Five years after the September 11th terrorist attacks and it seems all too easy to despair. We are at war, which has been grossly misguided and ill-justified at best, and isolated ourselves as a nation on the world stage. And not only is our foreign policy a nightmare, as the events of Hurricane Katrina and Rita displayed, so is our domestic policy. Five years ago, I was in my home town of New York — business as usual — when 2 planes hit the towers. During the first few hours and even the first few days, there seemed a glimmer of hope, of opportunity that perhaps we could turn this tragedy into something better, something stronger, and something positive. The world supported us, there was an unprecedented unity. The series of events that would take place took us in the opposite direction and seemingly far away from any unity. In fact, we are more alone and less secure now.
Looking back now, five years later, and I am deeply saddened at the direction our country has gone in, with a few exceptions, one being a conference I helped to co-organize with the Brookings Institution and Americans for Informed Democracy and held at George Washington University. The conference was aptly titled: 9-11 Plus Five: Hope Not Hate Summit. The Hope Not Hate Summit was a three-day conference in Washington, D.C. that brought together young leaders from around the world to commemorate the fifth anniversary of September 11th and to discuss ways to improve U.S.-Islamic world relations over the next five years. Seeing all those young people so engaged, look for accountability and responsibility, challenging notions and paradigms, and searching for ways to improve our relation with Muslims in America and around the world was incredibly heartening. With young people like those who attended, we may yet be able to change the course we have been taking and pull this country (and those we have damaged) out of a desperate situation: To quote Gandalf, “There is always hope.” And that hope is in our young. We must be careful to nurture and encourage them. Oh, yes, and to be role models (remember “role models,” it seems like a long time since we had real ones). Sorry to cut this short, and sorry for, well, not writing anything too prolific, but it’s been a long day in disaster human services and emergency management. Nice to be back writing….more tomorrow.
I have much to update you on including the Drum Major Institute’s Gala (6/22), Salman Ahmed’s performance (6/26) and a conference I was at last week in DC on emergency management and special needs issues (timely considering we are in hurricane season and I’m not sure what our government has done to prepare for it).
Drum Major Institute Award Gala
I attended the Drum Major Institute’s (DMI) award dinner on June 22 and got to hear Wynton Marsalis give one of the best speeches I have heard in quite some time. I have often lamented to friends and family that we have no leaders left to inspire and move us, but I was proven wrong at the award dinner. Wynton spoke of coming together rather than dividing, of the importance of solving the problem of poverty and race this country faces, and changing the discourse. What I loved and respected the most about his speech was that he did not read from anything, it came from his brilliant mind and shinning heart, and he was unabashedly honest – so powerful, instilling hope.
After the gala, a group of bloggers came together to celebrate Markos’ award and to talk about the underground Internet revolution. It’s been some time since I really felt like I was in my tribe, but indeed I found my fellow bees. It was refreshing and exciting to be sitting in a room of fellow bloggers, innovators, writers, and those truly dedicated to challenging the current state of affairs – let’s not be so isolated and afraid to speak out and know that the more we do the more chance we have of changing the direction we are headed in. I have to admit that it sort of felt like the underground of some sci-fi movie; god forbid we openly admit we are progressives, speaking up about poverty, race, and the miserable Iraq war, lest we be seen as “Un-American” (or commie-bastards as the term once was). We sat, ate, discussed in a basement of the now chic Lotus on 14th street (an area that was once full of prostitutes and drug addicts, now full of Steve McQueen and Stella McCarthy designer boutiques – hey, when did that happen?).
I must give props to my professor, Micah Sifry, who introduced (or more accurately forced me) into blogging for my Writing Politics class and pushed me into “finding my voice,” something I thought I lost for a while. It was great seeing him at the gala and the bloggers committee meeting. So glad he forced me and indeed I have found my voice. Thanks Micah!
When you’ve been beat-down and marginalized, it’s nice to meet people who value what you have to say. Let’s keep the dialogue going for Christ’s sake! There’s too much at stake.
Salman Ahmed at Joe’s Pub
If Rumi were alive and a musician, he might sound like Salman Ahmed (from Junoon) did on June 24th at Joe’s Pub. Seeing Salman perform was everything I anticipated it would be and more. You experience Salman, you don’t just listen to him; his music moves your soul. Conscientious without being preachy, Salman balances his message of peace and unity with fierce and masterful guitar rifts and vocals that sounded like a hundred Mosques at call to prayer. A diverse and friendly crowd, we had a blast. I even pretended to be able to sing in Urdu (thank god the music was loud enough that no one heard!).
Salman ended his set with a version of John Lennon’s Imagine, who Salman proclaimed was a modern day Sufi. A fitting ending given the times we live in. Let’s remember to be moved by the music, the message, and take action to do the right thing. Thanks Salman.
