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

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.

Shift change. Matt Yglesias is back over at the Cafe. I'll be guest-hosting this weekend for Josh. You can email me at tpmguesthost (at) hotmail.com. More soon . . .

An investigation is underway in Britain into whether the Blair government's cooperation with U.S. spying on international banking transactions violated British and European law, The Guardian reports.

Pat Buchanan coughs up another xenophobic hairball, while anti-immigration counter-demonstraters in Riverside, N.J., show their true colors:

Opponents of a local law cracking down on illegal immigrants clashed on Sunday with residents chanting "go home" as both sides proclaimed their loyalty to the United States.

An estimated 300 to 400 people gathered outside the town hall to protest a recently passed ordinance that bans hiring or renting to illegal immigrants, who are accused of overburdening local services such as schools and hospitals without paying taxes.

The protesters, representing the largely Brazilian immigrant community of Riverside, were heckled by about 500 counter-demonstrators kept at bay by police on the other side of the town's main intersection.

As immigration supporters accused the town's council of racism, opponents chanted "USA, USA" and waved placards saying "Scram" and "Stop Illegal Immigration." A passing pickup truck drew loud cheers by flying a Confederate flag with the motto "The South Will Rise Again."

I like that last part. The South will rise again--in New Jersey?

Update: Apparently there was a secret pact between New Jersey and the Confederacy heretofore unknown to historians. More here.

Reader MF takes the same view as many TPM readers do (albeit more politely than some):

Sorry but with your and Atrios' blog battle over Joe Momentum the real issue is being missed.

This is now an issue about the basis of the Democratic Party - if Lieberman gets re-elected as a Independent after loosing a Democratic Party primary and the Dems in the Senate welcome him back into their caucus like nothing has happened our Party is dead. The Dems in Washington will have said that the wishes of the States don't matter and will be ignored when its handy and that there are 2 Parties, the one that lives in the States and the one in Washington and on this and all things Washington rules. Sometimes there are things that are more important than a majority. It doesn't matter if he's needed to get the 51 votes or not Lieberman has to be forced out of the Party.

If there is no Party discipline there is no Party - if there aren't rules and regulations there isn't a Party.

This whole mess is more important than Lieberman, the Dems in the Senate, and the nutmeg State.

Putting self above party at the expense of party should have consequences. But at what cost? I part ways with those wanting to enforce party discipline even as they admit it might cost Dems a Senate majority. As I have said before, a Democratic Senate with Lieberman in it far surpasses a GOP Senate without Lieberman.

Practical question: If the concern is that Lieberman is going to drive up GOP turnout in Connecticut, thereby hurting Democratic congressional candidates, is casting the Lamont-Lieberman race as a crucial battle between the forces of darkness and light the best way to dampen Republican turnout?