglements abroad." Gee, could he mean Iraq?

The sheer absurdity of Christian Exodus (and the mix of values behind it) is a testament to how much the religious right has changed under the Bush administration. Burnell's formula (isolationism + Christian social conservatism + anti-state rhetoric, with a dash of concealed white supremacy) was once boilerplate for the Republican Party. But now, as Esther Kaplan, Gary Younge and Salim Muwakkil all report, the strategists of the religious right have their sights firmly set on international turf and the black church -- with progress on the former and not so much on the latter.

Of course, that's one problem Burnell faces; South Carolina is 30% African American and although most are Baptist, they also poll and vote to the left. His more immediate problem, however, is recruitment. He's only got 20 or so families to move. Oh, and Christian Exodus is based in Texas. And Burnell himself still lives in California. So much for whistling Dixie.

The Abortion Debate Gets Real

It is rare that a decision by the South Dakota State Senate merits national attention. But there is simply no question that this week's vote by that chamber to ban abortion ought to be on the radar of every American who thinks that the right to choose is an issue. Certainly, opponents of reproductive rights recognize the significance; after the South Dakota vote, the Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney, director of the militantly anti-choice Christian Defense Coalition, said he saw the foundations of the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision crumbling and announced that, "With several states waiting in the wings to ban abortion, momentum is clearly building nationwide to overturn Roe."

Mahoney's allies in South Dakota agree. "The momentum for a change in the national policy on abortion is going to come in the not-too-distant future," says Republican Representative Roger W. Hunt, who has spearheaded the drive to make South Dakota the first state to pass a broad ban on the prodecure since the Roe decision of 33 years ago.

There's a reason this fight is playing out in this state.

South Dakota is one of three states -- North Dakota and Mississippi are the others -- with only one abortion provider.

With an overwhelming 23-12 vote to make it a felony for doctors to perform abortions, the South Dakota Senate has joined the lower house of the legislature -- which backed the bill by a 47-to-22 margin -- to endorse a move that could force the shuttering of that state's last clinic.

The fight is not over. South Dakota Governor Mike Rounds, an anti-choice but somewhat sensible Republican, still must decide whether he wants to sign the bill. But the wide margins in favor of the ban in both houses of the legislature suggest that, even if Rounds determines that the measure goes to far, his veto could face an override threat.

If the South Dakota ban becomes law, it will face an aggressive challenge in the courts. But, as everyone is, by now, well aware, the courts have changed a great deal since the last time they weighed the basic question of whether women will have a right to make decisions with regard to the termination unwanted pregnancies.

Just how dramatically unwanted a pregnancy might be is of little concern to the South Dakota legislators who backed the ban. While a narrow exception was allowed for procedures that would save the life of a pregnant woman, the South Dakotans rejected amendments to the bill that would have provided exceptions in the case of rape or incest or serious threats to the health and well-being of the woman.

Representative Hunt was blunt about why he and other took a hard line: Providing protections in "special circumstances" -- such as cases where children are raped -- would have diluted the bill and muddied the push for a Supreme Court decision overturning Roe.

The court fights that may evolve over this particular measure are, in large measure, beyond the control of the great majority of Americans who support maintaining access to safe and legal birth control procedures. The failure of U.S. Senate Democrats and the handful of pro-choice Republicans in that chamber to filibuster the nomination of Justice Samuel Alito has created an opening that the anti-choice movement has for years been preparing -- on a meticulous state-by-state basis -- to exploit. The Supreme Court may still have a narrow pro-Roe majority, but that will only be known when and if a case involving the South Dakota law, or another one like it, is reviewed.

That does not mean, however, that supporters of reproductive rights have to stand by the sidelines and watch as the momentum builds to overturn Roe. As Nancy Keenan, the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America notes, "When you see them have a ban that does not include exceptions for rape or incest or the health of the mother, you understand that elections do matter."

In 2006, 36 governships, including South Dakota's, will be up for election. Additionally, the vast majority of state legislative seats in the 50 states will be selected.

The fight over choice has often played out at the margins of our national politics, exploited by cynical strategists on both sides of the partisan aisle more as a tool to mobilize the passionate than to convince swing voters. Rarely, for instance, are television advertisements seen raising the issue on behalf or against a particular gubernatorial or legislative candidate. But the decision of the South Dakota Senate ought to change the equation for 2006, not merely in that state but nationwide. If ever there was a moment when the debate over reproductive rights was ready for the political primetime, this is it.

The Truth About Dubya and Dubai

While there are plenty of important questions to discuss regarding port security in the United States, all of these issues were present before the Dubai World Ports (DP World) controversy.

People across the political spectrum are focusing on whether an Arab company operating commercial ports is a threat to our security.  This focus is fueling anti-Arab and anti-Arab American sentiment while also obscuring the real issues at hand.

Laila Al-Qatami, spokeswoman for the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), reports in a phone interview that her inbox is full of emails telling Arabs to "stay away" and "we don't want your money in the U.S."  And, Ms. Al-Qatami notes, "Those are the nice ones."

