Thursday, September 29, 2005

New Chief confirmed...


About right. If anything, it probably should have been a little bigger, but in these partisan times, that's a pretty resounding number.

Roberts sworn in as chief justice

It looks as if President Bush is close to his next selection as well...could come tomorrow. We'll await that anxiously.

Truth about the indictment...

The Truth About Ronnie Earle - From Think Progress

You’ll hear plenty from DeLay et al. about Ronnie Earle. Here are the facts:

EARLE HAS PROSECUTED FOUR TIMES AS MANY DEMOCRATS AS REPUBLICANS: “Over Earle’s 27-year tenure, his Public Integrity Unit has prosecuted 15 elected officials, including 12 Democrats.” [Los Angeles Times, 5/15/05]

EARLE PROSECUTED DEMOCRATS AT THE HIGHEST LEVELS OF STATE GOVERNMENT: “Some of the Democrats prosecuted by Earle and his Public Integrity Unit are former Texas House Speaker Gib Lewis, former Texas Attorney General Jim Mattox, former State Treasurer Warren Harding and former Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Yarbrough.” [AP, 12/12/04]

EARLE AIDES WENT ON TO RUN FOR OFFICE AS REPUBLICANS: “Some of his top assistants have been with him for decades. A few have gone on to run for elected office as Republicans.” [Los Angeles Times, 5/15/05]

FRIEND OF OFFICIAL TARGETED BY EARLE CALLED HIM A ‘BOY SCOUT’: “Democrats, for their part, are still upset over the prosecution of Attorney General Jim Mattox for bribery in 1985. … He was acquitted and years later, Jim Marston, a civil lawyer in Austin and friend of Mr. Mattox, asked Earle why he went ahead
with the questionable case. “I said, ‘Ronnie, how can it be an abuse of power to threaten a lawyer? We threaten each other all the time.’ He told me that elected officials are held to a higher standard. They are supposed to be [above suspicion] like Caesar’s wife.’ It was then that Mr. Marston realized how deep Earle’s principles run. ‘Ronnie Earle is a Boy Scout who is offended by wrongdoings, chief among them, public officials’ abuse of power.’ [Christian Science Monitor, 12/03/04]

EARLE HAS REPUTATION AS PRINCIPLED, ‘OVERLY CAUTIOUS’: “Deliberate in he capital cases he sends to juries, Earle is well known for examining an issue from all angles before acting. ‘If I have any complaint about Ronnie, it’s that he is overly cautious about who he prosecutes,’ says Marston. ‘The fact that it has taken two years to investigate Tom DeLay is a sign not of partisanship, but of being completely careful.’” [Christian Science Monitor, 12/03/04]

EARLE HAS REPUTATION FOR ‘STRONG MORAL STREAK’: “[T]o those who now him, Earle has always exhibited a strong moral streak - from his formative years growing up in a small town outside Fort Worth, to his time on the Austin night court, to his political service in the state legislature. But they contend his morality is tempered by his compassion. ‘Ronnie is very principled and will do the right thing even if it isn’t the smartest political thing to do,’ says Ellen Halbert, a victim’s rights advocate.” [Christian Science Monitor, 12/03/04]

EARLE HAS REPUTATION FOR RESPECTING THE RULES: “‘One of the things I admired most about Ronnie was his indefatigable ability to go and meet with groups all over town all the time–right-wing groups, left-wing groups, the Rotary,’ says Bill Reid, an attorney who retired from Earle’s office in 1997. ‘He’s not a bloodthirsty prosecutor who wanted to get notches on his gun. There are some who have a reputation for walking close to the line in terms of evidence and rights, but there was never a push or inclination from him that we ought to bend the rules. Working for him, I was doing what I wanted to do, and I could go home and sleep at night.’” [Los Angeles Times, 5/15/05]

HOUSTON CHRONICLE: ALLEGATIONS OF PARTISANSHIP NOT SUPPORTED BY FACTS: Chronicle editorial: “The record does not support allegations that Earle is
prone to partisan witch hunts.” [3/17/03]

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

News of the day...