Well, there has been a lot going in DC including the Supreme Court’s scolding of the administration on Guantanamo, but here’s a quick report on my corner of the world. I attended an invitation-only conference, Working Conference on Emergency Management and Individuals with Disabilities and the Elderly, which was sponsored by US Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and run by EAD & Associates. The purpose was:
“[T]o bring together Governor-appointed State teams to connect State emergency management officials with key disability and aging experts to work toward integration of efforts within their jurisdiction’s emergency management framework; to facilitate cooperative planning with senior officials of the Federal Emergency Management Agency regions; and to identify and institute measurable outcomes and systems for tracking results.”
It was actually an intense and highly productive conference because it was outcomes-driven rather than the usual gathering of talking heads who get to massage each other’s egos and spend their per diem. We had a lot of work to accomplish in a short period of time and especially in light of last year’s disaster. Most important to note is that this conference specifically looked at the most vulnerable populations in the US: people with disabilities, the elderly, and otherwise disenfranchised (immigrant, non-English speaking, low income). Although advocates have been screaming for years for these issues to be dealt with, we finally got our forum. Unfortunately it comes off the heels of last year’s debauchery, Hurricane Katrina. As experts, we have the answers and know how to better manage human services issues and needs during and after a disaster and to take care of our vulnerable populations. This conference was completely forward-looking and provided the opportunity for us to push the issues and create solutions. Each state delegate developed key issues and recommendations to bring back to their respective agencies and governors, and each region collectively established consensus, or commonalities, of issues they continue to deal with and need support from the federal government on. An “after action report” (in emergency management lingo) will be written and hopefully fed up the federal food chain. The question then becomes who will listen?
Once the conference website has gone public and the report finalized, I will post both. The findings and recommendations should be interesting.
Hey folks, Happy 4th of July. On a somber note on America’s day, check out Steve Clemon’s blog today on the GI rape and murder case by clicking here. Below is a blog my mother wrote on the same issue.
By Mickey Mincin Op-Ed
The soldiers who committed the atrocities, raping an Iraqi woman and killing her and three members of her family, my guess, never should have been accepted into the military. I have great respect for the military, but I am beginning to wonder if the best and brightest are no longer joining. A lack of numbers has allowed the entrance of men who lack the moral integrity to represent this country in combat. I ask a provocative question: is the military attracting a less desirable membership more suited to mercenaries and less suited to soldiers and warriors. Would a draft cut the number of men and women committing acts of violence against innocent people and open the military to a new pool from which to choose? What about the men and women who choose not to fight? Why not create a military that allows these men and women to serve at our boarders, serve during disasters such as Katrina, and become involved in Habitat for Humanity or any other endeavor that would benefit this country and the world. What a military this would create. It is the responsibility of military leadership to recruit soldiers worthy of the uniform no matter the division of the armed forces. We not only lack the individual responsibility in these instances of violence, but the military lacks the responsibility to reject those with personality “disorders” (Cloud & Semple, New York Times, 7/4/06). Let’s not forget those soldiers who do not commit acts of terrorism and serve with distinction. The few bad apples reflect poorly on everyone: our country, our military, and the world. Perhaps it is the eagerness of recruiters not being prudent, but focusing on getting enough men and women to sign up without discretion. After all, military enrollment is low, support of the war is waning, and we have a Defense Department run by a layman who has never seen battle.
My friend, and Junoon singer and guitarist, Salman Ahmed will be playing to shows at Joe’s Pub Saturday, June 24 at 7:30 and 9:30. Seeing Salman play live is like having a divine, spiritual experience. He is not only an amazing musician; Salman is inspired by Sufism, a beautiful and “mystical” path of Islam, and incorporates it into his music. Junoon has sold over 25 million albums worldwide.
Born in Pakistan, Salman and his wife, Samina, are humanitarians and work tirelessly to promote better understanding between the western and Muslim world, end the spread of AIDS, and work towards peace. Salman is a UN Ambassador for HIV/AIDS.
I’ll report more after the show. For tickets, log onto Joe’s Pub here.
The Drum Major Institute (DMI) will be honoring The Daily Kos’ Markos Moulitsas with the Justice Award during its gala event on June 22, 2006 in New York City. Also being honored are Anna Burger (Change to Win Labor Federation), Wynton Marsalis (renowned jazz musician and activist), and Katrina van den Heuvel (The Nation).
Cheers to all the DMI award winners, but special kudos to Kos because the Internet and blogsphere are changing and reshaping how we get and think about the news, interpret policy, and take our mainstream media and politicians to task.