The Bush Administration has jumped to the defense of DP World not because the company has operated internationally in Germany, Australia, and Hong Kong and is one of the 3 largest port operators in the world; nor because Dubai hosts more U.S. Navy ships than any other country in the region (which it does).  And don't be fooled when the President offers this soundbite. "I want those who are questioning it to… explain why all of a sudden a Middle Eastern company is held to a different standard…."

The fact is, the administration is defending this deal because their guiding principle is one of maximizing corporate profits, as Harold Meyerson notes in the Washington Post yesterday.

Not surprisingly, the Bush administration has significant business ties to DP World.  According to the New York Daily News, David Sanborn, who runs DP World's European and Latin American operations, was named by Bush to direct the U.S. Maritime Administration just last month.

And Treasury Secretary John Snow, who headed the federal review of the deal, was Chairman of CSX which sold its international port operations to DP Word for $1.15 billion just one year before Mr. Snow joined the Bush cabinet.

So what are the real security issues we need to be talking about? As the Center For American Progress reports, how about the fact that in 2002 the Coast Guard estimated that it would cost $5.4 billion over 10 years to make the necessary improvements to the nation's ports, and last year only $175 million was appropriated to the program?

How about the fact that only 6 percent of the 9 million containers arriving in U.S. ports are physically inspected by customs agents?

When the President suddenly attempts to wax eloquent about prejudice against "a Middle Eastern company,"  let's not be fooled about his true motives or lose sight of the real issues.  And let's make certain that we continue to issue a clarion call against destructive anti-Arab and anti-Arab American sentiment that threatens to take our nation even further backwards in our continuing struggle for civil and human rights.

Go Christine!

I was never wild about the Band of Brothers idea, as Ari notes, and not just because it is such a male (and white) bunch of tired and dreary no-idea candidates. It's a gimmick. A militaristic gimmick. It says Daddy's back and he hates those commie pinko peaceniks just as much as you, patriotic red-blooded red-state America! What's next, Band of Preachers?

Tammy Duckworth is a great human-interest story, but that's not a reason to support her candidacy. Running her is an act of considerable cynicism-- but it seems to be working. Ari, I'm guessing you'd barely heard of her before a few weeks ago, and you're practically ready to support her. The centrist mantra is working it's magic: Already you're having trouble telling the difference between the candidate who walks the walk and has grassroots support, and the candidate who is basically a photo-op. Who says Duckworth is the more electable of the two, besides the pols who recruited her to run?

Duckworth wants to stay in Iraq, she's allied with the more conservative wing of the party, and she seems to have very little substantive to say about most issues. She' s trying to push out of the way a candidate who has a lot of support, more local roots, who ran an incredible race last time, and who has much better politics. I would trust Cegelis a thousand times over Duckworth to take progressive stands once elected, including on women's rights and abortion rights. Duckworth told the Washington Post she thinks abortion shouldn't be a federal issue. That's not exactly a ringing defense of abortion rights, since unfortunately it IS a federal issue.

If it's all the same to you whether the US stays in Iraq or not, if you think women candidates are fungible and it makes no difference that one has been part of progressive politics in the district for years while the other was trying to get into active combat because (according to the WashPost) she thought flying helicopters was cool, by all means, support Duckworth.

Larry Summers's Ghosts

Maybe it's not surprising that media coverage of Larry Summers's resignation as Harvard University's President has focused on his personal style. After all, Summers--by most accounts--alienated many with a manner widely seen as bullying, arrogant, divisive. But, as my former colleague, longtime Russia watcher and ex-Nation blogger Matt Bivens reminds us, where's the media reporting on Summer's infamous World Bank memo and, of special interest to me, his role in Russian corruption during the Yeltsin years. After all, as Bivens describes below, these incidents illuminate Summers' character as much as his bully boy tactics as Harvard's soon-to-be-ex-President.


The infamous Summers Memorandum

At a time when he was the chief economist of the World Bank – a powerful post at what bills itself as the premier organization for assisting poor countries – Summers sent an internal memo to colleagues at the Bank arguing for shipping pollution to the Third World.

In Summers' analysis, the cost of a person's premature death was measured by the loss of potential earned income. So if living next to a dioxin-emitting plant takes five years off the average life expectancy of a relatively well-paid American, that is far more significant an event than if a similar plant causes the same damage to, for example, the average African. "Just between you and me, shouldn't the World Bank be encouraging more migration of the dirty industries to the LDCs [less developed countries]?" Summers wrote. "The economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to it."

When the memo was outed by environmentalists, it provoked headlines around the world -- including the memorable "Save Planet Earth from Economists" in the Financial Times – and responses from many disgusted world leaders, including the Brazilian Cabinet minister who observed that Summers' argument was "perfectly logical but totally insane."

