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September 29, 2005

On Tom DeLay and the prosecutor who indicted him ...


Among the nicer things newly indicted Tom Delay has called prosecutor Ronnie Earle is "partisan political fanatic."

The "partisan" part may not stick. "Fanatic" could.

Mr. Earle himself is among the 12 politicians he's charged with campaign/ethics violations during his 28 years as district attorney in Travis County, Texas. He accused himself of untimely reporting of 1981 and 1982 campaign finances and paid a $200 fine. He's one of nine Democrats he's prosecuted, including an attorney general and a state treasurer. Just three of his targets were Republicans, like Rep. Delay, House majority leader until he stepped down following the indictment.

Partisan or not, the indictment is beyond question the latest round in a savage Texas political brawl that makes even Illinois look a little beanbag.

The main round, so far, is the 2002 Texas legislative elections, the one in which the indictment accuses Delay of improperly channeling corporate money. Going in, the Democrats held a 78-72 edge in the Texas House; coming out the Republicans had an overwhelming 88-62 margin and with it control of Texas government for the first time since the carpetbaggers pulled out after post-Civil War reconstruction.

The Republicans immediately used their new power to re-district the state, re-doing a map put together by a federal court after the legislature failed to agree on one after the 2000 Census. The Democrats tried to stop it by fleeing to Oklahoma, thus preventing a quorum from gathering to pass the new map.

Mr. DeLay used his clout with the federal government to help track down the D's. Got help from the Federal Aviation Commission and the FBI in finding them. (This exercise in clout was among the DeLay sins cited in a reprimand from the House Ethics Committee in 2004.)

The roughhouse tactics finally rounded up a quorum and the re-districting was approved. The next consequence came in the 2004 election, when the Texas Congressional delegation, a 17-13 Democratic group in 2000, ended up with a 19-13 GOP edge, thus providing some breathing room for what otherwise would have a pretty slim GOP majority in Congress.

While Mr. Earle has been busy investigating and indicting DeLay and his allies, the Texas legislature has been considering ways to strip him of control of the "public integrity unit" he uses to prosecute politicians. Haven't managed it yet, but the efforts are moving forward on multiple tracks.

Even while playing his outsize role in Texas politics, Mr. DeLay stands large, if largely unknown, on the national stage. Following in the footsteps of Texas master Lyndon Johnson, Mr. DeLay for his entire 20-plus years in Congress, has dispensed money to candidates all over the country, piling up chits that he ruthlessly calls when needed. While Mr. Johnson tended to deal with cash in unmarked envelopes, Mr. DeLay's largess can be substantially tracked through campaign finance reports. opensecrets.org has a well organized presentation of transactions by Americans for a Republican Majority, his principal political action committee.

That info's already being used to beat up DeLay allies. Jim Nussle, who's giving up an Iowa congressional seat to seek the Republican gubernatorial nomination, is already being deluged with Democrat demands to return money he's taken from DeLay over the years. Thus, this Texas fight will further reverberate from state to state and race to race.

In the courtroom, Mr. DeLay's fate may turn on whether his Texans for a Republian Majority committee spent the corporate money on "administrative" costs, which Texas law permits, or on candidate solicitation and support, which the law forbids. Given the great flood of money in American politics, both that fine point and the amounts in question --about $150,000 -- are pretty trivial.

Mr. Earle keeps saying, though, that the law is the law and he'll enforce it.

It's bare-knuckle stuff, like Mr. DeLay dishes out.

-------------------------------

Following is a list of Mr. Earle's prosecutions of politicians, from a March 1, 2004, story in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

-- U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R), 1994: Charged with misdemeanor and felony counts of official misconduct and records tampering. Acquitted on all counts after Earle dropped the case.

-- State Reps. Lane Denton and Betty Denton, D-Waco, 1993-1995: Betty Denton indicted on felony counts of perjury and records tampering; pleaded guilty to lesser charges, got six months probation and a $2,000 fine. Lane Denton convicted of felony theft; sentenced to 60 days in jail, $12,000 in fines and six years' probation.

-- House Speaker Gib Lewis, D-Fort Worth, 1992: Charged with gift-reporting and financial-disclosure violations. Entered a plea bargain on misdemeanor ethics charges; paid a $2,000 fine.

-- State Rep. Chip Staniswallis, R-Amarillo, 1990: Indicted for tampering with government records; pleaded guilty to felony theft.

-- Attorney General Jim Mattox (D), 1985: Indicted on felony bribery charges. Acquitted.

-- Ronnie Earle (D), 1983: Earle filed misdemeanor charges against himself for untimely reporting of 1981 and 1982 campaign finances; paid a $200 fine.

-- State Treasurer Warren G. Harding (D), 1982: Indicted on two felonies for political misuse of office. Pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges.

-- State Rep. Mike Martin, R-Longview, 1981: Indicted on aggravated perjury charges after lying about having himself shot to generate publicity. Pleaded guilty; agreed to resign.

-- State Sen. Gene Jones, D-Houston, 1980: Indicted for official misconduct. Entered plea bargain for misuse of state computer.

-- Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Yarbrough (D), 1977: Indicted and convicted of aggravated perjury for lying to grand jury investigating allegations that he was plotting to have an associate killed. Voluntarily gave up seat.

Compiled from Star-Telegram archives

Posted by jcb at 04:20 PM | Comments (2)

September 28, 2005

The best that can be done?

Julie Myers, at least, is not getting a free pass.

Stung by criticism over the cavalier manner in which they approved Michael Brown's promotion at FEMA, senators on the Homeland Security and Government Affairs committee harshly assessed her credentials to run the Immigration and Enforcement Agency, being cobbled together from remnants of our immigration and customs agencies into a sub-department in Homeland Security.

"... based on the resume, I don't think you are" qualified to run the $4 billion, 20,000-employee agency, Ohio Republican George Voinovich told her. Other senators, from both parties, expressed skepticism as well. The committee took no vote after its initial hearing, leaving the nomination as "pending."

The senators' assessments seem accurate, though Ms. Myers' resume has some strong points. The strongest seems to her stint as assistant secretary for Export Enforcement at the Department of Commerce, where, she told senators, she supervised supervised 170 employees and a $25 million budget. Wasn't there long, though. She was appointed in mid-2003, but soon moved on to be a special assistant to President Bush handling personnel issues.

