Friday, September 16, 2005

Opening Night Rocked!

Last night was opening night of our new live show, Burning Bush: A Faith-Based Musical, and it was a great success! The laughs were huge, the songs rocked, and the political substance was received with just as much enthusiasm as the comedy and the music. I am on cloud nine, and I feel that if any musical comedy is capable of ending the Bush reign of terror, this is it. We'll see if he's still in office when this limited engagement ends on Saturday!

Tonight and tomorrow night are filling up fast -- at the time of this writing, tonight is very close to sold out, so if you're in New York City this weekend, get 'em while you can! If you'd prefer not to purchase tickets online, you can also reserve seats by calling (212) 868-4444.

On Monday, I'll publish my retrospect impressions of the show and how it went, and then the blog will return to the incendiary political commentary you've come to love. Today, Sisk and I are resting up from last night's performance, and getting ready for tonight's. But I thought you might like to see the Burning Bush program, distributed to the audience:

Burning Bush program page 1
Burning Bush program page 2
Burning Bush program page 3
Burning Bush program page 4
Burning Bush program page 5
Burning Bush program page 6
Burning Bush program page 7
Burning Bush program page 8

I hope to see you at the theatre tonight or tomorrow!

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Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Letter to Bush Before Curtain


Click here to purchase tickets!

Dear Mr. Bush,

Whenever I've written to you in the past, it's been to express my displeasure with the horrific disaster that is your presidency. I'm not even comfortable with that term, when it comes to you; as I've mentioned in previous letters, you know in your heart that you stole two elections, and you will have to live with that, and so will the rest of us. Except, of course, for the thousands of us who are now dead because of your absolute failure. But that's not what I'm writing about this time.

You may find this hard to believe, Mr. Resident, but now I am actually writing to thank you.

Our new live show, Burning Bush: A Faith-Based Musical, opens tomorrow night at the HERE Arts Center in New York City. (Our invitation to you still stands, by the way -- two free tickets! Cheney can get in for half price.) George, I really am thrilled with this production. I think it's fantastic. And I say with total sincerity that we could not have done it without you.

This time around, you are our muse. So many times, when Sisk and I were writing this show, we'd hit a creative roadblock, unsure of how to continue. Whenever this happened, and we needed some inspiration, all we had to do was watch one of your speeches or interviews, and the words would flow. Writing a show is, as you might say, hard work. It's especially hard to write a show like Burning Bush, which not much like any other show. But all we had to do was look to you, sir, and it got a lot easier. The creative process has rarely had so reliable a catalyst.

You haunt every moment of this show -- so much that we felt compelled to give credit where it was due. The program says that Burning Bush is "written and directed by Noah Diamond and Amanda Sisk, based on a presidency by Karl Rove." But it's not just your "presidency" that the show deals with -- it's your whole damn life. Remember how you and your friends tortured frogs when you were growing up in Midland? Well, we've created an entire musical production number around that! Remember when you sat there at Booker Elementary in Florida and struggled with the challenging text of The Pet Goat? Got it! Remember someone named Osama bin Laden? No? We'll remind you.

Burning Bush has a scene in which Osama bin Laden (subtly played by the restrained Corey Moosa) runs around the stage while you (embodied to chilling and hilarious effect by Brian Louis Hoffman) and Donald Rumsfeld (brilliantly played by me) discuss the importance of protecting the Iraqi Ministry of Oil from impending U.S. air strikes.

Burning Bush has a scene in which you reveal to Laura over dinner that PNAC -- referred to in our show as Peeeeeenack -- wants you to be president. It has a scene in which you declare that you have a mandate on 11/3/04, while behind you, the electoral map morphs into truth. And in the climactic sequence, an encounter in the Oval Office with Jesus Christ, and other liberal protesters, slices your reign wide open.

Yes, you're all over this show. I'm not saying it's a flattering portrait, but I remind you that Arthur James Balfour, the first Earl of Balfour and the twenty-third Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, once said that "biography should be written by an acute enemy." That having been said, I should mention that you probably deserve as much writing credit for Burning Bush as Sisk and I do. So much of your dialogue in the show consists of direct quotations. And often, the silliest and most absurd lines -- the ones that sound like we must be making them up -- are really yours. "That woman who knew I had dyslexia," you tell one reporter, "I never interviewed her!" Which you actually said, verbatim, to Frank Bruni of the New York Times. Marveling at the reading skills of a second grade class on 9/11/01, you declare, "These must be sixth graders!" -- in Burning Bush as well as in real life.

But I must point out that you are merely the center of this show, not the whole scope. A lot of your friends also get their moment in the spotlight, including nervous Condoleezza and animatronic Laura (portrayed with unsettling poise by Amanda Sisk Herself). We meet your father (who sports the moustache of Saddam Hussein and the inspired gesticulations of Ellie Dvorkin), and your mother (Ellie again). We catch Karl Rove (the lovely and delicate Corey Moosa) whispering in your ear, and we catch the American media (played solely by the audacious Kim Moscaritolo) as both shill and critic. A liberal girl (Moscaritolo) defends her liberal (Dvorkin) and conservative (Moosa) friends; a liberal woman (Sisk) confronts her conservative mother (Dvorkin); two teenagers (Moosa and Dvorkin) confront their fascist parents (Diamond and Sisk). And it becomes a terrifying horror show when the gruesome Cheney (Hoffman) materializes from the shadows.

And the evening is laced with great music. The songs in the show are written by Sisk and me; arranged and played live by Death Mask's Steve Dans, Mike Biskup, and Boris Veysman, and Drew Brady; and sung by the amazing cast. If you read my blog regularly, Mr. Bush -- as I'm sure you do -- then you've heard about some of these numbers ("On the March," "Jesus's Jihad"). There are others. I've deliberately said very little about the opening number, which is a surprise, but let me tell you, there's never been anything like it.

What I'm trying to say here, George, is that we've all worked incredibly hard on Burning Bush: A Faith-Based Musical, and we're extremely proud of it. If you can't make it to the show, we understand -- though you really don't seem very busy, even when there's an unprecedented catastrophe to deal with, which seems to happen an awful lot on your watch. But if you're not going to be in the audience, at least send us a nice note apologizing for your absence. It's the least you can do for these gifted performers and musicians who took the time to put together this lavish tribute to your viciousness and incompetence. (In fact, while you're writing notes, there are several other things we feel you should apologize for as well. For details, read this blog.)

As Sisk recently explained, "If Bush wrote a musical called 'Burning Sisk,' I'd definitely check it out."

Oh -- and thanks.

write to me

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

New Yorkers Vote Today!!!

Okay, New Yorkers, today's the primary. Are you ready to go vote?

1. Find out where to vote:
You can find out where your polling location by visiting the New York City Board of Elections site.

2. Races and Candidates:Gotham Gazette Campaign 2005

If you run into problems voting, tips, what to do if...If you go to the wrong polling place, make sure you get a referral slip from the pollworker who tells you where to go.

If you registered to vote by mail after January 1, 2003, you must show identification the first time you vote if you have not provided identification prior to appearing at your poll site. If you are asked for ID and do not believe this applies to you, ask to see your name on the Voter Registration List. If the words "ID REQ" do not appear next to your name, you are not required to show any sort of identification and the worker should not be asking you to. Ask to speak to a supervisor and direct the poll worker to his or her pollworker guide on the subject of identification.

Acceptable forms of ID are a photo ID, or a recent (within the last year and at your voting address) utility bill, bank statement, pay check or government check, or other government document.

If you do not have an ID or do not wish to provide one, you may still vote by Affadavit Ballot.

There are other reasons you may be prevented from voting on the machine - your name is not on the Voter Registration list, you've moved within New York, there's no signature next to your name on the rolls, etc. If anything like this happens, you may still vote using an affadavit ballot. If you do not wish to use an affadavit ballot, you may request a Certificate to Obtain a Court Order and take your case to the Board of Elections. You should NEVER, under any reason be turned away from the polls. You should always be given the option of voting using an affadavit ballot.

As a final note, I'd encourage everyone in Manhattan to consider voting for Brian Ellner for Borough President. You can view his excellent campaign ad and find more information at his official campaign site. So New Yorkers, go out there, do your duty and vote. Good luck!

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Monday, September 12, 2005

Tragedy Plus Time


Well, folks, we are now four days from the Thursday night world premiere performance of Nero Fiddled's latest theatrical opus, Burning Bush: A Faith-Based Musical. September 15 sounds like a good opening date to me. In a previous arrangement, it seemed for a time that the show would open last Friday, and we were all a little unsure about performing it on September 11.

A big question in writing Burning Bush was, how do you deal with 9/11 in a sketch comedy show? This was obviously a show which had to address 9/11 (and other catastrophes too), in order to tell the story of Bush's presidency. I think we figured it out, and one of my favorite things in the show is the scene which takes place on 9/11. I'm not going to say anything specific about it, except that the solution was to take the human tragedy as a given and confront Bush himself head-on, without apologizing.

