Ignoblesse Unoblige

Compare and contrast. This will be on the test.

Statement by General Robert E. Lee in a letter to his wife (dated December 27, 1856) regarding a speech against abolition by President Franklin Pierce, with which he was “much pleased.”

The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, physically, and socially. The painful discipline they are undergoing is necessary for their further instruction as a race, and will prepare them, I hope, for better things.

Statement by Barbara Pierce Bush — mother to President George W. Bush, wife of President George H.W. Bush, and descendent of the same family as President Franklin Pierce — regarding New Orleans residents evacuated to the Astrodome in Houston after losing their homes, possessions, and families.

So many of the people in the arenas here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, this is…this is working very well for them.


Did anyone consider that his experience with horses was the reason Michael Brown was put in charge of FEMA? After all, if people in need are always waiting for the cavalry to come over the hill, who better to put in charge of the the agency meant to save them than a man with a decade of equine-related program activities?

Or maybe W’s purported fear of horses ties into the reason he wasn’t in closer contact those first couple of days.

Many thanks to Digby, Driftglass, and The Poor Man for links this week. Special thanks to onegoodmove for an extra posting of the Mayor Nagin interview from last week’s “Nightline.” It’s always good to know a few more people are reading.

Share Our Wealth

10 September 2005 is the 70th anniversary of the death of Louisiana Senator Huey P. Long, who was shot in the state capitol building in Baton Rouge on 8 September 1935.

Everyone who thinks that Huey was just a corrupt Southern politician — an image the monied elite in this country, including banker’s son Robert Penn Warren (All the King’s Men), did much to promote — should keep this in mind and wonder why the ruling class found him threatening.

From Every Man a King: The Autobiography of Huey P. Long by Huey P. Long, 1933



The increasing fury with which I have been and am to be, assailed by reason of the fight and growth of support for limiting the size of fortunes can only be explained by the madness which human nature attaches to the holders of accumulated wealth.

What I have proposed is:—


1. A capital levy tax on the property owned by any one person of 1% of all over $1,000,000 [dp: $14,275,000 in 2005 dollars]; 2% of all over $2,000,000 [$28,550,000] etc., until, when it reaches fortunes of over $10,000,000 [$145,750,000], the government takes all above that figure; which means a limit on the size of any one man’s forture to something like $50,000,000 [$728,750,000]—the balance to go to the government to spread out in its work among all the people.

2. An inheritance tax which does not allow one man to make more than $5,000,000 [$71,375,000] in a lifetime without working for it, all over that amount to go to the government to be spread among the people for its work.

3. An income tax which does not allow any one man to make more than $1,000,000 [$14,275,000] in one year, exclusive of taxes, the balance to go to the United States for general work among the people.

The forgoing program means all taxes paid by the fortune holders at the top and none by the people at the bottom; the spreading of wealth among all the people and the breaking up of a system of Lords and Slaves in our economic life. It allows the millionaires to have, however, more than they can use for any luxury they can enjoy on earth. But, with such limits, all else can survive.

That the public press should regard my plan and effort as a calamity and me as a menace is no more than should be expected, gauged in the light of past events. According to Ridpath, the eminent historian:

“The ruling classes always possess the means of information and the processes by which it is distributed. The newspaper of modern times belongs to the upper man. The under man has no voice; or if, having a voice, his cry is lost like a shout in the desert. Capital, in the places of power, seizes upon the organs of public utterance, and howls the humble down the wind. Lying and misrepresentation are the natural weapons of those who maintain an existing vice and gather the usufruct of crime.”

—Ridpath’s History of the World, Page 410.

In 1932, the vote for my resolution showed possibly a half dozen other Senators back of it. It grew in the last Congress to nearly twenty Senators. Such growth through one other year will mean the success of a venture, the completion of everything I have undertaken,—the time when I can and will retire from the stress and fury of public life, maybe as my forties begin,—a contemplation so serene as to appear impossible.

That day will reflect credit on the States whose Senators took the early lead to spread the wealth of the land among all the people.