DeLay indicted, will step aside as majority leader

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A Texas grand jury on Wednesday charged Rep. Tom DeLay and two political associates with conspiracy in a campaign finance scheme, forcing the House majority leader to temporarily relinquish his post.
DeLay's attorney Steve Brittain said DeLay was accused of a criminal conspiracy along with two associates, John Colyandro, former executive director of a Texas political action committee formed by DeLay, and Jim Ellis, who heads DeLay's national political committee.


Bush warns of upsurge of violence in Iraq

What an amazing prediction by the only comes about 18 months too late.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

The wise words of Harry Blackmun...

Callins v. Collins, 510 U.S. 1141 (1994) (J. Blackmun dissenting).

On February 23, 1994, at approximately 1:00 a.m., Bruce Edwin Callins will be executed by the State of Texas. Intravenous tubes attached to his arms will carry the instrument of death, a toxic fluid designed specifically for the purpose of killing human beings. The witnesses, standing a few feet away, will behold Callins, no longer a defendant, an appellant, or a petitioner, but a man, strapped to a gurney, and seconds away from extinction.

Within days, or perhaps hours, the memory of Callins will begin to fade. The wheels of justice will churn again, and somewhere, another jury or another judge will have the unenviable task of determining whether some human being is to live or die. We hope, of course, that the defendant whose life is at risk will be represented by competent counsel--someone who is inspired by the awareness that a less than vigorous defense truly could have fatal consequences for the defendant. We hope that the attorney will investigate all aspects of the case, follow all evidentiary and procedural rules, and appear before a judge who is still committed to the protection of defendants' rights--even now, as the prospect of meaningful judicial oversight has diminished. In the same vein, we hope that the prosecution, in urging the penalty of death, will have exercised its discretion wisely, free from bias, prejudice, or political motive, and will be humbled, rather than emboldened, by the awesome authority conferred by the State.

But even if we can feel confident that these actors will fulfill their roles to the best of their human ability, our collective conscience will remain uneasy. Twenty years have passed since this Court declared that the death penalty must be imposed fairly, and with reasonable consistency, or not at all, see Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972), and, despite the effort of the States and courts to devise legal formulas and procedural rules to meet this daunting challenge, the death penalty remains fraught with arbitrariness, discrimination, caprice, and mistake. This is not to say that the problems with the death penalty today are identical to those that were present 20 years ago. Rather, the problems that were pursued down one hole with procedural rules and verbal formulas have come to the surface somewhere else, just as virulent and pernicious as they were in their original form. Experience has taught us that the constitutional goal of eliminating arbitrariness and discrimination from the administration of death, see Furman v. Georgia, supra, can never be achieved without compromising an equally essential component of fundamental fairness--individualized sentencing. See Lockett v. Ohio, 438 U.S. 586 (1978).

It is tempting, when faced with conflicting constitutional commands, to sacrifice one for the other or to assume that an acceptable balance between them already has been struck. In the context of the death penalty, however, such jurisprudential maneuvers are wholly inappropriate. The death penalty must be imposed "fairly, and with reasonable consistency, or notat all." Eddings v. Oklahoma, 455 U.S. 104, 112 (1982).

To be fair, a capital sentencing scheme must treat each person convicted of a capital offense with that "degree of respect due the uniqueness of the individual." Lockett v. Ohio, 438 U. S., at 605 (plurality opinion). That means affording the sentencer the power and discretion to grant mercy in a particular case, and providing avenues for the consideration of any and all relevant mitigating evidence that would justify a sentence less than death. Reasonable consistency, on the other hand, requires that the death penalty be inflicted evenhandedly, in accordance with reason and objective standards, rather than by whim, caprice, or prejudice. Finally, because human error is inevitable, and because our criminal justice system is less than perfect, searching appellate review of death sentences and their underlying convictions is a prerequisite to a constitutional death penalty scheme.

