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Archive for the ‘Federal Agencies’ Category

Supreme Conservatives Drag U.S. Ceaselessly into the (Jim Crow) Past

Wednesday, June 26th, 2013

ProtectVote

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“Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, dissenting opinionShelby County v. Holder

 
Re-Legalizing Electoral Racism; Red State Republicans ‘Free at Last’
 

June 25, 2013, will go down in infamy as the day when a radically conservative majority of the Supreme Court ripped the guts out of the historic protections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, “the crown jewel of the civil rights movement” that was so proudly signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Congressman John R. Lewis, who was beaten nearly to death by state troopers in the famous “Bloody Sunday” civil rights march in Selma, Alabama, in March 1965 (see photo below), declared the decision “a dagger in the heart” of the Voting Rights Act.

What the 5–4 decision, signed by Chief Justice John Roberts, does, nearly 50 years after its signing, is declare unconstitutional the single most important part of the Act (section 4), which identifies the states and counties that must submit to oversight (or preclearance) by the Justice Department before changing “any voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure with respect to voting” in any “covered jurisdiction.” In effect, the conservative majority struck down section 4 as a sneaky way of nullifying section 5, without actually ruling on the constitutionality of section 5. As the New York Times’s Adam Liptak explains:

The majority held that the coverage formula in Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, originally passed in 1965 and most recently updated by Congress in 1975, was unconstitutional. The section determined which states must receive clearance from the Justice Department or a federal court in Washington before they made minor changes to voting procedures, like moving a polling place, or major ones, like redrawing electoral districts. . . .

The decision did not strike down Section 5 [which sets out the preclearance requirement], but without Section 4, the later section is without significance—unless Congress passes a new bill for determining which states would be covered.

These jurisdictions that were required to seek preclearance include the very states—mostly in the Old Confederacy—that were the worst offenders against minorities seeking the right to vote. Indeed, it is no accident that it was Shelby County, Alabama—i.e., Birmingham—that brought the suit against the U.S. Justice Department. In the 1960s it was the Justice Department, very often backed up by the National Guard, that was on the front lines of protecting southern blacks against discrimination, vicious racism, and murder.

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In “An Assault on the Voting Rights Act,” the New York Times editorial board declared the decision “damaging and intellectually dishonest,” and that was just in the first sentence. In a Times op-ed, Richard L. Hasen, author of The Voting Wars: From Florida 2000 to the Next Election Meltdown, writes:

The court pretends it is not striking down the act but merely sending the law back to Congress for tweaking; it imagines that Congress forced its hand; and it fantasizes that voting discrimination in the South is a thing of the past. None of this is true.

In the Shelby decision, we see a somewhat more open version of a pattern that is characteristic of the Roberts court, in which the conservative justices tee up major constitutional issues for dramatic reversal. First the court wrecked campaign finance law in Citizens United. On Tuesday it took away a crown jewel of the civil rights movement. And as we saw in Monday’s Fisher case, affirmative action is next in line . . . 

John Roberts, who has long sought to weaken the Voting Rights Act, wrote in the majority opinion that because voter registration among black voters is higher than it was at the time the Voting Rights Act was passed, the protections afforded by the Act are no longer needed. (Click here for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s scathing dissent, in which she wrote, “Hubris is a fit word for today’s demolition of the VRA. . . . The court errs egregiously by overriding Congress’s decision” to reauthorize the Act.) As though mere registration is the same thing as actually being able to vote, or your vote actually being counted. Ask the citizens of counties in Florida and Ohio in the contested elections of 2000 and 2004, or those who were forced to wait in interminable lines in 2008, 2012. The New Yorker’s Amy Davidson points out:

Ginsburg quoted an F.B.I. investigation of Alabama legislators who referred to black voters as “Aborigines” and talked about how to keep them from the polls: “These conversations occurred not in the 1870’s, or even in the 1960’s, they took place in 2010.”

The United States Senate approved an extension of the law in 2006 by a  98–0 vote, and the House by a 390–33 vote; 33 Republicans (all white men, except one white woman, from North Carolina) voted against it. Former President George W. Bush, who nominated Roberts as chief justice, said many fine words about the importance of the Voting Rights Act in a ceremony at the White House. If you watch the videotape he sounds sincere; perhaps he was. Had the Voting Right’s Acts provisions been truly observed and enforced in the election of 2000, however—and had a similar 5–4 Supreme Court decision not ruled that Florida’s recounting of votes be stopped—George W. Bush would not have been in the White House.

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The Life You Save May Be Your Own Child’s

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012

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We see the efforts needed to reduce the slaughter of innocents (of all ages) as comprising three elements: gun control; expanded psychological services; and pressure on Hollywood and video game makers to dial down the ultraviolence.

