A friend of mine (and MoJo board member) is in Haiti, where his company is bringing emergency supplies. He's sending me dispatches of what's happening on the ground from his vantage point. Read the first series of his accounts here and the second here.


Day Three in Haiti. Morning started as did the day before, waiting. Part of that is probably due to the fact that we are up with the sun, just prior to 6am. Better spirits prevail though, as sat phones are proving much more reliable, we have our Emergency Health Kit (EHK), roughly 400lbs —according to the manifest—of WHO pre-packaged medical supplies. We've also noticed other EHKs, with their distinctive banded color coding, coming in as well.

By 9am we learned that our other party will be arriving later this evening and that another EHK is enroute. We've also learned that our partner on the medical side, International Medical Corp (IMC), will be arriving shortly to pick up supplies. We've secured an SUV, a left over rental from Channel 10 News out of Miami. Our contacts from the World Food Program have also provided us with a driver, Edward, who is the driver and security for the operations director of the airport.

IMC showed up relatively on time with two trucks, which we loaded and brought the bulk of the health kits to their makeshift warehouse, an operational bakery just east of the center of the city. In a sign of the need for ingenuity, after another truck proved too big to make it through the gates of the bakery, some local kids helped chipped away at the entrance with hammers until the truck was able to make the corner.
 
After the delivery, the baker was gracious enough to offer us fresh bread. While the rolls were good, our intake was limited as we have now taken to eating MREs, which, based on calorie content, are clearly designed to feed extremely active young men and women. I'm neither of those so let's just say I'll have to reset my New Years resolutions.

From there we travelled to the main hospital in the center of town. It was here that the complexion of the trip changed dramatically. Prior to heading through the center of town, we were primarily on its perimeter, and mostly on the tarmac. We'd seen a bit of the destruction to both the infrastructure and to human life but I don't think any of us were prepared for what followed.

Despite our being encamped with the media we have not seen any of the footage on TV since Wednesday or Thursday. We've been able to read some of the stories on line and it is fairly easy to pick up what angle the media is pushing based on the questions they ask us, and frankly, it had made us, or at least me, somewhat sceptical of their reporting. For example I believe (in fact we know because we've done some if it) that aid is actually getting dispersed and we all think (as do many of the aid providers) that the reports of looting and of convoys getting jumped are exaggerated. I'm sure there are incidents but I am also sure they are isolated.

This doesn't mean that we don't take real precautions—we have security when we travel outside of the tarmac and we travel in groups or mini convoys. But our trip out today showed numerous instances of water tankers dispersing fresh water to long lines of people carrying their 5 gallon buckets. And in every instance people were orderly and waiting patiently. Granted this was a very small subsegment and we were only in Port au Prince but still, it was different than what we had been led to expect.

In cutting through town, often on back roads because many of the major arteries are impassable, the scale of the devastation truly hit  home. Concrete, the building material of choice here, homes and buildings too numerous to count, are completely demolished. Some reduced to complete rubble, some knocked off of their foundation with a wall or two missing, some pancaked as if you took the support beams out from a parking garage —each floor clearly distinguishable with no space between. It goes without saying that there would be no way to survive that. And this scene repeats itself over and over again. Yet, there are some areas, that are relatively untouched, which only brings home the arbitrary nature of it all.

The path through the city takes us past the governmental section of town, which is in ruins. From the capital or palace, to the central church, to all of the official government buildings. All completely gone or so severely damaged that they will have to be bulldozed. Still this does not prepare us for the scene at the central hospital. It was grim. The smell of the dead and the dying hung in the air like humidity. I'm not trying to be clever with words, that was precisely the sensation. The morgue was down the street and we were told, overfilled. When patients would die they would be brought out of the hospital and walked down the street and placed on the sidewalk. Not out of inhumanity but out of necessity. Needless to say, the situation inside the hospital was similarly desperate.

The first box of meds we brought in was opened on the spot and quickly utilized, literally as we were unloading more. Which, while rewarding, only brought home the fact that despite all the efforts we had made to get these medical kits here, the magnitude of the need would mean that we'd only be scratching the surface. An important scratch I realize, and one that will hopefully be replicated a thousand times over, by other organizations and by other governments.

I don't want to end on a sour note, because there were some tremendous positives to the day. First of all, this first batch of medical assistance is, according to the WHO, which put the kits together, supposed to supply the basic medical needs for 10,000 people for 90 days. And we are expecting another shipment tomorrow.

And all is not despair. There still is a sense of hope here. You can see it in the eyes of a little girl who breaks out in a smile when you catch her staring at you. You can feel it from the young street vendor who gives you a grin and a thumbs up when you pass by in a car and, most poignant for me, the wink you receive from a woman lying in a hospital cot as you're carrying a box of supplies to her doctor. 

