a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Impeachment comments

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 20th March 2006

Posts that contain the
text “impeach” per day
for the last 360 days.

I’ve spent most of my blog writing time this weekend in the comments section of last Monday’s post “A good start, ” discussing my take on a recent Harold Meyerson op-ed (“Impeachment Imprudence“) with Gary Farber (“Amygdala”).

There appears to be a simple misunderstanding muddying the argument — I didn’t make it clear enough often enough that I’m not advocating impeachment right now so much as advocating impeachment as a campaign issue right now. Meyerson (somewhat surprisingly) favors neither; I’d say Farber is in between, but closer to Meyerson’s outlook than mine.

Despite the misunderstanding, the discussion may be worth a look. Farber is skeptical, I answer as best as I can, with some good points by each of us. At any rate, that’s all I’ve got right now.

UPDATE, 5/20: discussion here of Senator Durbin’s FOX News interview with Chris Wallace. Summing up, I see the glass half-empty, Farber says Durbin’s remarks are just fine.
EDIT, 5/20: Technorati “impeach” mentions chart added. The mid-December spike corresponds to the 12/16/05 New York Times Risen/Lichtblau article first reporting warrantless surveillance by the Bush administration. An earlier September 2005 spike is probably related to Hurricane Katrina.

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Feds to Gulf coast: drop dead

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 6th February 2006

Well, except for the garbage removal and mobile home companies, anyway. Writing in “Balkinization,” Stephen Griffin explains why the $85 billion figure Bush touted in and before the State of the Union address doesn’t impress Louisianans:

First, this is money authorized, not spent. Second, it is for all the states affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, not just Louisiana and certainly not just New Orleans. Third, about $20 billion is for tax credits, mostly for business, which are of dubious value given the most substantial problem facing the state – housing. Fourth, a substantial fraction of the money goes to FEMA simply to pay the ordinary expenses of running the agency. Fifth, the rest is largely devoted to three necessary, but not very productive, items: (1) picking up debris; (2) fixing some important infrastructure like bridges and roads; and (3) temporary housing. The last point is important. What New Orleans and Louisiana need is a solution to the problem of the vast number of destroyed and damaged permanent housing, not temporary trailers (which, for New Orleans, haven’t arrived yet). And eventually New Orleans in particular will need some funding to make any local plan happen.

Griffin draws attention to the February Brookings Institute Katrina Index, whose authors Bruce Katz, Matt Fellowes, and Mia Mabanta observe:

Hundreds of thousands of households continue to face major obstacles restarting their lives. Nearly 750,000 households remain displaced by Katrina, of which about 650,000 are receiving rental assistance, or about $800 a month. Mortgage delinquency rates skyrocketed between the second and third quarter of the calendar year. In the state of Louisiana, for instance, nearly one out of every four loans is now 30 or more days past due.

Griffin supports Louisiana Republican Congressman Richard Baker’s bill (HR 4100) to create a Louisiana Recovery Corporation that would purchase and redevelop ruined properties, providing their owners with with capital to rebuild, and helping the devastated areas rebound more quickly. Specifically,

…the Corporation shall, after consultation with State and local officials and pursuant to agreement that eligible properties are not likely to be redeveloped without Corporation assistance, locate and acquire real property (commercial and residential) in such a manner and subject to such conditions that, upon the consummation of any acquisition of real property securing a mortgage loan—
(1) the mortgagee’s debt shall be considered paid in full by the mortgagor; and
(2) all title and interest in the real property securing such mortgage loan passes to the Corporation.

…with the original owner retaining the right of first refusal once the property is up for sale.

But the Bush administration opposes the plan; in a February 2 Washington Post op-ed, federal Katrina rebuilding coordinator Donald Powell first mischaracterized the plan — it calls for offering property owners prices in line with the expected expenses and returns on investment, not automatically the full pre-Katrina value — and then argued that the LRC lacks adequate state and local plans to work with:

State and local leaders have made some progress in creating recovery plans: Mississippi is starting to implement one, and in Louisiana, New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin’s commission has submitted a recovery proposal, while those of other parish leaders are underway. The state should pull all these plans together, identify gaps and overlaps and develop the tools to implement the strategy.

