Friday, September 30, 2005

Mountain Bikes Meet Mountain Lions

Heard a snippet on public radio about a planned mountain lion hunt in South Dakota. Of course, lion supporters are afraid the hunt could wipe out the state's population of the big cats and some hunters are ecstatic at the chance to kill something big and new. One couple is planning a 12-day trip in the Black Hills, where Dawn Baumgartner and her husband will hunt for bull elk. They each bought a $15 mountain lion tag just in case.

"This is an opportunity of a lifetime -- to combine a mountain lion hunt with an elk hunt. We've been waiting 11 years for a bull elk tag and the opportunity was there and we saw no reason not to take the chance," says Baumgartner.

As a way to conserve fuel and use more back roads Baumgartner and her husband will hunt from mountain bikes. She hopes this experience might get her closer to a lion but her focus is on bagging an elk.

Mountain biking female mountain lion hunters ... This kind of screws up the kneejerk. Shouldn't cat killers be driving ATVs, drooling chaw and pitching beer cans down the ravines?

Hunting stirs ambivalent feelings. I grew up in a family where not a lot was passed down, but guns were one of the few personal possessions that did show up in the wills. I turned in my draft card, but kept my NRA Safe Hunter badge. Hunting for your dinner is more honest than eating supermarket kill, because it forces you to confront the animal whose life you'll take. You must choose death, not just lean or extra lean.

I remember going out with my father on an after work hunt — his mission to bring home venison to our family of eight. He was business-like; no romancing about the hunt or joys of spending the day in the woods for him. Near dusk, he had one long shot at a distant buck that he decided not to take. I could tell his heart wasn't in it, and now I have my Daddy's heart.

I prefer my tidy arrangement with the feedlot and the butcher, but can't claim a higher ground than those who have chosen otherwise, make a good clean kill and use it well. If a South Dakota Elk becomes steaks and sausages, then so be it. But if a mountain lion becomes just a trophy and story, then I think that's an abominable use of a mountain bike and 15 bucks.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Nothing Funny About Peace, Love and Misunderstanding

I was out of town and away from the media late last week, so I missed two big stories — that Kenny Chesney and Renee Zellweger have already split, and that the largest antiwar march since the Vietnam era brought at least 100,000 demonstrators to Washington, D.C.

On my flight back to civilization, I was quickly straightened out on the first item by several magazine covers. As for the second, all I saw to confirm the news was an email from a friend with some photos attached and the plea: “I hope you will write about the march in your blog. The anti-war movement is newly invigorated and powerful. It was amazing being here. Lots of people — including me — who were first-timers or hadn't been here doing this for many years.”

The invisible march did receive some news coverage, of course. But as Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting documents, "According to the Nexis news database, the only mention on the network newscasts that Saturday came on the NBC Nightly News, where the massive march received all of 87 words. (ABC World News Tonight transcripts were not available for September 24, possibly due to pre-emption by college football.)

"Cable coverage wasn't much better. CNN, for example, made only passing references to the weekend protests."

Newspapers seemed to dodge the protest, too. The September 26 USA Today was typical of print coverage, giving nearly equal space to the 200 to 400 pro-war counter-rally. Across all media, we had surreal spin going on — that the crowd of 100,000 to 400,000 (wide estimates as always) represented the country's anti-war minority, while the counter-demonstrators stood up for most Americans — that is, the Americans who weren't currently standing in the vicinity of the Mall.

(To hear some of the voices of those who were there, read Tom's Dispatch.)

The march coverage shows the difficulty with fighting government policy via peaceful protest, and specifically, relying on a one-time event to demonstrate support for a particular, but necessarily broadly expressed, position. One march, with its cacophony of messages, can be easily diluted by the forces that command the cameras and the microphones daily. To be successful, we need to continue our solitary, individual marches, too, giving peace a personal face with well-grounded moral convictions — and not simply rely on pointing fingers and pointed slogans that delight our partisans and piss off the other side.

One sticking point for many is the argument that we can't "cut and run" now, even if getting into Iraq was a mistake, because we'd undermine our moral authority to step into other, more worthy circumstances that may arise later. Establishing that we were wrong about Iraq in the first place doesn't necessarily refute the belief that we should stay and fix the mess we created. That's a fine moral position, worthy of respect. But not every mistake can be corrected, and refusing to recognize that variety of blunder has contributed to a great deal of extra misery in the world.

And maybe that's the message from last week's seemingly trivial lead story. You can choose to laugh at shallow celebs who just can't learn that control freakishness is not the path to marital bliss, no matter how hot they both might be. Or you can give them credit for facing facts. Renee made a sad mistake, and — instead of compounding her misjudgment, despite all the humiliation and likely derision — she moved quickly to get out and get on with life.

But what does Hollywood know about foreign policy?

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Rumor and Sigh

A story in the airport-abandoned newspaper confirmed what I’d suspected. The murders and rapes reportedly witnessed by so many people in New Orleans simply didn’t happen. No murdered bodies materialized (at least, nothing out of the ordinary for the city in a normal week). No rape victims came forward. The National Guardsman reported shot in the Superdome shot himself during a struggle.

Yes, some of the horrors and incompetence were real. But the animals were not running loose in the jungle. The gangs were not raping children or invading homes. There was no pile of dead bodies in the Convention Center. The anticipated number of deaths, like the toll first broadcast after the Twin Towers collapse, is shrinking. Thankfully.

