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Wednesday, September 02, 2015

International Trumpism

by digby

This analysis of the Trump phenomenon by Thomas Edsall in the NY Times very deftly synthesizes all the polling and other studies that explain just what in the hell is going on with this.  Basically a bunch of white people are getting very nervous now that their majority and the privileges that come with it is slipping away. They believe that everything's going to hell in a handbasket (although that's not really true) and it's all because of the "others" who are taking over.

Edsall's piece thoroughly and accurately surveys these attitudes and the hay the Republican Party has been making of them for the past 50 years but doesn't really delve into whether or not it's actually true that these people are losing something they had to immigrants and other people of color or whether it's just a perception. And he also doesn't ponder whether some of these people might be afraid that this imminent change in our racial and cultural make-up might result in a little "pay-back" for centuries of white mistreatment of people of color, which I doubt it at the forefront of these people's minds but is undoubtedly in the sub-conscious of many of them.

But what he does say in his dry, analytical way is chilling:

The current prominence of an anti-immigrant wing of the Republican Party is part of an international phenomenon. The Trump campaign represents the American iteration of hostility to third world immigration now visible across Europe, where overwhelmingly white right-wing parties are flourishing from Greece to Britain. European opposition to immigration, and the strength of this opposition on the political right, was demonstrated in a Pew Research Center study of voters in seven countries — Italy, France, Britain, Spain, Poland, Greece and Germany – that showed that voters on the right were 18 points more likely than voters on the left to agree that “immigrants are a burden because they take jobs and social benefits.”

Donald Trump, in other words, is part of a movement gaining momentum among whites across the Northern Hemisphere. The Trump campaign will serve as a measure of the strength of this movement in the United States.

Trump’s vitriol expresses the degree to which the American debate over immigration has grown ugly, even hideous. At the same time, Trump’s followers are motivated, and enraged, by what they see as a breakdown of law and order and the erosion of norms and standards they believe should be upheld. They are frustrated by the poor performance of the public schools their children attend, by cities and suburbs they believe to be under siege, by a criminal justice system they perceive as dysfunctional, and by a government they view as incompetent.

Earlier this week Trump added a new campaign commercial. It begins: “JEB BUSH’S THOUGHTS ON ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS” and displays a film clip of Bush saying “Yes, they broke the law, but it’s not a felony. It’s an act of love.” Interspersed are three mug shots: “Francisco Sanchez: Charged with Murder,” “Santana Gaona: Convicted of Murder,” and “Brian Omar Hyde: Charged with Murdering Three People.”

“LOVE?” the next screen reads. “Forget Love. It’s Time to Get Tough!”

To voters who see the world this way, Trump offers the promise that he can restore a vanished America, that he can “make America great again,” as his campaign puts it. Trump clearly finds this endeavor personally gratifying, even as his odds of winning the nomination remain slim. To his followers, the letdown of defeat could be brutal, leaving them stranded, without a candidate who can successfully capture the intensity of their beliefs.

Good lord.

Idiocracy, the reality show

by digby


They think Donald Trump’s ideas are “disgusting.” They think he is making a mockery of the American political system and that even he doesn’t take his own candidacy seriously. And that is exactly why they say they plan to vote for him.

Meet Trump’s protest voters.

People who in the past might have gone to the polls only to register their disdain for politicians by writing in “Mickey Mouse” — or perhaps even “Donald Trump” — now have a Republican front-runner to rally around.

Like many sincere Trump supporters, they believe the system is totally screwed up. But instead of viewing Trump as the solution, they view him as the embodiment of the problem. And they say they’re prepared to vote for him to prove it.

“This is the candidate America deserves,” said Jeff DeFlavio, 29, a small-business owner registered as an independent in the nearby town of Lebanon. He said he plans to vote for Trump in the primary, but adds, “His immigration policy is disgusting to me. It’s absolutely revolting … I really don’t want him to become president ever. Ever. He would destroy the world, which is what’s so wonderful about him.”

DeFlavio said he has enjoyed watching Trump exploit a presidential-selection process that rewards celebrity more than substance. “There is this kind of wonderful irony in it, which I feel myself wanting to partake in,” he said.
And not just in New Hampshire. “I don’t think there necessarily is a best candidate for president,” said David Portnoy, an independent and the Boston-based founder of the popular sports blog Barstool Sports. He endorsed Trump in a post last week in which he wrote, “I don’t care if he’s a joke. I don’t care if he’s racist. I don’t care if he’s sexist. I don’t care about any of it.”

“I think politics is kind of a joke in this country. I don’t think it matters who will get elected president,” said Portnoy, who described Trump’s candidacy as “a real-life political mock-umentary.”

“Everything Trump says I don’t agree with, like building a wall around the country, but I don’t think it’s going to happen,” he said. “But I don’t think anything anybody else says is going to happen, and I’d rather have the guy who brings entertainment value.”

Portnoy said he has heard from readers across New England who feel the same way.

I'd be tempted to dismiss this as a small, irrelevant group of immature pranksters and nihilists except for one thing. Remember this guy?

The only time I ever stood in line to vote in my precinct was the day he won the election for Governor. And many of the people in the line were laughing and having a great time that day talking about how it was great joke to vote for The Terminator.

On election day, 61% of registered voters cast ballots. The figure surpassed turnout in every nonpresidential statewide election since 1982 and was 10 points higher than in the 2002 gubernatorial contest... Using data from the statewide voter file, we find that the recall brought younger, less partisan, and less politically experienced voters to the polls.

Just saying ..


Iowa made men

by digby

Ed Kilgore says Iowans don't really care about the corruption of their process:
Remember that bizarre scene in Season 3 of The Sopranos, where a psychopathic hood who murdered his pregnant girlfriend in the parking lot of Tony’s gangster retreat the “Bada Bing!” strip joint, comes hat in hand to Tony to apologize? He apologizes not for the murder, but for “disrespecting the Bing.”

That’s what Iowa commentary on Sam Clovis’ high-profile defection from the Perry to the Trump campaign last week reminded me of.

In the Iowa Daily Democrat, veteran political reporter Mike Glover made it clear in the lede that what concerned him about Clovis’ action is that it might make outsiders doubt the pristine integrity of the Iowa Caucuses. He even uses the word “pristine:”

There’s yet another episode which could dent the pristine nature of Iowa’s precinct caucuses and could be used by critics to launch a new assault on Iowa’s treasured leadoff status in the presidential primary season.

“States around the country do not like the position of Iowa and they give a lot of reasons,” said Drake University political science professor Dennis Goldford. “This would be just one more issue.”

Priorities, people. It's vitally important that lily white Iowa be the first state to (sort of) vote for president because well, there's a lot of money and prestige at stake. The corruption of the whole thing is fine, but nobody gets away with disrespecting the bling.

He's not just a jerk, he's a liar as well. #notTrump

by digby

During an August 4 meet and greet in Manchester, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was filmed telling Granite State voters that “breathing” contributed to climate change. This weekend when a NextGen Climate volunteer asked Christie whether he stood by those comments, Christie called the statement “ridiculous,” denied ever making the comments, and then touted his record of supporting solar energy in New Jersey.

he didn't just tout his record, he touted "public-private" investment in solar energy.

