Wednesday, September 28, 2005

David Murff, Democrat for the 7th District of Texas

I spent a few minutes earlier this week with David L. Murff, who will challenge DeLay flack John Culberson for the right to represent the 7th Texas Congressional District in Washington.

Murff is a family and criminal law attorney in private practice; he served in the U.S. Army (2nd Armored, 1st Brigade, Fort Hood). He’s a graduate of Western Kentucky University and the South Texas College of Law, a member of the Houston Bar Association and the Texas Center for Legal Ethics and Professionalism, and has routinely donated his time as an attorney ad litem to Children’s Friend in Court, a non-profit organization providing legal service to indigent children.

My transcript of our conversation follows.


Q. Why are you running for Congress?

A. As simply as I can put it, I find myself perplexed by the partisan agenda of the people currently in office, and I’m concerned about the direction our country is headed while that narrow agenda is being served.

With all of the challenges we face, in every direction I look -- from the enormous budget deficits to healthcare to energy concerns to homeland security and on and on -- what I see is nothing but partisan conservative platitudes, which just seem to be disconnected from the concerns of the average American.

Q. What about Congressman Culberson? Any specific differences of opinion with him?

A. Sure, absolutely. In many ways John Culberson is actually worse than Tom DeLay, if you can believe it, and his statement today in response to DeLay’s indictment is an example of what I’m talking about relative to partisan politics overriding everything else. I would’ve thought that Culberson would try to distance himself from this growing scandal, or at least be mum about it, but instead he chose to attack (Travis Co. district attorney) Ronnie Earle, whose record clearly shows he’s gone after corrupt politicians regardless of party affiliation.

Regarding the DeLay matter, it will probably drag well into the 2006 election cycle, and frankly I’m not excited about the Democratic Party potentially being the beneficiary of the Republicans’ misfortune. I’m tired of the Republicans portraying Democrats a certain way, and the truth is that the party in power needs to clean up their house and start serving the people instead of the corporations, and maybe this will give them the incentive to do so. If they don’t, or won’t, then that’s a good enough distinction between us to give voters a clear choice.

Culberson voted to relax the ethics rules that enabled DeLay to continue as majority leader up to now, and he also voted for the 11th-hour Medicare provision before he got enough political cover to vote against it. He’s also expressed the opinion that the judicial branch is supposed to serve the will of the President and Congress; that judges should just rubber-stamp the laws passed by Congress and signed by the President. As I hear that, it sounds like he’s against an independent judiciary. That’s truly alarming.

I think it would be a good thing if the people of the 7th District had a congressman who actually listens to them, who gets to know them, who understands their concerns and who will look out for them, as opposed to blindly following the instructions of the Republican leadership.

Q. What issue(s) do you feel most concerned about?

A. I think we‘re squandering a tremendous opportunity from a national perspective, and a tremendous resource right here in Houston -- namely the brilliant minds of the Texas Medical Center -- by blocking stem cell research. That’s got to change.

I think we need to get serious about alternative fuels in this country, and I think there’s a lot we can do regarding biofuels.

Q. You served in the Army. What should we do now regarding Iraq?

A. You know, our soldiers didn’t deserve what they walked into over there. From everything that was known at the time, I would’ve probably voted to authorize the use of force, but the lack of an exit strategy going in is simply the best reason why it’s now time to get our boys and girls back home. And if Iraq then degenerates into civil war, then it may take a true national coalition, one built on real alliances, to restore order.

This administration may just not be capable of doing any of that, unless we the people can send them a strong enough message in 2006.


Murff will have a website up shortly; .

He’s available to speak to clubs and groups throughout the district. Contact his office at 281-335-4777 or via e-mail at dlmurff at sbcglobal dot net .

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

DeLay indictment pending?

Update (9/28, 11:39 CT): DeLay indicted on conspiracy charges


Could it be? At long last?

A Texas grand jury's recent interest in conspiracy charges could lead to last-minute criminal indictments -- possibly against House Majority Leader Tom DeLay -- as it wraps up its investigation Wednesday into DeLay's state political organization, according to lawyers with knowledge of the case.

Conspiracy counts against two DeLay associates this month raised concerns with DeLay's lawyers, who fear the chances are greater that the majority leader could be charged with being part of the conspiracy. Before these counts, the investigation was more narrowly focused on the state election code. By expanding the charges to include conspiracy, prosecutors made it possible for the Travis County grand jury to bring charges against DeLay. Otherwise, the grand jury would have lacked jurisdiction under state laws.

The Associated Press spoke to several lawyers familiar with the case, all of whom requested anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly. DeLay, R-Texas, said Tuesday that prosecutors have interviewed him. He has insisted he committed no crimes and says Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, a Democrat, is pursuing the case for political reasons.

The disclosure came as congressional officials said top House Republicans were quietly considering how to respond if an indictment were issued.

Will King Cockroach escape the pointy-toed shoe again? Can he scuttle safely back under the baseboards once more? And if he avoids the jailer, is he significantly damaged enough for the Republicans to finally slip a shiv into his ribs? Does he finally take the hint and quit his leadership post -- or even his seat in Congress?

Or do we just have to wait until Nick Lampson sends him home to Sugar Land?

Ladies and gentlemen, place your bets...

Update (9:38 p.m.): Speculation abounds.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Contraflow confusion cost lives

The only damage Rita did to me personally was really just inconvenience, forcing me to idle away a half tank of gas insix hours, in what could have been -- without much exaggeration -- history's worst traffic jam last Thursday afternoon. A tragic set of events on a bus filled with nursing home evacuees sent the death toll above the last Category 3 hurricane to hit Houston; Alicia in 1983. But there were a few people who died fleeing the storm whose deaths were more the result of spectacularly poor planning on the part of regional officials, and an unspecific amount of incompetence and cronyism at the Texas Department of Transportation:

From Corpus Christi to Norfolk, Va., most vulnerable cities have pre-set plans to run their highways in one direction only, headed out of town, said Brian Wolshon, a civil engineer at Louisiana State University's Hurricane Center.

Wolshon gave a presentation on the subject at Houston's TranStar traffic management center two years ago, but found that officials were reluctant because Houston's freeway grid is much more complicated than other coastal cities.

"I don't think they really took it seriously," he said.

State and local officials changed their minds early last Thursday in the face of a historic traffic jam. But it was too late, and the one-way freeways that eventually opened on Interstate 10 and Interstate 45 didn't relieve drivers' 20-hour nightmares.

All the idling engines created the secondary problem of empty gas tanks and empty gas stations, which state officials admitted they were in no position to remedy.

The TxDOT executive director is a gubernatorial appointment. Michael Behrens assumed the position in September 2001, less than a year after Rick Perry became governor of Texas. Behrens' bio lists education completed prior to his career in state bureaucracy as a bachelor's degree from Texas A&M University, where Governor "Adios MoFo" led cheers for the football team as an undergrad.

Behrie, you're doing a heckuva job.

Update (9/28): Local ABC affiliate KTRK reports at least 31 deaths -- in Harris County alone -- attributable to the hurricane, 19 of those before Rita ever made landfall.

Update (9/29): The death toll reaches 107, and the stories are horrid.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

"You're not all that ugly waking up, girl..."

