Saturday, December 17


My usual tradition on this blog is, I don't comment on stories so pervasive in the media that my readers will be otherwise exposed to them unless I have a unique perspective or personal passion to do so.

I was sure this was the case with the McCain torture amendment, but I am now otherwise persuaded. Having heard on the radio that the McCain amendment, which hinges on the guidance of the Army Field Manual, was being undermined by revisions in that same manual, I assumed that the whole world would shortly know that fact. Unfortunately, I have seen little or next to nothing in the MSM about it.

The Bush-McCain compromise changes very little. The interrogation practices banned are limited to those not authorized by the United States Army Field Manual on Intelligence Interrogation, which can be-is being-revised. The New York Times reported on Wednesday that the Army has approved a 10-page secret addendum to the Army field manual, a move that one Pentagon official described as "a stick in McCain's eye." McCain's chief of staff minced no words in describing the move as "politically obtuse" and undertaken without "one molecule of political due diligence."

So now you know.

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Okay, I've pontificated on this bogus "war on Christmas" issue enough. But I've noticed that several liberal bloggers that I visit have related how their own families celebrate the season, so I'll weigh in.

I love to cook for holiday gatherings of the fam. And since The Sage and I have five offspring, the fam is quite large. This year we'll be welcoming the in-laws of our brood as well as a few solitary friends, so the head count will approach 25. And, since we have two daughters (of our three girls and two sons) who have converted to Judaism (The Sage and I are, to our new readers, devoted Christians), we will be cognizant of their sensibilities.

Well. We're planning a huge feed, we'll attend Christmas Eve services, the house is decorated to the hilt both inside and out (yes, we have a Christmas tree and a star of Bethlehem adorns our garage, but we also have a menorah in the living room window). As I often tell my girls, Jesus was a Jew, and Santa Claus could just as well be called Sol Clausewitz, since he is referred to by many names in other nations.

The way I figure it is, the season is an opportunity for family, love and unity. We will not forego our tradition of reading from the book of Luke in the Bible about the birth of Christ, but we will also be respectful of our girls' sentiments. It's not hard -- I don't know why Bill O'Reilly and Jerry Falwell have a problem with that. In Texas, we just hope and dream for cold weather (dare I hope for snow?) so that Christmas is set apart. We, like most of the southern United States, are enamored of the Irving Berling "White Christmas" myth, but I can't remember the last time it actually happened.

So we'll eat, and worship, exchange gifts, play games, take a nap, and it will be wonderful. How about you?


In the few unfocused moments I've had over the past week while sitting in a dark room editing video, I've been thinking about the GWOT (Bush's raison d'etre, the Global War On Terror). In this "greatest nation on God's green earth" (Michael Medved's closing tag to his radio show), we've been in a battle between preserving our civil liberties and the necessity of preventing another attack of the 9/11 sort. But the other day I had a random thought -- just how great is the terrorist threat, anyway? Yes, we lost several thousand innocent American lives on 9/11, and that was a tragedy and the cause of a national trauma. But WHY was it a national trauma, since we lose 17,000 every year to drunk driving?

Why didn't we hear about the NSA tapping into white-supremacy groups' telephone calls after the Oklahoma City bombing? Why isn't domestic terrorism considered on a par with foreign terrorist threats? Why aren't the perils of drunk driving a high priority of this administration, why are we considering writing off one of our signature cities, New Orleans, as a casualty of nature because it would cost too much to reconstruct but are intent on reconstructing a foreign country, Iraq?

I'm old enough to have lived through the antics of the Weather Underground, the Baider-Meinhof group, the PLO and other threats to civilians here and abroad. And I just can't take seriously this whole GWOT thing. There are always going to be bad people, or bad causes, that we have to deal with. But to subvert our laws, or to alter our national character and values, to thwart them is to give them a victory I'm not willing to concede. More people in our country die of lack of healthcare than will ever die in a foreign terrorist attack. And it's time for the Democratic Party to acknowledge, and speak up about, that fact.