This “wait until all the ducks are in a row” objection is hard to square with the next one — that setting up a federal bureaucracy will take too much time. More to the point, to make New Orleans wait while Lower Bayou Parish gets its own redevelopment plans ready makes little to no sense — New Orleans is the beating heart of the region, and it’s of paramount importance that it get on its feet (and behind Category 5 levees) as quickly as possible.

Powell’s real objection comes last, and not surprisingly it’s frankly ideological:

I do not believe making the government a broker and landlord for the region will ensure a healthy long-term recovery. Doing so — at a cost of up to $30 billion with an option to renew, and little chance of recouping those funds — would destroy free-market mechanisms.

First, “free markets” function best once everything else is taken care of — infrastructure, security, and governance chief among them. More fundamentally, free-market mechanisms are not an end in themselves, they’re a means to an end — as is the federal government when a catastrophe hits. At any rate, the LRC would not be a permanent agency, but would be authorized to operate for ten years. Powell’s arguments against Baker’s plan do not seem persuasive to me, and what Griffin describes of the federal efforts to date leaves me — and apparently many Gulf coast residents — underwhelmed.

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking on even more urgent problems. On Friday, the Katrina Information Network (KIN) warned that “Deadlines on short-term housing are coming up next week without real long-term solutions,” and called for measures to help people caught in that crunch:

Contractors providing outreach and referral services must be monitored and held to clear standards. Housing and rebuilding services, including temporary housing like hotels, must be made to honor their agreements. Those that evict survivors for profit should be penalized and prevented from access to federal contracts in the future. [Congress must make] public housing available and eliminating rental price gauging. We want a long-term housing solution with more community control of property decisions.

Most importantly, Congress must act now to provide viable, long-term solutions for a comprehensive recovery that does not undermine the critical safety net upon which millions of Americans depend.

The Louisiana Recovery Corporation seems like one of the right steps in that direction to me. You might consider adding that to the message KIN would like you to send your representative and senators.

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"The state of our union is strong"

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 1st February 2006

Photo courtesy of Colleen Perilloux Landry
Lower Ninth With Bridge Over Industrial Canal at North Claiborne Avenue.
New Orleans, January 16, 2006.
Photo courtesy of Coleen Perilloux Landry

A Brown University project* led by John Logan recently released its first report detailing the effects of Hurricane Katrina on the city of New Orleans. The report, The Impact of Katrina: Race and Class in Storm-Damaged Neighborhoods, detailed striking disparities in storm damage:


  • Damaged areas were 45.8% black, compared to 26.4% in undamaged areas…
  • …45.7% of homes in damaged areas were occupied by renters, compared to 30.9% in undamaged communities.
  • …20.9% of households had incomes below the poverty line in damaged areas, compared to 15.3% in undamaged areas.
  • …7.6% of persons in the labor force were unemployed in damaged areas (before the storm), compared to 6.0% in undamaged areas.


The impact could be — will likely be — stark:

…New Orleans is at risk of losing more than 80% of its black population. This means that policy choices affecting who can return, to which neighborhoods, and with what forms of public and private assistance, will greatly affect the future character of the city.

A New York Times article details some of the debate surrounding federal assistance. While Louisiana will reportedly receive $6.2 billion in federal block grants, local officials say that will not be enough:

Those officials have urged Congress to enact legislation proposed by Representative Richard H. Baker, Republican of Louisiana, creating a corporation that would use bond proceeds to reimburse property owners for part of their mortgages, then redevelop the property. But the Bush administration has said it opposes the bill, out of concerns that it would be too expensive and would create a new government bureaucracy.

Asked Thursday about his opposition to the measure, President Bush told reporters that the $85 billion already allocated for Gulf Coast restoration was “a good start.” He added that he was concerned that Louisiana did not have a clear recovery plan in place.
(link added)

It would have been nice if Bush et al had had a clear disaster prevention plan in place. Tonight, President Bush said in his State of the Union speech:

In New Orleans and in other places, many of our fellow citizens have felt excluded from the promise of our country. The answer is not only temporary relief, but schools that teach every child, and job skills that bring upward mobility, and more opportunities to own a home and start a business. As we recover from a disaster, let us also work for the day when all Americans are protected by justice, equal in hope, and rich in opportunity.

