Thursday, August 31, 2006

Louisiana Diary--A Blog

Because the posting of Louisiana Diary appears to be shaping up to be a large project, I have created another blog dedicated solely to it with an eponymous name. The 3 previous entries have been removed and can be found at the new site.

Southwest Louisiana - Sabine River - July 2002

In future, entries will be found at this address. I may re-name the chapters to be more descriptive. Or not.

Monday, August 28, 2006

When Bill Gates Walks Into A Bar...

This is the "duh" factor in Republican economic interpretations:
“Some people who aren’t partisans say, ‘Yes, the economy’s pretty good, so why are people so agitated and anxious?’ ” said Frank Luntz, a Republican campaign consultant. “The answer is they don’t feel it in their weekly paychecks.”

But Mr. Luntz predicted that the economic mood would not do significant damage to Republicans this fall because voters blamed corporate America, not the government, for their problems.
As if there was a difference?

Buchco and its shills have repeated their triumphal crowing about how great the economy is going so often that finally, finally the rank and file of the country is starting to notice that what CEOs are raking in isn't trickling down much for them, and hasn't for some time. Wages aren't keeping pace with the rest of the economy, and the housing bubble is losing air. Unions have been abandoned by the working stiff after a prolonged campaign by Republicans and corporate America to destroy them. Downsizing has put labor in its a disposable, almost unnecessary part of making money. Workers are weaker than ever, and losing ground fast as Bush's policies feed ever bigger chunks of the pie to the fat cats.

Here's what's happening in the country of Riggsveda: the economy took a downturn during the last contract negotiations, and as a result, two years' of seniority was lost over 4 years, and its accompanying raises. In addition, share of health care benefits went up and raises were eliminated for 2 years. Finally, a large merger that led to layoffs finally claimed the job of the Riggsveda consort, who has been looking for work for 6 months, and has no prospects of making anywhere near what he once did. An unexpected car accident took a chunk of savings that would have otherwise remained untouched, and Bush's vaunted tax cuts have had no, let me repeat that, NO affect whatsoever on the amount of money we send to the IRS every year.

So when I see this:
“There are two economies out there,” Mr. Cook, the political analyst, said. “One has been just white hot, going great guns. Those are the people who have benefited from globalization, technology, greater productivity and higher corporate earnings.

“And then there’s the working stiffs,’’ he added, “who just don’t feel like they’re getting ahead despite the fact that they’re working very hard. And there are a lot more people in that group than the other group.”
I think somebody's starting to get it. Then when I see this:
“Many aren’t seeing significant increases in their take-home pay,” Mr. Paulson said. “Their increases in wages are being eaten up by high energy prices and rising health care costs, among others.”

At the same time, he said that the Bush administration was not responsible for the situation, pointing out that inequality had been increasing for many years. “It is neither fair nor useful,” Mr. Paulson said, “to blame any political party.”
I realize the same old horseshit is still circulating in the nation's political veins.

Isn't it time to clean this fucking stable?

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Everything Old Is New Again

Getting ready for the Katrina anniversary. Below is a post I made 2 weeks after I got back from New Orleans:

November 15, 2005
Whistling Past Somebody Else's Graveyard

In NOLA there is no dearth of signs like this:


popping up all over street corners and other high-visibility sites, advertising jobs, loans, cleaning and restoration services, "house gutting", and often just that businesses closed for storm damage have re-opened again. Among these are always the ones announcing "Katrina lawsuits" and legal assistance.



In yesterday's NYTimes, the editorial noticed that Katrina survivors, having had enough of Bush's compassionate conservatism, are taking matters into their own hands:
"Public outrage is clearly growing over the federal government's woefully inadequate program for housing the hundreds of thousands of people displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Last week a group of survivors filed the first of what are likely to be several lawsuits alleging that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has failed to live up to its responsibilities. The recovery effort has been subject to blistering criticism from conservative, nonpartisan and liberal groups alike.
The same basic question is this: Why did the Bush administration focus on trailer parks built by FEMA - which is actually not a housing agency - instead of giving the lead role to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which has so much experience on this issue?"
"Outrage" barely expresses it. Everywhere you go in New Orleans and environs you can see the anger, written on the sides of buildings ("Screw you, Nagin, we made our own plan"), spelled out on broken signs with magnetic letters ("Where was FEMA?"), scrawled on the ruined appliances that litter the streets ("Build a crap wall. What Katrina left, Wilma will take"), on homemade signs propped up in the piles of detritus and trash unbiquitous to the curbs in front of almost every house ("Evacuate Broussard" "Thanks, Aaron!"), and on the T-shirts sold by small vendors in the Quarter ("FEMA: Federal Employees Missing Again").

That anger shouted eloquently from the buildings of New Orleans, gave voice to the diaspora long since departed and the powerless still trapped inside. Here is what I wrote on 10/26/05 in the journal I kept while down there:
"The broken bodies of rotted and collapsed buildings have become billboards for the anger and pain of the people of NOLA and the towns surrounding it. Sprawled over 4 corners (of an intersection) and down half the city blocks beyond, piles of ruined stuffed animals 6 or 7 feet high, the ruins of a warehouse that held a man's entire livelihood. Delicate little houses with wrought ironwork and still-vibrant paint jobs, broken, rotting, and abandoned for miles. The fluorescent red or orange "X" painted on house after house, a sign left by those who entered searching for bodies or the still-living in need of rescue. At the top is the date of inspection--most are dated around 9/15 or later, some as late as early October. On the left, the initials of the inspecting group.

