Monday, May 28, 2007

Politics, Race & Katrina Reconstruction

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, here's your response for the next time some closet bigot or one of their enablers asks you why the folks in the 9th Ward of New Orleans can't "get their act together" like those can-do, salt-of-the-earth, real Americans in Mississippi...

Since Katrina, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour has received heaps of praise for his political savvy -- and ability to use his GOP connections to get a lion's share of federal relief funds for his state.

But with all the honors and money, how is the Mississippi recovery going? My colleague Sue Sturgis and I investigate in a special report published at Salon today.

One eye-opening item we found is just how lopsided Mississippi's take of Katrina relief has been:

Consider the Gulf Coast housing crisis, one of the key issues that has kept nearly half the population of New Orleans from returning to the city since Katrina. More than 75 percent of the housing damage from the storm was in Louisiana, but Mississippi has received 70 percent of the funds through FEMA's Alternative Housing Pilot Program. Of the $388 million available, FEMA gave a Mississippi program offering upgraded trailers more than $275 million. Meanwhile, the agency awarded Louisiana's "Katrina Cottage" program, which features more permanent modular homes for storm victims, a mere $75 million.

This truly gives the lie to all the finger-waggers in conservative talk radio land, on our television screens, on the web and in print who hold up the relative progress of Mississippi's reconstruction as a example of a self-reliant community picking itself up without the aid of government "hand-outs". For years now we've listened to these windbags excoriate the residents of New Orleans for supposedly demanding government handouts while they, being morally depraved and underserving of empathy, do nothing for themselves, unlike those plucky residents of Mississippi.

Well, hardy-har-har. Looky where all the "handouts" went after all. You will, of course, hear nothing of this from any of these people.

[More after the jump]

Now, what's the difference between Lousiana and Mississippi that might account for this disparity? Well, MS has a Republican governor and LA has a Democratic one. But that's not the only reason to suspect that the disparity is borne of pure political motivation. The grossly under-reported appointment of none other than Karl Rove himself, Maximum Ruler's Chief Political Advisor, as the "Czar" of Gulf Coast reconstruction is the smoking gun in this case. By "Czar" I'm assuming that means he controlled how it was run and it appears that he decided the money should go to Mississippi and it's Republican governor instead of Louisiana, where the bulk of the devastation occured.

Is anyone really surprised by this? Putting the political goals and interests of the GOP generally and George W. Bush specifically ahead of the public good is not just a bug in how the Bush administration operates. It's a feature. It is a defining characteristic of literally everything they do.

But here's the thing that should make the blood of any Louisiana resident's blood run cold. Bush carried the state of Louisiana by an overwhelming margin in each of the last two presidential elections. They voted him in en masse and he, in turn, did this to them.

That really is the big picture in a nutshell. Bush and GOP plays on a wide array of boogeymen to get people to vote for them. They hold themselves up as stalwarts against the perceived intrusions of one hated group or another and a certain segment of the population buys it to their eventual peril.

So people vote for Bush and Republicans because they they think these folks will "git the blacks", "git the faggots", "git the A-Rabs", the immigrants, the liberals, the secular humanists or whoever happens to be the right's Satan of the Month at the time. But in the end, the only people they're is really going "git" is YOU.


Same guys?

A couple of months ago Tom Englehardt, in an article I referenced here, wrote in amazement about the lack of media coverage of the apparent support the Bush administration was giving to Sunni extremists groups in Lebanon, some of whom are known to be sympathetic to Al Qaeda. I repost his remarks here:

Let me see if I've got this straight. Perhaps two years ago, an "informal" meeting of "veterans" of the 1980s Iran-Contra scandal -- holding positions in the Bush administration -- was convened by Deputy National Security Advisor Elliott Abrams. Discussed were the "lessons learned" from that labyrinthine, secret, and illegal arms-for-money-for-arms deal involving the Israelis, the Iranians, the Saudis, and the Contras of Nicaragua, among others -- and meant to evade the Boland Amendment, a congressionally passed attempt to outlaw Reagan administration assistance to the anti-communist Contras. In terms of getting around Congress, the Iran-Contra vets concluded, the complex operation had been a success -- and would have worked far better if the CIA and the military had been kept out of the loop and the whole thing had been run out of the Vice President's office.

Subsequently, some of those conspirators, once again with the financial support and help of the Saudis (and probably the Israelis and the Brits), began running a similar operation, aimed at avoiding congressional scrutiny or public accountability of any sort, out of Vice President Cheney's office. They dipped into "black pools of money," possibly stolen from the billions of Iraqi oil dollars that have never been accounted for since the American occupation began. Some of these funds, as well as Saudi ones, were evidently funneled through the embattled, Sunni-dominated Lebanese government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora to the sort of Sunni jihadi groups ("some sympathetic to al-Qaeda") whose members might normally fear ending up in Guantanamo and to a group, or groups, associated with the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood.

All of this was being done as part of a "sea change" in the Bush administration's Middle Eastern policies aimed at rallying friendly Sunni regimes against Shiite Iran, as well as Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Syrian government -- and launching secret operations to undermine, roll back, or destroy all of the above. Despite the fact that the Bush administration is officially at war with Sunni extremism in Iraq (and in the more general Global War on Terror), despite its support for the largely Shiite government, allied to Iran, that it has brought to power in Iraq, and despite its dislike for the Sunni-Shiite civil war in that country, some of its top officials may be covertly encouraging a far greater Sunni-Shiite rift in the region.


