Wednesday, August 02, 2006

"I'd like to dedicate this post to a young man who doesn't think he's seen anything good today" 

Lovely and I are taking a couple days off to see Chicago: land of Jonnybutter, Abe Froman, and former N.O. residents Ratboy and Ratgirl, who will be hosting us. We thought mid-summer would be the perfect time to visit Chicago, where we could attend a music fest and stand outside for long periods of time, listening to music.

That reminds me, how did Sloane's grandmother die, anyway?

Don't worry. We'll be back in time for whatever's happening early next week.

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Tuesday, August 01, 2006

"I didn't know it meant that much to you." 

The Discovery Times documentary channel has a history series titled "Decisions that Shook the World". One of the programs in the series is about President Lyndon Johnson and the Civil Rights movement. Johnson promoted and signed civil rights legislation in the 1960's-- a monumental and important achievement, especially since Southern racist Senators had blocked all meaningful Civil Rights bills ever since Reconstruction. Johnson knew full well that passing these bills would "lose the South" for the Democrats, but LBJ set aside political calculations in order to do the right thing-- and caught hell for it. So, as much as I criticize Johnson, I don't underestimate his accomplishments as someone who could coerce votes, and get important legislation passed.

Below, I transcribed a small portion from the Discovery program which illustrates LBJ's "hands on" approach to moving legislation through Congress. It's a story recounted by LBJ's former aides, and I found it very entertaining. (Perhaps it loses something without the video, but you'll get the drift.)

LBJ aide Harry McPherson: Johnson had a rich appreciation of human foibles. He just delighted in talking to people who sounded highly moral and were living a salacious life off-stage.

Narrator: One particular Senator is on the floor trying to block the Civil Rights Bill with a filibuster.

LBJ aide Joseph Califano: [Hubert] Humphrey told Johnson that the Senator was doing this and Johnson said "My God, that guy has got a Negro mistress. How can he do that?" And Humphrey said "I had no idea that he had a mistress of any kind".

Narrator: Johnson orders that a call be made to the woman in question.

Califano: And a few minutes later the phone rings in the Democratic cloakroom, the Senator gets on the phone, Humphrey's positioned to listen to him and he hears this guy saying "Yes dear, yes dear. No, no, no! But I'm--" and then finally saying "I didn't know it meant that much to you." And then walking back on the floor and attacking the people who were against the bill, and saying that now he understood and he was going to vote to break the filibuster.

While LBJ was doing everything he could to get the Civil Rights Bill passed, Southern Republicans like G.H.W. Bush were salivating at the opportunity to run against Democrats who supported Civil Rights legislation. In 1966, the Dems lost 50 House seats and 8 Governorships. Steadily, the South went from solid blue to solid red.

With all this in mind, fast forward forty years from 1965 to 2005, and consider this episode:

President George W. Bush met with the Congressional Black Caucus Wednesday for the first time as a group in nearly four years, but what CBC members said stood out the most was the president's declaration that he was "unfamiliar" with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, one of the most significant pieces of legislation passed in the history of the United States.

At the conclusion of yesterday's 40-minute meeting, Bush - who attended along with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice - was asked by Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-2nd) whether he would support the re-authorization of a portion of the Voting Rights Act that must be approved every 25 years (It will come up for consideration next year).

"I don't know anything about the 1965 Voting Rights Act," Jackson recalled the president saying in an interview with the Chicago Defender.

He said that a hurried Bush went on to say that "when the legislation comes before me, I'll take a look at it, but I don't know about it to comment any more than that, but we will look at it when it comes to us."
How can someone-- especially a history major-- grow up in the 60's and not know about Johnson's Civil Rights legislation?
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Kevin Drum finds an admission from NeoCon Bill Ardolino that I must also reprint:

As my recent criticism of Ace... highlighted, there's a common idea, almost exclusively promoted among right-wing pundits, that more force is necessarily more effective force....

But the global war on terror is a wildly asymmetrical conflict that's only going to grow more frustrating and complex as the ubiquitization of destructive technology erases the easy lines of malicious nation states, and consequently mutes the effect of the kind of total warfare that historically pushes political solutions. As a result, much of the bluster about ditching Queensbury rules and going "Dubya Dubya Too" on our "enemies" as an evident solution to the conflict is simply that: bluster.

Sad but true. Too many on the right equate bluster with strength, and think the first person to yell "nuke'em all" wins the argument. However, the so-called War on Terrorism will not be won with simplistic "bluster".