9th Ward

At the bottom, the number of dead found; usually that was a "0", meaning none. To see a number other than the struck through zero there always gave me a chill. The letters in the right side of the cross still remain a mystery. Sometimes they seemed to indicate a direction, as in "NE". Other times they made no sense at all. And often I'd see "TFW" written (inside a circle). I still don't know what it is. The SPCA would sometimes weigh in, as well. Their messages were easy to decipher: "K-9 moved to corner"; "1 dog alive"; "2 cats under house"; and sometimes "no dogs" or "1 dead cat".
Between these signs and messages, and the words written by the ones who had to leave in anger and bitterness, even the parts of NOLA that are still and lifeless vibrate with a thousand voices, reaching out to communicate with anyone who comes after. "Help! Help! Help!" reads the house on the street in the lower Ninth Ward. Places where not a living thing moves can make the tears come, when you read the stories that have been left there. Holes in roofs torn by the desperate, trapped inside their houses while trying to escape rising waters, still gape to remind us of their terror.
To imagine living here, constantly facing the massive deconstruction on every corner, in every yard, with your entire environment looking like one big landfill;

17th St Levee

to live growing numb to the ugliness; to expect mud, cracked earth, endless dust, to always be hacking and coughing, living with low-level respiratory ailments; to wait without hope for salvation from the insurance company, the city, the federal government, to live with price gouging. To live in tents.
At home it has rained endlessly, and been cold. Here, the sun has shone everyday, and the earth is parched. Hurricane Wilma's hellacious winds sent water into the Ninth Ward again Tuesday, and what small progress made there was halted.
Halloween in the Quarter I wish I could say I'll miss NOLA, or Louisiana, but I won't. It's too flat for my soul, and I miss the seasons. Fall doesn't exist here, at least in a way that makes sense to a Yankee. The few Halloween decorations I've noticed look as out of place as a Christmas tree in the middle of a bandstand on a summer night. But most of all, I won't miss the constant low-level misery, the endless fighting back against despair that is the lot of every person here. I've come to love the strength, humor, and compassion of the local people. But I don't have enough of any of those qualities to bear their miseries."
On my day off wandering the French Quarter, one of the last people I talked to before leaving New Orleans was a small, sweet Filipino woman who ran a little souvenir shop across from the French Market. She told me how her children,ages 10 to 16, lived in Florida now because there was no place for them to stay since the storm had destroyed her house. How she was waiting and waiting and waiting for FEMA to provide her with a trailer. How the insurance company had kissed her off. How determined she was to stay on and keep trying. I told her about the Vietnamese community of Willowbrook, still deprived of power and water and being pressured to allow their land to be condemned, and the people of Lakeview, who came up to our trucks sobbing, who told us of having no income for 2 months and being made to jump through hoops by the city (set up an inspection of the property which will take half a month, then wait, then send in over $100 for the permit) in order to repair their homes. I shared with her the stories other residents had shared with me, and it made her feel less alone. We hugged and cried together.

One of the striking things about the NOLA area was the brightly colored blue tarps I had seen on roofs everywhere since I'd been down there, and shortly after my conversation with the souvenir shop owner, I learned what it was all about. A few blocks down I met an Army Corps of Engineers engineer, who had been inspecting buildings for the FEMA Blue Roof program. As it turns out. this is nothing more than plastic sheeting installed over the damaged areas, in order to stem any further damages from the elements, until the homeowner can pay someone to fix it. If the damage is too extensive (50% or more) or makes the roof structurally unsound, it disqualifies the applicant for assistance. He told me about the Blue Roof program, and how the ACE works with FEMA on it. This is what one of their notices looks like when it goes up on a property that fails to conform to the criteria for eligibility:

French Quarter

We also talked about what we had seen in the Ninth Ward, and he told me of a little old woman with problems getting around who refused to leave her house (no one was supposed to be cleared to stay there at the time). I gave him the cell phone number for one of my Red Cross supervisors so he could pass on her location. Later I learned from one of the supervisors that ERV crews had seen an old woman there rocking on her porch. I don't know what, if anything, they did.

And this is what FEMA puts up when they are trying to get in to inspect a property where the owner has requested assistance, and the owner is not at home.

French Quarter

The owner may have been applying from Texas or New York, for all I know, which could account for them not being home. Whether FEMA would be aware of those circumstances would, I guess, depend on whether they are currently being run as a real agency or just a money-laundering crony employment initiative. But the condition of the house in question, which was obviously damaged and shuttered on a street with very little sign of life, might give a clue:

French Quarter

Public outrage? Not nearly enough. The majority of those affected are still reeling from massive psychological damage. Struggling just to get by from one day to the next makes it hard to think about the political and legal affronts that facilitated your misery. It takes awhile to organize behind that. People continue to suffer without power or water or transportation or easy access to food. The most common request from the people we served from the trucks was for ice. Yet for some reason people think ice is no longer an issue. Illness is rampant. Businesses are struggling to open. Jobs go begging because there is no place to live. There is no real infrastructure. Migrant workers have been shipped in to do the dangerous work of salvage, and are being forced to sleep in buses or in tents in fields. Homelessness is starting to climb again, now that the evictions have started and the vulturine landlord class has price-jacked rents. The displaced are sleeping with their children in tents while trying to find or keep jobs.


