"Ain't Gonna Study War No More"

My Photo
Location: Brooklyn, New York, United States

Right-To-Life Party, Christian, Anti-War, Pro-Life, Bible Fundamentalist, Egalitarian, Libertarian Left

Monday, September 12, 2005

From Federal Failure Arises More Federal Power

"Readers have insisted to me that Bush administration incompetence, even at the level of criminal negligence, cannot explain the New Orleans disaster. They insist there must have been willful intent as the disaster is too large and was too predictable to be the result of mere incompetence."

FEMA's slow response is a mystery.

Never before has federal funding for work by the U.S. Corps of Engineers on the New Orleans levees and for the congressionally authorized Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project (SELA) been curtailed in the face of dire expert warnings of the consequences.

The Department of Homeland Security and FEMA knew days in advance that Hurricane Katrina was threatening the Gulf coast of the U.S. Yet the normal advance preparations were not undertaken.

At the request of the Louisiana governor, President Bush declared a federal emergency for Louisiana on Saturday Aug. 27, prior to Katrina's arrival in New Orleans on the following Monday. The declaration specifically authorized FEMA "to identify, mobilize, and provide at its discretion, equipment and resources necessary to alleviate the impacts of the emergency." However, FEMA took no action until three days after the hurricane, delaying the arrival of effective help until five days after 80 percent of New Orleans was underwater.

Compare this inexplicable delay with the rapid response to the Florida hurricanes last year.

Cynics note that Florida's governor is President Bush's brother, a Republican being groomed for a run for president, while the Louisiana governor and New Orleans mayor are expendable Democrats. However, the New Orleans disaster is too great to be attributed solely to crass party politics.

Funding for the New Orleans levees and for SELA were drastically curtailed despite experts' protests and warnings, including the hurricane simulation project (Hurricane Pam) conducted in July 2004 when 270 experts spent eight days assessing the impact of a major hurricane hitting New Orleans. The simulation predicted that state and local officials would be overwhelmed, that flood waters would overcome the levees and cover most of the city, that more than one million people would be uprooted for a year or longer, and that deaths would number in the tens of thousands.

The report reads: "The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Louisiana Office of Emergency Preparedness (LOEP) believe that the gravity of the situation calls for an extraordinary level of advance planning to improve government readiness to respond effectively to such an event."

Despite these expert warnings, the Bush administration made the decision to redirect the funding for hurricane protection to the "war against terrorism." As Walter Maestri, emergency management chief for Jefferson Parish, told the New Orleans Times-Picayune (June 8, 2004): "It appears that the money has been moved in the president's budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq."

As the decisions to deny funding for the Corps of Engineers' levee projects and SELA and the delayed federal response to Katrina are inexplicable, the Bush administration, realizing its criminal negligence, quickly took steps to blame state and local officials.

A senior Bush administration official planted on the Washington Post the disinformation that FEMA could not act because the Louisiana governor had not declared a state of emergency. Hours after printing this disinformation, a red-faced Washington Post issued a retraction, which reads: "A Sept. 4 article on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina incorrectly said that Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D) had not declared a state of emergency. She declared an emergency on Aug. 26."

Nevertheless, the disinformation was widely spread by Brit Hume and other Bush shills who operate out of Fox News (sic), and it continues to be spread via rightwing talk radio and pro-Bush Internet sites. Fox News (sic) host Bill O'Reilly spread similar disinformation. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff added to the disinformation against Gov. Blanco. Most Republicans cling tightly to the orchestrated disinformation as it coddles their state of denial about the failure of leadership in the White House.

One cause of the Bush administrations' catastrophic failure is obvious: its single-minded focus on its "war on terror." In order to justify its invasion of Iraq (which has gone badly both for the U.S. and Iraqis) and the nullification of our essential civil liberties, such as habeas corpus, that are the foundation of our political and social order, the Bush administration has made terrorists into a greater threat than Cold Warriors were able to make the Soviet Union. The overhyped threat of terrorism has become a greater threat than terrorists themselves.

Readers have insisted to me that Bush administration incompetence, even at the level of criminal negligence, cannot explain the New Orleans disaster. They insist there must have been willful intent as the disaster is too large and was too predictable to be the result of mere incompetence.

Readers cite the following circumstantial evidence in behalf of their views:

The response of federal emergency management was delayed until survivors desperate for food and water (and some for a drug fix) began looting. In keeping with James Q. Wilson's "broken window" analogy, looting for survival quickly spread into general lawlessness on the part of some elements.