And ...

Well, her uncle is Gen. Richard Myers, who's term as chairman of the joint chiefs of staff just ended.

She just married John Wood, who's chief of staff for DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff. (She herself served briefly as chief of staff for Mr. Chertoff.)

She's already been of the payrolls of four federal departments since Mr. Bush was elected president.

No wonder the senators are wary, seeing the possibility they're being asked to close their eyes and give their consent to filling another critical post with the buddy system's favorite. While Ms. Myers' resume is hefty enough that it wouldn't be fair to call her a hack, it's way light for the job the president wants to give her.

Sen. Voinovich, who during the hearings said, "I'd really like to have (Mr. Chertoff) spend some time with us, telling us personally why he thinks you're qualified for the job," has since had a telephone conversation with Mr. Chertoff, and now says he is likely to vote to confirm Ms. Myers. Makes me wonder what was said in the private telephone conversation, and why it wasn't said in an open hearing.

Also wonder if Mr. Bush looked long enough before making this nomination. Isn't there a Republican anywhere who's both willing to serve and better qualified than the job-hopping Ms. Myers?

We just had a graphic illustration of how the crony system messed up one vital sub-agency within the Department of Homeland Security. Let's hope the senators find courage enough not to repeat the mistake at another.

Posted by jcb at 02:47 PM | Comments (2)

September 27, 2005

Unimportant, but fun

OK, this is hardly Really Important, but, well, it's fun.

A women who recently sent a letter to Illinois' senators suggesting that the federal budget be reviewed with an eye toward cutting pork projects to help pay hurricane recovery costs got an email back from Sen. Barack Obama thanking her for her concern about "rescue operations for the pets of evacuees" and describing federal efforts to care for the pets.

Hmmm .... constituent sends mail discussing budget issues; gets response about pet care. What's up with that?

Maybe there's a hint in the P.S. at the bottom of the senator's email: "P.S. Our system does not allow direct response to this email. However, if you would like to contact me again, please use the form on the website: http://obama.senate.gov/contact/."

Hmmm ... system. Wonder if the "system" it automated? Maybe uses key words to select a form letter to spit back?

So I went to http://obama.senate.gov/contact/ and sent the following:

To whoever can answer,

A woman recently wrote to Sen. Obama's office suggesting that "pork" projects recently approved might be cut to help pay Hurricane Katrina recovery costs. The response she received was what appeared to be a form letter about federal efforts to care for the pets of evacuees.

How does this sort of mix-up occur?

Thank you,

John Beydler
News editor
Quad-Cities Online

The form required me to pick a topic, among which "got wrong form letter" wasn't an option. I picked "budget" -- will let you know what, if anything, I get back.


Posted by jcb at 01:27 PM | Comments (8)

September 25, 2005

Catching up with the old gang...

Slipped out of town for a long weekend in Stockton, Mo. High school class reunion. Hadn't been to one for a while.

Sixty-four in the class. Twenty-nine showed up. More than enough to keep me puzzled all night, trying to fit long-ago names to new faces.

But we got the IDs all straightened out and had a pleasant evening catching up and, then, disinterring old stories that mostly could have stayed buried without harm.

Also wanted to see how Stockton's coming along with its tornado-induced makeover. The town square, with its many century-old stone buildings, looked like it'd been bombed when the funnel cloud left town May 4, 2003. Lots of damage elsewhere, too. (Photo gallery from the Springfield News-Leader)

The square's all rebuilt, 'cept for a half-block gap on the east side. They did a little planning, too; everybody rebuilt in brick, and little architectural flourishes on each building echo each other. Looks nice, and will for the next hundred years.

Lots of building going on all over. Couple of new churches, lots of commercial building. Residential, too.

For a bonus, it was Walnut Festival weekend. Walnut Festival, for those very few of you who may not know, is celebrated because Stockton is The Black Walnut Capital of the World. Things may be looking up in the black-walnut field, too. Hammons, the walnut company, is paying $13 per hundredweight, the highest ever. They're hoping people will haul in at least 27 million pounds. Can't help this year, though as a teen I did gather a pickup load of walnuts a couple times, as a way of making a little autumn money.

Anyway, the festival was nice. Food and crafts in the park, big parade with 15 or so high school bands, old cars, fire trucks, queen contestants riding in towed boats and all that. Twenty-five hundred or so people -- well more than the town population -- lined the streets for the parade.

Looked, sounded and felt like a place on the move. Heard several people say that, sad as the three deaths were, the tornado otherwise was the best thing that ever happened to Stockton.

Whatever the truth of that, it's clear there're not many quitters in the place.




Posted by jcb at 08:41 PM | Comments (0)

September 21, 2005

The Making of Iraq, Chapter One

So you've never heard of Gertrude Bell. Right?

Me, either, until a few weeks ago, when a friend recommended I read Desert Queen, a 1996 Bell biography by Janet Wallach. By the time I finished, I thought I was reading current news and analysis out of the Middle East, rather than the musty story of a woman dead some 80 years now.

Gertrude Bell, you see, is the person who sat down with a table full of maps and literally drew the lines that defined "Iraq" out of the chaos left when the Ottoman empire collapsed in World War I. The maps she worked with were the best available -- her own, meticulously created during 25 years of wandering the deserts, mountains and valleys of Mesopotamia, first as an archeologist and later as an agent of British Intelligence.

The wanderings also, remarkably, left the English lady the confidante of countless tribal, subtribal, family and religious leaders in this male-dominated Islamic world.

She cut quite the figure. Though she traveled "alone," it was only in the sense that she was the only Caucasian around. Her entourage included the servants, cooks, porters and camels necessary to deal with her tents, supplies, wardrobe and dinnerware. Playing hostess for the leaders of whatever tribal lands she happened to be in, she wore formal dinner dress and served expertly prepared meals at tables laid with silver dinner service and set up in carpet-floored tents.

Warring tribes would cease their battles long enough to pass her safely from one land to the next.

It was the politically attuned Miss Bell who championed Faisal, of the Hashemite family of Mecca, as the man who could make "Iraq" work. It was the un-religious Miss Bell who convinced her friends among the tribes to lend Faisal their support in building a secular state. It was Miss Bell who, in the end, convinced British Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill during the Cairo conference of 1921 that a Faisal-led "Iraq" offered the Empire the best way out of the bloody, expensive mess in Mesopotamia.

