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Daily Journal: Thursday, February 1, 2007

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Wages of Bush
FEMA’s Shams

I doubt there is more sham of an agency than FEMA — the Federal Emergency Management Agency that drowned Katrina victims in its incompetence and showed us the consequences of the Bush administration’s cronyism and indifference to the troubles of ordinary people. Then again, any agency under Bush management is bound to replicate the same symptoms. FEMA’s example stands out because it’s one of the federal government agencies designed to be closest to the people, an agency built around rapid response during disasters. It’s a disaster in its right. The stories about Katrina abound. Here’s a more out-of-the-way story that points to the very same absurdities. Last Christmas Day two tornadoes ripped through the Daytona Beach area. One hit the Daytona Beach airport, destroying several apartment buildings nearby and several buildings and planes belonging to Embry-Riddle Aeronautic University. Another destroyed 56 mobile homes in nearby DeLand. The university took care of its damage through insurance. People living in the apartment buildings and the mobile homes were mostly low-income renters, not covered by insurance. Many ended up homeless. The state and local agencies could help only so far. Jeb Bush, the governor for a few more days, asked for a federal disaster declaration four days after the tornadoes hit. It took FEMA thirty-two days to respond, and it responded with this: Forget it. No explanation given.

On Tuesday, I spent half the day trying to figure out why FEMA had responded so cursorily. This is the kind of backstory that doesn’t make it into the papers—the niggling, infuriating hoops even journalists have to run through to get the appearance of an answer, so imagine what it must be like for ordinary people who have neither the time nor the means, or the habit, to navigate the maze. I called FEMA’s headquarters in D.C., its southern region office in Atlanta, its state office in Florida. That last, called the “long-term recovery office,” was set up 20 months ago following the 2004 hurricane season that slammed Florida with four named hurricanes. (There were groans about FEMA then, too.) A dozen calls produced a wonderful run-around that landed me finally in Atlanta. For some inexplicable reason the Florida office was not allowed to deal with the Christmas Day hurricanes. To be fair, it has been too busy patting itself on the back: This is from a letter the office director sent his staff a few days ago: “We arrived to the cries and complaints of unsatisfied, neglected, frustrated and angry applicants. And we answered loud and clear. We changed. We didn't dig in our heels or get defensive; we didn't try to justify ‘the way it’s always been done.’ We simply changed the way we did business--we put the customer first, we stood by our promises and we, in fact, changed the way Floridians view FEMA.” Delusion runs through anything the Bush administration touches. A flicker at the Atlanta office told me that Florida wouldn’t get FEMA aid because the state could handle it. The disaster wasn’t that big a deal. But there are homeless families and the state is requesting the help. The rote answer came back unchanged. The local Congressman found out that there’s a slew of unused trailers here, left-overs from the FEMA long-term recovery office’s bail-out plans from 2004. Why couldn’t those be used? The flicker said she’d get back to me. I also asked who, exactly, at FEMA, had recommended against helping Florida, since it’s someone’s decision. She’d get back to me. When she finally did, it was with this answer: “The information is protected and not available for release.” No joke.

All along, every person I spoke with in the various FEMA offices, including the Atlanta flicker, was bend-over-backward courteous, apologetic (for taking so long to return calls), promising of every help possible, even patient. But that, I realized, is part of the game, part of the delusion of government-by-appearances: you project a genial image, you sugar-coat the caller, you flatter him, you even tickle his ego if you have to (“thank you for being so understanding,” etc.), all the while cementing the stonewalling with courtesy. It’s the philosophy of the-customer-is-always-right—because the “business” doesn’t have to reveal anything. FEMA of course is one of the federal agencies devoured by the Department of Homeland Security, which is not subject to Freedom of Information the way other federal agencies might be (I say might because everything is conditional when it comes to information in this administration). The information can be anything. If FEMA doesn’t want to release it (like who screwed up here, who was the king of indifference) all the agency has to say is that the information is “protected.” The irony of the word: an agency designed for the protection of the American public now “protects” us from knowing why it so consistently screws the American public. In this little tale lies the sordid symptom of the government we now have. But leave it to pat itself on the back, as in that FEMA director’s staff letter, with charades dripping in irony: “Remarkably, we are currently at one quarter of the staffing numbers we once were. Only a truly adaptable, forward-thinking organization, like ours, can make such a massive adjustment without missing a beat.” That’s to FEMA’s staff. As to the letter FEMA essentially wrote Daytona Beach’s and DeLand’s homeless, it would add up to two words: “drop dead.”