People were rightly afraid and disoriented. They couldn’t rely on familiar signals or the usual authoritative reports, so every noise became the boogieman, and even the mayor and the police chief bought it. The national media served up the rumors and the nation bought it, too. Weeks ago, when a friend expressed dismay over what she was hearing, I told her to wait for the evidence, because the broadcasts were full of hearsay, but empty of actual victims.

Try to remember this, not just when the lights go out. Try to remember this when you hear about another’s bad behavior or selfish motives or rotten character. Try to remember this before you despair, or when your heart cries out for revenge.

And hope the people who carry weapons for protection remember this, too.

For those who came in late, I've dealt with the problems with eyewitness testimony here and here.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Wellstone Memorial

A memorial has opened at the site of the crash that killed Paul and Sheila Wellstone, along with seven others, back in October 2002. I made my own memorial the same day the plane went down, scratching out the words before I had a tune, sitting alone at Grumpy's bar.

I had known Wellstone as his student in American Government class, as a war protestor and a distance runner. Later, I wrote my first check for a political campaign when he announced for the Senate race. There were times Paul's passion could grate even upon his friends and colleagues, but there was no mistaking his caring and purity of spirit, and yet, in one of the most nauseating developments in Minnesota politics, we sent Norm Coleman to fill his shoes.

"Eveleth" could've used revising and polishing after the fact. The recording should've been recut (the line is supposed to be: "And you know you don't look back"). But the song is about the collision of imperfection and obscurity and fame and fire in that swamp, and how there's nothing we can do about it except carry on the flame.

MP3 File

Monday, September 26, 2005

The Buddhist Blogger

In the parking lot at REI, I waited for the SUV to pass. The tax-deductible vehicle was covered with bright black-on-yellow signs, side and back: THE CHRISTIAN HANDYMAN.

Yes, Jesus was a carpenter, but otherwise, it's hard to say how Christianity qualifies a handyman for anything special. Except, perhaps, hiring on the basis of religion.

Now, Congress is forwarding a bill that would allow churches and other religious groups receiving federal money for preschools to hire teachers and child care workers based on religion.

In a broad update of the Head Start program, the House voted Thursday to let preschool providers consider a person's faith when hiring workers — and still be eligible for federal grants. The Republican-led House said the move protects the rights of religious groups, but Democrats blasted it as discriminatory.

The lines are predictably drawn.

The AP says Rep. John Boehner, Ohio Republican and chair of the House Education Committee, believes the bill ensures that faith-based centers "aren't forced to choose between relinquishing their identities or being shut out of the program altogether."

Where I come from as a non-profit board member, we encourage organizations not to relinquish their identities by chasing the money.

"This is about our children, and denying them exemplary services just because the organization happens to be a religious one is just cruel," said Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C.

Poor babies. They will be denied services because organizations who are trolling outside their mission can't lap up the federal bucks? What about organizations that are actually focused on delivering child development services? Might'nt they be able to fill this terrible gap?

People are free to hire (or not) a Christian Handyman, a Christian Brain Surgeon or a Christian Hooker based on irrelevant criteria. If godliness is more important to poor parents than making sure their kids are ready to read and write, then they can send the wee ones to Sunday School. But the interest of the state is preparing children to succeed in school so they escape the cycle of poverty. Programs that receive state money should hire teachers, child care workers, tutors and child development specialists who are best qualified to deliver those services.

Church-based programs that want to pimp for state money should be able to pimp if they can do the job. They just can't discriminate, too.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Foreign Insurgency Overstated

The Christian Science Monitor reports that "The US and Iraqi governments have vastly overstated the number of foreign fighters in Iraq, and most of them don't come from Saudi Arabia, according to a new report from the Washington-based Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS)."

This is not coming from, folks. CSIS was a centrist-to-conservative consulting group/think tank that we tapped occasionally back in my aerospace and defense days, when we were trying to influence the Defense Department. They are not likely to come out against the U.S. line, that foreign fighters are the backbone of the insurgency, unless it truly doesn't hold up.

According to The Guardian, "While the foreign fighters may stoke the insurgency flames, they only comprise only about 4 to 10 percent of the estimated 30,000 insurgents."

By the way, this item comes from which is one of my news feeds. They're in the middle of a fund drive right now. Check them out, and see if they're worth a few of your shekels.

Friday, September 23, 2005

You Call That a Divide? This is a Divide.

In October, I will be taking a river boat trip down the Yangtze River and taking in as much of China as possible along the way. I'll keep a journal which will feed some ex posts facto, but I will not attempt to post during the trip.

Your attention to his blog is too precious to abandon, so I've lined up a couple writers to provide some content continuity. If you're a blogger who's Across-the-Great-Divide-compatible, and you'd be willing to cross-post some of your material, drop me an email.

I'm leaving the country October 3rd, back the 19th, with what I hope will be a wealth of topics about the other great divide in our future.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Seeking "Can-do" Attitude

One of my son's friends has just returned from the military, where he serviced aircraft in this country and somehow managed to avoid going to Iraq. He's going on a job interview tomorrow. I'm assured he will not be replacing striking Northwest Airlines mechanics.

Another friend is heading south, newly hired by Halliburton's KBR subsidiary to do construction in Mississippi. He'll work 14-hour days, but the pay is $3100 per week. (For those of you not doing the math at home, that's equivalent to a $155,000 annual salary, with two weeks vacation. We can only imagine what the big boys are pulling down.) Halliburton's site current lists 231 U.S. job openings, few of which seem to hold out hope for the displaced locals.