There was a little rain and a little more wind on the northwest side of Houston yesterday morning, early, and the lights flickered a couple of times and went off once for about five seconds about 5 a.m.

That was it. Not even any tree limbs down. Just a little trash blown around.

So by 8 a.m. I was reduced to watching the news and worrying about my folks. I just had to hope in my father's case, that the sheriff's department had evacuated RV parks to a safe place -- a shelter, a high school gymnasium, something -- somewhere the previous day (Jasper County had announced a mandatory evac Friday morning).

At lunchtime I finally laid my head down to rest, after reading some of my FIL's book of Yiddish meditations, entitled "Bringing Heaven Down to Earth". I highly recommend it, incidentally.

Mid-afternoon I had had enough of the news, and I couldn't watch the Astros or college football, and the freeways were starting to build with returning evacuees, so I piled up the car and decided to head back to my house. SH 290 inbound at 4:30 p.m. had the normal Saturday afternoon traffic; busy but moving at posted speeds (which translates into 75-80 mph).

I came home to a cool house and some flashing 12:00 appliances, so I lost power but apparently not for long. I showered, fixed dinner, and was starting to fall asleep about 7 p.m. when I heard from my brother that Pop had made it through OK.

They had "a rough ride", and once the worst passed them in the afternoon, walked into 'downtown' Jasper and found a working land line to let us all know they were OK.

It just wasn't their time, I suppose.

No word from Mom yet, but she did make it safely to Nacogdoches Thursday night and was ensconsed in a private guest house with a few friends there, and by news accounts that area was comparatively spared. I'm guessing she can't get to a land line, so I'm choosing not to worry. My neighbor knocked on my door this morning at 7:30 to tell me he was OK, and my friends in Livingston called and said they're safe.

I still think that TxDOT's contraflow plan (under the auspices of our good-haired God-fearing Governor) was a colossal mal-execution, and had Rita come in on top of us, could've been catastrophic. He'll probably attempt to advance his mega-toll road agenda now as a result.

But for now I'm headed out to drink some beer, shoot some pool, and watch some football.

How was your weekend?

Friday September 23: Rita Watch

At 7 a.m., I left my home in the Medical Center area on the south side of Houston and headed for my I-L's house, near the intersection of SH 290 and FM 1960 on the northwest side of town. I had been urged by my wife earlier in the week to take them with me to Dallas, but he stubbornly refused to go. Now I was joining them, in what still seemed to me to be a foolish place to take refuge from Rita.

The freeway was wide open. I made the trip in the usual forty minutes, accompanied by about half a dozen other motorists. The freeway bottlenecks, big news the previous day, had apparently managed to plod their way out of Harris County, with monstrous traffic jams now in exurbs like Sealy, Brenham, Conroe, Lufkin, and Baytown.

I had awakened at 3:30 a.m. and immediately turned on Local2News, which IMHO had become the best source for current and accurate information. I had thought that if the exodus had softened up I might attempt another escape to D-FW in my other still-gassed up car; Mrs. Diddie was flying in that evening from her business trip and we had a hotel room and she would be worried and lonely by herself. No dice; Local2 was talking to a doctor stuck in stop-and-go in Huntsville. He'd been on the road 18 hours coming from Friendswood.

A digression about the local media coverage here:

I usually never watch the channel mentioned above; it's the NBC affiliate and is renowned for its tabloid journalism. The anchors are all surgically enhanced and the weathermen are all flaming (not that there's anything wrong with that). And the worst pair of talking heads is their Chocolate-and-Vanilla early morning team (I'll be kind and not name them, but you H-Towners probably know who I'm talking about). I'm certain it's actually the set of a porn flick, with Seventies music cued up and the two of them ready to undress each other at any moment. But the station's field reporters were everywhere, from The Woodlands to Port Arthur to Lake Charles, seemingly outnumbering the competition of the other three affiliates combined. And they didn't seem to focus so much on the inane, such as Rick Perry's say-nothing press conferences or pictures of Air Force One taxiing down the runway after landing in San Antonio or Austin or wherever it was Our Leader was, safely doing nothing as usual. FWIW my usual pick for local news, Channel 11, had the funniest moments: video of the arrested surfer -- handcuffed by Galveston authorities wading in the surf after him -- following his plunge off the pier at the Flagship Hotel at 4:30 in the morning. And an on-location with the twenty or so hurricane partiers at some gin mill on the Seawall Friday evening about 5:30 p.m.

Mostly at this point -- Friday midday -- I was concerned about family and friends in harm's way: my mother had evacuated at the same time as me, heading from Beaumont for northeast Texas and ultimately northern Louisiana. I had received no word on my father and stepmother, who had been planning on taking the RV to Lake Sam Rayburn -- just north of Jasper, Texas -- as they had done for Hurricane Lili last year. Neither of them were answering their cell phones. I had spoken earlier that morning with my neighbor, who had made it to Conroe in 17 hours and was on the side of the road with thousands of others but with still a half-tank of gas, and my friends living in League City who had traveled to Kirbyville (in Jasper County) and Lake Livingston respectively. None were contemplating returning, even as Rita's track was bending to the east.

Finally around noon my brother called and said that Dad had indeed headed for Henhouse Ridge, the previously-mentioned RV park near Jasper, which was developing into Rita's inland bulls-eye. When I had last spoken to Pop on Tuesday, he bragged that the tall pines in that area would shield them from the storm.

Yes, I thought that was monumentally stupid, and I urged him to reconsider, as did my brothers, sister, stepbrother and stepsisters. All of our pleadings had failed to dissuade them.

So I spent most of the afternoon worrying about my peeps and worrying about the weather. The aftermath of the bus fire which claimed the lives of the Bellaire nursing home patients on I-45 near Wilmer was the horrifying news of the morning, and I was glad again that I hadn't tried to get to Dallas. And I went to bed early, as Rita was expected to land early Saturday morning and I had no intention of being asleep when she did.

I'll finish this journal with the rather anticlimactic events of yesterday in the next post.

Rita on the rocks, no salt

Well, what a buildup to a big fizzle that was.

You get my account live-blogged on a tape delay, beginning Thursday afternoon the 22nd:


I hit the road just after noon, having secured my prescriptions, and headed for I-45 N via 288. 'Freeway closed', at the Pierce Elevated. So I turned south on 45, passing the back of the line at about Cullen (near U of H), came around on Loop 610 all the way past the Astrodome and the Bellaire and the Galleria and a long line exiting 290 (the Austin escape route), heading for I-45 on the north side. Got the same message. I exited the loop and headed north on Airline, turning back to 45 N on Crosstimbers, past the first gas line I was to see, and gradually (as in less than one MPH) merged onto the main Dallas escape road by 1:15 pm. I breathed a premature sigh of relief.

I managed to travel about one exit an hour. For a Houstonian's reference, I was at the Gulf Bank exit by 4:30 p.m. The entire distance I traversed lies roughly between Loop 610 and BW-8, the road to InterGalactical Airport (some call it Bush, but not me). Most of the motorists surrounding me had their windows down in the 100-degree heat to save their dwindling fuel. The fellow directly in front of me for quite awhile was actually pushing his minivan full of children and provisions forward. Not because it was broken down; because he was practicing conservation.

