Wednesday, September 28, 2005

ELECTORAL COLLEGE You'll need to register to read it. But this excellent, entertaining piece about the recent College Republican National Committee election speaks volumes.

And it offers many lessons to Democrats.

Monday, September 26, 2005

WHY TRAILER PARKS? Matthew Yglesias is pretty cynical about the President's embrace of a cumbersome, expensive, market-shunning approach to the housing of Katrina victims.

But I've yet to see a more credible analysis of the administration's motives:

The LA Times has a nice report on how the Bush administration is looking at effective ways to help the poor people displaced by Katrina, then rejecting those methods in favor of less effective ones. The reason for deliberately choosing ineffective measures is that the White House fears that implementing effective measures would make it politically easier in the future to get the government to do stuff to help poor people...

This is the basic dilemma the right faces. It's committed to the view that the government shouldn't help poor people. But things happen from time to time that make it politically imperative to do something to help poor people. And if the government responded to those circumstances in ways that were efficient and effective, that would generate more political momentum for further poor-helping measures...

The Section 8 housing vouchers...are a case in point. This was an idea that came into vogue with Ronald Reagan as his free-market advisers noted that poor people didn't lack houses (implying a need for the government to build some) but rather money for rent (implying a need for the government to give them some) and that by taking option number two you could avoid the catastrophic poverty-sinks of public housing...

The [Earned Income Tax Credit] has made a similar ideological journey, beginning on the right as a suggestion that anti-poverty spending could be put to better use and now opposed by the right precisely because the idea is too good.

Friday, September 23, 2005

NOT COMPASSIONATE, NOT CONSERVATIVE Via Kevin Drum, here's Newt Gingrich on the trailer parks being built to house Katrian evacuees:
"The idea that--in a community where we could place people in the private housing market to reintegrate them into society--we would put them in [trailer] ghettos with no jobs, no community, no future, strikes me as extraordinarily bad public policy, and violates every conservative principle that I'm aware of."

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

THE CRONYISM CONTINUES The slow-motion idiocy machine that is the Bush administration picks up where it left off:
The Bush administration is seeking to appoint a lawyer with little immigration or customs experience to head the troubled law enforcement agency that handles those issues, prompting sharp criticism from some employee groups, immigration advocates and homeland security experts.


Concerns over Myers, 36, were acute enough at a Senate hearing last week that lawmakers asked the nominee to detail during her testimony her postings and to account for her management experience. Sen. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio) went so far as to tell Myers that her résumé indicates she is not qualified for the job.


"I realize that I'm not 80 years old," Myers testified. "I have a few gray hairs, more coming, but I will seek to work with those who are knowledgeable in this area, who know more than I do."


Myers was...an associate under independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr for about 16 months and has most recently served as a special assistant to President Bush handling personnel issues.

Her uncle is Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, the departing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. She married Chertoff's current chief of staff, John F. Wood, on Saturday.
There are house plants with more integrity than these people.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

MOVIE OF THE MONTH I wasn't a fan of BREAKING THE WAVES. And I never got around to seeing Bjork and Catherine Deneuve in DANCER IN THE DARK. So I wasn't expecting much from Lars Von Trier's DOGVILLE.

The film is powerful, though and in surprising ways. At first it appears to be a gentle, self-conscious send-up of small town life--and the American tendency toward romanticizing small town living.

But the story slowly moves into more difficult territory, evolving into something more provocative and more substantial: Ultimately, Von Trier seems to be skewering the very idea of community. And he does so with such precision--and from such a detached, objective distance--that it's hard not to feel implicated by his compelling, pessimistic critique.

In the meantime, Nicole Kidman, Philip Baker Hall, Zeljko Ivanek and an excellent ensemble navigate the difficult terrain adeptly, giving subtle performances that honor Von Trier's stylized approach.

The film (probably not first date material) runs 177 minutes, so be sure to slot yourself the better part of an evening or afternoon.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

COBURN WATCH From Wednesday's hearings:
COBURN: I just have one other comment. As you have been before our committee, I've tried to use my medical skills of observation of body language to ascertain your uncomfortableness and ill at ease with questions and responses.

And I've honed that over about 23, 24 years. And the other thing that I believe is integrity is at the basis of what we want in judges.

And I will tell you that I am very pleased, both in my observational capabilities as a physician to know that your answers have been honest and forthright as I watch the rest of your body respond to the stress that you're under.
Next thing you know, the junior senator from Oklahoma will be breaking out his oujia board and talking about fluoridation.

SOUTHERN REP CANCELS New Orleans theatre company Southern Rep has cancelled its 2005-6 season according to this letter from the Rep's artistic director.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

ROBERTS WINKS? Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) had some questions for the prospective chief justice on the Bybee memo and presidential authority more generally. Let's go to the videotape:
ROBERTS: Senator, I believe that no one is above the law under our system, and that includes the president. The president is fully bound by the law, the constitution and statutes...The framework for analyzing that is in the Youngstown Sheet and Tube case, the famous case coming out of President Truman's seizure of the steel mills.

