Sunday Bookchat

June 14, 2008

It’s hardly a secret that we are currently ruled by people whom a tapeworm would consider beneath contempt, but Paul Alexander’s new book, Machiavelli’s Shadow: The Rise and Fall of Karl Rove, promises to be the deepest look yet into the American “Heart of Darkness” that is the Bush administration.

Rove has already been the subject of studies like Bush’s Brain, but judging from the excerpt that ran in Salon this past week, Alexander’s book will advance the story considerably. Read Alexander’s account of the drowning of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and the way Rove and the Bushies used the catastrophe to stage political theater:

On Thursday, as New Orleans remained underwater, with countless thousands of people stranded in their homes, on their rooftops, or at the Convention Center or Superdome, there was still no federal help. What continued unabated, though, was the assault on [Louisiana governor Kathleen] Blanco, questioning her handling of the disaster. “We were in life-and-death mode and every minute counted,” Blanco says. “I found my staff having to do public relations in the middle of the most disastrous days Louisiana has ever experienced. The talking heads had been turned on. My staff was saying, ‘My God, governor, they are crucifying you politically.’ I finally pulled all of my staff together and said, ‘We are wasting our energy. We do not have a stable of talking heads. We cannot control the national media. We have lifesaving missions to accomplish, so let’s do it.’ My staff was upset with me.”

Blanco sought out Michael Chertoff. She found him in one of the emergency headquarters trailers. “Turn off the talking heads,” she told him point-blank. “People are dying while you people are playing politics. Turn them off.” It was Thursday, and so far the FEMA buses had still not arrived to help evacuate people from the Convention Center and Superdome, nor had Bush sent any federal troops, who were desperately needed in the search-and-rescue efforts. Instead of sending help, the administration had come up with a ploy. “I was on a conference call with the White House,” Adam Sharp says, “where they were saying: If you want any help, you have to turn over all control of your state to the president. We won’t help until you give us control of your National Guard and your law enforcement agencies, until Louisiana becomes a federal territory. They were using this as the excuse for their delaying on the issues. They kept trying to put it on Blanco. But no governor would ever give control of her state to the president.”

Bush and Rove pressured Blanco to give the federal government control over the Louisiana National Guard. Realizing that Bush and Rove wanted this done in order to paint the Louisiana government as a bunch of corrupt clowns who had to be bailed out by the feds, Blanco refused.

Not only did Blanco refuse to sign, she gave Bush a two-page letter detailing everything the state needed to cope with the disaster — troops, buses, supplies, money, and more. It would not be until several days later, when Blanco’s aides released the letter to the press and got frantic phone calls from Rove’s aide Maggie Grant, that it became clear that Bush had taken the letter Blanco had personally handed to him — and lost it.

Yep, that’s right — Bush lost the letter detailing what the state of Louisiana needed to help one of America’s major cities recover from a disaster.

After days of political game-playing, the feds finally allowed the Army Corps of Engineers to begin repair work on the 17th Street Canal. Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu went along for the photo ops and the speeches at the work site, reasoning that at least the president had finally gotten the ball rolling. The next day, she heard from TV squawker George Stephanopoulos, who wanted an interview.

“Then, on Saturday,” Landrieu says, “George Stephanopoulos called and asked to do an interview with me, and I said, ‘George, I’m tired of doing interviews. I have to work. And nothing you are airing is accurately showing what’s going on down here.’ He wanted to go to the Superdome, and I said, ‘We still have people stranded on their roofs. If you want to tell the right story, I will help you tell the right story. You get a helicopter and I’ll go up and I will show you what is actually happening. It’s awful what’s happening at the Superdome, but the reason the people can’t understand the story is because the entire region is under 20 feet of water. People can’t get into the Superdome to help. They can’t get out. People are drowning in their homes.’

“So George and I went up in the helicopter and for three hours his jaw was dropping. Then I said, ‘George, before we finish I have to show you one positive thing because I can’t send you back to Washington to produce a story that shows nothing but devastation and disaster.’ So I told the pilot to tack right so I can show George the 17th Street Canal and the work that was going on there. I swear as my name is Mary Landrieu I thought that what I saw with the president was still there — people working, trucks, sandbags, everything. Then I looked down and saw one little crane. It was like someone took a knife and stabbed me through my heart. I lost it.” There, in the cabin of the helicopter, as they flew above the breached canal below them, Landrieu sat devastated.

