Saturday, February 03, 2007

Clown Derby 

On its subscription page the conservative National Review magazine claims it is "written for intelligent readers". Oftentimes I think the writers at the NR have a very liberal definition of intelligence.

Recently, National Review Online luminary and former illegal alien John Derbyshire wrote a post which said "The World's Smartest City... is not New Orleans" and linked to this article.

This gratuitous slap comes a few weeks after Derbyshire's first visit to New Orleans where, basically, he strolled through the Riverfront Mall, couldn't find a book store, and promptly declared the city "unattractive" and "lifeless".

Unattractive? Really, John? You wanna go there, do ya?

Actually, New Orleans is one of the nation's "smartest cities" according to this ranking of most-educated cities. But Derbyshire doesn't care about these sorts of things. He has his own pet theories that he's searching to reinforce.

Kevin Allman properly vivisects Derbyshire's earlier piece here. Go read it. My favorite portion of Allman's commentary is his response to Derbyshire's complaint that "I didn't see a bookstore the whole two days poking around New Orleans." Kevin simply says:

Aside from the fact that I can think of, say, six bookstores within a few blocks of Jackson Square (including the one in the home of William Faulkner), did it ever occur to you to ask someone?

That's rich. On his virgin visit to New Orleans, Derbyshire poked around town for two "whole" days, went to the mall, couldn't find a bookstore, and then considered himself qualified to declare that New Orleans is "lifeless", and was so before Katrina.

No wonder that Prof. Brad DeLong designated the Derbster as the "stupidest man alive" for being a former "illegal alien" who now criticizes illegal immigrants.

Anyway, I shan't pass judgment, but will print a lovely quote from Derbyshire, who felt it necessary to inform his readers that New Orleans "is the blackest American city I have been in." Who the hell cares? Well, Derbyshire does:

I believe race is a real thing, that races differ-- statistically-- in important ways, and that private racial discrimination is not immoral, and certainly should not be illegal. In the current American climate, I think that makes me a "very mild, tolerant racist." (-- John Derbyshire, 2003)

I'm sure Derbyshire has some cute little rationale about how New Orleans' "blackness" makes the city dumber than cities that are less "black". "Statistically" speaking, of course. How do the other NRO writers react to Derb's jab at our city's smarts? A Kos diarist summarizes:

Fellow Corner resident Mark Steyn chimed in: "Derb, I’m with you on New Orleans-- welfare swamp enlivened by occasional transsexual hookers". 01/25 12:30 PM
Jonah’s reply: "Now That's a Slogan. Mark describes New Orleans as a "welfare swamp enlivened by occasional transsexual hookers." I love it!" 01/25 12:47 PM

Of course, the "welfare swamp" myth must persist for conservatives, no matter what the real facts are. A 2005 City Journal article explained how N.O. was comparable to other metropolitan areas like NYC (where NRO headquarters are):

Despite the president’s rhetoric, and despite those indelible images from the Superdome and the Convention Center, New Orleans is just as much a black success story as a black failure story.

Yes, New Orleans has a 28 percent poverty rate, and yes, New Orleans is 67 percent black. But nearly two-thirds of New Orleans’s blacks aren’t poor.
Despite the images of collective helplessness broadcast after Katrina, New Orleans does not have a stratospherically high government-dependency rate. In 2002, it had 6,696 families on cash welfare, or 3.6 percent, compared with New York City’s 98,000 families, or 3.2 percent. In 2000, 7.8 percent of New Orleans households received Supplemental Security Income, compared with 7.5 percent in New York.

Anyone familiar with New Orleans knows that the city is filled with hard-working people—most of them black. Welfare reform, in New Orleans as in the rest of the country, worked; between 1996 and 2002, Louisiana cut its welfare rolls by 66 percent. The only virtue of New Orleans’s tourism-dependent economy is that those with few skills who want to work can work; the city’s unemployment rate was 5.2 percent during 2004, lower than New York’s 7.1 percent.

I guess I should take comfort in the fact that if self confessed "racists" and "homophobes" like John Derbyshire-- or any of the other conservative pantloads at NRO-- actually liked and understood New Orleans, it wouldn't be the city that it is: a stupid, lifeless, bookless, mall-rich, pigmented, transgendered, welfare swamp... right? Or, at least, that's the characterization that NRO writers would have their "intelligent" readers believe.

In short, the contributors at NRO think New Orleans deserves random ridicule and juvenile cheap shots while it recovers from the biggest (man-made) catastrophe in U.S. history. I'm sure they were doing the same thing to NYC after 9/11, right?