And here I thought those were all supposed to be boondoggles ...

Trump cheats at golf. Stop the presses.

by digby

Oy Vey. He cheats but he's a lot of fun so it's all good. Whatever. I can't think of anything I care about less than anybody's golf game. But following up on my piece below, check this out:
Trump has shown that his candidacy is immune to the types of attacks that can bring down normal Republican candidates. He’s on record mocking a war hero and praising Nancy Pelosi, he’s advocated for higher taxes, donated to Democrats and called for single-payer health care. None of that has mattered. But does his golf history provide opponents with the opening they need?
They have totally accepted the fact that calling Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals, proposing to deport millions of people (including American children), talking about women like dirt, starting trade wars and real wars isn't something that would bring down "normal" Republican candidates. That's just par for the course these days. Praising nancy Pelosi, however, would "normally" bring down any candidate.

Can we see how weird this is getting?

Villagers reassure us that the Republican Party isn't extreme

by digby

One of the scary aspects of the Trump candidacy is the fact that he's moving the goalposts so far to the right that the beltway media, in their unending quest to portray the Republican Party as Real Americans who represent the great middle of the country, is redefining GOP "moderate" to mean people who don't think we should start a mass deportation program:

Newly released numbers from the Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics poll reveal not only the very clear differences between Iowans who back Donald Trump and those who support any of the other 16 GOP presidential candidates, but also how the real estate mogul's call for a hard-line immigration policy has resonated with a certain sector of the electorate.

Asked whether rounding up the 11 million people in the country illegally and deporting them is a good or a bad idea, almost three in four Trump backers said it was a good idea. By contrast, just four in 10 Republicans who are supporting another candidate said the same.

See? Only 40% of Republicans who don't back Trump think we should be deporting millions of people! Huzzah! Sanity reigns!

Here's some more moderation from the PPP poll this week:

Republicans who say they’re with the real-estate kingpin and former reality show star were also substantially more supportive of changing the Constitution’s 14th Amendment, which guarantees citizenship to all American-born children regardless of their parents’ immigration status.

About half of GOP voters told the survey they would support amending the Constitution to bar the children of undocumented immigrants from claiming “birthright” citizenship.

Only half of Republicans think the nation is threatened by babies born in America being citizens. It's all good.

It's just Trump, the crazy kooky guy whose entertaining everybody. It's not serious. No need to worry that the party itself is becoming a far-right extremist political faction. Nothing to see here.

What if they really mean what they say?

by digby

I wrote about Ben Carson's rise in the polls today for Salon and how it tells us something about Trump and the GOP electorate. Here's an excerpt:

There has been a lot of talk about why Trump is so popular, and the conventional wisdom at the moment is that it’s because voters are mad as hell and they are looking for an outsider to articulate their rage. Trump shakes his fist at the establishments of both parties and lays it all out on the line. This, it’s assumed, is the key to his success. Indeed, an entire beltway cottage industry has grown up around explaining the Trump phenomenon as an expression of America’s id.

Carson’s personality, on the other hand, is exactly the opposite of Trump’s. Where Trump is a bombastic narcissist, Carson is quiet and self-effacing. Where Trump rudely takes on all comers, Carson is polite and well-mannered. Trump is a street fighter, Carson a gentleman. So the fact that these two polar opposites are sitting at number one and two in the Republican primary polls right now must indicate that they represent two different strains in the GOP, right? If the histrionic Trump’s popularity is simply an inchoate expression of rage, then Carson’s support might be assumed to be based upon a yearning among other Republican voters for a more thoughtful, polite approach to politics.

But what if neither Trump nor Carson are popular because of their personalities? What if the beltway consensus that Trump’s success isn’t based upon issues or ideology is wrong and voters are actually attracted to his crazy ideas on the merits? The fact that Carson is closing on him certainly lends credibility to that possibility, because despite his mild-mannered persona, Carson’s ideas are even more extreme than Trump’s.

The two top contenders for the Republican nomination have nothing in common in terms of style, but among a very big field they are the two with the most radical agendas, and, as Salon’s Simon Maloy pointed out recently, a common disdain for what they term “political correctness.” As uncomfortable as it may be to think about, maybe Republican voters aren’t just looking for someone to express their rage. Maybe they really are extremists.
I think everyone is familiar with Trump’s agenda. For starters he’s going to round up and deport all the undocumented immigrants, build a wall on the border with a beautiful door and make Mexico pay for it, start trade wars with China and Japan, and when it comes to ISIS he has said:
“They have great money because they have oil. Every place where they have oil I would knock the hell out of them. I would knock out the source of their wealth, the primary sources of their wealth, which is oil. And in order to do that, you would have to put boots on the ground. I would knock the hell out of them but I’d put a ring around it and I’d take the oil for our country.”
Carson’s ideas are no less out in right field: He would use drones on the border to blow up caves where he believes immigrants are hiding. He believes that Planned Parenthood was created to commit genocide on African Americans. He has said that Obamacare is the worst thing to happen since slavery. And he believes that prohibitions against torture and war crimes are P.C. foolishness:
“Our military needs to know that they’re not going be prosecuted when they come back, because somebody has said, ‘You did something that was politically incorrect. There is no such thing as a politically correct war. We need to grow up, we need to mature. If you’re gonna have rules for war, you should just have a rule that says no war. Other than that, we have to win. Our life depends on it.”
So, the two most popular candidates in the Republican race for president are as different as can be when in comes to personality and style. One is a monumental blowhard billionaire and the other is a diffident brain surgeon.  But it’s not the way Trump and Carson speak or the style with which they present themselves that has the base so dazzled. These voters agree with the substance of what these two are saying. And they are both certifiable extremists. Maybe it’s time for the political establishment to reconsider their view that this phenomenon doesn’t amount to anything more than a political tantrum and take these people seriously.

More at the link...

No-fee lunch

by Tom Sullivan

"Alaska is the only state in the union besides New Hampshire without sales or income tax," writes Alana Semuels in The Atlantic. The Granite State funds itself with one of the highest property taxes in the country, through excise and corporate taxes, and through fees. Lots of fees. The Last Frontier has $50 billion in its savings account and cannot pay its bills.

Alaska has funded nearly 90 percent of its operations for years with oil revenues, but, "For every $5 drop in oil prices, the state loses $120 million, according to Randall Hoffbeck, Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Revenue." Now, things are getting tight:

“People are used to paying little or nothing for their government services,” Hoffbeck said. “It’s just going to be a change of mindset.”

But don't expect that to happen without much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Facing a roughly $4 billion dollar deficit this year on a $6 billion annual budget leaves lawmakers in quite a pinch. To use an outdated phrase, shaving silver off the edges of quarters won't solve the problem. There are only so many places to save pennies, and pennies don't add up to billions. Touching the Alaska Permanent Fund that writes dividend checks to every state resident each year is a non-starter:

To an outside observer, it might be obvious that a state that doesn’t ask its residents to pay any taxes and is now experiencing a giant budget deficit should just stop writing residents checks, or at least use some of the earnings from its $50 billion in the bank to pay its bills. Since the Permanent Fund is projected to continue to make more and more money from its earnings, the state could still spend a portion of earnings and keep the reserve fund well-endowed. Or the state could put a cap on the yearly amount of Permanent Fund dividends (the amount of the dividend is currently calculated by a formula based on the average of the Fund’s income over five years).