The lawlessness provided cover for the federal government to violate the Posse Comitatus Act and send in regular military troops to police civilian populations. (Both the New York Times on Sept. 8 and the Washington Post on Sept. 4 and Sept. 11 report that federal or active duty troops are being used along with National Guard and police.)

Lawlessness, the eruption of which was guaranteed by delayed relief, provides cover both for martial law, which suspends constitutional protections, and for the confiscation of legally owned private firearms in violation of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Everyone has by now seen the images of troops and police breaking into New Orleans homes and pointing weapons in the faces of residents. U.S. military even described survivors as "insurgents." (At time of writing news reports are confused whether martial law exists in New Orleans. Some reports have the mayor declaring martial law; others report that the state has declared its version of martial law. Most constitutional experts believe martial law requires an act of Congress or a presidential order or both.)

Many readers see a concocted militarization of civil society. They insist that these new precedents, together with the recent federal appeals court ruling that the White House has the power to seize American citizens and to hold them indefinitely on mere suspicion or accusation without charges or presentation of evidence against them, mean the overthrow of liberty and accountable government in the United States.

These suspicions are widely held. They demand careful investigation both by Congress and the news media. If there are valid grounds for the suspicions, our remaining liberties are at risk. Even if the suspicions are groundless, they are highly corrosive of many Americans' belief in their system of government.

All Americans should be distressed that federal judges increasingly defer to powers, asserted by the executive branch, which nullify constitutional rights in the interest of some "higher" cause, such as the "war on terror." This is a certain path to tyranny. Once gained, unaccountable powers become permanent and can be used against whomever by future administrations. Are Republicans content for such powers to be in the hands of a President Hillary Clinton?

Whether or not there are grounds for suspicion of the extraordinary federal failure in New Orleans, it is certain that federal bureaucracies will take advantage of the situation to grab more powers on behalf of their own agendas.

Private parties already are doing so. The New Orleans power elite sees in the recent U.S. Supreme Court Kelo decision, which permits the use of eminent domain to serve private interests, a chance to rebuild New Orleans in their own image.

In the Sept. 8 Wall Street Journal, Christopher Cooper ("Old-Line Families Plot the Future") quotes members of the power elite, who admit they are mapping out a new city that will not restore the old order: "Those who want to see this city rebuilt want to see it done in a completely different way: demographically, geographically, and politically," says James Reiss. "I'm not just speaking for myself here. The way we've been living is not going to happen again."

The Journal's report brings to light that the "teeming [black] underclass," which guarantees Democratic control of New Orleans, is one part of the old order that is not slated for renewal. In other words, federal failure in New Orleans plus Kelo equals ethnic cleansing of a large, historic American city.

With 40 members of the New Orleans power elite having seized the opportunity to meet in Dallas on Sept. 9 "to begin mapping out a future for the city," you can bet federal agencies will use the same opportunity to grab heightened powers. The rights that protect U.S. citizens from government power are rapidly disappearing if not already lost. This is the real crisis faced by the vast majority of Americans who are not a part of the power elite.

In the end not even the power elite will be safe. Hitler exterminated his own Brownshirts before he went to work on the Jews, and Stalin exterminated the Bolshevik "heroes" of the Russian Revolution. Once power is unaccountable, it becomes the possession of the most ruthless. Loyal party membership protected neither the Brownshirts nor the Bolsheviks. And it will not protect Bush's Republican apologists.

Paul Craig Roberts

Have We Learned Nothing

"We turned it all into Homeland Security and invested countless billions, in the hope that next time disaster or terrorists struck, the federal government would be ready, possessed of a coherent plan and ready to spring into action to save lives and ease suffering. Then came Katrina. And it turned out that the empire had no clothes."

Back To Ground Zero

Katrina forces us to confront the question: Have we learned nothing from the terrorist attacks of four years ago?

Four years later Hurricane Katrina has provided some unwelcome context within which to view the World Trade Center and Pentagon terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

Today, more Americans seem inclined to draw what seems to some of us the inescapable conclusion of both disasters: Both 9/11 and Katrina represent enormous failures by the federal government to provide the one thing most Americans think government actually ought to do: protect the people from threats foreign, domestic and natural.

But in the months after 9/11, most Americans had seemed to learn the lesson the government wanted to teach: The failure of the government to prevent the attacks proved that government needed to be even bigger and more powerful, possessed of more powers to deploy - hopefully against terrorists and other genuine threats, but against the American people if they got too uppity - in the never-ending quest for perfect safety. So we got the Transportation Security Administration confiscating fingernail clippers at airports and the Patriot Act authorizing snooping into people's reading habits at libraries - and being deployed against a strip club owner in Las Vegas dabbling in minor municipal graft.