To this point I had seen about one ambulance an hour, snaking its way through the mass of autos, sometimes with siren on, sometimes not. But about 4:45 pm three paramedic vehicles sailed by on the inside shoulder flashing and wailing. Followed a few minutes later by two pairs of police motorcycles, and a minute later two police cruisers, all lights and sirens hot. Less than five minutes later, six more cycle cops, and at 5:05 p.m., two more police cars, another motorcycle, and another ambulance. And at 5:15, another pair of HPD on two wheels.

Never learned what the emergency was.

By 6 p.m., I was two miles from Beltway 8 and the IAH airport exit, at mile marker 58. My gas was down to a bit over half a tank, and it was obvious that I wouldn't make it to Dallas on that, that there was no gas to be purchased ahead and no room at any of the inns along the way. Determined that I was NOT going to be sitting on the side of the road when the hurricane hit, I hit the exit and turned around for home.

It took me six minutes to travel the distance I had come in a bit over five hours.

Throughout the waiting, I saw people and cars severely overheated on the side of the road, and at stores and parking lots alongside. A few times I flashed on the Highway of Death (the road from Kuwait to Iraq which was mercilessly bombed during the Gulf War). I thought, these people are all going to be stuck here when Rita rolls in. No gas, no shelters (Mayor White had repeatedly said there would be only a few for the elderly and infirm), no way to get back home; it seemed that thousands would be hiding under overpasses from the storm.

I called my father-in-law on the northwest side of Houston, who had insisted on riding it out there, and told him to expect company Friday morning.

Continued in the next.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Commute to Dallas didn't go so well

I traveled about six miles in six hours on I-45 North yesterday afternoon before turning around and heading back home.

Will join my in-laws later this afternoon on the NW side of Houston to ride it out. Online access will be limited, so posting could be sporadic to non-existent. Don't be alarmed.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Last post for a few days...

I'll try to get back here no later than Saturday with news of my Friday commute from Houston to Dallas, and other musings about Rita.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Lovely, Rita

Bitch messed up my interview/blog post today with David Murff, the challenger to John Culberson in TX-07. Maybe next week (if the roof doesn't fly off my place).

We have an evacuation plan that includes picking up my in-laws in northwest Houston and carrying them to Dallas, where we have a hotel room reserved beginning Friday evening for a week. (Mrs. Dittie, who leaves for Chicago on business tomorrow morning, will change her return plans to land in D-FW Friday night, instead of Hobby.)

You all should also have an evac plan right about now ...

Hello? ... Anybody there? ...

Monday, September 19, 2005

Monday Night Democrats: Bill White and John Courage

Tonight I did double duty, bouncing between my local club meeting at which Houston's mayor Bill White spoke, and a conference call with the Texas progressive blogosphere and TX-21 Democratic challenger John Courage.

You can go read my comments about the man whom I believe is currently the most powerful Democrat in Texas at the first link above; here I'll talk briefly about the guy who's going to send Lamar Smith packing.

I first met John at Camp Casey about three weeks ago; he and his wife were among the thousands of advocates against the Iraq occupation who gathered with Cindy Sheehan in Crawford last month. He's a passionate speaker against the war, and as an Air Force veteran he knows more about serving his country than Smith and any of the rest of the chickenhawks. One of the things he talked about tonight was the $30 million dollar rehabilitation facility that is being constructed in Washington -- it will take two years to complete -- which tells him that the government is planning for a lot more disabled veterans. The shortest quote is the most powerful:

"If I'm elected, I'll work every day to end that war."

Courage will be a strong advocate for vets (he'll fight hard for the VA hospital in Kerrville) and for education (he's a teacher by profession). He feels strongly that unfunded mandates like No Child Left Behind are another example of the ' all talk and no action' epitomized by the administration and Republicans in Congress.

He's another one of those progressive populists I like so much (just like this man) who believes that government is supposed to help the little guy and not the corporate fat cats.

He's also in the running for DFA's Grassroots All-Star, and if you like what you're reading here, then go vote for him.

Update (9/20): More about the pit viper that is Lamar Smith posted here.

Say hello to Rita

Click the pic, from Weather Underground, for a larger, clearer view.

Sunday, September 18, 2005


"It's all over but the counting, and we'll take care of the counting."

Rep. Peter King (R-NY), Summer 2003

Pointing to a little-noticed "Cyber Security Alert" issued by the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT), a division of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the source inside Diebold -- who "for the time being" is requesting anonymity due to a continuing sensitive relationship with the company -- is charging that Diebold's technicians, including at least one of its lead programmers, knew about the security flaw and that the company instructed them to keep quiet about it.

"Diebold threatened violators with immediate dismissal ... In 2005, after one newly hired member of Diebold's technical staff pointed out the security flaw, he was criticized and isolated."

(The source) confirmed that the matters were well known within the company, but that a "culture of fear" had been developed to assure that employees, including technicians, vendors and programmers kept those issues to themselves.

You surprised?

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Is Our Leader a closeted Democrat?

Or is he just pretending to be something he's not (again)?

I didn't watch the speech (I had something much better to do with my Thursday evening), but Kevin Drum, MaxSpeak, Media Girl, and others seem to think so.

(If so, then that would have to be a DLC Democrat, n'est ce pas?)

Which generates a tangent ...

Coming on the heels of a liberal quantity of conservative apoplexy at Tom DeLay's recent comments about himself -- err, the federal government -- I'm really bemused at what's happening over there in far right field.

This summer, a number of the most virulent starboard-tackers I can still call friends have been getting off the GOP bus (you've noticed this among your own circle, haven't you?). First it was the matter of Terri Schiavo, then Cindy Sheehan, and then it was the soaring cost of gasoline, and this month it's been Katrina. Mix in the sham of the Roberts hearings, pictures of Bush eating cake and playing guitar and asking Condi if he can go potty and you've got a seriously bad fall kickoff.

Not everyone on the Right is wavering; the bloc in the Senate remains steadfast. Next week they'll vote in harmony for a new Chief Justice, just as they did last week to kill an independent Katrina commission.

But the support in the outlands is falling away like the leaves. Well, not so much here in Deep-In-the-Hearta; it's still too freaking hot.

But it's only a matter of time before that first cool snap ...

Friday, September 16, 2005

If you're viewing this blog in IE...

... then it probably looks pretty screwy right now.

I use Mozilla Firefox almost exclusively, but every now and then someone tells me something doesn't look quite right, and when I look at it through Bill Gates' glasses, sure enough ...

I've given up trying to fix it, too. Just put down the Kool-Aid, people.

I am going to try to beat

Fred and northstar to the punch with this:

Texas Democratic candidates

The next Governor of Texas, Chris Bell.

David Van Os, candidate for Texas Attorney General

(L.) Jay Aiyer, Houston City Council candidate

(R.) DeLay-slayer Nick Lampson

Two-hundred and fifty Democrats gathered in Houston's Bay Area last night to "fun-raise" for BAND, but what they really raised was a coming hell (for the GOP).

Moneyshot Quote Eligible

...from Will Durst:

Bush says he doesn’t want to play the “Blame Game.” Makes sense. Never heard of a chicken who wanted to play the “Extra Crispy” game.

The good news is, closed circuit videos in and around New Orleans have allowed us to identify the looters: Chevron, Shell, and ExxonMobil.