But Alaskans are fiercely protective of their checks, and of their state’s savings. This might be the most tight-fisted state in the union.

Citizens of this proud, conservative state like getting something for nothing. And politicians don't dare ask them to start paying for that no-fee lunch. “At some point in time, we’re going to have to have broad-based taxes,” says Hoffbeck. “We’re going to have to fund ourselves like everybody else does.”

Except everybody doesn't. We seem prepared to strip America to the walls looking for places to cut pennies before we'll own up to our responsibility and tax ourselves for what we get and to maintain it. Highways, water systems, good schools, endless wars. We expect them. We demand them. We just refuse to pay for them, and then blame the deficits on the poor. Or else on waste, fraud, and abuse, the inexhaustible zero-point energy of conservative pseudo-economics.

Or to clean up after ourselves. Barack Obama is in Alaska this week talking about climate change and the need to do just that:

I have come here today, as the leader of the world’s largest economy and its second-largest emitter, to say that the United States recognizes our role in creating the problem, and we embrace our responsibility to help solve it.

Don't hold your breath waiting for the personal responsibility crowd to accept any.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

James O'Keefe bags another scalp

by digby

Here's the latest pathetic attempt to stay relevant:
In a five-minute video compilation, Veritas showed senior members of Mrs. Clinton’s team appearing to accept a donation from a Canadian women at Mrs. Clinton’s campaign announcement rally in exchange for hats and pins bearing the candidate’s name. The staff members — Molly Barker and Erin Tibe — express awareness that they cannot except a donation from a foreigner but agree to allow the Canadian woman to give the money to an American citizen standing next to her who made the transaction on her behalf.

Although the American happened to be one of Project Veritas’s staff members who used a fake name, Mr. O’Keefe made the case that the video showed a willingness by the campaign to skirt laws that forbid taking donations from foreigners by using a conduit. The transaction amounted to $75, and Project Veritas has asked Mrs. Clinton’s campaign to refund the money.

“They have demonstrated a willingness to contravene the law,” Mr. O’Keefe said.

Blowing the lid off of this potentially nefarious Canadian foreign influence on Hillary Clinton the New York Times does go on to explain that foreign donations are a huge problem for her because foundation blah,blah, blah. (This is the same nonsensical stuff they did over the Johnny Chung and buddhist temple bullshit back in the 1990s which resulted in --- zilch.) But this time it's especially hilarious considering the tsunami of billionaire money flooding politics and the open practice by presidential candidate these days to prostrate themselves before rich old men to beg for money in return for a promise to fulfill their agendas. These candidates are literally being bribed before our very eyes. And it's perfectly legal.

I'm going to guess that some low level volunteer foolishly allowing herself to be conned by James O'Keefe over 75 bucks isn't going to make the front pages. But who the hell knows?

Your startling chart o' the day

by digby

Courtesy of Kevin Drum who writes:

It's September! Hooray! The kids are back in school and Donald Trump's reign over the silly season will soon be coming to an end. Finally, we can start to get serious about choosing our next presi—

Wait. WTF? Trumpmentum's sagging fortunes have turned around? He's now even further in the lead? Well crap.

Kevin speculates that everyone wants someone else to spend the money to attack Trump but I think that's probably a minor consideration. There's plenty of money rolling around out there. No, I think the CW is probably correct --- they don't want to insult Trump's followers. As you can see, they represent a fairly large proportion of the GOP electorate and they are vocal and energetic. Whether it lasts is unknown, but with the field as large as it is, nobody can tell where these people are going to land if/when Trump flames out.

Either way,  it's a problem. He was supposed to crater some time ago and it's not happening.  Quite the opposite in fact.

Beck is back!

by digby

Well actually, he never went away.  I wrote about his successful cult for Salon today. Here's an excerpt:

He was instrumental in the radicalizing of the same right wing that is now worshipping at the feet of a demagogic billionaire named Trump. They may have been extreme before, but Beck unleashed the beast. He has since recanted much of his behavior during the Fox years, much of which bordered on incoherent lunacy, by saying that he “made an awful lot of mistakes” because he “played a role, unfortunately, in helping tear the country apart.” You might say that.
His atonement has led him down a different path, one on which he’s less of a mass culture phenomenon and more of a cult leader. His transformation actually started before he left Fox News, when he began organizing rallies. The first big one was in 2010, the “Restoring Honor” rally. Originally conceived as a political event, Beck had some sort of revelation a few months before and changed it to a fundraising rally for veterans, as well as a quasi-religious meeting featuring some of the far-right religious crackpots with whom he would become increasingly involved over the next few years. This event was huge; according to some estimates it drew as many as 300,000 people. Sarah Palin was the star attraction.
As it came on the 47th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s March on Washington, it also led to Beck’s bizarre ongoing appropriation of Dr. King’s legacy for his own purposes. (He’s not the only conservative to do this, of course, but he’s one of the few to make a huge profit at it.) And he’s still at it. Last weekend, he really made it sing: He held his annual rally (yes, he does this every year) in Birmingham Alabama. Twenty thousand people showed up to march with him on the historic civil rights route from Kelly Ingram Park to Birmingham City Hall, holding all the same pre-made signs with pictures of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas, and the sayings “God Is the Answer,” “All Lives Matter,” “Unity,” “Justice,” “Courage” and “Right of Conscience.” T-Shirts were printed with the words “Never Again is Now” which apparently refers to Beck’s campaign to raise money for persecuted Christians in the Middle East.
Beck is now a holy man, spreading the good word of God, Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Lincoln, a racial healer and a stalwart defender of justice and equality. (All lives matter, darn it!) Needless to say, “right of conscience” refers to the God-given right to discriminate and “never again is now” is a pretty crude allusion to the Holocaust. It’s a perfect Beckian mishmash of appropriated liberal sacred cows and conservative bigotry wrapped up in sanctimony, vanity and intellectual dissonance. For some reason there are a substantial number of people who find that to be inspiring. And they’re willing to pay for it.

Betcha didn't know this

by digby

Flowing through the right wing twitter stream today. And it's not a joke. 

And you wonder why these folks believe so much bullshit?

A theology professor explains that the Pope hasn't changed anything on abortion

by digby

Well, not exactly.  But since women are assumed to not understand the evil that they do when they mercilessly murder fetuses, they can be forgiven if they properly repent:

As with other recalibrations announced by Pope Francis, the supposedly radical change in the Vatican’s approach to abortion is being dramatically overblown in the press.

In practice, it is very common to find in a church vestibule a poster asking women whether they are “hurting after an abortion.” And providing a contact to talk it over with a friendly pastoral adviser.

Women who have abortions are not hounded or shamed in Catholic churches; to the contrary, the attempt is made to communicate forgivenness and support.