At conference's end she was overjoyed.

As Ms. Wallach writes, "Almost everything she had wished for now had a chance of coming true. The country would consist of all all three vilayets --Baghdad, Basrah and Mosel; the Sunnis, Shiites, Jews, Christians and Kurds would be united under a Sharifian king; and Iraq, rich, prosperous and led by Faisal, would prove a loyal protege of Britain. If Gertrude could bring it all off, it would be ... a model for the entire Middle East." (Hear the echoes.)

Faisal became king in 1921. But he, with his British advisors, was seen in many quarters as (hear the echoes) nothing more than the agent of a foreign occupier. Torn, he wanted the British to go, but (hear more echoes) he couldn't maintain power without them. If they went, the "country would be eaten alive, the carcass torn apart by townsmen, tribesmen, Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds and Turks all fighting for a piece of the territory."


After much turmoil, the British did eventually go and "Iraq" did survive as a secular state, though otherwise hardly as Miss Bell envisioned. Faisal, his son and grandson held the throne until 1958, when began the series of coups and counter-coups that eventually brought Saddam Hussein to power.

Now, again, "Iraq" is threatened by divisions among Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds. Now, again, whether government should be secular or sectarian clouds the political question. Now, again, the government in Baghdad stands only with the backing of a foreign power intent on making the country "a model for the entire Middle East." Hear the echoes.

For a time, Miss Bell was so intimately involved in Faisal's affairs that the world press referred to her as "the uncrowned Queen of Iraq," but her political influence faded and she spent the last few years of her life as the new nation's director of antiquities. Drawing upon her archeological background, she amassed and catalogued the foundation collection for the national museum in Baghdad. It was looted in the wake of the American invasion in 2003.

She died in Baghdad in 1926, at age 57, of an overdose of sleeping pills. Her closest friends believed it was suicide.

Posted by jcb at 03:22 PM | Comments (1)

September 19, 2005

And the beat goes on


Up in Chicago, they're picking the jurors who'll hear the evidence against former Illinois Gov. George Ryan in his corruption trial. (Text of indictment)

The investigations have been going on for 11 years, dogging Mr. Ryan through his final four years as secretary of state and the 1998 gubernatorial election, which he still managed to win by 120,000 votes (out of 3.3 million cast). But at the time, only five of his lower-level employees in the sprawling SOS office had been convicted in the drivers' licenses for sale scandal, and Mr. Ryan managed to distance himself from it.

The list of the convicted now contains 73 names, including top aides from both the SOS and gubernatorial days. The scandal had blossomed sufficiently by 2002 not only to keep Mr. Ryan from seeking re-election but to drive the Republicans from the governor's mansion for the first time in nearly 30 years.

Even as the sad Ryan drama plays out, another seems to be in production. Two people pleaded guilty Friday in a scheme to bilk "consulting fees" from investment companies doing business with the state's Teachers Pension Fund. Accompanying court filings made reference to "Public Official A" whose campaign donors benefitted from the "consulting fees."

People who claim to know are busy telling reporters that "Public Official A" is current Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who rode a wave of anti-corruption fervor to the office in 2002 (aided as he was by the GOP's selection of a candidate named Ryan to replace George on the ballot).

Anyway, Gov. Blagojevich denies he's "Public Official A" and says he don't know nothing about nothing when it comes to improper consulting fees. 'Course, that's that Ryan always said, too, when he was being called "Public Official A" in federal court filings.

Any Illinois residents who want to sit down and cry in despair should feel free to do so.

Posted by jcb at 03:09 PM | Comments (4)

September 15, 2005

Picnicking with the GOP...

Having recently enjoyed an afternoon at the RICO Dems' annual chicken fry -- first one I'd been to for a while -- decided to have some BBQ with the Republicans at their annual to-do tonight.

Nice evening. Renewed some old acquaintances, made a couple new ones. The rain held down the crowd a little. County chairman Tom Getz said about 175 pork chops were served, fewer even than the 250 that sold in advance. The stay-at-homes missed a pleasant time.

The pie auction was fun. Pies were supposed to have been baked by candidates, though there were admittedly one or two hot from Village Inn. Steve Haring, who'll be taking on Mike Boland in District 71 next year, gets bragging rights from the auction. One of his pies -- the strawberry, I think -- got $60.

Brian Gilliland, who aspires to Congress, had a "Lane Evans pie" -- described it as ''all nice and attractive on the outside but nothing on the inside." Only got 11 bucks for it.

Seems certain the Republicans are going to have their three-way primary to pick out who'll run against Rep. Evans next year. Andrea Zinga, who wants a second crack, couldn't make the picnic. She's down in Louisiana, shooting film of disaster scenes. Some of it's running on Channel 8, her stand-in said. In the meantime, Andrea wants everyone's suppport.

Gilliland, whose nicknames include "Gilligan", after the character in that old TV show, said we need plans so that Democrats, Republicans and Indepedents alike can work together to save us from "Our Island of Shrinking Opportunties." That's kind of a theme for him -- his handout says that as things go along, he'd like everyone to decide to"support 'Gilligan' and help ME lead US off this Island!"

Jim Mowen, the third guy, said the biggest problem he's fighting at the moment is the wide-spread notion that Mr. Evans can't be beat.

But he's optimistic, which is always nice to see in a new politician. Said positive alternatives, presented positively, can pull voters 'cross the partisan divide. Mentioned "Reagan Democrats" specifically. Said that, with changing times, there are Dems in the district looking for alternatives, and that simply being nice is the first thing you gotta be if you hope to get their ear. If you've got their ear, and you're positive, there may be mutual ground to be found, he thinks.

A consistently positive campaign would be a somewhat rare tactic in the GOP's 24-year-quest to unseat Mr. Evans. Might be a good time to try it.

Mr. Mowen's handout is positive, too, though I do feel a bit uneasy with the part where he says "I pledge to aggressively uphold the Constitution, the American Flag, the Pledge of Allegiance and the Judeo-Christian morals and beliefs upon which this wonderful country was built." Nothing wrong with any of that, generally. But hope he's not confused about the differences among theology, politics and governing. Government decisions made on theological grounds most always lead to civil evils.