Senator Rick Santorum thinks there should be tougher penalties on people who decide to ride hurricanes out. I guess he means worse than drowning.

As soon as New Orleans gets back to normal, I plan on volunteering to go down there and help drink their economy back on its feet.

Count me in on that.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

The President Falls

and I'm not talking about his poll numbers.

Use your mouse to help him when he gets, ah, "stuck."

A transgender evacuee's story

Arpollo Vicks was born male, but in January, the 20-year-old became, she says, "who I really am." She started living as a woman.

In New Orleans, this was no big deal.

Friends and family began calling her Sharli'e. She says that at L.B. Landry Middle School, where she worked as a substitute teacher, kids who had known her as Mr. Vicks simply began calling her Ms. Vicks.

Sharli'e's gender didn't play a part in the beginning of her Katrina miseries, either. After the levees broke, she and two cousins left their downtown neighborhood, looking for help and higher ground. Eighteen-year-old Rolanda Grisham was a plain-vanilla, born-that-way girl. Things were more complicated for Rolanda's 16-year-old sibling. Like Sharli'e, Leo had been born male but lived as a woman.

The three waded and swam a mile and half to the terrifying New Orleans Convention Center, where they spent two uncomfortable nights, one punctuated by gunfire. They then spent two hot, hungry days on an Interstate 10 overpass. At the Superdome, they finally found someone to rescue them.

A bus carried the three to Houston, but it was turned away at the Astrodome. Around 1 a.m. that Sunday, the three learned that they had arrived, instead, in College Station. They were shepherded into a shelter at Texas A&M University's Reed Arena.

Pansexual, live-and-let-live New Orleans had arrived in the heart of Aggieland, and there was bound to be trouble.

There's lots more trouble, but the story ends happily.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The first photo is real

The President wrote a note to the Secretary of State, asking to go potty, during his field trip to the U.N. today.

I am not joking.

... and if you haven't seen the pictures from the Bush Famly New Orleans Vacation, then go here.

(caption: The President may have to take a "drop" because his ball has become lodged under a corpse.)

Monday, September 12, 2005

Twenty Moneyshot Quotes

1) "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees."

-- President Bush, on "Good Morning America," Sept. 1, 2005, six days after repeated warnings from experts about the scope of damage expected from Hurricane Katrina

2) "What I'm hearing, which is sort of scary, is that they all want to stay in Texas. Everybody is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway so this (chuckles) -- this is working very well for them."

--Former First Lady Barbara Bush, on the flood evacuees in the Astrodome, Sept. 5, 2005

3) "It makes no sense to spend billions of dollars to rebuild a city that's seven feet under sea level....It looks like a lot of that place could be bulldozed."

--House Speaker Dennis Hastert, Aug. 31, 2005

4) "We've got a lot of rebuilding to do ... The good news is -- and it's hard for some to see it now -- that out of this chaos is going to come a fantastic Gulf Coast, like it was before. Out of the rubbles of Trent Lott's house -- he's lost his entire house -- there's going to be a fantastic house. And I'm looking forward to sitting on the porch."

-- President Bush, touring hurricane damage in Mobile, Alabama, Sept. 2, 2005

5) "Considering the dire circumstances that we have in New Orleans, virtually a city that has been destroyed, things are going relatively well."

-- ex-FEMA Director Michael Brown, Sept. 1, 2005

6) "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job."

-- President Bush, to Brown, while touring hurricane-ravaged Mississippi, Sept. 2, 2005

7) "I have not heard a report of thousands of people in the convention center who don't have food and water."

-- Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, on NPR's "All Things Considered," Sept. 1, 2005

8) "Well, I think if you look at what actually happened, I remember on Tuesday morning picking up newspapers and I saw headlines, 'New Orleans Dodged the Bullet.' Because if you recall, the storm moved to the east and then continued on and appeared to pass with considerable damage but nothing worse."

-- Chertoff, blaming media coverage for his failings, "Meet the Press," Sept. 4, 2005. There were no newspaper headlines that could be found which said what he said he saw.

9) "You simply get chills every time you see these poor individuals ... many of these people, almost all of them that we see are so poor and they are so black, and this is going to raise lots of questions for people who are watching this story unfold."

-- CNN's Wolf Blitzer, on New Orleans' hurricane evacuees, Sept. 1, 2005

10) "Louisiana is a city that is largely under water."

-- Chertoff, news conference, Sept. 3, 2005

11) "It's totally wiped out. ... It's devastating, it's got to be doubly devastating on the ground."

-- President Bush, turning to his aides while surveying Hurricane Katrina flood damage from Air Force One , Aug. 31, 2005

12) "I believe the town where I used to come -- from Houston, Texas, to enjoy myself, occasionally too much (laughter) -- will be that very same town, that it will be a better place to come to."

-- Bush, on the tarmac at the New Orleans airport, Sept. 2, 2005

13) "Last night, we showed you the full force of a superpower government going to the rescue."

-- MSNBC's Chris Matthews, earning his government paycheck, Sept. 1, 2005

14) "You know I talked to Haley Barbour, the governor of Mississippi yesterday because some people were saying, 'Well, if you hadn't sent your National Guard to Iraq, we here in Mississippi would be better off.' He told me 'I've been out in the field every single day, hour, for four days and no one, not one single mention of the word 'Iraq.' Now where does that come from? Where does that story come from if the governor is not picking up one word about it? I don't know. I can use my imagination."

-- Former President George H. W. Bush, whose imagination has earned a six-week vacation, in an interview with CNN's Larry King, Sept. 5, 2005

15) "...those who are stranded, who chose not to evacuate, who chose not to leave the city..."

-- ex-FEMA Director Brown, on New Orleans residents who could not evacuate because they were too poor and lacked the means to leave, CNN interview, Sept. 1, 2005

16) "We just learned of the convention center -- we being the federal government -- today."

-- Brown, to ABC's Ted Koppel, Sept. 1, 2005, to which Koppel responded: "Don't you guys watch television? Don't you guys listen to the radio? Our reporters have been reporting on it for more than just today."

17) "I actually think the security is pretty darn good. There's some really bad people out there that are causing some problems, and it seems to me that every time a bad person wants to scream or cause a problem, there's somebody there with a camera to stick it in their face."

-- Brown, CNN interview, Sept. 2, 2005

18) "I don't make judgments about why people chose not to leave but, you know, there was a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans."

-- Brown, arguing that the victims bear some responsibility, CNN interview, Sept. 1, 2005

19) "As of Saturday (Sept. 3), Blanco still had not declared a state of emergency, the senior Bush official said."

-- Washington Post staff writers Manuel Roig-Franzia and Spencer Hsu, who didn't bother to fact-check the blatant lie peddled by the Bush administration as part of its attempts to pin blame on state and local officials, when in fact the emergency declaration had been made on Friday, Aug. 26

20) "Thank President Clinton and former President Bush for their strong statements of support and comfort today. I thank all the leaders that are coming to Louisiana, and Mississippi and Alabama to our help and rescue. We are grateful for the military assets that are being brought to bear. I want to thank Senator Frist and Senator Reid for their extraordinary efforts. Anderson, tonight, I don't know if you've heard -- maybe you all have announced it -- but Congress is going to an unprecedented session to pass a $10 billion supplemental bill tonight to keep FEMA and the Red Cross up and operating."

-- Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu, to CNN's Anderson Cooper, Aug. 31, 2005, to which Cooper responded:

"I haven't heard that, because, for the last four days, I've been seeing dead bodies in the streets here in Mississippi. And to listen to politicians thanking each other and complimenting each other, you know, I got to tell you, there are a lot of people here who are very upset, and very angry,and very frustrated. And when they hear politicians slap -- you know, thanking one another, it just, you know, it kind of cuts them the wrong way right now, because literally there was a body on the streets of this town yesterday being eaten by rats because this woman had been lying in the street for 48 hours. And there's not enough facilities to pick her up. Do you get the anger that is out here?"

Bush didn't even know

that Mike Brown had resigned, when asked about it by CNN.

"Maybe you know something I don't know."

And that happened to be the second instance today verifying that the President is out of the loop on the decision-making regarding the Katrina disaster.

I'm appalled. How about you?

Update (9/13) : Or maybe he just plain ol' lied about it.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

What is Tom DeLay doing NOW?

I'm not sure, but you can select a multiple choice option at one of these two locations.

21st Century American Fascism

I saw it with my own eyes this past week.

Along with Texas Attorney General candidate David Van Os and civil rights activist Rev. Peter Johnson, I attended a public hearing on the modification of a hazardous waste permit held by the ExxonMobil refinery in Beaumont. Hearings of this type are mandated by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality; this one was held at the Jefferson County courthouse Friday afternoon, September 9.

There about twenty or so in attendance; four of us out-of-town citizen activists, a handful of residents of the Charlton-Pollard neighborhood which abuts the refinery, and six representatives of ExxonMobil -- the community relations director and her assistant, three refinery executives, including at least one with the word 'environment' in his job title, and an ExxonMobil corporate attorney. None of whom made their names obvious enough for me to catch.

There were no members of the TCEQ present at the hearing, and no members of the media either (unless I count as one).

For over two hours, the oil company employees tapdanced around every single question posed to them with the most bewildering array of corporate doublespeak and rehearsed spin I have ever personally witnessed.

A couple of examples:

Q: We wrote a letter containing thirteen questions for ExxonMobil to answer at this hearing, and we sent them by certified mail. Did you receive them?

A: And we're here to answer your questions. And the questions of all the residents here.

Q: The first question is, has ExxonMobil conducted any environmental impact surveys in the neighborhood regarding the impact of the refinery's discharge on the residents' health?

A: Exxon Mobil has conducted numerous studies about the environmental quality of the neighborhood. We built the Family Resource Center and the park. We live and work here too, and have a great deal of concern about the neighborhood's environment.

Q: But have you done any studies of the health of the neighborhood's residents?

A: Those aren't environmental studies, sir.


David Van Os : Has ExxonMobil done any epidemiological studies of the neighborhood?

ExxonMobil Community Relations Director : What's that?

DVO: You mean to say you don't know what an epidemiological study is?

EM CRD: No, I know what it means... you might define the word for those in the audience who don't know what it means...

DVO : But they didn't ask. Could you answer the question please?

EM CRD : Would you define 'epidemiological'?

DVO : Could you please answer the question? Yes or no?

And so on and so on, just like that, for two hours.

When a resident described the black dust he has to power-wash off his house every few months, the oil company employees just looked blankly at him. When Rev. Johnson read the results of an autopsy of a female neighborhood resident, which revealed that her lungs were 'as black as those of a sixty-year-old coal miner' (according to her doctor), the ExxonMobil representatives tried hard not to look him in the eye. When another resident described how her three-year-old son had to have a liver transplant, and that benzene poisoning was a suspected cause, the corporate lickspittles studied their manicures.

As I've previously posted, I grew up in this area. I worked in that refinery one summer. I used to come home every evening from working in that refinery and blow black snot out of my nose.

I heard the stories of Lamar University coeds whose nylons dissolved on their legs as they walked across campus (which is a half-mile from the ExxonMobil chemical facility). I smelled the rotten egg scent of sulphur dioxode myself, as a college student, on several occasions. I knew people who lived near the campus who smelled odors inside their homes that would cause them to become sleepy, and when they woke up they would have a splitting headache.

And those stories are twenty-five years old.

There was one thirty-year neighborhood resident in attendance at the hearing, who had his own self-declared respiratory concerns, and he defended ExxonMobil in a sort of resigned way:

"Well, they ain't goin' nowhere, so we gotta try to get along with 'em..."

Let me call attention to the title of this post, and quote no less an authority than Benito Mussolini:

" Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of State and corporate power."

And also Franklin Roosevelt:

" The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to the point where it becomes stronger than the democratic state itself. That in its essence is fascism - ownership of government by an individual, by a group or any controlling private power. "

On the road with the next AG of TX

As I mentioned back here, I was fortunate to spend a couple of days at the end of last week with the next Attorney General of Texas, David Van Os. I had previously made plans earlier to bring my mother, who lives near Beaumont, to hear David speak at a meeting of the Progressive Democrats of Southeast Texas, but when David's wife Rachel called me and said that David would have to rent a car at Hobby, I delightedly offered my services as chauffeur.

We both had appointments at Lamar University Thursday afternoon; David's was to speak to the Latinos Unidos student group; mine was to meet with some of the alumni officials. We reconvened that evening at the PDSE meetup at Acapulco Mexican Grill.

Before I tell you about our visits, which included a public hearing at the courthouse on a Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) matter, let me provide some history about the area called the Golden Triangle, nestled into the corner of Texas next to the Gulf and the Sabine.

Beaumont-Port Arthur, the mid-county cities of Nederland, Port Neches, and Groves, and Orange -- the easternmost point of the Triangle; as far as you can go without being in Louisiana -- are home to the highest concentration of refineries and chemical plants in the state of Texas. And not just a lot of them but some of the largest petrochemical operations in the world; when I lived there, their names were Gulf and Texaco and DuPont and Allied, but the names have all changed. I was raised in a union household; Mom was a professor in the college of business at Lamar, Dad was OCAW, employed by the Mobil (now ExxonMobil, of course) refinery in Beaumont. I worked at the coking unit of that plant during the summer of 1980, graduated from Lamar that winter, and started my first career at the Beaumont Enterprise-Journal as an advertising salesman that spring.

Politically speaking, the Golden Triangle has been Yellow Dog Democrat country for almost all of the time I've been around, and for a long time before. They elected and re-elected liberal stalwarts like Jack Brooks, Carl Parker, and Charlie Wilson, but they've also had temporary lapses of sanity with right-wing fools like Steve Stockman. And like most of the rest of Texas, they fell in love with Ronald Reagan in the Eighties and haven't yet managed to fall completely out of love with the current iteration of radical religious Republicanism.

History lesson over.

About sixty SE Texas Progressive Dems assembled for David's stump speech, and the crowd included Jefferson County party chair Gilbert Adams, state representative Joe Deshotel, and a handful of local candidates, but mostly citizen activists and kindred spirits. Here's a summary of what he said:

“News commentators, industry representatives, politicians, and other voices of the corporate-political-media establishment are somberly telling the rest of us to expect more increases in gasoline prices as a result of Hurricane Katrina.