“I could not believe that the president of the United States, staged by Karl Rove himself, had come down to the city of New Orleans and basically put up a stage prop. It was like you had gone to a studio in California and filmed a movie. They put the props up and the minute we were gone they took them down. All the dump trucks were gone. All the Coast Guard people were gone. It was an empty spot with one little crane. It was the saddest thing I have ever seen in my life. At that moment I knew what was going on and I’ve been a changed woman ever since. It truly changed my life.”

If a Democrat were trying to rescue children from a burning building, George W. Bush would refuse to help or even call the fire department until the Democrat had signed over his credit cards, his bank account and his Social Security number. Then Bush would call FoxNews for a photo op, posing with an unconnected hose, and leave the building in flames while Karl Rove issued a statement calling the Democrat a baby-burner.

Bush sycophants are forever praising their boy for his moral clarity, his unfashionable willingness to call good and evil for what they are. Which word, do you think, should be applied to a president who allows the destruction of a city, then jockeys for political benefits from the disaster?

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Congratulations to Rolling Stone columnist Matt Taibbi, whose rollicking book The Great Derangement: A Terrifying True Story of War, Politics, and Religion at the Twilight of the American Empire is scaling the NYT bestseller list. Check out the chat he just gave at the Firedoglake Book Salon.

* * * * *

Get out your walking shoes! Bloomsday is almost here!

* * * * *

John McCain is a man of many facets: Vietnam veteran, senator, presidential candidate. And now, thanks to the Cunning Realist, we can add another item to the McCain CV: book blurber. Actually, it’s eve better than that: McCain wrote an introduction to an edition of The Best and the Brightest, David Halberstam’s 1972 study of the way the Kennedy and Johnson administrations drew America deeper and deeper into the Vietnam disaster with “brilliant policies that defied common sense.” McCain, a victim of those policies in that he was sent to fight in a war even its architects knew was futile, had this to say about the book:

It was a shameful thing to ask men to suffer and die, to persevere through god-awful afflictions and heartache, to endure the dehumanizing experiences that are unavoidable in combat, for a cause that the country wouldn’t support over time and that our leaders so wrongly believed could be achieved at a smaller cost than our enemy was prepared to make us pay. No other national endeavor requires as much unshakable resolve as war. If the nation and the government lack that resolve, it is criminal to expect men in the field to carry it alone.

My goodness! He sounds like John Kerry! What will we tell the children?

* * * * *

While performing fleas like David Horowitz try to undermine academic freedom by painting universities as left-wing re-education camps, a far more damaging assault has been going on behind the scenes: the growing corporate culture on America’s campuses, undermining the humanities and the tradition of tenure. Frank Donoghue discusses the McDonaldization of academe in The Last Professors: The Corporate University and the Fate of the Humanities, and in this interview with Inside Higher Ed, he talks about what he calls the “casualization” of teaching through the hiring of adjuncts instead of tenure-track professors:

The liberal arts, and the humanities in particular, suffer the most because they lack any connection to sources of funding outside the university. Humanists typically don’t do consulting work, they don’t compete for large corporate or government grants, they don’t have the option of working in the private sector (and thus insisting that universities pay a competitive wage). These factors conspire to put humanists in a bad bargaining position: We depend entirely on our home institutions not only to pay us a fair salary but to determine both the kinds of work and the amount of work we have to do (publishing, teaching, service, outreach) in order to earn that salary.

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It’s become something of a cliche to say that it’s easier to have a rational political discussion about Israel in Israel rather than the United States, but this article about “revisionist” historians of Israel shows how true that statement is. It also points up the benefits that accrused from a spate of books, keyed to Israel’s 40th anniversary, that upended the spotlessly heroic Leon Uris view of the Israelis as blameless settlers surrounded by ravening, blood-crazed Arabs:

The new history had a significant impact on a number of different levels. First, it influenced the way the subject is taught in Israeli schools. Textbooks were rewritten to incorporate some of the findings of the new historians. Students were exposed to different and conflicting interpretations of the birth of Israel.

Second, the new history helped Israelis to understand how the Arabs view them and the conflict. Third, to Arabs the new history was in line with their own experience instead of the one-sided account of the victors. And finally, the new history helped to create a climate, on both sides, in which the Oslo peace process could move forward in the early 1990s.

Palestinian negotiators at the Camp David summit hosted by Bill Clinton in July 2000, and in the bilateral talks held in Taba in the Gulf of Aqaba early the following year, referred to the work of the new historians, especially Benny Morris, in trying to establish Israel’s share of responsibility for the plight of the 1948 refugees.

