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46 posts from September 4, 2005 - September 10, 2005

September 09, 2005

Katrina pictures up

I've put several photographs from my visit to New Orleans in a photo album on this blog. These are just a handful of pictures, and unfortunately not the best of the bunch. I'll enlarge and elaborate the photo library later.

Right now we're rushing to publicize Louisiana NAACP President Earnest Johnson, Sr.'s call to Bush and Congress to extend the Voting Rights Act of 1968 in light of the Katrina disaster.

Long story short, one third of Louisiana's voters have been displaced out-of-state. If the Voting Rights Act expires in 2007, as it is set to do, hundreds of thousands of voters could be disenfranchised. The displacement of Katrina evacuees could have major political implications for years to come. It's redistricting by resettlement.

We're making great progress on the missing persons database program. Our goal is to provide a single searchable database of missing and found persons. I'll have more details on that later.

Stay tuned. Other really big stuff is going down.

Bush: King of the Useless Gesture

News item from the BBC:

Bush declares Katrina prayer day

Displaced people have already been receiving special debit cards
US President George W Bush has declared Friday 16 September a national day of prayer and remembrance for the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Here is an excerpt from the President's remarks yesterday:

Hurricane Katrina was one of the worst natural disasters in our Nation's history and has caused unimaginable devastation and heartbreak throughout the Gulf Coast Region. A vast coastline of towns and communities has been decimated. Many lives have been lost, and hundreds of thousands of our fellow Americans are suffering great hardship. To honor the memory of those who lost their lives, to provide comfort and strength to the families of the victims, and to help ease the burden of the survivors, I call upon all Americans to pray to Almighty God and to perform acts of service.

As we observe a National Day of Prayer and Remembrance for the Victims of Hurricane Katrina, we pledge our support for those who have been injured and for the communities that are struggling to rebuild. We offer thanks to God for the goodness and generosity of so many Americans who have come together to provide relief and bring hope to fellow citizens in need. Our Nation is united in compassion for the victims and in resolve to overcome the tremendous loss that has come to America. We will strive together in this effort, and we will prevail through perseverance and prayer.

When Teddy Roosevelt (who I am sure spins like a top in his grave over the Republican Party of today) referred to the Presential podium as the "bully pulpit," I don't think he quite had this in mind. Sure, lots of Presidents, including Teddy, have done this kind of thing. It's part of the "ceremonial deism" that constitutes much of the civil religion of the United States. But generally Presidents try to do actual useful things before resorting to ritual and piety as a mask for their moral and political failures.

Don't get me wrong, I'm pro-prayer. But is it the president's job to call for prayer in a national emergency? In my church on Sunday we were already praying for the victims of Katrina, without the need or the desire for a Presidential mandate.

But there's also something profoundly creepy about the way George Bush is framing this "day of prayer." References to "Almighty" God in the aftermath of disaster always strike me as incredible. If God were almighty, why did he not prevent the bloody flood in the first place? (Of course, there are plenty of folks who have their ready made explanations for this as well.) What Bush's version of Christian faith lacks is any genuine sense of theodicy or divine solidarity with tragedy. God is almighty and powerful, but doesn't act. We are to pray for divine intercession in the aftermath of the disaster, but to what end? That God make people do what they're already doing?

Bush asks us to give thanks to God for the generosity of our fellow Americans, but while we're praying, would it not also be appropriate, as in the book of Job, to call God to account for the disaster, to ask how God could allow such misery and suffering to befall innocent people? Surely we shouldn't simply supplicate ourselves before an almight God who could help, but doesn't. Surely we aren't meant to passively accept our suffering, to pray for "pie in the sky when we die." Surely when we pray to God, we should be about the business of asking some hard questions of God.

Therefore, I would ammend the President's call for a national day of prayer and remembrance, and call for a day of complaint and lamentation, of crying out to the heavens for justice to be done. But, more than anything, I would want us to continue to be about the business repairing the devestation, embracing those in need, and quietly seeking spiritual solace in service to one another, rather than as part of yet another of Bush's useless gestures.

September 08, 2005

NOLA update: The Convention Center

I'm on I-10 riding back to Baton Rouge from New Orleans. I'm stunned by the devastation. At the moment, feeling "burnt out" is not a dead metaphor. It feels like the adrenalin seared the lining of my blood vessels.

After spending the night in the Ford Excursion, we cleared the military checkpoint without incident. We found the city deserted except for military, police, and EMS. Emergency vehicles sped past with their with their lights flashing and their sirens off. The battleship Iwo Jima sat at anchor.

