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Monday, September 12, 2005

Bush offers ‘no-wage’ contracts for Katrina cleanup

WASHINGTON (Rooters)—President Bush issued an executive order Thursday allowing federal contractors rebuilding in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to pay below the prevailing wage.

In a notice to Congress, Bush said the hurricane had caused “a national emergency” that permits him to take such action under the 1931 Davis-Bacon Act in ravaged areas of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi.

The Davis-Bacon law requires federal contractors to pay workers at least the prevailing wages in the area where the work is conducted. It applies to federally funded construction projects such as highways and bridges.

Bush’s executive order suspends the requirements of the Davis-Bacon law for designated areas hit by the storm.

Early Sunday evening, responding to criticism from Congressional Republicans that the executive order “did not go far enough,” President Bush issued a second order, stipulating that select federal contractors would be able to offer “no-wage” contracts in the city of New Orleans and along the Mississippi-Alabama coast.

“America has a long and proud tradition of coming together to enable certain groups of employees to work for their room and board,” Bush said today while touring the Gulf Coast.  “With these ‘no-wage’ contracts, America can get moving again.  The good news is—and it’s hard for some to see it now—that out of these ‘no-wage’ contracts Trent Lott is going to get himself a fantastic house. And I’m still looking forward to sitting on the porch.”

“Old times there are not forgotten,” replied a beaming Lott.

Conservative commentators applauded the President’s decision.  “When the Thirteenth Amendment was drafted,” said George Will, “no one anticipated the Hobbesian war of all against all that New Orleans has become.  But it is the President’s job to take bold, decisive action in a national emergency, and to determine which of our laws have become quaint or obsolete.  Once again, this President has shown that he is precisely the man for that job.”

Sunday night, Congressional Democrats sharply criticized the order, and were promptly rebuked the following morning by White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan.  “The President made this decision at the end of a solemn day of mourning and remembrance,” McClellan said.  “It is a sign of just how low the Democrat party has fallen that its leaders would attack the President on the anniversary of the worst terrorist attack in our nation’s history.”

The President’s mother, Barbara Bush, pointed out that no-wage contracts can be extremely popular for people devastated by Hurricane Katrina: “What I’m hearing, which is sort of scary,” she remarked on National Public Radio, “is that some of them are singing with happiness.  And many of them were idle anyway, so this could work out very well for them.”

President Bush did not say which industries would be eligible for the contracts, but one White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, remarked that the affected areas were ideal for growing cotton, and “cotton is a really great fabric in all kinds of weather—light, comfortable, versatile.  I think we’ll need a lot of it in the next few years, particularly in the regions most vulnerable to hurricanes.”

Tom DeLay (R- Tx.) agreed, quickly rounding up a group of evacuees for emergency planting.  With the help of law enforcement officials from Gretna, Louisiana, who surrounded the evacuees and began to march them to the fields at gunpoint, DeLay pulled aside three of them and asked, “Now tell me the truth boys, is this kind of fun?”

Posted by Michael on 09/12 at 10:27 AM
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Thursday, September 08, 2005

Wal-Mart to Hold Job Auction

Guest post by John McGowan

In a Labor Day press conference, Walmart CEO McScrooge Walton outlined the giant retailer’s reactions to—and immediate plans in relation to—Hurricane Katrina. 

“It’s a sad commentary on the state of this nation,” Walton said.  “A little water in the streets and everyone’s looking for a hand-out.  Of course, we’re not against a little well-meant charity from private citizen to private citizen.  But you make this stuff systematic and there’s hell to pay.  No more work ethic, no more responsibility.  And it isn’t just the people who are to blame.  Corporate America’s gone soft.  Paying workers who aren’t working?  Who ever heard of such a thing?  It may look hard-hearted, but the only way to recover from this disaster is to trust to the same economic laws of supply and demand, of buy cheap and sell dear, that made this country prosperous and great.”

“So I am pleased to announce that Walmart will hold a job auction on September 15th.  People are going to need jobs—and we got ‘em.  The auction rules are simple.  Jobs will go to the highest bidder.  And, yes, we understand that some folks may not have ready cash.  So we will hold a supplementary auction where the bidding will be for the lowest wage.  We stand pledged to do everything we can to get the region’s economy back on its feet.”

To objections from the gathered reporters, McScrooge said: “I’ve learned two things in my years as a businessman.  First, sometimes you have to spend money to make money.  A job is an investment.  People will be happy to pay money to get one.  Second, even though you sometimes have to pay money to make money, the most successful businessman is the one who can figure out most often how to make the other guy pay.”

Asked if he had any regrets about Walmart’s preparations for or responses to the storm and its aftermath, McScrooge replied: “I sure do.  From now on, every Walmart employee is going to be trained by the NRA on how to use all those guns we keep in stock.  You won’t ever see a Walmart looted in the future.  I guarantee it.”