The outrage is that for some reason many people have put this unprecedented disaster behind them, and think that it will all be over in a year or two. The outrage is that Bush and his coterie of fratboys and creeps still animate the governmental corpse like a cabal of voodoo priests, and that not once since the embarrassment of the initial inconvenient slaughter has he willingly looked in on the progress being made in the Gulf Coast, or offered anything like an open hand to its ravaged victims, 5000 of whom remain missing in action. The outrage is that he still sits in the White House, and the rest of us yawn and go back to picking lint from our navels, or whatever it is that passes for quality time spent in America these days, and wait for someone else to fix everything.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

My Darlin' New Orleans

Inside Cafe du Monde August 29th has become the accepted date representing the anniversary of the Katrina disaster in New Orleans, as well as the rest of the Gulf Coast. The blogs, the press, the networks are alive with the rediscovery of the fact that hundreds of thousands, of the orginal estimated 1 million displaced, are still in limbo:
As of April, the last time such figures were compiled, there were still 750,000 displaced by Katrina and the two hurricanes that followed, Rita and Wilma, according to Bob Howard, communications director for the Washington-based Red Cross Hurricane Recovery Programme.
And of course, there are the apparently bottomless scandals and exposures of incompetence. Katrina was not just a New Orleans tragedy, but my personal experience was with NOLA. I sat in helpless horror in front of the television day after day, and read seemingly endless reports of the spiraling ante of deaths, horrors and bureaucratic ineptitude. My posting at that time here, on Corrente, and The American Street, was as much an attempt to make sense of the thing as it was to gather and transmit information, but the more I posted, the less sense it made. Clearly, what stands out most in my mind from that time was how George Bush played the fool for days while people died, then puffed out his chest and rejected international offers of aid, purely out of personal pride and vanity, until Condi slapped him around a little. We all know now how well he handled it on his own...just about as well as he handles everything else. (See Think Progess' excellent Katrina Timeline.)

It was my great good fortune to have an employer who gave its people a chance to volunteer our services to the Red Cross for disaster relief after it became apparent that this was not going to be any ordinary natural disaster (how much out of the ordinary wouldn't really come to light until many months afterward). In September we were notified that we would be released on civil leave to work up to 3 weeks on hurricane relief. I wrestled with the idea for a few days, then told my husband I wanted to go. He stared at me as if I was mad. A day or two later as we sat in the dark watching the images flicker past on the screen with tears rolling down our faces, he turned to me and said, "Go."

So I did.

The ensuing struggle to get enrolled as a volunteer that eventually led to my training and subsequent deployment took several weeks, but I was finally called up to serve, and took a flight out of Philadelphia on October 9, 2005. At the staging area in Baton Rouge I was in-processed and assigned to "Feeding", and the next day was sent to a volunteer shelter in Kenner, set up in a local gym, where for the next 3 weeks I served food from trucks to residents in the Jefferson and Orleans Parishes, and was one of the first Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicle teams to enter New Orleans.

On August 29, and for as long as it takes thereafter, I'll be re-posting the Katrina posts I made in the run-up to my deployment, and the diary I kept (identities will be protected) while working in NOLA. I'll also intersperse it with photos I shot while there. It's not great literature, just a sometimes mundane chronology of what I experienced, but it may offer some additional piece in the puzzle that understanding Katrina has become.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Leo and Lucy

Cat blogging, just because the rest of the news sucks very much, thank you.

These two may look exactly the same, but they're siblings, rescued by us when our daughter found them at 3 weeks old; bottle feedings and the whole enchilada. The pix are from Memorial Day, when it was so hot everyone in the house could do nothing but lay around.

This is Leo, our emotional basketcase--very needy, very moody, and so scared of thunderstorms that the mere threat of rain is enough to send him running into the house to hide under our bed. He's a better mouser than his sister, which is to say, not much of one:


And this is our little miracle, Lucy, who jumped out of our car about a mile from home and got hopelessly lost. We combed the area for weeks, calling, putting up flyers, cycling over and over the same terrain. One morning, after missing for a month, she appeared merping up a storm, and jumped into my arms. She's an adorable cat, who likes to get up on her hind legs and put her front paws in the air to beg or say high. Here she is in her favorite position:


There Really Is A Science Project In The Fridge

Pray that there's intelligent life somewhere up in space
Because there's bugger all down here on Earth.

See anonymoses' amazing post at The American Street for the inspiration for all this fol-de-rol.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Trouble in Paradise

I live in Montgomery County, right next to Philadelphia, PA, and I've been following the housing bubble with fascination, not the least reason which is that I rent. I come from a very small rural community in the Appalachian foothills of Western PA, and the only house I ever owned cost us $25,000 in 1984; the 20 year mortgage was just under $300 a month. We moved to Philly because one of us was out of work and the other was an underpaid self-made expert at a local non-profit, and when the offer came of a job paying little more than $26,000 a year--with health insurance--it was too good to pass up. So you see where I'm coming from.