Not only do the citizens of the United States have an obligation to call at least one elected official to press for reform of gun laws—the more restrictions the better, in our view—but we also have to push representatives to allocate much more generous funding for counseling and psychological services in schools, especially to troubled teenagers, as well as to veterans.

American gun owners possess one-third of all the guns on the planet.

Dave Cullen, author of a book on the Columbine, Colorado, school killing spree of 1999, appeared on The Rachel Maddow Show Friday night and outlined three psychological profiles that cover most of the shooters in mass killings such as Friday’s in Connecticut. Two studies by the FBI and by the Secret Service with the U.S. Department of Education find that there is no single profile; rather, three basic types are (1) individuals so insane they don’t realize what they are doing, as in the Virginia Tech shooting; (2) psychopaths who are rational but lack empathy; and (3) the most common of the profiles, the clinically depressed, including some 6 percent of adolescents. Gun control is not enough: psychological counseling must play a larger part. Conservatives, elected or otherwise, who rail against “Obamacare” are not helping the children—not being pro-life, if you like—because among the provisions of Affordable Care Act are programs to expand psychological counseling services.

And Hollywood! Go to any local cinema, and if not the film you’re going to see, then in the previews you’ll see enough gunfire and explosions to simulate the “shock and awe” of the opening days of the Iraq War. These “big guns” are primarily aimed at men, of course. We don’t see the attraction, but many males of the species—most of whom have never served in the military or gone to war—seem to derive an almost sexual thrill from the gunfire and explosions. Hollywood executives, producers, agents, actors—dial it down. If citizen activists want to give liberal, activist actors such as Brad Pitt or George Clooney a good, life-affirming cause to champion, one that is closer to home and where they’ll likely have considerable influence, press them to reject films that glorify shooting, torture, and general mayhem. The Aurora, Colorado, massacre (July 20, 2012) on the opening night of The Dark Knight Rises appeared to us depressingly unsurprising, given the violence enacted in that entertainment. Twelve killed, 58 injured.

Studies disagree on whether the graphic ultraviolence in video games causes their “players” to go ballistic and kill people, but we’re convinced that these “games” (Resident Evil; Left 4 Dead; Grand Theft Auto, ad nauseam) at least contribute to a culture of glorifying violence and, at the very least, not exactly encouraging reconciliation and diplomacy.

Once again proving herself one of the true adults in Congress, California senator Dianne Feinstein has announced on Meet the Press that she will introduce a bill (with a counterpart in the House) to ban assault weapons. Senator Feinstein has some experience with the damage guns can do: In 1978, when she was president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, she was the first to discover the assassinations of Mayor George Moscone and City Supervisor Harvey Milk, and it was Ms. Feinstein who made the first public announcement of the killings. Please phone your support by calling Senator Feinstein’s office (202-224-3841), the office of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (202-224-3542; e-mail <senator_reid@reid.senate.gov>), and the White House (202-456-1111 ). Click here for more on positive signs for Feinstein’s bill.

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Think of the children most precious to you—your own daughter, a nephew, a neighbor’s or church friend’s cute twins—and then imagine Wayne LaPierre, CEO, executive vice president and chief political strategist of the National Rifle Association, or conservative members of Congress telling you that their lives are worth less than Americans’ second Amendment liberties. NRA president David A. Keene wrote after President Obama’s reelection, “We have to be prepared to fight him on each front, rally friendly elected officials, persuade those in the middle and let all of them know that gun owners will not stand idly by as our constitutional rights are stripped from us.” What would you tell them? Package that indignation and aim it constructively at your mayor, the president, and members of Congress who will listen and act.

There is a long and outrageous history of Republican opposition to any gun control measures, even after massacres. Unfortunately, Democrats have not been much more helpful, at least not in substantial, concentrated numbers. “Pro-life” conservatives love to say “protect life,” “protect the innocents,” but their concern often seems limited to one issue only, which makes us suspect their true intentions. Rep. Barney Frank used to say that for Republicans, life begins at conception and ends at birth. Now is a chance for Republicans to prove him wrong, if they can, if they will.

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Further Reading

A Guide to Mass Shootings in America (Mother Jones)

A 30-year timeline of mass shootings, with photos of the killers (Mother Jones)

A Morally Serious Videogame about Guns and Violence (Political Animal @ Washington Monthly)

Facts Behind the Tragedies (Political Animal @ Washington Monthly)

New York Times coverage of the Newtown, Connecticut, massacre

Nicholas Kristof (NYT): Do We Have the Courage to Stop This?

Mass Shootings: Maybe What We Need Is a Better Mental-Health Policy (Mother Jones)

 

 



Happy Thanksgiving to You: Much to Be Grateful For

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving! We hope you and your friends and family have much to be thankful for this year, and that you’re able to spend the day with people you love. We wish you a festive gathering over a Thanksgiving dinner with good food and drink, and happy memories of the day.

