David Kurtz

David Kurtz is Managing Editor and Washington Bureau Chief of Talking Points Memo where he oversees the news operations of TPM and its sister sites.

Articles by David

More bigotry from our enlightened Republican friends. This time it is Steve Laffey, candidate for U.S. Senator from Rhode Island, whose white sheet is showing, in columns he penned while in college in the early 1980s:

In one column, Laffey said he has never seen a happy homosexual.

"This is not to say there aren't any; I simply haven't seen one in my lifetime. Maybe they are all in the closet," he wrote. "All the homosexuals I've seen are sickly and decrepit, their eyes devoid of life."

In another column he wrote that pop music was turning the children of America into sissies, and criticized the singer Boy George, referring to him as "it."

"It wears girl's clothes and puts on makeup," he wrote. "When I hear it sing, 'Do you really want to hurt me, do you really want to make me cry,' I say to myself, YES, I want to punch your lights out, pal, and break your ribs."

Laffey called the writings "sophomoric political satire" and said they do not represent his views.

"Not now, nor then, or ever," he said. "Do I regret some of these things? Sure. But at the time, we were just having fun. We thought it was funny."

Funny as in "Ha, ha"?

You know it's bad when even the muckrakers start feeling a little sorry for Katherine Harris.

On the one hand, Israel wants sufficient international aid flowing to the Lebanese government to prevent Hezbollah from further cememting the loyalties of the population in southern Lebanon throgh public works projects and social services. On the other hand, Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA) wants to block all U.S. aid to the Lebanese government until it agrees to allow the international peace-keeping force to be deployed along the Lebanon-Syria border. Something is going to have to give.

Quite a number of readers have emailed in on the "refugee" question. Some have noted that the proper term in the international relief community is "internally displaced person," which is correct, but such a bureaucratic butchering of the langauge that I can't bring myself to use it.

From TPM reader LB:

As a New Orleans resident I'd like to comment on two recent posts.

First of all, I second the 'refugee' label defense. Huge sections of the city still look like they have been bombed. If we get called refugees do we get a Marshall plan?

Secondly, I think your friend SC's emphasis on effect of this on the underclass of the city is in danger of leading people away from a very important point. 80% of the city was destroyed. This includes huge sections of New Orleans East and Lakeview, home to middle/upper middle class families of all shapes, sizes and colors. Our tax base, if you want to be mercenary about it.

I drove through a few sections of Lakeview yesterday, for the first time in a long time, and they look much the same as the Lower Ninth. Recovery is spotty at best. Huge, huge areas are still utterly destroyed. The infrastructure is shattered. The 'planning' process would be a joke if it existed. I point out these places for a couple of reasons:

1) if places like The East and Lakeview cannot recover, neither can the city; 2) These are the places that huge portions of the US would have recognized as looking/feeling/being exactly like the places they live. And I would like them all to understand that they, too are in danger. Hurricane/Earthquake/Terrorist Attack/Structural Failure of some dam - our government appears to have neither the ability nor the national will to help them if disaster strikes.

LB's larger point here is a good one: the race and class issues manifested in the Katrina disaster (but omnipresent across the country) should not obscure the fact that the storm and the frightfully inept response to it has adversely affected people of all races, creeds, colors, and economic backgrounds. Maybe on a practical level (or cynical, take your pick), this point must be driven home to keep the public's attention on the issue of disaster preparedness.

At the same time, it is critical, in my view, that we acknowledge and address the fact that the poor and black were disproportionately affected by the storm. The reasons for that are both simple (the storm hit a region heavily populated by African Americans) and complex (racial and socioeconomic prejudice).

The reality is that we are faced with two distinct yet interrelated problems. Fixing our disaster relief and preparedness systems will not address, let alone fix, our racial and economic problems.

Michael Isikoff's new book, co-authored with David Corn, has some tantalizing new details on the role of Richard Armitage in the Plame leak:

In the early morning of Oct. 1, 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell received an urgent phone call from his No. 2 at the State Department. Richard Armitage was clearly agitated. As recounted in a new book, Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War, Armitage had been at home reading the newspaper and had come across a column by journalist Robert Novak. Months earlier, Novak had caused a huge stir when he revealed that Valerie Plame, wife of Iraq-war critic Joseph Wilson, was a CIA officer. Ever since, Washington had been trying to find out who leaked the information to Novak. The columnist himself had kept quiet. But now, in a second column, Novak provided a tantalizing clue: his primary source, he wrote, was a "senior administration official" who was "not a partisan gunslinger." Armitage was shaken. After reading the column, he knew immediately who the leaker was. On the phone with Powell that morning, Armitage was "in deep distress," says a source directly familiar with the conversation who asked not to be identified because of legal sensitivities. "I'm sure he's talking about me."