George Bush found a simplistic PR message in 9/11. He didn't exert leadership, as is so often agreed upon by both conservatives and liberals alike, on that mound at Ground Zero. He's led us into nothing but another Vietnam, a costly foreign military adventure that profited us nothing and secured no national security. He can daydream about glory, but true leadership would have meant assuring the nation that while tragic, the events of 9/11 were an anomaly, and would not change us in any significant way. We would still remain a nation of law, dedicated to the pursuit of the actual perpetrators, and not advancing any utopian dreams of remaking the world while neglecting the actual needs of our own people.

It was somewhat understandable during the Cold War that we, as a nation, would feel threatened by a foreign superpower such as the USSR (which no longer exists) or China, that might actually have the means and motives to invade and control the United States. It is not believable that a terrorist group, even one so pervasive as Al Qaeda, unaffiliated with a powerful nation, can afflict such damage upon us. Condi Rice, an academic "expert" on the USSR, is a fitting SecOState for Dubya -- this administration is still mired in the thinking of a pre-nineties globe, in which the U.S. is facing national powers desiring, and perhaps able, to bring down the U.S.A.

But today's realities are quite different. The greatest threats posed by the USSR and China are economic, not military. And the nation's, and the world's, most pressing problems include subjects like global warming, which the Bush administration refuses to address.

In short, terrorism, while a problem this country has experienced on more occasions but with less tragedy than 9/11, is admittedly an issue we must deal with. But it has far less impact on the ordinary American than our own domestic issues such as healthcare, jobs, the trade imbalance, wage growth -- you name it. And why we should be expending the lifesblood of our military, squandering hundreds of billions that could be better used in reconstucting one of our great cities, shoring up Social Security and our education system, establishing a national healthcare plan, and making our borders and transit systems safer, is a mystery to me.


Forgot to mention this little bit I heard on the Michael Medved radio show yesterday. A caller queried, "Which president will go down in history as the greatest president ever, Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush?"

Medved channeled for a moment and then replied that he thought it would be Dubya, since he's had so many more crises to face and so much ugly criticism from the left. Dubya's done "so many good things" for the economy, done so many heroic deeds in the War on Terra, etc.

Unbelievable. He doesn't even do good movie criticism.


A good question.

To my conservative friends, Do you know of any of equal stature to these three who have become supporters of this war? If you do, who are they and what was their reason? If you don't, they why are good men leaving your cause?

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The last real Republican president and a great warrior spoke thusly:

We now stand ten years past the midpoint of a century that has witnessed four major wars among great nations. Three of these involved our own country. Despite these holocausts America is today the strongest, the most influential and most productive nation in the world. Understandably proud of this pre-eminence, we yet realize that America's leadership and prestige depend, not merely upon our unmatched material progress, riches and military strength, but on how we use our power in the interests of world peace and human betterment.
Crises there will continue to be. In meeting them, whether foreign or domestic, great or small, there is a recurring temptation to feel that some spectacular and costly action could become the miraculous solution to all current difficulties. A huge increase in newer elements of our defense; development of unrealistic programs to cure every ill in agriculture; a dramatic expansion in basic and applied research -- these and many other possibilities, each possibly promising in itself, may be suggested as the only way to the road we wish to travel.

But each proposal must be weighed in the light of a broader consideration: the need to maintain balance in and among national programs -- balance between the private and the public economy, balance between cost and hoped for advantage -- balance between the clearly necessary and the comfortably desirable; balance between our essential requirements as a nation and the duties imposed by the nation upon the individual; balance between actions of the moment and the national welfare of the future. Good judgment seeks balance and progress; lack of it eventually finds imbalance and frustration.
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the militaryindustrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.
Another factor in maintaining balance involves the element of time. As we peer into society's future, we -- you and I, and our government -- must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering, for our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow.
Together we must learn how to compose differences, not with arms, but with intellect and decent purpose.

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I can't seem to let this story die. Perhaps it's because my beloved dad was an Air Force officer who never stopped trying to teach me about honor and service, and though he made a career in the military, often reminded me of Eisenhower's farewell speech, in which he warned the nation to be vigilant about the dangers posed by the military-industrial complex.

