30 September 2005

How Many More Must Die?

Required reading from Sydney H. Schanberg:

We are a nation at war—globally—against
terrorism. But here at home, except for extra
security at travel terminals, one could hardly
guess it.

There is no war footing to be seen. Washington
has not mobilized Americans on the home front.
President Bush has made it clear that he wants it
that way.

Yet the war is real. And the sacrifices are being
borne solely by the roughly 160,000 men and
women in uniform who are risking—and
losing—their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. And by
their grieving and worried families. National
politicians, though they lavish the country's
military population with warm rhetoric in public,
privately do not regard them as a voting bloc to
worry about.

As of early this week, 1,918 American soldiers
have died in Iraq and another 236 in Afghanistan,
for a total of 2,154. The count of wounded has
passed 15,000—more than 14,000 of them in
Iraq. There is no official count of Iraqi civilian
deaths in this war, but independent surveys put
the death figure somewhere between 26,000 and
30,000. No reliable casualty figures on Afghan
civilians are available.

While our soldiers die, the policies of the Bush
administration call for virtually no sacrifices or
commitments from the 300 million other
Americans. To the contrary, they are told that
their taxes will continue to be reduced—even as
the war goes on, costing upwards of $5 billion
each month.

The closest President Bush has come to seeking
a nationwide commitment was a speech in which
he asked Americans to use the Fourth of July to
"find a way to thank the men and women
defending our freedom by flying the flag, sending
a letter to our troops in the field, or helping the
military family down the street." A professor
emeritus of military sociology at Northwestern
University, Charles Moskos, calls this "Patriotism
Lite." "That's what we're experiencing now in
both political parties," he was quoted as saying
in a recent New York Times story. "The political
leaders are afraid to ask the public for any real
sacrifice . . . "

So what does this failure to seek shared sacrifice
mean? It seems to mean that our leaders—not
only the Republicans but the Democrats, who
followed meekly behind—knew that if they had
spoken candidly to the public and told them that
the threat from Iraq was not only not imminent
but minimal and that therefore this was not a war
of necessity but one of choice for other,
unexplained reasons, then voters might have
been aroused enough to rally and block the White
House's rush to invasion. This would indicate that
President Bush was convinced that, after the
invasion, continued support for his crusade had
to be conditioned on demanding little from the
public. Meanwhile, our soldiers are being killed
and crippled every day. In our system of
democracy, this leaps out as a perversion. Are
these volunteer men and women in uniform to be
regarded simply as mercenaries? Or do we care
about them?

Read the rest at the Village Voice.

29 September 2005

All Work and No Play

The late, great Stanley Kubrick was famous for
obsessing over every little detail of his films, including
the advertising and trailers. But even the man behind
Dr. Strangelove and 2001: A Space Odyessy could
screw-up now and then. (*cough* Barry Lyndon)

In hindsight, I think it was wise to abandon Kubrick’s
original idea for The Shining’s teaser trailer. The overall
tone does seem a tad misleading.

Click here to watch.

25 September 2005

jetBlue Cheese

"We take off. We fly around for a while.
And then we land -- somewhere else."

Here's a suggestion from jetblue.com

Put a giggle in your day.
Check out some of jetBlue's fun and fresh
TV advertising campaigns.

I don't know about "fun and fresh"
but they definately made me giggle.

I wonder if you can watch them
on the in-flight TV sets?

22 September 2005

The Cheese Stands Alone

Here’s a riddle I’ve been thinking about:

Imagine George W. Bush receives an unexpected visit
from some higher power (Jesus, Santa Claus, Superman,
take your pick) and offers him the chance to go back to
one of his previous jobs before he became president.
With a mere snap of the fingers or wiggle of the nose,
George could instantly go back to being the governor of
Texas or the owner of a baseball team or even an oil
executive. No one would have any memory of President
George W. Bush. All his current headaches, from
hurricanes to gas prices to the War on Terrorism, would
become someone else’s problem -- Al Gore, perhaps.

Would he do it?

We’ll never know.
But I’m pretty sure he’d take his time thinking it over.

Newsweek reports:

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.

It’s been clear to Bush critics for many years now that
“situational awareness” has never been this president’s
strong suit, but it is nice to see the mainstream media
notice it for a change. I suppose the destruction of a
major American city and over a thousand dead citizens
is a bit of an eye-opener.

But the president has bigger problems than the
news media.

From yesterday’s Washington Post:

Congressional Republicans from across the
ideological spectrum yesterday rejected the White
House's open-wallet approach to rebuilding the Gulf
Coast, a sign that the lockstep GOP discipline that
George W. Bush has enjoyed for most of his
presidency is eroding on Capitol Hill.

Trying to allay mounting concerns, White House
budget director Joshua B. Bolten met with Republican
senators for an hour after their regular Tuesday
lunch. Senators emerged to say they were annoyed
by the lack of concrete ideas for paying the
Hurricane Katrina bill.

"Very entertaining," Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said
sarcastically as he left the session. "I haven't heard
any specifics from the administration."

"At least give us some idea" of how to cover the cost,
said Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), who is facing
reelection in 2006. "We owe that to the American

The pushback on Katrina aid, which the White
House is also confronting among House Republicans,
represents the loudest and most widespread dissent
Bush has faced from his own party since it took full
control of Congress in 2002. As polls show the
president's approval numbers falling, there is
growing concern among lawmakers that GOP
margins in Congress could shrink next year, and
even rank-and-file Republicans are complaining that
Bush is shirking the difficult budget decisions that
must accompany the rebuilding bonanza.