“More opportunities to own a home” rings a little hollow from a President and administration working against a Republican’s proposal to help homeowners.

But then, so does “the state of our Union is strong.”

* Katrina and the Built Environment: Spatial and Social Impacts. The project web site also provides fantastically detailed, interactive maps of the affected areas of the Gulf Coast.
NOTE: click the photograph for a gallery of New Orleans Lower 9th Ward photographs taken by Ms. Landry two weeks ago.
NOTE, 2/3: Both the photo gallery and the Brown University study via “Recording Katrina” bloggers (thatfarmgirl and myself).

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Nice Try Brigadier General David Broder

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 1st December 2005

Josh Marshall is soliciting nominations for the “Nice Try Brigade” — “reporters, pundits, commentators and whoever else trying to minimize the undeniable partisan dimension to the multiple and overlapping scandals breaking out all over Washington, DC.”

The Washington Post’s David Broder surely merits prominent mention on that list for his op-ed today, “A Pox on Both Parties,” which starts as follows:

To understand why the level of public disillusionment with politics is so high in this country right now, it helps to go back a dozen years.

It helps to go back a dozen years?! It turns out it doesn’t help at all, of course, once you see where Broder is headed. You see, it was the defeat of Clinton’s health care plan that doomed the Democrats:

By the spring of his second year, the most politically important of those priorities — the overhaul of the health care delivery system — was hopelessly mired in committee, unable to muster enough support even to bring it to a floor vote in the House or Senate. The problem that Clinton had recognized as most disturbing for families, for business and for all levels of government was left to fester, unsolved. […]

At some level, the message that many voters took away from the experience was that Democrats may talk a good game, but they don’t deliver.

The kicker comes when Broder equates this apple to the rotten orange of Republican corruption and incompetence today:

The self-described “compassionate conservative” has been so lax in his budgetary policy that deficits have reached dismaying levels, and compassion was compromised by gross incompetence in the response to Hurricane Katrina.

Meanwhile, after 11 years of unbroken majority, congressional Republicans are displaying the same personal arrogance (in grabbing for favors) and the same penchant for petty scandals that plagued the Democrats after their 40-year run.

So Clinton’s hard fought political defeat trying to keep a progressive promise twelve years ago is equivalent to taking bribes, telling incompetent cronies “heckuva job,” and ignoring one’s own supposed conservative principles.

“Unprincipled, corrupt incompetence” is to “principled politics”– whether successful or not — as “down” is to “up.” Or as “David Broder” is to “worth reading.”

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The August 27 Katrina emergency declaration

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 10th November 2005

Harmless mistake or deadly bungle?

White House Statement on Federal Emergency Assistance For Louisiana, August 27, 2005:

The President today declared an emergency exists in the State of Louisiana and ordered Federal aid to supplement state and local response efforts in the parishes located in the path of Hurricane Katrina beginning on August 26, 2005, and continuing.

The statement seemed reasonable and even timely enough; Katrina was still churning out in the Gulf of Mexico that Thursday evening, and already the federal government appeared to be spinning up, ready to come to the aid of threatened Louisiana parishes.

August 27:
Katrina emergency declaration parishes

But when it got specific, the declaration listed only parishes in the northern tier of Louisiana, completely omitting Orleans, Jefferson, St. Bernard, Plaquemines and other parishes that were clearly in the greatest danger.* So on its face, at least, the statement confined FEMA to northern Louisiana as it authorized FEMA to

coordinate all disaster relief efforts which have the purpose of alleviating the hardship and suffering caused by the emergency on the local population, and to provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures, authorized under Title V of the Stafford Act, to save lives, protect property and public health and safety, or to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe in the parishes of […]

Specifically, FEMA is authorized to identify, mobilize, and provide at its discretion, equipment and resources necessary to alleviate the impacts of the emergency.

