5th & 6th September, 2005
Rod in Concert
Holland, December 2005!
San Sebastian Strings
albums now available on CD! Order
Helen Miljakovich, New Orleans, 1968
A Thought for Today
Give a damm!
TO BEGIN WITH
I’m startled too as a photograph taken 37 years ago on a beautiful sunny
afternoon in New Orleans opens Today’s Flight Plan. I was in town for a
pair of concerts and photographer Helen Miljakovich tagged along on a
Later there’s a poem I wrote back at the hotel after a performance, but,
to begin with . . .
DO THEY KNOW WHAT IT MEANS
TO IGNORE NEW ORLEANS?
I love my country and would do anything for it and for my brothers and
sisters with whom I share this great land but I closed my last Flight
Plan with the following comment:
Every American, whatever his or her political persuasion, should be
ashamed of a government that took five days to respond to an disaster
that should have had overnight attention.
I was prepared for the E-Mail fallout my thoughts might engender. Guess
what, I didn’t receive a single letter that disagreed with what I said.
On the contrary the feedback had even stronger things to say about the
government’s ‘Gulf Goof’ than I did.
Here are two columns from The New York Times that I consider must
reading. The first, “The United States of Shame” by Maureen Dowd was
published Thursday September 3rd and quickly became the most E-mailed
article in recent Times history.
The second, “Falluja Floods the Superdome” by Frank Rich appeared
yesterday (9/4/05). Despite the fact that you could not turn on a Sunday
cable or non cable news show without stumbling over one or more of the
presidents cabinet giving the official spin on the Gulf Goof you can bet
Mr. Rich’s words – like those of Ms. Dowd – got the attention of
official and unofficial Washington.
United States of Shame: By Maureen Dowd
Maureen Dowd: Photograph by Fred R. Conrad NYT
And when you combine limited government with incompetent government,
lethal stuff happens.
America is once more plunged into a snake pit of anarchy, death,
looting, raping, marauding thugs, suffering innocents, a shattered
infrastructure, a gutted police force, insufficient troop levels and
criminally negligent government planning. But this time it's happening
W. drove his budget-cutting Chevy to the levee, and it wasn't dry. Bye,
bye, American lives. "I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the
levees," he told Diane Sawyer.
Shirt-sleeves rolled up, W. finally landed in Hell yesterday and
chuckled about his wild boozing days in "the great city" of N'Awlins. He
was clearly moved. "You know, I'm going to fly out of here in a minute,"
he said on the runway at the New Orleans International Airport, "but I
want you to know that I'm not going to forget what I've seen." Out of
the cameras' range, and avoided by W., was a convoy of thousands of sick
and dying people, some sprawled on the floor or dumped on baggage
carousels at a makeshift M*A*S*H unit inside the terminal.
Why does this self-styled "can do" president always lapse into such lame
"who could have known?" excuses.
Who on earth could have known that Osama bin Laden wanted to attack us
by flying planes into buildings? Any official who bothered to read the
trellis of pre-9/11 intelligence briefs. Who on earth could have known
that an American invasion of Iraq would spawn a brutal insurgency,
terrorist recruiting boom and possible civil war? Any official who
bothered to read the C.I.A.'s prewar reports.
Who on earth could have known that New Orleans's sinking levees were at
risk from a strong hurricane? Anybody who bothered to read the endless
warnings over the years about the Big Easy's uneasy fishbowl.
In June 2004, Walter Maestri, emergency management chief for Jefferson
Parish, fretted to The Times-Picayune in New Orleans: "It appears that
the money has been moved in the president's budget to handle homeland
security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that's the price we pay.
Nobody locally is happy that the levees can't be finished, and we are
doing everything we can to make the case that this is a security issue
Not only was the money depleted by the Bush folly in Iraq; 30 percent of
the National Guard and about half its equipment are in Iraq.
Ron Fournier of The Associated Press reported that the Army Corps of
Engineers asked for $105 million for hurricane and flood programs in New
Orleans last year. The White House carved it to about $40 million. But
President Bush and Congress agreed to a $286.4 billion pork-filled
highway bill with 6,000 pet projects, including a $231 million bridge
for a small, uninhabited Alaskan island.
Just last year, Federal Emergency Management Agency officials practiced
how they would respond to a fake hurricane that caused floods and
stranded New Orleans residents. Imagine the feeble FEMA's response to
Katrina if they had not prepared.