Two of the many GOP gubernatorial hopefuls were on hand. Bill Brady and Jim Oberweiss both spoke unkindly of Rod Blagojevich's record, which is a pretty fat target these days. Both are eager to talk about the state's economy, the state of its budget and its pension funds.
Good topics, all.

Mr. Oberweiss, who owns a dairy and a chain of ice cream stores, brought treats for all. Pretty tasty stuff, but I'm thinking Whitey's is still the best.

Posted by jcb at 10:16 PM | Comments (6)

Aha! The Chertoff memo surfaces

I earlier said I'd sure like to see Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff's response to the now infamous "what, me worry" memo written by FEMA director Michael Brown Monday, Aug. 29, while Katrina ravaged the gulf coast.

It may not be the direct response, but Knight-Ridder Newspapers has a Chertoff memo from Tuesday, Aug. 30, when the full extent of the disaster in New Orleans was known.

It shows Chertoff to be as clueless as Brown about what to do.
Here's the memo, from The Knight-Ridder Washington bureau site.

Problems in DHS originated at the top.

Here's a discussion from The Huffington Post.


Posted by jcb at 10:09 AM | Comments (5)

September 14, 2005

Notes from the home front

Iowa-side people who care about school board elections got little help from the media, and most of that was on the blog Davenport Daily Politics. Print, TV didn't notice the election. Somebody at DDP belatedly did.
The ensuing discussion provided basics, who's running for what, etc., and some info on some of the candidates. Better than the "real" media did.

Biggest turnout was in Davenport; 'bout 2,500 votes. Yawn, these people only spend more of our real estate taxes than anybody else.

DDP doing a good job, too, of keeping track of the 43 candidates running for Davenport city hall seats in upcoming city elections. Links to candidate websites, discussions of personalities and issues, etc.

Of interest primarily to junkies so far, the DDP elex stuff will be a great catch-up resource for people who don't wake up til the week, or day, before they have to vote.

----------------------

So the reports on the Green Day concert at The Mark in Moline are rolling in. Packed. Loud. Good time had by all.

Introducing one of its several anti-war songs, the band's front guy said the tune "was a great big f**k you to George W. Bush."

The stuffed-to-the-rafters arena in Quad-Cities USA roared its approval.

Thursday a.m. -- Here's a review.

----------------------


Posted by jcb at 10:53 PM | Comments (7)

Ditch the hacks and guard the money

"Katrina exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government, and to the extent that the federal government didn't fully do its job right, I take responsibility." -- President George Bush, Sept. 13, 2005

We will be many steps down the right road if the President follows that acknowledgement by calling off his spinmeisters and by cooperating fully with Congress as it undertakes the necessary re-examination of the Department of Homeland Security.

Three items are critical:

1. Get the hacks out of FEMA.

2. Make sure the $62.5 billion-and-growing in government relief money is well spent.

3. Re-examine the structure of the cobbled-together Department of Homeland Security.

I'll elaborate, but first a word for those many good people who are grumbling about the shortcomings of New Orleans's mayor and Louisiana's governor. I don't much care if New Orleans hangs its mayor or gives him a medal. If they're short the needed item, be glad to send either the rope or the medal. Same for Louisiana and its governor. Local issues for the locals to settle.

For the rest of us, the shortcomings in the Homeland Security Department are front and center.

Regarding the hacks: The departure of FEMA director Michael Brown is an excellent start. (And let's never forget that it was Democrat Joe Liebermann who chaired the Senate committee that rolled over and confirmed the resume-less Mr. Brown to his high position.)

Beyond Brown, the out-of-here list should include:

--Patrick J. Rhode, Mr. Brown's chief of staff and the man "responsible for the day-to-day operations of the agency." Mr. Rhode is a former TV reporter in Arkansas and Alabama, was an advance man for the Bush 2000 campaign, and later for President Bush. He was parked on a couple of other federal payrolls before landing at FEMA in 2003. He's a hack. Get rid of him.

-- Brooks D. Altshuler, deputy chief of staff, is also a former presidential advance man. He's a hack. Get rid of him.

-- Scott R. Morris, former chief of staff now in a regional office in Florida. Mr. Morris marketed computer software and worked as a media strategist for both the Bush primary and general election campaigns. Also was a media consultant for Bob Dole's presidential campaign. He's a hack. Get rid of him.

Speaking of FEMA regional offices, I felt a little better after checking the ones affecting the Q-C. Region V, which includes Illinois, is directed by Edward G. Buikema, who put in 26 years with the Michigan State Police, including a stint as director of the Emergency Management Division. Region VII, which includes Iowa, is run by Dick Hainje, plucked from the South Dakota legislature and given the job. He at least has 24 years on the Sioux Falls Fire Department on his resume.

Regarding spending the money wisely: Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff put the need succinctly: "We're going to cut through red tape, but we're not going to cut through laws and rules that govern ethics."

House Leader Nancy Pelosi wants to form a special commission, a la the 911 commission, to guard the money from looters in suits. They always -- always -- gather thick around, vultures drawn to the feast when they hear "no red tape." Mr. Bush should either support Ms. Pelosi's call, or find a Republican to offer something similar.

Regarding the re-examination of the Department of Homeland Security: It is a Republican, Senate Homeland Security Committee chair Susan Collins of Maine, who already has opened hearings into FEMA's failures. There are bills already introduced the strip FEMA out of DHS and to restore its status as a Cabinet-level department.

A great many senators who eventually voted to include FEMA with DHS did so reluctantly, expressing concern that the focus on natural disasters would be lost in the new department, directed as it was toward preventing terrorism. Their fears, in the event, prove well founded. Time to move to Plan B.

As these critical items are considered, I hope Mr. Bush is listening to the advice being dispensed by Newt Gingrich. For those who may not recall, it was Mr. Gingrich whose "Agenda for America" and bomb-throwing politics led Republicans to control of a House of Representatives lost in corruption and arrogance after decades of Democratic rule. Eventually hoisted on his own petard, he nevertheless deserves an audience.

His thought, in a nutshell: "We’re not in a values fight now but over whether the system is working. The issue is delivery."

Yes, and what we want delivered by Congress and the president is:

1. A hack-free FEMA.

2. Prudent spending of the billions of relief $$.

3. A Department of Homeland Security that works when we need it.

Up to Congress now.