Since then I've seen houses on my own street turn over within a month, at a third again what the previous owner had paid only a year before. I was in awe of where people were getting this kind of money...dropping a half a million without blinking an eye. Even eight years ago we looked at "starter homes" going for $180K, houses too small to squeeze an average family's weekly cheese purchase into, homes so poorly constructed and victims of so many years of poor maintenance and worse decorating that I thought I had been sucked into a time warp and returned to those thrilling days of shitkicker yesteryear, where there was painted tractor tire in every front yard and a zaftig black metal silhouette of a bent-over housewife beside every flower bed. Fast-forward, and houses we thought were overpriced in 1998 re-valued at twice or more what they had sold for. Speculators were buying up local properties and renting them.

And then came the summer of 2006.

From July 2006:

Today’s real estate market, by the numbers.

Key statistics on real estate markets in Pennsylvania, DC, Northern Virginia, and Suburban Maryland.

The chart below provides a snapshot of key real estate markets within the Corus service area, and shows how the market compares with the same time last year. Here are a few of our observations about these figures:

* In most markets, it takes more than twice as long to sell a home as it did last year.

* In the Delaware Valley, the number of active listings is 50% greater than last year; in the DC area, there are 2 to 3 times as many listings.

* The high inventory level is getting worse. Last month, the number of new listings hitting the market was 2 to 3 times the number of properties that went under contract.

* Home prices have held steady. With only the exception of Loudoun County, VA, average home prices are up between 1% and 11% in each of our markets.


From August 16

Home construction in the U.S. dropped last month to the lowest level in almost two years after higher mortgage rates slowed sales and left builders with bloated inventories.

Housing starts fell 2.5 percent, more than forecast, to an annual rate of 1.795 million, a Commerce Department report showed today. Building permits, a sign of future construction, declined 6.5 percent, the most since September 1999.

The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo's index of builder confidence fell plunged this month to the lowest level in 15 years. The Standard and Poor's 500 Homebuilding Index, made up of five of the largest U.S. builders, has fallen by more than a third this year, the second-worst performance among S&P 500 industry groups.

Horsham, Pennsylvania-based Toll Brothers Inc., the largest U.S. luxury homebuilder, said homebuilding revenue in the quarter ended in July fell for the first time in four years. The company, which will release its earnings on Aug. 22, may report lower profits for the first time since 2002.

"Nervous buyers are canceling contracts for homes already under construction," Robert Toll, the builder's chairman and chief executive officer, said on a conference call with analysts and investors on Aug. 9. The downturn "appears as though it will last for at least six months more, or it could last for two years more."

Homebuyer affordability declined in June to the lowest level since record-keeping began in 1989, according to the National Association of Realtors. The median price kept rising and mortgage rates increased.

From August 19
In Las Vegas, at least three major condo projects backed by high-wattage investors such as George Clooney, Michael Jordan and Ivana Trump have been put on hold. Developers also have deep-sixed major complexes in Philadelphia and Miami.

And then, we have this:

Notable Homes: Villanova, PA (July 2006)
A (very) high end property on the Main Line

This home, currently under construction, is the most expensive home currently listed in Montgomery County, PA.

For Sale: 610 N Spring Mill Rd, Villanova, PA. $12,500,000.

Even in the most expensive areas of the Delaware Valley, we don’t see too many homes in this price range. This new home promises to set a new standard for high end properties in the area. Even if this isn’t exactly in your price range, it’s interesting to see what’s possible.


This home is located on Spring Mill Road in the “Estate District” of the Main Line. It is currently in its early stages of planning and construction. When complete, this home will have approximately 20,000 square feet of living space in 4 acres. It has 7 bedrooms, 9 full baths, and 2 half baths. Amenities include a squash court, tennis court, pool, formal gardens, a multi-car garage. The home also includes a ballroom and screening room.
Words fail me.

Medusas Wild

Josh Friedman, a Hollywood writer who was in on Snakes on a Plane from the git-go, has one of the most entertaining blogs around, though illness and other issues have made his posts irregular. Currently he is holding forth in solidarity with his fellows over the writer's strike against America's Top Model, and shaming Tyra Banks, the show's anchoring fantoccina, for failing to step up and support them. Here's part of the rant, from his latest episode, Snakes on a Motherfucking Catwalk, Part 2:
You're morally obligated to speak up. And you know what? I don't even care if you disagree with what they're doing. Stand up and SAY THAT. At least have the courage of your convictions.

I can't imagine the size of the Mrs. Beasley's muffin basket you sent to Mel Gibson thanking him for getting your name out of the trades for a little while. And yeah, sure, being a drunken bigot's a little rougher than being the postermodel for the Reality Sweatshop Movement, but at least that motherfucker knows how to make a strong choice and COMMIT TO THE MOMENT. He's like some fantastic Stanislavsky/Martin Boorman love child conjuring sense memories from his Holocaust-denying father while staggering Kurtz-like through Malibu waiting for Leni Refenstahl to yell cut and fix it all in post.