We got the behemoth Homeland Security Administration, cobbled together from existing agencies, all of which needed reform but were pretty much guaranteed immunity from skepticism now that they had become fashionable. The president saw his approval in the polls, which had been languishing after a lackadaisical first summer in office, shoot up to 90 percent in the Sept. 21-22 Gallup Poll. To keep those ratings high we saw him not only declare "war on terrorism" but try to buy votes the old-fashioned way: with a prescription drug benefit for Medicare recipients, the No Child Left Behind education act that increased the grip of the federal government over the nation's schools, and increased domestic spending.

And we got the war in Iraq, which, when all the prewar justifications melted into nothingness, was rhetorically transformed into a new war to make the world safe for democracy. Few paid attention to the few among us who noted that having U.S. troops stationed all over the world, often meddling in local politics, was a provocation to terrorists, even though a Pentagon study had shown that terrorist incidents directed against United States interests and friends always increased in areas where the U.S. was actively engaged.

Few took seriously the contention - despite significant evidence - that the U.S. intelligence "community" failed to connect the dots prior to 9/11 not because it was underfunded and underresourced, but because it was too big, too bloated and too full of people more interested in bureaucratic games and turf battles than in protecting the American people.

So we turned it all into Homeland Security and invested countless billions, in the hope that next time disaster or terrorists struck, the federal government would be ready, possessed of a coherent plan and ready to spring into action to save lives and ease suffering. Then came Katrina. And it turned out that the empire had no clothes.

The death toll for the hurricane is not in yet, and it could turn out to be lower than the tens of thousands some officials are predicting. But estimates of the cost to taxpayers, just at the level of the national government, for rescue, repair, temporary housing and rebuilding are now approaching $100 billion, or about five times the $21 billion the feds allocated to New York City after the 9/11 attacks.

The formalities of declaring a federal emergency were finished Saturday, Aug. 27. As the hurricane approached the Gulf Coast, it was upgraded to a Category 4 and then, briefly, a Category 5. According to Dr. Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center, President Bush and FEMA Director Michael Brown were briefed on the likelihood the New Orleans levees would be breached and the city flooded. Mayor Ray Nagin ordered a mandatory evacuation Monday morning but didn't mobilize school buses and municipal buses to carry it out.

On Monday morning Katrina made landfall and water started to flow over the levees almost immediately. President Bush went to an Arizona resort and a California senior center to promote his Medicare benefit. At 11:30 a.m. FEMA director Brown requested that Homeland Security dispatch 1,000 people to New Orleans; his memo gave them two days to arrive.

The long and short of it was that the federal government's emergency management capability, after all that beefing up, was a muscle-bound behemoth that couldn't move without 17 signatures in triplicate and had no sense of mission or urgency.

As late as Wednesday night on CNN, Brown was claiming, "I must say, this storm is much bigger than anyone expected," after at least a week of cable-news hype about how much bigger Katrina was than previous storms. Perhaps federal officials should be congratulated for ignoring most of what appears on cable news. But for ignoring what their own officials told them?

After the terrorist attacks administration officials often repeated the mantra, "9/11 changed everything." (As with so much leading to the Iraq war and beyond, it was Vice President Dick Cheney who actually used the phrase repeatedly, to justify military operations and incursions on civil liberties).

Yes, the terrorist attacks did change a lot. They drove home the lesson that there are Islamist jihadists out there who not only hate the United States but had the capability of carrying out a devastating attack on American soil. They gave the government license to attack Afghanistan, detain about a thousand Muslims without charges or lawyers for months, and later to opt out of international agreements on the treatment of prisoners.

But those attacks did not mark an end of American innocence or a watershed change in American attitudes. The president told us to be vigilant and shop 'til we dropped, the government would handle things. There was an inspiring outburst of volunteerism and fellow-feeling, not only in America but around the world. But before long most Americans - and most decidedly most politicians - returned to the usual habits of thinking first about Number One. And the government commenced squandering the tide of sympathy that the attacks engendered.

Unfortunately, those who became most influential in affecting U.S. policy - people who had been hoping for a way to take Saddam Hussein down since the first gulf war - did not maintain a laser-like focus on the actual threat.

Faced with a stateless terrorist organization that used the Internet and other technology to coordinate a dispersed and decentralized organization, they insisted on doing what a country with an effective military would prefer to do rather than deal with a novel threat that's difficult to identify and penetrate. They identified a state to attack in a military way, then hyped that third-rate dictatorship that posed no immediate threat to any of its neighbors into an imminent threat to the most powerful nation the world had ever known.