Not everyone is buying Armitage's version of events, and I'm not sure I do either. "I'd start with the odd claim that Armitage didn't realize his apparently crucial role until reading Novak's October 1, 2003 column." Swopa says.

From TPM Reader SW:

Hi, just wanted to chime in on the objection that reader DW had to the word refugee in reference to Katrina victims. I don't know if DW was affected by Katrina, and if so please excuse the following rant.

I was living in Thibodaux, Louisiana, an hour southwest of New Orleans, as Katrina was approaching. We did have the means to evacuate and left Sunday morning when Katrina became a category 5 storm, and stayed with some distant family in Texas. Thibodaux was surprisingly undamaged, and so we were able to return a week later.

But as someone who did evacuate with Katrina, and as someone who lived in New Orleans proper for five years shortly before, "refugees" is precisely the right word. In fact, I think it is the only possible word to describe the situation. I find it in no way insulting to the people who, a year later, still do not know if they will ever be able to return to their homes and rebuild their neighbourhoods.

I can understand that other people around the country find the word uncomfortable. This is America, and "refugee" problems are just not something that happens here. Except that it does happen. It is happening. Unless DW is from the Gulf Coast that was affected by either Katrina or Rita (in which case I apologize to him), I find it very distasteful for him to try and pass off his discomfort at the reality of the continuing situation in the New Orleans area, southern Mississippi, and southwest Louisiana as some sort of paternalistic effort to defend the dignity of those effected.

Refugee does have a negative connotation. As DW said, not a perjorative one, but a negative one. It is a situation that we, as American, always have a desire to help with -- even if it is just a vague "those poor people" sort of desire. But there are tens of thousands -- or more -- displaced and dispossessed people within our own country, and a major and unique American city that is still literally struggling to survive. The promised federal aid appears to be coming haltingly, if at all, and many of the plans for rebuilding are (I believe) still tied up in Corps of Engineer red tape.

I hope the word "refugee" makes everyone else in America uncomfortable. I think it is the only possible word that might wake people up -- the citizens, the media, and hopefully through them maybe a couple of elected officials -- and make them realize that Katrina and Rita are still an ongoing crisis a year after the wind and rain stopped.

I used the word "refugees" in an earlier post to describe those who were dispaced by Katrina. TPM Reader DW objects:

That word is insulting to the American citizens who fled their homes to seek safety. I understand that it is technically the correct word, but it carries negative connotation. I also know that your intention is not to be pejorative. But still...

I am aware of that concern, which was raised frequently in the weeks following Katrina. The "negative connotation" that DW and others refer to is that "refugee" suggests second-class citizenship. In so far as many of those displaced by the storm were poor and African American, the specter of enjoying something less than full citizenship is very real.

But, as DW concedes, "refugees" is technically correct. No other word as succinctly and dramatically conveys the plight of those forced out of their homes by Katrina. The word should not be insulting to those to whom it is applied. Rather, the continued refugee status of many storm victims a year later should be an affront to all Americans.

Commenting on Katrina recovery Saturday in his weekly radio address, the President sounded as if he were reading from one of his Iraq speeches by mistake: "We will stay until the job is done." Well, it's not as if the federal government can hightail it out of Louisiana or Mississippi. Where would it go exactly?

The further implication of the President's remarks is that the federal government was not present before Katrina struck, an absurd and offensive suggestion. New Orleans would not have existed as a modern city if not for the Army Corps of Engineers. The President would have us believe that the federal government came to the rescue after this natural disaster, albeit a bit late. In fact, the Corps and decades of federal flood control policy played a pivotal role in what was a manmade disaster in New Orleans--the failure of the levee system. (No one has done a better job of banging this drum than Harry Shearer, the actor, comedian, author, media critic, and sometime journalist.)

The New York Times published a fascinating graphic this past week showing, based on change of address forms submitted to the U.S. Postal Service, where Katrina evacuees have re-settled. Places like Baton Rouge, Houston, and Atlanta have borne the brunt of the exodus, but, as the NYT graphic shows, the impact has been felt in communities large and small from coast to coast.