It was four years ago yesterday that the world changed in Lower Manhattan. The art of this decade, like everything else about this decade, is overwhelmingly colored by the events of that eternal morning. There have actually been surprisingly few films, novels, plays, and songs about 9/11 (though there have been some). I Heart Huckabees wasn't about 9/11, and neither was The Terminal, but neither film would have been the same if 9/11 had not taken place. The event has worked its way into everything that isn't about it, or doesn't seem to be, just as it's worked its way into our daily lives. Today on the way to work I had the thought, We've been looking up every time we hear an airplane for four years.

At work, as you may know, I perform tours of Manhattan. I did a tour on 9/10/01, but not on 9/11; I didn't do a tour on 9/11/02 , 9/11/03, or 9/11/04, but yesterday I did two tours. It's been four years. You could go through your day with the understanding that yes, it is September 11 and we're all aware of it, but we don't necessarily have to make a big thing out of it. On the tour, I pretty much did my usual World Trade Center piece, just prefaced with "Four years ago today..."

I also mentioned that when Henry Hudson's Half Moon drifted into what we now call New York Harbor; and Hudson made a note in his captain's log to the effect that the sweet, green island of Manahata was situated just north of a perfect natural harbor and would therefore be an excellent place to build a city; the date was September 11, 1609. So yesterday was the 396th anniversary of the idea of New York City, and the fourth anniversary of its worst modern calamity. Depending on your opinion of Christo's gates.

Now, that joke I just did -- it may have been in poor taste, but it's a joke I never would have made on September 11 one or two or three years ago. Because Christo's gates happened in 2005.

That joke, too, may have been questionable, but less questionable than ever. It's no surprise that as time passes, acceptability changes. "The night Lincoln was shot, you couldn't joke about it," says Alan Alda in Woody Allen's Crimes and Misdemeanors. "You just couldn't do it. But now, time has gone by, and now it's fair game."

"Comedy," Allen says through Alda, is "tragedy plus time."

Shortly after 9/11, Sisk and I were sitting on the Staten Island Ferry talking about terrorism. We were drawing parallels between al Qaeda and its American equivalents, like the Ku Klux Klan. One of us happened to come up with the phrase "Jesus's jihad" (forgive the extra s, but it's rhythmically necessary). It instantly sounded like a great idea for a song, and we had one line: "I guess we're all stuck right in the middle of Jesus's jihad," followed by shouting the word jihad the way you say yeee-haw! But that was 2001 or 2002, and it didn't seem like an idea we could do much with. In Burning Bush in 2005, "Jesus's Jihad" is a full-on musical number, and a highlight of the show.

This having been said, I think we do handle 9/11, and the Iraq war, with an appropriate degree of sobriety, as well as informed political outrage. This is why, for better or worse, it's different. It's a series of comedy sketches, through which there is a linear narrative. There's the six-year-old George W. Bush (magnificently embodied by Brian Hoffman) wearing an enormous cowboy hat and torturing rubber frogs, and there are also incriminating quotations from the Project for the New American Century. I don't know what the hell this show is, but I hope it works. I know that I love it, and I hope other people do too.

A friend told me that she wanted to see it because it was her "favorite subject matter -- but really it's everyone's favorite subject matter these days." The man who runs a bodega Sisk and I frequent, when I told him about the show, pointed to Bush's face on the postcard and said, "Stupidest president in America." Yesterday Sisk went to the 9/11 truth rally to demand the truth, and also to hand out Burning Bush postcards; pretty soon people were asking her for more, so they could give them to others who'd asked about it. It feels exciting, and in its own tiny way, important. Because the things it's about are important.

And with that, I have to go and wash the rubber frogs.

Hope to see you at the theatre this week!

write to me

P.S. If for some reason you are going to be in New York on September 15, 16, and/or 17, and you do not yet have tickets for Burning Bush, you will be relieved to hear that there are still some available. They can be yours for the special price of $15 each, by calling (212) 868-4444, or by clicking here.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans?

I'm a liberal, but I'm a human being first; I despise the Bush regime, but I love humanity first. That's why I'd be much happier to say that George W. Bush and company, whatever our differences, were basically doing a competent job in dealing with the historic devastation wrought upon the former City of New Orleans. It's something we should be able to assume about any administration of either party. I think that Ronald Reagan or George H.W. Bush -- two presidents who I also despised -- would have handled this with some degree of aptitude. To say nothing of Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton. But tragically, for the people of New Orleans as for the people of New York four years ago, Bush the Second cannot do his job. And when people can't do their jobs, they get fired.

On the Senate floor yesterday, Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-New Jersey) correctly asserted that the Bush handling of Katrina's preface and aftermath amounted to "one of the worst failures of leadership in our nation's history." Maybe even the worst, with a close second being the massive intelligence failures that permitted the 9/11 attacks to take place successfully. So George W. Bush holds the first and second place records for monumental incompetence.

"What many Americans concluded," Lautenberg said, "was that the Bush administration cannot protect us. When faced with the real crisis, the White House displayed a lack of involvement, a failure of leadership and, to make matters worse, our president refuses to accept responsibility." Jimmy Breslin emerged from retirement to write a scathing piece for Newsday, in which he concludes that the New Orleans disaster is "the single solitary most catastrophic collapse of American government in all of our times."

"Friday, showing up on the fifth day of a national tragedy," Breslin notes, "Bush made a little humorous aside about the times he was in New Orleans celebrating too much. Beautiful! If he tried to walk fifty yards he could have tripped over somebody's dead black grandmother under a blanket. How do you like it? How do you like having a president who at a time like this reminisces about getting drunk in New Orleans? White boy with Daddy's money roaring at Mardi Gras in a town black for the rest of the year." Bush, according to Breslin, "stands there, uncovered, without an American flag draped around him, as the most incompetent president we've ever had."

Ask the members of the 9/11 Commission. Former New Jersey Governor Thomas Kean -- a moderate Republican who was among the Commission's leaders -- told the press that "the same mistakes made on 9/11 were made over again, in some cases worse. Those are system-wide failures that can be fixed and should have been fixed right away." But the administration has much different priorities, like making sure Congress passes the offensive "bankruptcy bill." Now that thousands of poor, black Americans have lost everything they had, the Bush regime wants to make sure they won't have the safety net of bankruptcy available to them.

Of course, the Bush machine is very concerned about damage control -- political damage control. The human tragedy of New Orleans is too damn bad, they're saying, but what we really have to do is make sure this doesn't hurt Republicans in next year's midterms. That's why FEMA is more concerned with censoring the media's coverage of the situation than with helping the people who are suffering.

And why not? The guys who run the Federal Emergency Management Agency, after all, have no experience, knowledge, or qualifications in the area of emergency management. None whatsoever. Everyone now knows that FEMA Director Michael Brown -- even with his ridiculously padded resume -- has experience in only one field, the showing of Arabian horses. (I consider myself a political satirist, but I could never have come up with anything so brilliant.) But Kenneth Bazinet of the New York Daily News reports that "Brownie" is only one part of a systemic problem at FEMA. The agency, Bazinet writes, is "top heavy with inexperienced friends of Bush."

"Even if Bush were to fire embattled and suddenly invisible FEMA Director Michael Brown over his handling of Hurricane Katrina," he says, "the bureaucrat immediately below him is no disaster professional, either. While Brown ran horse shows in his last private-sector job, FEMA's No. 2 man, deputy director and chief of staff Patrick Rhode, was an advance man for the Bush-Cheney campaign and White House. He also did short stints at the Commerce Department and Small Business Administration...In addition, the agency's former third-ranking official, deputy chief of staff Scott Morris, was a PR expert who worked for Maverick Media, the Texas outfit that produced TV and radio spots for the Bush-Cheney campaign. In June, Morris moved to Florida to become FEMA's long-term recovery director."

Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-New York) told Bazinet, "The Bush administration has apparently transformed FEMA from a professional, world-class emergency responder into a dumping ground for former campaign staff and political hacks. Just like our military, FEMA should be immune to this kind of political staffing. It should be run by career emergency response professionals."

"Government sources," according to Bazinet, "blame Bush's first FEMA director, Joe Allbaugh, [for] turning FEMA into a patronage shop. He was chief of staff when Bush was Texas' governor and later headed the 2000 Bush-Cheney campaign. 'He stacked the deck with political appointees,' a knowledgeable source said of Allbaugh."

Almost as outrageous as its massive failure is the administration's continued claim that everything is being handled incredibly well. Oh yeah? Then why is it that a Canadian search-and-rescue team reached New Orleans to help five days before the U.S. military? Reuters reports that "the Canadians beat both the Army and the Federal Emergency Management Agency." Louisiana State Senator Walter Boasso (R) thanked the Canadian team and described them as "fabulous, fabulous guys. They started rolling with us and got in boats to save people. We've got Canadian flags flying everywhere." He told Reuters that U.S. authorities began airdropping relief supplies to the parish of St. Bernard last Wednesday -- the same day the fifty Canadian rescue workers arrived from Vancouver, two thousand miles away. "They chartered a plane and flew down," Boasso said, as full of admiration and gratitude toward the Canadians as he was of shame and rage at his own government.