Kevin concludes his post noting general areas of agreement between himself and bill. He writes:
If we can manage to agree on the idea that the fight against militant jihadism is, essentially, the biggest counterinsurgency effort ever, it's a good start. It means that when we think about using force, we think about it not in terms of whether it's "justified," or whether it will kill enough people (it won't), but in terms of whether it advances our long-term goal of ratcheting down the number of people who support large-scale terrorism.
Speaking of "ratcheting down the number" of terrorist-supporters, Bret Stephens makes several important points in his WSJ column titled "Israel is Losing This War". Here's one in particular:

Harder to understand is a military and political strategy that mistakenly assumes that Israel can take its time against Hezbollah. It cannot. Israel does not... have 130,000 troops at risk in Iraq of an uprising by Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army. It should be immensely worrying to Israel's leaders that Iraq's Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani is calling for an immediate cease-fire.

As we are sending more troops to Baghdad (now teeming with sectarian death squads), it's not encouraging to hear these sorts of comments from Iraqi leaders:

1. "These horrible massacres carried out by the Israeli aggression, like what happened at Qana, incite in us a spirit of solidarity... It's time for this nation to stand up and stop this aggression." -- Vice President Abdul Mahdi

2. "The government formed after the fall of the regime hasn't been able to do anything, just make many promises. And people are fed up with the promises," said Sheik Bashir al Najafi, one of the top four Shiite [ayatollahs] and one of several who suggested there could be a revolt. "One day we will not be able to stop a popular revolution."

3. "The Marjaiyyah [grand ayatollahs] will support the government as long as the government serves the people," Abdul-Aziz al Hakim, the leader of the United Iraqi Alliance, the largest Shiite political bloc, said in an interview with McClatchy Newspapers. "This was a warning."

4. "Islamic nations will not forgive the entities that hinder a cease-fire," Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani said, in a clear reference to the United States.

"It is not possible to stand helpless in front of this Israeli aggression on Lebanon," he added. "If an immediate cease-fire in this Israeli aggression is not imposed, dire consequences will befall the region."

5. "We, the unified Iraqi people, will stand with the Lebanese people to end the ominous trio of the United States, Israel and Britain, which is terrorizing Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan and other occupied nations. We do not want U.S. enterprises in the Middle East."-- cleric Moktada al-Sadr

Even some newly-converted "reality-based Republicans are starting to get a bit testy about the direction things are going. The NYT reports

Under a new security plan for Baghdad that President Bush and Prime Minister Maliki announced last week in Washington, the tours of 4,000 American soldiers who had been due to return home were extended last week. Representative Tom Cole, Republican of Oklahoma, warned Monday during a visit to Baghdad that domestic support for assigning American troops to police the capital might be short-lived. "Americans are not going to be very patient about having American forces essentially being police officers and maintaining order between indigenous Iraqi groups," he said.

In the coming months and years, when I hear reality-based conservatives make these sorts of complaints about Iraq, I'm not sure I'll be able to restrain myself from sarcastically regurgitating Bush/NeoCon war arguments. For example:

Representative Cole, tell your impatient constituents that freedom isn't free. Iraq is the central front in the war on terror, and it's better that our troops fight the freedom-hating enemy over there than fight them over here. The world is better off now that Saddam is out of power, and it's cynical to think that Iraqis are somehow incapable of handling God's gift of democracy and freedom, which will soon spread throughout the Middle East.
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I found these interesting, anyway:

1. Proportionate to what?

Ultimately, we come back to the basic problem with Israel's strategy: it's not justified, morally or practically, for the result it's achieving. Hezbollah's "back" won't be "broken." Israel has made its case that Hezbollah is still a state-within-a-state, but it hasn't helped the Lebanese state to deal with this problem. Instead, it has done the reverse, plunged a country that had recovered from one of the nastiest civil wars back into something resembling those dark days.

2. The "hiding among civilians myth"

Throughout this now 16-day-old war, Israeli planes high above civilian areas make decisions on what to bomb. They send huge bombs capable of killing things for hundreds of meters around their targets, and then blame the inevitable civilian deaths -- the Lebanese government says 600 civilians have been killed so far -- on "terrorists" who callously use the civilian infrastructure for protection.

But this claim is almost always false. My own reporting and that of other journalists reveals that in fact Hezbollah fighters -- as opposed to the much more numerous Hezbollah political members, and the vastly more numerous Hezbollah sympathizers -- avoid civilians. Much smarter and better trained than the PLO and Hamas fighters, they know that if they mingle with civilians, they will sooner or later be betrayed by collaborators -- as so many Palestinian militants have been.

3. Rich Lowry at NRO: (actually, it's just this quote that is useful to me, as it shows a mad adherence to the Bush administration's "Martingale" foreign policy.)

At this point, around the Middle East, the Bush administration seems to have two options: admit defeat, or continue to raise the stakes. Here is a good suggestion about how to do the latter with regard to Syria.

Listening to people who advocate such a perilous gambling strategy is one of the quickest ways to the poor house. A nightmare scenario occurs when someone "martingales" using other people's money (and blood).