Then no tear dimmed eyes of a small child will be lifted into the saddened face of a father or mother unable to give it the necessities required by its soul and body for life; then the powerful will be rebuked in the sight of man for holding what they cannot consume, but which is craved to sustain humanity; the food of the land will feed, the raiment clothe, and the houses shelter all the people; the powerful will be elated by the well being of all, rather than through their greed.

Then those of us who have pursued that phantom of Jefferson, Jackson, Webster, Theodore Roosevelt and Bryan may hear wafted from their lips in Valhalla:


New Orleans: The No-Fault Disaster? Naaah.

“What did the president know and when did he know it?”

It’s time to dust off the question that gained prominence in the Watergate investigation and point some fingers.

I first learned of the levee break watching the West Coast feed of CNN’s Paula Zahn NOW (no transcript available). On the West Coast, they incorporate breaking news segments with pre-recorded material, and one of the anchors (identified by others as Rick Sanchez) was interviewing a VP at Tulane University Hospital in the Central Business District who reported that police officials had informed her earlier in the day that there was a breach in the 17th Street levee. The water at the hospital — about 3 miles from where the breach occurred — was rising at a rate of about one inch every five minutes. That was at about 2am New Orleans time. A long report on the Times-Picayune Breaking News blog was posted at about that time, saying ” A large section of the vital 17th Street Canal levee, where it connects to the brand new ‘hurricane proof’ Old Hammond Highway bridge, gave way late Monday morning in Bucktown after Katrina’s fiercest winds were well north.” A report from Monday at 2:30pm said “Times-Picayune photographer Ted Jackson waded into the Lower 9th Ward Monday afternoon and reported a scene of utter destruction. The wind still howled, floodwaters covered vehicles in the street and people were clinging to porches and waiting in attics for rescuers who had yet to arrive.” Even right-wing idealogues on the Free Republic site knew something was up, if they tore themselves away from FOX News and flipped to CNN for a little bit.

The Times-Picayune had reported “6 to 8 feet of water” forcing people into their attics in the Lower 9th Ward as early as 9am. In fact, they reported flooding had been confirmed by Maj. Gen. Bennet C. Landreneau of the Louisiana National Guard, although at the time — an hour after the height of the storm — it wasn’t yet known whether the levees had been breached or overtopped. FEMA director Michael Brown may have missed that info — he didn’t get to Baton Rouge for a couple more hours. The first Times-Picayune report of a levee breach is at 2pm Monday.

In other words, there were already reports of severe flooding within an hour of the time the hurricane hit New Orleans. State officials were aware of it and had even briefed the press on the matter by 9am. The cause of the flooding (or at least one cause) was known by the early afternoon.

And here’s the kicker. Mayor Ray Nagin had told a radio station that water was coming over a levee into the 9th Ward in significant amounts in what the report describes as “an early morning interview.” That was early Monday morning.

The Howler Pleasures Himself Daily

Bob Somerby at The Daily Howler has been a tireless tracker of the truth for years (just visit his incomparable archives, as he often suggests). But he has some blind spots — as do we all. Unfortunately for someone who’s in the business of pinning the truth on liars, he’s not particularly responsive to fixing his own mistakes or issuing corrections.

For instance, on 2 September, he made the statement that President Bush’s “Thursday morning statement [about nobody anticipating levee breaches] to Diane Sawyer wasn’t necessarily as dim as it looked” and agreed with Matt Yglesias that “none of the relevant policymakers” did. Was that true? They were obviously anticipating flooding, that’s why a mandatory evacuation order was issued on Sunday. Flooding from water higher than the levee would have been even more catastrophic than that from a levee breach, because the level of the lake or the river would have had to be higher than the top of the levee. Pressure from high water is a primary cause of levee breaches. The statement that nobody anticipated a breach makes no sense.