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About Time the Mainstream Press Realizes
Overreacting to 9/11

There's been much, much worse

David A. Bell, professor of history at Johns Hopkins University and contributing editor for the New Republic, writing in the LATimes: “IMAGINE THAT on 9/11, six hours after the assault on the twin towers and the Pentagon, terrorists had carried out a second wave of attacks on the United States, taking an additional 3,000 lives. Imagine that six hours after that, there had been yet another wave. Now imagine that the attacks had continued, every six hours, for another four years, until nearly 20 million Americans were dead. This is roughly what the Soviet Union suffered during World War II, and contemplating these numbers may help put in perspective what the United States has so far experienced during the war against terrorism. It also raises several questions. Has the American reaction to the attacks in fact been a massive overreaction? Is the widespread belief that 9/11 plunged us into one of the deadliest struggles of our time simply wrong? If we did overreact, why did we do so? Does history provide any insight? Certainly, if we look at nothing but our enemies' objectives, it is hard to see any indication of an overreaction. The people who attacked us in 2001 are indeed hate-filled fanatics who would like nothing better than to destroy this country. But desire is not the same thing as capacity, and although Islamist extremists can certainly do huge amounts of harm around the world, it is quite different to suggest that they can threaten the existence of the United States. Yet a great many Americans, particularly on the right, have failed to make this distinction. For them, the "Islamo-fascist" enemy has inherited not just Adolf Hitler's implacable hatreds but his capacity to destroy. The conservative author Norman Podhoretz has gone so far as to say that we are fighting World War IV (No. III being the Cold War). But it is no disrespect to the victims of 9/11, or to the men and women of our armed forces, to say that, by the standards of past wars, the war against terrorism has so far inflicted a very small human cost on the United States.” See the full column...


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Fear Keith Olberman
Terror, the Movie


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Lower the Minimum Wage


From Jon Swift: “Republican Senators have so far successfully stopped Democrat efforts to raise the minimum wage by offering so many amendments and parliamentary delays that Sen. Ted Kennedy was beside himself with anger. "Do you have such disdain for hard-working Americans that you want to pile all your amendments on this?" he shouted at Republicans on the Senate floor. "What is it about working men and women that you find so offensive?" This week there is going to be another vote on the minimum wage and Republicans will try once again to stop it from increasing. But while I'm sure it brings joy to the hearts of many conservatives to see Kennedy so furious, it's not enough to simply keep the minimum wage from going up. I think we need to lower the minimum wage. Keeping the minimum wage at the inflated rate of $5.15 an hour for a decade has been a terrible drag on our economy. The number of millionaires in the United States, for example, grew only 11% from 2004 to 2005, to 8.9 million. It now takes an entire day for a CEO to earn what the average worker earns in a year. Many small businesses cannot afford to pay any wages at all let alone the artificially high minimum wage and America's bottom-heavy wages are making it increasingly difficult for us to compete in the global economy. [...] Lowering the minimum wage would also solve our immigration problem. The minimum wage in Mexico is about 50 pesos a day, or $4.53. In an 8-hour workday, that's about 57 cents an hour, a little more than one-tenth of the U.S. minimum wage. If we just set the minimum wage below 50 cents an hour, how many Mexican immigrants do you think will risk their lives sneaking over the border for that?” See the full post....

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BAG News Notes:
Bush, On the Other Hand
The headline, and the picture, courtesy of BAG News Notes, in reference to an ad campaign by


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Swastika Illiteracy
Today’s Neo-Nazis Have No Respect for Tradition

Karl Quandt: “The other week, I read that the founder of the National Vanguard is in the clink for having child pornography in his computer. What is going on with today’s white nationalists? Here it is, 2007, and global Aryan supremacy is no closer to becoming a reality than it was 60 years ago. I lay the blame squarely on the shoulders of this new generation. These kids today are making a disgrace of neo-Nazism. In my day, it wasn’t just about mindless hate—we hated because we stood for something. Namely, tradition, discipline, and self-respect: values that these low-life punks have no comprehension of whatsoever. We exalted our glorious forebears, in Germany as well as the United States. But who today remembers the great American neo-Nazi leaders like George Lincoln Rockwell or Matt Koehl? Who honors the great heroes and martyrs of the National Socialist White People’s Party? It’s enough to make me ashamed to be a neo-Nazi. You can’t just call yourself the Master Race—you have to act like it, and hold yourself to a higher standard than those you despise and wish to exterminate. Have you seen the way these kids dress? Their idea of a “uniform” is a T-shirt and combat boots. The rural militias are even worse, with their filthy fatigues and long hair and beer guts. Excuse me, but I hardly think hillbilly rejects are what our great Führer had in mind when he dreamed of a world filled with Aryan supermen. I wouldn’t even let them in my front door, let alone conspire with them to blow up a synagogue. Don’t these people have any white pride?” See the full column in… what else…

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