It reminds me of this quote from a WSJ op-ed I flagged 18 months ago:

God help the army that must fight for an idea rather than an objective. After somehow failing to argue competently on behalf of a patently justifiable invasion, and as its more specious arguments were collapsing, the Bush administration then pivoted with breathtaking enthusiasm to nation building, something so Clinton-tinged that it had previously been held in contempt. The more that nation building in Iraq is in doubt, the more the mission creeps into a doubling of bets in hope of covering those that are lost. Now the goal is to reforge the politics, and perforce the culture, not merely of Iraq but of the billion-strong Islamic world from Morocco to the South Seas. That--evangelical democracy writ overwhelmingly large--is the manic idea for which the army must fight.

Not only has Bush become the world's worst "nation builder" he's now become a "root causer"!! Apparently he'll continue doubling our foreign policy "bets" (Lebanon, Syria, Iran... etc) until the U.S. runs out of blood and treasure. Then the Cons will blame their failure on the media and the liberals who "stabbed them in the back" and forced them to wage war with "one hand tied behind their back". That will be their storyline. It's ALWAYS their storyline. Except this time the liberal menace tied America's hand behind its back, and then they stabbed through the tied hand and into the back, so the wound would be all the more debilitating. That's a possible variation. In all cases, though, the American back takes a vicious beating.

See, only those treacherous liberals and the MSM could have derailed the NeoCon's brilliant foreign policy. They failed to "support the war".

(Funny, when you say "support the war" real fast it sounds like "sport the war".)
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Mary's pulling out all the stops 

Emily Metzgar "parses" a Roll Call article about Senator Mary Landrieu and the offshore drilling/revenue-sharing bill which the Senate may vote on today or tomorrow. Apparently, rumors are swirling that Landrieu may switch parties if Dems kill this bill. Emily writes:

[G]iven Louisiana's history of producing Democrats who defect to the Republican party, Democratic support for offshore drilling seems based, in part, on keeping Senator Landrieu in the Democratic fold. But the senator's spokesman quashes speculation on this saying, "Mary Landrieu is a moderate Democrat, but at the end of the day she is the same as she was at the beginning of the day, a Democrat."

That this question would even be posed to Senator Landrieu's office is fascinating.

Metzgar attributes this "fascinating" development to the "Katrina effect" and says that a "Katrina-inspired" political upheaval is "changing the national political calculus about Louisiana". While this analysis may be accurate, I have a much narrower interpretation of these Capitol Hill rumors regarding Landrieu's supposed flirtation with the GOP.

This isn't the "Katrina effect"-- this is Senate cloakroom poker. It's brinksmanship and high stakes negotiation; and, to her immense credit, Landrieu's team is apparently floating rumors that she'll defect to the GOP if fellow Democrats (like Bada-Bingaman) kill the revenue sharing bill. Mary is using every available measure to persuade, nay, force Minority Leader Harry Reid to deliver votes for this bill, which will help Louisiana restore its vital coast.

Now, anyone with a lick of political sense knows that she's bluffing. The LA GOP hates Mary. They have a visceral disgust for all things Landrieu, and everyone would distrust her if she "converted" to the GOP (including Rove in D.C.). Her political future would be over. Even if her party-switching allowed the Republicans to maintain control of the Senate by one vote, she'd still be persona non grata among GOP conservatives, because they believe she's a corrupt liberal. So, going to the GOP makes absolutely no sense as a political strategy, but it makes a ton of sense as a bluff-- especially to folks outside the state who might not know any better.

One of these types is Hillhack from MyDD. In a recent post, he wonders about the subterranean political dynamics at work on the revenue-sharing bill (which he incorrectly regards as a "raid" on the Fed Treasury by Louisiana). I attempted to correct him in the MyDD comments, to no avail. More interesting, though, was a comment Hillhack made that supports the Roll Call rumors that prompted Metzgar's post. Hillhack states:

I'm glad you're so confident in [Landrieu] staying a Democrat, very few people on the Hill are. Her hiring of Republicans to handle her legislative agenda does not bode well.

I could be wrong, but it seems to me that Senator Landrieu is pulling off a tremendous bluff in order to gain leverage with recalcitrant Dems prior to the high stakes House/Senate negotiations of the energy bill. YRHT salutes her bold maneuvering, and wishes her success as she tries to negotiate a greater share of oil revenues to save the Gret Stet's coast. There is no question in my mind that she's a "Louisiana Firster".

Update: Jeffrey has some perfectly-worded observations in the comment section of this post.

Update 2: We saw that has a link to video of Mary Landrieu explaining the bill.
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Monday, July 31, 2006 anticipates the unanticipatable. 

