Saturday, September 17, 2005

Other items

Nearly three weeks after Hurricane Katrina cut its devastating path, FEMA - the same federal agency that botched the rescue mission - is faltering in its effort to aid hundreds of thousands of storm victims, local officials, evacuees and top federal relief officials say. The federal aid hot line mentioned by President Bush in his address to the nation on Thursday cannot handle the flood of calls, leaving thousands of people unable to get through for help, day after day.
Federal officials are often unable to give local governments permission to proceed with fundamental tasks to get their towns running again. Most areas in the region still lack federal help centers, the one-stop shopping sites for residents in need of aid for their homes or families. Officials say that they are uncertain whether they can meet the president's goal of providing housing for 100,000 people who are now in shelters by the middle of next month.

The above is from Jennifer Steinhauer and Eric Lipton's "FEMA, Slow to the Rescue, Now Stumbles in Aid Effort" in this morning's New York Times and Charlie e-mailed to highlight it.

Randall e-mails to note the AP story at the Times web site entitled "Chavez: U.S. Plans to Invade Venezuela:"

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Friday he has documentary evidence that the United States plans to invade his country.
Chavez, interviewed on ABC's ''Nightline,'' said the plan is called ''Balboa'' and involves aircraft carriers and planes. A transcript of the interview was made available by ''Nightline.''
He said U.S. soldiers recently went to Curacao, an island off Venezuela's northwest coast. He described as a ''lie'' the official U.S. explanation that they visited Curacao for rest and recreation.
''They were doing movements. They were doing maneuvers,'' Chavez said, speaking through a translator.
He added: ''We are coming up with the counter-Balboa plan. That is to say if the government of the United States attempts to commit the foolhardy enterprise of attacking us, it would be embarked on a 100-year war. We are prepared.''

I'll note Richard A. Oppel Jr., Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker's "Baghdad Bombings Raise Anew Questions About U.S. Strategy in Iraq" (which is credited with this note: "This article was reported and written by Richard A. Oppel Jr., Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker."):

Although the attacks in Baghdad suggest that there may be cells of insurgents there, or at least that they can sneak into the city to plant bombs, senior officials at the Pentagon and in Iraq say they believe that Mr. Zarqawi and the insurgency's "center of gravity" is now in the bends and towns of the Euphrates River valley near the Syrian border.
Commanders say they plan to squeeze the Zarqawi leadership and Iraqi insurgents in those areas. Throughout the spring and summer marines and Army forces staged raids into those same towns, confiscating weapons and killing scores of insurgents. But many fighters melted into the countryside, and there were not enough coalition troops to keep a sufficient presence in the villages.
Commanders say new offensives in Anbar Province in coming weeks will be modeled on the siege of Tal Afar, which used 8,500 American and Iraqi troops.
"You will see the same thing down along the Euphrates Valley to push back out and restore Iraqi control to the area around Qaim," Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top American commander in Iraq, said in an interview in Baghdad. General Casey said the Iraqi forces had little control of the country's border with Syria on either side of Qaim, a desolate town on the Euphrates.

Why am I noting it? I think we should remember what "commanders" say in this piece for a future date. Also we've dropped to the figure "8,500" (the one Elaine noted was consistent with other reporting but inconsistent with the Times' claim on Sunday [11,000]). And because "you will see the same thing." Not what's reported in the Times, but the same actions in Tal Afar that you saw in Falluja will be repeated elsewhere. Unlike the optimists quoted in the report, this will not be the end of it (even with death squads) but fuel for more rage.

Hopefully, Christian Parenti was correct and the Times reporters (at least Dexter Filkins) are aware that there is reality and then there is the spin that's characterized too many reports from the paper. We're told, by commanders who lead in the story, that Iraqis are cooperating to halt the insurgency (they're supposedly outraged by the violence). We've heard that claim before. We heard that claim, in fact, before we invaded.

It's offered as new and developing as though we've all acquired early senility and forgotten all that's come before. And we're also supposed to believe not only that in choosing between their own citizens and the occupiers, Iraqis are siding with the Operation Enduring Falsehood "coalition," but that they're ratting them out.

