(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.
(This Blog Posted May 8, 2006) – The May 7, 2006 New York Times Magazine had a terrifying front-page article on contraception, a woman’s right to choose, and the social conservative right who are hell-bent on controlling women’s bodies and our lives. The article, The War on Contraception by Russell Shorto, is a loud wake up call.
The article focused on the switch from making abortions illegal (which has been happening since Roe was passed; 52 state laws have been passed restricting abortion last year alone) to making contraception inaccessible. The conservative Christian right not only see contraception as a type of aborifacient, but also it promotes a culture of promiscuity. According to the article:
Organizations like the Christian Medical and Dental Association, which inject a mixture of religion and medicine into the social sphere, operate from a broadly Christian perspective that includes opposition to some forms of birth control. Edward R. Martin, Jr., a lawyer for the public-interest law firm Americans United for Life, whose work includes seeking to restrict abortion at the state level and representing pharmacists who have refused to prescribe emergency contraception, told me: “We see contraception and abortion as part of a mind-set that’s worrisome in terms of respecting life. If you’re trying to build a culture of life, then you have to start from the very beginning of life, from conception, and you have to include how we think and act with regard to sexuality and contraception.” Dr. Joseph B. Stanford, who was appointed by President Bush to the FDA’s Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Committee despite (or perhaps because of) his opposition to contraception, sounded not a little like Daniel Defoe in a 1999 essay he wrote: “Sexual Union in marriage ought to be a complete giving of each spouse to the other, and when fertility (or potential fertility) is deliberately excluded from that giving I am convinced that something valuable is lost. A husband will sometimes begin to see his wife as an object of sexual pleasure who should always be available for gratification.”
You may laugh off these comments, perhaps chalk it off to the “crazy conservative right,” but these people are in powerful decision-making positions. The FDA postponed the approval of a widely accepted and safe pill for over the counter purposes, the morning after pill.
The article goes on to say:
It may be news to many people that contraception as a matter of right and public health is no longer a given, but politicians and those in the public health profession know it well. “The linking of abortion and contraception is indicative of a larger agenda, which is putting sex back into the box, as something that happens only within marriage,” says William Smith, vice president for public policy for the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. Siecus has been around since 1964, and as a group that supports abortion rights, it’s natural enemies with organizations on the right, but its mission has changed in recent years, from doing things like promoting condoms as a way to combat AIDS, to, now, fighting to maintain the very idea of birth control as a social good.
Not only are our rights as adult citizens in the country being infringed upon (yes folks, this “culture war” is real), our children are at risk as well. With abstinence-only education seeing millions of dollars funneled its way, our teenagers are being denied comprehensive reproductive healthcare education, important and life-saving information on contraception, and the responsibility that goes along with sex as well as receiving information from the abstinence-only curriculum that is flat out wrong (like condoms fail 31% of the time – a total lie). It is a well-known fact that offering comprehensive sex education to teenagers not only increases their chances of preventing life-threatening diseases, they actually postpone having sex.
I have been mulling this article over all-day and talking to friends and family about it. To my amazement, most people responded by saying, “Oh, they can’t make contraception illegal, don’t worry.” 20 years ago, the thought was Roe could never be overturned. Maybe Roe won’t be overturned. But at this rate it does not have to be. States continue to restrict abortion (see my April blog), why not make contraception inaccessible? Or abstinence education the only reproductive health education?
On CultureKitchen blog, Liza submitted a post about the UN’s update on the status of women. We aren’t doing too well worldwide and the US has yet to support anti-abuse laws for women and children. I suppose it’s hard to fight for the rights of women in other countries when we are still struggling here. I am not comparing oppression of women in other countries, like Saudi Arabia where women are not allowed to drive, to the struggles we have here. The point is we must protect our rights now before we start slipping back. We should be fighting for women’s rights all around the world, but we must fight for our rights here too.
Whether you believe it is a political strategy of the right to continue to create the “culture war” because of the Iraq debauchery or to keep our mind off of the scandals and insurmountable debt, it doesn’t matter. The outcome will be that government will be regulating our behavior behind closed doors. I don’t know about you, but I’d like to keep my relationship with my husband between us. I’d prefer if the government, or other religious organizations of which I am not a member, stay out of my personal life – especially the choices my husband and me make about our relationship and our family. Can you imagine the government making contraception so inaccessible that it is essentially dictating to you when to procreate? And all this based on one religious belief. It seems inconceivable, but don’t be fooled. Or it will be too late (I’ve said this before).
BushvChoice blog also covered the NYT article. The blog states: “Yeah, I know, a real shocker. Pro-choice activists have been pointing this out for a while, but it seems that a lot of folks still don’t understand that even our right to contraception is at risk.” I couldn’t agree more.
I was just asked to be on the board of a really great and worthy disability organization,Vision Works Foundation Inc, to assist with its formation and the launch of its first initiative MS Friends, which is dedicated to helping and empowering people with multiple sclerosis (MS). The organization also provides support to friends and family of people living with MS. MS Friends’ mission is to:
[I]mprove the quality of life for people with Multiple Sclerosis, for their families and friends. MS effects all ages and races. Over 1.5 million people and their families in the US are affected by MS.