Michael Brown, the blithering idiot in charge of FEMA - a job he trained
for by running something called the International Arabian Horse
Association - admitted he didn't know until Thursday that there were
15,000 desperate, dehydrated, hungry, angry, dying victims of Katrina in
the New Orleans Convention Center.
Was he sacked instantly? No, our tone-deaf president hailed him in
Mobile, Ala., yesterday: "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job."
It would be one thing if President Bush and his inner circle - Dick
Cheney was vacationing in Wyoming; Condi Rice was shoe shopping at
Ferragamo's on Fifth Avenue and attended "Spamalot" before bloggers
chased her back to Washington; and Andy Card was off in Maine - lacked
empathy but could get the job done. But it is a chilling lack of empathy
combined with a stunning lack of efficiency that could make this
When the president and vice president rashly shook off our allies and
our respect for international law to pursue a war built on lies, when
they sanctioned torture, they shook the faith of the world in American
When they were deaf for so long to the horrific misery and cries for
help of the victims in New Orleans - most of them poor and black, like
those stuck at the back of the evacuation line yesterday while 700
guests and employees of the Hyatt Hotel were bused out first - they
shook the faith of all Americans in American ideals. And made us
Who are we if we can't take care of our own?
© 2005 by Maureen Dowd & The New York Times. All Rights reserved. Used
Falluja Floods the Superdome: By Frank Rich
Frank Rich: Photograph courtesy NYT
AS the levees cracked open and ushered hell into New Orleans on Tuesday,
President Bush once again chose to fly away from Washington, not toward
it, while disaster struck. We can all enumerate the many differences
between a natural catastrophe and a terrorist attack. But character
doesn't change: it is immutable, and it is destiny.
As always, the president's first priority, the one that sped him from
Crawford toward California, was saving himself: he had to combat the
flood of record-low poll numbers that was as uncontrollable as the
surging of Lake Pontchartrain. It was time, therefore, for another
disingenuous pep talk, in which he would exploit the cataclysm that
defined his first term, 9/11, even at the price of failing to recognize
the emerging fiasco likely to engulf Term 2.
After dispatching Katrina with a few sentences of sanctimonious
boilerplate ("our hearts and prayers are with our fellow citizens"), he
turned to his more important task. The war in Iraq is World War II.
George W. Bush is F.D.R. And anyone who refuses to stay his course is
soft on terrorism and guilty of a pre-9/11 "mind-set of isolation and
retreat." Yet even as Mr. Bush promised "victory" (a word used nine
times in this speech on Tuesday), he was standing at the totemic scene
of his failure. It was along this same San Diego coastline that he
declared "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq on the aircraft carrier Abraham
Lincoln more than two years ago. For this return engagement, The
Washington Post reported, the president's stage managers made sure he
was positioned so that another hulking aircraft carrier nearby would
stay off-camera, lest anyone be reminded of that premature end of "major
This administration would like us to forget a lot, starting with the
simple fact that next Sunday is the fourth anniversary of the day we
were attacked by Al Qaeda, not Iraq. Even before Katrina took command of
the news, Sept. 11, 2005, was destined to be a half-forgotten occasion,
distorted and sullied by a grotesquely inappropriate Pentagon-sponsored
country music jamboree on the Mall. But hard as it is to reflect upon so
much sorrow at once, we cannot allow ourselves to forget the real
history surrounding 9/11; it is the Rosetta stone for what is happening
now. If we are to pull ourselves out of the disasters of Katrina and
Iraq alike, we must live in the real world, not the fantasyland of the
administration's faith-based propaganda. Everything connects.
Though history is supposed to occur first as tragedy, then as farce,
even at this early stage we can see that tragedy is being repeated once
more as tragedy. From the president's administration's inattention to
threats before 9/11 to his disappearing act on the day itself to the
reckless blundering in the ill-planned war of choice that was 9/11's
bastard offspring, Katrina is déjà vu with a vengeance.
The president's declaration that "I don't think anyone anticipated the
breach of the levees" has instantly achieved the notoriety of
Condoleezza Rice's "I don't think anybody could have predicted that
these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade
Center." The administration's complete obliviousness to the
possibilities for energy failures, food and water deprivation, and civil
disorder in a major city under siege needs only the Donald Rumsfeld
punch line of "Stuff happens" for a coup de grâce. How about shared
sacrifice, so that this time we might get the job done right? After Mr.
Bush's visit on "Good Morning America" on Thursday, Diane Sawyer
reported on a postinterview conversation in which he said, "There won't
have to be tax increases."