Some of these former Gulf Coast residents will settle permanently elsewhere, but many are merely waiting for the right time to return, like TPM Reader PP, who checked in with TPM today:

Just moved back into my house in the Broadmoor section of NOLA last week after a year of exile. I've spent this morning scrubbing off the bathtub ring around my house - hot but immensely satisfying work.

No shame in that.

I have a friend, TPM Reader SC, who was is a former resident of New Orleans now living in Georgia. She lost her job, her apartment, and her cat to Katrina and the catastrophe that followed. I asked her what she most wanted people to understand about Katrina and its aftermath that they don't understand now:

What to say about Katrina and the aftermath? I find I have a hard time saying anything, and I hope that doesn't sound overly dramatic.

I don't say much, because I just feel weighed down when I try, but I dream about it a lot. Every night so far this week, in fact. What I dream about is not my house or my job or anything like that, although my cat does show up sometimes because that guilt is alive and well. (And I really do miss that annoying little bastard.) I dream that I am leaving people.

You know, I really do have good memories of the Superdome and the convention center, almost all of them from college. Tulane football games down at the Dome; walking down the aisle of the convention center to get my diploma. But I don't understand how anyone can look at either of those two places ever again and not be shattered by the absolute abandonment of the poor by their government in the days after Katrina. Heck, who can look at the entire city and not think about that?

But I feel like the knowledge of that is slipping away somehow. I feel like people think oh, that's just in New Orleans, you know, that crazy banana republic down South. But you rip the lid off any major urban setting in this country the way the lid was ripped off N.O., and I think you get the same thing. But we aren't really talking about that. I think that Katrina proved that America has absolutely abandoned its underclass. We don't like poor people. And that serves up a big dollop of shame to go with my sorrow.

Yes, New Orleans was built in a f------up way in a f------up place. And yes, the local and state govt has done nothing at this point to get things -- anything -- going again. And yes, we need to knock some Corps of Engineers heads because of the levee situation. And yes, the insurance companies are screwing OLD PEOPLE every which way they can to get out of paying. And yes, Nagin is a jackass and Bush is a nincompoop.

I'm not saying we shouldn't talk about any of that. But sweet Jesus, how are we not talking about poverty and class? I can't watch that footage, I really can't. It tears me up.

I think individual Americans responded with amazing generosity after the storm; I think as an aggregate, though, we suck. Because, so far, we've been unwilling to look in the mirror of New Orleans and see what we have allowed to happen.

I hate this stupid anniversary.

Remember the "we'll stand down as they stand up" strategy? It needs some work:

Iraqis looted a military base vacated by British troops and stripped it of virtually everything removable on Friday, an indication of possible future trouble for U.S.-led coalition forces hoping to hand over security gradually to the Iraqi government.

Men, some with their faces covered, ripped corrugated metal from roofs, carried off metal pipes and backed trucks into building entrances to load them with wooden planks. Many also took away doors and window frames from Camp Abu Naji.

"The British forces left Abu Naji and the locals started looting everything," 1st Lt. Rifaat Taha Yaseen of the Iraqi Army's 10th Division told Associated Press Television News. "They took everything from the buildings."

The plundering was likely to embarrass the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has said that Iraqi army and police plan to take over security for all of Iraq's provinces within the next 18 months.

Maybe the most troubling part of this incident is that the base in question is located in southern Iraq, which used to be considered relatively stable. Relatively.

While the anniversary of Katrina's final landfall is not until Tuesday, the storm memories harbored by many survivors and refugees begin on this Friday night a year ago.

Those who were prudent and cautious by nature had started paying attention to the storm--really paying attention--earlier in the day. They had evacuated once already that summer, for Dennis, and the year before for Ivan, both of which hit the Florida panhandle. The Mississippi and Louisiana coasts were largely spared by those two earlier storms, and many residents there were perhaps reluctant to pack up again. The only thing more tedious than evacuating for a hurricane is evacuating for a hurricane that ends up striking somewhere else.

But if you had ever experienced the traffic jams during a hurricane evacuation, especially leaving the cities along the Gulf Coast, then you knew that you better get out while the getting was good. And Friday night, the getting was still good.

Traffic was a little heavier than usual, but drive times were about normal. Gas was available. Weather conditions were good. If you wanted to avoid the chaos that the weekend might bring, you went home from work, packed the car, and headed out before dark. If you had the means to do so. If you had someplace to go.