MS Friends helps people with MS who are isolated become a part of the larger MS community as well as learn how to better manage and deal with their disease. With MS, it is important to know the symptoms of the disease and medical options and to be aggressive with treating and managing it.
MS Friends, a partner of the National MS Society, will be going through transitions in the coming months to increase its reach into the MS community as well as to better educate the public. I am thrilled to be able to be a part of this transformation and growth, both personally and professionally. I hope to be able to share my background in non-profit, management and disability issues to help move the organization forward. As a person with a disability and a disability advocate, I am honored.
Amelia Davis, a person with MS and extremely talented photographer, recently published a book, My Story, that profiles people with MS, their struggles and successes and coming terms with their disease. Her book is moving and the photographs are beautiful. Amelia Davis is the president of MS Friends and quite an extraordinary woman and a true inspiration because she has learned how to live with MS and not let MS control her life. Here are a few facts about MS (from the National MS Society):
- MS is a chronic, unpredictable neurological disease that affects the central nervous system.
- MS is not contagious and is not directly inherited.
- Most people with MS have a normal or near-normal life expectancy.
- The majority of people with MS do not become severely disabled.
- There is no cure for MS yet, but drugs can help slow the course and/or symptoms in some patients.
To learn more about MS, click here.
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.
Ok folks, I have not yet mastered the art of the time stamp and some of my posts have the wrong date and time. Please bear with me through my technical difficulties.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has been off to such a great start, in part because of its leadership. Let's consider its (partial) track record (I invite readers to add to my list):
- Largest and most lethargic bureaucratic agency ever created
- Agencies that should not have been folded into DHS were
- Individuals were named into prominent leadership positions that lacked the background and skills
- Katrina and Rita (need I even say more)
- Changing FEMA much to the detriment of the agency – and now they want to dismantle it!
- Lots of resignation and the inability to hire good solid professionals
- And now the CIA director is stepping down
This is hard for me because (at least with FEMA) emergency management professionals know what they are doing and how to do their jobs. But where there is no meaningful leadership and political buy-in, it makes it impossible for staff to perform.
Clark Kent Ervin, a former DHS Inspector General (and incidentally a conservative) has just came out with a new book outlining the departments quagmire – and it’s coming from the top. Ervin’s book, Open Target, discusses in-depth, how he attempted to tell former Secretary Tom Ridge that there were serious problems within DHS and lack of leadership in pushing implementation of critical programs and fixing problems. Of course, he was dismissed.
And that includes FEMA. At the start of the administration, and before 9/11, the President was going to start to implement some changes in FEMA, but then 9/11 happened and things changed suddenly. DHS was formed as a political reaction not entirely thought out. FEMA suffered immensely, but so did the other agencies. Amidst the changes and transitions, the wrong people were placed in leadership positions. Not because there was something necessarily “wrong” with the political appointees (I met Brown once, he’s a nice guy), but because they didn’t have the necessary background to run these CRITICAL agencies. And they are critical agencies.
I know I blew some steam in my previous posting about dismantling FEMA, but it’s because we are still witnessing our politicians reacting and shooting from the hip instead of fixing the problem: create a culture of information sharing, have the necessary and most-technologically advance technology available, give political and financial priority to the agencies, place proper and knowledgeable leadership in positions of authority and senior management, work on mending the sorely bruised work-place environment and culture.
The Pogoblog (Project On Government Oversight) conducted an interview with Ervin, who is now working at the Aspen Institute. Also, John Stewart recently had him on his show. Check out the streaming media. (PS – Stewart also had a great interview with Madame Secretary Madeleine Albright!).
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/
Several cities saw great numbers today in support of better immigration policies, including Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Denver, Chicago, and New York. In addition to the protests, people were urged to close their business, or not go to work, in a show of solidarity. Personally, the only store I noticed closed today was my favorite pizzaria, but I’m not sure if they were closed because of the protests or because they are simply closed on Mondays. Although, the abandoning work idea seemed a bit thin, the protests attracted a lot of people.
In Darfur, it is estimated that over 200,000 people have been killed and 2 million are living in refugee camps. The House and Senate have approved billions of dollars in aid to Sudan as well as pushing peacekeeping missions. Protesters gathered at the National Mall to make it clear that not enough is being done to stop the genocide. For a full report, log onto PBS’s Online Newshour report: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/africa/darfur/rally.html
I must say, I am glad that Americans are taking to the streets, peacefully, and letting their voices be heard, especially around issues as varied as immigration and Darfur. So, when will we take to the streets about the Iraqi war, impending situation in Iran, and the corruption in the administration? Let's keep our voices heard for our country and for the world.
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- DMI, Salman Ahmed (if Rumi were a musician), and What’s Happening in DC
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- NARAL Meeting July 12
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- 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