The Convention Center was horrifying: A sea of filthy orange-upolstered institutional chairs fermenting in the sun. Blocks and blocks of of them on the sidewalk. Mountains of trash. Abandoned supplies everywhere -- cases of muffins, an entire crate of coffee creamers scattered and bursting in the heat, dirty needles, unopened bottles of sparkling cider that looked like champagne, rhinestone earings still in their packages, a tiny Spiderman flip-flop, water bottles full of urine, strollers, several barbeques... It was as if the scene was frozen in time. The debris evidently hadn't been touched since the evacuation two days earlier. The 82nd Airborne was on the scene in their red berets. I was nervous about leaving anything in the car. But there were ten Airborne guys in the parking lot alone. A few packs of smokes changed hands and I suddenly felt supremely comfortable leaving my gear in the rig. Black Hawk helicopters were taking off and landing across the next parking lot over. It's really something to see a Black Hawk skimming the horizon of a devastated American city.

I'll post pictures as soon as I upload them. Stay tuned for updates.

Sharia tribunals in... Ontario?

Posted by Thad

I'd like to invite comment on this story, especially from our esteemed guest bloggers.

Sharia move in Canada draws anger

Women's rights activists are to march in 11 cities in Canada and Europe against plans to allow Sharia law tribunals in the province of Ontario.

Islamic law could be used to settle civil and marital disputes under a proposal made by former Ontario Attorney General Marion Boyd.

Roman Catholic and Jewish arbitration tribunals already operate Ontario.

Opponents of Sharia law say allowing Islamic tribunals could lead to discrimination against women.

A protest march is scheduled for Thursday in Toronto, which is the capital of Canada's most populous and multi-cultural province.

Other Canadian marches are due in Ottawa, Waterloo, Montreal and Victoria, while in Europe there will be rallies in Amsterdam, Dusseldorf, Stockholm, Goteborg, London and Paris.

For me, the money quote is this:

Ms Boyd argues that if Sharia is not allowed, all religious arbitration bodies could be abolished.

And that would be bad because… ?

- Thad

Radio Free NOLA

Posted by Thad

Here's a report from the field from one of Lindsay's traveling companions, AMERICAblog's Kyle Shank.

UPDATE: Kyle's first NOLA diary.

- Thad

On Location

Posted by Thad

I just heard from Lindsay -- after spending last night in Baton Rouge, she is currently driving down Highway 10 in New Orleans with Bob Brigham of Operation Flashlight and AMERICAblog correspondent Kyle Shank.

Incidentally, Lindsay mentioned that they happened to drive by the American Federation of Musicians Local 174-496 building, which is still standing. The union is currently accepting donations to assist all the New Orleans musicians who have been injured, become ill, or been displaced, and could really use your help.

- Thad

"Those who chose to stay"

Posted by Thad

This first-hand account by Larry Bradshaw and Lorrie Beth Slonsky, two California paramedics trapped in New Orleans -- by law enforcement officials who refused to let anyone leave the city on foot -- has been all over the blogosphere. (I saw it first at Making Light.) If you haven't read it yet, go.

The Health Care Blog has corroboration.

- Thad

The Foxes Investigating the Chicken Coop

I've been struck by the sheer chutzpah of Bush and the Congressional Republicans in the aftermath of Katrina. In the past, after a disaster of this magnitude (I'm referring here both to the hurricane and the response), a president might appoint a panel, or an independent commission to investigate the get to the bottom of things. President Bush? Nah! From the BBC:

Bush to lead inquiry into Katrina

Little can be done to stop fires in New Orleans' swamped streets US President George W Bush says he will lead an investigation into how the Hurricane Katrina disaster was handled.

"I'm going to find out over time what went right and what went wrong," he said in reply to criticism that the authorities were too slow to respond.

And then of course there's this gem from the Congressional Republicans:

A bipartisan joint congressional committee will review the response at all levels of government to Hurricane Katrina, the leaders of the House and Senate said Wednesday.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, said in a written statement the joint committee would report its findings to Congress no later than February 15 next year.

Critics argue the federal government took too long to mobilize aid, causing thousands of storm victims to languish for days without food, water and other necessities.

Frist told reporters during a brief appearance that the new committee will be composed of senior members of Congress, with Republicans in the majority.

A high-ranking House Democratic aide said lawmakers from his party had not been contacted yet.

It's uncertain when the joint hearings would begin, but GOP leaders have said repeatedly they don't want to pull officials out of the disaster area to testify.