There is much more to write but it is late. The other party has arrived and brought tents, which we've pitched on the grass near the search and rescue teams. This should make for a more restful sleep, something I should get some of, for we have an early start again in the morning.
 

Incomplete

Here's a selection of recent headline:

McClatchy: Obama gets an 'incomplete' in foreign policy for first year

Bloomberg: Obama Gets ‘Incomplete’ as Decisions on War, Joblessness Loom

Deseret News: Washington Post columnist David Broder gives Obama an 'incomplete'

The Hill: Cantor grades Obama: 'Incomplete'

OK, OK, we get it: he's only been president for 12 months. Of course his grade is "incomplete." Sheesh.

Quiz: According to the Texas State School Board, the civil rights movement was...

a) Much ado about nothing

b) Effected by a benevolent white majority

c) Actually during the 1870s

d) All of the above

According to TPM and the Washington Monthly, the Texas state school board is working to correct a number of perceived innacuracies in a historical narrative that the board claims has been corrupted by liberals. The standards up for discussion include the usual points—safeguards against the outright teaching of evolution; an emphasis on America as a Christian nation—as well as a mandate that books must devote significant space to Phyllis Schlafly, Newt Gingrich, and the Moral Majority. You know, the Founders.

The finance lobby is hard at work:

Wall Street’s main lobbying arm has hired a top Supreme Court litigator to study a possible legal battle against a bank tax proposed by the Obama administration....Executives of the lobbying group, the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, wrote that a bank tax might be unconstitutional because it would unfairly single out and penalize big banks, according to these officials, who did not want to be identified to preserve relationships with the group’s members.

The message said the association had hired Carter G. Phillips of Sidley Austin, who has argued dozens of cases before the Supreme Court, to study whether a tax on one industry could be considered arbitrary and punitive, providing the basis for a constitutional challenge, they said.

Paul Krugman calls this chutzpah — which it certainly is — but what I'm curious about is why they're wasting their time on this. A tax on one industry might be considered arbitrary? The United States has loads of excise taxes that fall on individual industries. It might unfairly single out big banks? There's no constitutional bar to progressive taxes — and in any case, there are lots of compelling policy reasons to focus on big institutions. Beyond that, the federal government generally has lots of leeway both in tax policy and banking regulation. The tax would have to be way, way out of line before the Supreme Court would be likely to strike it down.

That's my amateur opinion, anyway, which is worth exactly what you just paid for it. But I'd sure like to hear from someone more knowledgable about this stuff. Is this idea as cockamamie as I think it is? Or might they really be able to make a case? And why bother fighting such a minuscule levy anyway? They should be celebrating for getting off so easily.

Suicide or Murder?

In June of 2006 the Pentagon reported that three prisoners being held at Guantanamo had committed suicide. In Harper's this month, Scott Horton presents some eyewitness testimony suggesting that, in fact, the prisoners died as a result of torture during interrogation. According to Army Staff Sergeant Joseph Hickman, who was on duty the night of the deaths, he observed a van used for transporting prisoners make three separate trips from Camp 1, which housed the prisoners, to a secret facility outside the main perimeter that had been informally dubbed Camp No:

The night the prisoners died, Hickman was on duty as sergeant of the guard for Camp America’s exterior security force....A moment later, two Navy guards emerged from Camp 1, escorting a prisoner....When the van reached the first intersection, instead of making a right, toward the other camps, it made the left, toward ACP Roosevelt and Camp No.

Twenty minutes later — about the amount of time needed for the trip to Camp No and back — the paddy wagon returned....The guards walked into Camp 1 and soon emerged with another prisoner. They departed Camp America, again in the direction of Camp No. Twenty minutes later, the van returned. Hickman, his curiosity piqued by the unusual flurry of activity and guessing that the guards might make another excursion, left Tower 1 and drove the three quarters of a mile to ACP Roosevelt to see exactly where the paddy wagon was headed. Shortly thereafter, the van passed through the checkpoint for the third time and then went another hundred yards, whereupon it turned toward Camp No, eliminating any question in Hickman’s mind about where it was going. All three prisoners would have all reached their destination before 8 p.m.

In all, three prisoners were ferried out. Later the van returned, but instead of returning the prisoners to Camp 1 it backed up directly to the medical clinic:

Hickman says he saw nothing more of note until about 11:30 p.m, when he had returned to his preferred vantage at Tower 1. As he watched, the paddy wagon returned to Camp Delta. This time, however, the Navy guards did not get out of the van to enter Camp 1. Instead they backed the vehicle up to the entrance of the medical clinic, as if to unload something.