But mostly, I think, it's just that it's such a tragic story, and highlights the bleakness of the Iraq War adventure. A good man, one of the nation's best and brightest, found his experience there to be so dark that he couldn't reconcile it with his own notions of personal and national honor.

That's not to say that I fully accept the Army's decree that he died by his own hand. The questions raised by Col. Westhusing's family are valid by any thinking person's reasoning. And in light of the administration's manipulation of the Pat Tillman and Jessica Lynch stories, I think there is more to be learned.

When Westhusing entered West Point in 1979, the tradition-bound institution was just emerging from a cheating scandal that had shamed the Army. Restoring honor to the nation's preeminent incubator for Army leadership was the focus of the day.

Cadets are taught to value duty, honor and country, and are drilled in West Point's strict moral code: A cadet will not lie, cheat or steal -- or tolerate those who do.

Westhusing embraced it. He was selected as honor captain for the entire academy his senior year.
In his 352-page dissertation, Westhusing discussed the ethics of war, focusing on examples of military honor from Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee to the Israeli army. It is a dense, searching and sometimes personal effort to define what, exactly, constitutes virtuous conduct in the context of the modern U.S. military.

"Born to be a warrior, I desire these answers not just for philosophical reasons, but for self-knowledge," he wrote in the opening pages.
In January, Westhusing began work on what the Pentagon considered the most important mission in Iraq: training Iraqi forces to take over security duties from U.S. troops.

Westhusing's task was to oversee a private security company, Virginia-based USIS, which had contracts worth $79 million to train a corps of Iraqi police to conduct special operations.
Then, in May, Westhusing received an anonymous four-page letter that contained detailed allegations of wrongdoing by USIS.
The writer accused USIS of deliberately shorting the government on the number of trainers to increase its profit margin. More seriously, the writer detailed two incidents in which USIS contractors allegedly had witnessed or participated in the killing of Iraqis.
Westhusing reported the allegations to his superiors but told one of them, Gen. Joseph Fil, that he believed USIS was complying with the terms of its contract.

U.S. officials investigated and found "no contractual violations," an Army spokesman said.
The letter shook Westhusing, who felt personally implicated by accusations that he was too friendly with USIS management, according to an e-mail in the report.

"This is a mess ... dunno what I will do with this," he wrote home to his family May 18.
By June, some of Westhusing's colleagues had begun to worry about his health. They later told investigators that he had lost weight and begun fidgeting, sometimes staring off into space. He seemed withdrawn, they said.

His family was also becoming worried.
"He was sick of money-grubbing contractors," the official recounted. Westhusing said that "he had not come over to Iraq for this."

The meeting broke up shortly before lunch. About 1 p.m., a USIS manager went looking for Westhusing because he was scheduled for a ride back to the Green Zone. After getting no answer, the manager returned about 15 minutes later. Another USIS employee peeked through a window. He saw Westhusing lying on the floor in a pool of blood.

The manager rushed into the trailer and tried to revive Westhusing. The manager told investigators that he picked up the pistol at Westhusing's feet and tossed it onto the bed.
After a three-month inquiry, investigators declared Westhusing's death a suicide. A test showed gunpowder residue on his hands. A shell casing in the room bore markings indicating it had been fired from his service revolver.

Then there was the note.
Westhusing's family and friends are troubled that he died at Camp Dublin, where he was without a bodyguard, surrounded by the same contractors he suspected of wrongdoing. They wonder why the manager who discovered Westhusing's body and picked up his weapon was not tested for gunpowder residue.

Mostly, they wonder how Col. Ted Westhusing -- father, husband, son and expert on doing right -- could have found himself in a place so dark that he saw no light.
In the military report, the unidentified colonel told investigators that he had turned to Michelle, Westhusing's wife, and asked what happened.

She answered:


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Friday, December 16


It's here.