Among the things we’re grateful for is the massive, energetic volunteerism by hundreds of thousands of people of all ages and backgrounds all over the USA to re-elect President Obama (more about this in a post to come) and to elect liberal and progressive Democrats to Congress, including many women. This engagement by young and old shows the power of the people—“citizens united” indeed—over big-dollar corporate influence, and we trust it will result in some good legislation, and defense against bad bills.

Just weeks after Superstorm Sandy battered the East Coast, we are thankful for a president whose administration is responsive to natural disasters (and proactive in preparing, too). We know from all-too-bitter experience that it doesn’t always happen this way. Proving that government can be a force for the public good—and that taxpayers’ dollars can help here at home—FEMA, the Army Corps of Engineers, the National Guard and other agencies have been helping New Jersey, New York, and other areas rebuild from Sandy. We are also grateful to the many good-hearted volunteers who have contributed money and supplies and their own muscle to help people whose homes were destroyed or damaged.

Please consider making a donation to the Red Cross today. Click here or phone 1-800-HELPNOW or text “RedCross” to 90999. Even $5 or $10 can help buy food, water, bandages, batteries, blankets, and other necessities. Thank you.

We are also grateful, and relieved, that Israel and Hamas in Gaza have agreed to a cease-fire (thanks to persuasive intervention by President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi). We pray it lasts and that peacemakers may prevail (esp. in the proximity of already-burning Syria). For more about this situation and other Middle East affairs we recommend Prof. Juan Cole’s blog Informed Comment.

Showing Thanks to Veterans

Today, and so soon after Veterans Day, we don’t want to forget the millions of active-duty troops and the veterans who have fought in the wars since 2001. We opposed the second war and the prolongation of the first, but nevertheless we believe all the servicemen and women deserve good training, equipment, and excellent health care (physical and psychological) during and after their tours of duty. They deserve lifelong care.

This morning we did what we meant to do on Veterans Day: Donated again to the Iraq Veterans Against the War and to the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). These organizations do good work and deserve the support of millions of civilians on whose behalf these veterans have served, risking their lives. If each one of us gives just $25—or even 10 or 20—that money can go a long way to helping veterans in need. Among other things, the groups are pressuring the shamefully tardy Veterans Administration and the U.S. Congress that funds it to move faster on processing veterans’ applications for health care. (See IAVA statement here.) The backlog is approaching 1 million claims, and many vets have to wait a year or more just to hear if they’re going to get help or not. Many members of Congress love to vote for wars; they just never want to pay for them.

See our blogroll, bottom right, under “Anti-War,” for links to IAVA, IVAW, and other organizations that work for veterans and their families. If you can, please make a contribution today.

Thanks.

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Thanks and Homage to President John F. Kennedy

One last thing: We cannot let the convergence of 11/22 and Thanksgiving go by without paying homage to one of our most admired presidents, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, who was slain on this day 49 years ago in Dallas. We are not referring to the “glamour” of the “Camelot” mythology, but rather to the president’s strong insistence on working for peace, for finding diplomatic solutions to crises whenever possible—the Cuban Missile Crisis is the example par excellence—and his (admittedly cautious) support for civil rights, among other deeds to be thankful for. Did we miss something, or were there not any commemorations, in print or elsewhere, of the successful averting of nuclear war in the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962), whose 50th anniversary passed this October?

Below are a few words from his great commencement address at American University in June 1963, perhaps his clearest evocation of America’s responsibility and opportunity to set an example toward a more peaceful coexistence with the nations of this fragile planet:

What kind of peace do I mean? What kind of peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, the kind that enables men and nations to grow and to hope and to build a better life for their children—not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women—not merely peace in our time but peace for all time. . . . 

Today the expenditure of billions of dollars every year on weapons acquired for the purpose of making sure we never need to use them is essential to keeping the peace. But surely the acquisition of such idle stockpiles—which can only destroy and never create–is not the only, much less the most efficient, means of assuring peace. 

I speak of peace, therefore, as the necessary rational end of rational men. I realize that the pursuit of peace is not as dramatic as the pursuit of war—and frequently the words of the pursuer fall on deaf ears. But we have no more urgent task. . . . 

So, let us not be blind to our differences—but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal. . . . 

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See last year’s tribute to President Kennedy here.

For a generous sampling of President Kennedy’s speeches, we recommend the book + CD Let Every Nation Know: John F. Kennedy in His Own Words by Robert Dallek and Terry Golway (2006). Each of 34 speeches is introduced, but transcripts are not provided. For transcripts, see the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum, under the tab “JFK.”

We highly recommend James W. Douglass’s JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters (2010), with special emphasis on his often behind-the-scenes efforts toward peace.

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Ask Not “Why Live There?”—Ask “How Can I Help?”

