Posts Tagged ‘United States’

Clear

Monday, September 11th, 2006

For all my memories of that day five years ago, the one that sticks most in my mind is that of the sky that morning. Clear. Pristine. The most beautiful blue, without a cloud aloft to disturb its tranquility. Just like today.

Pleading with defiance in the face of the nation

Monday, December 19th, 2005

It’s been a while since I’ve played around in the political wading pool, but I though this would be a good time to get my feet wet again. President Bush has had a busy couple of days, trying to reestablish his grip — if not in political power than at least in public perception. An address to the nation on Sunday night, trying to sell his vision of victory in Iraq, followed on Monday by his defense of domestic spying which was brought to the public’s attention this past Friday in a New York Times article.

The path to victory in Iraq
For the first time since he launched operations in Iraq 3 years ago, Bush spoke to the nation from the oval office. This time, laying out what his vision of victory Iraq actually is. The freefall his ratings took might have been eased, if not stopped outright, had he just done this a year earlier right before the first round of elections in Iraq. However, this administration loves to keep their lips tight unless they want to tell you something, and I don’t see any signs of that changing. The President listed the offenses against Iraq that drove his decision, and took full responsibility for said decision (which shocked me, since I’m not used to hearing a G.W. mea culpa).

He then proceeded to lay out his three critical elements to end this war: security, democracy and reconstruction — words that have been bandied about many times over the past years, but this time backed up with some metrics. Iraqi combat battalions number over 125, with 50 in leading positions in operations and 12 bases under Iraqi control. My next question is “out of how many needed to keep the peace”, but the numbers sound significant. Reconstruction also sounds optimistic, though as Bush said himself this is only “after a number of setbacks”. Iraqis sound optimistic, with 7 in 10 saying life is going well and nearly 2/3 expecting things to improve. But by his own admission George still says the terrorists would still have “the coward’s power”, and that there is still work to be done, and he pleaded with the nation for patience.

All in all, it’s probably the most direct speech I’ve ever heard the man give, even with the 2 line flubs he had. Of course, I still think it was far later than it should have been. Depending on who you believe, all this talk either did something or nothing to his approval ratings.

Big brother is watching you
And then there was the defusing of the privacy bomb. Since 2002 our President has repeatedly authorized the National Security Agency to intercept communications between people in the U.S others abroad, sans court order. Of course this was done in the name of national defense, but this is by far the hardest pill we’ve ever been asked to swallow by the administration.

There is actually a law on the books — the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA for short — that allows for the government to tap first and get permission later. But Bush said circumventing the law with executive privilege was necessary because the FISA court takes too long to issue wiretap orders. Senator Russ Feingold has come out strongly against this thinking, saying “He just can’t make up the law … It would turn George Bush not into President George Bush, but King George Bush”.

And all this has cropped up just as the ultra-contriversial Patriot act is fighting to be renewed. Just not good timing for the administration at all. People on both sides of the isle are calling for congressional investigations and this story will certainly have a long life.

As far as the NSA spying goes, this smacks of abuse of power in my eyes. No matter how small the group of people being watched is, there is no excuse to do something outside of the rule of law, especially when there are laws in place to actually let you do what you want to. Congress was ready to do anything to help the President right after 9/11, and getting revisions to FISA would have been a slam dunk. Instead, the President goes outside the law, and outside of the system of checks and balances our nation depends on to stem abuses of power. Bad move.

We Don’t Lie(?)

Thursday, December 1st, 2005

As if the Bush administration didn’t have enough headaches to worry about, now there are reports of positive US stories being planted in the Iraqi press. Quote time:

Troops in an “information operations” task force have written articles with positive messages about the U.S. mission in Iraq that have been translated from English into Arabic and planted in Iraqi newspapers in return for money, according to defence officials speaking on condition of anonymity.”

We’re very concerned about the reports. We are seeking more information from the Pentagon,” said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.

When it rains, it pours.

Escape from New Orleans

Friday, September 9th, 2005

With the city being emptied and the water slowly being drained away, the stories are still coming out and the awful truths of what happened in the aftermath of Katrina is starting to be shown. A few of my favorite bands happen to be based out of New Orleans, and as such their mailing lists have been awash with stories from the disaster. Mr. Allan Morris posted a reprint of the escape from New Orleans by Larry Bradshaw and Lorrie Beth Slonsky, two San Fransisco EMS workers who were in town for a conference when the Hurricane hit.

They spent most of the next week trapped by the flood waters and martial law. The details inside are sickening at times, and it makes you wonder how something like this can this happen in our country. Turned away from the Superdome and the Convention center, kicked out of their hotel and lied to be the authorities, these people tried their best to help themselves and get noticed by someone in order to be rescued. But even then they were conspired against:

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.

