Friday, September 23
This is global warming, says environmental chief
As Hurricane Rita threatens devastation, scientist blames climate change
By Michael McCarthy, Environment Editor, The Independent, 23 September 2005
Super-powerful hurricanes now hitting the United States are the "smoking gun" of global warming, one of Britain's leading scientists believes.
The growing violence of storms such as Katrina, which wrecked New Orleans, and Rita, now threatening Texas, is very probably caused by climate change, said Sir John Lawton, chairman of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. Hurricanes were getting more intense, just as computer models predicted they would, because of the rising temperature of the sea, he said. "The increased intensity of these kinds of extreme storms is very likely to be due to global warming."
In a series of outspoken comments - a thinly veiled attack on the Bush administration, Sir John hit out at neoconservatives in the US who still deny the reality of climate change.
Referring to the arrival of Hurricane Rita he said: "If this makes the climate loonies in the States realise we've got a problem, some good will come out of a truly awful situation." As he spoke, more than a million people were fleeing north away from the coast of Texas as Rita, one of the most intense storms on record, roared through the Gulf of Mexico. It will probably make landfall tonight or early tomorrow near Houston, America's fourth largest city and the centre of its oil industry. Highways leading inland from Houston were clogged with traffic for up to 100 miles north.
There are real fears that Houston could suffer as badly from Rita just as New Orleans suffered from Hurricane Katrina less than a month ago.
Asked what conclusion the Bush administration should draw from two hurricanes of such high intensity hitting the US in quick succession, Sir John said: "If what looks like is going to be a horrible mess causes the extreme sceptics about climate change in the US to reconsider their opinion, that would be an extremely valuable outcome."
Asked about characterising them as "loonies", he said: "There are a group of people in various parts of the world ... who simply don't want to accept human activities can change climate and are changing the climate."
"I'd liken them to the people who denied that smoking causes lung cancer."
With his comments, Sir John becomes the third of the leaders of Britain's scientific establishment to attack the US over the Bush government's determination to cast doubt on global warming as a real phenomenon.
Sir John's comments follow and support recent research, much of it from America itself, showing that hurricanes are getting more violent and suggesting climate change is the cause.
A paper by US researchers, last week in the US journal Science, showed that storms of the intensity of Hurricane Katrina have become almost twice as common in the past 35 years.
Wednesday, September 14
How Bush Blew It
Evan Thomas, Newsweek, Sept 19th Issue
Bureaucratic timidity. Bad phone lines. And a failure of imagination. Why the government was so slow to respond to catastrophe.
It's a standing joke among the president's top aides: who gets to deliver the bad news? Warm and hearty in public, Bush can be cold and snappish in private, and aides sometimes cringe before the displeasure of the president of the United States, or, as he is known in West Wing jargon, POTUS.
The bad news on this early morning, Tuesday, Aug. 30, some 24 hours after Hurricane Katrina had ripped through New Orleans, was that the president would have to cut short his five-week vacation by a couple of days and return to Washington. The president's chief of staff, Andrew Card; his deputy chief of staff, Joe Hagin; his counselor, Dan Bartlett, and his spokesman, Scott McClellan, held a conference call to discuss the question of the president's early return and the delicate task of telling him. Hagin, it was decided, as senior aide on the ground, would do the deed.
The president did not growl this time. He had already decided to return to Washington and hold a meeting of his top advisers on the following day, Wednesday. This would give them a day to get back from their vacations and their staffs to work up some ideas about what to do in the aftermath of the storm. President Bush knew the storm and its consequences had been bad; but he didn't quite realize how bad.
The reality, say several aides who did not wish to be quoted because it might displease the president, did not really sink in until Thursday night. Some White House staffers were watching the evening news and thought the president needed to see the horrific reports coming out of New Orleans.
Counselor Bartlett made up a DVD of the newscasts so Bush could see them in their entirety as he flew down to the Gulf Coast the next morning on Air Force One.
How this could be—how the president of the United States could have even less "situational awareness," as they say in the military, than the average American about the worst natural disaster in a century—is one of the more perplexing and troubling chapters in a story that, despite moments of heroism and acts of great generosity, ranks as a national disgrace.
President George W. Bush has always trusted his gut. He prides himself in ignoring the distracting chatter, the caterwauling of the media elites, the Washington political buzz machine. He has boasted that he doesn't read the papers. His doggedness is often admirable. It is easy for presidents to overreact to the noise around them.
But it is not clear what President Bush does read or watch, aside from the occasional biography and an hour or two of ESPN here and there.
Bush can be petulant about dissent; he equates disagreement with disloyalty. After five years in office, he is surrounded largely by people who agree with him. Bush can ask tough questions, but it's mostly a one-way street. Most presidents keep a devil's advocate around. Lyndon Johnson had George Ball on Vietnam; President Ronald Reagan and Bush's father, George H.W. Bush, grudgingly listened to the arguments of Budget Director Richard Darman, who told them what they didn't wish to hear: that they would have to raise taxes.