"Secretarian" wasn't a word that popped up much in the limited Tal Afar coverage in the Times. But it's worth noting the term. No doubt many sects are turning on each other (some believe that has been the US plan). But the idea that a country of people embraces an invader over their own people goes against history and political theory. Today commanders present it as fact.

Here are the facts. Violence rages still. Violence has not been "subdued." It is unlikely that it will be "subdued" with these actions. We could let Negroponte unleash all the death squads his heart may desire but everyone that's killed will be replaced with friends and family. That's how a resistance breeds. That's historical.

There is no "subduing." This isn't a state in the United States (though certain policies seem to attempt to make it that). This is a foreign country. And to the citizens the US is a foreign force.
They will argue and fight amongst themselves and we may prove momentarily effective at playing them off one another but not in the long term. In the long term, they want us out and they will not be "subdued" or "channeled." This isn't an issue of "Give us ___!" whatever service. This is an issue of autonomy and it won't go away while we're there.

Our presence only adds to the problems. "Fine tuners" will no doubt trumpet today's claims by commanders with choruses of "See!" I'm not sure what they think they're seeing (possibly the happy talk the Times portrays and gives far too much weight to -- though give the paper credit for clearly identifying who reported what), but it's an ahisotrical approach (and, bluntly, an ignorant one) to think that this is a turning point in the favor of Operation Enduring Falsehood.

"Winning" defined by the terms of the administration will mean more massive killings and they may delay certain attacks, maybe planned ones in the works, but this is how a resistance breeds.
If you and I argue over the tree in the middle of both of our properties, I may kill you and claim the tree. Before I claim victory, I better be prepared to kill everyone close to you and everyone who's not pleased that I moved into the neighborhood.

We're talking a Biblical slaughter (term used intentionally). No baby Moses better be floated down a river.

If I don't kill everyone then they will be there to tell what happened, to stroke the outrage and to encourage it.

There is no turned corner here. Suggesting there is requires a denial of history and a denial of how a resistance operates. That a nation (the US) supposedly so consumed with the Bible can't grasp the basics suggests that maybe they might need to read a little more closely. Otherwise, cries of "Let my people go" may come as a shock to them.

These are points that are raised later in the article, after the happy talk:

But independent analysts suggest that the strategy of driving the insurgents from urban centers and trying to capture or kill as many as possible, aiming especially at leaders, may be flawed. The violence in Baghdad is only one problem. Another is that the fighting may work against the search for political consensus among Iraqis.

Whether it was an editorial decision or one on the part of the journalists, pushing reality down into the article, as opposed to leading with it, was a mistake.

In terms of past reporting, however, I'll give the writers (and the paper) credit for noting reality somewhere in the article. You lead with the most important information, however, and happy talk isn't important to anyone but the people spinning. Readers need reality from the start.

If I reassemble the article on my own, there are few quarrels I have with it. (As always with the paper, the reliance on "official sources" would be a quarrel I have with the article.) For a Times piece it's a strong one. But as assembled, weighted with happy talk at the start, it's not as strong as it should be.

A daily paper wants to provide you with a sense of "This just happened!" so possibly it's a problem with the form itself? However, I'd suggest that the opening paragraph could have been written in such a way that we'd have both history and what the military is spinning today.

Hopefully, this is a sign of stronger reporting to come from the Times.

(For anyone wondering, the official fatality count for US military stationed in Iraq for the month is fifteen. Or fifteen more thanks to Happy Talkers and "fine tuners." Make yourself heard next weekend at a rally.)