When one reporter suggested that armed employees might be tempted to take on management, McScrooge scoffed: “This is America, not Canada.  Just let ‘em try it.  They’d be replaced by illegals faster than you can say Rio Grande.”

Tuesday morning found the company back-pedaling furiously from the CEO’s intemperate comments.  A NPR story that morning reported that Walmart employees displaced by the hurricane would be paid for three days of missed work, as contrasted to two weeks pay for employees of McDonalds and Northrop-Grumman, and indefinite pay from some of the smaller employers in the area.  Curiously, the Walmart web site says nothing about paying displaced workers.  All it says is:

• Any displaced associate can come and work in any other U. S. Wal-Mart store.  Thus far, these associates have been transposed and are working from stories as far away as Alaska, California and Nevada, with many more in neighboring states of Georgia, Texas, and Florida.

Walmart has not returned this reporter’s calls, so I can’t tell you for sure if the job auction will be held on the 15th, or what the word “transposed” means when used to describe associates now working in Alaska, or if there is three days of pay (i.e. about $125) available for Walmart associates washed out of a job. In any case, the FEMA debit cards definitely look like a better deal. 

Posted by John McGowan on 09/08 at 08:01 AM
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Wednesday, September 07, 2005

This post is not about Katrina

Because I just can’t take it anymore.  I don’t want to get all pessimistic and shit on this happy-go-lucky blog, but as Janet said today, “I think we should get ready for one vicious, racist backlash,” and you know, I think she’s right.  That backlash will establish its “intellectual” home base at the National Review, which, after all, spent its first decade or two arguing that Negroes weren’t ready for integration.  Earlier today, Roger Ailes (the good one) spotted Jonah Goldberg saying this while railing about Kanye West:

The danger here is real. Tens of thousands of black New Orleaneans persevered with dignity and sacrifice in the face of Katrina. But a sizable minority of blacks—including police—behaved reprehensibly in the aftermath, shooting at rescue workers, raping, killing and, yes, looting (though no cannibalism).

No cannibalism! Ha ha, that’s a good one.  What about the old bone-through-the-nose joke?  That always gets ‘em going over at the American Spectator, especially when it’s applied “evenhandedly” to black police officers.  But note:  strangely enough, Jonah’s complaint about “racial generalizations” does not mention the important scholarly work of his colleague at the National Review, John Derbyshire, who has recently cited with approval the claim that African-Americans “tend to possess poorer native judgment than members of better-educated groups,” and “need stricter moral guidance from society.” As I noted in a comment on Roger’s site, here Goldberg is carrying not only Derbyshire’s water but the torch passed to him by William F. Buckley—and the hood, too.

Within two weeks, Andrew Sullivan will issue a passionate denunciation of far-right Christian preachers’ ravings about gays and lesbians in the Crescent City, while pointing out the public service he performed, while editor of The New Republic, in giving Charles Murray’s and Richard Herrnstein’s The Bell Curve a fair and balanced hearing.  Following a suggestion made on this website by Ophelia Benson, Rick Santorum will introduce a bill on the Senate floor, requiring 100,000 New Orleans evacuees to work at Wal-Mart for $5.15/hr, 6 days/wk, 51 wks/yr, for 95 years (do the math!) in order to pay off the $150 billion they cost us by not leaving the city when they were told.  John Stossel will blame the bleeding-heart New Deal for the debacle.  Tom DeLay will blame the teaching of evolution, just as he did after Columbine.  And every last wingnut in the country will turn with fury on the looters and the thugs who prevented Bush, Chertoff, and Brown from delivering the aid they so desperately tried to deliver.

For this, folks, is the American right’s massive Ward Churchill moment, the moment in which they get to blame the underclass victims of Katrina for the devastation the Gulf Coast has suffered these past two weeks.  One difference between our Ward Churchill moment and theirs is that we didn’t even know ours was happening at the time:  Churchill’s ravings about the “little Eichmanns” of 9/11 appalled their tiny original audience in September 2001 (scroll down to the “update” on Kevin Drum’s post) and circulated for three years only on lunatic-fringe websites, the kind of places where readers could also learn that the Trilateral Commission killed Bruce Lee on secret orders from Queen Elizabeth.  Another difference, of course, is that their Ward Churchill moment will quickly become the stuff of national policy.  For it’s perfectly all right to blame the victims of a catastrophe—so long as they possess poor (ahem) native (ahem, ahem) judgment.

Digby has more on this theme, ably assisted by Rick Perlstein.  Just so you can’t say, as did the Incompetent Horse Whisperer and his friend The Devil, that you weren’t warned.