But I digress. The point is, at least Mel cares enough to call.
So while we're on the subject---snakes:
And here:
And here:

Open Letter to Commenters at The Lex Files

Because the comments at Lex's blog at the Greensboro, NC News & Record don't seem to allow too many links, I've posted this to verify my response to commenters there. First the comments:
The government vigorously investigated and prosecuted Passaro to hold him responsible for his illegal personal acts. His actions were in direct violation of his contract, CIA standing orders, our government's policies, and the law. He was found guilty and I believe he deserved it.
Passaro was the problem, not the government. I doubt seriously that he was a perfectly normal person before going to work under contract to the government and then miraculously changed overnight because of his work for the government. If a city worker commits a crime while on duty we don't lynch the mayor. If we did, we'd have a new one every day!
Liberals have a nasty habit of holding no one personally responsible for their actions, instead blaming it all on "the government." I don't think the facts revealed in court during this case support that position here. Passaro was a bad apple, and our government firmly hauled him in to account for his crimes.

Posted by: jaycee at August 18, 2006 04:26 PM

The government vigorously investigated and prosecuted Passaro to hold him responsible for his illegal personal acts.
Riggsveda's point was that the prosecution actually wasn't all that vigorous.
Passaro was the problem, not the government.
Given the government's unseemly eagerness to torture, that statement is simply laughable.
Liberals have a nasty habit of holding no one personally responsible for their actions, instead blaming it all on "the government."
Talk about your non sequitur. Riggsveda was saying that the government AND Passaro should be held accountable, not that the government should be held accountable INSTEAD of Passaro. She also was saying that Passaro got off light.
And given your protestations in light of the fact that two federal courts have now pretty much accused the president directly of breaking U.S. (NSA case) and international (Hamdan case) law, your implication that only conservatives value "personal responsibility" is, to be polite, amusing.

Posted by: Lex at August 18, 2006 04:32 PM

Lex, to date NO CASE has been made that the US government ordered, condoned, or sanctioned any torture of any kind as defined by legal authority. NONE.
Each and every case has been proven to be an illegal act committed by an individual in disobeyance of his/her orders, policies, guidelines, and the law.
Again, if a sanitation worker commits a crime while at work, does that mean the city government is guilty of the crime or ordered the employee to commit it?
I'm sorry you hate our government, but don't blame it for the individual criminal acts of it's employees.

Posted by: jaycee at August 18, 2006 07:25 PM

Enough of this excuse-mongering. Even as Bush lied to our faces that "we don't do torture", he was establishing the groundwork for a methodic approach to detentions and interrogations that connected the FBI, CIA, and Armed Forces and became SOP. And putting untrained people in charge of detainees for questioning, and leaving prisoners at battle frontlines rather than immediately removing them as is required, was, if not a deliberate part of it, at least enabling by omission.

Don Rumsfeld not only knew about it, but signed off on the techniques.

Bush and Cheney used the legal contortions of John Bybee, Alberto Gonzales and John Yoo to get away with it. In fact, Bush was so innocent of knowledge that, as reported in Ron Suskind's The One Per Cent Doctrine, he asked eagerly about a briefer's torture report, "Do some of these harsh methods really work?"

The memo of Alberto J. Mora, a conservative Republican and the outgoing general counsel of the United States Navy is even more damning:
Mora’s memo, however, shows that almost from the start of the Administration’s war on terror the White House, the Justice Department, and the Department of Defense, intent upon having greater flexibility, charted a legally questionable course despite sustained objections from some of its own lawyers.
These incidents are policy. They are not isolated, not unapproved, and for every one we find out about because it couldn’t be adequately concealed, there are probably hundreds more. Far from making the US safer, they do nothing but make more enemies for us, and at the same time, coarsen and harden us to any possibility of empathy or diplomacy. This is not the country I believe in. Making excuses for the men who are destroying it from the inside does not help us regain our morality. Calling them to account and stopping them from dragging us all down with them does not, in my books, mean hating one's country. On the contrary, it often seems the only ones left who truly do care about our nation are the ones willing to stand up to these power-mad maniacs who constantly pose as our saviors.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Emerging Face of America

I can't put the image out of my head: the Afghani man whose name showed up on a terrorist list, encouraged by the governor of the province to go to the Americans and clear his name. When the man expressed his concerns, the stories of American torture, the governor dismissed them and offered to send his son along. At the American base, the man, Abdul Wali, met the incarnation of his fear--the thing that would murder him--and never returned. His suffering went on for days. No one heard, or cared. No one cares much even now.

After nearly half a day, the story made it to the virtual front page of the NYTimes:
A North Carolina jury today convicted a former Central Intelligence Agency contractor of felony assault for severely beating an Afghan prisoner who died soon after.

The contractor, David A. Passaro, 40, a former Army Special Forces medic who went to work for the C.I.A. in Afghanistan in 2003, is the first civilian to be convicted as a result of numerous allegations of prisoner abuse in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and in the broader campaign against terrorism. He faces a maximum of 11½ years in prison.

The trial, in federal court in Raleigh, N.C., near Mr. Passaro’s town of Lillington, included testimony from clandestine C.I.A. officers who wore disguises to protect their identities, and it drew close attention from human rights advocates.