Brenda e-mails to highlight Norman Solomon's "The News Media Are Knocking Bush -- and Propping Him Up" (Common Dreams):

The country's largest media institutions operate on a basis of enormous respect for presidential power. Major news organizations defer to that power even while venting criticisms. Overall, mass media outlets restrain the momentum of denunciations lest they appear to create instability for the Republic.
Initially, when the lethal character of Bush's "leadership" became clear in New Orleans, the journalistic focus on federal accountability was quick to bypass the president. For several days, the national political story seemed to mostly revolve around the flak-catching FEMA director, Michael Brown, a cipher who obviously was going to be tossed overboard by the administration.
On Tuesday, the day after Brown resigned, President Bush adjusted the damage-control weaseling. "Katrina exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government," he said at the White House, "and to the extent that the federal government didn't fully do its job right, I take responsibility."
It was a classic hollow statement, meant to sound important and meaningless at the same time. On Wednesday, more than a dozen paragraphs into its story headlined "President Says He's Responsible in Storm Lapses," the New York Times reported: "In saying he took responsibility for any failures of the federal response to the storm, Mr. Bush stopped short of acknowledging that he or anyone else had made mistakes."
So, according to the Times headline, Bush said that "he's responsible" for "storm lapses" -- but, according to the article, Bush did not say "that he or anyone else had made mistakes." Got that?

Patrik e-mails to note Gloria Steinem's "I'm a Hopeaholic. There's Nothing George Bush Can Do About It" (Common Dreams):

Still, I have hope. I have hope because majority opinion has turned against the invasion of Iraq in far less time that it took to wake up to Vietnam. I have hope because Bush's selling-off of the US government, one function at a time, has stumbled on the privatization of social security. I have hope because Americans are finally connecting, via the internet, with what the rest of the world thinks. I have hope because the only long-term solution to rightwing extremism was visible in the last election; I've seen people willing to vote before, but for the first time I saw people fighting to vote. Only an end to our status as one of the lowest-voting democracies in the world can keep a focused and financed minority from cutting through the majority like a hot knife through butter.
Hard times have made me realize that hope might be the most American of qualities, the reason why many immigrants come here and our best export by far. When I've lived in other countries, it's what I've been most homesick for. After all, unless we make a place in our imaginations for what could be, there's not much point in believing in anything. You might say I'm a hopeaholic.
I owe this not only to being born here, but to working as a feminist organizer. Terminal hopefulness is an occupational hazard. None the less, I've come to feel that hope is natural, a necessity of human evolution - and hopelessness has to be carefully taught by those who benefit from the status quo. Here's why.
I had the good luck of missing school until I was 12 or so. My parents thought that seeing the country from a trailer or caravan was as educational as a classroom, so I escaped the discouragement that, especially in my generation, came with it. I wasn't taught that boys and girls were practically different species, that America was "discovered" when the first white guy set foot on it, or that Europe deserved more space in my textbooks than Asia and Africa combined. I didn't even learn that people at the top were smarter than people at the bottom.
Instead I grew up seeing with my own eyes, following my curiosity, falling in love with books and learning mostly from being around grown-ups - which, except for the books, was the way kids had been raised for most of human history. With no one to tell me that some people were born to poverty or that women weren't leaders, but married or gave birth to them, I just assumed that hope could lead anyone anywhere.
Needless to say, school hit me like a ton of bricks. I wasn't prepared for gender obsession, race and class complexities or the new-to-me idea that war, male leadership and a God who mysteriously resembled the ruling class were inevitable. Soon I gave in and became an adolescent trying to fit in, pretending I didn't know what I knew, and keeping my hopes to myself - a stage that lasted through college. I owe the beginnings of rebirth to living in India for a couple of years and falling in with a group of Gandhians, then coming home to the Kennedys, the civil rights movement and protests against the war in Vietnam.

(Note, we've linked to Common Dreams before but apparently Nora Ephron's article this week caught members attention. We'll add it to the permalinks at the start of October.)

It seems appropriate in one of our NYT morning posts to note this, Misuse of Power: How the Far Right Gained and Misuses Power. What is it? A BuzzFlash premium, a book written by Ed Asner and Burt Hall. Remember when Asner played Lou Grant on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and we had more faith in our press? As the theme to another Saturday CBS show of the same period put it, "Those were the days."

The e-mail address for this site is

[Note: Correction ("my" from "your") and links added per Shirley. Thank you, Shirley.]