Hickman [...] asked his tower guards what they had seen. Penvose, from his position at Tower 1, had an unobstructed view of the walkway between Camp 1 and the medical clinic—the path by which any prisoners who died at Camp 1 would be delivered to the clinic. Penvose told Hickman, and later confirmed to me, that he saw no prisoners being moved from Camp 1 to the clinic. In Tower 4 (it should be noted that Army and Navy guard-tower designations differ), another Army specialist, David Caroll, was forty-five yards from Alpha Block, the cell block within Camp 1 that had housed the three dead men. He also had an unobstructed view of the alleyway that connected the cell block itself to the clinic. He likewise reported to Hickman, and confirmed to me, that he had seen no prisoners transferred to the clinic that night, dead or alive.

The next day, Horton reports, the camp commander called a meeting of the guards and told them that “you all know” three prisoners in Camp 1 committed suicide during the night by swallowing rags, causing them to choke to death. But then he told the guards that "the media would report something different. It would report that the three prisoners had committed suicide by hanging themselves in their cells."

There's more at the link. The evidence here isn't bulletproof, but it's strongly suggestive that the official story was a coverup. It's worth reading the whole thing.

Obama's Discontents

Bernard Avishai on the election in Massachusetts:

The "undecideds" in South Boston and working class suburbs like Lynn don't like Cambridge and Back Bay, but they respect its winners, when they act like winners....They smell insincerity a mile away. I wish I had a bluefish dinner for every time Coakley referred to the health package as "not perfect." It all came out so forced and fake.

The real question Democrats have to ask themselves is: how come the greatest piece of social legislation since Medicare is something a progressive Democratic candidate for Ted Kennedy's seat has to speak so defensively about?

And we can look no further than Howard Dean, and MSNBC, and Arianna Huffington, and, yes, some columnists at the Times and bloggers here at TPM — you know, real progressives — who have lambasted Obama again and again since last March over arguable need-to-haves like the "public option," as if nobody else was listening. They've been thinking: "Oh, if only we ran things, how much more subtle would the legislation be," as if 41 senators add up to subtle. Meanwhile the undecideds are thinking: "Hell, if his own people think he's a sell-out and jerk, why should we support this?"

The frustration on the left with Obama — and with healthcare reform specifically — was almost inevitable. During the campaign, a lot of people chose to see in him what they wanted to see, pushing to the back of their minds not just the obvious signs that Obama has always been a cautious, practical politician, but also the obvious compromises and pressures that are forced onto any president. It was a recipe for disappointment. The striking thing to me, though, is how fast the left has turned on him. Conservatives gave Bush five or six years before they really turned on him, and even then they revolted more against the Republican establishment than against Bush himself. But the left? It took about ten months. And the depth of the revolt against Obama has been striking too. As near as I can tell, there's a small but significant minority who are so enraged that they'd be perfectly happy to see his presidency destroyed as a kind of warning to future Democrats. It's extraordinarily self-destructive behavior — and typically liberal, unfortunately. Just ask LBJ, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton. And then ask them whether liberal revolt, in the end, strengthened liberalism or conservatism.

I've got all sorts of complaints about Obama. He's been weaker on civil liberties than I'd like. His approach to bank regulation has been far too friendly to financial interests. I'm not thrilled with his escalation in Afghanistan. He hasn't moved as quickly on gay rights as I hoped. And he hasn't used the bully pulpit nearly as effectively as I think he's capable of. He could afford to attack obstructionism and conservative retrenchment far more directly than he has.

Still, none of that comes within light years of providing a reason to turn on him. The national security community has tremendous influence; the financial lobby has a stranglehold on Congress; Obama told us explicitly during the campaign that he planned to escalate in Afghanistan; his caution on gay rights is quite likely smart politically; and he certainly gave us fair warning about his dedication to reaching across the aisle and trying to work with Republicans. The fact that they've spent his entire first year in a raging temper tantrum is hardly his fault. Given the cards he was dealt, he hasn't done badly. I think Andrew Sullivan — writing in his Dr. Jekyll persona — gets it about right here.

Spoon
Transference
Merge Records

It's easy to see why hipsters love Spoon. Their music is catchy, but not so much that it's gone mainstream. Their lyrics are clever. Their videos feature dancing robots and drag nuns. And their name just sounds cool.

On Spoon's latest album, which comes out this week, the band delivers what is expected, with a collection of songs that's both tuneful and just irreverent enough. The opening track, "Before Destruction," sets the tone with a segue from what sounds like a scratchy demo into a slick synthetic rush. On "Goodnight Laura," the music is sweet but the lyrics melancholy: And you close your eyes and slow yourself and let the worry leave you  / Don't you know love, you're all right.