Increase in the number of hungry households since 1999: 43 Percent

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It's a familiar pattern. The president goes on the air to make extravagant pledges to the people in an attempt to bolster his poll numbers. He appoints someone to "do something" about whatever current crisis exists, tells someone in Congress to "pay for it" and then promptly forgets the whole thing. Hey, he's the CEO president! It's not his job to execute policy or strategy! He "has people" to do that sort of thing!

One of my editors has a watch that receives news alerts. Yesterday he walked into the suite where we were in post-production and said to me, "Well, you'll be glad to hear they're going to give Louisiana $3 billion to repair the levees."

"You mean $30 billion, right?" I responded.

"No, it says $3 billion."

"That's just a patch job," I said. "It's going to take something like $30 billion to do the job right."

'Well, they're getting $3 billion," he insisted.

That's not enough.

At a briefing at the White House, the coordinator of the federal response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Donald E. Powell, said the government would add $1.5 billion to the $1.6 billion already promised for the levees.
Louis Capozzoli, a consulting engineer on the Louisiana team that is investigating the levees, said the sum being discussed was too little.

"I think they're off by an order of magnitude," Mr. Capozzoli said. "That's not going to come close to protecting New Orleans, let alone the other areas" in southern Louisiana.
Mr. Vitter and Ms. Landrieu also said they would continue to push for legislation to give Louisiana as much as $3 billion a year in revenues from offshore oil drilling that currently go to the federal government. They have proposed that the money be dedicated to restoring coastal wetlands and constructing Category 5 hurricane protection, projects that could cost more than $30 billion.

In his Jackson Square speech to the nation, Bush promised more:

To carry out the first stages of the relief effort and begin rebuilding at once, I have asked for, and the Congress has provided, more than $60 billion.

In that same speech, Bush said he wanted to know all the facts about the government's response to the Katrina crisis.

Four years after the frightening experience of September the 11th, Americans have every right to expect a more effective response in a time of emergency. When the federal government fails to meet such an obligation, I, as President, am responsible for the problem, and for the solution. So I've ordered every Cabinet Secretary to participate in a comprehensive review of the government response to the hurricane. This government will learn the lessons of Hurricane Katrina. We're going to review every action and make necessary changes, so that we are better prepared for any challenge of nature, or act of evil men, that could threaten our people.

The United States Congress also has an important oversight function to perform. Congress is preparing an investigation, and I will work with members of both parties to make sure this effort is thorough.
[emphasis mine]

This is how it's playing out:

On Thursday, a White House official provided a two-hour closed-door briefing to members of a select House committee that is investigating the preparations for Hurricane Katrina and response to it. Republicans said they considered the briefing, by Mr. Bush's deputy domestic security adviser, Ken Rapuano, candid and helpful.

Democrats said the briefing failed to answer major questions about the handling of the disaster, and they renewed their call for the committee to subpoena records from Andrew H. Card Jr., the White House chief of staff, and other senior officials. The Republican majority has already rebuffed that call once.

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Thursday, December 15


Nothing much has changed since I wrote this last Christmas:

(Sung to the tune of The Christmas Song:)

Unemployment lines are stretching now,
Job security is gone.
As to Iraq and the things our troops lack --
These issues all bring on a yawn

“Cause they’re never wrong,
These Bushies and their sycophants.
Their agenda is quite clear:
Working families don’t rate in their scheme,
They’ll find it hard to eat next year.

They thought that Bushie was their guy,
He told them fear the conflagration in the sky.
He said it’s Clinton’s fault that many died,
And it’s your duty now as citizens to buy.

And so he offered you this simple phrase:
“To feed the rich will help the poor.”
You bought it, he won, and now wait for the dun --
Happy goodbye, two thousand four.

So here's this year's holiday tune, courtesy of the Bush administration.
(Sung to the tune of It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas:)

It's beginning to look a lot like Fitzmas
Everywhere you go,
Prosecutors are making lists
Of Libbys and Roves and Frists
And more Rethugs fear Scanlon's set to blow.
It's beginning to look a lot like Thriftmas
'Specially for the poor,
'Cause the Congress is cutting back on the benefits they lack
To finance the war.