And then there's the group of firefighters from Indiana who promptly dispatched themselves to the Gulf Coast. They offered their services to FEMA, thinking that their professional rescue skills would be put to good use. But no. "Our job," says Portage Assistant Fire Chief Bill Lundy, "was to advertise a phone number for FEMA. We were going to be given shirts and hats with a phone number on it and flyers, and sent to shelters, and we were going to pass out flyers. We're trained in tactical medicine." Oh, that's nice, Bill, but tactical medicine just isn't what thousands of sick and dying people need right now. What they really need is some effective P.R.

If it weren't for effective P.R. -- and middle America's eager consumption thereof -- the Bush administration would already be a thing of the past. A tiny positive outcome of the epic horror of Katrina's flooding is that when the new Democratic Congress begins its impeachment proceedings in 2007, it will have the support of plenty of Republicans. Bush's failure has taken on an entirely new dimension. It used to be that his more enthusiastic supporters just sounded ignorant; now they sound cruel. But his forced ejection from the office he illegitimately holds is going to take a while, and there's another hurricane on the way, to say nothing of terrorism and the Iraq mess. How many more Americans will George W. Bush let die before justice tears through his sickening cabal with the force of a category five storm?

New York is my city, and the thought of its destruction is too heartbreaking to consider. New Orleans is another great American city -- a real, human city, with history and a soul, not a cookie-cutter suburb erected by corporate committee fifty years ago. And it has been destroyed. Not by a natural disaster. By a criminal administration. What if Louisiana were Florida or Texas? What if New Orleans were white? What if the executive branch of our government were not quite so guilty of genocide, at home and abroad?

The greatest musician America has ever produced, Mr. Louis Armstrong, was born in New Orleans in 1901. I invite you to share a tear with me, and listen to the master's incomparable recording of "Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans?" It's timeless music, and it's always been heartbreaking, but now...

Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans,
since that's where you left your heart?
And there's something more: I miss the one I care for
more than I miss New Orleans.

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Wednesday, September 07, 2005

McClellan Says Nothing

Any day now, we'll probably hear Bush say that he's now willing to meet with Katrina.

Rarely have the people of the United States faced as dangerous an enemy as George W. Bush. Disasters have coincided uncannily with his illegitimate reign, and even if we set aside the possibility that the 9/11 attacks and the New Orleans flood would not have happened on a competant president's watch, nobody can reasonably deny that both tragedies were made more devastating by the administration's epic failure. Sections of the extreme right, prompted by the White House communications staff and the conservative punditocracy, insist that to discuss Bush's performance is to "politicize" the terrible events in Louisiana. Ridiculous.

Something becomes "political" not when it's discussed in political terms, but when the actions of politicians affect it. But this is the insane logic of neoconservatism. If George W. Bush kicked someone in the face, and I said, "Oh my god, George W. Bush just kicked someone in the face," the American right would say, "Someone's been kicked in the face! Now is not the time for partisan politics!"

The fact is that nearly everything is politics. Politics runs our lives. And "partisan politics," a term adapted by Republicans to mean "petty political infighting," is the very system our nation's founders designed to ensure public debate. It would be no better if a Democrat failed to protect New York in 2001 or New Orleans in 2005. It would just be more surprising.

In selecting its high-ranking public officials, the Bush regime apparently values loyalty above all else. On what other basis could a presidential administration choose to be represented by the voice that comes from Scott McClellan's ass? It's deeply lamentable that it took a likely death toll of 40,000, but at last the White House press corps stood up to McClellan's brick wall of endlessly repeated talking points, and made clear that the American people are not going to take it.

"The President," Mr. McClellan said at yesterday's press briefing, "is considering a lot of ideas as we move forward to help the people who have been displaced. As he said, these are not displaced people." Wait a minute -- so if their homes have been completely destroyed, are they displaced, or not? "These are not refugees," McClellan continued, "these are Americans." Guess what, Scott -- they're both. They're American refugees on American soil. And this is a uniquely Bush phenomenon.

But the press corps, much to its credit, did not let McClellan off the hook. You wanna be the public face of the Bush administration, buddy? Okay, then we demand answers about this latest executive fiasco. Now.

Q: Scott, the reality at hand right now is that the President said that we still live in an unsettled world. This is an administration that has told us since 9/11 that it's not a matter of "if" but "when," that we could be struck by a terror attack, and obviously, other disasters that are the result of Mother Nature. So at this point, where is the accountability? Is the President prepared to say where this White House, where this administration went wrong in its response to Katrina?

McCLELLAN: You know, David, there are some that are interested in playing the blame game. The President is interested in solving problems and getting help to the people who need it. There will be a time --

Q: Wait a minute. Is it a blame game when the President himself says that we remain at risk for either another catastrophe of this dimension, that's not manmade, or a terrorist attack? Isn't it incumbent upon this administration to immediately have accountability to find out what went wrong, when at any time this could happen again?

McCLELLAN: This is a massive federal response effort that we have underway. We've got to stay focused on helping those who are in need right now and help them rebuild their lives and get back up on their feet. It's a time of many challenges, enormous challenges. We've got to stay focused on the task at hand. That is what the President is doing. Now, in terms of addressing threats, we've made a lot of progress since the attacks of September 11th. And one of the most important things we're doing is staying on the offensive abroad. There are important priorities that we have to continue to address and we are working to address those priorities, too. But we have a major disaster that has occurred over a 90,000 square mile [sic] here in the United States. There are people --

Q: Right. And there are people who want to know why this government couldn't respond --

McCLELLAN: Hang on. There are people who are suffering, and we've got to respond to their needs, and that's what we're going to keep our focus.

Q: So no one is prepared to say what went wrong?

McCLELLAN: We will look at back at the facts and we will get to the bottom of the facts and determine what went wrong and what went right. But right now --

Q: Will the President support an outside investigation, or does he want to do it himself?

McCLELLAN: -- but, David, right now, we've got to continue helping the people in the region.

Q: Will he support an outside investigation --

Q: But, Scott, more concretely, an officer of the Northern Command is quoted as saying that as early as the time Hurricane Katrina went through Florida and worked its way up to the Gulf, there was a massive military response ready to go, but that the President did not order it. It could have been ordered on Sunday, on Monday, on Tuesday -- the call didn't come. Why not?

McCLELLAN: Bill, let's point out a couple of things. There were a lot of assets that were deployed and pre-positioned prior to the hurricane hitting. And you have to look back --

Q: These assets were deployed, but the order to use them never came. The Bataan was sitting off behind the hurricane.

McCLELLAN: I know these are all facts that you want to look at and want to determine what went wrong and what went right. I'm not prepared to agree with your assessment just there. There is a much larger picture here that we have to take a look at, and --

Q: It's not mine, it's an officer in the Northern Command.

It was that kind of a press briefing -- where the reporters always had the last word, because the press secretary had nothing to say. This isn't entirely McClellan's fault; after all, he has nothing to quote.

Q: I just want to follow up on David's questions on accountability. First, just to get you on the record, where does the buck stop in this administration?

McCLELLAN: The President.

Q: All right. So he will be held accountable as the head of the government for the federal response that he's already acknowledged was inadequate and unacceptable?

McCLELLAN: The President's most important responsibility is the safety and security of the American people. He talks about that often.

He does talk about that often, but apparently talking about it is not quite enough. McClellan, like his boss, is wrong. The buck actually doesn't stop with Bush. It doesn't stop anywhere. The buck runs all over the place, wholly unchecked, and beats the American people into the ground. Faced again and again with this substantive accusation, McClellan tried to say that asking accountability questions "at this time" impedes the recovery process for the people of New Orleans. The Bush administration never thinks it's a good time to ask accountability questions. They want to go from one disaster to the next, always staying in emergency mode, so that we're always living under "special circumstances" which unfortunately just won't allow for questions about the government's responsibility.

Q: Well, the President has said that this government can do many things at once: It can fight the war on terror, it can do operations in Iraq, and aid and comfort people in Louisiana. Can it not also find time to begin to hold people accountable? It sounds, Scott, as if the line that you're giving us -- which is, you don't want to answer questions about accountability because there's too much busy work going on --

McCLELLAN: Wrong. No, wrong.

Q: -- is a way of ducking accountability.

McCLELLAN: You don't want to take away from the efforts that are going on right now. And if you start getting into that now, you're pulling people out that are helping with the ongoing response, Terry. Not at all. The President made it very clear, I'm going to lead this effort and we're going to make sure we find out what the facts were and what went wrong and what went right. But you don't want to divert resources away from an ongoing response to a major catastrophe. And this is a major catastrophe that we -- and we must remain focused on saving lives and sustaining lives and planning for the long-term. And that's what we're doing.

Q: And there are people in Louisiana and Mississippi who are doing that job very well. Your job is to answer the questions.

McCLELLAN: And I have.

Q: By saying you won't answer.