However, I have some questions for the political-corporate elites and their friends in the media punditry. Who gave the big oil companies an unalienable right to profit off tragedy? Do the oil companies have a God-given right to forever maximize their profits? Why shouldn’t the oil companies and their silk-stocking executives be expected to do their part to assist in relief efforts? Why shouldn’t the oil companies be expected to show some public spirit and reduce their profit expectations at this time of national distress? Where are our public servants who should be calling on the oil companies to do their part? Are our public officials too beholden to corporate industry to exert moral leadership on this matter?”

About the amendment on the ballot to outlaw gay marriage in Texas:

“I take it as a personal offense and an affront to my citizenship that forces of bigotry are seeking to enshrine hate into the Texas Constitution. You know, the Declaration of Independence of 1776 grants every United States citizen the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; it is inconceivable that Texans would put something in our state constitution that would be a giant step backward from the achievement of that vision. The very idea of what the 'unreligious wrong' is trying to do is a disgrace, it is inhumane and it sure isn’t moral ... Morality means everyone is equal under the law. All of us as Texans are entitled to public servants who will serve the people and do everything in their power to defend the constitutional rights liberties of all the people equally."

And specifically addressing members of the GLBT community throughout Texas, as quoted in the Dallas Voice:

“Just keep on fighting for liberty, keep on fighting for equal justice under the law and keep on fighting for the kind of society and world you want to live in,” Van Os said. “Fight 'em 'til hell freezes over, and then fight 'em on the ice.”

There's more, but you get the picture. David was pretty well received, as you might imagine.

Friday morning, Van Os appeared on News Radio FOX 1340 (check out the 'fair and balanced' syndicated program lineup) for an interview with local drive-time personality Dominick Brascia, who was obviously and genuinely impressed with David's credentials and stands on the issues.

We had lunch with the attorneys from the Adams law firm, then went to the Jefferson County courthouse to attend the aforementioned TCEQ hearing on a modification to the hazardous waste permit held by the ExxonMobil refinery.

Since this post is getting long, I'll continue in the next.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

My experience volunteering (at the Astrodome and the GRB)

Last Friday, September 2, I finally couldn't stand watching the televised tragedy any longer, and having caught up with all my clients and prospecting, decided to go down to the Astrodome and do something.

I packed the car with some clothes that belonged to us and to my mother-in-law -- she has end-stage Alzheimer's and we've already begun the rather painful process of disposing of some of her personal effects -- as well as a variety of toilet articles, and dropped them off at Rice Temple Baptist Church (the Dome wasn't accepting donations that morning).

Before my four-hour shift was to begin, I had time for an early lunch, so I went to my neighborhood Vietnamese place and sat behind two green-scrub wearing, twenty-something guys who were discussing their 401-Ks. The television had Fox News on, and the scenes from a helicopter flying over Charity Hospital in downtown New Orleans were being shown. The two young men took note of the horror inside the hospital being described by the reporter on TV, but not in a manner that indicated much alarm.

The promo for the upcoming local noon newscast mentioned the shortage of medical personnel and the need for volunteers skilled in that expertise at the Astrodome.

The two men sitting in front of me, wearing green surgical scrubs, having an early lunch like me, about a mile from both the Texas Medical Center and the Astrodome, ordered extra egg rolls.

I finished my pho and headed over to the Dome. I parked, leaving my wallet and cellphone in the car, followed the signs guiding me to the volunteers registration area, and was cautioned again about my wallet, cellphone and jewelry (none of these was allowed to be carried into the Dome by volunteers, for reasons of obvious personal safety). After signing in I endured a short orientation session which consisted of being asked a few questions about my physical health -- could I use a handtruck, lift a heavy box, do some twisting and turning; and my mental health -- did the sight of very ill people bother me, would it upset me to be dealing with upset or grief-stricken folks, etc. -- and finally got an assignment: I'd be unloading some of the donation boxes of clothes, diapers, food, and more.

That's what I did for about three of the four hours; in between shifts with the dolly and the boxes, I and others cleaned the kitchen after lunch had been served. I washed some of the cooking utensils, swept and mopped the floor.

The entire effort itself was haphazard and sometimes frustrating. The volunteers I served with were hard-working, the volunteer coordinators were haggard and occasionally short-tempered but also devoted to the task, and the people we were helping were grateful and shell-shocked and occasionally smelled bad and were overcome with emotion. They frequently quarreled with, and sometimes screamed at, their children, others' children, and each other. They asked questions I didn't know the answer to -- but in subsequent days were answered for everyone: how they could find out about a missing loved one, where to make a long-distance phone call.

I left with a sense of some accomplishment but also a nearly overwhelming sense of despair -- for the state of the New Orleans evacuees, as well as that of our nation.

The next day, Saturday the 3rd of September, the news was that the Dome had too many volunteers, so I went to the George R. Brown Convention Center downtown, which had been opened to accomodate the overflow of evacuees. You may recall that the Astrodome was believed capable of housing 25,00o people, but the Harris County fire marshall had ceased the intake of refugees at about 11,500 on Friday, and there were rumors reported in the media that some buses from Louisiana had been turned away.

The first group who were being housed there, maybe a thousand people, were not the evacuees you are used to seeing on television. They were almost all Caucasian, and were part of the wave of folks who evacuated New Orleans before Katrina made landfall and had been staying in Houston-area hotels and motels, but who had run out of money or had been asked to vacate because of pre-booked registrations. Some were expressing concern about the influx of "those people" coming from the Astrodome.

The GRB was cleaner, the people had more room, the volunteers were everywhere and many of them, like my friend Lyn did the following day, were doing one-on-one assistance. That wasn't the job for me; I would much rather do the physical labor than the psychological.

I'm glad I helped; my conscience feels much the better for having done so, but I hope I never have to do anything like that again. Or have to be on the receiving end of the assistance, either.


Sunday September 4th, my 79-year old mother and her friend from Lamar University (Mom's retired from there now over a decade) drove over from Beaumont to join us for brunch and baseball. Since we had the outing planned for well before Katrina, we stuck with our plan to have jazz brunch at Brennan's, followed by the 1:05 Astros-Cardinals game at Minute Maid Park.

The dichotomy of what I witnessed in the Dome and the GRB, juxtaposed against the experience of the beautiful restaurant with the French Quarter styled courtyard, the jazz music, the crabmeat omelet on the plate in front of me -- the extremes of class and caste I experienced were simply so significant that words don't do it justice.

When I thought about the people who hadn't been able to eat a decent meal in several days as I slurped up my delicious chicken and andouille gumbo, I felt the remorse of the fortunate. "There but for the grace of God" and so on. As I licked my spoon clean of the pecan pie a la mode, I considered -- all too briefly -- the plight of those just a few miles away who had lost their homes, their jobs, their city, even members of their family.

And as we took our seats in a brand new stadium to watch wealthy men play a child's game, I thought for a moment about the homeless children playing on the field which formerly hosted the millionaire athletes, and was now host to poor men and women with nearly nothing left.

'Dichotomy' doesn't begin to adequately describe it.

And my Merriam-Webster Thesaurus lists no other entries for the word.

Everybody has a story about New Orleans.