Posted by jcb at 02:30 PM | Comments (4)

September 12, 2005

Mr. Brown's exit

In leaving FEMA today, Michael Brown said of his resignation, "I think it's in the best interest of the agency and the best interest of the president..."

Good assessment. Quick action. Too bad both were missing earlier.

In a terse announcement, President Bush appointed R. David Paulison as acting director. Mr. Paulison's resume, fleshed out by the Department of Homeland Security, offers hope the new guy's got way more of a clue than did Mr. Brown.

That probably bodes ill for the several other campaign aides/media advisor types who found paychecks as Mr. Brown's immediate underlings. We can hope, anyway. Again, we may need this agency about anytime and the more key people with relevant resumes the better.

Before I let go of this, I want to say how disgusted I am with the Senate, which did way too little advising and way too much consenting when the nomination of the feather-weight Mr. Brown came before them.

Only four the Governmental Affairs Committee's 17 members bothered to attend the confirmation hearing (Full transcript, with attachments) No one raised an eyebrow, let alone say, "now, exactly what is it in this resume that qualifies you for this critically important job?"

Chairman Joe Libermann virtually gushed over Mr. Brown. Remember that as he pontificates about "the need for a thorough investigation on the larger issues of assessing what went wrong..."

Posted by jcb at 08:20 PM | Comments (1)

The political dimension...

Continuing the discussion started below in Let the REAL looting begin and Start with FedBizOpps:

Good many Congresspeople are worried that the billions they're throwing into hurricane relief won't be spent as best it could. History's on the side of the worriers -- in fact, history indicates the certainty that some portion of the money will be wasted through various abuses.

How to minimize it? House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi thinks an independent commission to oversee anti-fraud efforts is the right step. If you care about your tax dollars, don't dismiss the idea just because of the source.

Congress has already pushed $62.5 billion into the relief funnel, will undoubtedly add many billions even while it's "removes some of the normal restrictions and red tape", as House Leader Dennis Hastert put it when he and Senate Leader Bill Frist announced the formation of joint congressional committee to handle a whole range of Katrina issues.

The first purpose of the committee was to head off hearings into FEMA failures called by Sen. Susan Collins, the Maine Republican who heads the Homeland Security Committee. Frist named her Senate leader of the new joint committee, and she agreed to serve, though noting that she hasn't seen all "of the details of the composition, mandate, and authority of this joint committee."

It is, incidentally, the lack of "details of the composition, mandate, and authority of this joint committee," that prompts Rep. Pelosi's suggestion that an independent commission is needed.

(As an aside, let me say that Rep. Pelosi could urge her party not to beat up on House members expressing concern about accountability. U.S. Rep. Steve King, an Iowa Republican who was among a dozen who voted against the second aid bill because it is so vague on how the money is to used, got kicked around pretty hard by national and state Dems.)

Though it already has such agencies as Government Accountability Office and the Congressional Budget Office to help it keep track, Congress can still get lost when lots of money gets spent real fast.

The money we're pouring into Iraq includes some $9 billion unaccounted for because of "inefficiencies and bad management:," as an inspector general's report put it.

Given so many of the same cast of characters will be involved in the hurricane relief effort, that indpendent commission is sounding pretty good.

Posted by jcb at 03:08 PM | Comments (0)

What did Chertoff do?

One of the many things I'd like to know is Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff's response to the now-notorious Brown memo, written by FEMA director Michael Brown on the Monday afternoon Katrina blasted into Louisiana and Mississippi.

Did Mr. Chertoff send back an answering memo? If so, when? What did it say? "Good job, Brownie," as President Bush did a few days later? Wish whoever leaked the damning Brown memo to the Associated Press would leak the response from Mr. Chertoff.

Whatever his response to the Brown memo, Mr. Chertoff five days later was trying to lay responsibility for the slack federal response on the press. During an interview with Tim Russert, Chertoff said. "Tuesday morning, I opened newspapers and saw headlines that said `New Orleans Dodged The Bullet,' which surprised people." Other federal officials, including Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld, picked up and elaboarated upon the theme.

Alert blogger David R. Mark went in search of the "dodged the bullet" headlines. Here's his account of his hunt, which turned into kind of a case study on how misinformation gets spread, deliberately or otherwise.


That aside, would still like to know when Mr. Chertoff read that Brown memo and what he did in response.

Posted by jcb at 10:54 AM | Comments (0)

September 10, 2005

Start with FedBizOpps

As promised in the entry below, I'm pulling together some of the links necessary to monitor the use of the billions of dollars being spent to cleanup after Katrina. They can also serve individuals and companies who want to provide goods and services to the efforts.

Start with the Katrina page at FedBizOpps. Operated by the General Services Administration's Federal Supply Service, the page serves as a directory to other federal and state agencies contracting cleanup services.

The page notes that "Due to the immediacy of emergency opportunities, it is unlikely that opportunities dealing with the hurricanes will be advertised through the FedBizOpps system.

"Vendors looking to provide products or services in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi or Florida should contact the following resources ..."

Note here that we've now established one of conditions that enables abuse -- "normal" procedures are being left behind. But there's no real help for that: We'd all be further enraged if critical work went undone while weeks' or months' worth of time was wasted filling out reams of paperwork and meticulously following each and every one of God-knows-how-many regulations control the letting of government contracts.

The Department of Homeland Security has activated its National Emergency Resource Registry. It provides the opportunity to get in the pool, so to speak. From the page: "If you or your organization/agency/corporation have resources that may be made available to the response agencies, please list them in this Resource Registry."

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is steering prospective contractors to Phillips & Jordan Inc. Disaster and Recovery Group and AshBritt Environmental. Both are compliling and maintaining lists of qualified contractors and sub-contractors.

The Hill, "the newspaper for and about The U. S. Congress," has already taken an early look at some of the ties between these two companies and politicians/government figures.

So now we have the second condition necessary for abuse. The foundation work for the recovery effort has been contracted out to private firms with links to various political figures.

The various states also have various programs. Don't have time just now to scan their websites to see the who and how of their processes, but will get back to it. In the meantime, if someone wants to hit some of those sites and share what you find, great.

... to be continued.