So McClellan apparently thinks that an investigation into executive handling of Louisiana flood preparedness would be launched by EMTs and National Guard. He seems to think that Democrats want to go to New Orleans, find some rescue workers, and say, "Excuse me, you've got to stop helping these people -- we need you to come to Washington and blame the president."

Q: The person who says that he found out about the Convention Center seeing it on the media -- that is to say the FEMA director -- is still in place. Is that satisfactory that somebody would have responded like that?

McCLELLAN: Again, this is getting into -- we're somewhat engaged in a blame game. We've got to --

Q: It's not a blame game. That's accountability --

McCLELLAN: Terry, we've got to --

Q: It's accountability.


Q: Is "Brownie" still doing a "heck of a job," according to the President?

McCLELLAN: We've got to continue to do everything we can in support of those who are involved in the operational aspects of this response effort. And that's what we're going to do. There will be plenty of time --

Q: If he fails at it, he's not going to be good at it going forward. That's what Bob is saying.

McCLELLAN: There are people working round-the-clock with FEMA. The Secretary, the FEMA Director and many others who are working round-the-clock. And we've got to do everything we can in support of their efforts to make sure people are getting what they need.

But why weren't there people "working round-the-clock with FEMA" before this inevitable and anticipated tragedy struck? Even if the administration's recovery efforts were adequate, it wouldn't change the fact that its prevention and protection efforts were not. Like the 9/11 attacks, the Katrina flooding was not a complete surprise; many people knew this was going to happen, and warned, and advised. And the administration didn't give a damn. Just as urban security funding was cut prior to 9/11, the Bush regime has cut Louisiana levee and flood protection funding every year it's been in office. How much applause does McClellan expect, for the administration's meager response to mass death it made possible? And what does this say about our preparedness for the next crisis, whatever form it may take?

Q: Does the President really believe we could respond to a terrorist attack with any -- amount of weeks, months?

McCLELLAN: We've actually done a lot of exercises, David, to prepare for possible attacks, but --

Q: Do you think most Americans agree, based on --

McCLELLAN: But the most important thing we've got to do is focus on --

Q: You mean exercises for Hurricane Katrina.

McCLELLAN: We've got to focus on prevention, and that's what we're doing by staying on the offensive.

Q: Well, let's talk about it. Are you saying the President is -- are you saying that the President is confident that his administration is prepared to adequately, confidently secure the American people in the event of a terrorist attack of a level that we have not seen? And based on what does he have that confidence?

McCLELLAN: Yes, and that's what he made clear earlier today, that obviously we want to look and learn lessons from a major catastrophe of this nature.

Q: Yes, but you're telling us today there will be time for that somewhere down the road. Well, what if it happens tomorrow?

McCLELLAN: We can engage in this blame-gaming going on and I think that's what you're getting --

Q: No, no. That's a talking point, Scott, and I think most people who are watching this --

McCLELLAN: No, that's a fact. I mean, some are wanting to engage in that, and we're going to remain focused --

Q: I'm asking a direct question. Is he confident --

McCLELLAN: We're going to remain focused on the people.

Q: -- that he can secure the American people in the event of a major terrorist attack?

McCLELLAN: We are securing the American people by staying on the offensive abroad and working to spread freedom and democracy in the Middle East.

Q: That's a talking point. That's a talking point.

McCLELLAN: No, that's a fact.

Q: No, it's not. And you think people who are watching this think that's -- from what does he derive that confidence, based on the response --

McCLELLAN: David, I'm interested in the people in the region that have been affected and getting them help. We can sit here and engage in this back and forth --

Q: The whole country is watching and wondering about some --

McCLELLAN: The time for bickering and blame-gaming is later. The time for helping people in the region is now.

The Iraq war, inexplicably, still has its supporters; some people really think that the war is going well and accomplishing good things. But nobody thinks that about the situation in New Orleans, which is part of why the press corps has grown a spine. This is years of frustration coming out. That room full of people has long wanted to stand up and yell at Scott McClellan: That's a talking point! That's a talking point!

Q: Scott, there's words that James Lee Witt had said, that -- people who had been there within three hours after everything broke loose. Why was Mr. Brown not on the ground?

McCLELLAN: He was, prior to the hurricane.

Q: Well, why didn't he bring in the troops? Why didn't he deploy all the necessary assistance that was needed?

McCLELLAN: There were -- disaster medical assistance teams were deployed. Search and rescue teams were deployed ahead of the hurricane.

Q: But why didn't he -- but why weren't teams deployed to the Convention Center? Why weren't teams deployed to the Superdome? Why were people without water, without food? Why was there looting in New Orleans for survival? And you're talking about zero tolerance. Why did these things happen over a period of days, and you start seeing Mr. Brown on the air talking about he didn't know about the Convention Center and other things. Why?

McCLELLAN: Look, you're getting into all the after-action analysis, and I can't tell you all the --

Q: And you're saying there is not a blame game, but you open the door to the response --

McCLELLAN: I can't tell you that everything you said is factually correct, and they've got -- we've got to look at all the facts. We've got to determine what worked, what didn't work, and apply --

Q: Well, what's not working? What's not working in your view right now?

McCLELLAN: -- and apply lessons from that.

Q: What do you see that's not working right now? What is not working? Because these people are dying from dysentery now --

McCLELLAN: Well, last week --

Q: -- infection now; they're displaced, homes are gone. Does anyone in this administration know anyone that's down there --

McCLELLAN: Well, I think you need to talk to people on the ground --

Q: -- beyond Trent Lott?

McCLELLAN: -- people on the ground who have --

Q: Does anyone in this White House know anyone that's there, beyond Trent Lott, that's lost a home, that has lost family, that's displaced?

McCLELLAN: The President visited with a number of those who have been affected by the hurricane.

McClellan followed this with the remarkable statement, "We've seen the devastation on the ground. We've seen the homes that are no longer there." I would have liked to hear McClellan's explanation as to how one can see a home which is no longer there, but the White House press corps had worthier lines of questioning to pursue, and McClellan had all the non-answers right in his non-head.

Q: Scott, given the failure of leadership in the first days of this crisis, and given your reticence to get rid of any of the people associated with that leadership --

McCLELLAN: Those are your words, not mine.

Q: -- wouldn't it be more appropriate to follow the suggestion of appointing somebody as the coordinator, overall coordinator for the relief effort who is not associated with that failed leadership? Probably a former retired military person who could more easily coordinate the logistics and the coordination between the military...

McCLELLAN: No, we're going to continue to work in support of those who are overseeing the operational activities, and we appreciate the job that the Department of Homeland Security and Secretary Chertoff and all those at FEMA are doing to address the ongoing problems. Again, this is getting into trying to finger-point and play the blame game. This is not the time for that. There are people who are really in need. Terry was down there in the region. He saw what has happened to the people on the ground and how they have lost everything --

Q: I think they might want some answers, too.

McCLELLAN: -- and how they have lost everything they had.

Q: In addition to help, they might want some answers, too.

McCLELLAN: And they're going to get them. But now is not the time, Terry.

Q: No, it is the time, Scott.

Q: Scott, a follow up.

McCLELLAN: Go ahead --

Q: Did the Mayor or the Governor turn down any requests made by the administration?

McCLELLAN: Again, I think from this podium that we want to stay focused on ways we can work together, so I don't think it helps any situation to get into all those internal discussions that are going on, on issues of that nature. This isn't a time when people are trying to look at who's to blame, or try to shift responsibility. This is a time when we're all trying to work together to get things done.

Q: But that hasn't stopped you from suggesting pretty subtly that the local and state officials bear some responsibility.

McCLELLAN: Thank you for your comment.

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Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Trent Lott's House in SHAMBLES!

Seeing the destruction from Hurricane Katrina has been heartbreaking. My friend from Mobile told me he’s been watching television in shock for days, seeing places he grew up rendered completely unrecognizable by the 160 mile an hour winds and the flooding in New Orleans.

Another survivor, Gabriel Whitfield cried as he stood in front of his ruined home, staring at a splintered tree where his kids used to play, "it's just like somebody punched me in the gut," he said. "It's hard to see something you worked so hard to accomplish just wiped out."

On Friday morning, Serena Bane, 18, watched as her entire family was removed from her home in New Orleans in body bags. According to the Washington Post, her mother, Christina Bane, was a 44-year-old housekeeper at a local hotel. Her father, Edger Banes, worked at Wal-Mart. Her brothers, Edgar Jr., 15, and Carl, 12, were mentally disabled and one of them was incontinent. Christina, fearing her sons would be made fun of at the shelter, chose not to evacuate their home.

Dorth Dunbar and his wife travel by public transportation. Before the storm, the couple realized that they could not possibly come up with the amount of money it would take for them to evacuate the area. Mr. Dunbar said that he and his wife live paycheck to paycheck and that the most money they ever have at a time is $400.

Carmita Stephens’ family only had one car. As she told a reporter, “I wanted my family to be together. They couldn’t all fit in the truck. We had to decide on leaving family members – or staying." So they stayed. She asks people who question why she stayed, "well, would they leave their grandparents and children behind? Look around and say, 'See you later'?"