On 7 September, Somerby took on the statements of Kanye West and others along the lines of “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” After repeatedly accusing “pseudo-liberals” of “pleasuring themselves” with the idea that race might have played into the lack of speedy response to help the trapped, hungry residents of New Orleans (and ignoring the documented racism in accounts of police in Gretna preventing people from walking across the Crescent City Connection bridge to reach food and water) he morphs comments by West and Don Imus into a subhead reading “MORE OF BUSH’S HATRED OF BLACK FOLK.” Prior to that usage, the words “hate” and “hatred” don’t appear in Somerby’s post. And once again, he makes an absolutist argument. By saying that poor whites were also disadvantaged by a lack of response, he pretends the racial aspect doesn’t exist. West and others didn’t say race was the only factor, that’s just Somerby’s construct.

Today, he’s criticizing California Democrat Rep. Diane Watson for complaining about the use of the word “refugees.” He references Kevin Drum at Washington Monthly, who uses a quote from an LA Times article:

“These are American citizens, plus they are the sons and daughters of slaves,” said Rep. Diane Watson (D-Los Angeles). “Calling them refugees coming from a foreign country does not apply to their status. This shows disdain for them. I’m almost calling this a hate crime.”

Drum complains about the concept that the use of “refugee” would be a hate crime, but Somerby’s objection is different:

Kevin notes how stupid it is to refer to this as a “hate crime.” But let’s go farther: Who exactly has called the New Orleans storm victims “refugees coming from a foreign country?” Answer: No one has made such a statement. Watson is pleasuring herself.

Of course, the primary meaning of “refugee” according to references like the Merriam-Webster Dictionary does associate it with people who cross national boundaries:

Main Entry: ref·u·gee
Pronunciation: “re-fyu-‘jE, ‘re-fyu-“
Function: noun
Etymology: French réfugié, past participle of (se) réfugier to take refuge, from Latin refugium
: one that flees; especially : a person who flees to a foreign country or power to escape danger or persecution

Criticizing word usage of spoken comments without audio reference is always difficult, because you’re dependent on the capabilities of the transcriber. But I can see how two very simple typographical changes to the statement would pretty much invalidate Somerby’s hyperbolic line of reasoning.

“These are American citizens, plus they are the sons and daughters of slaves,” said Rep. Diane Watson (D-Los Angeles). “Calling them refugees — coming from a foreign country — does not apply to their status. This shows disdain for them. I’m almost calling this a hate crime.”

It’s entirely possible that Watson was explaining what the term “refugees” meant to her and why she objected to it. For some reason, Somerby was more willing to give Bush a pass on ignorance of the possibility of a “breach” than he is on Watson’s possible attempt to explain why she was offended by “refugees.”

Personally, I like Somerby’s work overall. But an awful lot of this material seems as if it’s ill-thought-out padding, and if it continues without correction, it hurts his credibility.

Who Coulda Thunk 4?

Following up on the idea of Colin Powell being considered for a Katrina Czar, apparently he’s been interviewed by Barbara Walters for Friday night’s “20/20” and expresses regret for making false statements about Iraqi WMD at the UN two-and-a-half years ago.

Not that he was willing to stand up and tell the truth after he found out they were wrong. And, in Bush administration tradition, he “doesn’t blame former CIA Director George Tenet for the misleading information.” He drops the fault on “some lower-level personnel in the intelligence community.” Those bad apples.

But what floored me was that he’d use the phrase highlighted below after the past couple of weeks. Sure, he used it talking about Iraq, but still….

When Walters pressed Powell about that support, given the “mess” that the invasion has yielded, Powell said, “Who knew what the whole mess was going to be like?”

If that doesn’t disqualify him from leading relief efforts in the wake of Katrina, I don’t know what does.

Gulf Whore

The idea that someone like Rudy Giuliani or Colin Powell should be appointed as a “Katrina relief czar” is being heavily pushed right now but I have to seriously question the capabilities of either man, despite their relative bi-partisan popularity.

Powell is simply untrustworthy. As Secretary of State during Bush’s first administration, he was either so bamboozled by Iraq war proponents that he believed the hokum he peddled at the UN before the invasion, or he was unwilling to take a principled stand to prevent an unnecessary war that’s cost tens of thousands of innocent Iraqi lives and hundreds of billions of dollars. Gullibility and/or deference to authority are not qualities that would make him a good choice to get what the victims and communities affected by the hurricane need from this administration.