On their face, these goals of individual fairness, reasonable consistency, and absence of error appear to be attainable: Courts are in the very business of erecting procedural devices from which fair, equitable, and reliable outcomes are presumed to flow. Yet, in the death penalty area, this Court, in my view, has engaged in a futile effort to balance these constitutional demands, and now is retreating not only from the Furman promise of consistency and rationality, but from the requirement of individualized sentencing as well. Having virtually conceded that both fairness and rationality cannot be achieved in the administration of the death penalty, see McCleskey v. Kemp, 481 U.S. 279, 313, n. 37 (1987), the Court has chosen to deregulate the entire enterprise, replacing, it would seem, substantive constitutional requirements with mere aesthetics, and abdicating its statutorily and constitutionally imposed duty to provide meaningful judicial oversight to the administration of death by the States.

From this day forward, I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death. For more than 20 years I have endeavored--indeed, I have struggled--along with a majority of this Court, to develop procedural and substantive rules that would lend more than the mere appearance of fairness to the death penalty endeavor. [n.1] Rather than continue to coddle the Court's delusion that the desired level of fairness has been achieved and the need for regulation eviscerated, I feel morally and intellectually obligated simply to concede that the death penalty experiment has failed. It is virtually self evident to me now that no combination of procedural rules or substantive regulations ever can save the death penalty from its inherent constitutional deficiencies. The basic question--does the system accurately and consistently determine which defendants "deserve" to die?--cannot be answered in the affirmative. It is not simply that this Court has allowed vague aggravating circumstances to be employed, see, e. g., Arave v. Creech, ___ U. S. ___ (1993), relevant mitigating evidence to be disregarded, see, e. g., Johnson v. Texas, ___ U. S. ___ (1993), and vital judicial review to be blocked, see, e. g., Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U. S. ___ (1991). The problem is that the inevitability of factual, legal, and moral error gives us a system that we know must wrongly kill some defendants, a system that fails todeliver the fair, consistent, and reliable sentences of death required by the Constitution. [n.2]

In 1971, in an opinion which has proved partly prophetic, the second Justice Harlan, writing for the Court, observed:

"Those who have come to grips with the hard task of actually attempting to draft means of channeling capital sentencing discretion have confirmed the lesson taught by the history recounted above. To identify before the fact those characteristics of criminal homicides and their perpetrators which call for the death penalty, and to express these characteristics in language which can be fairly understood and applied by the sentencing authority, appear to be tasks which are beyond present human ability . . . . For a court to attempt to catalog the appropriate factors in this elusive area could inhibit rather than expand the scope of consideration, for no list of circumstances would ever be really complete." McGautha v. California, 402 U.S. 183, 204, 208 (1971).
[In Furman] Justice White explained that, out of the hundreds of people convicted of murder every year, only a handful were sent to their deaths, and that there was "no meaningful basis for distinguishing the few cases in which [the death penalty] is imposed from the many cases in which it is not." 408 U. S., at 313. If any discernible basis could be identified for the selection of those few who were chosen to die, it was "the constitutionally impermissible basis of race." Id., at 310 (Stewart, J., concurring).
The Court's refusal last term to afford [a petitioner] an evidentiary hearing, despite his colorable showing of actual innocence, demonstrates just how far afield the Court has strayed from its statutorily and constitutionally imposed obligations. See Herrera v. Collins, supra. In Herrera, only a bare majority of this Court could bring itself to state forthrightly that the execution of an actually innocent person violates the Eighth Amendment. This concession was made only in the course of erecting nearly insurmountable barriers to a defendant's ability to get a hearing on a claim of actual innocence. Ibid. Certainly there will be individuals who are actually innocent who will be unable to make a better showing than what was made by Herrera without the benefit of an evidentiary hearing. [n.8] The Court is unmoved by this dilemma, however; it prefers "finality" in death sentences to reliable determinations of a capital defendant's guilt. Because I no longer can state with any confidence that this Court is able to reconcile the Eighth Amendment's competing constitutional commands, or that the federal judiciary will provide meaningful oversight to the state courts as theyexercise their authority to inflict the penalty of death, I believe that the death penalty, as currently administered, is unconstitutional.

Perhaps one day this Court will develop procedural rules or verbal formulas that actually will provide consistency, fairness, and reliability in a capital sentencing scheme. I am not optimistic that such a day will come. I am more optimistic, though, that this Court eventually will conclude that the effort to eliminate arbitrariness while preserving fairness "in the infliction of [death] is so plainly doomed to failure that it--and the death penalty--must be abandoned altogether." Godfrey v. Georgia, 446 U.S. 420, 442 (1980)(Marshall, J., concurring in the judgment). I may not live to see that day, but I have faith that eventually it will arrive. The path the Court has chosen lessens us all. I dissent.