Two New Orleans police officers, Lawrence Celestine and Paul Accardo, committed suicide one day after each other. They had lost their homes, their belongings and were under severe pressure to keep control of the situation without the money and tools they needed. Police superintendent Eddie Compass said of the situation ''we had no food, no water, no ammunition, no vehicles, no gas. We had to scrounge equipment to fight this battle."

And there are hundreds of thousands of other tragic stories. Each one as heartbreaking as the one before.

In August 2004, Hurricane Charley battered the coast of Florida, killing at least 25 people and injuring numerous others. The storm destroyed homes, businesses and flattened the community of Punta Gorda. Only hours after Charley hit, federal aid was being pumped into the state, and George W. Bush rushed to the scene before the winds stopped blowing.

Of course, that was Florida. And an election year. And it happened just after the latest survey showed John Kerry leading Florida by 7 points.

Amid accusations that the administration acted to slowly in its response to Katrina, Bush is working overtime to smooth over relations with his constituency in New Orleans, Alabama and Mississippi. And boy, is he doing a good job. First, he’s going to make sure that looters are punished – and has made clear that he will take a “zero-tolerance” stance on looting. So to you survivors who have been stuck on a roof for 5 days because no one has come to get you yet – if you’ve swiped a loaf of bread here or a bottle of water there – you better take them back because in the administration’s eyes, it’s just the same as taking home that big screen TV you always wanted.

At a recent White House press briefing, the eloquent Scott McClellan was asked “Does (the President) make any allowance for people who have yet to receive aid who are taking things like water or food or shoes to walk among the debris?

McClellan answered: “I think you heard from the President earlier today about his zero tolerance. We understand the need for food and water and supplies of that nature. That's why we have a massive effort underway to continue getting food and water and ice to those who are in need. There are ways for them to get that help. Looting is not the way for them to do it.” I’m sure that provides a real comfort for the folks who were stuck in New Orleans and had not received any of that aid yet.

But this cannot be very good news for David Carpenter, 55, who was camped out at the local Kmart parking lot in a chair he took from the store.

"I didn't mean to loot," he said. "But my back was hurting from sitting on the pavement for so long."

Too bad, David. That’s not your chair. That’s Kmart’s chair. And you should be punished for your lawlessness and disregard for the rules of society.

On Monday it was reported that some rescuers have decided to not bring food and water to those who are determined to stay behind because they want them to leave. Those people now have three choices – loot, leave or die.

And at 1001 Beach Boulevard, another storm victim stood in the empty space that used to be a home and wept. The house belonged to Senator Trent Lott, who called it his pride and joy. But no one need cry over the senator’s cottage mansion. As President George W Bush stood speaking to a group of homeless black citizens trapped in New Orleans, while all through the city dead bodies were floating through the streets and near-dead survivors were being airlifted to safety a full week after the storm hit, he told the group “out of the rubbles of Trent Lott's house--he's lost his entire house. There's going to be a fantastic house. And I'm looking forward to sitting on the porch." I’m sure this was exactly the thing those citizens being bused far away from their shattered homes with no money or means wanted and needed to hear. That Trent Lott would be OK.

So Bush’s trip didn’t actually go over that well. The administration was being accused of racism because of their slow response to the storm. Jesse Jackson said "there was no plan for mass rescue, relief, relocation or reconstruction. Unlike 9-11, we all knew this storm was coming. There should have been steps taken sooner to protect lives."

So what do you do? You send Condoleeza to her hometown to whip up some support. Rice toured the area and then visited her church with Senator Jeff Sessions (R- Alabama), U.S. Rep. Jo Bonner (R-Mobile), Mobile Mayor Mike Dow, and a host of city councilmen and county officials, including mayoral candidate and Mobile County Commissioner Sam Jones. The administration didn’t ask me, but I find it strange that in order to combat accusations of racism, you would send Jeff Sessions who supported an effort to end affirmative action programs in the federal government that was so extreme that many conservatives were against it. He has opposed hate-crimes laws, and he opposed a motion to investigate the disproportionate number of minorities in juvenile detention centers. He voted no on setting aside 10% of highway funds for minorities and women.

A black former attorney who worked under Sessions said he was once called "boy" by Sessions and that Sessions once spoke fondly of Ku Klux Klan members who lynched a black man. Another witness said Sessions once called a white civil rights attorney a "traitor to his race." Sessions said the remarks about the Klan and the white attorney were jokes. Ah, Jeff Sessions, you big kidder.

Jo Bonner, Representative from Mobile, surely provided an open ear to disgruntled survivors of the storm, having once said: “The great thing about this country is that if you don't like it you can leave." Oh, that’s the great thing about our country, is it Jo?

Though many were pleased by Rice’s visit. City Councilman Henry Barnes, “appearing near exhaustion from the sweltering heat and humidity, said that the “atta-boy” from the federal government really helped. Rice’s visit also provided a much needed break for Barnes who had to stop his rescue efforts in order to plan a route for Rice to take when she arrived. And the people stranded on roofs would have certainly felt better had they been able to see Rice or get an “atta- boy” themselves. Unfortunately, the city was too involved in planning a route for Rice to rescue them yet. Maybe a bag of wonder bread and a water bottle will float by.

The gulf coast has many difficult years ahead. With the evacuation and relocation of all its citizens, New Orleans, if it is rebuilt, will likely be a shell of its former self – a “Jazz Disney.” There are thousands of people with no homes, no jobs and no resources living in stadiums and parking lots. My mother who was born in a displaced person’s camp in Germany cried as she called the survivors “displaced persons in their own country.” We are in the midst of a devastating crisis. We will feel its effects for years.

But it’s okay. We’ll be okay. And as the survivors move forward, rebuilding their lives, I encourage them to keep in their hearts the President’s symbol of reconstruction and triumph – Trent Lott’s new porch. And the President promises, as soon as Senator Lott’s house is finished, he’ll start on yours.

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Friday, September 02, 2005

Hurricane Bush

The City of New Orleans is in a state of emergency because of two disasters -- a natural one, called Hurricane Katrina, and an unnatural one, called George W. Bush. Needless to say, the Bush administration and its media shills on the right are quick to dismiss such assertions as "political." Bush himself declared yesterday morning, "I hope people don't play politics during this period of time. This is a natural disaster, the likes of which our country may have never seen before, and it's a national emergency. And what we need to do as a nation is come together to solve the problem and not play politics."

But the thing is, the devastation in New Orleans is not simply due to the path of the hurricane. It's because of the failure of the city's levees to effectively prevent flooding. Which is because of the failure of the Bush administration to acknowledge the problem and fund the clear solution. As Molly Ivins explains, "This is not 'just politics' or blaming for political advantage. This is about the real consequences of what governments do and do not do about their responsibilities."

"It is a fact," Ivins continues, "that the Clinton administration set some tough policies on wetlands, and it is a fact that the Bush administration repealed those policies -- ordering federal agencies to stop protecting as many as 20 million acres of wetlands." Just a few months ago, Bush cut $71.2 million from the budget of the New Orleans Corps of Engineers -- a 44% reduction. New Orleans City Business reported then that "a study to determine ways to protect the region from a Category 5 hurricane has been shelved." Meanwhile, Louisiana's National Guard is severely depleted, with 35% of its membership now serving in Iraq, and recruiting down because of the Iraq war. The New York Times points out that this is "an even bigger loss than the raw numbers suggest because many of these part-time soldiers had to leave behind their full-time jobs in police and fire departments or their jobs as paramedics."

In June of 2004, Walter Maestri -- the emergency management chief for Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, told the New Orleans Times-Picayune, "It appears that the money has been moved in the president's budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that's the price we pay. Nobody locally is happy that the levees can't be finished, and we are doing everything we can to make the case that this is a security issue for us." Yeah, too bad about that, but we're fighting an enemy, Mr. Maestri. Levees won't do you any good when Saddam Hussein bombs New Orleans with his copious weapons of mass destruction. After all, we don't want disaster relief to come in the form of a mushroom cloud.

That, presumably, is why New Orleans received no disaster mitigation funding from FEMA in 2003, even though a 2002 FEMA report identified Louisiana as "the floodplain of the nation." "Before FEMA was condensed into Homeland Security it responded much more quickly," Maestri told PHXnews. "Truthfully, you had access to the individuals who were the decision-makers. The FEMA administrator had Cabinet status. Now, you have another layer of bureaucracy. FEMA is headed by an assistant secretary who now has to compete with other assistant secretaries of Homeland Security for available funds. And elevating houses is not as sexy as providing gas masks."

Providing gas masks isn't very sexy either, but that's beside the point. The point is that George W. Bush is completely incapable of running this country. Hurricane Katrina would have happened no matter what, but the destruction of a great city and the loss of still-untold thousands of lives would not have been this intense under a competent administration. He cannot do the job. He's terrible at it. Thousands of Americans have died right here in America because of his ineptitude -- or, more accurately, his indifference.