LEAHY: The Supreme Court held that [the seizure of the mills] unconstitutional.

ROBERTS: Exactly...

LEAHY: Let me ask you this: Is Youngstown settled law? Would you consider Youngstown settled law?

ROBERTS: I think the approach in the case is one that has guided the court in this area since 1954, '52, whatever it was.

LEAHY: The reason I ask that, when Mr. Bybee wrote this memo, he never cited Youngstown...

ROBERTS: Youngstown's a very important case in a number of respects; not least the fact that the opinion that everyone looks to, the Jackson opinion, was by Justice Jackson who was, of course, FDR's attorney general and certainly a proponent of expansive executive powers...

LEAHY: You've also said he was one of the justices you admire the most.

ROBERTS: He is, for a number of reasons. And what's significant about that aspect of his career is here's someone whose job it was to promote and defend an expansive view of executive powers as attorney general, which he did very effectively. And then as he went on the court, as you can tell from his decision in Youngstown, he took an entirely different view of a lot of issues; in one famous case even disagreeing with one of his own prior opinions. He wrote a long opinion about how he can't believe he once held those views. I think it's very important...

LEAHY: Are you sending us a message?

ROBERTS: Well, I'm just saying... (LAUGHTER)

Monday, September 12, 2005

GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN Mike Brown may be looking for work, but let's not lose track of the big picture:
Five of eight top Federal Emergency Management Agency officials came to their posts with virtually no experience in handling disasters and now lead an agency whose ranks of seasoned crisis managers have thinned dramatically since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

FEMA's top three leaders--Director Michael D. Brown, Chief of Staff Patrick J. Rhode and Deputy Chief of Staff Brooks D. Altshuler--arrived with ties to President Bush's 2000 campaign or to the White House advance operation, according to the agency. Two other senior operational jobs are filled by a former Republican lieutenant governor of Nebraska and a U.S. Chamber of Commerce official who was once a political operative.

Meanwhile, veterans such as U.S. hurricane specialist Eric Tolbert and World Trade Center disaster managers Laurence W. Zensinger and Bruce P. Baughman--who led FEMA's offices of response, recovery and preparedness, respectively -- have left since 2003, taking jobs as consultants or state emergency managers, according to current and former officials.
If FEMA is to have any chance of being fixed, many more heads will have to roll.

Friday, September 09, 2005

THE KEY POINT Mike Brown is still on the job:
"I'm anxious to get back to D.C. to correct all the inaccuracies and lies that are being said," Brown said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.

Asked if the move was a demotion, Brown said: "No. No. I'm still the director of FEMA."

He said Chertoff made the decision to move him out of Louisiana. It was not his own decision, Brown said.
Brown is as unqualified today as he was yesterday. By allowing him to continue to run FEMA, the Bushies betray the depth of their unseriousness.

Thursday, September 08, 2005


Josh Marshall writes:

At first the evidence was scattered and anecdotal. But now it's pretty clear that a key aim of the Bush administration's takeover of the NOLA situation is to cut off press access to report the story.

First, there were the FEMA orders barring members of the press from photographing anything to do with the recovery of the bodies of the dead.


Now comes this post from Brian Williams, which suggests a general effort to bar reporters from access to many of the key points in the city.

Take a moment to note what's happening here: these are the marks of repressive government, which mixes inefficiency with authoritarianism. The crew that couldn't get key aid on the scene in time last week is coming in in force now. And one of the key missions appears to be cutting off public information about what's happening in the city.

This is a domestic, natural disaster. Absent specific cases where members of the press would interfere or get in the way of some particular clean up operation, or perhaps demolition work, there is simply no reason why credentialed members of the press should not be able to cover everything that is happening in that city.

Think about it.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

CITY AND STATE At the risk of dwelling on the obvious: To say that the federal government failed miserably in the first few days after Hurricane Katrina isn't to imply that mayors and governors did everything--or anything--right.

But to focus on federal failures isn't to engage in blinkered thinking; the decision of media outlets (and bloggers) to spend more time highlighting FEMA ineptitude than local mismanagement isn't the result of left-wing bias or anti-Bush sentiment.

Failures of the national government are simply more salient to those of us who live outside the gulf region than are local mistakes. They're more newsworthy.

Because if FEMA is being used as a patronage tool, or the Department of Homeland Security is broken, we all have a stake in seeing that questions get asked, and that whatever problems exist get explored and fixed.

There's only one federal government, and it's responsible to all of us. That's why stories about breakdowns at the national level deserve to wind up on the front page, and why local failures of a similar magnitude get less attention.

It's as simple as that.

POINTING THE FINGER From today's briefing:
Q Scott, does the President retain confidence in his FEMA Director and Secretary of Homeland Security?

MR. McCLELLAN: And again, David, see, this is where some people want to look at the blame game issue, and finger-point. We're focused on solving problems, and we're doing everything we can --

Q What about the question?

MR. McCLELLAN: We're doing everything we can in support --

Q We know all that.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- of the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA.