Here's a portion of a job description for a Communications Coordinator:

Must be able to work as a team player in a fast-paced environment and able to multi-task. Must be flexible and responsive to changing priorities and deadlines. Requires “can-do” attitude.

Job success often hinges upon interpersonal skills, or the ability to interact with employees across the organization at all levels. Job tasks require frequent interchange and completion of job tasks depend in large part upon effective interaction with others. Strong people skills with ability to interact with employees across the organization at all levels is critical...

Ability to detect redundancy in written communications, apparently not so critical.

No salary is listed, but I suspect it pays less than hoisting joists in Biloxi.

Most of the U.S. jobs are not directly Katrina-related. You're much more likely to end up in Arlington, Virginia, across the river from Washington, D.C.

Of course.

And the same people that would give my son and his buddies some of their own money to invest in private retirement accounts are now going to stick them with the bill for Iraq, Katrina and every other unplanned disaster...

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Coming Through the Dirge

In this place, there is a custom for the funerals of jazz musicians. The funeral procession parades slowly through the streets, followed by a band playing a mournful dirge as it moves to the cemetery. Once the casket has been laid in place, the band breaks into a joyful "second line" -- symbolizing the triumph of the spirit over death. Tonight the Gulf Coast is still coming through the dirge, yet we will live to see the second line.

The finale of Bush's New Orleans speech was so transparently the work of his speechwriter. "Mournful dirge" is perhaps the most complex and hard-to-pronounce pair of words the president has uttered since he was reelected, signaling his desperation to be perceived as a sentient being capable of orginal thought and genuine emotion.

But as a former corporate speechwriter, I can't buy it. I know how the sausage is made.

For a period back in the '90s, I was on the short list of Fortune 500 CEOs needing to sound right for the occasion. For banking, insurance, power, and electronics, I was the guy. I enjoyed the execs I wrote for and respected them all. My job was to make them sound like themselves, which was generally smart, knowledgeable and reasonably opinionated — but with not enough time to make it sound really good. There were only couple who treated me like the pool boy.

And those former clients were in the news recently because their airline has declared bankruptcy.

I was originally brought in because new CEO Al Checci needed a Midwestern burnishing of his corporate raider image. He and financial genius Gary Wilson had masterminded a takeover of Northwest Airlines, along with Republican functionary and financier Fred Malek. They needed to reassure employees, suppliers and ultimately the state legislature that they were committed to people and customer service — and not to extracting cash from every corporate orifice. May I not burn in hell...

The subtext of my assignment, I was told, was that Checchi was interested in running for office in Minnesota, and his corporate PR handlers thought he needed to be able to speak something closer to Minnesota liberal than was within the grasp of the Hollywood screenwriter he had come in with. Unlike the other execs I wrote for, I never met Checchi, although I saw him jogging with his shirt off around the lake near our homes. I was fed the tidbits I needed to humanize the corporate line and keep him from sounding like an egomaniac.

Before long, it became clear there was no way he could penetrate the Minnesota DFL, and he took the money and flew to California. You can read the sycophantic profile that tells how he was moved to campaign for governor, as if he were driven by a life-changing epiphany rather than a lifelong hunger. Who can really say? He might have been a good guy. I had to be willing to believe what I was told by my clients was the truth, so I could be their effective advocate. But the profile reads uncomfortably close to what we told him would never work in Minnesota. It didn't even work in California.

Chairman Wilson was another matter. I met with him one time, in an office absolutely devoid of any signs of occupancy. He was visibly bored with the idea of having a speechwriter do anything for him. I think he looked at his cowboy boots parked on a credenza the entire time.

None of this makes me an expert on the current woes of Northwest, the stock sales by Wilson prior to the bankruptcy filing, or the many millions extracted by the MBAs.

All it's worth is this: When you hear poetry coming from the mouth of any leader, grab your wallet and hold onto it with both hands, because it means things are so bad they had to call in the hired guns.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

A Failed Rescue

I don't like to send readers away right after they get here, but go read Tom Engelhardt on the dramatic mission to rescue George W. Bush from New Orleans.

After all, imagine — at whatever the cost was — moving the President of the United States with his own lights, generators, and camouflaging into the very heart of a distressed city; making a tiny slice of it look almost as good as new; and then leaving without having done a thing for a soul. As they used to say in my childhood - about drawings in which five-legged cows floated through clouds - what's wrong with this picture?

Could it be the picturemakers?

Friday, September 16, 2005

Double SuperDuper Red States

There's a new community being planned between Mitchell and Sioux Falls, South Dakota, that would be populated by people who sign (use American Sign Language) to communicate. Laurent is primarily a concept with a plan and a web site, but the prospect of a "new urbanism" settlement far enough along to get the locals steamed about increased density and lost farmland. At least, that's why they say they're against it.

How American for this minority to create its own utopia. It's firmly in the tradition of Brigham Young, hippie communes, Liberia, gated communities and Branch Davidian dreams — but with a design charette and comprehensive plan. Some are concerned that Laurent could become a stop on the Wall Drug-Corn Palace tour, a sort of roadside zoo that displays herds of deaf people, but I thought it could be very cool.

Then, the other night I learned of another utopian movement, and this one gave me pause. On The Daily Show, Ed Helms lampooned a secessionist group called Christian Exodus, which encourages right-thinking Christians to relocate to South Carolina, where they can establish a majority rule sufficient to seceed from a nation plagued by activists, sodomy and public education. Helms suggests, and a settler readily agrees, that South Carolina was selected because historically it has been so welcoming to minorities. In fact, the state's main appeal may be that it has a strong secessionist pedigree and established the Church of England as the state religion, which has apparently not been rescinded, even after the War of Northern Aggression.