"There's a lot of discussion going on about the funding of projects prior to this, whether projects in New Orleans in particular were underfunded because of the Iraq war or for other reasons," a reporter said to the noxious Scott McClellan during yesterday's White House press briefing. "Do you find any of this criticism legitimate?" The voice that comes from McClellan's ass replied, "As I have indicated, this is not a time for politics. This is a time for the nation to come together for those in the Gulf Coast region and that's where our focus is. This is not a time for finger-pointing or politics. And I think the last thing that the people who have been displaced or the people who have been affected need is people seeking partisan gain in Washington." As usual, anyone seeking the truth is accused of political chess; as usual, when the American people are busy coping with historic tragedy, the administration is snatching up rooks and bishops.

"Flood control has been a priority of this administration from day one," McClellan insisted. It's easy to say that, even for Scott McClellan, but it's a lie. As The Independent explains, "a plan to shore up the levees around New Orleans was abandoned last year for lack of government funding." Furthermore, "flood-control spending for southeastern Louisiana had been chopped every year that Mr. Bush has been in office," and "hurricane protection funds have also fallen;" and "the local army corps of engineers has also had its budget cut." From day one.

Interviewed yesterday on Good Morning America, the Bush monster actually said, "I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees." What he meant, presumably, is that he didn't anticipate the breach of the levees. Mr. Bush probably thinks the levees are a Jewish family in Baton Rouge. Those who have an intellectual advantage over Bush -- several dogs and cats leap instantly to mind -- are not so baffled by the failure of the flood system. The truth is that this was anticipated, often and by many, but to no avail. Because the country is being governed by a regime which doesn't give a damn.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune, June 8, 2004:

"For the first time in 37 years, federal budget cuts have all but stopped major work on the New Orleans area's east bank hurricane levees, a complex network of concrete walls, metal gates and giant earthen berms that won't be finished for at least another decade.

"'I guess people look around and think there's a complete system in place, that we're just out here trying to put icing on the cake,' said Mervin Morehiser, who manages the 'Lake Pontchartrain and vicinity' levee project for the Army Corps of Engineers. 'And we aren't saying that the sky is falling, but people should know that this is a work in progress, and there's more important work yet to do before there is a complete system in place.

"...The Bush administration's proposed fiscal 2005 budget includes only $3.9 million for the east bank hurricane project. Congress likely will increase that amount, although last year it bumped up the administration's $3 million proposal only to $5.5 million."

Scientific American, October 2001:

"A major hurricane could swamp New Orleans under 20 feet of water, killing thousands. Human activities along the Mississippi River have dramatically increased the risk, and now only massive reengineering of southeastern Louisiana can save the city.

"New Orleans is a disaster waiting to happen. The city lies below sea level, in a bowl bordered by levees that fend off Lake Pontchartrain to the north and the Mississippi River to the south and west. And because of a damning confluence of factors, the city is sinking further, putting it at increasing flood risk after even minor storms. The low-lying Mississippi Delta, which buffers the city from the gulf, is also rapidly disappearing. A year from now another 25 to 30 square miles of delta marsh -- an area the size of Manhattan -- will have vanished. An acre disappears every 24 minutes. Each loss gives a storm surge a clearer path to wash over the delta and pour into the bowl, trapping one million people inside and another million in surrounding communities. Extensive evacuation would be impossible because the surging water would cut off the few escape routes. Scientists at Louisiana State University (L.S.U.), who have modeled hundreds of possible storm tracks on advanced computers, predict that more than 100,000 people could die. The body bags wouldn't go very far."

And they haven't. This disaster -- not Hurricane Katrina, but the failure of the levees to prevent massive flooding -- is not a surprise to people who know about these things. It's only a surprise to the criminals who run the executive branch of our government. Michael Brown, Bush's FEMA director, was getting pretty defensive on Thursday -- so defensive, in fact, that he wound up blaming the victims. The massive death toll, he told CNN, was "attributable a lot to people who did not heed the advance warnings. I don't make judgments about why people chose not to leave but, you know, there was a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans." Brown said he was able to "empathize with those in miserable conditions," which is probably true, as he works for George W. Bush. He also insisted he wasn't blaming the victims, and he asserted this in language which blamed them: "Now is not the time to be blaming. Now is the time to recognize that whether they chose to evacuate or chose not to evacuate, we have to help them."

Well, the horrifying images which have come from New Orleans this week make at least one thing clear -- the people most terribly affected by this disaster are poor (and therefore with limited evacuation options) and black (and therefore not of much concern to the administration which stole office by denying African-Americans of the right to vote). As Rachel Maddow pointed out yesterday, the most devastated victims of these floods have no money, no cars, and no place to go. Thousands of people are dead, and thousands more have been rendered homeless. And Michael Brown is scratching his head about why they "chose not to evacuate." But he still managed to stay optimistic: "Considering the dire circumstances that we have in New Orleans -- virtually a city that has been destroyed...things are going relatively well." Relative to what, Michael? The Bubonic Plague?

Speaking with even less compassion, Republican Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert told the press, "It makes no sense to spend billions of dollars to rebuild a city that's seven feet under sea level...It looks like a lot of that place could be bulldozed." Actually, Dennis, it looks like a lot of that place has been bulldozed, by Bush administration policy.

A New York Times editorial published this morning asserts that "the situation in New Orleans, which had seemed as bad as it could get, became considerably worse yesterday with reports of what seemed like a total breakdown of organized society." Stepping up to the plate with reassuring words, Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco said that three hundred National Guard troops have been transferred from Iraq to New Orleans. "They have M-16s," she said, "and they're locked and loaded. These troops know how to shoot and kill, and they are more than willing to do so, and I expect they will." That's to control the looting, you see, which Bush frowned upon in his strangely smug speech on Tuesday. The Times noted, "Nothing about the President's demeanor -- which seemed casual to the point of carelessness -- suggested that he understood the depth of the current crisis."

According to the Houston Chronicle, FEMA warned early in 2001 that the three most likely catastrophic disasters for the United States were, in descending order, a terrorist attack in New York, a flood in New Orleans, and an earthquake in San Francisco. Since the Chronicle made that assessment, the brutal regime of George W. Bush has managed to seriously mishandle two of those three projected catastrophes. If I lived in San Francisco, I'd relocate now, until we get a real president.

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Wednesday, August 31, 2005

An Interview with Noah and Sisk

Tomorrow, my friends, will be the two-week mark till the opening night of the world premiere of BURNING BUSH: A Faith-Based Musical, brought to you by the very people who bring you this blog. (Incredibly enough, there are actually still tickets available, and you can get yours now by calling (212) 868-4444 or clicking here.) Rehearsals have been going quite well, and it feels like we've got something special here. Yesterday, Brian Hoffman (who plays Bush) mentioned that when he tells people about the show, the title itself makes an immediate impression. I maintained that if George W. Bush is still in office on September 17 when the show closes, it will have been a horrific failure.

Last night, Sisk and I gave our first interviews in connection with the show. She was interviewed by noted blogger Noah Diamond, while I granted a few moments of my time to noted blogger Amanda Sisk. In keeping with the accelerated pace of the blogosphere, the interviews were conducted simultaneously.

Sisk: Over a year ago when you first started writing this show, what prompted you most - the theatre part or the politics part?

Noah: In this case, the politics part. I wrote and performed all through my teens; then I kind of lost interest in the theatre and became obsessed with politics. Then at some point it occurred to me that we could use the theatre to talk about politics. It's still the form I naturally gravitate toward when I have something to say.

Noah: One of the characters you play in BURNING BUSH is Laura Bush. Moments in this performance are startlingly real. Do you identify with her in some way?

Sisk: Laura Bush is a mystery. Sometimes you think she's a Stepford wife, the next second, you are convinced she completely abhors what's going on around her. She talks a lot about how people try to put her "in a box." And she simply has not allowed anyone to do that. Her approval rating is higher than her husband's. She hates public speaking, but has become his political trump card. But why does she do what she does? Who the hell is she? She is a quiet southern librarian whose every word is sweet and kind. But look in her eyes sometime when she's unhappy with a reporter's question. It's chilling. In the show, we see Laura in private, so as writers, we've taken the liberty of giving her some of the traits I suppose we hope she has. I didn't really answer the question.

Sisk: Why do you think people are reacting so strongly to the title BURNING BUSH: A Faith-Based Musical?

Noah: I think the title is brilliant. I'm not sure about the show but I'm incredibly proud of the title. It's funny, it works on a few levels, and it establishes immediately what the show is about. It also suggests the show's tone and point of view. It's the ideal thing -- people hear the title and are immediately amused or offended. It's also worth mentioning how hard it was to come up with a title for this show, and how many weird ones were discarded in the process: Impeachable You, President Shit, Bush Sucks: The Musical.

Sisk: I love the title President Shit. Unfortunately, it works much better for a scene or two than for two hours.

Noah: Right, and it's a shame, because that one scene was pretty funny. It replaced the word "Bush" with the word "Shit," so there were lines like, "The government is full of Shit appointees pushing the Shit agenda! It seems all of Washington has gone to Shit!"