It’s bad enough when a president with a 40% approval
rating has to deal with (ie. ignore) stubborn war
and angry gas consumers. But a rebellious
Republican party was never part of the bargain.

Even the conservative blogosphere (“the most close-
minded, insular, circular pits of denial I’ve ever
encountered,” writes Jesse Taylor) is starting to change
its tune. Dan Drezner documents the backlash, here.

Add to the mix the war in Iraq -- a war that less
than half
of America still believes can be won.

Here’s the latest good news from the White House:

Bush told Americans to brace for more violence and
accused insurgent leader Abu Musab-al Zarqawi of
trying to trigger a civil war with a series of attacks.

"Today, our commanders made it clear: As Iraqis
prepare to vote on their constitution in October and
elect a permanent government in December, we
must be prepared for more violence," Bush said.

Have no fear. If there is one thing this government
understands, it is the importance of being prepared.

But if I were in George’s shoes, a cushy job with the
Texas Rangers would look pretty nice right about now.
Then again, so would a Texas-sized shot of straight


03 September 2005

Failure Is An Option

[photo: Reuters]

It is four days since Katrina hit the city, and only now
have the National Guard arrived with food and water
for the tens of thousands of refugees at the New Orleans
Convention Center.

"The people of our city are holding on by a thread,"
Mayor Ray Nagin warned in a statement to CNN. "Time
has run out. Can we survive another night? And who
can we depend on? Only God knows." Earlier, in a
rambling radio interview, Nagin erupted in tears and
anger, saying, "Get off your asses and let's do

How shitty has the government’s disaster response been?
So shitty that the man in charge is blaming the victims
for his own incompetence:

“Well, I think the death toll may go into the thousands.
And unfortunately, that's going to be attributable a lot
to people who did not heed the evacuation warnings.
And I don't make judgments about why people choose
not to evacuate.

“But, you know, there was a mandatory evacuation of
New Orleans. And to find people still there is just heart
wrenching to me because the mayor did everything he
could to get them out of there. And so we've got to
figure out some way to convince people that when
evacuation warnings go out, it's for their own good.
Now, I don't want to second guess why they did that.
My job now is to get relief to them.”

- Michael Brown
(Federal Emergency Management Agency Director)

So poor people are just shit out of luck. Don’t have a car?
Have nowhere to go? Too old and sick to travel?
Good luck! Enjoy your tax cut.

But how is it that a predictiable hurricane creates
third world disaster conditions across the US gulf coast?
This timeline over at The Washington Monthly outlines the
past 4 years of FEMA’s mismanagement and concludes:

“A crony with no relevant experience was installed as
head of FEMA. Mitigation budgets for New Orleans were
slashed even though it was known to be one of the top
three risks in the country. FEMA was deliberately
downsized as part of the Bush administration's
conservative agenda to reduce the role of government.
After DHS was created, FEMA's preparation and
planning functions were taken away.

Actions have consequences. No one could predict that a
hurricane the size of Katrina would hit this year, but the
slow federal response when it did happen was no
accident. It was the result of four years of deliberate
Republican policy and budget choices that favor
ideology and partisan loyalty at the expense of
operational competence. It's the Bush administration in
a nutshell.”

Once again, our nation faces a terrible crisis.
American citizens are dying in the streets, and
there is no leadership at the top.

Did you enjoy your vacation, Mr. President?

"George W. Bush gave one of the worst speeches of his
life yesterday, especially given the level of national
distress and the need for words of consolation and
wisdom. In what seems to be a ritual in this
administration, the president appeared a day later than
he was needed. He then read an address of a quality
more appropriate for an Arbor Day celebration: a long
laundry list of pounds of ice, generators and blankets
delivered to the stricken Gulf Coast. He advised the
public that anybody who wanted to help should send
cash, grinned, and promised that everything would
work out in the end."

-- NY Times Editorial [9/1/05]

“We've got a lot of rebuilding to do. First, we're going
to save lives and stabilize the situation. And then we're
going to help these communities rebuild. The good news
is -- and it's hard for some to see it now -- that out of
this chaos is going to come a fantastic Gulf Coast, like it
was before. Out of the rubbles of Trent Lott's house --
he's lost his entire house -- there's going to be a
fantastic house. And I'm looking forward to sitting on
the porch.”

-- George W. Bush [9/2/05]

If you’ve been watching any TV news coverage of this
nightmare, you may have noticed that most of the people
trapped in the Big Easy bear little resemblance to the
former Senate Majority Leader.

Jack Shafer writes in Slate:

“To be sure, some reporters sidled up to the race and
class issue. I heard them ask the storm's New Orleans
victims why they hadn't left town when the evacuation
call came. Many said they were broke—"I live from
paycheck to paycheck," explained one woman. Others
said they didn't own a car with which to escape and
that they hadn't understood the importance of

“But I don't recall any reporter exploring the class
issue directly by getting a paycheck-to-paycheck victim
to explain that he couldn't risk leaving because if he
lost his furniture and appliances, his pots and pans, his
bedding and clothes, to Katrina or looters, he'd have no
way to replace them. No insurance, no stable, large
extended family that could lend him cash to get back on
his feet, no middle-class job to return to after the

But they could have just asked the First Lady:

"This is what happens when there's a natural disaster
of this scope. The poorer people are usually in the
neighborhoods that are the lowest or the most exposed
or the most vulnerable. Their housing is the most
vulnerable to natural disaster. And that is just always
what happens."

Feel better?