Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Worst. Inauguration. Ever.

So, I don't even know how to write about this without it sounding like bitter grousing, and frankly, I'm a little embarrassed to have to report that after five hours of standing in the bitter cold, getting pushed and shoved to the point where you start to feel for your safety, and being herded to and fro, the most I can report about the inauguration is that the 21-gun salute is really loud.

So loud, in fact, you can feel it outside the security perimeter.

That's right, despite having in hand magic purple tickets, and lining up hours before the gates opened, I saw nothing. I heard, beyond the guns, nothing.

I followed all the signs, I went to the appointed spot. . . and what? There was almost no one who had a clue of what was to happen next. Some people who seemed to know what they were talking about stood on the back of a garbage truck and shouted--sans any amplification--so that all anyone could make out was that they were pointing in a certain direction. Most of us followed.

The gates weren't to open till 9, so it made sense that the movement stopped at that point, but what is inexplicable is what happened after that point.

The lines for the Purple Tickets and the lines for the Yellow Tickets crisscrossed at numerous points causing every bit of the road-blocking mayhem you would imagine.

Over the next 90 minutes, I traced a circle with a diameter of no more than 20 feet. We then came to a stop just outside a fence within within full view of the metal detectors and the uniforms that were staffing them.

And, there I stood. I stood next to women from Florida who had saved for months to make this trip. I stood next to a woman separated by the crowd from her husband. I stood next to people who had been standing in that same spot since 5am. . . since, in one case, 3am.

At about 10:30, two women with Day-Glo vests who seemed like they were speaking in some official capacity, pushed down the middle of this crowd, explaining to a few people at a time that they would be opening a second entry directly behind us. But looking there, I saw no signs of movement. This news, however, caused about a third of the crowd to turn 180 degrees and try to work themselves against the general flow. Needless to say, a nightmare.

And then things began on the Hill, you could tell because they would stop letting people in every time anyone of national import was being led to the Capitol balcony. I knew this because a guy next to me had CNN on his mobile phone.

And then we would move just enough to cause everyone behind me to surge forward. I was pushed. I was crushed. A woman in a wheelchair repeatedly was pushed into me--I finally had to warn her that I was about to fall on the woman and she needed to back off.

And all the time I am watching other people go through the metal detectors that were meant for my crowd and me. It gradually became very clear that they were drawing from another line--a line that had formed hours after mine.

But there was no escape--no chance to leave my area. I was boxed in. I couldn't join the line of latecomers.

People chanted, "Let us in." People chanted, "We have tickets." People chanted "we are purple," waving their precious 4x6 inch tickets in the air.

And then they just started begging and shouting. Let us in. We have tickets. We've been here for hours. Let us in.

And then it was noon. And everything stopped.

And then a 21-gunner of deafening percussion.

And then, shear, crushing disappointment descends over the crowd. Unlike the smiles on all the faces you walked by on, say, election night, or in the metro last night, this crowd had to summon up all they had left after multiple hours in the cold to give a tepid ovation to the inauguration of a new president.

I know because this was how I felt. And then I felt selfish for feeling that way. But the disappointment, amplified by the cold, and the overall expenditure of energy over not just this election cycle, but the eight years of Bush misrule, really made it hard not to feel utterly crestfallen.

I probably would have rather witnessed this moment from just about anywhere else than where I was.

And then I overhear a conversation between people waiting on my side of the fence with a well-insulated security officer on the other side. Those with me were begging to be let in for the speech. The officer said, "I can't tell you anything that will make you feel better."

I look up over this post, and, believe it or not, I don't think I even begin to capture the chaos and lack of organization--and, of course, the frustration and anger that this caused in all of us out there.

The crowd began to disperse. I was happy to have a little breathing room, but still extremely unhappy. And then a wild quiet fell over everyone. It was actually quite amazing to behold when I distanced myself from my disappointment. Small groups gathered around people's phones and radios to listen to the inaugural address. And there they stood and strained. I tried to listen, but I couldn't really hear, so I decided to just keep walking. . . and as I walked, I kept walking by these groups of people listening to the speech. I have a picture of some folks gathered around a police canine car that had its windows open and the radio turned up. Dogs barked along with the new president.

What is the takeaway from all of this? I honestly am not sure. At least not yet. I will have to watch the swearing in and speech on YouTube. And maybe after a day or two, I will be able to evaluate the actual transition of power, the little "moment" between Justice Roberts and President Obama that people are already telling me about, the speech. But now?

(btw, I have just spoken with someone who had a blue ticket, and had an almost identical experience)


Thursday, January 15, 2009

Maddow, Herbert, Website Urge US to Get Afghanistan Right

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. I can’t believe I just had to type that, but when it comes to US policymakers vis-à-vis America’s war footing, the Obama Administration is looking all too ready to embrace the melodic cynicism of Pete Townsend.

Rachel Maddow began a Tuesday segment on Afghanistan by reporting with a degree of disbelief that Bush appointee Lt. General Douglas E. Lute would stay on as Barack Obama’s War Czar (officially the Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Iraq and Afghanistan). Add Lute to a team that already includes Bush warriors Robert Gates and David Petraeus, along with a new Secretary of State that has a few authorization for military force votes under her belt, and one might be inclined to start checking one's pockets for missing change.

Take, for example, a front-page article from yesterday’s Washington Post reporting that the incoming president plans to sign off on a Pentagon plan to send an additional 30,000 US troops into Afghanistan. This “plan,” says WaPo, is designed to “help buy enough time for the new administration to reappraise the entire Afghanistan war effort and develop a comprehensive new strategy for what Obama has called the ‘central front on terror.’”