An incredibly sad textbook example...

...of why the death penalty is absolutely abhorrent.

Frances Newton was killed last night by the State of Texas.

Newton is executed for slaying her family
Texas executes woman for killing family
Without Evidence: Executing Frances Newton

There are three reasons why yesterday's execution of Ms. Newton was unjustified.
-1- Capital punishment, the premeditated killing of a citizen by the state, is barbarous, hideous, and unconscionable. Regardless of the innocence or guilt of those being put to death, I reject the thought that it is ever our place to take the life of another. It is wrong. Yes, what I am saying is that if Frances Newton had killed her husband and children she still should not be put to death because the practice itself is anathema to a civilized society.

-2- The capital punishment system, as it exists in the United States, - the process itself - is unfair and critically flawed. These flaws make the system itself untenable. As Justice Blackmun famously wrote in changing his vote on the constitutionality of the death penalty, "From this day forward, I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death." (I will include more of J. Blackmun's dissent in this case in a subsequent post.) The death penalty process is not fair. The process Frances Newton went through was not fair. For example:
-a- There is no public defender's office in Harris County for indigent defendants to be able to gain adequate and due representation.
-b- Ms. Newton's was not represented by competent or effective trial counsel. Ron Mock was appointed by the court to represent Ms. Newton at trial. Mock was wholly incompetent. Ms. Newton actually filed a motion to the court - almost a year before she was convicted - to dismiss her appointed counsel for failure to meet with her and failure to investigate her case. That motion was denied without hearing. The week before trial, Ms. Newton's family scraped together money to hire competent counsel...on the day that the trial was to begin, the trial court held a hearing to discuss substitute counsel. Mock was asked about a witness who was willing to testify to Ms. Newton's innocence and he replied that he was not an investigator. He was asked what witnesses he planned to call, and he had none. This was the VERY DAY THE TRIAL WAS TO START. Mock had investigated nothing, interviewed no one, no defense witnesses had been subpoenaed. Incredibly, the court was willing to grant the change in counsel - but allowed no continuance for new counsel to investigate and prepare. Is there any question that Ms. Newton could have received competent and effective representation in this situation? If there is, then let me add this:
(1) Second-chair defense trial-counsel signed an affidavit saying in regard to Ron Mock's representation that she, "unequivocally state[s] that Frances Newton did not receive effective representation at her trial."
(2) Mock was appointed to represented 16 people who have gone to death row.
(3) Most incredibly, Ron Mock has been brought before the State Bar at least five times for professional misconduct, for which he has been fined, and suspended multiple times and since barred from capital cases - AND he is currently suspended from practicing law until late 2007.
And this is what the State of Texas considers competent counsel. Courts have since refused to listen to the argument about ineffectiveness of counsel; and refused to examine any of the testimony and evidence that was ignored by the incompetent trial-counsel Ron Mock.