Summers responded that it had been an ironic exercise, a game to encourage more rigorous thinking at the bank. As Summers' political star rose – from the World Bank he became a Deputy Treasury Secretary under Clinton, then Treasury Secretary, and then President of Harvard – the "Summers memo" dogged his footsteps. When asked about it, Summers usually concedes a general error -- "when I make a mistake, it's a whopper" – and then refuses to discuss it further, or, worse, mumbles something oddly qualified – i.e., the memo's "sentiment" is "all wrong" even though there are "real issues about trade-offs between growth and the environment."

As the mThe New Yorker reported that a young economist working at the time for Summers was the *real* author; to hear Summers and his young protégé tell it, this was a heart-warming story about how Summers was a stand-up guy who was careless about what he signed. A few years later still, the story of the memo was that it had been "doctored" from a long half-joking critique of current economics into "a deliberate fraud and forgery to discredit Larry and the World Bank."

I'll leave it to you to decide whether Larry Summers is the kind of guy who would take the flak for 15 long years over a **doctored forgery. **


Summers & Russian Corruption

After the World Bank job and before the Harvard presidency, Summers was a Clinton man. At the Treasury Department, he was America's architect of economic policy toward Russia, at a time when that nation was struggling to emerge from its Soviet past, and looking to us for guidance.

Summers used his position to sing the praises of the so-called "energetic young reformers" – a phrase Boris Yeltsin helped coin that these days is rarely spoken in Russian circles except as a sarcastic insult.

Ten years ago, on the eve of Yeltsin's 1996 re-election, the Russian president disappeared from view and his most famous "young reformer," Anatoly Chubais, took the stage. Chubais had a few months earlier been publicly fired by Yeltsin – Yeltsin at that time had accused him, in so many words, of being on the take, of selling off Russia's oil fields and precious metal mines for kopecks in return for bribes. Now here was Chubais on TV again, apparently in charge of things – this came as a shock to many Russians. And as Yeltsin was heading in for risky heart by-pass surgery, he was promising, in not-so-veiled language, a Chubais-led junta if the surgery failed. (Did I mention that Chubais talked of ruling via a committee named "The Cheka"?)

This topped a year in which Chubais had been absolutely indifferent in public to the then-new-and-horrible war in Chechnya (and a few years later, Chubais would cry "treason" when responsible national figures dared question Vladimir Putin's reprise of Yeltsin's war). A year in which Russia's natural resources had been parceled out among friends, via openly-rigged "auctions." A year of political campaigning in which Chubais had met in the Kremlin with leading Russian newspaper editors and, according to Nezavisimaya Gazeta editor Vitaly Tretyakov, ordered them to do as they were told, because "if you don't, bones will crack."

None of this – not the flirtation with a Chubais-led Cheka, not the hijacking of the nation's wealth – worried Summers. When Yeltsin survived surgery and promoted Chubais back to a top government post, Summers enthused that Russia had just received her"economic dream team." (Perhaps Summers was thinking of shipping US toxic waste to Russia?)


While Clinton Administration official Summers praised the dream team, some of his good friends were working with it.

Andrei Shleifer – a young economist protégé of Summers' – ran a US-government-funded project to help Russia map its economic future. Under the auspices of the Harvard Institute for International Development, Shleifer and his American team advised Chubais and his Russian team on how to sell off the natural resource fields, how to set up capital and financial markets, etc.

Five years after its launch, Shleifer's project collapsed amid corruption allegations. It quicklybecame public -- thanks to whistleblowers in Russia -- that even as they were providing "disinterested advice" to Russia, Shleifer, his lieutenant Jonathan Hay, and both men's wives had been making direct investments to the tune of several hundred thousand dollars in these same projects. Perhaps most damningly, to quote a US government press release on the matter, "Shleifer and Hay participated in the launching and/or financing of Russia's first licensed mutual fund, which was started by Elizabeth Hebert, Hay's then girlfriend, now wife, and (b) Russia's first licensed mutual fund depository, the First Russian Specialized Depository ('FRSD'), which was started by Hebert's business partner and provided support services to the mutual fund."

In 2004, Shleifer & Co. lost a case brought by the US Justice Department against them and against their employer, Harvard University: the Justice Department accused them of violating conflict-of-interest provisions in their contracts. The original 98-page complaint asserted that Shleifer and his lieutenant arranged for the US government to pay hefty salaries to people who worked on their personal side business projects, and who rarely showed up for their ostensible government jobs "other than to collect their pay or for the free lunches."

It was an ironic coincidence that Summers technically joined old pal Shleifer in the docket: In the interim he had become President of Harvard and so was listed among the accused. (For an excellent account of the beating Harvard took in this trial at the hands of baffled and indignant ordinary American jurors, click here.)

In July 2005, Harvard and Shleifer finally settled the case. Harvard agreed to pay $26.5 million, Shleifer $2 million. Shleifer defiantly insisted to the end that he had done nothing wrong. Or, rather, that it had not been wrong of him to invest up, down, left and right in the same games he was being handsomely paid with US government funds to referee. Summers, and Harvard stood by throughout. And now Summers and Shleifer will, apparently, be teaching econ together next year at Harvard.