Noah: Is BURNING BUSH an angry show?

Sisk: Hmmm. No. Yes. Yes and no? It wouldn't have been written if we were content with the way things are. We are people who are angry. But that's different from being angry people. This show has a point, and it's strongly directed and is probably offensive to a few people. There have been times when I read a draft of something and immediately shrieked "we can't do this!" A few of your ideas have literally left me unable to speak. But it's not angry. So, no.

Sisk: Do you think George W. Bush is stupid?

Noah: Yes. Calling him stupid has become pretty frowned upon by the thinking left, and it is important to remember that facility with language is not the only barometer of intelligence. I agree with Mark Crispin Miller and others who've said that Bush's apparent stupidity mostly comes out when he's trying to be presidential and dignified. The most important aspect of his personality is his cruelty, his genuine psychopathic disorder. But he clearly has a room-temperature mind. Even his apologists tend to say, "He's not as stupid as you think he is." But it's obvious that Bush appears to be stupid, and that, in itself, is stupid.

Noah: Do you think the character of George W. Bush, in this show, is likeable?

Sisk: : Yes. And so is the real thing - he's very charming it seems. I think people probably do like him very much. Someone without charisma and charm cannot get to where he has gotten to, no matter how many advisors are surrounding him.

Sisk: Whether or not he's being stupid, charming or heartless in the show, you've really learned to write in Bush's voice. How many hours of video did you watch during the writing process?

Noah: A lot. I also read pages and pages of transcripts. I feel like I know him pretty well now. When I hear new stuff from him now, I can usually anticipate what he's about to say. Not that he's hard to predict. As mind reading goes, it's pretty light reading.

Sisk: Do you think that reflects a knowledge of Bush, or of his speechwriters and advisors?

Noah: Well, with any politician, there are at least two different voices -- the one they use in speeches and on formal occasions, when statements have been prepared and rehearsed, and the more casual and spontaneous voice in interviews. (Although interviews tend to be laced with talking points and key phrases, too.) I also watched as much candid footage of Bush as I could find -- like the video of him drunk at a wedding. Those moments, where it's just the real guy talking, were the most useful, because in the show we mostly see him behind the scenes.

Noah: Would BURNING BUSH work as a "straight" show? What do the songs bring to it?

Sisk: No, no. Definitely not. The same points could probably be made within the framework of a straight play, but I don't think it would be nearly as effective or fun. One of the hardest things for me is to write scenes where I make a point without preaching at the audience. As soon as you add a chord progression or a silly melody to these heavy points, it allows you to take yourself a lot less seriously. Plus, music is such a huge part of our lives. We're constantly singing to or at one another, or at other people. So much can be conveyed by a simple change in drumbeat or the way someone strums the guitar. Which is why I'm so excited to hear the band's interpretation of our scratchy demos.

Noah: The band being three members of Death Mask, plus Drew Brady on keyboards.

Sisk: Who do you think is more powerful within the administration - Dick Cheney or Karl Rove?

Noah: I think they're probably equally powerful in their respective areas. As far as foreign policy, the economy, and relations with the legislative branch, I think Dick Cheney is absolutely running the country. But Rove orchestrates every political step the administration takes, and has more overall "message control." And it seems that Rove has Bush's ear, a little more than Cheney, on domestic "culture issues." Cheney can't have Bush's ear, because he would eat it. Does the show ever happen to mention Cheney's cannibalism?

Sisk: Noah, if it didn't, could we really say that it's based on fact?

Noah: Let's talk about that. What would you tell someone who asked how much of the show is true?

Sisk: There are parts that are true, there are parts that are untrue and there are parts that we cannot say if they are true or untrue. No, I would actually tell them that most of it is based on fact - interviews, transcripts, documents; many of the quotes are real; the situations and timelines are mostly real.

Noah: Usually you can tell when we're kidding. But there are a lot of lines that sound like we must have made them up, but which actually were spoken by Bush and company.

Sisk: Right. I'd like to say our lines are funnier, but...

Noah: I don't think Bush could write a show as funny as this one.

Sisk: I think if Bush wrote a show it would have far more someone-getting-hit-in-the-crotch-with-something jokes. Someone asked me this the other day, and now I'm going to ask you: Do you really hate the president?

Noah: I don't know, whatever. I'd prefer not to hate anyone. I absolutely despise many things about him on many levels. Of course, what makes it all so serious is that he's sort of the President of the United States. If his station in life were more appropriate, I wouldn't mind him so much. For example, if he were behind bars. He wouldn't bother me then.

Sisk: So, do you think that you would like to remount this show in the future?

Noah: Yes, hopefully this is the beginning, and we'll bring the show back for a longer run (with the script updated as the story continues). Sometime before the 2006 midterms.

Noah: Let's describe the cast.

Sisk: There's Brian - he's our Bush. He also returns to the stage as Dick Cheney, a character which, despite having no lines, stole the show during our previous performance City Under Siege last fall.

Noah: There are also some very chilling moments in his performance.

Sisk: Then there's Corey - Jesus was written into the show specifically for Corey. Corey is Jesus in so many ways and on so many levels. Corey's Canadian, so he might get deported.

Noah: Corey shines down from the heavens above, offering redemptive forgiveness and the eternal promise of peace to the multitudes who worship in his glory.

Sisk: Then we have Ellie - she has brought so much life to the character of George H. W. Bush, probably more life than the man really has.

Noah: She's also the one member of the cast who wasn't in City Under Siege, and on the list of ways in which this show is an improvement on that one, she ranks high.

Sisk: And, of course, Kim - Kim who embodies Newscaster like no one I've ever seen.

Noah: Yes, Kim has an incredible gift for conjuring up the tone of television. She plays a pretty challenging role -- the media, embodied by a single fictitious personality named Mopsy Jimenez-Tippington.

Sisk: One last question: do you think you would be a good president? Who would your ideal candidate be?

Noah: Here's lookin' at you, kid.

Sisk: Humphrey Bogart?

Noah: One last question for you: A couple is out for an evening in Manhattan, let's say mid-September. They walk through the Village, maybe have a romantic dinner at a sidewalk cafe, and then they decide they want to see a hilarious and substantive evening of live political satire with an enormous cowboy hat and a rock band. What would your advice be?

Sisk: I would have to tell them about BURNING BUSH: A Faith-Based Musical. It's funny, it's intelligent, and we think you'll like it - whether you're strolling through the Village or not. And if you don't like it, then you can get angry and write your own show and we'll come see it.

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Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The Worst Joke Ever

For your reading pleasure today, I've put together a list (with a lot of help from Planned Parenthood and People for the American Way) of just a few of the accomplishments of our federal government under the leadership of George W. Bush and his appointees these past 5 years. I couldn't list them all, of course, because there are just soooo many! Feel free to add your favorite in the comments section.

In 2000

- Bush nominates John Ashcroft to be Attorney General.
Ashcroft Highlights: signed a bill declaring that life begins at conception, and declared the anniversary of Roe v. Wade as a “day in memoriam” for aborted fetuses.

- Bush nominates Tommy Thompson to be Secretary of Health and Human Services.
Thompson Highlights: signed bills supporting mandatory waiting periods and government regulated counseling before abortion and signed a bill stating that life begins at conception.

In 2001

- Bush (on the 28th anniversary of Roe v Wade) restores the Regan-era global gag rule on international family planning assistance.
Prevents nongovernmental organizations in countries that receive U.S. family planning assistance funds from using their own money - not money from the U.S. - to provide abortions, talk about abortions, or even discuss the existing laws that restrict abortion.

- Bush closes the White House Office for Women’s Initiatives and Outreach.

- House passes the so-called “Unborn Victims of Violence Act.”

- Wade F. Horn is sworn in as Assistant Secretary for Children and Families in the Department of Health and Human Services.
Horn Highlights: thinks that when the government provides benefits, preference should be given to "two parent married households."

- Bush stops taxpayer funding for additional stem cells beyond existing stem cell line.
But no fear! Bush indicated he would handpick a council of scientists to study the issue.

- Bush's 2001 budget doubles the amount of funding for abstinence only education.
The curriculum that the administration supports must teach that sex outside marriage is dangerous and not the accepted cultural norm, and cannot include discussions of contraception, including condoms.

- Bush nominates Patricia Funderburk Ware to head the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA).
Ware Highlights: ardent supporter of abstinence only education, saying before a House Committee "without a conscious and focused emphasis on the tenets inculcated in the abstinence education approach, sexual restraint tempered with morals and values, and a rebuilding of the two-parent family, America will lose the battle of AIDS and babies having babies."

In 2002

- Department of Justice intervenes in abortion case in favor of Ohio's "partial birth abortion" ban.

- Bush appoints former Representative Tom Coburn to the President’s Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS.
Coburn Highlights: as a member of Congress, Coburn pushed the CDC to label condoms ineffective against the spread of some sexually transmitted infections and has vowed to take the focus off condom use as a means to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.