UPDATE:  In comments, Glaivester notes, “Actually, Jonah’s ‘no cannibalism’ quip was probably not a gratuitous reference to a racist stereotype, but rather a reference to claims (later retracted) made by Randall Robinson that blacks in New Orleans were being reduced to cannibalism to survive. Point taken, Glaivester, and thanks for making it.  I’m willing to believe that Goldberg’s remark was not quite the gratuitious, racist quip I had taken it to be.  And it was foolish of Mr. Robinson to open a post with such an incendiary, unsubstantiated, and dubious claim.  I think Goldberg was having a little fun with the claim nonetheless, and frankly, after reading his remarks on the “Thunderdome” in New Orleans, I was willing to suspect the worst.

But I urge you all to read the comments in response to Robinson’s post.  Many of them are chilling: 

Most of these people CHOSE to stay in New Orleans, and now they’re regretting their poor choice.

Only the most foolish of morons would stoop to call this a race issue. Please. Spare me. All the race baiting does nothing. FOUR days before the hurricane, people were told to leave. They chose not to. Now, I am not saying that their suffering is to be ignored, but when the government tells you to leave, you ignore them, and then you blame the government for your suffering? That is beyond ignorant. What happened to Americans being about personal responsiblity?

If you want to blame someone, blame the people “running” Louisiana’s government. Blame the incompetent mayor. Blame the people that ignored their warning.

And some are worse:

This is just chlorine in the genepool, dummies too stupid to leave deserve what they get.

This is not about race, this was a natural disaster, and I am so tired of race hustlers like you not taking responsiblity for yourself, your actions, and your communities. This was a double pronged natural disaster ( hurricane + flood). You would have to live on Mars to not know a category 5 hurricane was bearing down on New Orleans. Where the hell is people’s common sense. If they didn’t have it before they just learned a very hard lesson. It is so easy to monday morning quarterback this thing and say that because of race, they were left behind. It looks to me, and to most Americans that I have talked to, that they made a conscious choice.

These remarks would be beneath notice—and beneath comment—under ordinary circumstances.  They do not represent the sentiments of the vast majority of white people—or, indeed, the vast majority of sane people of any hue.  (On the contrary, the vast majority of white people are donating their time, money, labor, and homes to help the evacuees.) But the echoes of these remarks can be heard in much more “respectable” places—in the words of Mike Brown (blaming those who did not leave) and John Derbyshire (attributing that “choice” to their race).  The backlash of which I speak is not a mass phenomenon; but the O’Reilly-Hannity-Limbaugh crew are saying things that are very much like these comments, and there’s no telling where that might lead.


Blogtending Notes: Theory Tuesdays will return eventually.  John McGowan will post tomorrow—his last Thursday under the Bérubé-McGowan Comprehensive Co-Blogging Agreement of 2005.  After that, John will post on every other Tuesday.  Yeah, I know, his posts have been better than great, but he’s got other work to do, as do I (though I haven’t been doing some of it lately, for obvious reasons).  When we met with Roxanne Cooper in DC we promised each other we’d keep our posts under 2000 words from here on in.  This we solemnly swear to you, even as our government descends to tinhorn-generalissimo standards of behavior.  I’ll be on the road again for the next few days, with Internet access here and there.  In the meantime, check out Gary and Julia for all the things I can’t even begin to catalog here. . . .

Posted by Michael on 09/07 at 10:32 PM
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Operation Cover Our Asses goes into overdrive

As Billmon and Kos point out, these firefighters have been ordered to appear alongside President Katrina Bush as the White House spares no effort in trying to rescue him from the devastation of New Orleans.  And these aren’t just any random firefighters; according to the Salt Lake Tribune, the guys you see above were flown into Biloxi from Atlanta just so that they could flank President K “as he tours devastated areas.”

Now, some of you might object that this little stunt isn’t really an optimal use of first responders.  Some of you might point out that this little stunt leaves Atlanta and other cities with fewer experienced firefighters, as replacements are called up in their stead.  But unless you’re a really cynical SOB, you probably wouldn’t go so far as to imagine that President Katrina’s administration is sticking cities with the bill for those replacements.  Again, from the Salt Lake Tribune:

Also of concern to some of the firefighters is the cost borne by their municipalities in the wake of their absence. Cities are picking up the tab to fill the firefighters’ vacancies while they work 30 days for the federal government.

And only the hypercynical among you would dare to suggest that this photo will do its job—that the Mark Steyns and the Hugh Hewitts and the Jonah Goldbergs will dash to their keyboards and begin gushing about their bold, steely leader rolling up his sleeves (note the sleeve!) and getting to work. For those of you who just can’t imagine that it will get any worse, I leave you with these words from Peggy Noonan:

This, truly, is a good man. And that is a rare thing. Agree with Mr. Bush’s stands or disagree, there can be no doubting the depth of his seriousness and the degree to which he attempts to do what he is convinced is right, and to lead his country toward that vision of rightness. We have had many unusual men as president and some seemed like a gift and some didn’t. Mr. Bush seems uniquely resolved to be as courageous as the times require and as helpful as they allow. There is a profound authenticity to him, and a fearlessness too.