-3- In addition to those more theoretical concerns, there were (and are) serious questions as to the actual innocence of Frances Newton.
-a- The primary motive the State used as circumstantial evidence of Ms. Newton's guilt was an insurance policy that was taken out on the life of her husband and children which was to pay her $100,000. This policy was signed not long before the murders occurred. As damning as that sounds, what did not come out (due to incompetence of counsel) was that Ms. Newton had gone to the insurance agent to procure auto insurance...and the life insurance was up-sold to her at that time - she did not instigate the purchase of the life insurance policy.
-b- Ms. Newton has stated that she believes that her family may have been killed by a drug dealer to whom her husband owed money. Her husband's brother informed the police that they were dealing drugs, did owe a drug dealer money, and gave the police the name and address of the drug dealer. The police never followed this lead, and never investigated the involvement of that drug dealer.
-c- Two pieces of evidence circumstantially link Ms. Newton to the murders. First, the Houston Crime Lab determined that nitrates on the hem of her skirt could have been nitrates from the firing of a weapon. Again, this is damning on its face. There are, however, terrible inconsistencies and inaccuracies in this physical evidence.
(1) The lab testified that the nitrates may also have been from fertilizer used in a garden;
(2) "The ballistics evidence was increasingly suspect in any case because of the recent history of the Houston PD crime lab, which has been repeatedly charged with incompetent, shoddy work, resulting in a number of exonerations and the wholesale discrediting of the lab, which remains under investigation." The lab itself has been de-licensed, and is still not back open for use in criminal trials. Multiple convictions have been overturned due to the status of the crime lab.
(3) The nitrates evidence which was tested by this discredited crime lab was "inadvertently" destroyed by the State.
(4) There was no blood or other substance found on Ms. Newton or the clothes she wore that day, although there was blood all over the house, hallway, and bedrooms (again, this was not effectively addressed at trial due to a combination of incompetent counsel and the State withholding vital documents).
(5) Since the trial, those clothes were mixed with clothes of the victims by the State, again destroying that evidence for any further testing.
This State destroyed evidence should have been enough, in and of itself, to have prevented an execution.
-d- The second piece of evidence linking Ms. Newton to the crime was a gun which was determined by the discredited crime lab as being the murder weapon - which she informed police, and has never denied, that she had removed from the house and hidden elsewhere earlier in the day. Once again, damning on its face, but under full inspection this "evidence" again falls short:
(1) There is testimony from members of the investigation at the time that another, and possibly two more guns were recovered in the investigation. Those other guns have never been produced by the Harris County DA's office, and they denied the existence of those other guns.
(2) Only this summer, the Harris County Assistant DA stated in a video-taped interview that, "Police recovered a gun from the apartment that belonged to the husband." This Assistant DA, and the DA both scrambled to cover, saying that it was misspoken.
(3) There are documents related to the confiscation and limited investigation of this second gun, and even a third gun, which were supposedly recovered, but those documents were never released to defense counsel.

Was Frances Newton guilty of these murders? Was she innocent? I have no idea. There is undoubtedly damning evidence against her. Regardless, this case shows very specifically that the death penalty process in the United States is broken...and it cannot be fixed. There is no "fair" way to take a life. (Especially when that life is poor and black and in Texas.) As I wrote in an earlier post:
The [capital punishment] system is wrong because it is arbitrary, because it is not justice being carried out, it is 'lightening striking.' ... [T]he death penalty is not the rule of law, it is the rule of the mob.

You can access and read the Application for Post-conviction Writ of Habeas Corpus and Motion for Stay of Execution here.

Read some other posts on capital punishment:
5th Circuit follows Supreme Court directive...
Believe it or not...
Go buy this book...
Capital Punishment in Texas...
Will Texas lose the death penalty?
Lethal Injustice...
Software Models Capital Punishment Outcomes

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Roberts Confirmation Hearings...

Although I do not agree with his general philosophy, I am more supportive of John Roberts as the next Chief Justice at this moment.

I am listening to the confirmation hearings on the radio and he just stated - unasked, just as a part of a separate answer - that Lochner is bad law, and the judges used incorrect reasoning. That was great to hear.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Goodbye to the Movies...

Good article yesterday by Slate's Hollywood-economist Edward Jay Epstien.

In The Iger Fatwa: Does it mean goodbye to the movies?, Epstein argues that Robert A. Iger, the soon-to-be head of Disney, advocating realigning the traditional "windows" of the Hollywood studio system could portend the end of the theatre movie business. "Windows" are the system of time periods between a movie's theatrical release, and when it goes to DVD, or pay-per-view, or network TV. These windows protect theatre owners by creating "going-out" demand through supressing home availability. Iger publically said that, "Windows need to compress. ... I don't think it's out of the question that a DVD can be released, in effect, in the same window as a theatrical release," a bombshell for this industry. The president of the National Association of Theater Owners responded to this suggestion by saying such a proposal was a, "death threat to our industry." So clearly it wasn't taken lightly.