And on doctrine, this is not a shift that is, in any way, shape or form, about whether or not procuring an abortion or performing one is an intrinsic, objective evil, the killing of innocent human life.

Instead, the Pope is emphasizing what is always true in Catholic teaching: that for an objectively evil act to be an actual subjective sin, besides being actually objectively and gravely evil, one must know it is objectively and gravely evil, and one must freely will to do it anyway.

The Pope is recognizing what most people in the pro-life community and many others already recognize. Namely, that sometimes an abortion doesn’t seem like much of a choice to the woman procuring it. People feel trapped by circumstances, and in such cases the guilt is not fully mitigated but somewhat mitigated, at least.

One can imagine such a person feeling even immediate regret and sorrow for the sin and also feeling victimized by circumstances. The Church wants to be there for that person, and the Pope is making it easier for the Church to be there.

The Pope is saying that the Church has an ordinary outlet for reconciliation and forgiveness, and that is the sacrament of penance or reconciliation.

So, the change proposed here is pastoral in nature, not doctrinal. It is intended to emphasize that the Church is an agent of mercy, primarily, and not an agent of condemnation.

In addition, all the usual conditions apply here. One must be truly sorry for one’s sins, all of them, not just this one, and make a firm promise of amendment of life.

he goes on to explain that all that's happened is that now local priests can forgive the dizzy broads who made this horrible error without really knowing any better without be designated by a bishop to have the power to do it. That's literally the only thing that has changed. Women who make the evil choice to have an abortion need to prove to a celibate male priest that she didn't know what she was doing and then perhaps she won't be excommunicated. So that's nice.


Chuck Todd can read minds

by digby

This morning he said upfront, without any obfuscation, that he believes that Clinton only had her separate email server in order to hide her correspondence. And since they haven't found any smoking gun which could justify this,  the implication is that she is obviously a paranoid freak. See how that works? She is either a corrupt sell-out or a paranoid freak. Heads he wins, tails she loses.

Frankly, I think it's perfectly sensible of her to want to keep her correspondence from Chuck Todd and his friends in the press when you observe the orgy of meaningless puerile gossip they're engaging in this morning over the email release last night. They are obsessively interested in anything personal, which proves exactly why they wanted to get their sweaty mitts on them in the first place.

Andrea Mitchell former State Department spokesman PJ Crowley and analyst Steve Clemons on her show.  They both tried to talk about what was really interesting in the emails --- the issues she was dealing with during her tenure and even the fact that there was a level of mistrust in the early days with the White House which fell away by the end of 2009 when the administration fully meshed.  Perhaps some day someone will take a look at the real story there. It seems as though it might be interesting. It is, after all, unusual to be able to see all this the correspondence of the Secretary of State.  Colin Powell destroyed all his emails, for instance, so we never will have that access to the inside story when he lied to the country and the world and helped take us into a war that destroyed the stability of the middle east and cost hundreds of thousands of lives. But who cares about that --- it's so 2003.

No, this morning what we got was excessive attention to any correspondence with Huma Abedin, in a desperate search for any evidence of something juicy, which they failed to find. And there was lots of breathless gossipy discussions of anything Clinton was talking about that was personal, like what TV shows she was watching and what she was reading.  This is obviously the only thing they care about. (Yesterday they were whining like babies because the government scheduled the release in the evening which apparently meant they would have to stay up all night long poring over them to search for juicy tid-bits. Why this would be such an urgent task is unknown.)

Chris Cillizza helpfully explained to Mitchell that despite the fact that these emails  contain no evidence of wrongdoing they are destructive to her because when they are released "everyone" will talk about them for days and days hour after hour anyway and overwhelm her desire to talk about things that are important. By everyone, he means the press. They simply cannot choose to cover anything else because --- well, just because.

But we knew that. This is the Village. It's what they do. It's who they are.

Earthquakes, the "Big One" & the Pacific Northwest

by Gaius Publius

This is not quite a political story, but it's an important one. Most people west of the Mississippi and many people east of it assume that the so-called "Big One," the mother of all American earthquakes, will occur in southern California along the San Andreas fault.

Shaded relief map of California showing the location of SAFOD [San Andreas Fault Observatory at Depth]. Major historical earthquakes along the San Andreas Fault are shown, with the creeping section of the fault in blue. (© USGS, click to enlarge) [source]

But scientists who study plate tectonics have come to a surprising, and relatively recent, conclusion — the "big one" is more likely to come in the Pacific Northwest, and it's likely to be the "really big one."

I can only give you a small part of this excellent recent article in the New Yorker by Kathryn Schultz, but if this interests you at all, the piece is worth reading through. There's both good science and important warning here. And if you're a resident of the region, it may qualify as a must-read.

The problem in a nutshell, from just after the start of the article (my emphasis):

Most people in the United States know just one fault line by name: the San Andreas, which runs nearly the length of California and is perpetually rumored to be on the verge of unleashing “the big one.” That rumor is misleading, no matter what the San Andreas ever does. Every fault line has an upper limit to its potency, determined by its length and width, and by how far it can slip. For the San Andreas, one of the most extensively studied and best understood fault lines in the world, that upper limit is roughly an 8.2—a powerful earthquake, but, because the Richter scale is logarithmic, only six per cent as strong as the 2011 event in Japan.

Just north of the San Andreas, however, lies another fault line. Known as the Cascadia subduction zone, it runs for seven hundred miles off the coast of the Pacific Northwest, beginning near Cape Mendocino, California, continuing along Oregon and Washington, and terminating around Vancouver Island, Canada. The “Cascadia” part of its name comes from the Cascade Range, a chain of volcanic mountains that follow the same course a hundred or so miles inland. The “subduction zone” part refers to a region of the planet where one tectonic plate is sliding underneath (subducting) another. Tectonic plates are those slabs of mantle and crust that, in their epochs-long drift, rearrange the earth’s continents and oceans. Most of the time, their movement is slow, harmless, and all but undetectable. Occasionally, at the borders where they meet, it is not.

Take your hands and hold them palms down, middle fingertips touching. Your right hand represents the North American tectonic plate, which bears on its back, among other things, our entire continent, from One World Trade Center to the Space Needle, in Seattle. Your left hand represents an oceanic plate called Juan de Fuca, ninety thousand square miles in size. The place where they meet is the Cascadia subduction zone. Now slide your left hand under your right one. That is what the Juan de Fuca plate is doing: slipping steadily beneath North America. When you try it, your right hand will slide up your left arm, as if you were pushing up your sleeve. That is what North America is not doing. It is stuck, wedged tight against the surface of the other plate.

Without moving your hands, curl your right knuckles up, so that they point toward the ceiling. Under pressure from Juan de Fuca, the stuck edge of North America is bulging upward and compressing eastward, at the rate of, respectively, three to four millimetres and thirty to forty millimetres a year. It can do so for quite some time, because, as continent stuff goes, it is young, made of rock that is still relatively elastic. (Rocks, like us, get stiffer as they age.) But it cannot do so indefinitely. There is a backstop—the craton, that ancient unbudgeable mass at the center of the continent—and, sooner or later, North America will rebound like a spring. If, on that occasion, only the southern part of the Cascadia subduction zone gives way—your first two fingers, say—the magnitude of the resulting quake will be somewhere between 8.0 and 8.6. That’s the big one. If the entire zone gives way at once, an event that seismologists call a full-margin rupture, the magnitude will be somewhere between 8.7 and 9.2. That’s the very big one.