It’s long, but well worth the time to read. We can’t afford to turn a blind eye to what happened; not if we don’t want it to happen again.

Weeping for the Crescent City

Friday, September 2nd, 2005
A flooded and battered Canal Street - New Orleans, LA

A flooded and battered Canal Street - New Orleans, LA

The pictures are very hard to look at.

As I’ve sat along with the nation and watched this national tragedy unfold in slow motion, there’s been a very real sense of personal loss. It sounds kind of strange, since I only visited the city once, but in that short amount of time I fell in love with it. Places where I walked are now underwater.

The darker sides of human nature have now taken hold inside the city limits, as looters and rogues have destroyed the rule of law. This slice of the American south is now under old west rules. I’ve even seen a video of one or two of New Orleans finest actually rifling through the isles of a Wal-Mart with the rest of the looters, taking what could be carted out. Gunfire slows the rescue efforts in some places:

Some rescue operations by the Federal Emergency Management Agency were suspended in areas where gunfire broke out, Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke said in Washington, the Associated Press reported. People trying to board amphibious vehicles outside New Orleans’s Charity Hospital were shot at while trying to evacuate, Cable News Network reported.

But who can you blame for a natural disaster?

By the look of things, there’s more than enough blame to go around. The more general blame goes with those who have been systematically draining the wetlands in the area for development and farming, leaving the city more and more vulnerable:

Wetlands are the water storage protection that nature itself offers against massive flooding. But in the past 70 years, coastal Louisiana alone has lost 1,900 square miles of wetlands, an area larger than Rhode Island. The disastrous upper Mississippi River flooding of 1993 demonstrated how little protection levees can provide when wetlands are allowed to be developed or turned into cropland.

But while ecological blindness and lack of foresight are large in the equation, willful negligence and bad management of funds by the federal government play what I think are an even larger part in the mess. Washington Monthly has a chronology of budget cuts, and the list just turns my stomach inside out:

June 2004: The Army Corps of Engineers budget for levee construction in New Orleans is slashed. Jefferson Parish emergency management chiefs Walter Maestri comments: “It appears that the money has been moved in the president’s budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that’s the price we pay.”

June 2005: Funding for the New Orleans district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is cut by a record $71.2 million. One of the hardest-hit areas is the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project, which was created after the May 1995 flood to improve drainage in Jefferson, Orleans and St. Tammany parishes.

I would had gladly given back the $300 the Bush tax refund gave me if it would have help fund the preventative measures needed to keep this nightmare from happening. Now all I can do is donate it to the Red Cross to try and help with the aftermath. And funds being diverted because of the President’s war in Iraq? It’s officially had its biggest casualty, and once again it’s on the home front.

Still, all the money and attention in the world might not have been enough to stop this from happening. One point of failure in the system of levees holding back the floods was recently reinforced:

No one expected that weak spot to be on a canal that, if anything, had received more attention and shoring up than many other spots in the region. It did not have broad berms, but it did have strong concrete walls.

Shea Penland, director of the Pontchartrain Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of New Orleans, said that was particularly surprising because the break was “along a section that was just upgraded.”

“It did not have an earthen levee,” Dr. Penland said. “It had a vertical concrete wall several feel thick.”

So for all we know, there might have been nothing we could do to stop the flooding of the city. Of course, just basic funding and investment in the preventative infrastructure of the city could have kept it from getting this bad. Penny pinching when it comes to protecting the places we live has never made sense to me — you only wind up paying a greater debt later on.

And what about the refugees?

Those who have been rescued from the nightmare of New Orleans new find themselves heading to Texas and the shelter of large arenas – an exodus as has never been seen in our country’s history. There is shelter from the elements and the floodwaters, but now the survivors are facing a new set of issues as they try to get on their feet again:

“Nobody came up with a plan for having this many refugees in our country,” said Bill White, the mayor of Houston. “We are being asked to meet needs that nobody envisioned even a few days ago.”

Officials expected to put up about 25,000 people at the Astrodome, but accepted only 11,500 inside , said Margaret O’Brien-Molina, a spokeswoman for the Red Cross.

An estimated 75,000 storm refugees were already in Houston on Thursday with as many as 40,000 more on the way. State officials said Dallas and San Antonio had been told to prepare for at least 25,000 each. Six hundred people spent Wednesday night at Reunion Arena in Dallas, and officials there expected hundreds more.

How long before the healing can begin?
With the levees still broken and the water still flowing in, no one can say for sure how long it’s going to be before the city can be drained and the rebuilding begins. I’ve heard two or three months as a low-end estimate. I cannot even begin to comprehend what the citizens are going through. I wish them all the best in their time of need, and you can count on me coming back to the city once it’s been rebuilt.

The nation (and the world) is with you, New Orleans.