Epstein goes on to make the point that the theatre business is very different than the movie studio's business:
The multiplexes make almost all of their money from selling tickets—from which they split the proceeds with the studios—and from selling popcorn, soda, and other snacks, from which they make as much as 90 cents of profit on every dollar spent. ... This flow of revenue—especially the lucrative popcorn traffic—is threatened whenever ticket sales decline. As theaters cannot cut their major costs, such as rent, insurance, and debt service, they cannot maintain their profitability. A 6 percent worldwide attendance drop between 1999 and 2001 left nearly half the theaters in the world seeking bankruptcy protection.

On the other hand:
Studios, for their part, are involved in a much more diverse enterprise than theater owners. American movie theaters account for 7.2 percent of the studios' total revenue, and world theaters only 14.2 percent of their revenue. The rest of their profit comes from people watching DVDs, TV movies, and other studio products at home. And no wonder: Fewer than 2 percent of Americans now go to movie theaters on a given day, while more than 95 percent watch something at home on TV. To ensure access to this home audience, the corporate parents of the studios own all six television broadcast networks, as well as most of the large cable networks.

I think the best evidence of Hollywood's shift in focus from the actual movies, to the wide range of economic interests is best displayed in Epstein's simply incredible, corporate-speak statement:
Unlike the bygone studio era in which the job of the legendary studio heads was to produce box-office hits, today's studio CEO is expected to optimize the deployment of the studio's assets across the whole spectrum of the entertainment economy.
Optimizing deployment of assets across the spectrum of the economy...and we're talking about the movies??? Yep, the movies are such big business these days, that it's simply no longer about making good films.
[T]he huge amounts of money Disney would receive [from compressing the windows] would go directly to its bottom line. In this context, Iger's statement that "windows in general need to change" was not so much a death threat as a wake-up call to a new reality in which theater owners will have much less of a protective window against digital competition.

Epstein also argues somewhat persuasively that the "make better movies" argument may not be a realistic alternative. He points out that from 1963 to 1973 more than $1.4 billion in theatre admisions a year were lost - while classic films such as The Graduate, The Godfather, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Bonnie and Clyde (among others) were released. Personally, I believe that is quite misleading, because this ten year time period was a transition from big studio drivel which the public was rejecting, and the New Hollywood which was emerging - the New Hollywood which pulled the business out of its doldrums - the New Hollywood which each of the films above influenced or were a part of.

At the end of the day, the industry is changing, and it cannot continue to pour such an abundance of dollars into the blockbuster theatre experience, when the profits are coming from the home theatre experience. There is an evolution going on.

See my other posts about movies and the movie industry here:

It's not as bad a slump as it appears...
Home Movies...
Post-Easy Riders and Raging Bulls...
Dumb Money...
Gross Misunderstanding
100 Favorite American Movies (this has not updated since 2003)

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Hail to the Chief...

I was away from much of the world over the holiday weekend, but I just want to briefly pay my respects to Chief Justice William Rehnquist in his passing, and send my condolences and best wishes to the family and friends he left behind.

Chief Justice Rehnquist devoted so much of his life to the Court, and to American Law. Rest in peace.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Convoy of hope...

It looks like the tide may be turning. Let's all continue to hope and pray so.

Convoy brings relief supplies to New Orleans

A convoy of military vehicles plowed through the flooded treets of New Orleans on Friday bringing food, water and medicine to the thousands of people trapped at a downtown convention center. The relief effort came as President Bush toured the Gulf Coast to survey damage from Hurricane Katrina and shortly after the mayor of New Orleans said the city was "holding on by a thread."

The commanding general in charge of the relief effort in New Orleans was directing the operation from a street corner. He told the troops, part of a deployment of 1,000 members of the National Guard, to make sure they kept their guns down.

"A few moments ago, he stopped a truck full of National Guard Troops ... and said, 'Point your weapons down, this is not Iraq,'" said CNN's Barbara Starr who is traveling with the three-star general.

"He is very determined to keep this looking like a humanitarian relief operation," Starr said.

Help seems to be arriving.

I completely agree...

From Slate:
Department of Homeland Screw-Up
What is the Bush administration doing?

The Bush administration has been staggeringly ineffectual in its response to the rapidly deteriorating situation in New Orleans. Its failures are painful evidence of how far we have to go in developing the capability to respond rapidly to a mass-casualty disaster.

