We referred yesterday to the Times-Picayune bunker blog as a good source of information amidst the infotainment weather hype surrounding New Orleans.
Well this morning, the news from the bunker is rather unsettling. The water is now rising in the city and the T-P staffers are evacuating the building and looking for a safe place to report from.
In another item earlier this morning on their blog, the city’s director of emergency management was quoted from a local radio broadcast:
"The water continues to rise," according to Walter Maestri, director of emergency management for Jefferson Parish.
Maestri told WWL-Radio that parish officials have given engineers the next "three to four hours" to determine the cause of rising water.
Maestri did not specify where water continued to rise.
Asked if it is possible that he and parish consultants will not be able to figure out the cause of the continued flooding, Maestri replied, "Absolutely."
However, he cautioned residents "not to deal in rumor."
"Stay with us," Maestri said. "Dealing in rumor won't help you right now."
MY THOUGHT- Where the f**k is the military? They need help down there.
UPDATE 3:15 PM- Sometimes it's not the news, but the quiet that makes an impression. Nothing at all on the Times-Picayune breaking news blog since they evacuated at 9:40 AM. Things have got to be pretty bad...
3:26 PM- This from the Washington Post. Very bad.
In two, I hope, unrelated items today we see the tendency to assume all fire, even metaphorical, is hostile in eyes of the occupation.
A Reuters soundman is killed and a wounded Reuters cameraman then held for questioning instead of being released for treatment… and separately, a Pentagon whistleblower is demoted for exposing waste and too-cozy relations with Halliburton.
…Not a stellar day in fighting for truth and justice.
As much as my instinctive reaction to Wes Clark’s Washington Post op-ed was disgust— that a retired general was posturing in print about tweaking the plan while our troops are dying in a futile war of occupation, I’m fascinated by Digby’s post in support of Clark. There’s a quality of futility to any position suggested by those millions of us on the outside looking in, from Generals down to ranting citizen-bloggers.
While Clark advocates strategies for “turning around” the Iraq occupation that don’t strike me as totally sincere or workable, practically any strategy for change in the mission involving an admission of error by Dear Leader is moot before it’s typed or spoken anyway. Clark has, as Digby points out, offered some suggestions besides simply withdrawal, which will of course be ignored. Digby posits that having done so, Clark is then free to advocate withdrawal from Iraq as the next-best option, when it is clear that Bush hasn’t changed course.
It’s all too much game-playing for me. At this point, we need to be talking plainly about saving lives of American soldiers. That means getting them out of harm’s way. I’m sorry that there’s no good plan in place for the “transition” in Iraq. It’s unfortunate but utterly predictable that the invasion and occupation of Iraq is leading to a civil breakdown of catastrophic proportions. Getting US soldiers out now won’t cause this to continue, while it won’t stop it from happening. Keeping them there hasn’t stopped the breakdown from occurring either, has it?
If we press for bringing the troops home directly, there’s the opportunity for the US to offer some of the huge price of keeping the occupation in place towards rebuilding the infrastructure of Iraq. There’s the opportunity to ask the international community to commit to working with an Iraqi government that isn’t being isolated by US overseers. If we end the occupation, there’s the option of supporting something, almost anything that might work better.
While I don’t understand the particular approach Wes Clark is taking, I do understand that whatever anyone outside the Bush Administration (certainly including me) says doesn’t matter, doesn’t carry weight in Bush’s government as long as he’s in power, with a legislative majority to boot. So to Digby, and I guess to Clark as well, I say, let a hundred flowers bloom, whatever. Just make sure to keep the pressure on. Digby’s certainly right about one thing, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
UPDATE- Jeanne at Body and Soul has a good post on Wes Clark's Op-Ed as well, and refers to other commentaries. The title is appropriate as well.
MORE UPDATE- Juan Cole's Ten Things Congress Could Demand regarding Iraq strike me as equally as unlikely to be enacted as Wes Clark’s ideas, but are again steps toward a dialogue about getting out without provoking further catastrophe. I’m not guessing they’d work too well unless Cole were actually calling the shots, or someone else who actually understands the area, but discuss, debate… if only anyone in power were listening.
While there’s no chance anyone inside the Administration will respond seriously, supporting Cole’s idea of withdrawing US ground troops from urban areas in Iraq is something even the timid Democratic leadership could support, no?
In midtown Manhattan last night, TrueMajority sponsored an event called a SpeakEZ, featuring speakers from military families who oppose the war in Iraq. The crowd of about 100, organized on short notice, heard a number of perspectives.
Andrew Greenblatt, the Online Director of TrueMajority, spoke about the energy the antiwar movement gained since Cindy Sheehan set up camp outside President Bush’s ranch vacation in the sweltering sun of Crawford,Texas. Greenblatt allowed that antiwar efforts of groups like TrueMajority had stalled badly after U.S. troops went into Iraq in Spring 2003, but lately the revelations of the Downing Street Memo and the human face Ms. Sheehan has put on the casualties has begun to captivate public perceptions and focus antiwar sentiment. Greenblatt introduced the evening’s speakers as people with credibility earned through firsthand experience with the war and its effects.