OK, back to who's handling the contracts:

For Alabama, the FedBizOpps site says prospective contractors should "on your Company Letterhead, list your capabilities and contact information. Fax this information to: 334-409-4663 Attention: FEMA Contract"
The state's government procurement page offers a guide to the bureauracy, and a list of active state contracts.

Louisiana's Disaster Recovery Index has links for contractors, and sample contracts.

In Mississippi, the state Board of Contractors has necessary information.

Florida has a Disaster Contractors Network.

... to be continued

Posted by jcb at 01:16 PM | Comments (0)

September 09, 2005

Let the REAL looting begin


Headline says "Congress OKs $51.8 billion for Katrina relief."

Should have said "The REAL looting set to begin."

Halliburton, vp Dick Cheney's old firm, already has $17 million worth of no-bid work to do hurricane-damage clean-up.
Halliburton Subsidiary Gets Katrina Deal".


Former FEMA director Joe Allbaugh (who was President Bush's 2000 campaign manager), is busy assisting clients of his new lobbying/consulting firm get no-bid Katrina contracts. Bush Insider Pushes Clients for Hurricane Rebuilding.

Surprise, surprise. Halliburton, too, is among his clients. Former FEMA head and Halliburton lobbyist visits Louisiana for deals.

Then there's the Louisiana crowd. Put those guys together with billions of dollars in contracts for hurry-up work buying stuff and moving it around, and they'll sure know what to do. They're good at clean-up work, if not at disaster preparation.

Rest of us need something like 'cleaningupthecleanup.com' to keep on top of things. May already be out there. The many solid citizens out blogging these days move pretty nimbly. If you happen to know where such a site is, let me know. Meanwhile, as time permits, I'll find a few links that' may push the door open a little.

Don't begrudge the clean-up money, but sure would like to see it well-spent.

Sort of related -- did you see these stories today?

Iowa salon, bookstore benefit from Sept. 11 loans

Illinois vets, funeral homes get federal terrorism loans


Posted by jcb at 03:03 PM | Comments (2)

The Gluba question....

Dem. Congressional canddiate Bill Gluba (Iowa lst District) sent around an email to various people "interested in public policy." He says, "I'm appealing to you for assistance in drafting a plan to bring this war (Iraq) to an end."

Here's answer on forwarded version I got:

1.grab your duffel
2. get in the helicopter
3. fly like hell

Next fowarded version added:

4. Land in New Orleans

Hope that helps, Bill.

Posted by jcb at 02:01 PM | Comments (0)

Sorry Mike, it wasn't the press

FEMA chief Michael Brown, departing the disaster scene he did so much to worsen, said that he was being scapegoated by the press.

No, Mike, not scapegoated. Held responsible. And not just by "the press."

Here's a partial, very partial, list of the places you're being held responsible:

The checkout line at the convenient store.
The next table over at the restaurant.
The hamburger stand at the fall festival.
The backyard barbecue.
At bars, etc, etc, etc.
People of every political stripe nodding agreement at each other.

Remember what ol' Abe Lincoln said 'bout not being able to fool all of the people all of the time.

But getting you off the scene of the immediate disaster is a half-step.

We don't want you in charge of the agency at all. We might need it, anytime.






Posted by jcb at 12:56 PM | Comments (2)

September 07, 2005

Why is Michael Brown still in charge?

As I write, nine days after Katrina descended on the Gulf Coast, we're all busy helping.

Evacuees from stricken New Orleans began arriving today in the Quad-Cities, one of the numberless caring communities taking them. We have firefighters and equipment en route, probably there when you read this. People busy piling up supplies the new-comers will need, or asking how to give, as everybody seems eager to do. A long and growing list of fund-raising events appears in the Dispatch/Argus each day.

Pretty much the same all across a country that moves pretty smartly when ordinary folks are out to fill a desperate need.

Too bad we're saddled with an "emergency" agency that can't do the same.

Or did you not see any of the the four days' worth of television coverage of the horrific scenes where dying people waited for help?

Didn't you wonder why, if all those reporters and all their equipment made it to the critical place, the government couldn't get some supplies in and people out?

Lord, the Quad-Cities could have sent the MetroLink fleet, with a couple of tanker trucks hauling fuel, and gotten those people out faster. Would have been glad to do it, too, if we'd had a clue nobody else was going to. So would have scores of other places much closer than we are.

Mike Grchan or Gib Cady or Dennis Conard or any other county sheriff within 1,000 miles would have done it better than the feds.

Which brings us to Michael D. Brown, who, in the Department of Homeland Security, is Under Secretary of Emergency Preparedness and Response. He is in charge of the agency whose mission statement proclaims it "ensures the seamless integration of the federal government when an incident exceeds local or state capabilities," which Katrina very clearly did.

Mr. Brown's agency failed it's mission, on national television, in front of a world-wide audience. It failed. Congress is investigating. So's the President. Bring it on, as he might say.

That Mr. Brown holds his position through cronyism, rather than resume, is all over the public record now, so I won't belabor the point. ( femafailures.blogspot.com is one of the many places to find a comprehensive review of the record.)

At this point, though, let Mr. Brown speak. Following is a memo he sent his boss, Home Security Secretary Michael Chertoff on Monday, while the storm raged in New Orleans and Mississippi. It is, blessedly, relatively brief.

------------

Office of The Under Secretary
U.S. Department of Homeland Security 500 C Street SW
Washington DC 20472
FEMA
August 29, 2005

MEMORANDUM TO: Michael Chertoff
Secretary of Homeland Security

FROM: Michael D. Brown
Under Secretary

SUBJECT: DHS Response to Katrina

We are requesting your assistance to make available DHS employees willing to deploy as soon as possible for a two-week minimum field assignment to serve in a variety of positions. We anticipate needing at least 1000 additional DHS employees within 48 hours and 2000 within 7 days. Attached is a list of requirements that employees will have to meet before deploying.

It is beneficial to use DHS employees as it allows us to be more efficient responding to the needs of this disaster and it reinforces the Department's All-Hazard's Capabilities. Also, DHS employees already have background investigations, travel cards and badges, all items that normally delay filling our surge workforce. FEMA Response and Recovery operations are a top priority of the Department and as we know, one of yours.

We will also want to identify staff with specialized skills such as bilingual capabilities,
Commercial Driver's License (CDL), and logistics capabilities.