Michael at 2 Millionth has more on the City Journal article here.
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Thursday, February 01, 2007

From First Draft, we learn of this depressing news:

President Bush is expected to shift $1.3 billion away from raising and armoring levees, installing flood gates and building permanent pumping in Southeast Louisiana to plug long-anticipated funding shortfalls in other hurricane-protection projects, a move Sen. David Vitter describes as a retreat from the president's commitment to protect the whole New Orleans area.

Vitter, R-La., who unveiled Bush's plans Thursday, condemned the move in a strongly worded letter to the president and called on him to ask Congress for more money to complete work that he promised would be done-- and Congress financed-- in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

"I believe your fiscal 2008 budget proposal would be a step back from that commitment, however unintended," Vitter wrote. "I am deathly afraid that this vital emergency post-Katrina work is now being treated like typical (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) projects that take decades to complete. We will not recover if this happens."
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Molly Ivins passed away last night. Here's an Ivins quote from a list compiled by Norbizness:

Having being properly reared by a right-wing family in East Texas, how'd I turn out this peculiar? I believe all Southern liberals come from the same starting point-- race. Once you figure out they are lying to you about race, you start to question everything.
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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Full Spectrum Ignorance 

Rahul at Empire Notes writes:

I do not subscribe to the liberal notion that our main problems in the Middle East derive from our blundering in without really understanding the peoples and cultures of the region-- any more than I believe that the situation in Iraq right now derives from our lack of understanding that "Shi'a and Sunni have been killing each other for 14 centuries in Iraq."

Instead, I believe that the significance of "our" failure to understand "them," enormous as that failure is, pales in comparison with that of "our" failure to understand "us." Instead of a deep analysis of the Shi'a-Sunni question in the Middle East, even a basic understanding of what we did in the Vietnam War, and why we did it, would have served us in much better stead in deciding whether or not to go to war.

That's good stuff. The Cunning Realist posts a timely excerpt from the "Best and the Brightest" which I'm compelled to reprint in full.

The collapse in the South, the one force which the American leaders could not control, continued unabated. The Americans had always had the illusion that something might turn it around; a new leader in South Vietnam who would understand how to get with the program; a realization on the part of the South Vietnamese that their necks were on the line, that the feared enemy (the Americans' feared enemy, though perhaps not the feared enemy of the Vietnamese), the Communists, were about to walk into Saigon. Or magically, the right battalion commander would turn up to lead ARVN battalions into battle against the Vietcong, or the right program would emerge, blending arms and pig-fatteners together to make the peasants want to choose our side. But nothing changed, the other side continued to get stronger, the ARVN side weaker. One reason the principals were always surprised by this, and irritated by the failure of their programs, was that the truth of the war never entered the upper-level American calculations; that this was a revolutionary war, and that the other side held title to the revolution because of the colonial war which had just ended. This most simple fact, which was so important to the understanding of the political calculations...entered into the estimates of the American intelligence community and made them quite accurate. But it never entered into the calculations of the principals, for a variety of reasons; among other things to see the other side in terms of nationalism or as revolutionaries might mean a re-evaluation of whether the United States was even fighting on the right side. In contrast, the question of Communism and anti-Communism as opposed to revolution and antirevolution was far more convenient for American policy makers.

(David Halberstam, The Best and the Brightest, pp. 462-463.)

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Chris Cooper's WSJ story 

As you know, here at YRHT, we're unabashed fans of "Disaster" author Chris Cooper's reporting, and were pleased to read his front page article in the Wall Street Journal's weekend edition. It's titled "In Katrina's Wake-- Where is the Money?" and focuses on a lesser-known impediment to the Gulf Coast's reconstruction.

Here's an extended excerpt (my highlights):

It's been almost 17 months since Hurricane Katrina pounded coastal Mississippi and southeast Louisiana, and about a year since Congress authorized the bulk of its rebuilding aid for the region. More than four months have passed since President Bush visited New Orleans on the anniversary of the storm and extolled the "amazing" reconstruction effort.

But a review of the devastated region shows that rebuilding is in a deep stall.
Tens of thousands of residents remain displaced as authorities dither over how to disburse housing assistance. Many crucial infrastructure projects have yet to start. Of the tens of billions appropriated by Congress, half remains unspent.

There are many culprits. Among them: the size of the disaster, which continues to overwhelm agencies charged with rebuilding; the crush of competing bureaucracies, which has delayed many projects including the Bay St. Louis bridge; and weak local leadership.

In addition, many reconstruction efforts are ensnarled in spools of red tape spawned by a bevy of old and new government procedures. A prime example: an obscure set of 30-year-old Congressional rules designed to combat corruption known as the Stafford Act.

