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

We've spent a lot of time on Katrina this weekend. I appreciate your indulgence. Usually, the media hype associated with one of these kinds of anniversaries is more than I can stomach. But in this instance, unfortunately, the attention is deserved, not merely because of the initial severity of the disaster but because each day the disaster along the Gulf Coast continues to unfold.

Two additional points:

(1) The people of the Mississippi Gulf Coast have suffered greatly, too. I will always remember the chill that ran down my spine late in the day the storm hit when I heard a local describe the storm surge as "worse than Camille." For those who had lived for a generation with Camille as the benchmark against which all hurricanes would forever be measured, the notion of a hurricane worse than Camille was as surreal as watching the Twin Towers collapse.

(2) Had Hurricane Rita hit a more densely populated region, we would speak her name with the same reverence as Katrina's. She was an awesome storm and wiped the landscape clean in Southwest Louisiana at least as thoroughly as Katrina did in the southeast part of the state. The impact on individual lives was no less disastrous for those in Rita's path; the only difference is that there were fewer lives affected.

People often ask why New Orleans has benefitted from so much of the attention given to the Gulf Coast. The cavalier answer is, what benefit exactly? Whether the complaint is New Orleans getting more network TV anchor visits than Mississippi or the Ninth Ward getting more coverage than Lakeview, I have not seen any evidence that this allegedly undue media coverage has made a real difference on the ground. New Orleans has half of its pre-storm population. The Ninth Ward is merely uninhabitable. I wish the problem was as simple as an inequitable allocation of resources.

The real answer to why New Orleans is the focus is twofold.

First and most obvious, significantly more people lived in and around New Orleans than anywhere else affected by the hurricanes of the past two seasons. Naturally that makes New Orleans more newsworthy.

Second, nothing could have been done to prevent the impact of Katrina on Mississippi or of Rita on the Louisiana/Texas border region. But were it not for the failure of the levee system, New Orleans would have survived with a few bumps and bruises. Hundreds of lives, a culture, and a way of life would have been spared. It was preventable. Not only that, decades of toil and treasure had been expended specifically to prevent this precise disaster. American taxpayers were sold on the Cadillac of flood control systems but were delivered a Yugo.

Disasters happen. But what happened to New Orleans is different.

A reminder that TPM continues to provide first-hand accounts from New Orleans at its Katrina blog, After the Levees.

A miscalculation? Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah: "We did not think, even 1 percent, that the capture would lead to a war at this time and of this magnitude. You ask me, if I had known on July 11 ... that the operation would lead to such a war, would I do it? I say no, absolutely not."

Update: From TPM Reader JG: "I read his statement more like a PR maneuver: all the destruction is a result of Israel's unreasonable reaction. He would never, ever have dreamt that the kidnapping might have brought that kind of harm to his poor, beloved Lebanon."

Rumsfeld: "I think the real threat that North Korea poses in the immediate future is more one of proliferation than a danger to South Korea. . . . I don't see them, frankly, as an immediate military threat to South Korea."

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.