Witnesses said Mr. Passaro repeatedly hit Abdul Wali, a local farmer suspected of firing rockets at American troops, using a heavy flashlight and his fists. They said Mr. Wali was in such pain that he pleaded to be shot, and he died the day after a second day of abuse by Mr. Passaro.
One of the many obtuse defenses mounted by Passaro's legal team was this:
Mr. Passaro’s lawyers said he was not trained in interrogation and was under pressure to stop the frequent rocket attacks at the remote base near the Pakistan border. They said Mr. Passaro had attempted mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on Mr. Wali after he lost consciousness.
So a man who had been a police officer, who was trained as a medic, with a history of violence and sadistic behavior, was simply clueless as to the effect he was having when he kicked the prisoner in the groin so hard he flew into the air (hard enough to rupture his intestines or fracture his pelvis and render him unable to urinate), or when he repeatedly smashed him with a 2 foot long metal flashlight as he was chained to the floor, and all of it done with an eye to causing the minimum detectable damage (woman- and child-beaters are especially good at causing excruciating pain and debilitation where it can't be seen.) For 2 days. While Wali begged to be killed.

Let's look at exactly what Passaro's "training" consisted of.

A year before the trial, he was arrested for attacking his girlfriend:
David Passaro, 38, is charged with assault on a female, injury to personal property and misdemeanor larceny.

U.S. Marshals also detained Passaro on a federal warrant of violating the conditions of his pretrial release.

Harnett County Sheriff's deputies responded to a domestic dispute report at Passaro's Lillington home Thursday afternoon and met his girlfriend, Bonnie Heart, at a neighbor's residence.

Heart, a former Wake Forest police detective, told deputies that Passaro threw her into a hallway and pushed her into a door and a glass storm door during an argument over some phone calls.

Heart also alleged that Passaro threw her cell phone and other property into the yard and pulled earrings from her ears and threw them into a trashcan as she was trying to drive off, authorities said.
Back in March of this year, the judge let him out to prepare a defense in the upcoming trial under this condition:
Boyle ordered Passaro to post a Lillington property as bond, wear an electronic monitor and not to have any contact with his ex-girlfriend, ex-wife, and child.
Why? Because:
Prosecutors said in court documents made public Tuesday that they want Passaro's stepson, 26-year-old Matthew Michael Newman, to testify about how Passaro beat him until he was a teenager. It will be up to a judge to decide whether Newman, his mother and his sister can testify about childhood abuse.

Prosecutors argue that Passaro's prior conduct with his stepson will help prove to the jury that the former Green Beret knew what he was doing when he used a flashlight to beat Wali during an interrogation.
He knew what he was doing because he used his stepson as training bait:
Prosecutors detailed the similarities between how Newman says Passaro beat him and how Passaro is charged with beating Wali.

Newman, a former Marine, told federal officials that Passaro would interrogate him about minor household mishaps from a spill to a damaged screen door. Newman says Passaro would beat him with a stick wrapped in cloth to avoid leaving marks on his body. Newman says Passaro also would beat him with a spoon, a hammer and a flashlight on the elbows, upper arms, legs and outer thighs -- locations that lessen the likelihood of leaving marks, prosecutors say.

Passaro also demonstrated to Newman the technique of shining a flashlight to temporarily blind a person and then striking him with the flashlight. On one occasion, Newman says Passaro ordered him to use the technique on a child who had stolen Newman's candy.
A real specimen of American manhood--an ex-cop, complete with a scared ex-wife, a record of assaulting a neighbor, and the usual cast of dopey bystanders who thought he was "a real nice guy".

So the convictions weren't as stiff as they could have been:
After about eight hours of deliberations, a federal jury found Passaro guilty of three counts of simple assault and one count of assault resulting in serious bodily injury, lesser charges than prosecutors had sought. He faces up to 11 1/2 years in prison, and no sentencing date was immediately set.
Originally he had been charged with 2 counts of assault with a dangerous weapon with intent of bodily harm, and 2 counts of assault resulting in serious bodily injury, facing up to 40 years in jail and a million dollar fine. What happened? It looks from here like a failure of will:
Justice Department officials have said one obstacle to more severe charges was the absence of an autopsy, which they said was not performed on Mr. Wali because his family opposed it.
Absence of an autopsy? Prosecutors didn't even need a body to convict Tom Capano of murder:
In a crime that had no body, no gun and no witnesses, Capano was convicted of shooting Fahey, 30, the scheduling secretary to then-Gov. Tom Carper, because she was breaking off a secret affair with him. Capano dumped her body in the Atlantic off Stone Harbor. She was last seen alive dining with Capano in an Old City restaurant.
The difference between the Capano case and Passaro's is this: witnesses observed the injuries, listened to Passaro bragging about what he did, and actually watched him in action. There were pictures of Wali's body. In Capano's case, there was none of that.

So they found him guilty of one felony count of assault, and 3 misdemeanors.

Here's a misdemeanor:
A North New Portland woman accused of helping her daughter make cookies laced with the laxative Ex-Lax appeared before a judge Monday and pleaded innocent to a single charge of misdemeanor assault.
But Passaro should be used to misdemeanor assault charges. It's the typical charge brought against abusive men in DV cases, when they're charged at all. It's a big ho-hum. He can do it standing on his head.