Thank you for your consideration in helping us meet our responsibilities in this near catastrophic event.

Attachment

cc: Michael P. Jackson
Deputy Secretary

Janet Hale
Under Secretary for Management

Attachment

Requirements (for personnel):

You must have your supervisor's approval.

Contact your Human Resource Office to follow-up with FEMA Human Resource Office

You must be physically able to work in a disaster area without refrigeration for medications and have the ability to work in the outdoors all day.

Must be willing to work long hours under arduous conditions.

Role of Assigned Personnel:

Establish and maintain positive working relationships with disaster affected communities and the citizens of those communities.

Collect and disseminate information and make referrals for appropriate assistance. Identification of potential issues within the community and reporting to appropriate personnel.

Convey a positive image of disaster operations to government officials, community organizations and the general public.

Perform outreach with community leaders on available Federal disaster assistance. Training will be provided.

A roster of available personnel will be developed and made available as components identify personnel for deployment.

Selected personnel from the roster will be given training in Emmitsburg, Md., Atlanta, Ga., and Orlando, Fla., before you are deployed to the field. You will be expected to use goverranent credit cards (in good standing) for transportation, lodging, meals and other incidentals.

Contact your agency financial officer for information on obtaining government credit card (if you do not hold one).

Point of Contact to accept and process your assignment:

Human Resource Operations Branch, 202-646-4040
You will be walked through the system for further processing and deployment.

Deployment Information:

Selected personnel will either go to Atlanta, Ga. for Community Relations Training or Orlando, Fla., for all other Training and assignments. After which they will be deployed to a disaster Joint Field Office (FCO) when conditions are safe. Some organizational clothing and equipment will be supplied.

Type of personal supplies you should bring:

Sunscreen
Sun hat
Sun Glasses
Walking shoes
Mosquito repellant
Medication (both over the counter and prescriptions)
Valid driver's license
Government ID
Cash (ATMs may not be working)
Government equipment (cell phones, computers, blackberries, etc)
Appropriate clothing (walking shorts acceptable)
Rain gear

------------

Say what?

A roster of available personnel will be provided?

Stop by Atlanta, Ga., for community relations training?

Convey a positive image of disaster operations?

Don't forget your sunscreen and walking shoes?

Bring appropriate clothing, walking shorts, of course, being acceptable?

What planet was Mr. Brown on when he wrote this, as the storm raged?

Why is he still in office?

The hurricane season's not over. May be an earthquake. Who knows what Osama's buddies are up to.

We may need this Emergency Preparedness and Response outfit again any day now.

Why is Michael Brown still in charge?

Posted by jcb at 02:30 PM | Comments (5)

The Brown memo: While people were dying

As the details of Michael Brown's "qualifications" for his high post come pouring out, I decided I wanted to know how he got by a Senate hearing. Did everybody play hear, see and speak no evil?

No luck. Can't find the vote at the Senate nominations database on Thomas Can't find the vote in the Senate Homeland Security Committee nominations database, though some from the relevant time period are there. Googled my fingers off with no luck, though I did discover a couple other people are looking, too, without luck.

I did find transcript of his 2002 confirmation hearings for the deputy director's job, at which Sen. Joe Liebermann said "I will certainly support your nomination. I will do my best to move it through the Committee as soon as possible..." So we know the name of least one of the guys who was asleep at the switch.

Obviously a bunch more were snoozing, too, as they "advised and consented" to the appointment of Mr. Brown -- and his vast experience in running a horse race association -- to a job of critical importance to our safety.

During his 2002 confirmation hearings, he said how pleased he was that his "friend Joe Allbaugh, whom I have known for some 25 years, has asked me to serve with him. Our friendship goes back many years."


Joe Allbaugh, of course, was George Bush's chief of staff during his -governor-of-Texas days, and managed Mr. Bush's 2000 presidential campaign, and got FEMA's top job for his reward.

So there you have it. The campaign guy got a critical job and soon gave another one to a buddy who was even less qualified.
Hell, even the local pols would be bashful about a move that brazen.

So Brown's cluelessness can't really be a surprise, though the depth of it is. Here's a Brown memo AP posted today. Keep in mind as you read it that it was written five hours into Katrina's assault on New Orleans, a time when a flooded, helpless city as as certain as night following day.

Asking Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff's permission to begin assemblying personnel, it outlines various procedures and offers advice, for example: how the "role of assigned personnel" included "convey(ing) a positive image of disaster operations" and about going to "Altanta, Georgia, for Community Relations Training" en route to whichever part of the three-state disaster area they might finally be assigned.

The ever on-top-of-it Mr. Brown even advised "assigned personnel" to "bring appropriate clothing (walking shorts acceptable)."

And people were dying.

Posted by jcb at 01:03 AM | Comments (5)

September 05, 2005

Picnicking with Labor...


Stopped by Illiniwek Park today for the R.I. County Democrats' 15th million annual Labor Day chicken-fry.

Turned out OK. Rain quit, didn't get too hot. Thousand or more people hanging out. None of the really big-name invited guests could make it this year, but there was plenty of speechifying nonetheless.

The day's stemwinder came from Jeff Terronez, who said President Bush ought to be impeached, a proposal greeted with applause so warm it surprised me, even given the partisan setting.

Terronez, R.I. Co.'s state's attorney, talked about the evidence for going to war in Iraq, the aluminum tubes, the yellow-cake uranium and the mobile laboratories, and said it's clear now they'd all been discredited even before the invasion. Said that, if we impeach presidents for lying about affairs, we surely ought to impeach them for lying about reasons for war.

The loudest applause of the day came when Lane Evans was introduced. Universal, sustained, it swelled in volume as the Cngressman made his way to the mike.

But ... even amplified, his voice was weak. As he talked I eased steadily forward through the crowd, but even in the front I had trouble understanding him. Allowing that my hearing isn't what it used to be, or at least my wife says it isn't, I'm still thinking another campaign will be a mightly long one for a man who's been fighting Parkinson's for years now.

The applause was long and loud when he finished, but I thought it was more for his courage than his words, since a good part of the audience probably couldn't tell you today what he said.

Heard he's been asked to consider whether he really thinks he's up to another run, but that's he holding firm on his declaration that he can do it.

No readily apparent sentiment for an intra-party challenge. Who'd do that, in the face of that swelling applause?