Giuliani’s reputation as a disaster coordinator is vastly inflated. The destruction of the World Trade Center towers affected a very small portion of Manhattan. Several thousand lives were lost, but the scale of the destruction in relative terms is much smaller. He’s never dealt with the kind of widespread devastation caused by a small hurricane, much less one that’s caused the kind of damage Katrina has. And given his performance over the past few years as a partisan voice, I’d have to question his willingness to stand up for the people affected by Katrina.

Either choice (or any similar names) are just a matter of pimping political celebrities who have no experience with the type of disaster, much less the scope of the disaster. That the Bush administration feels that someone from New York or DC should come in to “take charge” in the Gulf is no big surprise. What is astounding is that anyone else would buy into it.

Six Days Before the Presidential Proclamation: Why it Matters

Do you think that George W. Bush reacted slowly to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina? Are you tired of administration apologists talking about “pointing fingers” and “blame-gaming?”

Forget the arguments about how many buses would be needed to evacuate the poor. Forget whether local governments needed to ask for federal help or whether gunmen firing at helicopters delayed relief operations or whether incompetents ran FEMA and DHS. Forget the names Nagin, Blanco, Brown, and Chertoff.

There’s something that only George W. Bush could do. It’s something that only he could make the decision to do. It didn’t require a request from anyone. He didn’t need to go anywhere special to do it. And all he needed to do was sign his name. It’s called a presidential proclamation honoring the death of a person (or persons) by ordering federal installations to fly flags at half-staff.

On September 4, Bush issued a presidential proclamation ordering flags to be flown at half-staff in remembrance of the victims of Hurricane Katrina. That’s six days after the hurricane struck. That same day, he signed a half-staff proclamation in honor of Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who had died just the day before.

I went through the the White House’s list of presidential proclamations and compiled a table of events, dates, and how many days elapsed between the event and the proclamation.

I found eleven cases where Bush ordered the flag to be flown at half-staff. Seven of the proclamations were issued within a day of the event, as in the cases of 9/11, the Columbia disaster, and the deaths of Bob Hope, Ronald Reagan, and Pope John Paul II.

It took two days to honor former Supreme Court Justice Byron White. The proclamation for Strom Thurmond took four. A proclamation was issued for the victims of the Asian tsunami in either six or seven days, depending on how you account for the international date line.

But it took nearly a week for Bush to make even this simple gesture of respect for victims of Katrina. Not just the poor and the black in New Orleans, but for all victims in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia. Sure, he’d visited the disaster area by the time the proclamation was issued, but its signing provided no opportunity for a photo, no television coverage, no praise for a “Good boy, George.” All it would have been was an official acknowledgment of the human tragedy and suffering.

There was no need to write any fancy verbiage, the proclamations are just a couple of boilerplate paragraphs. All Bush had to do was tell a staffer to fill in the blanks and scrawl his signature on the page. He didn’t even need to leave his busy schedule of eating cake with John McCain in Arizona or buffing his image as a war president in San Diego, it would have been a matter of seconds on his part. But he and his staff didn’t get around to it until they realized they’d look pretty stupid issuing a proclamation for Rehnquist when they hadn’t paid the same respect to the thousands of victims of Katrina.

Bush’s response on this solitary point is an indicator of just how — to purloin Calvin Trillin’s characterization of Ronald Reagan — disengaged he is.

September 8, 2005 is the 1,458th day since September 11, 2001. The invasion of Iraq took place 904 days ago. The American Civil War — in which one half of this country defeated the forces of and occupied the other — lasted 1,458 days, from Ft. Sumter to Appomattox. Aren’t you glad Bush wasn’t in charge of that? Today is also the 70th anniversary of the assassination of populist Louisiana Senator Huey P. Long.

Calling It In

Preparing for The Big One. A White House photo by Paul Morse.