At first I suspected the characters in "Southward, Christian Soldiers" of being deadpan comedians, but it turns out the pioneer and the organization's leader, Cory Burnell, MBA, are real people. (Burnell himself lives in California, the better to recruit, I guess.) Since I recently forswore implying people are stupid, I can only say these guys are really, really good sports who apparently don't watch cable.

But they do watch demographics and election results: is moving thousands of Christian constitutionalists to specific cities and counties in South Carolina through a series of emigrations. Our board of directors considers the values of this state to be very similar to the values held by our membership. Additionally, South Carolina possesses a rich history of standing up for her rights.

The cities and counties will be selected based upon, but not limited to, the following criteria:

Voter turnout in primary elections.
Voter turnout in general elections.
Moral nature of the electorate.
Cost of living/housing.
Economic and employment opportunity.
Christian educational choices (including home school networks).
Availability of churches.

The first move of members has commenced. Our research committee selected two city/county combinations for Phase One. We believe we can reestablish constitutionally limited government in these two counties with the relocation of 500 Christians to one and 2,000 to the other. That number of activist émigrés, when combined with the present Christian electorate, will enable constitutionalists to win the city council, the county council, elected law enforcement positions, and elected judgeships. We will then be able to protect our God-given and constitutionally protected rights within our local community.

Why build a new town in a place where you're not welcome, when you can take over receptive communities that already exist? This is an extreme version of the strategy the far right has patiently pursued for over a decade. I was laughing the other night, but I'm not as ready to laugh today.

Taking Stock

I started this blog, in part, because I could no longer talk politics with people who shared my genetic material and were raised in the same house. So when one of those family members writes to tell me that I am being “dismissive of contrary points of view and patronizing toward those who hold them,” I figure it’s time to take stock.

I don’t expect to convert my brother, who was smart enough to pass through Harvard around the time of John Roberts and, presumably, has only gotten smarter. But neither do I want to turn him off, or people like him, because they are our only hope in reversing a tide of selfishness, absolutism and self-righteous in American political life.

This is not strictly a mortal conflict between smart and stupid, liberal and conservative, or even good and evil. Although I know which side I’d like to be on in each of those dualities, I don’t believe there are only two possible combinations. There's an ample supply of stupid liberals and good conservatives, for instance. To my brother, however, it seemed my recent writing unfairly equated stupid, conservative and evil.

Posting and commenting is not the same as listening and discussing face-to-face, so even the most careful writer will provoke misunderstanding. In this case, the misunderstanding may also owe itself to our somewhat different political and social frameworks (he lives in the conservative mecca of Colorado Springs) and the fact that we were competitive with each other as kids. We often see what we expect to see. But I also must admit my own concern that I was becoming too shrill to be heard across the divide. As a writer, I am trying to be entertaining and topical, but there are more important things to be and do. And if I am losing people like my brother, I am not doing them.

Political labels aren’t very useful here. In fact, they hamper what I'm trying to accomplish, because they set up the red team/blue team competition that can obliterate what we have in common. We put on the jersey, forget the people underneath, and proceed to try to murder each other. My brother and I played hard that way, and I guess we still do.

The discussion with my brother that followed helped me clarify for myself what I must continue to state clearly for my readers. Though it looks like Red vs. Blue, I am mostly trying to write about a struggle between the have nots and the have lots, savers and wasters, healers and destroyers, lovers and haters, those who see narrowly and short term and those who see widely and long term. My affiliations here should be clear, and my judgments admittedly will be more dismissive, but with the acceptance that I will be wrong at times, and willing to correct it.

I am more interested in understanding something than being right about it. I don't believe in God, but I write about faith and morals. I rail against deception, but self-deception is more interesting to me because we can do something about that. I think we can also do something to bridge the differences in how we see the world.

Thanks for reminding me, Bror.

Checks and Balances II

I must still be doing something right. I can support a Bush nominee and still be at odds with Rick Scarborough, who isn't buying:

In short, we don't know whether a Chief Justice Roberts would be more like Justice Scalia, who is regularly faithful to the Constitution, or like Justice Souter, who regularly betrays the Constitution.

All this uncertainty does is point out the need to have a back-up plan. Whether or not Chief Justice Roberts would be all that our President has promised us will be determined in time, but even if he is, he, like all men, is subject to being deceived. All men have a sin nature and, therefore, all men need to [sic] held accountable.

Rick's paragraph continues, but I think we should pause to reflect here. Just like that, he leaps from deception (which is what the courts are set up to deal with, and work over extensively before any case reaches the Supreme Court) to sin (which I thought was in the Supreme Being's Court). But never fear. Rick is coming out with an answer to the shortcomings of both. He continues:

Our Founding Fathers gave us a back-up plan; its [sic] called checks and balances, or as I like to call it "judicial accountability." The truth is that regardless of who is on the Court they must be held accountable. We are working on an aggressive, yet achievable, Judicial Accountability Plan. This Plan will be unveiled in the days to come - so please get ready to help.

Funny, I thought lifetime appointments of judges nominated by the President and consented to by the Senate was the Founding Fathers' "back-up plan." I guess I don't understand checks and balances after all, but perhaps I have been deceived. I'm pretty sure it's not a sin.

I look forward to being enlightened.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Local Boys

I wrote this song when I was trying to channel some angry Americans. If they could write a nationalist anthem, how would it go?