There's a remarkably well-preserved and obviously pre-Katrina web page on NOLA.COM entitled "New Orleans FAQ: Answers to the questions we're asked most often". Somehow, the wild idea of levees breaching during a hurricane's approach-- is, in fact, clearly anticipated.

Most of New Orleans is located below sea level, protected from the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain by an extensive levee system, canals and pumps. Much of the suburban areas, however, lie outside of this protection. And even New Orleans' protections might not be enough. Experts warn that even a mid-level hurricane approaching from the right directions could breach the levees, leaving the city under dozens of feet of water for weeks.

President Bush 9/1/05:
I mean, I understand the -- anxiety of people on the ground. I can imagine -- I just can't imagine what it's like to be waving a sign that says, "Come and get me now." So there is frustration. But I want people to know there is a lot of help coming. I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees. They did anticipate a serious storm. But these levees got breached, and as a result, much of New Orleans is flooded. And now we are having to deal with it and will.

Press Briefing featuring WH spokesman Scott "Separate Events" McClellan:

Q: Scott, back on September 1st, President Bush said in an interview, "I don't think anybody anticipated a breaching of the levees in New Orleans." And we had this Infrastructure Simulation and Assessment Center that delivered a report to the White House that, indeed, said that the levees were likely to be breached and that New Orleans would be underwater for months. So did the President mis-speak, or did he just not get the word?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think, unfortunately, you're kind of combining two things that are not related, because the President actually talked about this --

Q Which one is not related, the hurricane or New Orleans?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President actually talked about this and talked about what he was referring to, John. Of course, we know -- we knew what the potential was of a hurricane of that magnitude. We had done exercises in Louisiana and other exercises and looked at such a possibility previously. As the President said, what he was referring to was that there was a sense by many, once the hurricane hit and had passed, that the worst-case scenario did not happen. There were numerous media reports saying that New Orleans had dodged the bullet. And I can pull those up for you and show you those. And so that's what the President was referring to. So I think it's wrong to mischaracterize --

Q It couldn't have been mine, because I was hip-deep in water at the time.

One of those "numerous media reports" the DHS used for disaster assessment was a CNN video clip of people partying on Bourbon Street. Apparently, DHS disaster-man Matthew Broderick used this segment as one of his most trusted and informative "data points". These media reports had less useful data. Especially this one.

Hopefully the media will do a better job next time. It's always their fault.
Big thanks to Richard for the link
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I thought it was lit to pop and nobody was gonna stop...

Instead of a fireworks day we need a public works day. Instead of new culinary ideas we need new construction ideas. Instead of a silent auction or even a moment of silence, how about a moment of rage (where people yell the name of their least favorite Katrina public figure: Brownie, or Bush, or Blanco for example-- a la Cap'n Kirk's "Khaaan!"). Instead of... we need....

Continue adding more creative and appropriate ideas here.
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Sunday, July 30, 2006

"New Orleans needs Huey Long." 

New Orleans businessman Joseph Canizaro is one of the biggest GOP donors in Louisiana. In November, Mayor Nagin selected him to chair the Bring New Orleans Back committee. (Yet, despite Nagin's explicit appeals to Canizaro during his mayoral primary victory, Canizaro supported Mitch Landrieu in the runoff.)

Canizaro is a trustee and former Chairman of the Urban Land Institute. Shortly after becoming chairman for the BNOB committee, he asked his "friends" at ULI to make recommendations for a master housing plan for the city.

That's the background that makes this quote from a Times Picayune article so delicious:
As the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina fast approaches, New Orleans lacks leadership from Mayor Ray Nagin and the City Council, said John McIlwain, the senior fellow for housing at the Urban Land Institute.

McIlwain was part of a panel of 50 specialists in urban and postdisaster planning brought in by Nagin's Bring New Orleans Back Commission to help the city create a recovery strategy. The commission largely rejected the institute's advice, particularly its recommendation to rebuild first on higher ground in the less-damaged neighborhoods, a suggestion that turned into a hot debate about the city's footprint and who would be encouraged to return.

"It's virtually a city without a city administration and it's worse than ever," McIlwain said. "New Orleans needs Huey Long. You need a politician, a leader that is willing to make tough decisions and articulate to the people why these decisions are made, which means everyone is not going to be happy."
Here's the condensed version: GOP businessman recommends advisory committee which ultimately tells our "business friendly" mayor that he needs to be more like Huey Long. And quick.

Mayor Nagin's response to McIlwain's criticisms was "no comment". You can bet the last chicken in your pot that Long would've had a comment (if not a gesture and a threat). He understood that bold leadership was needed after a catastrophic flood.

YRHT can only echo the ULI's recommendation: More Huey.

That reminds me, thanks to Dillyberto for sending me a pot of chicken and rice and some ears of corn last night. He suspected I was hungry, and prepared a thoughtful meal-to-go. What a Saint.
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