There is still the seemingly impenetrable air that we can’t change the way things are – but of course we can. Somehow we ended up in this sad state of affairs, which means we can change the direction we are going in. To quote Marsalis (from DMI Blog):
“Look around the room… and I want you all to understand that there are forces all around you who wish to exploit division, rob you of your freedom, and tell you what to think. They are afraid of change… some of these forces are even within you. But I'm here to tell you, when young folks are motivated to action, when they act with insight, soul and fire, they can rekindle the weary spirit of a slumbering nation. It's time somebody woke us up.”
We need these leaders and more. I’m glad to be back blogging, to be a part of the movement, and to attend the event and join my fellow bloggers and activists to make change. To check out the DMI benefit event, click here.
The Drum Major Institute for Public Policy is a non-partisan, non-profit organization dedicated to challenging the tired orthodoxies of both the right and the left. The goal: progressive public policy for social and economic fairness. DMI's approach is unwavering: We do not issue reports to see our name in print or hold forums for the sake of mere talk. We seek to change policy by conducting research into overlooked, but important social and economic issues, by leveraging our strategic relationships to engage policymakers and opinion leaders in our work, and by offering platforms to amplify the ideas of those who are working for social and economic fairness.
(Posted May 9, 2006) The General Accountability Office (GAO) released a report today on its analysis of and recommendations for strengthening FEMA after last years tragedy. The report, FEMA: Factors for Future Success and Issues to Consider for Organizational Placement, outlines suggested changes for FEMA aside from simply abolishing it or separating it out from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The GAO states that the following should be looked at rather than just organizational changes:
- Clarity of FEMA's mission and its related responsibilities and authorities
- The experience of and training related to, FEMA leadership
- The adequacy of its human, financial, and technological resources
- The effectiveness of its planning, exercises and related partnerships
Essentially, the GAO is suggesting that we look at the substantive issues presented as a result of FEMA's performance during Hurricane Katrina, and not the reactive, political, or superficial "fixes" presented by the administration or elected officials. The report states that organizational changes alone will not fix FEMA, but rather, clarifying its mission, strengthening its leadership, increasing its preparedness and response capabilities, and clear resources identified will better move the agency forward. What I find particularly interesting about the GAO report is its emphasis on well trained, cohesive, strong, and effective leadership. In addition, it is the first report I have seen (from government) that actually addresses where the breakdowns happened during FEMA's response and offers reasonable and implementable changes. And a bonus is that the report is 22 pages!
Homeland Security Watch also reported on the GAO findings and felt similar to how I feel about it:
I made a similar point in a post last week, and agree entirely that the issue of organizational structure is secondary. Hopefully the current debate in Congress will not get bogged down on organizational issues, but will instead focus on the less-visible but more important determinants of FEMA’s success.
Indeed, hopefully Congress will listen to the common sense report issued today and not let politics or reactionary ideas rule the day.
Pogoblog posted a quick piece today on the Brent Wilkes and Cunningham scandal. Just another string along the corruption link, only this one doesn’t just include greasing palms, it apparently includes women-for-hire. And this story seems to not be of interest to many media outlets, but I am outraged by it. Here’s what Pogo had to say:
"Here are a few more details related to Shirlington Limo and Transportation Services–Brent Wilkes' alleged carrier of choice for hookers and congressmen to his hospitality suites at the Watergate and other fine DC hotels–we think should be brought to your attention.
In a late update to an earlier post that we had missed until now, Laura Rozen has an anonymous source that tells her that "Chris Baker of Shirlington Limo was Wilkes' driver from way back when…. he would pick up documents and stuff around town for Wilkes." (ellipses in the original) This answers one question we had: How did Wilkes come to pick Shirlington as his limo service? However, we still wonder how the two originally met "way back when."
Secondly, and bear with us for a moment, Jerome Foster, a former Shirlington director, is a San Diego-area contractor whose Pentech Energy Services employed the services of former Congressman-turned lobbyist Bill Lowery's lobby shop (hat tip: Josh Marshall). Lowery has also lobbied extensively for Wilkes' company ADCS, Inc. And Lowery is joined to the hip with Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA), who chaired until last year the same House defense appropriations committee that the disgraced Rep. "Duke" Cunningham sat on and from which he directed his earmarks. Now Lewis chairs the full appropriations committee. Lewis and Lowery have turned the defense appropriations subcommittee into an earmarking machine for Lowery's clients who have benefitted from their close relationship. Uncovered in a seminal San Diego Union Tribune piece on L'Affaire Cunningham, back in the 80's, Lowery and Wilkes went on trips to Central America to visit the likes of the Contras and CIA officer and Wilkes' childhood friend K. Dusty Foggo. Wilkes has also contributed heavily to Lewis.
Small world ain't it.