Flick your right fingers outward, forcefully, so that your hand flattens back down again. When the next very big earthquake hits, the northwest edge of the continent, from California to Canada and the continental shelf to the Cascades, will drop by as much as six feet and rebound thirty to a hundred feet to the west—losing, within minutes, all the elevation and compression it has gained over centuries. Some of that shift will take place beneath the ocean, displacing a colossal quantity of seawater. (Watch what your fingertips do when you flatten your hand.) The water will surge upward into a huge hill, then promptly collapse. One side will rush west, toward Japan. The other side will rush east, in a seven-hundred-mile liquid wall that will reach the Northwest coast, on average, fifteen minutes after the earthquake begins. By the time the shaking has ceased and the tsunami has receded, the region will be unrecognizable. Kenneth Murphy, who directs FEMA’s Region X, the division responsible for Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Alaska, says, “Our operating assumption is that everything west of Interstate 5 will be toast.”.

I've bolded the parts that describe the geologic stress and what's likely to happen to the land when it releases. The upward bulge of the land includes the Cascades mountain region and land west to the sea (Mount Hood, in the Cascades Mountains, is only 80 miles east of Portland). A six-foot drop in elevation of land within "a few minutes" would destroy everything built on top of it. A similar drop beneath the ocean would create a tsunami that would wipe out everything living along the coast.

Here's a picture:

The northern part of the Cascadia Subduction Zone (click to enlarge; source)

Here's another, showing the extent of the affected area:

As the source states, "Subdiction of the Juan de Fuca plate beneath the North American plate results in the formation of the Cascade Range." Click to enlarge.

And another showing the elevations:

Portland sits between the Oregon Coast Range and the Cascade Range (click to enlarge; source).

If a full rupture occurs, the impact will be devastating: "that region will suffer the worst natural disaster in the history of North America," writes Schultz.
Roughly three thousand people died in San Francisco’s 1906 earthquake. Almost two thousand died in Hurricane Katrina. Almost three hundred died in Hurricane Sandy. FEMA projects that nearly thirteen thousand people will die in the Cascadia earthquake and tsunami. Another twenty-seven thousand will be injured, and the agency expects that it will need to provide shelter for a million displaced people, and food and water for another two and a half million. “This is one time that I’m hoping all the science is wrong, and it won’t happen for another thousand years,” Murphy says.
Devastation aside, the science on this is fascinating. Schultz writes, "Thirty years ago, no one knew that the Cascadia subduction zone had ever produced a major earthquake. Forty-five years ago, no one even knew it existed." If you want to skip to that part, find the sentence that starts, "Almost all of the world’s most powerful earthquakes occur in the Ring of Fire" and continue from there. The study of the "ghost forest" on the banks of the Copalis River and the tale it told to alert researchers makes terrific reading.

There's much more here than I can quote comfortably — the detective work that revealed the date of the last "really big one" ("approximately nine o’ clock at night on January 26, 1700"); the lack of preparation, and the cost of preparing properly to respond to an emergency of this scale.

FEMA, Disaster Preparation & Our Billionaires

Which is where I want to add a word of my own. Funding FEMA, of course, to an adequate level is a first priority. Yet we live in a time of pathological billionaires, rulers of both parties, who don't want to spend the first spare dime on any class of people but their own. The arrogance of this class, from Donald Trump to Sheldon Adelson to Jamie Dimon, is astounding — I may have some comparison video shortly. Left or right, they're mainly all the same. If you watched the Trump vs. Ramos video, you watched them all in action.

As with their arrogance, so their self-dealing. Americans are forced to use increasingly service-cutting, space-cutting airlines for long-distance travel because "our betters" say they can't afford to raise Amtrak to anything close to European standards. (Have you ridden an American passenger train lately along any but the DC–New England corridor?) Yet here's how the very very rich take to the air, financed, if they can get it, by corporate tax loopholes and compensation extras.

If they "can't afford" to give us good trains, bridges, or roadways, how will this class ever allow us to prepare for an emergency on the scale described here?

We seem to be stuck, until we don't want to be. Talk about a tectonic subduction zone — that we continue to be ruled by the global rich is a "sticking point" of monstrous proportions. The pressure, on them and on us, to keep things as they are is enormous. I'm afraid the consequences — political, social, environmental, climatological — of coming "unstuck" from our own ruling class will be monstrous as well.

I guess this was a political story after all.

(A version of this piece appeared at Down With Tyranny. GP article archive here.)




Weakness: The ultimate RW insult

by Tom Sullivan

If you want a perfect encapsulation of the conservative world view, you need look no further than "A Boy Named Sue," a song made famous by Johnny Cash and (ironically) written by the late Shel Silverstein, a writer of children's books.

"Son, this world is rough, and if a man's gonna make it, he's gotta be tough...

It's the name that helped to make you strong"

Not a good father. Not a good husband. Not a good citizen. But strong. It's all that matters.

That's why blustering manhood and guns and codpieces play so well on the right. It is also why weakness is both a cardinal sin and the ultimate RW insult. Weakness evokes the same makes-my-skin-crawl response the Nazi Shliemann had in "Raiders of the Lost Ark" to "the thought of this -- (spitting it out) -- Jewish ritual."

So Donald Trump dumping on Jeb Bush in a Horton-esque new attack ad and on the Bush family in an interview is an especially low (and potentially politically fatal) blow:

On Jeb Bush: “I mean, this guy. I don’t think he has a clue.”

On George H.W. Bush: “I really liked the father — really like him as a person. But I hated his ‘read my lips, no more taxes,’ and then he raised taxes monstrously.”

On George W. Bush: “He didn’t seem smart. I’d watch him in interviews and I’d look at people and ask, ‘Do you think he understands the question?’ ”

And back to Jeb: “He’s not up to snuff. . . . Jeb is never going to bring us to the promised land. He can’t.”

Martin Longman writes at Washington Monthly:

There’s no doubt that Trump is a bully. But this is a case of a bully standing up to a bully and exposing the latter as a paper tiger. And this is really what GOP strategist Steve Schmidt was getting at when he said the following:
“Look, Jeb Bush was a very successful governor, he’s a thoughtful man, he was a good, conservative governor. But every day, Donald Trump is emasculating Jeb Bush, and Republican primary voters are not going to default to the establishment candidate who is being weakened by these attacks that go unresponded to.”
I don’t know how Jeb Bush thinks he is responding, but none of it is getting through. I hear nothing, and it’s basically like Trump has Jeb by the hair and is just dunking him repeatedly under the water while taunting him for being a weak and ineffectual and “low energy” loser.

The conservative base loves alpha dogs like Trump and banty roosters like Dubya. Jeb Bush is neither. What was he thinking? Longman continues:

This all might seem like playground stuff, but Jeb doesn’t compensate by going out and clearing brush on his ranch. He doesn’t even obsessively work out or go bicycling every damn where. He’s soft and doughy and low energy and non-threatening, and he just looks like a guy who wants to run the Pentagon but has been stripped of every last shred of toughness and masculinity.