Four years later, Osama bin Laden is still at large. Terrorist attacks around the world have increased, not decreased. The United States military is overstretched and ill-used in an occupation in a largely hostile country - or at least with enough hostiles to create chaos - in which several Americans a day are killed and the insurgency keeps growing. Military morale and recruitment are on the verge of serious trouble. Anti-Americanism has increased exponentially.

We haven't begun to learn - we haven't begun to think about - the lesson that government hyperactivity overseas creates more enemies than friends. We haven't learned that bigger government is not better government and more often than not is uncoordinated and incompetent in spectacular ways. We haven't learned that the state as an institution, rooted in and depending on force as it is, cannot generate compassion, wisdom or protection, that intelligent people eventually learn to depend on themselves and their neighbors rather than bureaucracies by the Potomac.

Perhaps Katrina will help Americans to begin to think about these issues more clearly.

Alan Bock
Sr. editorial writer
The Orange County Register


Inhuman: Yes or No?

During a meeting at The Post late last month I asked Attorney General Alberto Gonzales a pretty simple question: Is it the policy of the Bush administration not to subject the foreign prisoners it is holding to "cruel, inhuman and degrading" treatment? The phrase I quoted refers to abuse falling just short of torture. It is banned by an international treaty negotiated by the Reagan administration and ratified a decade ago by the Senate.

Gonzales started to reply, then hesitated. Then he said he wasn't sure, and would have to get back to me with an answer.

Last week I called his office to see if the answer was ready. It wasn't. Instead, a spokesman told me that "the staff" response was to refer me to the testimony delivered in Gonzales's name to the Senate Judiciary Committee after his confirmation hearing earlier this year. It was that maddeningly unclear language that prompted me to ask him the question in the first place.

A couple of things about this exchange struck me as remarkable. First, how could the attorney general of the United States not be able to state U.S. policy on cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of prisoners -- especially since his department has repeatedly reviewed the matter in the past several years? Gonzales, mind you, didn't appear to be evading the question. He simply didn't know the answer.

The other issue flows from the first: Why is it that the Bush administration, at enormous cost to U.S. prestige around the world, insists on being ambiguous about this straightforward question? If Gonzales has a defense, it may be that the lawyers in his department who have addressed the issue have done so in a way that could easily confuse someone like their boss -- not to mention the captains and sergeants and civilian contractors actually charged with interrogating prisoners in places such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo.

Here's the answer that was submitted on Gonzales's behalf, though apparently without his comprehension, last January: Despite the treaty, the administration contends that "there is no legal prohibition" on the use of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by U.S. personnel as long as it is inflicted on "aliens overseas." That means the CIA, for example, could legally abuse the al Qaeda suspects it is holding in secret foreign detention facilities, provided it stops short of outright torture. But, Gonzales's ghostwriters added, the administration "wants to be" in compliance with the treaty standard. That suggests that "CID," as the lawyers call it, is prohibited in practice.

Or does it? The Senate has legally defined "cruel, inhuman and degrading" as any treatment that would violate the Fifth, Eighth or 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Gonzales said all approved interrogation techniques had been checked against that standard. But the attorney general was also asked about various specific practices American interrogators are known to have used, including simulated drowning, mock execution, sleep deprivation, forced nudity and the use of dogs to inspire fear. He answered: "Some might . . . be permissible in certain circumstances." That must mean one of two things: Either the Bush administration considers mock execution and simulated drowning allowable under the Constitution -- and thus available for use by the FBI on Americans -- or it does not, in fact, have a policy of prohibiting CID for all prisoners.

Gonzales isn't the only one who doesn't get it. The administration's artfully muddled position has triggered an extraordinary standoff between the White House and a group of Senate Republicans, led by torture victim John McCain. McCain now has eight GOP co-sponsors for an amendment to this year's defense authorization bill that would prohibit the use of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment for all "persons in the detention of the U.S. government." His staff is confident he has the votes to pass the measure when the bill comes up on the floor, probably later this month.

The administration protests that McCain's proposed rule is already being followed. A CIA briefer recently assured congressional staffers that CID was out of bounds for al Qaeda detainees. So why did Vice President Cheney vehemently object to the proposed amendment in a meeting with McCain and Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner this summer? And why did the administration pull the defense authorization bill from the Senate floor in late July rather than allow the amendment to come to a vote?

Maybe there's a good reason. But don't ask Alberto Gonzales.

Jackson Diehl
Monday, September 12, 2005; Page A19