When Hurricane Katrina struck, it appears there was no one to tell President Bush the plain truth: that the state and local governments had been overwhelmed, that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was not up to the job and that the military, the only institution with the resources to cope, couldn't act without a declaration from the president overriding all other authority
A Fatal Incuriosity
By MAUREEN DOWD, New York Times, September 14, 2005
I hate spending time in hospitals and nursing homes. I find them to be some of the most depressing places on earth.
Maybe that's why the stories of the sick and elderly who died, 45 in a New Orleans hospital and 34 in St. Rita's nursing home in the devastated St. Bernard Parish outside New Orleans, haunt me so.
You're already vulnerable and alone when suddenly you're beset by nature and betrayed by your government.
At St. Rita's, 34 seniors fought to live with what little strength they had as the lights went out and the water rose over their legs, over their shoulders, over their mouths. As Gardiner Harris wrote in The Times, the failed defenses included a table nailed against a window and a couch pushed against a door.
Several electric wheelchairs were gathered near the front entrance, maybe by patients who dreamed of evacuating. Their drowned bodies were found swollen and unrecognizable a week later, as Mr. Harris reported, "draped over a wheelchair, wrapped in a shower curtain, lying on a floor in several inches of muck."
How many places will be in shambles by the time the Bush crew leaves office?
Given that the Bush team has dealt with both gulf crises, Iraq and Katrina, with the same deadly mixture of arrogance and incompetence, and a refusal to face reality, it's frightening to think how it will handle the most demanding act of government domestic investment since the New Deal.
Even though we know W. likes to be in his bubble with his feather pillow, the stories this week are breathtaking about the lengths the White House staff had to go to in order to capture Incurious George's attention.
Newsweek reported that the reality of Katrina did not sink in for the president until days after the levees broke, turning New Orleans into a watery grave. It took a virtual intervention of his top aides to make W. watch the news about the worst natural disaster in a century. Dan Bartlett made a DVD of newscasts on the hurricane to show the president on Friday morning as he flew down to the Gulf Coast.
The aides were scared to tell the isolated president that he should cut short his vacation by a couple of days, Newsweek said, because he can be "cold and snappish in private." Mike Allen wrote in Time about one "youngish aide" who was so terrified about telling Mr. Bush he was wrong about something during the first term, he "had dry heaves" afterward.
The president had to be truly zoned out not to jump at the word "hurricane," given that he has always used his father's term as a reverse playbook and his father almost lost Florida in 1992 because of his slow-footed response to Hurricane Andrew. And W.'s chief of staff, Andy Card, was the White House transportation secretary the senior President Bush sent to the rescue after FEMA bungled that one.
W. has said he prefers to get his information straight up from aides, rather than filtered through newspapers or newscasts. But he surrounds himself with weak sisters who don't have the nerve to break bad news to him, or ideologues with agendas that require warping reality or chuckleheaded cronies like Brownie.
The president should stop haunting New Orleans, looking for that bullhorn moment. It's too late.
The Reconstruction of New Oraq: Corporations of the Whirlwind
By Tom Engelhardt and Nick Turse, September 2005
"At times it is hard to ignore the comparisons between Baghdad (where I was less than a month ago and have spent more of the last two years) and New Orleans: The anarchy, the looting, some of it purely for survival, some of it purely opportunistic. We watched a flatbed truck drive by, a man on the back with an M-16 looking up on the roofs for snipers, as is common in Iraq. Private security contractors were stationed outside the Royal St. Charles Hotel; when asked if things were getting pretty wild around the area, one of them replied, ‘Nope. It's pretty Green Zone here.'" (David Enders, Surviving New Orleans, Mother Jones on-line)
In the decade before September 11th, 2001, "globalization," a word now largely missing-in-action, was on everyone's lips and we constantly heard about what a small, small world this really was. In the aftermath of Katrina, that global smallness has grown positively claustrophobic and particularly predatory. Iraq and New Orleans now seem to be morphing into a single entity, New Oraq, to be devoured by the same limited set of corporations, let loose and overseen by the same small set of Bush administration officials. In George Bush's new world of globalization, first comes the destruction and only then does one sit down at the planetary table to sup.
In recent weeks, news has been seeping out of Iraq that the "reconstruction" of that country is petering out, because the money is largely gone. According to American officials, reported T. Christian Miller of the Los Angeles Times last week, "The U.S. will halt construction work on some water and power plants in Iraq because it is running out of money for projects." A variety of such reconstruction projects crucial to the everyday lives of Iraqis, the British Guardian informs us, are now "grinding to a halt" as "plans to overhaul the country's infrastructure have been downsized, postponed or abandoned because the $24bn budget approved by Congress has been dwarfed by the scale of the task."