According to the White House, the federal government has provided $110 billion for the Gulf Coast region. But nowhere near that amount of actual cash has been made available. The total is spread over five states and covers damage done by three separate storms. Some of it consists of loans. A chunk comes from government insurance payouts that ultimately derived from premiums paid by homeowners themselves.

Of $42 billion given to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the agency has spent only $25 billion, federal records show. Most of that went to temporary housing, debris removal and emergency operations in the early days of the disaster. It has spent more than $4 billion on administrative costs.

Louisiana says the Army Corps of Engineers has spent only about $1.3 billion of the $5.8 billion it received to repair the levees in and around New Orleans. Only about $1.7 billion of the $17 billion received by the Department of Housing and Urban Development has made its way to the streets, the agency says.

In New Orleans, officials say they have received only about 14% of the estimated $900 million in reconstruction money they estimate is needed to fix the ruined city. "We have lots of meetings," says Cynthia Sylvain-Lear, the city's liaison with FEMA.

The state and federal anti-corruption regulations offer a glimpse as to why reconstruction efforts are going so slowly.

The White House has kept in force a set of rules known as the Stafford Act. Under its guidance, rebuilding funds must be accompanied by a 10% match from local governments, on the theory that localities won't misspend if their money is also on the line. Similarly, FEMA will cover only 75% of a project's cost until the job is complete.

The requirement has delayed projects while cash-strapped towns in two of the U.S.'s poorest states try to rustle up financing.

Meanwhile, both Louisiana and Mississippi have been so keen to burnish their images that they created their own set of lumbering regulatory bureaus and antifraud audit shops. The Stafford Act has been waived in the past -- it didn't apply to Manhattan in September 2001 or South Florida following Hurricane Andrew in 1992 -- but it remains in place along the Gulf. President Bush dropped the Act for a time for certain projects, such as emergency repairs and debris removal, only to reinstate it later.

The region's reputation for corruption is one reason why. Influence peddling on the coast has a long history, from 1930s Louisiana Gov. Huey Long to Edwin Edwards, a three-term governor currently serving a 10-year prison sentence. Recently, Mississippi was named the most corrupt state in the nation by Corporate Crime Reporter, a Washington, D.C., publication.

In addition, today's John Maginnis op-ed in the T-P takes up the cause:

Sen. Mary Landrieu chaired a field hearing in New Orleans this week of her new Disaster Recovery Subcommittee, which was formed to prod action from FEMA, the Small Business Administration, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and other nooks in the bureaucratic maze.

She might start with a review of the Stafford Act, which in its inflexibility is damming up $2 billion in FEMA grants to local governments.

She has the ear of the full Homeland Security Committee chairman, Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, as Landrieu was one of few Democrats who supported his candidacy as an independent against the Democratic anti-war nominee. Adding star power to her subcommittee is Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., who has a stake in demonstrating his compassionate effectiveness.

Just to be clear, this is not the same Chris Cooper who starred in the fine films Matewan, Lone Star and Adaptation.

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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Fema's Baby Matrix 


The senators received assurances from a FEMA official that an "end run" could be made to lift a $26,200 cap on temporary rental assistance now that the agency's Feb. 28 deadline has been extended six months.

"Senator, I'm the Reggie Bush of New Orleans with end runs," said FEMA Deputy Director for Gulf Coast recovery, Gil Jamieson, referring to the Saints electrifying running back.

Does this mean FEMA will go backwards several times, before finally "breaking through" the red tape? And will FEMA taunt others once they finally succeed? Are there rules violations yet to be uncovered?

Also: How is this a controversial statement? We've been saying it for-evah.
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Monday, January 29, 2007

Vitty well, little brothers. Vitty well. 

With all the presence of an overmedicated muppet, my man Vitty-cent went on Press Big Time's Meat yesterday to talk about Iraq with Sen. Chuck Schumer.

Wha'd he say?

Basically, that President Bush deserves one "last chance" to "turn the corner" in Iraq, even though Vitter had previously expressed concern that Bush's proposed troop surge might be "too little" and "maybe too late".

The "too little, too late" formulation occurred 3 weeks ago in an important Wapo editorial written by former General Wesley Clark, where he said:

In Kosovo, we had 40,000 troops for a population of 2 million. That ratio would call for at least 500,000 troops in Iraq; adding 20,000 now seems too little, too late.
What the [troop] surge would do is put more American troops in harm's way, further undercut the morale of U.S. forces and risk further alienating elements of the Iraqi populace. American casualties would probably rise, at least temporarily, as more troops appeared on the streets -- as happened in the summer when a brigade from Alaska was extended and sent into Baghdad. And even if the increased troop presence initially frustrated the militias, it wouldn't be long before they found ways to work around the neighborhood searches and other obstacles, if they chose to continue the conflict.