It’s true that nine out of every ten things that Trump says are either untrue or insane, but when he goes after the Bush family what he says is generally accurate.

Reagan faced down an "evil empire" in cowboy hat. Dubya faced down an "axis of evil" in a flight suit (and a cowboy hat). Trump has no cowboy hat, but his Sikorskis and tough talk telegraph to the GOP base that he's "tough."

Monday, August 31, 2015

The Egos Have Landed

by digby

This is the day American jumped the shark:

It's over folks.

We know it helps

by digby

But it doesn't matter. People are dying who do not have to die because a bunch of yahoos insist their useless, violent hobby must be protected:

The first Willie Horton of the Cycle

by digby

And it's against the middle son of the man whose campaign ran the first one:

A video posted by Donald J. Trump (@realdonaldtrump) on

You knew it was only a matter of time before one of these guys ran a revolting ad like this, right?

How do you like it Jeb?

I don't think it will help him.  He's in a party full of very deluded people who think Trump's got the right idea. Talk about being caught between a rock and hard place --- of your own making.

Is Marco dumb or just "uncurious" #likeW

by digby

Steve Benen caught a Rubio pulling a Mitt, which isn't a good thing:

It was arguably the biggest takedown of the 2012 presidential campaign. In the third debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney, the Republican complained, “Our Navy is smaller now than at any time since 1917…. Our Air Force is older and smaller than at any time since it was founded in 1947.”

The former governor had used the same argument many times on the stump, and the prepared president pounced. “Well, governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military’s changed,” Obama explained. “We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines. And so the question is not a game of Battleship, where we’re counting ships. It’s what are our capabilities?”

It was a rough moment for Romney, whose canned talking points were made to look ridiculous.

And yet, there was Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) last week, delivering a big speech on foreign policy, embracing Romney’s argument as his own.

“[President Obama] wasted no time stripping parts from the engine of American Strength. He enacted hundreds of billions in defense cuts that left our Army on track to be at pre-World War II levels, our Navy at pre-WWI levels, and our Air Force with the smallest and oldest combat force in its history.”

As Bloomberg politics dryly reiterated:
[T]he numbers of ships and planes don’t define U.S. military capabilities. Modern warships, notably aircraft carriers and submarines, are far more effective and lethal than their World War II predecessors.
No kidding.

This isn't the first time Rubio has made a truly embarrassing foreign policy gaffe like this:
At the recent CPAC gathering, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a likely Republican presidential candidate, seemed to stumble on one of the basic facts of the Middle East. “The reason Obama hasn’t put in place a military strategy to defeat ISIS is because he doesn’t want to upset Iran,” the Florida Republican said. 
The senator seemed confused. In reality, President Obama has put an anti-ISIS military strategy in place, and that’s fine with Iran, since Iran and ISIS are enemies.

I’d hoped that Rubio just misspoke, or had been briefly poorly but an aide, but apparently not - -at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing this afternoon, the far-right Floridian continued to push this strange theory, pressing Secretary of State John Kerry on the point. “I believe that much of our strategy with regards to ISIS is being driven by a desire not to upset Iran so they don’t walk away from the negotiating table on the deal that you’re working on,” Rubio said. “Tell me why I’m wrong.” 
And so, Kerry told him why he’s wrong.

For those who can’t watch clips online, here’s the heart of the exchange.
KERRY: What’s important, senator, with respect to your question is to understand this. And I think this has been a misread by a lot of people up here on the Hill, to be honest with you. There is no grand bargain being discussed here with regards to this negotiation, this is about a nuclear weapon potential. That’s it. And the president has made it absolutely clear they will not get a nuclear weapon. Now the presumption by a lot of people up on the Hill here has been that we somehow aren’t aware of that goal even as we negotiate that goal. Our negotiation is calculated to make sure they can’t get a nuclear weapon. It’s really almost insulting that the presumption here is that we’re going to negotiate something that allows them to get a nuclear weapon.

RUBIO: Well I haven’t discussed about the nuclear weapon but I – and I’m not saying there is a grand bargain – what I’m saying is that I believe that our military strategy towards ISIS is influenced by our desire not to cross red lines That the Iranians have –

KERRY: Absolutely not in the least.

Rubio went on to insist that many of our Sunni allies in the region – including Jordan and U.A.E. – feel as if we’ve kept them “in the dark” about the nuclear talks with Iran, reducing our “trust level” in the region.

Again, Kerry had to patiently explained to the Republican, “Senator, that is actually flat wrong.”

Honestly, it was like watching a competent teacher trying to explain the basics of current events to a student who failed to do his homework. Andrea Mitchell said the Secretary of State took Rubio “to school.”
Rubio is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. His claim to fame, such as it is, is supposed to be foreign policy. But when he talks about it he looks like this guy:


Trump's Village allies

by digby

Here's The Donald's latest atrocity:

“If you think that Huma isn’t telling Anthony—who she’s probably desperately in love with in all fairness to Anthony because why else would she marry this guy? Can you believe it? Can’t see straight—Look, think of it, it’s coming through Huma, she’s got lots of stuff, lots of information and she’s married to a bad guy. … Do you think there’s even a five percent chance that she’s not telling Anthony Weiner—now of a public relations firm—what the hell is coming across? Do you think there’s even a little bit of a chance? I don’t think so … Are there any women in this room who are in love with their husbands who wouldn’t be telling them everything?”

He later told NBC news:

"I don't think she should have been part of the people receiving it, whether it's confidential, why would she be involved?"

You know how women are, amirite? AMIRITE????

Chris Cillizza told Andrea Mitchell this morning that nobody cares about this. But one of Mitchell's other guests pointed out this is actually very important because Clinton is Abedin's "whole world" so it is relevant.

Let's not kid ourselves. Trump is doing their dirty work for them. The Village gossips find any reason to discuss Abedin absolutely thrilling:

That's the level of discourse we have coming from the mainstream press. So you can easily see why they wouldn't find anything Trump says to be particularly shocking. That's where he's getting it.

Why did they do that? Well, they don't want to get scooped like they did with that titillating John Edwards bombshell ever again:

This stuff comes right out of the right wing fever swamp. It's been one of their favorite tropes for 25 years: Hillar is a cold, frigid old feminist lesbian who can't keep Bill happy at home.  And far too many people in political circles, even on the Democratic side, have been willing to roll around in the pig dung with them on this stuff.

If you don't know that this is why the GOP and the press want to dig around in those emails you really were born yesterday.