But on a second go-round, even the right isn't so easily fooled by this
drill (with the reliable exception of Peggy Noonan, who found much
reassurance in Mr. Bush's initial autopilot statement about the
hurricane, with its laundry list of tarps and blankets). This time the
fecklessness and deceit were all too familiar. They couldn't be
obliterated by a bullhorn or by the inspiring initial post-9/11 national
unity that bolstered the president until he betrayed it. This time the
heartlessness beneath the surface of his actions was more pronounced.
You could almost see Mr. Bush's political base starting to crumble at
its very epicenter, Fox News, by Thursday night. Even there it was
impossible to ignore that the administration was no more successful at
securing New Orleans than it had been at pacifying Falluja.
A visibly exasperated Shepard Smith, covering the story on the ground in
Louisiana, went further still, tossing hand grenades of harsh reality
into Bill O'Reilly's usually spin-shellacked "No Spin Zone." Among other
hard facts, Mr. Smith noted "that the haves of this city, the movers and
shakers of this city, evacuated the city either immediately before or
immediately after the storm." What he didn't have to say, since it was
visible to the entire world, was that it was the poor who were left
behind to drown.
In that sense, the inequality of the suffering has not only exposed the
sham of the relentless photo-ops with black schoolchildren whom the
president trots out at campaign time to sell his "compassionate
conservatism"; it has also positioned Katrina before a rapt late-summer
audience as a replay of the sinking of the Titanic. New Orleans's
first-class passengers made it safely into lifeboats; for those in
steerage, it was a horrifying spectacle of every man, woman and child
THE captain in this case, Michael Chertoff, the homeland security
secretary, was so oblivious to those on the lower decks that on Thursday
he applauded the federal response to the still rampaging nightmare as
"really exceptional." He told NPR that he had "not heard a report of
thousands of people in the convention center who don't have food and
water" - even though every television viewer in the country had been
hearing of those 25,000 stranded refugees for at least a day. This
Titanic syndrome, too, precisely echoes the post-9/11 wartime history of
an administration that has rewarded the haves at home with economic
goodies while leaving the have-nots to fight in Iraq without proper
support in manpower or armor. Surely it's only a matter of time before
Mr. Chertoff and the equally at sea FEMA director, Michael Brown (who
also was among the last to hear about the convention center), are each
awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom in line with past architects of
lethal administration calamity like George Tenet and Paul Bremer.
On Thursday morning, the president told Diane Sawyer that he hoped
"people don't play politics during this period of time." Presumably that
means that the photos of him wistfully surveying the Katrina damage from
Air Force One won't be sold to campaign donors as the equivalent 9/11
photos were. Maybe he'll even call off the right-wing attack machine so
it won't Swift-boat the Katrina survivors who emerge to ask tough
questions as it has Cindy Sheehan and those New Jersey widows who had
the gall to demand a formal 9/11 inquiry.
But a president who flew from Crawford to Washington in a heartbeat to
intervene in the medical case of a single patient, Terri Schiavo, has no
business lecturing anyone about playing politics with tragedy.
Eventually we're going to have to examine the administration's behavior
before, during and after this storm as closely as its history before,
during and after 9/11. We're going to have to ask if troops and matériel
of all kinds could have arrived faster without the drain of national
resources into a quagmire. We're going to have to ask why it took almost
two days of people being without food, shelter and water for Mr. Bush to
get back to Washington.
Most of all, we're going to have to face the reality that with this
disaster, the administration has again increased our vulnerability to
the terrorists we were supposed to be fighting after 9/11. As Richard
Clarke, the former counterterrorism czar, pointed out to The Washington
Post last week in talking about the fallout from the war in Iraq, there
have been twice as many terrorist attacks outside Iraq in the three
years after 9/11 than in the three years before. Now, thanks to Mr.
Bush's variously incompetent, diffident and hubristic mismanagement of
the attack by Katrina, he has sent the entire world a simple and
unambiguous message: whatever the explanation, the United States is
unable to fight its current war and protect homeland security at the
The answers to what went wrong in Washington and on the Gulf Coast will
come later, and, if the history of 9/11 is any guide, all too slowly,
after the administration and its apologists erect every possible barrier
to keep us from learning the truth. But as Americans dig out from
Katrina and slouch toward another anniversary of Al Qaeda's strike, we
have to acknowledge the full extent and urgency of our crisis. The world
is more perilous than ever, and for now, to paraphrase Mr. Rumsfeld, we
have no choice but to fight the war with the president we have.
© 2005 by Frank Rich and The New York Times. All Rights reserved. Used
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