Posted by jcb at 07:36 PM | Comments (5)

September 04, 2005

New Orleans -- lots of plans, no execution

Michael Brown may be a nice enough guy.

But the Peter Principle went into effect, in spades, when in 2003 he was named the Department of Homeland Security's first Under Secretary of Emergency Preparedness and Response or, in more familiar terms, Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

His resume is pretty thin, given the job. A lawyer, he's been in private practice, an Oklahama legislative aide, an assistant city manager in an Oklahoma City suburb and, from 1990 to 2001, commissioner of judges and stewards for the International Arabian Horse Association, a breeders' and horse-show organization based in Colorado.

Forced from his job there he landed at FEMA as general counsel in 2001 with a boost from Joe Albaugh, FEMA's director, who later named Brown under secretary. Less than two years later, President Bush advanced him to FEMA's top post within the reorganized Department of Homeland Security.

Putting thinly qualified people in critical posts sometimes works out; more often it doesn't.

Faced with the long-anticipated and much planned for hurricane strike that would devastate New Orleans, Mr. Brown fumbled the ball.

The agency he'd inherited, armed with the knowledge of a scene "played out for years in computer models and emergency-operations simulations," simply didn't react in the critical days. (The quote is from one of the stories in "Washing Away", a
New Orleans TImes-Picayune series published in 2002. Well worth reading.)

Mr. Brown's agency is armed with National Response Plan that among other things "ensures the seamless integration of the federal government when an incident exceeds local or state capabilities," according to the DHS website.

Didn't see much "seamless integration" down New Orleans way, though the need became clearer in the days prior to the deadly strike. The National Hurricane Center's archive of Katrina advisories begins at 5 p.m. August 23 and offers increasingly dire reading. By 10 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 27, the warning to New Orleans was umambiguous: " PREPARATIONS TO PROTECT LIFE AND PROPERTY SHOULD BE RUSHED TO COMPLETION."

New Orleans officials had among other guides, the Southeast Louisiana Hurricane Evacuation and Sheltering Plan. It's one of several related plans to be found at the plans page of the Louisiana Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness site.
Also included there is a federal response plan, as updated in January 2003.

Lots of plans. Not much execution. No "seamless integration" of local, state and federal response.

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was little more qualified to deal with the crisis than Mr. Brown. He's one of those new politicians, a reformer who relied mostly on his own money to get elected mayor in 2002 after switching from the Republican Party to the Democrats in order to enhance his chances. An executive with Cox Communications, the cable company, the mayor's job is his first elective office.

He's getting blasted, too, particularly on GOP websites like Redstate.org.

Whatever his failures, the rest of the nation doesn't depend on him. But we do on Mr. Brown and his agency. Given events, it's time for him to move on.

Here'a an open letter from The New Orleans Times-Picayune to President Bush, published today, in which the paper said, "Every official at the Federal Emergency Management Agency should be fired, Director Michael Brown especially."

I couldn't agree more.

Posted by jcb at 02:49 PM | Comments (0)

September 02, 2005

On New Orleans and homeland security ...

Now that I've seen our newly reorganized Department of Homeland Security/Federal Emergency Management Agency in action, I'm even more scared.

This is the outfit that spent lots of time convincing Congress to pass laws demanding that states use the drivers-license process to extract every shrivel of personal data possible from us and to computerize it.

This is the outfit that is spending lots of time and money on a fancy new airport scanner that will literally strip us for the "security" screeners. Uproar's been such that, at the moment, they're trying to figure out how to blur the image a little, so that it's not quite so photograph-like. But, you know, you do that, well, you know, you're losing security, you know...

This too, now, is the outfit that somehow mislaid the ability to help us when we need it.

At this point l'll say, because I can no longer not say it: George Bush is an idiot.

I've written in opposition to many of his policies, and I've written against his election, but have diligently steered clear of the ad hominem. Seldom helps a case, probably won't now. Nevertheless, here it is again: The man is an idiot.

He drove me over the edge Thursday, when he said, on Good Morning America, "I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees." Well, you cannot be that wrong and not be either a liar or an idiot.

The files of the Corps of Engineers and the several local/state levee districts in Louisiana are replete with proof the levees would breach in the approaching circumstances. There have been books declaring it would. There have been innumerable studies done, in several disciplines. They all prove it would happen. Apparently Mr. Bush missed the old Discovery channel program that laid out in precise detail what is going on today.

The certainty that this day would arrive is the driving force behind New Orleans never-ending dike building.

Next, from the June 8th, 2004 edition of the New Orleans Times-Picayune:

"For the first time in 37 years, federal budget cuts have all but stopped major work on the New Orleans area's east bank hurricane levees, a complex network of concrete walls, metal gates and giant earthen berms that won't be finished for at least another decade.

Local emergency management planners said the job ahead was "for southeast Louisiana somehow to persuade those who control federal spending that protection from major storms and flooding are matters of homeland security.

"It appears that the money has been moved in the president's budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that's the price we pay," said EM guy Walter Maestri, of Jefferson Parish. "Nobody locally is happy that the levees can't be finished, and we are doing everything we can to make the case that this is a security issue for us."

Sorry, chump, we need them camera scanners.

Having failed to anticipate the certainty, this outfit also has bungled the reaction.

On Thursday, three and a half days into the crisis, FEMA director Michael Brown said, on national television, "the federal government did not even know about the convention center people until today." Fifteen thousand hungry, thirsty, dying people and he didn't know about it. Three and a-half days into the misery.

It was a large but essentially simple problem. Lots of people need water, lots of people need food, and most of all they need transportation out. The job of finding the buses, the trucks, the supplies and shuffling it around is what this outfit, this Department of Homeland Security, is paid to do.

It was Wednesday, two and a half days into the agony, when the first reports of shots-fired came from New Orleans. This further anarchy would have been postponed, or even avoided, had there been a competently executed evacation under way to provide hope and proof that government still existed.

Finally, from Col. Terry Ebbert, director of homeland security for New Orleans, who said the whole recovery operation had been "carried on the backs of the little guys for four goddamn days. The rest of the goddamn nation can't get us any resources for security."
"We are like little birds with our mouths open and you don't have to be very smart to know where to drop the worm."

Exactly.

Posted by jcb at 01:58 PM | Comments (5)