Saturday, November 3rd, 2012

[ cross-posted at Daily Kos ]

Please Give to Red Cross

We just made a donation to the American Red Cross. We’re asking all our readers to please make a donation if you can. Click here or phone 1-800-HELPNOW or text “RedCross” to 90999. Even $5 or $10 can help buy food, water, bandages, batteries, blankets, and other necessities for people hit hard by Hurricane Sandy. Thank you.

Click here and here for lists of volunteer opportunities and relief efforts that could use your help. Merci.

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Ask “How did you do?” and “How can I Help?”

Who can forget the question asked repeatedly after Hurricane Katrina, “Why do they live there?” The question was usually spoken with a tone of contempt or exasperation, and without sympathy, perhaps out of impatience after days of seeing “those people”—poor, forlorn—on TV screens where faces of “that complexion” were rarely seen. Maybe it was a Fox News–type of question. If those people just had sense enough to evacuate . . .

Now the same can be asked of those who live—as we do—in the largest, most densely populated metropolitan area in the United States, along the heavily populated upper Atlantic Seaboard. “Why do they live there?” is a fair question, as long as it’s not asked with contempt, without compassion. It could be asked as well of those who live in other at-risk areas such as Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area, the Netherlands, or low-lying coastal areas of India, Bangladesh, and so on. It can also be asked of people in Tornado Alley in the central United States. Just about every spot on earth has its hazards, as we know.

The fact is, for very logical, practical reasons, humans have always tended to live near water. And, though it may seem strange, water often tends to be near coastal areas, which are sometimes prone to high tides, severe storms, and worse. (Inland people, too, can be flooded: Just ask Cairo, Ill., Memphis, Vicksburg . . .) On Wednesday Rachel Maddow showed a map identifying the population centers along the coasts of the United States: some 63 million residents, amounting to one-fifth of the U.S. population. Nineteen million in and around New York City, nearly 13 million in metro Los Angeles, and millions more in and around New Orleans, Miami, Tampa, Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, and so on. Is “Why do they live there?”—in the sense of “How could they be so stupid?”—a reasonable question of all these people?

In a letter to the editor of the New York Times printed Nov. 1, Suzette Marie Smith of New Orleans wrote:

We could not have said it better. We hope everyone will take Ms. Smith’s lesson to heart. Have compassion for your fellow Americans. We live in a time of extreme weather in all forms, and, though we hope not, next time it could be you, whether you live on a coast or in the middle.

Click “Read More” for dramatic photos of what Sandy left behind

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Hurricane Isaac and Tampa’s Blizzard of Lies

Monday, September 3rd, 2012

What Would Romney-Ryan Mean for FEMA and Infrastructure?

[ cross-posted at DailyKos ]

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“One of the themes of the Tampa convention will be the failure of government, and the prosperity that will result if it is cut to ribbons. But in a different corner of the television screen, the winds of Isaac are a reminder of the necessity of government—its labor, its expertise, its money—in the nation’s most dire moments. It is hard to forget what happened to New Orleans when that Republican philosophy was followed in 2005, and it will be harder still to explain how it might be allowed to happen again.” —“The Storm, Again,” NYT editorial, Aug. 27, 2012

“We have responsibilities, one to another—we do not each face the world alone. And the greatest of all responsibilities, is that of the strong to protect the weak. The truest measure of any society is how it treats those who cannot defend or care for themselves.” —vice presidential nominee Paul D. Ryan, acceptance speech, Republican National Convention, Tampa, Aug. 29, 2012

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If Hurricane Katrina was indeed divine retribution for abortions and tolerance of homosexuality, then how are we to understand God’s twice visiting strong hurricanes upon the U.S. at the exact moment when the Republican National Convention gathers to nominate its presidential candidate, with Gustav in 2008 and now with Isaac, which made landfall on the Gulf Coast on August 29, the exact 7-year anniversary of Katrina? (Rush Limbaugh has a suspicion.)

Far be it from us to question the wisdom of the true believers, but it’s our view that if hurricanes must come at all, it’s best they blow when the elephants are gathering at the water hole—preferably in Florida, or some other red coastal state. Let the screen be split. Let the images be juxtaposed. Let the nation never forget how the Republican way of governing—staffing disaster relief agencies with inexperienced cronies and then cutting funds—resulted in the disastrous response to Hurricane Katrina: immeasurable death, destruction, anguish, financial ruin and impoverishment, dispersal, heartbreak . . . (To be sure, however, blame rests with both parties for the chronic underfunding of the Army Corps of Engineers that left the city’s levees and outflow canals’ floodwalls compromised.)