Escalate the conflict while you think about what to do. . . isn’t that the kind of “shoot first, ask questions later” approach voters rejected just ten august weeks ago?

Some folks have a different idea: How about we ask those questions first? One group of such people have put together Get Afghanistan Right, a campaign and affiliated website that opposes the escalation and calls for an informed discussion of alternative, non-military strategies to end the conflict and stabilize the region. (Full disclosure: I know many of the people working on GAR, and was an early supporter of their efforts.) Maddow gave a nice plug in her Tuesday broadcast.

Another prominent voice asking the Obama Administration not to deepen the quagmire is New York Times columnist Bob Herbert. “Get out of it as quickly as you can,” says Herbert.

Read more »

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Bush’s Final Presser: Redefining Success, One Rooftop Rescue at a Time

Still-President George W. Bush, looking on Monday morning like most of America now feels, stood before the White House press corps one last time to express his undying gratitude for their piss-poor performance during his eight-years in office. From groggy start to rambling finish, it was a jaw-dropping performance.

In keeping with a long-standing pattern, Bush repeatedly “admitted” that his “rhetoric” might not have been right (“Obviously, some of my rhetoric has been a mistake.”). All the deeds were fine; he just didn’t sell them well. For the Boy King, this has always been the PR presidency; he is now just more loose-lipped about it. Like with so many crappy, Peter-Principled CEO types, he has made the strategy the tactic.

In that vain vein, the most startling moment to my ear and eye was Bush’s perception of his failure to respond to Hurricane Katrina with anything resembling appropriate gravity:

Don't tell me the federal response was slow when there was 30,000 people pulled off roofs right after the storm passed.

You know, I remember going to see those helicopter drivers, Coast Guard drivers, to thank them. . .

Wait, hang on—I just have to interrupt for minute: “Helicopter drivers?” “Coast Guard Drivers?”

I think we call them “pilots.”

OK, carry on. . . .

You know, I remember going to see those helicopter drivers, Coast Guard drivers, to thank them for their courageous efforts to rescue people off roofs -- 30,000 people were pulled off roofs right after the storm moved through. That's a pretty quick response.

Could things have been done better? Absolutely. Absolutely.

But when I hear people say the federal response was slow, then what are they going to say to those chopper drivers or the 30,000 that got pulled off the roofs?

Amazing, right? It doesn’t even occur to Bush that having to pull people off of roofs is wholly emblematic of the slow response. Last time I checked, the standard advice when faced with a big hurricane is not “First, get on your roof.”

As for the levees breaking, the floods, well, “no one could have anticipated. . .” except, well, um:

In the 48 hours before Hurricane Katrina hit, the White House received detailed warnings about the storm's likely impact, including eerily prescient predictions of breached levees, massive flooding, and major losses of life and property, documents show.

A 41-page assessment by the Department of Homeland Security's National Infrastructure Simulation and Analysis Center (NISAC), was delivered by e-mail to the White House's "situation room," the nerve center where crises are handled, at 1:47 a.m. on Aug. 29, the day the storm hit, according to an e-mail cover sheet accompanying the document.

The NISAC paper warned that a storm of Katrina's size would "likely lead to severe flooding and/or levee breaching" and specifically noted the potential for levee failures along Lake Pontchartrain. . . .

In a second document. . . a computer slide presentation by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, prepared for a 9 a.m. meeting on Aug. 27, two days before Katrina made landfall, compared Katrina's likely impact to that of "Hurricane Pam," a fictional Category 3 storm used in a series of FEMA disaster-preparedness exercises simulating the effects of a major hurricane striking New Orleans. But Katrina, the report warned, could be worse.

The hurricane's Category 4 storm surge "could greatly overtop levees and protective systems" and destroy nearly 90 percent of city structures, the FEMA report said. It further predicted "incredible search and rescue needs (60,000-plus)" and the displacement of more than a million residents.

So, that’s four days notice—or six days before those helicopter drivers got to work—but the “Hurricane Pam” simulation, that was done a full year before Katrina.

But why stop there? Bush was actually warned about the problem with the New Orleans levees over four years before Katrina; his response:

Funding for flood prevention was slashed by 80 per cent, work on strengthening levees to protect the city was stopped for the first time in 37 years, and planning for housing stranded citizens and evacuating refugees from the Superdome were crippled. Yet the administration had been warned repeatedly of the dangers by its own officials.

In early 2001, at the start of Mr Bush's presidency, his Government's Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) warned that a hurricane hitting New Orleans would be the deadliest of the three most likely catastrophes facing America; the others were a massive San Francisco earthquake and, prophetically, a terrorist attack on New York.

So, I guess, in a manner of speaking, his “response” wasn’t slow at all—Bush laid the groundwork for those wonderful rooftop photo-ops four years in advance.

This sort of truth-squading could be done with just about every response Bush gave in his presser. And it should be done, not just today, but for every instance of Bush legacy burnishing we will be forced to endure, push back on, fight, and re-fight for many years to come. Though it might be rare to see the burnishing this unvarnished, it has been made apparent from these instant re-writes on current events, through the neocons’ Vietnam revisionism, to the recent attempts to trash-talk the New Deal that nothing is safe or sacred.

Certainly not the truth.

. . . .

On a related point, nothing exemplifies just what a petty, egomaniacal, vindictive jerk this president was, is, and will always be than his treatment Helen Thomas. Bush had stopped calling on Thomas long ago, the White House press office even tried to take away her front row seat—a “punishment” for asking tough questions—but to not give her the honor of the first or last question at his final presser was, to my mind, classless.

cross-posted on Firedoglake

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