It seems that the corruption scandals in DC continue to get more complicated and more repulsive. The San Diego Union Tribune article mentioned above uncovered millions of dollars wasted on useless Defense contracts. And who really suffered from the waste? Our soldiers because funding for healthcare, training exercises, and machinery maintenance were cut so that the contracts could be given. What were the contracts used for? $20 million for a “document conversion system.” Reportedly, we have service men and women living on foodstamps, but some of our elected politician are having their yachts paid for. If only Bartlet and Vinick were real.
Anyone who has been following the rhetoric coming out of Iran and the US is aware that buttons are being pushed on both sides. And both sides know how to push buttons really well. It’s kind of like that annoying sibling who won’t go away, except much more is at stake; it’s not as simple as being grounded if you hit your sibling. The topic of course is nuclear power: who owns it, which country “deserves” to have nuclear power, to have the privilege to be in control of this awesome force.
Clearly I am not an Iranian expert, but am reacting to all the political rhetoric as a plain old citizen. I know I have been giving many props to my friend Steve Clemons in my postings, but quite honestly, his analysis, expertise and inside knowledge have made his posts pithy and poignant and important to read (click on www.thewashingtonnote.com for more info).
As a plain old citizen, I find this frightening. Whether reading Clemon’s analysis or watching the Iranian Ambassador on C-Span, it makes me realize that there is a lot of misinformation on both sides of the fence, and there is nothing more dangerous than a combination of button-pushing, egos, misinformation and misinterpretation.
If Bush were a true leader, he would attempt to pull all countries together to find a solution for the sharing and safe development of nuclear energy as well as other environmentally friendly energy sources. This includes Iran as well as all western and eastern countries. But, oh yeah, Bush refused to even sign the Kyoto Protocol. This approach would not only serve to quell the ridiculous and dangerous rhetoric, but also promote world peace by working together. In kindergarten, we hopefully learned how to share, be a team, find resolution to problems, and learn about each other. Obviously, these leaders have not learned these simple and most humane lessons.
Are We Heading Towards WWIII? A friend recently called me about a possible position in New Zealand. If all else fails, it’s the Shire for my family and me. (By the way, New Zealand is a nuclear-free country.)
As Zimbabwe undergoes an economic crisis, the people of Darfur continue to suffer in spades. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) runs refugee camps on the Darfur -Chad boarder. George Clooney and his father recently visited some of the camps (like or dislike Clooney, he and his father are at least trying to bring this issue to the forefront). You can view their online diary by clicking on the following website: http://www.theirc.org/where/page.jsp?itemID=28857977
The New York Times reported today that in Zimbabwe, inflation has gone up 900%. According to the New York Times article (5/2/06) How Bad is Inflation in Zimbabwe?, Michael Wines reports the following:
“Well, consider this: at a supermarket near the center of this tatterdemalion capital, toilet paper costs $417. No, not per roll. Four hundred seventeen Zimbabwean dollars is the value of a single two-ply sheet. A roll costs $145,750 – in American currency, about 69 cents.”
With the Zimbabwe government on the brink of economic collapse, survival items are quickly turning into luxury items. The government’s answer, as reported by VOA News (found on ZWNews.com), is to print 600 trillion Zimbabwe dollars to help pay for military and civil employees. In addition, military leaders are now in charge of much of economic policy making.
The country is seemingly spinning out of control as the government tightens its reigns, which perhaps is not the best policy but more of a reaction to the loss of control. For more coverage on the situation in Zimbabwe, click to The Zimbabwe Situation, an online clearinghouse for news and information: http://www.zimbabwesituation.com/ http://www.zimbabwesituation.com/
- Five Years Later….And There’s Hope
- Ready.gov Not Quite Ready
- DMI, Salman Ahmed (if Rumi were a musician), and What’s Happening in DC
- An Observation of Responsibility and Accountability in the Military
- NARAL Meeting July 12
- Junoon Front Man Salman Ahmed to Play at Joe’s Pub
- Drum Major Institute to Honor Kos, Marsalis, Burger, Heuvel
- Slowly Surfacing
- I May Disappear For A Few Days
- Saving FEMA
- Could There Be Common Sense in Our Government?
- Wake Up Part II
- Micah Sifry
- The Washington Note
- Bush v. Choice
- Taqrir – US -Muslim Weekly News
- EAD & Associates
- The Sunlight Foundation
- National Organization on Disability
- Cyber Chocolate
- David Kos
- Ridor Live
- MS Friends
- Feminist Bloghers Network
- Culture Kitchen
- Homeland Security Watch
- Drum Major Institute Blog
- Capitol Hill Blog
- Non-profit/DC Watch
- The Agonist
- Huffington Post