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), established by President Jimmy Carter in 1979 at the persistent urging of state governors, only functions well when Democrats are in the White House. Democrats take governing and disaster management seriously, and Republicans do not. Bill Clinton’s FEMA director James Lee Witt (1993–2001) and the present director, W. Craig Fugate, are widely respected as disaster response professionals. In Disaster: Hurricane Katrina and the Failure of Homeland Security (2006), Chris Cooper and Bobby Block survey the sad story of Republican disregard for disaster relief. FEMA’s tardy and disorganized response to Hurricane Andrew (shown above) in August 1992 likely cost President George H. W. Bush many votes in Florida, and beyond. Bill Clinton wrote in My Life (2004):

Traditionally, the job of FEMA director was given to a political supporter of the President who wanted some plum position but who had no experience with emergencies. I made a mental note to avoid that mistake if I won. Voters don’t chose a President based on how he’ll handle disasters, but if they’re faced with one themselves, it quickly becomes the most important issue in their lives.

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More Tax Cuts for the Rich, While Disaster Relief Is Held Hostage?

Five, six days after the storm, the lights are just coming back on in Mid-City and other parts of New Orleans. It’s 93 degrees, and thousands are still in the dark, without air conditioning.

While Hurricane Isaac was not as destructive as we feared—the reinforced floodwall system around greater New Orleans held up well—this storm’s timing was a reminder that there is one political party that is not to be trusted with disaster management, or with anything else relating to the social safety net. Mitt Romney’s economic plan would reduce non-discretionary spending by 30 percent.

Others have examined the falsehoods in Paul Ryan’s v.p. nomination acceptance speech and the overall dishonesty of the RNC show in Tampa (see here and here). Many have objected to the Republicans’ hypocrisy in blaming a president for failures ensured by their own blocking of every effort at repairing the economy. They filibustered or voted No on all potential remedies to make the public reject Obama. Many independents as well as Democrats and moderate Republicans are put off by the Mad Tea Party–style conservatives’ insistence that nothing good can come of government.

Many of the lies and evasions that concern us most, however, stem from the GOP’s hostility to spending taxpayers’ dollars on programs of direct help to the public, from Medicare and Social Security to FEMA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which includes the National Hurricane Center and the National Weather Service.

Paul Ryan sounds reassuring when he says, “The truest measure of any society is how it treats those who cannot defend or care for themselves,” but the budgets he has put forth as chair of the House Budget Committee tell another story: You’re on your own.

Tim Murphy of Mother Jones in “What Would Romney-Ryan Mean for FEMA?” surveys the implications for disaster relief in the Ryan budgets—the same ones that would convert Medicare to a privatized “Vouchercare.” Murphy notes that the Ryan budget does not detail specific cuts (just as Mitt Romney avoids specifics), but “the overall math suggests that [the cuts] would be drastic.” In 2011 there were 14 disasters costing over $1 billion in damages, a record high, and with the intensifying climate change that the Republicans refuse to acknowledge, the disasters’ frequency and destructiveness are only going to get worse.

Murphy writes:

“. . . under a Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan administration, FEMA’s ability to respond quickly and effectively to natural disasters could be severely inhibited. In a 2012 report on Rep. Paul Ryan’s ‘Path to Prosperity’ roadmap (which Romney has said is similar to his own), the non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities noted that, due to the severe cuts to non-entitlement, non-defense spending, the costs for things like emergency management would have to be passed on to the states—which, with just a few exceptions, are currently in an even tighter financial bind than Washington.

“FEMA also helps states and local governments repair or replace public facilities and infrastructure, which often is not insured,” the CBPP report explained. ‘This form of discretionary federal aid would be subject to cuts under the Ryan budget. If it were scaled back substantially, states and localities would need to bear a larger share of the costs of disaster response and recovery, or attempt to make do with less during difficult times.’ ”

Pat Garofalo at ThinkProgress describes how Republicans held disaster relief funding hostage several times in 2011, demanding that funding be offset by cuts elsewhere in the budget. “The GOP pulled the same trick when Missouri was hit by a deadly tornado in May, when Virginia was affected by an earthquake, and when Hurricane Irene struck America’s east coast.” Garofalo quotes David Weigel at Slate:

According to the House Appropriation Committee’s summary of the bill, the [GOP’s 2011 continuing resolution] funds Operations, Research and Facilities for the National Oceanic Atmospheric Association with $454.3 million less than it got in FY2010; this represents a $450.3 million cut from what the president’s never-passed FY2011 budget was requesting. The National Weather Service, of course, is part of NOAA—its funding drops by $126 million. The CR also reduces funding for FEMA management by $24.3 million off of the FY2010 budget, and reduces that appropriation by $783.3 million for FEMA state and local programs.

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We won’t pretend to interpret divine intentions in the timing of the recent hurricanes and other disasters, but we can be thankful for the opportunity to point out to the concerned public that there is one slate of candidates who will not be there for you when a tornado rips through your town, or an earthquake splits your streets. We won’t say (though others may) that natural disasters are God’s way of saying “Vote Democratic,” but don’t you want to be on the safe side?

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Photo credits: Hurricane Andrew (1992) by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); downed stop light in New Orleans (2012) by Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images.