Shlomo Ben-Ami, a former professor of history at Tel Aviv University, was Israel’s foreign minister at the time of these negotiations. He says, “the new historians definitely helped in consolidating the Palestinians’ conviction as to the validity of their own narrative… the Israeli peacemakers also came to the negotiating table with perspectives that were shaped by recent research… But the introduction of new and powerful arguments on the 1948 war into the public debate in Israel became part of the intellectual baggage of many of us, whether we admitted it or not.” In short, it was a history that made a difference.

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Eliot Asinof, the tough old bird who wrote Eight Men Out, the classic account of the 1919 “Black Sox” scandal, is dead at age 88.

One Response to “Sunday Bookchat”

  1. The Oracle Says:

    So, the people in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina were left to die so this Republican bozo could get elected governor of Louisiana?!?!?

    A less than subtle message by the Bush administration was given to all Louisianans during Hurricane Katrina…vote for a Democratic candidate for any public office and Republicans in Washington D.C. would do everything in their power to see that Louisianans died, especially if another hurricane the size and strength of Katrina hit.

    So, how’d these corrupt and evil Republicans in Washington D.C. get this message across during Katrina?

    Up until the levees broke and New Orleans flooded, expert FEMA disaster coordinators were in charge of helping the victims of Katrina in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, following the formal request by all three governors of these states about 48 hours before Katrina for federal emergency disaster relief, as required by law. Then the New Orleans levees broke and Karl Rove was put in charge, to squeeze the most political advantage as possible out of the catastrophe for culture of corruption Republicans.

    A PR campaign was launched by Karl Rove, with the intent of smearing the Democratic governor of Louisiana and Democratic mayor of New Orleans, while at the same time pumping up the image of the Republican governors of Alabama and Mississippi.

    If this had been all that Karl Rove had done, then many people wouldn’t have died.

    But Karl Rove decided to politicize the disaster relief itself, overruling the expert FEMA disaster coordinators in each state in the process, but especially the one coordinating Louisiana and New Orleans disaster relief from the FEMA command center in Baton Rouge Louisiana. And to do what Karl Rove did, he needed the help of Chertoff at DHS and Rumsfeld at the Pentagon.

    How do we know this?

    In the immediate aftermath of the flooding of New Orleans, and the deadly days that followed, did you notice a dearth of federal disaster assistance reaching these people, even as the death count rose, especially at the Superdome?

    This was done on purpose. By Karl Rove. With the help of Chertoff and Rumsfeld.

    But why?

    Bush, Cheney, Rove, Chertoff and Rumsfeld (and other Republicans) wanted to “federalize” Louisiana’s national guard units. However, Louisiana’s Democratic governor kept refusing, wouldn’t give into this blatant blackmail scheme. (Note: this same demand was not made of the Republican governors in Mississippi and Alabama, to turn over control of their state’s national guard units to BushCo. Plus, they got all the federal disaster assistance they needed, and in a timely manner).

    So, Karl Rove politicized the federal response to the Katrina disaster, withholding desperately needed federal disaster relief from Louisiana, New Orleans and the Superdome, in an attempt to reward Republicans and punish Democrats, to try to force the Louisiana Democratic governor into ceding control of her state’s national guard units over to the Republicans in Washington D.C., and fellow citizens of ours in Louisiana died needlessly because of this rabid Republican partisanship.

    There are numerous instances of BushCo, and Karl Rove, withholding federal assistance from New Orleans. Pentagon helicopters being ordered to stand down and not help rescue efforts at all, or in the case of the Pensacola Air Force helicopter pilots, who did assist in rescue efforts, getting reprimanded.

    But this blocking of disaster relief for New Orleans and Louisiana didn’t stop with Karl Rove (and his gang) barring rescue efforts from the federal side. Local Louisianans with boats, hundreds of them, tried to get into New Orleans to rescue people stranded on rooftops, but were turned away. Foreign countries offered over $100 million in disaster relief supplies and personnel, but were snubbed by BushCo (kind of like the stunt pulled by the Myanmar leaders following their cyclone recently). And now we learn FEMA gave away $85 million in stockpiled relief supplies to any agency NOT in Louisiana.

    Do you get the picture? Well, obviously, Louisianans did, because in the next gubernatorial election they selected this right-wing nut case Jindal to be their governor, a Republican with a hardcore right-wing religious agenda, a Republican who has spit on the U.S. Constitution in his mad attempt to force his religious doctrine down the throats of everyone else.

    Karl Rove probably has a “Mission Accomplished” banner flying above his home, a banner dripping with the blood of countless Louisiana citizens.

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