 President George W. Bush is handed a map by Deputy Chief of Staff Joe Hagin, center, during a video teleconference with federal and state emergency management organizations on Hurricane Katrina from his Crawford, Texas ranch on Sunday August 28, 2005.

Spot the hidden Cabinet members planning for the most devastating storm ever to hit the US!

President George W. Bush is handed a map by Deputy Chief of Staff Joe Hagin, center, during a video teleconference with federal and state emergency management organizations on Hurricane Katrina from his Crawford, Texas ranch on Sunday August 28, 2005.

Did the Proclamation Have to Be Requested, Too?

[UPDATE: 8 September 2005] Thanks to
The Poor Man
for the link. For more on this subject, see
“Six Days Before the Presidential Proclamation: Why It Matters.”

This is a compilation of presidential proclamations ordering flags to be flown at half-mast, from the White House’s “Proclamations issued by President Bush”:


Event Date

Proclamation Date

Elapsed Days
Death of Thousands in 9/11 Terrorist Attack
11 Sep 2001

12 Sep 2001
Death of Former Senate Majority Leader Michael Mansfield

05 Oct 2001

05 Oct 2001
Death of Former Supreme Court Justice Byron White

15 Apr 2002

17 Apr 2002
Death of the Columbia Shuttle Astronauts

01 Feb 2003

01 Feb 2003
Death of Senator Strom Thurmond

26 Jun 2003
30 Jun 2003
Death of Bob Hope

27 Jul 2003

28 Jul 2003
Death of President Ronald Reagan

05 Jun 2004

06 Jun 2004
Death of Hundreds of Thousands in Asian Tsunami

26 Dec 2004

01 Jan 2005
Death of Pope John Paul II

02 Apr 2005

02 Apr 2005
Death of Thousands in Hurricane Katrina

29 Aug 2005

04 Sep 2005

Death of Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist

03 Sep 2005

04 Sep 2005

* Apparently, no love for Strom.
** Technically, since the earthquake took place on Sunday morning in the Indian Ocean, the tsunami struck late Saturday (25 December 2005) Washington time. And it didn’t strike US soil, although a number of Americans died in the disaster.
*** Katrina hit the coast on Monday morning, but since many of the victims in New Orleans may not have drowned or died from neglect for several days, the number of days elapsed would vary. Some people likely died from results of the storm as he signed the proclamation — and afterward.

And maybe he should have read this before he signed it:

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 10, 2005

National Hurricane Preparedness Week, 2005
A Proclamation by the President of the United States of America

Each year from June through November, Americans living on the Eastern seaboard and along the Gulf of Mexico face an increased threat of hurricanes. These powerful storms can create severe flooding, cause power outages, and damage homes and businesses with their high winds, tornadoes, storm surges, and heavy rainfall. The effects of these storms can be devastating to families and cause lasting economic distress. During National Hurricane Preparedness Week, we call attention to the importance of planning ahead and securing our homes and property in advance of storms.

Last year, six hurricanes and three tropical storms hit the United States, causing the loss of dozens of lives and billions of dollars in damage. Across the United States, Americans responded to these natural disasters with extraordinary strength, compassion, and generosity. Many volunteers donated their time and talents to help with the cleanup, recovery, and rebuilding of communities devastated by the hurricanes and tropical storms.

To prepare for the 2005 hurricane season, I urge all our citizens to become aware of the dangers of hurricanes and tropical storms and to learn how to minimize their destructive effects. Our Nation’s weather researchers and forecasters continue to improve the accuracy of hurricane warnings, enabling residents and visitors to prepare for storms. By working together, Federal, State, and local agencies, first responders, the news media, and private citizens can help save lives and diminish the damage caused by these natural disasters.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim May 15 through May 21, 2005, as National Hurricane Preparedness Week. I call upon government agencies, private organizations, schools, and the news media to share information about hurricane preparedness and response to help save lives and prevent property damage. I also call upon Americans living in hurricane-prone areas of our Nation to use this opportunity to learn more about protecting themselves against the effects of hurricanes and tropical storms.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this tenth day of May, in the year of our Lord two thousand five, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and twenty-ninth.