And I'm not talking about any of the heart-wrenching ones that have been written in the past ten days.

For a moment, let's just reminisce about the bon temps.

This is a good one:

I stepped off the Braniff flight from Tulsa, Okla., at Moisant Field on Jan. 12, 1973, with $34 in my pocket and the promise of a job as a Bunny at the New Orleans Playboy Club. I was 19, with big, proud titties suitable for framing, and wearing enough Maybelline to sink a barge in the Industrial Canal. I didn't know it yet, but I would spend the next seven years in the City That Care Forgot. By the time I escaped its humid clutches, the Big Easy would fill me up and wring me dry.

I would marry a cop of easy virtue, pose nude in Hef's magazine, appear in some of the worst movies ever made and lie on the AstroTurf floor of the Superdome with former football star Paul Hornung, wondering why he had such bad cigarette breath.

When I was in college in the late 70's, one spring break six of my fraternity brothers and sisters all piled in a '57 Chevy and headed for New Orleans, with a stopover in Baton Rouge at one of the guys' father's house, a huge plantation-style home where we had a crawfish boil for about twenty-five. We met some brothers at Loyola University, secured some plastic tubing from the chemistry department, proceeded to Pat O'Brien's and drank six of their large vat-sized hurricanes (using the tubes to run down to the bottom of the glass so we didn't miss a drop). We stayed all in one room at the Hyatt, the one right there across from the Superdome, and one of my buddies succeeding in getting with the girl I had angled for all weekend.

Ten years later, shortly after my wife and I were married, we went back to New Orleans with her parents and stayed downtown at the Doubletree on Canal, shopped at the mall along the river, and did all those newlyweds-vacationing-with-the-in-laws kinds of things.

Mrs. Diddie and I last visited the Big Easy one December a few years ago. It was surprisingly cold, nearly down to freezing during the day; the Saints were playing the Lions in the Dome, and R. L. Burnside was appearing at the House of Blues. We stayed right in the heart of the Quartah, at the Hotel Provincial. We would step out of our room, walk down the hall, take a turn down the stairs, go through the bar/coffee and beignets store, and pop out on Decatur Street looking directly at the French Market. To the right, half a block away, was Cafe Du Monde; to the left about two blocks, Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville restaurant.

Over the long weekend, in addition to all that, we jumped a streetcar up to the Garden District and took a ghost tour in Lafayette cemetery, went past Anne Rice's home, ate lunch at Commander's Palace, had Sunday brunch at the Court of Two Sisters...

Besides the tremendous toll of suffering, besides the outrage at the failure of those whose responsibility it was to protect the people and avoid the suffering, it simply makes me sick to think of the great places where we all had good times and good food all gone, some of them never to come back.

Some of it will, of course, come back, but we also -- all of us -- know the Crescent City will never be again what it once was. New Orleans has suffered the modern-day fate of 1900 Galveston, a fine city with both its grand past and future suddenly wiped away like a spilled drink on a bar counter.

It's not nearly as big a tragedy as all of the lives that were lost, but it's a sadness nevertheless.

Apologies for being struck dumb

for the past couple of weeks. My loyal three dozen regular visitors have grumbled about the paucity of postings; today and tomorrow I'll be catching up.

On Saturday August 27, a carload of us traveled to Crawford and Camp Casey for the final weekend of Cindy Sheehan's vigil outside George W. Bush's famous dirt farm there. We were hardly alone; at the press conference late in the day near the Crawford Peace House, I heard McLennan County Sheriff Larry Lynch and Crawford Police Chief Donnie Tidmore estimate the crowds who came and went during the day at 8500, with approximately 1500 of those being anti-Sheehan protestors collected mostly near 'downtown' Crawford.

We arrived at about 11 am, and that was too late to park at any of the assembly areas near Crawford; the caravan was diverted to a hotel in nearby McGregor, where we were shuttled in to Camp Casey in groups of five or eight. There were perhaps a hundred or so ahead of us waiting for shuttles, and that grew quickly during our hour-or-so wait. One of our friends, spending her second weekend as a volunteer, had rented a gashog SUV to serve as a shuttle driver. About 12:30 pm we finally arrived at Camp Casey, and immediately on disembarkation were greeted by the media. My wife did an interview en Espanol for Telemundo; a young man wearing Washington Post credentials approached me and began asking me questions (I later learned he was Sam Coates). We had barely gotten started when I noticed he was quite obviously about to suffer some physical distress from the blistering Texas-in-August heat. So we went under the tent just as Joan Baez started singing "The Night they Drove Old Dixie Down". Sam went to get ice water; I headed for the front of the stage.

The scene was electric to me -- the penultimate folk singer reprising history; singing a protest song she had first sung nearly 50 years previously against the last immoral war waged by the United States against a shadowy enemy.

Later we reconnoitered with several other online activists near the back of the tent, ate some barbecue, and listened to Cindy Sheehan say:

"I finally found out what the noble cause my son died for was. George Bush has to kill more American soldiers because he's already killed so many."

And the truth of that statement hit me like a sledgehammer: George Bush will never leave Iraq, and the primary reason is that he is simply too goddamned stubborn to admit his mistakes.

Russell Means followed Cindy, and also said some seminal things; he pointed out that the reason why Camp Casey was so organized was because women were running it. And as I thought of the woman I had met six weeks previously in Houston at the After Downing Street meeting -- the woman who was now running Camp Casey, Ann Wright, the lieutenant-colonel-turned-diplomat who resigned after twenty years of government service because she opposed the invasion of Iraq -- Russell Means expanded his premise by explaining the role of the matriarch in Native American society. That in a family, the mother is the only member who cannot be replaced. That women live longer than men, they can stand more pain, they have more endurance, more patience, more empathy. Matriarchy, Means said, is not fear-based. Each gender is praised for its respective strengths, and control is shared. That America, as a patriarchal society, is ruled by lonely, fearful men; men with something to prove to other men, men who require constant reassuring but never acquire reassurance.

I've told everyone within earshot for years that I thought we ought to elect more women to political office. And the best reason that my theory needs to be put into action is because women aren't war-mongers (well, except for Ann Coulter, anyway).

We managed to catch an air-conditioned bus over to the Crawford Peace House, and there was Brad Freidman broadcasting. He had just completed an interview with Randi Rhodes, but we missed that (and her). We sat down anyway, had some lemonade and cookies, listened to the Brad Show live for awhile, and while there we were interviewed on camera by a documentarist, visited with a police officer who came over looking for a rabble-rouser but stayed for a cold drink, and chatted with two transgendered students from UNT, whom we had barely gotten to know when they responded to a call for volunteers to direct parking lot traffic.

We caught a shuttle back to Camp Casey, stayed there until nearly 7 p.m., then caught another back to our car. On the ride back someone said that the hurricane which swept across southern Florida had strengthened and was turning toward New Orleans.

That's the subject of the next post.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Traveling with David Van Os

Yesterday I met Texas Attorney General candidate David Van Os at Hobby airport and we traveled to Beaumont for his two speaking engagements there; one to a group of Latino students at Lamar University, and the second at the Progressive Democrats of Southeast Texas. There were about sixty in attendance at the PDSE meeting, including Jefferson County Democratic Party Chair Gilbert Adams.