“We Cannot Fail to Try”

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

A Break from “Hell No You Can’t”

”We are not here to curse the darkness, but to light the candle that can guide us through that darkness to a safe and sane future.” John F. Kennedy, July 15, 1960

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Every year about this time we set aside our JFK assassination conspiracy books and turn to some of the late president’s classic speeches (written in collaboration with Theodore C. Sorenson, his gifted counselor and speechwriter who died about this time last year).

There are many gems to choose from, such as the acceptance speech at the 1960 Democratic National Convention, the beautiful 1961 inaugural address that ranks (as he meant it to) with Lincoln’s and FDR’s, the great call for peace at American University in June 1963, or his televised address to the nation that same month to announce his proposed civil rights bill.

“The New Frontier Is Here”

Last year on the anniversary of his assassination we quoted from the great commencement address at American University in which President Kennedy called for an end to the Cold War and the arms race. This year we present some excerpts from his 1960 nomination acceptance, better known as the “New Frontier speech,” where then Senator Kennedy spoke to an outdoor crowd of 80,000 at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

We were pointed to the New Frontier speech by rereading a column by Bob Herbert titled “A Gift from Long Ago” published in the New York Times last November (Herbert is now a distinguished senior fellow at the progressive think tank Demos). After enduring this long and disspiriting year of political impotence, seige warfare, and hostage-taking by well-paid representatives in Congress peddling more tax cuts for the rich and more austerity for everyone else, what appealed to us was Herbert’s argument that “Kennedy’s greatest gift was his capacity to inspire.” So, first, some quotations from “A Gift from Long Ago,” and then selections from the New Frontier speech.

Bob Herbert, “A Gift from Long Ago”
“Kennedy declared that we would go to the moon. Chris Christie tells us that we are incapable of building a railroad tunnel beneath the Hudson River.”

Kennedy’s great gift was his capacity to inspire. His message as he traveled the country was that Americans could do better, that great things were undeniably possible, that obstacles were challenges to be overcome with hard work and sacrifice.

I don’t think he would have known what to make of the America of today, where the messages coming from the smoldering ruins of public life are not just uninspiring, but demeaning: that we must hack away at the achievements of the past (Social Security, Medicare); that we cannot afford to rebuild the nation’s aging infrastructure or establish a first-class public school system for all children; that we cannot bring an end to debilitating warfare, or establish a new era of clean energy, or put millions of jobless and underemployed Americans back to work.

Kennedy declared that we would go to the moon. Chris Christie tells us that we are incapable of building a railroad tunnel beneath the Hudson River.

. . . we’d do well to pay renewed attention to the lofty ideals and broad themes that Kennedy brought to the national stage. We’ve become so used to aiming low that mediocrity is seen as a step up. We need to be reminded of what is possible. . . . 

What Kennedy hoped to foster was a renewed sense of national purpose in which shared values were reinforced in an atmosphere of heightened civic participation and mutual sacrifice. That was the way, he said, “to get this country moving again.” 

His voice was in sync with the spirit of the times. Americans were fired with the idea that they could improve their circumstances, right wrongs and do good. The Interstate Highway System, an Eisenhower initiative, was under way. The civil rights movement was in flower. And soon Kennedy would literally be reaching for the moon. 

Self-interest and the bottom line had not yet become the be-all and end-all. 

. . . While the myriad issues facing the U.S. have changed and changed again since Kennedy’s time, the importance of being guided by the highest principles and ideals has not. We are now in a period in which cynicism is running rampant, and selfishness and greed have virtually smothered all other values.

You can say whatever you’d like about the Kennedy era and the ’60s in general, but there was great energy in the population then, and a willingness to reach beyond one’s self. 

Kennedy spoke in his acceptance speech of a choice “between national greatness and national decline.” That choice was never so stark as right now. There is still time to listen to a voice from half a century ago. 

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John F. Kennedy to the Democratic National Convention, July 15, 1960

[ click here for video ]

“I believe the times demand new invention, innovation, imagination, decision”

I think the American people expect more from us than cries of indignation and attack. The times are too grave, the challenge too urgent, and the stakes too high—to permit the customary passions of political debate. We are not here to curse the darkness, but to light the candle that can guide us through that darkness to a safe and sane future. As Winston Churchill said on taking office some twenty years ago: if we open a quarrel between the present and the past, we shall be in danger of losing the future. . . . 

. . . the New Frontier of which I speak is not a set of promises—it is a set of challenges. It sums up not what I intend to offer the American people, but what I intend to ask of them. It appeals to their pride, not to their pocketbook—it holds out the promise of more sacrifice instead of more security. 

But I tell you the New Frontier is here, whether we seek it or not. . . . It would be easier to shrink back from that frontier, to look to the safe mediocrity of the past. . . . 

But I believe the times demand new invention, innovation, imagination, decision. I am asking each of you to be pioneers on that New Frontier. My call is to the young in heart, regardless of age—to all who respond to the Scriptural call: “Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed.” 