Q Does he retain complete confidence --

MR. McCLELLAN: We're going to continue. We appreciate the great effort that all of those at FEMA, including the head of FEMA, are doing to help the people in the region. And I'm just not going to engage in the blame game or finger-pointing that you're trying to get me to engage.

Q Okay, but that's not at all what I was asking.

MR. McCLELLAN: Sure it is. It's exactly what you're trying to play.

Q You have your same point you want to make about the blame game, which you've said enough now. I'm asking you a direct question, which you're dodging.


Q Does the President retain complete confidence in his Director of FEMA and Secretary of Homeland Security, yes or no?

MR. McCLELLAN: I just answered the question.

Q Is the answer "yes" on both?

MR. McCLELLAN: And what you're doing is trying to engage in a game of finger-pointing.

Q There's a lot of criticism. I'm just wondering if he still has confidence.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- and blame-gaming. What we're trying to do is solve problems, David. And that's where we're going to keep our focus.

Q So you're not -- you won't answer that question directly?

MR. McCLELLAN: I did. I just did.

Q No, you didn't. Yes or no? Does he have complete confidence or doesn't he?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, if you want to continue to engage in finger-pointing and blame-gaming, that's fine --

Q Scott, that's ridiculous. I'm not engaging in any of that.

MR. McCLELLAN: It's not ridiculous.

Q Don't try to accuse me of that. I'm asking you a direct question and you should answer it. Does he retain complete confidence in his FEMA Director and Secretary of Homeland Security, yes or no?

MR. McCLELLAN: Like I said -- that's exactly what you're engaging in.

Q I'm not engaging in anything. I'm asking you a question about what the President's views are --

MR. McCLELLAN: Absolutely -- absolutely --

Q -- under pretty substantial criticism of members of his administration. Okay? And you know that, and everybody watching knows that, as well.

MR. McCLELLAN: No, everybody watching this knows, David, that you're trying to engage in a blame game.

Q I'm trying to engage?


Q I am trying to engage?

MR. McCLELLAN: That's correct.

At a news conference, [Minority Leader Nancy] Pelosi, D-Calif., said Bush's choice for head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency had "absolutely no credentials."

She related that she urged Bush at the White House on Tuesday to fire Brown.

"He said 'Why would I do that?'" Pelosi said.

"'I said because of all that went wrong, of all that didn't go right last week.' And he said 'What didn't go right?'"

"Oblivious, in denial, dangerous," she added.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

FOR THE RECORD Every day that Mike Brown remains director of FEMA is a day that the Bush adminstration--collectively, and in the person of President George W. Bush--demonstrates to the world that it is utterly unserious.

By retaining Brown, the Bushies are proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are feckless, frivolous, flighty, and soft-witted.

BROWNIE POINTS I can't fathom why, but the organs of the elite media have mostly soft-pedaled the Mike-Brown-is-utterly-unqualified angle of the unfolding Katrina story.

But Kate Hale, former Miami-Dade emergency management chief isn't pulling any punches:

"[Brown has] done a hell of a job, because I'm not aware of any Arabian horses being killed in this storm."
(Context here.)

Fire Mike Brown. Fire him now.

SERIOUSNESS WATCH I've said it before and I'll say it again: Michael Chertoff isn't serious.

Monday, September 05, 2005

APOCALYPSE WATCH I know we've secured victory in Afghanistan, and that the country has been transformed into a land of peace--and a Jeffersonian democracy to boot.

But the fact that the Taliban, once again, has a widely-quoted spokesman (let alone one with text message access to reporters) can't be a good sign.

UNION SQUARE, SATURDAY Photo by Willow Lawson.

Friday, September 02, 2005

TAQUERIA CORONA ON MY MIND I've resisted writing about Hurricane Katrina--there's so much to say, and so little--but as the tragedy stretches into its seventh day, I've found the news as dispiriting as everyone else.

I spent some time in New Orleans in 1999, working on that city's edition of a short-lived travel guide series.

More or less right out of college, I was on my second paid writing gig--a gig that consisted, chiefly, of visiting restaurants, bars, jazz clubs, museums, and just generally drinking in the city's ambiance. So it's no surprise that New Orleans has a special place in my memory.

In these last few days, I find my thoughts drifting back, in particular, to Croissant D'Or, Peristyle, the Funky Butt, Taqueria Corona and Napoleon House. And the Southern Rep.

Speaking of the Southern Rep: The theatre company (the city's premier theatre institution) recently announced an ambitious lineup for its 2005-6 season, including two world premieres, two recent plays by young American writers (Diana Son's STOP KISS and David Lindsay-Abaire's KIMBERLY AKIMBO) and a revival of A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE by native son Tennessee Williams.

According to the (pre-hurricane) schedule, the first play of the season is slated to begin on October 5.

Learn how to donate to the Southern Rep here.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

TOP OF THE CHARTS The top-rented Netflix film of all time?

It's MYSTIC RIVER. Who woulda thunk it?

CONTRAPOSITIVE is edited by Dan Aibel. Dan's a playwright. He lives in New York City.