Now, since the unimaginative gentlemen prosecuting this case failed to bring murder charges, let's look at a charge they could have brought, and in keeping with the whole war on terrorism agenda so dear to Bushco:

Violation of TITLE 18 > PART I > CHAPTER 113B >
§ 2332b.

Acts of terrorism transcending national boundaries

(a) Prohibited Acts.—
(1) Offenses.— Whoever, involving conduct transcending national boundaries and in a circumstance described in subsection (b)—

(A) kills, kidnaps, maims, commits an assault resulting in serious bodily injury, or assaults with a dangerous weapon any person within the United States
; or
(B) creates a substantial risk of serious bodily injury to any other person by destroying or damaging any structure, conveyance, or other real or personal property within the United
States or by attempting or conspiring to destroy or damage any structure, conveyance, or other real or personal property within the United States; in violation of the laws of any State, or the United States, shall be punished as prescribed in subsection (c).
(2) Treatment of threats, attempts and conspiracies.— Whoever threatens to commit an offense under paragraph (1), or attempts or conspires to do so, shall be punished under subsection (c).

(b) Jurisdictional Bases.—
(1) Circumstances.— The circumstances referred to in subsection (a) are—

(D) the structure, conveyance, or other real or personal property is, in whole or in part, owned, possessed, or leased to the United States, or any department or agency of the United States;
(E) the offense is committed in the territorial sea (including the airspace above and the seabed and subsoil below, and artificial islands and fixed structures erected thereon) of the United States; or
(F) the offense is committed within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States.

(c) Penalties.—
(1) Penalties.— Whoever violates this section shall be punished—
(A) for a killing, or if death results to any person from any other conduct prohibited by this section, by death, or by imprisonment for any term of years or for life
(B) for kidnapping, by imprisonment for any term of years or for life;
(C) for maiming, by imprisonment for not more than 35 years;
(D) for assault with a dangerous weapon or assault resulting in serious bodily injury, by imprisonment for not more than 30 years;

(2) Consecutive sentence.— Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the court shall not place on probation any person convicted of a violation of this section; nor shall the term of imprisonment imposed under this section run concurrently with any other term of imprisonment.

People think this man has been railroaded; scapegoated; used as a distraction from other, worse things, and he probably has. But he threw up a bullshit pretense of protecting my country and used the example set by the loathesome fungii in the White House to cover up his longstanding cruelty and sadism, and he needs to be held to account.

This shabby excuse for a trial doesn't even come close.

(Post was altered on 8/18/06 to emphasize specific clauses of the above statute.)

Monday, August 14, 2006

Why On This Night...?

The one and only Chuck Taggart links to Justin Lundgren, who proposes a ritual dinner for NOLA refugees:
How powerful would it be if every New Orleanian currently living in Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, and every other town across the country, sat down at the same time to recognize the losses of the last year and to reaffirm their connection to the city? And how great would it be if this ritual centered around the favorite activity of every homegrown New Orleanian, eating? The entire New Orleans diaspora could sit down simultaneously, fork in hand, to tell the world that this was a special place, a special community, one worth fighting to restore.
Amen. I was only a New Orleanian for a month, but my heart is still down there. In solidarity with the folks, I plan to do the same (and ironically, I'll be away from home, too.)

Sunday, August 13, 2006

It Works the Same Way in Any Country

DISSENT_TERRORISMSo Dick Cheney thinks Ned Lamont---elected democratically by a majority of voters reflecting the American majority opinion about the Iraq war---helps al-Qaeda types.

And Bill Kristol is right up Cheney's ass with a big old "yass-SUH!"

And Fox's Bush house shill Cal Thomas is painting Lamont's victory as "the capture of the Democratic Party by its Taliban wing."

Where have we heard something like this before? How about here:
"Yeah, bin Laden urging people, essentially, to vote for Kerry." (What the tape actually said is here)
Or this:
"Does anyone truly doubt that Osama's video is little more than a crude, evil attempt to aid John Kerry's efforts to defeat President Bush?"
Or this:
"A vote for Kerry is a vote for European anti-Semitism. And terrorists. In Iraq...and Israel. It's a vote for Hamas and Hezbollah, Syria and Iran."
mob1.bmpBush and the far Right have been painting those who disagree with them as traitors, kooks, and fifth columnists ever since they stole the election in 2000, and every time it looks as though their hold on power is weakening they never hesitate to get out the Terror-Bait and all but call up the pitchforks and torches till they've scared the public back into line. Interestingly enough, Bush and the rest of his drones and Storm Troopers admitted the bin Laden tape helped him get re-elected, once the smear tactics no longer served any use, and never batted an eye at the turnabout. Talk about flip-flop. Goering would be proud. One wonders where today's McCarthy is? How can it have taken him so long to organize a dog-and-pony show?hermann_goering_4

Ron Suskind offered a look at bin Laden's intended impact in his description of how CIA experts viewed the tape when it was released in 2004. When it comes time to decide who is truly giving aid and comfort to the enemy, it would be worthwhile to remember that in 2004, it was Bush, not a liberal Democrat, whom bin Laden most likely saw as an ally in his war on the infidels. And that Bush himself well knew it.