Homes without silt and a city rebuilt
New Orleans wants to know when,
Food for the tykes and a simple wage hike
Is the wish of all working men,
And Moms and Dads can hardly wait for their boys to come home again.

It's beginning to look a lot like Giftmas
Only for the rich.
As Republicans cut their tax, their income will soar to max,
But only to make more jobs, now that's the pitch.
It's beginning to look a lot like Switchmas,
When Dubya's plans all flop
And he has no true defense he goes on the Swift offense
So his negs will drop,
He's the spinning top.

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Monday, December 12


I'm trying to reach the commenter to my posts on the death of Col. Ted Westhusing who identified himself as "Deep Throat." Your Blogger profile and web site,, appear to have been deleted. Your heartfelt comments lead me to believe that you may be interested in an opportunity to delve deeper into this issue.

Please contact me as soon as possible at

To any others who may help, does anyone know how to trace, perhaps through an IP address, the originator of a Blogspot web site that is no longer active? I have no interest in violating Deep Throat's privacy -- but I fear that he may not see this message.


Now that's a man with fighting spirit.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd warned Monday that he would bring the U.S. Senate to a virtual standstill if Republicans carry out a threat to change its rules by outlawing filibusters on judicial nominations.

Byrd of West Virginia, a staunch defender of the Senate's often arcane rules and procedures, was responding to a comment by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who said Sunday he might move to restrict filibusters if Democrats try to block the nomination of Samuel Alito to the U.S. Supreme Court. (Full story)

Minutes after the Senate returned from a three-week vacation Byrd challenged Frist, a Tennessee Republican, in an unusually pointed floor debate.

"If the senator wants a fight, let him try. I'm 88 years old but I can still fight and fight I will for freedom of speech," Byrd said.

Byrd said he did not expect a filibuster against Alito, but complained, "I'm tired of hearing this threat thrown in our faces if we decide we want to filibuster."


Bush is showing signs of a severe psychosis:

However improbable the odds at this point or modest his short-term goals, aides say, Bush still subscribes to Rove's long-held dream that his will be the transformational presidency that lays the groundwork for a Republican majority that can endure, as Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal coalition did, for a half-century or more. Once he gets past the midterm elections, Bush plans to introduce a concept that, if anything, is even more ambitious than his failed Social Security plan: a grand overhaul that would include not only that program but Medicare and Medicaid as well. Says strategist McKinnon: "He knows that part of what he brings to the presidency is an ability and commitment to chart a long course under public pressure." The question that will be answered in the coming year is whether America still believes in George Bush enough to follow.

The idea that he could actually succeed in overhauling (read: destroying) Social Security after his post-election (when he still had "political capital") failure to do so, or have any credibility in leading a reform movement for Medicare and Medicaid after the disastrous Medicare prescription bill, plagued by corruption and deception in its formulation and passage and now appearing to do nothing more than to enrich insurance and pharmaceutical companies while bewildering and dismaying its so-called intended beneficiaries, is ludicrous. Bush has expended all his "political capital" on the now-unpopular Iraq War and squandered his credibility by a continuum of lies and misleading statements. Similarly, the ethics-deficient GOP leadership has lost the trust of a majority of the American people when it comes to their economic security.

The fact that Bush still has delusions on that order proves that the man is a megalomaniac.*

*1. A psychopathological condition characterized by delusional fantasies of wealth, power, or omnipotence.
2. An obsession with grandiose or extravagant things or actions.

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Oh happy day.

Also, as I posted earlier Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said last week that he is considering holding hearings on the Texas redistricting case.

For those of us Texas Democrats who lived through the rancorous, frustrating days around the redistricting battle, this is music to our ears. It's not news to us that Tom DeLay engineered the whole thing, that government agencies such as Homeland Security were misused during the fray, that Speaker Tom Craddick tried to use the Department of Public Safety to track down Democratic legislators, that certain long-term Democrat Congressmen (such as Martin Frost, Charlie Stenholm and Chris Bell) were deliberately targeted for extinction, that the Republican redistricting map created crazy-quilt districts in order to marginalize minority voters.