Warning: Explicit lyrics and a 6:32 playing time. You can preview here, and if not too offended, can download the MP3 file for the pickup.

First verse:
College sits upon a hill, fulla lesbian PhDs
All I got from the GI Bill was a forklift job in a factory
Wetback wades the Rio Grande, works his way to Abilene
He's got no right on American land to come and take my job from me

MP3 File

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Bush Takes Responsibility

In the end George Bush has to take responsibility. When [the rapper] Kanye West said the President does not care about black people, he was right, although the effects of his policies are different from what goes on in his soul. You have to distinguish between a racist intent and the racist consequences of his policies. Bush is still a 'frat boy', making jokes and trying to please everyone while the Neanderthals behind him push him more to the right.
—"Exiles from a City and from a Nation" by Cornel West in The Observer UK, via Truthout

Katrina exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government, and to the extent that the federal government didn't fully do its job right, I take responsibility. I want to know what went right and what went wrong.
—George W. Bush at Sept. 13 press conference

When the man who can't remember making a mistake almost owns up to making a mistake, to the extent someone else made a mistake, maybe the soul has started to see the consequence of the policies.

Tolerating Roberts

"The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right."
—Judge Learned Hand

I caught an hour or so of John Roberts testimony, intermingled with Senatorial bloviating, as I spent too much time in the car today. I have to confess, I'd hire a guy like him. My main concern would be whether he'd stick in the job long enough, but Chief Justice of the Supreme Court has a bit more going for it than any job I could offer. Of course, if he turns out to be NARAL and Ted Kennedy's worst nightmare pick, then sticking power might be a bad thing.

I still have reservations, but he doesn't set off the alarm bells for me. You can try to learn a lot about candidates, but you'll never know everything until you have them in the job, whether it's a receptionist or a Supreme Court Justice. Even Senators know that. Most of the hiring mistakes I've made didn't come from failure to vet prospects; it was from convincing myself someone could do the job when my instincts told me otherwise. Of course, politicians' instincts have more to do with self-preservation, so I imagine their intuitive judgment of other people might be a bit out of adjustment.

Uncertainty may not always be comfortable, but it's better than certainty, as Learned Hand's quote indicates. Uncertainty is liberty's leading indicator. Certainty is tyranny's.

Some of these thoughts (not to mention the Hand quote) were provoked by an article in the September Harper's by Cass R. Sunstein, "Fighting for the Supreme Court: How right wing judges are transforming the Constitution." Much opposition to Roberts has focused on his potential future position re: Rowe v. Wade, but Sunstein puts the discussion in a much larger context. Specifically, how the Supreme Court's balance has shifted before, in a direction that progressives would regard as sweeping, positive change in America, and which the right wing attempts to undo by remaking the court system, all the way to the top.

There is no question, moreover, that some of these extremists seeks to curtail or abolish rights that most citizens reagrd as essential parts of our national identity. Indeed, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that it is precisely because their ideological goals are politically unachievable that they have turned to the courts.

Sunstein notes: "[T]he Rehnquist Court has overturned more than three dozen federal enactments since 1995, a record of aggression against the national legislature that is unequaled in the nation's history." Areas of reversal include campaign finance reform, the Violence Against Women Act (remember when laws were named for what they actually were about?), and restriction of citizen suits to enforce environmental laws. And yet the Rehnquist Court was hardly radical compared to what the right envisions.

We are right to be vigilant about who gets appointed to the courts, but the trends are more important than the individuals. We should make sure we appoint people of principle, not people of ideology. And we should not buy the notions of strict construction of original intent.

The legitimacy of the Constitution does not lie in consent. It is legitimate because it provides an excellent framework for freedom and democratic self-government and promotes many other goals, as well, including economic propserity... We follow the Constitution because it is good for us to follow the Constitution. Is it good for us to follow the original understanding? Actually, it would be terrible.

In a footnote, Sunstein describes most constitutional disputes as arising between between minimalists and fundamentalists. Minimalists "dislike ambitious theories and avoid taking sides in large-scale social controversies. They prefer narrow rulings over wide ones; they have no desire to revolutionize the law by reference to first principles. They think that law, and even social peace, are possible only when people are willing to set aside their deepest disagreements and are able to decide what to do without agreeing on exactly why to do it."

In other words, a strong society ultimately comes from people agreeing to get along than from two sides appealing to fundamental principles and duking it out until one prevails. Works for me. But what do we do with all those damn fundamentalists the world around?

Monday, September 12, 2005

Fool Me Twice

On Friday, I overheard some acquaintances discussing the federal government's (and specifically Bush's) performance following Katrina. My ears perked up because I'd previously heard one of the parties make comments dismissive of the poor — and now he was saying: "This can't be pinned on Bush. The governor of Louisiana didn't declare a state of emergency, which she needed to do before the Feds could come in." It was her incompetence, he implied, not FEMA's, that caused the breakdown.

Blame the locals has been the party line — starting with a White House official's claim about Gov. Kathleen Blanco that was published in both the Washington Post and Newsweek — then repeated and repeated by the rightwing machine, which contrasted Mississippi Republican Governor Haley Barbour's prompt declaration.

Only one problem. It was a lie. No, two problems. It was a lie that could have been caught by simple fact checking. Blanco and Barbour issued declarations on the same day, August 26th.