A steady hand on the helm in high seas, a knowledge of where we must go and why, a resolve to achieve safe harbor. More and more this presidency is feeling like a gift.

Good nautical metaphor, no?  A five-gallon barrel of New Orleans water will be awarded to the first right-wing hack who retools Peggy’s January 30, 2003 column for emergency deployment in Operation Cover Our Asses.

Ladies and gentlemen of the wingnut press, power up your laptops.

Posted by Michael on 09/07 at 09:44 AM
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Tuesday, September 06, 2005

No more Mr. Nice Santorum

Noticed while strolling through a local Whiskey Bar:

I mean, you have people who don’t heed those warnings and then put people at risk as a result of not heeding those warnings. There may be a need to look at tougher penalties on those who decide to ride it out and understand that there are consequences to not leaving.

That’s my Senator, Rick Santorum, calling for “tougher penalties” on the people of New Orleans for putting (other) people at risk (as Billmon asks:  “Tougher than being drowned in a toxic cesspool???").  Perhaps he was drawing on John Derbyshire’s recent scholarly finding that black people tend to possess poorer native judgment than members of better-educated groups.

And remember, folks, Santorum isn’t just the Senate’s leading authority on man-on-dog sex.  He’s also a distinctly white, upscale version of Welfare Queen:

Penn Hills School District records show bills paid with local taxpayers’ money for U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum’s children to attend a cyber charter school total more than $100,000.

Since the 2001-2002 school year, at least three Santorum children have been attending a cyber charter school.

This year, the school district has to pay $38,000 for Elizabeth, 13, Richard, 11, Daniel, 9, Sarah, 6, and Peter Santorum, 5, to attend Western Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School, which is based in Beaver County.

State law requires local school districts to pay the tuition of charter school students who live in the school district.

Santorum owns a home on Stephens Lane in Penn Hills, but he, his wife and six children live in the Washington, D.C., suburb of Herndon, Va. . . .

The only way for Santorum to not pay for his children’s private education is enrolling them in Penn Hills.

This humble blog believes we need tougher penalties on people who raid the public till to pay for their children’s private (fundamentalist) educations, and who then turn around and complain that drowning and starving hurricane victims should be charged with something like insurance fraud or reckless endangerment of others.

People of Pennsylvania:  please rid our fair Commonwealth of this looter, this crazed mullah, this ghoul. 

Posted by Michael on 09/06 at 08:00 PM
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Heads will roll

From Josh Marshall:

DC Republicans fishing for someone to call for Nagin’s resignation.

Well, they’ve got to be fishing in some very slimy waters, and my sources tell me that the streets of DC are hip-deep in ‘em.  Of course, there are two plausible grounds for Nagin’s resignation:  one, he has not shown sufficient deference and gratitude to the President, as mayors, governors, and praetors must do at all times.  Two, he continues to use the word “man” in ordinary conversation, and such ghetto slang frightens the President’s base.

I’ve got one more outrage to get to before I turn in for the night, so let me take this opportunity to say the obvious.  The Bush Administration’s failure to provide adequate relief for victims of Katrina is a political issue through and through.  Timorous Democrats, please take note.  Bush/Cheney based their entire 2004 campaign, at least the official version, on the premise that they and they alone could protect Americans from terrorist attacks, and they slandered your ticket accordingly.  (The unofficial version of the campaign, you’ll recall, involved the Swift Boat Vets—see “very slimy waters,” above.) Cheney gave the speech time and again:  electing Kerry meant certain, fiery death.  Remember those wolves gathering in the forest?  The extra wolves they didn’t use in The Day After Tomorrow?  Well, it turns out that the Bush crew can’t protect you from wolves.  It can’t even get pallets of food, water, and medicine to sick, starving people in New Orleans.  It can’t plan for a disaster that everyone, everyone in “disaster management” anticipated.  It can’t even answer the goddamn phone when Capt. Nora Tyson, commander of the U.S.S. Bataan, is calling to offer aid, medical services, and fresh water to the hurricane victims.  (And check out the date on that military press release in the hyperlink!  August 29.)

I remember the Republican National Convention.  I bet you do, too.  And I remember Ahnuld saying:

If you believe that government should be accountable to the people, not the people to the government, then you are a Republican.

Don’t forget it for an instant:  they ran on this.  Security, defense, accountability.  That’s what Democrats have to say and say and say again in the coming weeks.  Otherwise, this crew of criminals and incompetents will start calling for “accountability” in the form of Ray Nagin’s head on a platter.

Posted by Michael on 09/06 at 07:32 PM
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