Water and sanitation projects have been particularly hard hit; while staggering sums, once earmarked for reconstruction, are being shunted to private security firms whose hired-guns are assigned to guard the projects that can't be done. With funds growing scarce, various corporations closely connected to the Bush administration, having worked the Iraqi disaster for all it was worth (largely under no-bid, cost-plus contracts), are now looking New Orleans-ward. [...more]
The Graft Goes On
By Molly Ivins, AlterNet, September 14, 2005
Here's a good idea: Consumer groups and progressive congressfolks have joined in an effort to stop hundreds of thousands of victims of Hurricane Katrina from being further harmed by the new Bankruptcy Act, scheduled to take effect Oct. 17. This law was notoriously written by and for the consumer credit industry, and is particularly onerous for the poor.
The bill was passed with massive support from the Republican leadership in Congress and from a disgusting number of sellout Democrats. While it was being considered in committee earlier this year, Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee offered an amendment to protect victims of natural disasters. It was defeated, without debate, on a party-line vote.
Now, Congress has a chance to rethink some of the most punitive parts of the bill. Katrina victims who were planning to file before the new law goes into effect are S.O.L. -- where are they gonna find a lawyer, let alone an open courthouse?
Under the new law, anyone whose income is over the state median must file under Chapter 13, a more restrictive category that requires some repayment of debt. The new law grants no exemption for natural disaster, even though it's going to be a little tough for some citizen sitting in the Astrodome who no longer has a home to come up with tax statements, pay stubs, and six months of income and expense data. Let's see if Congress can manage to open its marble heart on this issue.
Meanwhile, it's an ill wind that blows no one good, so we should not be surprised to learn the first winner out of the gate on Katrina is none other than the Halliburton Co., whose deserving subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root has already been granted a $29.8 million contract for cleanup work in the wake of Katrina.
Of course, no one would suggest Halliburton and its subsidiaries get government contracts (more than $9 billion for reconstruction work in Iraq, with Pentagon audits thus far showing $1.03 billion in "questioned" costs and $422 million in "unsupported costs") just because Vice President Cheney is still on the payroll. Heavens no. The veep continues to receive deferred pay from the company he formerly headed -- $194,852 last year.
Wednesday, September 7
New Yorker editor David Remnick writes that "over five days last week ... Bush's mettle was tested -- and he failed in almost every respect."
One of the creepier vanities of most political leaders is the private yearning to be tested on a historical scale. Bill Clinton used to confide that, no matter what else he did as President, without a major war to fight he could never join the ranks of Lincoln and F.D.R. During the Presidential debates in 2000, George W. Bush informed his opponent, Al Gore, that natural catastrophes are “a time to test your mettle.” Bush had seen his father falter after a hurricane in South Florida. But now he has done far worse.
Over five days last week, from the onset of the hurricane on the Gulf Coast on Monday morning to his belated visit to the region on Friday, Bush’s mettle was tested—and he failed in almost every respect.
Obviously, a hurricane is beyond human blame, and the political miscalculations that have come to light—the negligent planning, the delayed rescue and aid efforts, the thoroughly confused and uninspired political leadership—cannot all be laid at the feet of President Bush. But you could sense, watching him being interviewed by Diane Sawyer on ABC’s “Good Morning America”—defensive, confused, overwhelmed—that he knew that he had delivered a series of feeble, vague, almost flippant speeches in the early days of the crisis, and that the only way to prevent further political damage was to inoculate himself with the inevitable call for non-partisanship: “I hope people don’t play politics during this period of time.”
And yet, to a frightening degree, Bush’s faults of leadership and character were brought into high relief by the crisis. Suntanned and relaxed after a vacation so long that it would have shamed a French playboy, Bush reacted with fogged delinquency, as if he had been so lulled by his summer sojourn that he was not quite ready to acknowledge reality, let alone attempt to master it.
His first view of the floods came, pitifully, theatrically, from the window of a low-flying Air Force One, and all the President could muster was, according to his press secretary, “It’s devastating. It’s got to be doubly devastating on the ground.” [...more]
... The President’s incuriosity, his prideful insistence on being an underbriefed “gut player,” is not looking so charming right now, either, if it ever did. In the ABC interview, he said, “I don’t think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees.”
Even the most cursory review shows that there have been comprehensive and chilling warnings of a potential calamity on the Gulf Coast for years. The most telling, but hardly the only, example was a five-part series in 2002 by John McQuaid and Mark Schleifstein in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, a newspaper that heroically kept publishing on the Internet last week. After evaluating the city’s structural deficiencies, the Times-Picayune reporters concluded that a catastrophe was “a matter of when, not if.”
The same paper said last year, “For the first time in 37 years, federal budget cuts have all but stopped major work on the New Orleans area’s east bank hurricane levees, a complex network of concrete walls, metal gates and giant earthen berms that won’t be finished for at least another decade.” A Category 4 or 5 hurricane would be a catastrophe: “Soon the geographical ‘bowl’ of the Crescent City would fill up with the waters of the lake, leaving those unable to evacuate with little option but to cluster on rooftops—terrain they would have to share with hungry rats, fire ants, nutria, snakes, and perhaps alligators. The water itself would become a festering stew of sewage, gasoline, refinery chemicals, and debris.”
And that describes much of the Gulf Coast today.