It gets worse for the White House, which apparently screens the President's calls when they come from Democratic governors whose states are in the path of a hurricane, according to this Time magazine report via Kevin Drum:

The day the storm hit, she [Gov. Blanco] asked President Bush for "everything you've got." But almost nothing arrived, and she couldn't wait any longer. So she called the White House and demanded to speak to the President. George Bush could not be located, two Louisiana officials told Time, so she asked for chief of staff Andrew Card, who was also unavailable. Finally, after being passed to another office or two, she left a message with DHS adviser Frances Frago Townsend. She waited hours but had to make another call herself before she finally got Bush on the line. "Help is on the way," he told her.

I don't really blame the guy for repeating an untruthful but reputably reported factoid that supported his political point of view. But it's pathetic that we can't rely on our government to be truthful in an emergency — or for major media to get simple facts right when leaders lie for political effect.

There was another side to that conversation at the next table — a former Bush supporter was saying: "For 58 years I've been apathetic about politics. I'm not any more. I'm mad as hell."

And he wasn't talking about the officials in Louisiana.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Sending in the Blackwater Helicopters

Black helicopters have long symbolized the extreme right's fear of a New World Order imposed by foreign forces operating covertly in America. Unfortunately, a more real scenario for loss of freedom is playing out in New Orleans, where the private security firm, Blackwater, is reportedly bringing its Iraq act to the French Quarter.

Not only are its armed mercenaries protecting private property, with which I have no problem, some reports have them patrolling the streets as deputized law enforcement officers.

We have the National Guard, who are trained in dealing with disasters on the homefront, in Iraq. Then we bring in Robocops to deal with our own citizens.

Back in the 1990s, one black helicopter watcher wrote:
"FEMA has broad emergency powers. It was created by President Jimmy Carter and has the ability to virtually take over the country or any region in a disaster. With FEMA and the private Wackenhut [another private security firm that runs some prisons] army teamed together, neither are regulated by too many outside authorities."

Right now, a FEMA with the ability to take over a region doesn't sound that bad. Blackwater for Wackenhut sounds even worse.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

They Were Going to Take Care of Us...

Two EMTs in New Orleans for a conference find themselves trying to escape the city. Except the authorities won't let them leave. In their account, they describe joining a group camping outside a police station after being shut out of their hotel and having buses they arranged commandeered by the military. A police official, anxious to escape the media attention this group is attracting, sends them off to a freeway where they are assured buses are picking up evacuees. More join the group as the good news spreads.

As we approached the bridge, armed Gretna sheriffs formed a line across the foot of the bridge. Before we were close enough to speak, they began firing their weapons over our heads. This sent the crowd fleeing in various directions. As the crowd scattered and dissipated, a few of us inched forward and managed to engage some of the sheriffs in conversation. We told them of our conversation with the police commander and of the commander's assurances. The sheriffs informed us there were no buses waiting. The commander had lied to us to get us to move.

We questioned why we couldn't cross the bridge anyway, especially as there was little traffic on the 6-lane highway. They responded that the West Bank was not going to become New Orleans and there would be no Superdomes in their City. These were code words for if you are poor and black, you are not crossing the Mississippi River and you were not getting out of New Orleans.

The group moves off and sets up a camp.

From a woman with a battery powered radio we learned that the media was talking about us. Up in full view on the freeway, every relief and news organization saw us on their way into the City. Officials were being asked what they were going to do about all those families living up on the freeway? The officials responded they were going to take care of us. Some of us got a sinking feeling. "Taking care of us" had an ominous tone to it.

Unfortunately, our sinking feeling (along with the sinking City) was correct. Just as dusk set in, a Gretna Sheriff showed up, jumped out of his patrol vehicle, aimed his gun at our faces, screaming, "Get off the fucking freeway". A helicopter arrived and used the wind from its blades to blow away our flimsy structures. As we retreated, the sheriff loaded up his truck with our food and water.

Once again, at gunpoint, we were forced off the freeway. All the law enforcement agencies appeared threatened when we congregated or congealed into groups of 20 or more. In every congregation of "victims" they saw "mob" or "riot". We felt safety in numbers. Our "we must stay together" was impossible because the agencies would force us into small atomized groups.

Eventually, they are airlifted to Texas, where they are treated well by average citizens, but with suspicion by authorities.

But don't worry, the President is personally overseeing an investigation into what went wrong.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Testimony from a "Looter"

You can see flood survivor Charmaine Neville's testimony on video as she talks to a priest, or read a transcription by LiberalDave below.

Do one or the other....

Neville is not the imagined New Orleans welfare queen looter. She's a band leader and member of the well-known musical Neville family. But if you were a righteous gun-toting protector and saw her commandeer a bus, would you take the time to figure that out?

In an earlier post, I mentioned a Michael Neumann piece that speculated on how those firing at helicopters may actually have hastened a more vigorous rescue effort. He's a Canadian philosophy professor. Neville was on the ground, and has a compelling perspective.


I was in my house when everything first started. ... When the hurricane came, it blew all the left side of my house off, and the water was coming in my house in torrents. I had my neighbor, an elderly man, and myself, in the house with our dogs and cats, and we were trying to stay out of the water. But the water was coming in too fast. So we ended up having to leave the house.

We left the house and we went up on the roof of a school. I took a crowbar and I burst the door on the roof of the school to help people on the roof. Later on we found a flat boat, and we went around the neighborhood in a flat boat getting people out of their houses and bringing them to the school. We found all the food that we could and we cooked and we fed people. But then, things started getting really bad.

By the second day, the people that were there, that we were feeding and everything, we had no more food and no water. We had nothing, and other people were coming in our neighborhood. We were watching the helicopters going across the bridge and airlift other people out, but they would hover over us and tell us "Hi!" and that would be all. They wouldn't drop us any food or any water, or nothing.