Ten years ago today

by digby

Via Think Progress timeline:

Wednesday, August 31
1:45AM CDT — FEMA REQUESTS AMBULANCES THAT DO NOT EXIST: “Almost 18 hours later, [FEMA] canceled the request for the ambulances because it turned out, as one FEMA employee put it, ‘the DOT doesn’t do ambulances.’” [Wall Street Journal]

11:20 AM CDT — FEMA STAFF WARNED BROWN THAT PEOPLE WERE DYING AT THE SUPERDOME: Three hours later, Brown’s press secretary wrote to colleagues complaining that Brown needed more time scheduled to eat at a restaurant: “He needs much more that (sic) 20 or 30 minutes. We now have traffic to encounter to go to and from a location of his choise (sic), followed by wait service from the restaurant staff, eating, etc. Thank you.” [AP]

NATIONAL GUARD TROOPS ARRIVE IN LOUSIANA, MISSISSIPPI, ALABAMA, AND FLORIDA: Troops arrive two days after they are requested. [Boston Globe]

superdome2.jpgTENS OF THOUSANDS TRAPPED IN SUPERDOME; CONDITIONS DETERIORATE: “A 2-year-old girl slept in a pool of urine. Crack vials littered a restroom. Blood stained the walls next to vending machines smashed by teenagers. ‘We pee on the floor. We are like animals,’ said Taffany Smith, 25, as she cradled her 3-week-old son, Terry. … By Wednesday, it had degenerated into horror. … At least two people, including a child, have been raped. At least three people have died, including one man who jumped 50 feet to his death, saying he had nothing left to live for. There is no sanitation. The stench is overwhelming.”” [Los Angeles Times, 9/1/05]

PRESIDENT BUSH FINALLY ORGANIZES TASK FORCE TO COORDINATE FEDERAL RESPONSE: Bush says on Tuesday he will “fly to Washington to begin work…with a task force that will coordinate the work of 14 federal agencies involved in the relief effort.” [New York Times, 8/31/05]

JEFFERSON PARISH EMERGENCY DIRECTOR SAYS FOOD AND WATER SUPPLY GONE: “Director Walter Maestri: FEMA and national agencies not delivering the help nearly as fast as it is needed.” [WWL-TV]

waterisrising22.jpg80,000 BELIEVED STRANDED IN NEW ORLEANS: Former Mayor Sidney Barthelemy “estimated 80,000 were trapped in the flooded city and urged President Bush to send more troops.” [Reuters]

3,000 STRANDED AT CONVENTION CENTER WITHOUT FOOD OR WATER: “With 3,000 or more evacuees stranded at the convention center — and with no apparent contingency plan or authority to deal with them — collecting a body was no one’s priority. … Some had been at the convention center since Tuesday morning but had received no food, water or instructions.” [Times-Picayune]

PUBLIC HEALTH EMERGENCY DECLARED FOR ENTIRE GULF COAST: “After a natural disaster, short and long-term medical problems can occur. Diseases like cholera, typhoid, hepatitis and mosquito-borne illnesses tend to break out under these conditions.” [WCBS-TV]

bushplane.jpgBUSH SURVEYS DAMAGE FROM AIR FORCE ONE: President Bush flew over New Orleans on Air Force One. “During the 35-minute tour, Bush clearly saw from his vantage point the damage to the football stadium in New Orleans as well as the flooded neighborhoods, wiped out bridges and slabs of foundations where houses used to stand.” [Fox News]

CHERTOFF “EXTREMELY PLEASED WITH THE RESPONSE” OF THE GOVERNMENT: “We are extremely pleased with the response that every element of the federal government, all of our federal partners, have made to this terrible tragedy.” [Department of Homeland Security]

EARLY AM — BLANCO AGAIN TRIES TO REQUEST HELP FROM BUSH: “She was transferred around the White House for a while until she ended up on the phone with Fran Townsend, the president’s Homeland Security adviser, who tried to reassure her but did not have many specifics. Hours later, Blanco called back and insisted on speaking to the president. When he came on the line, the governor recalled, “I just asked him for help, ‘whatever you have’.” She asked for 40,000 troops.” [Newsweek]

4PM CDT — BUSH GIVES FIRST MAJOR ADDRESS ON KATRINA: “Nothing about the president’s demeanor… — which seemed casual to the point of carelessness — suggested that he understood the depth of the current crisis.” [New York Times]

7PM CDT — CONDOLEEZZA RICE TAKES IN A BROADWAY SHOW: “On Wednesday night, Secretary Rice was booed by some audience members at ‘Spamalot!, the Monty Python musical at the Shubert, when the lights went up after the performance.” [New York Post, 9/2/05]

8PM CDT — FEMA DIRECTOR BROWN CLAIMS SURPRISE OVER SIZE OF STORM: “I must say, this storm is much much bigger than anyone expected.” [CNN]

Today was the day he did this:

After he returned to Washington he held that bizarre, stiff press conference as we watched people begging to be rescued from the top of their houses.

The New York Times described it the next day:

George W. Bush gave one of the worst speeches of his life yesterday, especially given the level of national distress and the need for words of consolation and wisdom. In what seems to be a ritual in this administration, the president appeared a day later than he was needed. He then read an address of a quality more appropriate for an Arbor Day celebration: a long laundry list of pounds of ice, generators and blankets delivered to the stricken Gulf Coast. He advised the public that anybody who wanted to help should send cash, grinned, and promised that everything would work out in the end.

I wrote that morning:

The pictures coming out of New Orleans are all horrible. But the income disparities among the citizens are brought into stark relief by this tragedy. Everyone is affected of course, but those who had little to begin with are truly left with less than nothing now. A whole lot of people who were hanging by a thread already just dropped into total despair. That dimension of the tragedy really makes my heart ache

Think Progress has a very thorough timeline of events, here. 

"This place is going to look like Little Somalia"

by digby

I wrote about how the media helped create the delayed response to Katrina today for Salon:

“This place is going to look like Little Somalia,” Brig. Gen. Gary Jones, commander of the Louisiana National Guard’s Joint Task Force told Army Times Friday as hundreds of armed troops under his charge prepared to launch a massive citywide security mission from a staging area outside the Louisiana Superdome. “We’re going to go out and take this city back. This will be a combat operation to get this city under control.” — Army Times, September 2, 2005
When the levees broke in those early days after Hurricane Katrina, Americans found themselves watching a disaster unfold before their eyes for the second time in four short years. Indeed, sometimes it felt as if the entire decade had been nothing but one disaster after another. As the flood waters rose and overhead shots showed people walking waist deep through toxic floodwater and desperately waving for help from their rooftops, the scope of the crisis became clear.
Unfortunately, almost from the beginning a narrative took shape that would seriously affect the response: The police had abandoned their duties and the city was under attack from roaming gangs of African American thugs, threatening people in their homes and businesses.
There were two famous photographs of Katrina victims published in the media on Tuesday August 30, 2005. In the first, a black New Orleans resident is described as walking through water after having “looted a grocery store,” while in the other, the white subjects were said to have “found” bread and water from a local grocery story. It was the beginning of a couple of days of rising hysteria, particularly on the right, about “looting” and violence.
The most famous example of this from the national punditry was perhaps a column by the Wall Street Journal’s  Peggy Noonan, who wrote:
As for the tragic piggism that is taking place on the streets of New Orleans, it is not unbelievable but it is unforgivable, and I hope the looters are shot. A hurricane cannot rob a great city of its spirit, but a vicious citizenry can. A bad time with Mother Nature can leave you digging out for a long time, but a bad turn in human behavior frays and tears all the ties that truly bind human being–trust, confidence, mutual regard, belief in the essential goodness of one’s fellow citizens.
There were many more long disquisitions and much hand-wringing  among right wingers about the necessity of shooting looters. Some, like Ted Frank of the American Enterprise Institute, finding summary execution to be the “compassionate” approach:
I think shooting looters is a compassionate way to protect the safety and well-being of law-abiding citizens. Time after time it has been shown that the way to prevent deadly anarchic riots is to take firm decisive action to prevent matters from getting to a tipping point.
Mostly what anyone had actually seen at that point were shots of people inside Big Box stores taking goods in the presence of police, who had made a deliberate decision to stand down since they were in the middle of one of the most devastating natural disasters in recent memory and protecting Walmart’s junk didn’t seem like something worth worrying about when bodies were floating down the street.
But beyond the footage of looting, there were rampant, over-the-top rumors of violence, but no pictures of it despite the fact that photographers and film crews were all over the city. Still, the idea took hold and reports of running street battles and armed gangs were everywhere. Most of the world watched in horror in those early days at the devastation and carnage being wreaked by mother nature and crumbling infrastructure. But the mainstream press breathlessly reported on a city that no one could see — a city in a “war zone” in which average citizens were being randomly killed everywhere.
Here’s a fairly typical example of the hysterical reporting from the AFP:
New Orleans was primed for all-out combat Friday, as Iraq-tested troops with shoot-to-kill orders moved into the hurricane-devasted city to quell rioters and looters.
The deployment of 300 members of the Arkansas National Guard came ahead of a tour of the affected region by President George W. Bush, who vowed “zero tolerance” for the armed gangs terrorising the flooded city.
Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco said the guardsmen had been authorized to open fire on “hoodlums” profiteering from the destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina, which is believed to have left thousands dead.
“These troops are fresh back from Iraq, well trained, experienced, battle tested and under my orders to restore order in the streets,” Blanco said.
“They have M-16s and they are locked and loaded.
“These troops know how to shoot and kill and they are more than willing to do so if necessary and I expect they will,” she said.
Four days after the killer storm slammed into the US Gulf Coast, New Orleans was still plagued by gunbattles and rapes, with gangs of looters and carjackers roving the streets and bodies just left lying by the roadside.
Residents reported survivors dropping dead in shelters or gunned down outside the New Orleans convention center. Hospitals were evacuated after power ran out and helicopters ferrying patients and babies drew gunfire.
“This is a war zone,” said Melissa Murray, 32, a Louisiana state corrections officer helping in the relief effort.
As you can see, the officials themselves were stoking the sense of panic.
Here was a typical right wing blog post during this period:
Security has become a major concern now, because the NOPD is ineffective and the looters terrorists are roaming the streets. Word is now that they’re lighting buildings on fire, but I can’t confirm that. Anyway, we have to run guard shifts and patrol and it limits our downtime.
It is a zoo out there though, make no mistake. It’s the wild kingdom. It’s Lord of the Flies. That doesn’t mean there’s murder on every street corner. But what it does mean is that the rule of law has collapsed, that there is no order, and that property rights cannot and are not being enforced. Anyone who is on the streets is in immediate danger of being robbed and killed. It’s that bad.
And then the world saw something that no one ever expected to see in the most powerful and wealthy nation on earth –tens of thousands of Americans abandoned at the New Orleans convention center with no water, no food, pleading with a local celebrity, Harry Connick Jr, to do something, anything, to help them. Somehow, Connick, (along with camera crews) had been able to fight through the wild street gangs to find out for himself what was going on. Hour after hour we watched the shocking scenes of mostly elderly men and women and mothers with young children — the most vulnerable residents of the city who hadn’t been able to evacuate — left abandoned to fend for themselves. The sun was shining, there was no flooding near the center. Camera crews were in and they were everywhere. There were scenes of military vehicles driving by old ladies in wheelchairs as people screamed for help.
All over the country, all over the world, people couldn’t believe what they were seeing.  And they asked themselves, “Where is the government, where is the Red Cross?
We found out a few days later that the Red Cross was told not to go into the city by the authorities (which authorities is still a point of dispute) because it was unsafe, what with the roaming thugs killing and raping and all. The government needed to stop all the violence before food and water and medical help could be deployed.
The next year, the LA Times took a look back at the reporting and what they found wasn’t pretty:
Journalists and officials who have reviewed the Katrina disaster blamed the inaccurate reporting in large measure on the breakdown of telephone service, which prevented dissemination of accurate reports to those most in need of the information. Race may have also played a factor.
The wild rumors filled the vacuum and seemed to gain credence with each retelling — that an infant’s body had been found in a trash can, that sharks from Lake Pontchartrain were swimming through the business district, that hundreds of bodies had been stacked in the Superdome basement.
“It doesn’t take anything to start a rumor around here,” Louisiana National Guard 2nd Lt. Lance Cagnolatti said at the height of the Superdome relief effort. “There’s 20,000 people in here. Think when you were in high school. You whisper something in someone’s ear. By the end of the day, everyone in school knows the rumor — and the rumor isn’t the same thing it was when you started it.”
Follow-up reporting has discredited reports of a 7-year-old being raped and murdered at the Superdome, roving bands of armed gang members attacking the helpless, and dozens of bodies being shoved into a freezer at the Convention Center.
Fox News, a day before the major evacuation of the Superdome began, issued an “alert” as talk show host Alan Colmes reiterated reports of “robberies, rapes, carjackings, riots and murder. Violent gangs are roaming the streets at night, hidden by the cover of darkness.”
The Los Angeles Times adopted a breathless tone the next day in its lead news story, reporting that National Guard troops “took positions on rooftops, scanning for snipers and armed mobs as seething crowds of refugees milled below, desperate to flee. Gunfire crackled in the distance.”
“I don’t think you can overstate how big of a disaster New Orleans is,” said Kelly McBride, ethics group leader at the Poynter Institute, a Florida school for professional journalists. “But you can imprecisely state the nature of the disaster. … Then you draw attention away from the real story, the magnitude of the destruction, and you kind of undermine the media’s credibility.”
They did more than undermine their own credibility. Their irresponsible rumor-mongering delayed the response. This fear-mongering about the city being overrun by armed thugs resulted in hours and hours of suffering in the hell of the convention center and the Superdome, not to mention all the other places where people were huddled and frightened waiting for a rescue that was being held back because of rumors the press passed on to officials and officials then looped it back to them as fact.
And there can be little doubt about what made all this so believable to the Peggy Noonans of the world:
“If the dome and Convention Center had harbored large numbers of middle class white people,” [Times-Picayune Editor Jim] Amoss said, “it would not have been a fertile ground for this kind of rumor-mongering.”
BATON ROUGE, La. — They locked down the entrance doors Thursday at the Baton Rouge hotel where I’m staying alongside hundreds of New Orleans residents driven from their homes by Hurricane Katrina.
“Because of the riots,” the hotel managers explained. Armed Gunmen from New Orleans were headed this way, they had heard.
“It’s the blacks,” whispered one white woman in the elevator. “We always worried this would happen.”

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