August 29:
Katrina disaster declaration parishes;
worst hit (orange)** had not been
in emergency zone

But by the 29th, both the White House Statement on Federal Disaster Assistance for Louisiana and revised emergency declarations had cleaned up the parish listings.

Politically, of course, the August 27 emergency declaration was quite significant. As recriminations flew amid the obviously botched rescue and relief efforts, the August 27th statement allowed a senior Bush official to imply (incorrectly, as it turned out) that the Bush administration was more prompt even than Louisiana governor Blanco in declaring a state of emergency.*** Many columnists and bloggers, for whatever it was worth, followed suit. But even as a political fig leaf, an emergency declaration omitting Orleans, St. Tammany, and Plaquemines parishes is obviously not of the greatest value.

Was the declaration in fact in error? A check of other emergency and disaster declarations archived at FEMA suggests it was. First, both subsequent hurricane emergency declarations, for Hurricanes Ophelia and Rita, did not make the same mistake of excluding precisely those counties or parishes which were the likeliest sites of these hurricanes’ landfalls. (Maps to the right show this for the Louisiana Hurricane Rita emergency and disaster declarations.)

Second, it seems significant that the August 27 declaration was the first hurricane emergency declaration since 1999 — and therefore the first since FEMA’s absorption into the newly formed Department of Homeland Security in 2002.

September 21:
Rita emergency declaration parishes

Finally, as mentioned above, the final September 4 revision of the Katrina emergency declaration all but reversed the one made on August 27.

But did the mistaken August 27 declaration really have important consequences? Or was this simply an embarrassing but minor error, one that was easily corrected at the discretion of the FEMA professionals in charge of the rescue and relief efforts?

Here the public record is less clear, but still suggests there may have been fateful consequences to the mistaken August 27 declaration.

What is the significance of an emergency declaration? According to FEMA, it serves a precise purpose. FEMA explains that in contrast to a Major Disaster Declaration. “[a]n Emergency Declaration is more limited in scope and without the long-term federal recovery programs of a Major Disaster Declaration. Generally, federal assistance and funding are provided to meet a specific emergency need or to help prevent a major disaster from occurring.”

September 24:
Rita disaster declaration parishes;
worst hit (orange) had been
in emergency zone

In meeting those emergency needs, FEMA follows a set of procedures that resembles — not by chance — nothing so much as a military campaign: reconnaissance teams are sent out, bases and staging areas are established, logistical supply trains are set in motion. The FEMA training manual “Federal Response System Overview“, lays out several specific effects of a presidential emergency declaration on subsequent emergency response activity :

In support of response activities under the FRP [Federal Response Plan — ed.], several kinds of operating facilities have been identified to facilitate movement and utilization of personnel and resources in the affected area.

  • Point of Departure (POD) is the designated location (typically an airport) within or near the task force Point of Assembly where task forces initiate their transportation to the affected area.
  • Point of Arrival (POA) is the designated location (typically an airport) within or near the disaster affected area where newly arriving staff, supplies and equipment are initially directed.
  • Mobilization Center (Mob Center) is the designated location at which response personnel and resources are received from the POA and pre-position for deployment to a local Staging Area or directly to an incident site, as required. A Mob Center also provides temporary support services, such as food and billeting, for response personnel prior to their deployment to Staging Areas or operating sites.
  • Staging Area(s) The facility at the local jurisdictional level near the disaster site where personnel and equipment are assembled for the immediate deployment to an operational site.

It may be that the August 27 declaration influenced the locations of these places and areas, essentially putting a “Destination: Northern Louisiana” stamp on supplies and personnel itineraries — with no mechanism for middle level FEMA management to rescind that and position supplies and personnel where they were actually needed. Moreover, in the transition to a relatively new National Response Plan, many may not have even suspected there was a problem — assuming instead that someone else was taking care of “part two” of getting the supplies on to New Orleans or elsewhere in Louisiana. Enter (or rather, wait for) world class ditherer and preening fussbudget Michael Brown…

As is well known, numerous news accounts from the Katrina aftermath paint a picture of unprecedented logistical confusion. Ice shipments sent hither and yon; food stockpiles and other forms of assistance turned away; hospital ships left unused while patients underwent primitive triage in New Orleans airports; volunteers and professional help held back from the disaster area. Many of the screwups had their roots in other key features of the Katrina debacle, most notably the unfounded fears of armed mob violence in New Orleans. But a mistaken list of parishes coupled with unprecedented incompetence in the higher reaches of FEMA could not have helped matters.