Alligators were eating people. They had all kinds of stuff in the water. They had babies floating in the water. We had to walk over hundreds of bodies of dead people. People that we tried to save from the hospices, from the hospitals and from the old-folks homes. I tried to get the police to help us, but I realized, we rescued a lot of police officers in the flat boat from the 5th district police station. The guy who was in the boat, he rescued a lot of them and brought them to different places so they could be saved.

We understood that the police couldn't help us, but we couldn't understand why the National Guard and them couldn't help us, because we kept seeing them but they never would stop and help us. Finally it got to be too much, I just took all of the people that I could. I had two old women in wheelchairs with no legs, that I rowed them from down there in that nightmare to the French Quarters, and I went back and got more people. There were groups of us, there were about 24 of us, and we kept going back and forth and rescuing whoever we could get and bringing them to the French Quarters 'cause we heard that there was phones in the French Quarters, and that there wasn't any water. And they were right, there was phones but we couldn't get through.

I found some police officers. I told them that a lot of us women had been raped down there by guys [unintelligible] the neighborhood where we were, that were helping us to save people. But other men, and they came and they started raping women [unintelligible] and they started killing, and I don't know who these people were. I'm not gonna tell you I know, because I don't.

But what I want people to understand is that, if we hadn't been left down there like the animals that they were treating us like, all of those things wouldn't have happened. People are trying to say that we stayed in that city because we wanted to be rioting and we wanted to do this and, we didn't have resources to get out, we had no way to leave. When they gave the evacuation order, if we coulda left, we would have left.

There are still thousands and thousands of people trapped in their homes in the downtown area. When we finally did get to, in the 9th ward, and not just in my neighborhood, but in other neighborhoods in the 9th wards, there are a lot of people still trapped down there... old people, young people, babies, pregnant women. I mean, nobody's helping them. And I want people to realize that we did not stay in the city so we could steal and loot and commit crimes. A lot of those young men lost their minds because the helicopters would fly over us and they wouldn't stop.

We would do SOS on the flashlights, we'd do everything, and it came to a point. It really did come to a point, where these young men were so frustrated that they did start shooting. They weren't trying to hit the helicopters, they figured maybe they weren't seeing. Maybe if they hear this gunfire they will stop then. But that didn’t help us. Nothing like that helped us. Finally, I got to Canal St. with all of my people I had saved from back then. I, I don't want them arresting nobody else. I broke the window in an RTA bus. I never learned how to drive a bus in my life. I got in that bus. I loaded all of those people in wheelchairs and in everything else into that bus, and we drove and we drove and we drove and millions of people was trying to get me to help them to get on the bus. But..."

At this point she breaks down and is consoled by the priest.
LiberalDave | 09.07.05 - 2:41 am | Transcription from a comment posted at Crooks and Liars

A Little Light

I didn't write this song for the people of New Orleans, but let's just say that I did.

MP3 File

Neck Deep in the Big Muddy

The AP Photo by Marcio Jose Sanchez depicts a white man and a black man, barely keeping their heads above dark water against a ruined industrial backdrop. They might be cooperating on a dangerous task, trying to free a body. They could be escaped convicts, chained together Cool Hand Luke-style and dragged down by an unseen force. Do their expressions signify their concentration as they work by feel, the strain of inhaling putrid air, or revulsion for each other as their hands inadvertently touch?

On the face of it, we don't know for sure, so it seemed a perfect across the great divide image. How we read this and other images streaming from the Gulf states will tell us a great deal about our individual capacity for hope, despair and projection. Some will see looters, welfare leeches and moral defectives. In the same picture, others will see working people suddenly without work or homes, the poor, elderly and infirm.

And, it is clear, we will see race.

I found the water photo while trolling for pictures of mothers and their babies, intending to contrast conditions in an African refugee camp with those faced by black Americans in the Superdome. Could we tell the difference? Here, a mother holds her malnourished baby in a Maradi, Niger, camp run by “Medecins Sans Frontiers” (Doctors Without Borders). According to the caption, French army forces operating out of Gabon are flying 30 tons of food aid provided by the small west African country to Niger, where it will be used to relieve an acute famine. (Photo by Issouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty Images)

I decided I was setting up an unfair comparison, since I didn't know how long the camp had been in place, or how many it served. Besides, it would only reinforce a political point that many others are already making. And it would not sway those who are buying guns to take care of their own as the displaced enter their fair city.

For those of us who want to think of ourselves as race-blind, now is the time to be alert, not to what the bigots are saying — we won't convert them — but to the inner narrative we construct that allows us to sleep, that tells us who is worthy of help, who is worthy of contempt, and how far we will venture from our circle of comfort.

I went back and located the men in the water photo. They are Joe Dobson, left, and Roderick Stapleton, water and sewage department workers attempting to change a valve on a burst drinking water line that caused this flood in Gulfport, Mississippi.

I still think this photo is an emblem for the country. And I'm still not sure what it means.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Appointments Do Matter

On Sunday, CNN's Aaron Brown was interviewing the mayor of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, about FEMA's response to the disaster in his community.

"What is FEMA?" the mayor asked.

Since the interview was playing out over disaster footage, you had to read Brown's dismay from his voice as he gulped and slowly spelled out the acronym for the mayor: "Federal Emergency Management Agency." Between the lines, it sounded like, "shit, I've embarrassed this poor, dumb, backcountry..."

"Oh, I guess I've heard of them," the mayor deadpanned, later clarifying that he was "being facetious."