Every single time they pull this kind of thing, I think to myself, "Ah! This will be the time they go too far! This will be the time that the American public  refuses to let them get away with the white wash!" Every single time. And every single time I'm wrong. Will somebody please tell me how -- how! -- they get away with this?


I'd like to thank Lindsay for allowing me to participate in the guest-blog-athon here this week and express my admiration for her willingness to go and give of herself to some people who really need her. I hope that I can come up with some clever and/or insightful things to write while I'm here.

A bit about me:

You can usually find my musings over at Scott Paeth's Semi-Daily Blog, which is a bit off the beaten paths of the blogosphere. I can commonly be found posting on issues relating to the realtionship of politics, society, and religion in the United States.

I'm a Religious Studies professor at DePaul University in Chicago, IL, working in issues of religion and business, globalization, and the ethics of war and peace. All things considered, I'm pretty humbled to be debuting here at Majikthise, particularly in such illustrious company.

I'll be posting more later. For now though, I'm enjoying my fellow guest-bloggers' posts.

Randall Robinson is the new Ward Churchill

Posted by Thad

It's been said before, but Jonah Goldberg really is immune to parody:

Back when NPR and other news outlets were reporting that New Orleans had “dodged the bullet” on hurricane Katrina I made an ill-conceived joke in The Corner about how the Superdome was going to hell-in-a-hand basket. I wrote:
ATTN: SUPERDOME RESIDENTS [Jonah Goldberg] I think it's time to face facts. That place is going to be a Mad Max/thunderdome Waterworld/Lord of the Flies horror show within the next few hours. My advice is to prepare yourself now. Hoard weapons, grow gills and learn to communicate with serpents. While you're working on that, find the biggest guy you can and when he's not expecting it beat him senseless. Gather young fighters around you and tell the womenfolk you will feed and protect any female who agrees to participate without question in your plans to repopulate the earth with a race of gilled-supermen. It's never too soon to be prepared.

I was mocking what at the time seemed like out-of-control media hype. When things turned out to be worse than I — or most of us — ever could have expected, I apologized.

That didn’t stop scores of blogs and hundreds of angry e-mailers from tearing me a new one for my insensitivity. As the week progressed, however, a lot of folks wrote me — half jokingly — to congratulate me on my prescience. After all, except for the gill-growing and serpent-talking I turned out to get it pretty much exactly right. If I’d only said I wasn’t kidding, I’d be in the clear.

PFC Pantload spends the rest of his driveling column desperately trying to fan the flames of outrage away from Dear Leader and his horsey-set pal at FEMA, and towards Randall Robinson, who wrote: "It is reported that black hurricane victims in New Orleans have begun eating corpses to survive." He scolds Robinson for poor fact-checking (and also for being a racist America-hater, naturally), and concludes by imploring our sympathy for all the mean, mean emails he's been getting this week:

Which gets us to the real point: Robinson belongs to the growing ranks of Bush haters and race industrialists who see nothing wrong with saying the worst thing possible about Bush — or about America under his “rule” — because the benefit of the doubt must always be given to any allegation which ascribes the maximum evil to Bush. Robinson wrote “No-one” had come to help the blacks of New Orleans even as it was obvious that perhaps the largest domestic rescue and recovery operation in American history was already well underway. I harbor many criticisms of the federal response, but there’s an enormous chasm between doing nothing and doing what had already been done as Robinson’s hands shook.

I’m sorry for personalizing this, but this makes my hands shake a bit. For a week my e-mail box filled with the nastiest stuff imaginable because of a joke or two I made when everything seemed like it was going to be okay (I particularly liked the e-mail titled “Are All Zionists A**holes?”). I apologized, sincerely, for my undue levity. Now Robinson, a man far more respected and better known than I am, flatly asserts that blacks — and blacks alone — became such savages that they literally fell like ghouls upon the bloated corpses of the dead floating in the filth of New Orleans. And he sees nothing wrong with saying so. There’s not even a trace of shame that maybe there would be something amiss in the souls of black folks were this allegation in fact accurate. Objecting to the cannibalistic tendencies of black people would just be “blaming the victim.”

Oh sure, it turned out to be a grotesque falsehood he never bothered to spend a moment fact-checking. But why should he bother when the burden of proof falls squarely on Bush and Bush alone?

I will leave the gentle readers of this blog to perform their own vivisection.

However... who, exactly, does Jonah think he's kidding with his continued invocation of this "dodged a bullet" bullshit? Okay, he mentions NPR -- oh really? Please, Jonah, tell us again how "extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof."

- Thad