The story is further complicated by the advent of the “National Response Plan” (NRP) in December 2004. While concepts like “Point of Arrival” or “Mobilization Center” survive vestigially (in the glossary), these kinds of operational details seem to have been beyond the scope of the new plan — despite its 426 pages. The precise connection between a specific list of counties (or parishes) in a presidential emergency declaration and FEMA’s hour-to-hour plans is elusive in this document — yet it superseded the old “Federal Response Plan” (FRP) by April of 2005. The transition to the NRP may have additionally burdened FEMA responders more familiar with the old system — if only by making them less willing to challenge high level mistakes thought to possibly be “part of the plan.”

Nothing I’ve written should be construed to be an accusation that the August 27 declaration was intentionally misspecified, in order to somehow punish southern Louisiana for some unknown reason; that seems unlikely. When I pointed out the questions about the August 27 declaration to an emergency law expert in mid-September, the response I got was simply “it would be funny if it weren’t so serious.” It may be that this is a screwup on such an unprecedented level that no one is willing to address it.

Enter the blogosphere. Among the specific questions to FEMA officials that I would pose would be:

  1. Who drew up the list of parishes Bush included in his August 27 emergency declaration?
  2. What were the precise, operational implications of that list in the ensuing rescue and relief efforts? Specifically, did this list affect the POAs and PODs?
  3. What was the motive for correcting the August 27 declaration to its final September 4 form? Were the revisions necessary before actions could be taken, or were they simply to confirm actions already being taken?
  4. Basically, did the mistaken August 27 emergency declaration adversely affect rescue and relief efforts in Louisiana?

* First noted on this site in If that’s not incompetence, what is it?“, borrowing the title of the seminal post on the issue by Bob Harris, via Gary Farber.
** On disaster declaration maps, parishes colored orange received the broadest federal aid (public and individual assistance, unrestricted to any categories), implying the heaviest storm damage; parishes colored green received the narrowest federal aid (limited public assistance), implying lesser storm damage.
*** Via a Katrina timeline compiled at Josh Marshall’s TPMCafe site.

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Good for a grin

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 31st October 2005

Onion Radio News imagines a Bush Katrina speech as a modest proposal to New Orleans residents:

…Join the armed forces, and fight for freedom in Iraq. … When the War on Terror is won, and you come home from your multiple tours of duty, New Orleans may once again be inhabitable.

WW II as online game: Pearl Harbor to Operation Barbarossa:

T0J0: lol o no america im comin 4 u
Roosevelt: wtf! thats bullsh1t u fags im gunna kick ur asses
T0JO: not without ur harbors u wont! lol
Roosevelt: u little biotch ill get u
Hitler[AoE]: wtf
Hitler[AoE]: america hax, u had depression and now u got a huge fockin army
Hitler[AoE]: thats bullsh1t u hacker
Churchill: lol no more france for u hitler
Hitler[AoE]: tojo help me!
T0J0: wtf u want me to do, im on the other side of the world retard
Hitler[AoE]: fine ill clear you a path
Stalin: WTF u arsshoel! WE HAD A FoCKIN TRUCE
Hitler[AoE]: i changed my mind lol

Again, the Onion: Fire truck! Fire truck! Fire truck!

Run! Run to the window as fast as your giant legs can carry you!

Medium Lobster 1, Michael Kinsley 0:

Scandals should be accessible and easy to follow for all of us – even for someone like Mr. Kinsley, who was an editor of The New Republic and remains easily distracted by shiny things.

NOTES: Katrina speech via Mark Kleiman, WW2 via Stryker the digitalwarfighter, fire truck via Bitch, Ph.D., medium lobster via Avedon Carol.