We learn from Talking Points Memo via Cleversponge, that the FEMA director Michael Brown has a less than stellar resume in emergency management, apparently having been encouraged to resign by his previous employers from his job overseeing horse show judging.

Tyler debunks Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt's warning of the risk of "typhoid and cholera" as a result of contaminated water in New Orleans. Leavitt, a former insurance man and governor of Utah, is another HHS secretary whose human services credentials seem based primarily upon enacting "welfare reform."

Now the ex-CEO of Halliburton is being sent to whip things into shape, and Michael Neumann wonders whether the snipers actually hastened a serious rescue effort.

Patronage didn't start with the Bush administration, but surely over the past five years we have never seen a more repellent gumbo of political cronyism and profiteering coupled with a simultaneous disrespect for government and those midlevel servants who dedicate their lives to public service. What better way to strangle government than to staff it with unqualified short-timers?

Isn't it curious the administration seems during this domestic crisis to have toned down the flag waving and appeals to patriotism? They must realize there's no flight deck or contrived backdrop that can cover up massive failure in our own backyard.

Monday, September 05, 2005

High and Dry

He was telling me about the house they had built well north of Scottsdale, Arizona, and how development had caught up with them. What had once seemed so remote was now very settled.

And what is going to happen there when the water runs out, I asked, in my post-apocalyptic frame of mind. New Orleans isn't the only city built on the assumption that civilization trumps nature.

Oh, they have restrictions on how much grass a golf course can have, he answered, as if that settled it. As if the worst catastrophe would be a loss of golf privileges. As if Arizona had never been tropical and the Anasazi were still hoeing corn. As if we could just drive somewhere else, Idaho, maybe, and watch the suffering on CNN.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

The Land that Bush Forgot

For all its immediate horror, grim post-attack clean-up and economic ripple effects, 9/11’s greatest impact on the nation was symbolic. The zone of destruction was focused. The deaths were quick and concentrated in one day. Although fire and police were immediately overwhelmed, the health care system was not. The lingering injuries were primarily physic. The rest of New York City rallied admirably, and with it, the country.

It was a national disaster made to order for the leadership style of George W. Bush, which relies on symbolic shows of resolve. But as illustrated by the subsequent pursuit of Osama, Sadaam, and democracy in a fractured Iraq, symbolic efforts don’t get the hard things done.

Bush has finally hugged two black Mississippi sisters in a show of concern, and gotten down on the dry ground to stride resolutely with Gov. Haley Barbour, who really should get out and walk more. But Katrina is clearly not his kind of national disaster.

The victims of 9/11 represented his real constituency, with Wall Street and the Pentagon its twin anchors. The victims of Katrina, even the mainstream media are taking pains to point out, live in the land Bush forgot.

Worse, they have not been displaced by an easy-to-hate but hard-to-locate enemy. How can Bush vow to go after those who harbor God?

Our National Guard units, including those whose mission is to repair and build infrastructure, have been deployed to Iraq. According to CNN, one-third of the New Orleans police force deserted, presumably to look after their own families first. Disaster relief plans are clearly inadequate to the situation. Gas prices have gone from bad to worse. We now have a third world country with a sizable contingent of refugees on our gulf shore.

I hope Bush and his people can rise to the occasion, with the full support of all Americans. But if his party continues to act like limiting the estate tax, stem cell research and teaching of evolution are the biggest issues facing this country, then Katrina may finally have done what the Democrats have failed to do — expose how empty compassionate conservatism really is when it comes to the people who truly need it.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Creationism 101: Grading on the Curve

A new national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life highlights the country's religious and political divide over evolution.

Overall, about half the public (48%) says that humans and other living things have evolved over time, while 42% say that living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time. Fully 70% of white evangelical Protestants say that life has existed in its present form since the beginning of time; fewer than half as many white mainline Protestants (32%) and white Catholics (31%) agree.

Despite these fundamental differences, most Americans (64%) say they are open to the idea of teaching creationism along with evolution in the public schools, and a substantial minority (38%) favors replacing evolution with creationism in public school curricula. While much of this support comes from religious conservatives, these ideas particularly the idea of teaching both perspectives have a broader appeal. Even many who are politically liberal and who believe in evolution favor expanding the scope of public school education to include teaching creationism. But an analysis of the poll also reveals that there are considerable inconsistencies between people's beliefs and what they want taught in the schools, suggesting some confusion about the meaning of terms such as "creationism" and "evolution."

One would expect some confusion. After all, understanding evolution is a bit more challenging an intellectual endeavor than studying creationism to confirm one's worldview. Compare "God created the world in six days" with following the progress of human genome study, just one tiny snippet of the body of research related to evolution. Read the story in the NYT that reports on this comparison:

Scientists have decoded the chimp genome and compared it with that of humans, a major step toward defining what makes people human and developing a deep insight into the evolution of human sexual behavior.

The comparison pinpoints the genetic differences that have arisen in the two species since they split from a common ancestor some six million years ago...

The scientists who have compared the whole genomes of the two species say they have found 35 million sites on the aligned genomes where there are different DNA units, and another five million where units have been added or deleted. Each genome is about three billion units in length.

Teaching creationism and evolution side-by-side, or in social science and science classes, may satisfy the American sense of fair play, but it is even more likely to further dumb down our schools. Here in Minnesota, critics have lambasted curricula they claimed were focused on building self-esteem rather than teaching "facts."

Creationism under any name would seem to qualify as the mother of all self-esteem builders, a subject that could only be graded on the curve.