Let's hope the SCOTUS takes a look before Alito takes a seat.

UPDATE: The Dallas Morning News has a good synopsis of the issues involved and the history of the SCOTUS's outlook.

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Sunday, December 11


Time has posted reporter Viveca Novak's story of what she told Fitzgerald.

Novak didn't take notes of her conversations with Karl Rove attorney Robert Luskin and has a very fuzzy memory about when she told him that the buzz around Time was that Rove was a source for reporter Matt Cooper on Valerie Plame's CIA status. So I don't think this will have any more effect on the case than to cancel out Luskin's argument that it was their conversation that was the catalyst for the Rove side to comb records and discover the Stephen Hadley e-mail confirming the Rove-Cooper conversation. It was that discovery, the Rovians claim, that caused Rove, very late in the game, to correct his earlier testimony that he was not a source for Cooper. Novak's account, in my view, does nothing to persuade anyone that Rove didn't lie until he couldn't make it plausible any more. If she alerted Luskin in January, March or May 2004 that Rove was Cooper's source, why did it take Rove so long to bring that fact to Fitzgerald's attention? Seems to me he spent the interim trying to cover his butt and when all seemed lost, finally came clean. That's not a scenario likely to persuade Fitzgerald that Rove, famously of the "photographic memory," suddenly was persuaded of a conversation he'd long forgotten.

One other troubling aspect of this is that Viveca Novak so closely resembles, in her actions, the behavior of Bob Woodward. She, like Bobo, failed to advise her editorial supervisors that she was part of the story, and seems in her report to bemoan Luskin's disfavor more than her journalistic ethics.

An aside: as a business communicator, I am never without a notepad or, in its absence, go immediately to my Blackberry to record my recollections of any meeting. Should we expect less of a prominent journalist?

Time noted that "by mutual agreement" Viveca Novak is on a leave of absence. Interesting that the Washington Post seems to have never considered a similar hiatus with Bob Woodward.


So the French warned us too.

More than a year before President Bush declared in his 2003 State of the Union speech that Iraq had tried to buy nuclear weapons material in Africa, the French spy service began repeatedly warning the CIA in secret communications that there was no evidence to support the allegation.
The French conclusions were reached after extensive on-the-ground investigations in Niger and other former French colonies, where the uranium mines are controlled by French companies, said Alain Chouet, the French former official. He said the French investigated at the CIA's request.
The repeated warnings from France's Direction Generale de la Securite Exterieure did not prevent the Bush administration from making the case aggressively that Saddam Hussein was seeking nuclear weapons materials.
Former Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), who was chairman of the Intelligence Committee when the Niger claims first surfaced in 2002, said some officials in the U.S. State Department were also expressing doubts: "The big mystery is why did the administration, in the face of at least a very persuasive contrary view, feel the president should take the risk of stating this?"

Why indeed.


The sick irony of it all.

The price tag for protection against a Category 5 hurricane, which would involve not just stronger and higher levees but also new drainage canals and environmental restoration, would very likely run to well over $32 billion. That is a lot of money. But that starting point represents just 1.2 percent of this year's estimated $2.6 trillion in federal spending, which actually overstates the case, since the cost would be spread over many years. And it is barely one-third the cost of the $95 billion in tax cuts passed just last week by the House of Representatives.

Total allocations for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the war on terror have topped $300 billion. All that money has been appropriated as the cost of protecting the nation from terrorist attacks. But what was the worst possible case we fought to prevent?

Losing a major American city.
If the rest of the nation has decided it is too expensive to give the people of New Orleans a chance at renewal, we have to tell them so. We must tell them we spent our rainy-day fund on a costly stalemate in Iraq, that we gave it away in tax cuts for wealthy families and shareholders. We must tell them America is too broke and too weak to rebuild one of its great cities.

Our nation would then look like a feeble giant indeed. But whether we admit it or not, this is our choice to make. We decide whether New Orleans lives or dies.