David had a radio interview this morning and will attend a hearing at the Jefferson County courthouse regarding an environmental quality matter this afternoon. We'll return to Houston this evening for an informal gathering of citizen activists and supporters before he flies back to San Antonio.

I'll have a more extensive report later on these events, along with some thoughts that have been gathering dust regarding Camp Casey, Cindy Sheehan, Hurrican Katrina, the Astrodome, and our wonderfully compassionate conservatives.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

MSM is going on lockdown

Voluntarily, and involuntarily. NBC anchor Brian Williams, from New Orleans:

While we were attempting to take pictures of the National Guard (a unit from Oklahoma) taking up positions outside a Brooks Brothers on the edge of the Quarter, the sergeant ordered us to the other side of the boulevard. The short version is: there won't be any pictures of this particular group of guard soldiers on our newscast tonight. Rules (or I suspect in this case an order on a whim) like those do not HELP the palpable feeling that this area is somehow separate from the United States.

At that same fire scene, a police officer from out of town raised the muzzle of her weapon and aimed it at members of the media... obvious members of the media... armed only with notepads. Her actions (apparently because she thought reporters were encroaching on the scene) were over the top and she was told. There are automatic weapons and shotguns everywhere you look. It's a stance that perhaps would have been appropriate during the open lawlessness that has long since ended on most of these streets. Someone else points out on television as I post this: the fact that the National Guard now bars entry (by journalists) to the very places where people last week were barred from LEAVING (the Convention Center and Superdome) is a kind of perverse and perfectly backward postscript to this awful chapter in American history.

Emphasis mine.

Last week for a moment I sensed a shift; a breakthrough. Even Shepard Smith on Fox was screaming.

This week, Rove seems to be retaking charge of the message.

If somebody in the media with clout --somebody like a network anchor -- can't break this down, it can't be broken. And if that's true, then democracy is as dead as a poor black person in New Orleans.

By the numbers

These are from yesterday's Astrodome news conference:

16,000 hurricane victims are living in the Dome (down from 17,500 from Monday)

4,500 in the Reliant Arena (up from 2,300)

2,400 in Reliant Center (down from 3,800)

2,500 in the George R. Brown Convention Center (up from 1300)

• 40 new arrivals last night, 51 this morning

• 300 cases of the Norwalk virus.

• 0 cases of cholera despite rumors to the contrary.

• 0 curfew violators (implementation of 11 p.m. - 6 a.m. curfew postponed a day to get the word out).

• 37 arrests, from disorderly conduct to public intoxication.

• 2 reports of sexual assaults; one proven to be false and one still under investigation.

The Houston Chronicle's DomeBlog has proven to be the best source for this information (and a lot more).

Update: The numbers are going down fast. I think that's a good thing.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Sort of scary, all right

"What I'm hearing, which is sort of scary, is that they all want to stay in Texas. Everybody is so overwhlemed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this (chuckle)--this is working very well for them."

-- former first lady Barbara Bush, speaking from Houston on Monday

Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff said it all, starting his news briefing Saturday afternoon: "Louisiana is a city that is largely underwater..."

Well, there's your problem right there.

If ever a slip-of-the-tongue defined a government's response to a crisis, this was it.

-- Keith Olbermann

Monday, September 05, 2005

From the Astrodome

I have several of my own experiences to relate, but it's still a bit raw -- and frankly, I am having trouble finding the words to describe it. I did ask for the observations of others, and they follow.

From an account posted here Saturday a.m. 9/3:

Just got back from the dome and I was overwhelmed by the shere numbers of folks they have put in there. The media was complaining that its not the 23,000 promised but in actuality there is probably close to 100,000 here throughout the Houston metroplex. It made me think of a modern day Hoovervile, by the sadness and magnitude of the trauma but the living conditions here seemed wonderful. I spent only an hour or so in the dome where around 17,000 people are living(its virtually a small US city) and was told they had just opened up the Astro Arena and that 3,500 new folks had been set up there. It felt more personal to be connecting with a mere 3500 folks. A pittance of people where I felt more comfortable. There are huge trucks rolling in with food, baby supplies and clothing and every conceivable medical supply. There are plenty of sick people but I din't sense the horible coughing and general sickness I expected to see.

For about 2 hours I got to play Santa Claus( and that's really something special for a Jewish guy) with my shopping cart of stuffed animals and small toys that seemed to light up the eyes of these kids who didn't seem to know what was going on before finally running out. The evacuees seem orderly and polite and appreciative of the help. I spoke with numerous young men who were in construction and ran small business operations(not the so called trash folks the media seem to be fixated on) and who's home were totally gone who told me they would be staying in Houston and relocating they just couldn't stand to return. There were men wearing the same dirty socks for 5 days that appreciated fresh socks and underwear and my trying to match their shoe sizes.

Anyways the medical units set up were overwhelming. There were dozens of doctors, nurses, and residents who had arrived just when I walked in, who had been instructed by the local hospitals to volunteer 20 hrs per week there and were giving these folks top notch care. I have psychologists friends who are consulting with these folks about their emotional trauma. There were xray machines, dialysis, and chemo going on and everyone was instructed to be given vaccinations, tetnus shots I believe.

A Friday (9/2) e-mail:

I don't know where to begin, how to describe what we saw last night. It's not total chaos inside, but about 2 steps from it. The smell meets you before you walk through the doors. Besides a name tag, there was little volunteer organization. 'Help wherever you can' was the order. We tried bringing food down from the upper levels, but made it back with very little. Everywhere people would stop us asking for the food, water, a cot, a blanket, clothes, phone...everything.

There was little food: only Doritos, some ham sandwiches and a little fruit. There was LITTLE clothing. We distributed what we had, but quickly ran out. People are walking around in clothing soaked in sewage. Many don't have shirts or shoes. There is a medical triage station. Many people needed medical care. Bryan came across a refugee leaning against a rail, close to passing out. Bryan discovered he was a schizophrenic w/ a heart condition and hadn't had his medication in 5 days.

There is a Lost Children section for kids who are alone and have been separated from their families. There was a good police presence. They did a great job of fanning out over the Dome. I was not concerned about safety.

My high school football team won the State Championship on that Dome field. Today, that field is covered w/ thousands of ppl desperate for just a clean pair of socks.

Friday evening:

I volunteered at the Astrodome today. It was heartbreaking to see everyone sitting on cots that are packed in so tight you can't walk between them. People were walking around shellshocked. As I walked in the Dome, I stopped to hug a woman standing outside crying.

It was a bit chaotic, but I guess I can understand. I basically just went in and registered. When I asked a Red Cross volunteer where they needed me, she said "just walk out there and someone will come up and ask you a question." I helped a little girl get some shoes. I tried to answer questions as best I could, but some I didn't know, such as "where do we find the FEMA area?" and "when can we register our children for school?" I would ask someone from the RC and they didn't know either. I do have to admit that it was nice to hear that wonderful NOLA accent and slang.

Two little boys asked me if I had any toys, so I found some for them, even though there aren't enough. Everyone seemed to have food and snacks. People were distributing drinks. I stood at a Miller Light bin loaded with soft drinks and water and handed these out to anyone that wanted it. Most people wanted ice, which we had, but no cups. I've asked friends here in Houston to donate toys and plastic cups.

More later.