Mildred McHugh, the mother of a young soldier who was stationed in the Sunni triangle for over a year, represented Military Families Speak Out. McHugh, who had never been politically active before the war, spoke of attending a vigil gathering of 500 people in Princeton, New Jersey several days ago, saying, “The energy was incredible and we have to keep it going.”
McHugh ascribed the momentum in the antiwar movement to a spark from Camp Casey in Crawford and she took umbrage at the suggestion that Gold Star Families are being manipulated for political reasons. “Whoever said that hasn’t been around too many angry military families,” she observed. “George Bush failed my son and all the other soldiers in Iraq.”
The next speaker was a recently discharged Marine, Alex Ryabov. Ryabov, who was recruited out of high school with the promise of a free education, health insurance, and on-the-job training, remembered his pitch meeting with the Marines. “My eyes were as wide as saucers afterwards,” he recalled.
As a young man from an immigrant family, Ryabov wanted to relieve his parents of the great expense of educating him at university and was sold by the recruiters on seeing the world in the Marines. Instead, he returned from Iraq having seen too much death, diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, disoriented and disillusioned. Alex was further harmed by a substandard veteran’s medical system, offering him more beaureucratic run-around than care.
“Bring the troops home and take care of them when they get here,” Ryabov implored on behalf of his comrades.
Ben Chitty was the voice of war from another generation of soldier, a member of Veterans for Peace, and a coordinator with the Vietnam Veterans Against the War in the New York area. Chitty spoke immediately after Ryabov and bowing to Alex’s recent experience, credited working with the VVAW years ago for keeping him sane after returning from Vietnam. Chitty talked about the unfinished business of that receding conflict, wishing that the leaders who brought the country into Vietnam had paid a higher price for their deception. He thought that perhaps then, we wouldn’t today be trying to pry our soldiers out of another foreign quagmire.
“For people like me, this really is Déjà vu all over again. In Vietnam, we were fighting for the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese people. In Iraq, we are fighting for the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people. We’re never going to win those hearts and minds,” Chitty observed.
One of the repeated themes of his presentation was the lasting cost of war for its returnees. He noted that the Veteran’s Administration doesn’t even keep track of the numbers of returned veterans who end up on the streets, or are psychologically disabled, but pointed to the huge numbers of 1990-91’s Desert Storm vets who are already physically disabled or dead, long before their time.
The major speaker of the evening’s program was Sue Neiderer, a co-founder of Gold Star Families for Peace, who was covered by the press nationally after being arrested at a Bush campaign event last year. Her offense was suggesting to the First Lady that, after Niederer’s son Seth was killed in combat in Iraq, the Bush family ought to send their children if they believed so strongly in the fight. It wasn’t hard to see why Niederer is known affectionately as the “pit-bull mom” of the antiwar movement.
Then Neiderer described the night of February 3, 2004, when she’d just put the phone down at home, five minutes after speaking with her daughter-in-law. It soon rang again, with her daughter-in-law’s caller ID number popping up once more.
“This isn’t good,” she said to her husband.
“I don’t want to answer it,” her husband replied, as they looked at the number.
Sue picked it up, “What is it? It’s the worst, isn’t it?”
It was Seth’s wife. “Yes, it is.”
A bit later, Niederer described thinking a lot about the conversation she’d previously overheard part of between her son and his commanding officer, who Seth had on the phone, a conversation that had taken place shortly before he’d returned from his honeymoon to Iraq. Seth had been demanding and was being denied GPS units and computers, equipment he’d felt was essential to the safety of the men under his command.
She’d asked him point blank whether he wanted to return as they’d later waited in the airport for his flight back to Iraq. He told her no, he didn’t want to go back, prompting Niederer to demand why.
“I don’t even know who my enemy is, or why I’m fighting him.” Seth told her. “This is a religious war. We’re not going to win this one.”
Niederer recalled saying that it didn’t matter what the consequences were. If he didn’t believe he should be returning, they could leave the country, go to Israel, he didn’t have to go back. But Seth was clear about one thing. He had eighteen men under his command. “I gotta be there for them.”
He went back. On February 3, 2004, Lt. Seth Dvorin’s head was blown off by an IED. He died instantly.
Within days of Seth’s death, his mother watched CIA Director George Tenet describe the fruitless search for weapons of mass destruction come to nothing as the deception began to unravel.
“I almost jumped through the TV,” Niederer remembered.
Now, she has become a counter-recruiter, going to schools to tell Seth's story in an effort to prevent more young people from reliving it.
Her last words for the audience were direct.
“You must be forceful. You must continue to rally, to keep the pressure on. Don’t let go.”