For courage—not complacency—is our need today—leadership—not salesmanship. And the only valid test of leadership is the ability to lead, and lead vigorously. . . . 

For the harsh facts of the matter are that we stand on this frontier at a turning-point in history. We must prove all over again whether this nation—or any nation so conceived—can long endure. . . . 

Can a nation organized and governed such as ours endure? That is the real question. Have we the nerve and the will? . . . . Are we up to the task—are we equal to the challenge? Are we willing to match the Russian sacrifice of the present for the future—or must we sacrifice our future in order to enjoy the present? 

That is the question of the New Frontier. That is the choice our nation must make—a choice that lies not merely between two men or two parties, but between the public interest and private comfort—between national greatness and national decline—between the fresh air of progress and the stale, dank atmosphere of “normalcy”—between determined dedication and creeping mediocrity. 

All mankind waits upon our decision. A whole world looks to see what we will do. We cannot fail their trust, we cannot fail to try.

[ end of speech ]

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JFK and the Unspeakable

“John Kennedy’s story is our story, although a titanic effort has been made to keep it from us. That story, like the struggle it embodies, is as current today as it was in 1963. The theology of redemptive violence still reigns. The Cold War has been followed by its twin, the War on Terror. We are engaged in another apocalyptic struggle against an enemy seen as absolute evil. Terrorism has replaced Communism as the enemy. We are told we can be safe only through the threat of escalating violence. Once again, anything goes in a fight against evil: preemptive attacks, torture, undermining governments, assassinations, whatever it takes to gain the end of victory over an enemy portrayed as irredeemably evil. Yet the redemptive means John Kennedy turned to, in a similar struggle, was dialogue with the enemy. When the enemy is seen as human, everything changes.”

—James W. Douglass, from the Preface to JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters

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For a generous sampling of President Kennedy’s speeches, we recommend the book + CD Let Every Nation Know: John F. Kennedy in His Own Words by Robert Dallek and Terry Golway (2006). Each of 34 speeches is introduced, but transcripts are not provided. For transcripts, see the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum, under the tab “JFK.”

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1960 convention photograph by Garry Winogrand (1928–1984): John F. Kennedy, Democratic National Convention, Los Angeles, from the portfolio Big Shots. Museum of Modern Art collection.

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A Cure for “The Silence of the Dems”

Thursday, September 15th, 2011

What kind of future can there be for a political party that defers all its speaking roles to a conflict-averse President who does not want to be too closely identified with his party? And what future for that party’s legacy of “social contract” programs—and the people who need them?

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“For too long, Democrats, Liberals, and Progressives have acted as if government programs being funded by tax dollars are either settled issues (in the case of SS, Medicare, etc) or can speak for their value themselves (NEA, Amtrak, Post Office, etc). None of those things are true.

“All the Democratic, Liberal, and Progressive analysts are sitting around scratching their heads, wondering why Perry is actually gaining support by saying things like [‘Social Security is a Ponzi scheme’].” —Pat Armstrong, aka Cousin Pat from Georgia

[ Note: The following was posted late on 9/10 as “Rx for ‘The Silence of the Dems’ ” but is being re-posted for better visibility now that 9/11’s all-eclipsing 10th anniversary has passed. ]

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A Fix for the Deficit That Worries Us Most

Over the weekend, our friend Cousin Pat from Georgia (below), the Station Manager of Hurricane Radio, wrote some compelling comments in reply to “Pass This Jobs Bill” that should be taken to heart by as many readers as possible—particularly those of the liberal, progressive, Democratic stripe. Particularly the donkeys in the Democratic party machinery, who, like their G.O.P. counterparts, never listen to anyone under them. And so we’re bringing the discussion up from the basement of that post’s comments section to the front page here, which as you already know ranks somewhere between the New York Times and The Onion in influence on the thinkers and powers that be. Seriously, though, we wish the lion-hearted geniuses at the Democratic National Committee and on the committee to re-elect the president would tune in 24/7 to Hurricane Radio.

Pat, who describes himself as “a pragmatic, just-left-of-true-center Democratic voter,” debuted at Levees Not War last October when we posted a lengthy excerptfrom his hot, lucid rant titled “Why the GOP Is Going to Win in November.” Unfortunately, he was absolutely correct. Sadly, every word still rings true. See for yourself.

In reply to our account of President Obama’s “assertive, even imperative” address to the joint session of Congress Thursday night, Pat wrote:

I was wondering who that guy was giving the speech. 

What makes me angry is that, had this type of language been used in the first go-round, and these types of policies been more highlighted in the first stimulus, he may have gotten more with less drain on his political capital. 

Even with this new language and policy, he’s facing an uphill battle because the last stimulus was a modest policy win coupled with an absolute political disaster. 

But you know what they say about the best time to plant a tree.