Yep, that's quite a doozy, isn't it. These claims are supported by Seymour Hersh of the New Yorker. In an article entitled, The Redirection Hersh writes:

To undermine Iran, which is predominantly Shiite, the Bush Administration has decided, in effect, to reconfigure its priorities in the Middle East. In Lebanon, the Administration has cooperated with Saudi Arabia’s government, which is Sunni, in clandestine operations that are intended to weaken Hezbollah, the Shiite organization that is backed by Iran. The U.S. has also taken part in clandestine operations aimed at Iran and its ally Syria. A by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to Al Qaeda.


The new American policy, in its broad outlines, has been discussed publicly. In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in January, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that there is “a new strategic alignment in the Middle East,” separating “reformers” and “extremists”; she pointed to the Sunni states as centers of moderation, and said that Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah were “on the other side of that divide.” (Syria’s Sunni majority is dominated by the Alawi sect.) Iran and Syria, she said, “have made their choice and their choice is to destabilize.”

Some of the core tactics of the redirection are not public, however. The clandestine operations have been kept secret, in some cases, by leaving the execution or the funding to the Saudis, or by finding other ways to work around the normal congressional appropriations process, current and former officials close to the Administration said.

This is of particular interest now (as if it shouldn't have been all along) because of recent news:

TRIPOLI, Lebanon - Lebanon's prime minister vowed Thursday to wipe out an Islamic militant group barricaded in a Palestinian refugee camp, raising the prospect that the army will either storm the camp, in what would likely be a bloody battle, or dig in for a long siege to force its surrender.


Fighters from the al-Qaida-inspired Fatah Islam militant group, estimated in the hundreds, have barricaded themselves in the camp, saying they will fight off any Lebanese attack.

...and here...

US military planes have delivered more equipment to the Lebanese army, as its stand-off with Islamic militants at a Palestinian refugee camp continued.

Lebanese PM Fouad Siniora again called on Sunni militants inside the camp to surrender or face army action.


He was speaking after the leader of Shia militant group Hezbollah, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, said Lebanon should not be part of a US war on al-Qaeda.

The confrontation at the Nahr al-Bared camp is now in its seventh day.

Mr Siniora would not say whether a decision had been taken for the army to go into the camp, but plane-loads of American military supplies continue to arrive, apparently in preparation for just such a battle, says the BBC's Jon Leyne in Beirut.

"We want to end this situation," Mr Siniora told the BBC's Arabic service.

"Either they surrender themselves to Lebanese justice... or else the Lebanese authorities will be forced to take the decision to let the army deal with this matter."

To summize, not only we were supporting Sunni extremists in Lebanon friendly to Al Qaeda, which is ridiculous enough on its own merits, but now, after lending such support, we're sending military aid to Lebanon to fight Sunni extremists there.

Are these the same guys?

It sure is interesting that this small group you've never heard much about before has become such a big deal at this point in time, isn't it? Is it possible that we would support groups diametrically opposed to our "interests" only to choose to fight them by proxy, essentially supporting both sides of the conflict. If so, why?

This administration yells from the highest mountains to complain about "foreign terrorists" crossing borders to fight against our troops in Iraq and "rogue states" that support them. Could it be that the support we lend to these groups also show up in Iraq in the form of insurgent attacks on US servicemen?

Is this yet another case of blowback or is it something even worse?

Someone with a bigger megaphone than I should be asking these questions.


Friday, May 25, 2007

Bush & Bin Laden

As you well know by now, American Strongman George W. Bush held a press conference in which he once again invoked Al Qaeda as a justification for everything he does. Some of the reporters present tried to challenge this tired old framing by asking him direct questions about his utter failure to capture Bin Laden after nearly 6 years.

But at this point it seems clear to me that this is a waste of time. To hell with him. What did they expect, that he'd break down and tell them something substantive and true? Can any good really come of continuing to engage him as if he has any credibility at all?

No. Bush is a known quantity. At this point there can be no doubt as to what to expect from him. The task before us now, knowing what he is, is to deal with him accordingly. So here's what should be done from now on every time Generalisimo invokes the specter of Osama bin Laden to scare us all into submission. Don't ask him for the truth. Simply take this video to the streets and play it over and over and over. Bypass him and his spin machine altogether and let the people get a reminder of how his alarmist rhetoric today contrasts with this...

(Partial transcript after the jump)

Q: Mr. President, in your speeches now you rarely talk or mention Osama bin Laden. Why is that?...

THE PRESIDENT: Deep in my heart I know the man is on the run, if he's alive at all. Who knows if he's hiding in some cave or not; we haven't heard from him in a long time. And the idea of focusing on one person is -- really indicates to me people don't understand the scope of the mission.

Terror is bigger than one person. And he's just -- he's a person who's now been marginalized. His network, his host government has been destroyed. He's the ultimate parasite who found weakness, exploited it, and met his match. He is -- as I mentioned in my speech, I do mention the fact that this is a fellow who is willing to commit youngsters to their death and he, himself, tries to hide -- if, in fact, he's hiding at all.

So I don't know where he is. You know, I just don't spend that much time on him, Kelly, to be honest with you...

Q But don't you believe that the threat that bin Laden posed won't truly be eliminated until he is found either dead or alive?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, as I say, we haven't heard much from him. And I wouldn't necessarily say he's at the center of any command structure. And, again, I don't know where he is. I -- I'll repeat what I said. I truly am not that concerned about him.

Got that? The next time this fool comes out there with his big-bad Bin Laden hysteria, just hit PLAY.

An aside: By the way, this is my favorite part of that press conference from the other day. Bush makes the following criticism of Bin Laden:

He is -- as I mentioned in my speech, I do mention the fact that this is a fellow who is willing to commit youngsters to their death and he, himself, tries to hide -- if, in fact, he's hiding at all.

Wow. Imagine that!


Saturday, May 12, 2007

Meet the Press for Idiots

This is old but I'm seeing it for the first time. Regardless, it's too funny to not post...