Other uses for troops include accelerating training of the Iraqi military and police. But vetting these Iraqi forces for loyalty has proved problematic. So neither accelerated training nor adding Iraqi troops to the security mission can be viewed as though a specified increase in effort would yield an identical increase in return.

The truth is that the underlying problems are political, not military.

Vicious ethnic cleansing is underway, as various factions fight for power and survival. In this environment, security is unlikely to come from smothering the struggle with a blanket of forces -- and increasing U.S. efforts is likely to generate additional resistance, especially from Iraq's neighbors. More effective action is needed to resolve the struggle at the political level. A new U.S. ambassador might help, but the administration needs to recognize that the neoconservative vision has failed.

Shortly after Clark's piece came out, George Will wrote in Newsweek:

It is difficult to imagine how Iraq can end as a success-- as an enterprise in which the benefits exceed the costs. And if it is judged a disaster, that will be because the responsible officials were too late in remembering what Gen. Douglas MacArthur said. He said that in war, all disasters can be explained by two words: "too late."

Because the administration was too late to recognize that there were too few U.S. forces in Iraq, the looting after the fall of Baghdad-- which did more physical damage to Iraq than the war so far had done-- shattered Iraqis' confidence in America, and insurgents were emboldened. Because the administration was too late in admitting that there was an insurgency, Iraq slid into civil war. Because the administration was too late in facing the fact of that civil war, it probably is too late for a "surge" of new U.S. forces, of a size and duration that the American public will tolerate, to extinguish it. For several years, Sen. Joseph Biden, who last week became chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, has urged an increase in the number of U.S. troops in Iraq. Now, he says, it is too late.

Will concluded:

If the president this week announces a substantial and protracted escalation of the U.S. military effort in Baghdad, majorities in both houses of Congress will hotly oppose him. Most of his supporters-- perhaps all of them not named Lieberman-- will be Republicans, and will be tepid and wary. Democrats control Congress, but only congressional Republicans can perhaps control the president's policy.

So, conservative Republicans like Vitty-cent had a decision to make: they could resist the President by using Clark and Will's "too little, too late" formulation, or they could give in (again) and say the President deserves "one last chance" to get it right. Let the record show that Vitty-cent chose the latter. What are the odds that it will work?

And speaking of "the record", I'd also like to remind you about Vitter's comments 4 1/2 months ago after his 2 day Iraq visit in September. The Times-Picayune reported that:

But Vitter said... second-guessing could undermine the process of ceding control to the fledgling Iraqi government.

"Questioning the commitment is counterproductive to what is happening there," Vitter said in a telephone news conference with reporters. "Calls for a quick withdrawal or a definite time period in the future . . . encourage the new government to fracture and doom it to failure. . . . I think it is very important to encourage them to succeed together rather than scatter and go off to sectarian and party corners and come up with a plan B."

Asked if he would still support the effort if he knew it would take five years, he said yes.

"Because the stakes are so high," said Vitter, who called the next four to six months critical to determining whether the fragile government, which has been beset with ethnic squabbles, will survive.

Those views echo comments made Sunday by Vice President Dick Cheney who said the Democratic-led call for a withdrawal "validates the strategy of the terrorists."
Vitter said he was encouraged by a U.S. military-led campaign to quell the mounting violence in Baghdad, where murders reached an all-time high of 1,800 in July. He said anecdotal evidence suggested that the violence had dropped markedly as a result of an offensive that aimed thousands of extra troops at hot-spots around the city and pumped $650 million into development programs.

Alas, despite Vitty's encouraging "anecdotal evidence", September and October was the bloodiest two month stretch in Iraq in 2006. Over 7,000 civilians were killed-- many were tortured and executed by death squads.

Then, a few months later, Vitter publicly "questioned" the U.S.'s commitment, wondering if a surge was "too little and maybe too late". Now he's saying the President deserves "one more chance" and is giving "timetables". Indeed, yesterday, Vitty said "Again, this [surge plan] isn't an open invitation forever, this is a final chance. And I think, in that very constrained context, we should give General Petraeus what he needs for the next few months."

No word yet on how many terrorists were validated and comforted by Senator Vitter's recent words.

What is clear is that when Democrats "question" our "commitment" in Iraq and talk about timetables, they are providing succor to the evildoers. That is for certain.

But when Republicans do the exact same thing six or twelve months later, well... how can one describe this "reality-based" sensation? It's like being helpless on the floor while we watch ("viddy") our country getting humped by singing bands of wilding neocons.


Not safe for work expression of video/lyrical outrage:

System of a Down's "B.Y.O.B." lyrics here.
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