The president's statement this afternoon set the tone. Rather than direct the U.S. military to immediately assist the thousands of people without food or water in the city center, Bush assured the nation that expected gasoline shortages would be temporary and that his father and former President Clinton were ready to pass the tin can to ensure private-sector support for rebuilding New Orleans. As people began dying around the Convention Center, and Mayor Ray Nagin resorted to issuing a pathetic SOS over CNN, Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff spoke empathetically of the suffering of the people in New Orleans. But somehow he seemed proud that 72 hours after the hurricane hit, only 2,800 National Guardsmen had come to the city. The number is about to reach 12,000 by tomorrow. That is awfully late for the people stranded there. Yet Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, who is commanding the military component of Washington's response, pleaded for patience from the people of New Orleans, promising that the U.S. Army was "building the capability" to help them.

Building the capability? How is it possible that with the fourth anniversary of 9/11 almost upon us, the federal government doesn't have in hand the capability to prepare for and then manage a large urban disaster, natural or man-made?

Chertoff's Department of Homeland Security demonstrated today that it could organize an impressive press conference in Washington, lining up every participating civilian or military service from the Coast Guard to the Federal Emergency Management Agency to promise its cooperation. But on the ground in Louisiana, where it counts, DHS is turning out to be the sum of its inefficient parts. The department looks like what its biggest critics predicted: a new level of bureaucracy grafted onto a collection of largely ineffectual under-agencies.

And in the event of a WMD attack, when there would likely be no warning at all, what is DHS's contingency plan for moving into position the army or the marines to restore order and sustain life? In the wake of Katrina and the breached levee, the answer seems to be not much of one. In the wake of 9/11, that is worse than incomprehensible. It is unforgivable.

I completely agree.

Tragedy in NOLA...

I have not posted about the horrific events in New Orleans because I simply do not know what to say. I still don't.

My wife, a friend of hers, and I had dinner last night (after I got out of class) with some folks who were escapees of NO they had run into at a restaurant. Frankly, they were some of the really lucky ones - and their story was devastating.

But the main thing I'm feeling right now is anger. The federal emergancy response to what may be the biggest disaster in the United States in the last 50 years has been a catastrophic failure. And I'm outraged.

I am absolutely shocked by the lack of response/preperation for this. Granted, this is one of - if not the - biggest disaster in our nation in 50+ years. Having said that, it's stunning to me that they cannot get water to people. It's stunning to me that they cannot get medicine - or evacuate hospitals - or get police power in to control the crowds. The lack of response is stunning. Where is the military to help in crowd control, protection, and search and rescue? Where are the helicopters dropping bottled water at the convention center and superdome? Where are the big military vehicles hauling people out? There is a quote in that MSNBC article that was used over at too - 'we are out here like pure animals.' It's true. People are dying all the place and no one seems able to help. There are so many people working as hard as they have ever worked to rescue people, get them help, or get them out. I'm not meaning to be critical of those efforts. But the organization and management of it has seemed atrocious. FEMA and mostly the department of homeland security are just looking amateur.

And related to the response management - today is worse in NO than yesterday. Thusday was worse than Wednesday. Wednesday was worse than Tuesday. Tuesday was severely worse than Monday. The situation in the city, and for the people still in there, is deteriorating every hour. At what point do they turn the corner? When was the last time that 72/96 hours after a horrific disaster the situation was dramatically worse than the moments after? In this day and age I would never have dreamed this could be the result.

This has been a catastrophic failure and people are going to have to take responsibility. As soon as the emergency situations are passed, Director of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff has to go. In addition, even though FEMA now reports to the Office of Homeland Security - director of FEMA Michael Brown has to go. Period. Last night the incompetant Brown went on CNN and said (a) things are going relatively well; and (b) the victims bear responsibility for their situation. Both outright lies. This guy should be fired today, forget waiting.

Where are the troops? Where are the supplies? Where are the helicopters? Where are the military trucks? Where is the bottled water? Where are the MREs?

The mayor of NO in an interview last night said, "They don't have a clue what's going on down there,...Excuse my French — everybody in America — but I am pissed."

I completely agree with him.