- Bush names Joe McIlhaney to President’s Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS.
McIlhaney Highlights: founder of the Medical Institute (formerly the Medical Institute for Sexual Health) which opposes condom use.

- HHS announces new rules making fetuses but not pregnant women eligible for prenatal care in the CHIP program.
Under Bush's appointee Tommy Thompson. The regulation does not provide prenatal or postpartum health coverage to women.

- Administration representatives oppose condoms for HIV/AIDS prevention at the U.N. Children’s Summit.

- Bush appoints Louise Oliver as special assistant to the U.S. State Department Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration.
Oliver Highlights: former president of Harvard Law School’s Society for Law, Life, and Religion, a group "dedicated to defending religious values and the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death. We promote pro-life and religious values in the Harvard community as well as society at large. We support the enrichment of public policy according to faith-based moral convictions and defend religion's place in the public square."

- Administration withholds $34 million in funding from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
UNFPA supports birth control and reproductive health services in more than 140 countries throughout the world.

- House passes abortion ban legislation known as the “Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2002.”
Despite the fact that the Supreme Court declared an almost identical Nebraska law unconstitutional in 2000.

- The 2002 Labor-HHS appropriations bill puts aside $900,000 for embryo “adoption.”
This is usually referred to as embryo "donation."

- Bush withholds more than $200 million in funding for programs to support women and address HIV/AIDS in Afghanistan.

- Bush names Dr. Freda McKissic Bush to the CDC Advisory Committee on HIV and STD Prevention.
Bush Highlights: member of the advisory council of the Medical Institute, the anti-condom group started by Joe McIlhaney (above), and the director of "Virginity Rules".

- House passes the so-called “Abortion Non-Discrimination Act”
Allows health care providers and insurance companies to ignore current legislation regarding the availability of abortion without retribution.

- The U.S. State Department of State freezes $3 million in funding to the World Health Organization.
The action was taken following anti-choice complaints that the WHO conducts research on mifepristone. This is not true.

- HHS web sites remove medically accurate information regarding the link between abortions and breast cancer.
The HHS removed National Cancer Institute findings that abortions do not increase the risk of breast cancer. The HHS and CDC have also removed fact sheets on condom effectiveness as well as a sexuality education curriculum called “Programs that Work.”

- Administration gives embryos "human" status in the HHS Secretary’s Advisory Committee on Human Research Protection Charter.
The Charter, which is intended to protect the rights of volunteers in human scientific trials and experiments, now declares that embryos in experiments are to be considered “human subjects.”

HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson names Dr. Alma Golden to oversee nation’s family planning program.
Golden Highlights: longtime abstinence-only proponent, at a meeting of Title X delegates, called for more emphasis on abstinence-only education within the family planning program; said that issues concerning the effectiveness of abstinence only education in a congressional study "missed the boat."

- House passes Bankruptcy Bill HR 333, without FACE provisions.
refused to include a provision to prevent violent anti-abortion protestors from non-payment under cover of bankruptcy.

- The National Cancer Institute (NCI) web site posts “revised” fact sheet indicating unproven link between abortion and breast cancer.

- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention web site posts “revised” fact sheet downplaying condom effectiveness.

- Bush appoints David Hager, M.D. to the Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Committee of the FDA.
Hager Highlights: is a spokesperson for the Christian Medical Association and member of the Physicians Resource Council of Focus on the Family, known for prescribing biblical scriptures to cure PMS and for his opposition to prescribing contraceptives to unmarried women, spearheaded the citizens’ petition to the FDA that attempted to revoke the FDA’s approval of mifepristone.

Other appointees at this time are: Joseph B. Stanford, M.D., who will not prescribe contraceptives, and Susan A. Crockett, M.D., a board member of the American Association of Pro-Life OBGYNs.

In 2003

- Bush's 2004 budget does not increase funding for Title X family planning, but increases funding for abstinence only sex education.

- Senate and House defeat Department of Defense (DOD) amendments increasing access to abortion for women in the military.
Currently, a woman serving in the military overseas cannot receive an abortion at a military hospital even if she pays with her own money.

- State Department denies funds for refugee AIDS prevention.

- Bush extends global gag rule to all international family planning programs.
Despite the fact that earlier in the summer, the Senate voted to repeal the global gag rule.

- Congress passes "Partial Birth Abortion Act of 2003."

- Bush signs the abortion ban, which is the first federal legislation since Roe v. Wade to criminalize abortion.

- Congress begins considering the “RU-486 Suspension and Review Act of 2003.”
FDA approval would be postponed while the investigation continued, removing mifepristone from the market indefinitely.

In 2004

- Bush uses congressional recess to appoint Judge Charles Pickering to the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.
Pickering Highlights: voted for a resolution calling for a constitutional convention to propose an amendment to ban abortion and voted against state funding for family planning programs; was President of the Mississippi Baptist Convention which passed a resolution to work for legislation prohibiting all abortions except to save the life of the woman.

- Bush submits 2005 budget which includes a $200 million increase for abstinence only education.
Despite the fact that only 15% of Americans favor it. The programs teach that "sex outside marriage causes harmful and psychological side effects." The budget also contains $500 million for marriage incentives. Still no increase in Title X family planning funds.

- FDA delays decision on emergency contraception.
Despite the committees’ unanimous agreement that Plan B is safe enough to be sold over the counter.

- Bush uses congressional recess to appoint William Pryor to the Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.
Pryor Highlights: deemed Roe v. Wade “the worst abomination in the history of constitutional law,” claiming it “ripped the Constitution and ripped out the life of millions of unborn children;” in a Supreme Court brief for a Texas sodomy case, he compared homosexuality to “prostitution, adultery, necrophilia, bestiality, possession of child pornography and even incest and pedophilia;” told senators that he rescheduled a family trip to Disney World to avoid “Gay Days.”

- Bush calls for constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

- House passes "Unborn Victims of Violence Act."

- United States attempts to block Latin American efforts to reaffirm Cairo Consensus.
The objections of the U.S. to the declaration included the absence of the mention of abstinence; the inclusion of adolescent rights to reproductive health services without parents as primary decision makers; and the use of the terms "reproductive rights," "reproductive health," and "sexual health.”

- Senate passes “Unborn Victims of Violence Act.”

- Bush signs so-called “Unborn Victims of Violence Act.”

- FDA denies over the counter status to Plan B Emergency Contraception.
Despite recommendations of independent panels and its own review board.

- Senate confirms nomination of James Leon Holmes to Federal District Court.
Holmes Highlights: former president of Arkansas Right to Life, compared abortion to the Holocaust, coauthored an article (with his wife) for the Arkansas Catholic Register saying the bible requires “the woman … to place herself under the authority of the man” in marriage, said “the concern for rape victims is a red herring because conceptions from rape occur with approximately the same frequency as snowfall in Miami.”

- Administration withholds funding for UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund for third year in a row.

- Congress denies funding for military women seeking abortion after rape or incest.
Stripping bipartisan Boxer-Snowe amendment from Department of Defense Authorization Bill which would have provided access and funding to women soldiers who are victims of rape or incest.

- Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women omits emergency contraception from rape-treatment protocols.

In 2005

- FDA misses deadline for ruling on over-the-counter status of Plan B emergency contraception; delays decision indefinitely.

- Bush's proposed 2006 federal budget increases funding for abstinence-only education.
Despite a Congressional study which shows that abstinence only programs misrepresent effectiveness of condoms, the risks relating to abortion, the risks of sexual activity, and that the curriculum contains basic scientific errors.

- Bush re-nominates seven candidates to federal courts who were blocked by the Senate in his first term for their extremist ideology.

- House defeats Amendment to allow women to use their own funds to access abortion services available at military hospitals overseas.

- Justice Priscilla Owen confirmed to Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Owen Highlights: Alberto Gonzales criticized her for being too partisan and said her opinions "create hurdles that simply are not to be found in the words of the statute" and would be "an unconscionable act of judicial activism;" out of seven cases appearing before her wherein minors needed a judicial bypass in order to have an abortion without consent of their parents, she denied six of them, citing not the applicant's maturity or circumstance, but that "some women have experienced severe remorse and regret" and that "there are philosophic, social, moral, and religious arguments to be considered."

Justice Janice Rogers Brown confirmed to U.S. Court of Appeals for DC Circuit.
Brown Highlights: "My grandparents’ generation thought being on the government dole was disgraceful, a blight on the family’s honor. Today’s senior citizens blithely cannibalize their grandchildren because they have a right to get as much “free” stuff as the political system will permit them to extract;" and "thus, lawyers have secured the right of topless dancers to perform, but have banished prayer from public life. They have won the right for indigents to take over public spaces, even our children’s libraries, and for the mentally ill to live on streets and shout obscenities at passersby."

- House denies funding for UNFPA, United Nations Population Fund.

- House introduces legislation which would require parental notifications before Title X funded clinics could distribute contraception to minors.

Wow. That's quite a list there. I can't wait until the day we can all sit around and laugh about this and remember it as times gone by. But until then, laugh about it now when you see Burning Bush: A Faith Based Musical. (Sorry.)

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