In the final pages of The One Per Cent Doctrine, Suskind writes:
“As the sun began to set on Friday, October 29 (2004), they gathered on the seventh floor. The new that day was the so-called “October Surprise” broadcast by bin Laden. He hadn’t shown himself in nearly a year. But now, four days before the election, his spectral presence echoed into every American home. It was a surprisingly complete statement by the al Qaeda leader about his motivations, his actions, and his view of the current American landscape. He praised Allah and, through most of the eighteen minutes, attacked Bush, tapping diverse sources from Michael Moore’s movie Fahrenheit 9/11 to statements he’d made to CNN, Time magazine, various outlets of the mainstream media, much reviled by the administration, and interviews with liberal journalists. He mocked Bush for being stupid, and deceptive, and corrupted by big oil and big business entanglements, like those with Halliburton. At the end, he managed to be dismissive of Kerry, but it was an afterthought in his “anyone but Bush” treatise (snip)

Inside the CIA, of course, the analysis moved on a different track. They had spent years, as had a similar bin Laden unit at FBI, parsing each expressed word of the al-Qaeda leader and his deputy, Zawahiri. What they’d learned over nearly a decade is that bin Laden speaks only for strategic reasons---and those reasons are debated with often startling depth inside the organization’s leadership. Their assessments, at day’s end, are a distillate of the kind of secret, internal conversations that the American public, and by association the wider world community, were not sanctioned to hear: strategic analysis.

Today’s conclusion: bin Laden’s message was clearly designed to assist the President’s re-election.

At the five o’clock meeting, once various reports on the latest threats were delivered, (Deputy Director) John McLaughlin opened the issue with the consensus view: “Bin Laden certainly did a nice favor today for the President.”

Around the table there were nods. (snip) (Deputy Associate Director of Intelligence) Jami Miscik talked about how bin Laden---being challenged by Zarqawi’s rise---clearly understands how his primacy as al Qaeda’s leader was supported by the continuation of his eye-to-eye struggle with Bush. “Certainly,” she offered, “he would want Bush to keep doing what he’s doing for a few more years.”

But an ocean of hard truths before them---such as what did it say about U.S. policies that bin Laden would want Bush reelected---remained untouched. (snip)

Yet there were some who’d already arrived at this shoreline among those at the very top of the government. While CIA glimpsed at the issue of bin Laden’s motivations and turned away, there were those who understood just how acutely this heated, global dialogue---of ideas and message and the preservation of power, of us and them---was a mirror game, a two-way street. On that score, any number of NSC principals could tell you something so dizzying that not even they will touch it: that Bush’s ratings track with bin Laden’s ratings in the Arab world.

No one doubts that George W. Bush is earnest when he thinks of the victims of 9/11 and speaks of his longing to bring the culprits to justice. Yet he is an ambitious man, atop a nation of ambitious and complex desires, who knows that when the al Qaeda leader displays his forceful presence, his own approval ratings rise, and vice versa."
It is to our everlasting shame that we as a people became so morally and intellectually debased that we not only voted this man back into office, but continue to excuse his outrages. Only an election like that of Connecticutt's offers even a glimmer of hope tha we may be finding our way out of this darkness.

The Visage of War


Dali, 1940.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Bobo in Not-So-Paradise

Found via comments over at Political Animal, thanks to Maeven:

Her site, The Constant American, is well worth checking out.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Has The Whole Place Gone Mad?

mixednutlIs there not a single sane person left out there? How else do you explain this?
Today's Philadelphia Inquirer is reporting that instead of linking to the Arabic television news service Al-Jazeera's web site, US Senator Rick Santorum directed viewers of a commercial to a site operated by a Georgia based group interested in "promote cross-cultural understanding between people all over the world."

The commercial, part of Santorum's reelection effort, was in reference to an endorsement of his opponent, Bob Casey Jr.
Setting aside the ridiculous (and racist) linkage of a news organization to terrorism simply because it's mostly run by and for Arabs and Muslims, what the hell could have been running through Santorum's head when he approved this absurdity? Did he really think boring, conservative old Bob Casey was aiding and abetting terrorists? If he did, he's a bigger nutcase than I previously suspected, and should be immediately removed from office and placed on anti-psychotics. If he didn't, he's a liar, a hypocrite, and a cynically manipulative whore. In either case, how much more does Pennsylvania need to see to realize that this guy has turned us into a laughingstock, a stereotype of rubes and geezers who'll rally around anybody who screams abortion and terrorists while waving a flag? And of course, living up to his recent reputation for incompetence (evidently a prerequisite for the Bush administration and its minions) Rickie can't even get this low blow right:
Santorum referenced it himself Thursday on Fox's O'Reilly Factor.

But there was one little wrinkle.

The Web site was not related to the Arabic TV network based in the Middle East - spelled al-Jazeera, no h.

The goal of al-Jazeerah, according to its Web site, is to "promote cross-cultural understanding between people all over the world." It's based in Dalton, Ga., not Qatar...

Santorum's spokeswoman, Virginia Davis, said it doesn't make a difference. "We thought we should share these kind of sentiments."
Oh? What kind of sentiments are those, Ginny? Xenophobia? Ignorance? Racism? No, I guess it doesn't make a difference. Your man comes up looking either like a fool, a knave, or a mean-spirited moron, and he can count on the votes of like-minded loons. But I think this election year, saner heads will prevail.