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Ellen Sauerbrey? Mike Brown II

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 3rd October 2005

Unnoticed amidst the Katrina furor, Bush has nominated yet another unqualified political hack to head a key relief agency. Still, I’m excited — because this time the hack hails from my adopted home state of Maryland! On August 31, Bush nominated former State Delegate and 2000 Bush Maryland campaign chief Ellen Sauerbrey to be Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration.

Population Action International writes:

In her current role as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women […] Sauerbrey has led U.S. efforts to rewrite international consensus agreements that promote women’s reproductive health and freedom. Demonstrating a clear priority of politics over the needs and rights of women, she has championed President Bush’s scientifically unproven ‘abstinence-only’ policies in place of successful and comprehensive HIV-prevention and family planning programs.

The L.A. Times’ Ken Silverstein notes:

Although appointing political allies to government jobs is a tradition in Washington, the refugee bureau is a complex agency with a broad portfolio. Past administrations, Republican and Democratic, have generally turned to someone with technical expertise to head it.

Sauerbrey, 68, was elected to the Maryland House of Delegates in 1978. She has been a conservative activist for decades but has no direct experience mobilizing responses to humanitarian emergencies.

Inexperienced, sure, but at least she’s innovative. During a failed bid for the governor’s office — and together with former Senator Alfonse D’Amato (R-NY) — she helped pioneer the so-called check swap technique to launder campaign donations through an ally’s political action committee. Like so much else these days, it apparently wasn’t strictly illegal — but it came so very, very close. Brava, Ellen!

Who knows, maybe there will even be some way for her to apply the experience to refugee questions — Pentagon money in, “refugee” personnel out, refugee money in, Halliburton profits out. Regardless, I’m confident Sauerbrey will work out fine in her new position — as far as her boss is concerned.

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Where the people are many and their hands are all empty

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 2nd October 2005

…Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters,
Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison,
Where the executioner’s face is always well hidden,
Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten,
Where black is the color, where none is the number,
And I’ll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it,
And reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it,
Then I’ll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin’,
But I’ll know my song well before I start singin’,
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard,
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.
(Bob Dylan)

Bless you, Riggsveda.

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Louisiana sheriff wanted for questioning

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 29th September 2005

That would be Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin N. Gusman, by me, anyway, along with the warden of the Templeman III prison facility, among others. Somebody has a lot to answer for.

Human Rights Watch is reporting that hundreds of prisoners were abandoned to rising floodwaters in their cells, and that they can not account for 517 prisoners in all.

“They left us to die there,” Dan Bright, an Orleans Parish Prison inmate told Human Rights Watch at Rapides Parish Prison, where he was sent after the evacuation.

As the water began rising on the first floor, prisoners became anxious and then desperate. Some of the inmates were able to force open their cell doors, helped by inmates held in the common area. All of them, however, remained trapped in the locked facility.

“The water started rising, it was getting to here,” said Earrand Kelly, an inmate from Templeman III, as he pointed at his neck. “We was calling down to the guys in the cells under us, talking to them every couple of minutes. They were crying, they were scared. The one that I was cool with, he was saying ‘I’m scared. I feel like I’m about to drown.’ He was crying.”

Some inmates from Templeman III have said they saw bodies floating in the floodwaters as they were evacuated from the prison. A number of inmates told Human Rights Watch that they were not able to get everyone out from their cells.

Hopefully, this will prove a false alarm:

Human Rights Watch compared an official list of all inmates held at Orleans Parish Prison immediately prior to the hurricane with the most recent list of the evacuated inmates compiled by the state Department of Corrections and Public Safety (which was entitled, “All Offenders Evacuated”). However, the list did not include 517 inmates from the jail, including 130 from Templeman III.

I hope they are all found. But I sure wish I didn’t know what I do about some of the body disposal services the good folks of FEMA and the state of Louisiana have lined up. Lindsay Beyerstein comments:

The criminality of the evacuees was immediately exaggerated, but the crimes of the authorities are only gradually coming to light.

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Now tell me the truth, Tom

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 29th September 2005

…is this kind of fun?

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