We have complained before about “the Silence of the Dems” and said so again toward the end of “Pass This”: “The Democratic party has a serious communications deficit and had better start training its members in sharp, focused, disciplined public speaking.”

In reply to Pat we wrote:

[Obama] and his party need to emphasize repeatedly as one of their Top 3 Messages that government / public agencies serve many vital, necessary functions (safety inspections, air traffic safety, postal service, Social Security & Medicare, education, transportation, etc.), and in these essential ways “your tax dollars” are not being misspent. But many of us citizens all across the spectrum dislike gov’t in part because we feel we’re not getting much return on the taxes we pay—so much of the application of tax $ goes overseas. And because one party in particular constantly rails against the very idea of government. This may not have been your point, exactly, but do you agree? ¶ On another point, when is the best time to plant a tree?

(more…)


We’re Not Forgetting

Sunday, September 11th, 2011

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Except for posting this brief comment, we are among the millions of New Yorkers who are doing anything but “commemorating” the 10th anniversary. We are not reading the magazines’ special commemorative editions or watching the solemn and reverent broadcasts brought to you by our sponsors of the corporate media. We live in New York City—we don’t need to be reminded. It’s with us every day, in every heavily armed National Guardsman at Penn Station, every fire station you pass by, etc., just as you can still hear Hurricane Katrina howling through New Orleans, not only on the anniversary of Aug. 29, 2005.

Let Us Remember These Attacks Could Have Been Blocked

While we remember the dead, and those who died bravely trying to save lives, while our sincere condolences go out to their families, the children who never knew their daddy who died that day—

While we are never forgetting let us also recall that for eight months in early 2001 Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice blew off counter-terrorism adviser Richard A. Clarke’s repeated requests for meetings to brief them on the threat of Al Qaeda; and that Bush was specifically warned in an Aug. 6, 2001, CIA briefing titled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” but remained on vacation till Sept. 4 and never did call Clarke. And we will never forget watching the towers burning—we could see the smoke from an elevated subway track in Queens a few miles away—and then on a TV in our office in midtown Manhattan watching the towers burning, hearing about another plane striking the Pentagon, and looking out the window and wondering, “Where is the f—in’ goddamn air force?!”

The first plane to hit the World Trade Center was American flight 11 out of Boston. It took off at 7:45 a.m. After 8:13 there was no more pilot contact with air traffic control. Around 8:20, two flight attendants called American’s headquarters to report a hijacking. Under normal conditions that plane would have been stopped, shot down if necessary. But NORAD and the FAA claimed NORAD wasn’t contacted until 8:40. Even then, the first fighter jets weren’t scrambled until 8:52. American flight 11 hit the north tower at 8:48—thirty-five minutes after Boston lost contact. McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey is only 70 miles from Manhattan—an F-15 at top speed could have been there in three minutes—but instead the order went to Otis AFB in Cape Cod. Cape Cod? It would have been strange enough for the system to fail for Flight 11, but the same thing happened with all four hijacked flights: FAA is tardy in telling NORAD, then NORAD is slow to order up fighter jets from unnecessarily distant bases, then the fighters don’t arrive till after the damage is done. For Washington, the obvious base is Andrews, 10 miles away, but instead the jets were ordered from Langley AFB, 130 miles from Washington, after the Pentagon was hit. (The USAF was budgeted $85 billion for fiscal year 2001.)

While human beings, many of them with their clothes on fire, were jumping out of the burning towers and splattering like eggs on the concrete plaza a quarter mile down, the commander in chief was in Sarasota, Florida, sitting virtually paralyzed as a class of second-graders read a story about a pet goat. Four different accounts attest that he had been notified about the attacks in New York before he entered the classroom for the photo-op.

(Imagine the reaction if any of this happened with the current president, or any Democrat, in the White House.)

This is not the part they want us to remember today. Sorry. This is what we remember and always will, just as we’ll never forget the entire city abandoned by that same administration (with the president this time on a five-week vacation), children and elderly and all ages in between suffocating and dehydrating in the Superdome and outside the Convention Center for days after Hurricane Katrina and on rooftops all around the sweltering city of New Orleans in late August and early September 2005.

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And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.   —Revelation 21:4

et absterget Deus omnem lacrimam ab oculis eorum . . . 

Il essuiera toute larme de leurs yeux . . . 

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See also:

Is Katrina More Significant Than September 11? Thoughts on Two American Traumas (Sept. 11, 2010)

Anti-Islamic Furor Helps al Qaeda, Endangers America: On the proposed Islamic cultural center in lower Manhattan (Aug. 23, 2010)

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Top photo from WTC observation deck by Nathan Benn, Feb. 18, 1988; bottom photo of New Orleans resident Angela Perkins outside the New Orleans Convention Center, Sept. 1, 2005, by Melissa Phillip/AP Photo.

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