At the same time, Spoon often employs its accessible-yet-edgy style in a predictable way—I often found it hard to distinguish between songs, and between this collection and the band's past hits. With few exceptions, the formula is roughly this: uptempo beat + jaunty guitar hooks + bluesy keys + fun, quirky melodies. Not a bad combination, but it can feel a little staid.

Where they do flirt with experimentation, like with the spacey instrumentals in "Who Makes Your Money," it's refreshing. Maybe the old adage If it ain't broke... is working for them, but after more than 15 years wooing the indie masses with a winning formula, it may be time for Spoon to mess with it a bit.

At age 15, Daniel K. Roberts, better known as Monkey Man, built a radio station in his bedroom at his parents Los Gatos, California home using a 40-watt transmitter, a mixer, a tape deck, a portable CD player, and a microphone. That was 13 years ago. Monkey's pet project eventually became Pirate Cat Radio 87.9 FM, a cafe, community outlet, and unlicensed low-power FM radio station that served San Francisco for more than a decade. In August 2009, the Federal Communications Commission fined Pirate Cat $10,000 and ordered it to either get off the airwaves or face further fees. Here was a subversive station that didn't rely solely on a cool record collection or a standard corporate algorithm to garner street credibility. For now, it's been relegated to Web only, and Monkey has been busy fighting the feds for the right to get back on the air while local music venues host fundraising events to help pay off his fine. I bussed over to the station's not-so-secret heaquarters to ask Monkey about the state of his operation, and whether Hollywood got the pirate radio story right.
 

At last count, there were more than 100,000 applications for the iPhone. The vast majority are useless timesucks, but a few are environmentally-minded timesucks. Here are 10 free ones that are be worth taking a break from playing Tap Tap Revenge to check out:

iRecycle: Looking for a place to drop off tough-to-recycle stuff like bubble wrap or tennis balls? Type in your debris of choice and iRecycle will list nearby disposal spots. It can even suggest resting places for your iPhone—just in case it breaks after falling from your cold, dead hands. (If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, EcoFinder is an excellent alternative.)

GoodGuide: This app's built-in bar-code scanner is pretty nifty. Snap the UPC symbol on, say, a box of cereal, and voila—you'll get its scores from GoodGuide, a website that rates products' health, environmental, and social impacts. You can also search its online database of more than 70,000 items.

Seafood Watch: A handy app for getting the dirt on the catch of the day, sponsored by the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Includes a sushi guide filled with dismaying facts such as the true origins of unagi. Eel farms? Say it isn't so!

Label Lookup: Eco-labels are supposed to make shopping easier, but they can be downright baffling. This app from the Natural Resources Defense Council makes it easy to look-up labels on the fly and get a quick sense of which ones are the real deal and which ones are covering something up. (Or just print and save MoJo's eco-label guide.)

Losing the Thread

Why has the public turned against Obama and the Democratic Party? Stubbornly high unemployment with no end in sight is probably the main reason, but conservatives have pitched a different story: as E.J. Dionne puts it, they blame Obama's fondness for "big government, big deficits, an overly ambitious health-care plan, a stimulus that spent too much and other supposedly left-leaning sins of the Obama regime." And their story is winning:

The success of the conservative narrative ought to trouble liberals and the Obama administration. The president has had to "own" the economic catastrophe much earlier than he should have. Most Americans understand that the mess we are in started before Obama got to the White House. Yet many, especially political independents, are upset that the government has had to spend so much and that things have not turned around as fast as they had hoped.

....The truth that liberals and Obama must grapple with is that they have failed so far to dent the right's narrative, especially among those moderates and independents with no strong commitments to either side in this fight.

The president's supporters comfort themselves that Obama's numbers will improve as the economy gets better. This is a form of intellectual complacency. Ronald Reagan's numbers went down during a slump, too. But even when he was in the doldrums, Reagan was laying the groundwork for a critique of liberalism that held sway in American politics long after he left office.

Liberals can win elections, but they still have trouble winning the narrative. There are dozens of plausible explanations for this, but the noise machine still seems like the biggest one to me. There's simply no liberal counterpart to Drudge and Fox and Rush: a conservative commentariat that concedes nothing, pounds home its points like a jackhammer, repeats its themes relentlessly, and has the ear of the Washington mainstream press in a way that liberal commentators don't. Dionne calls their approach the "audacity of audacity," and the press seems to take it as evidence of sincerity in a way that they don't with liberal arguments. As a result, even when they think conservatives are misguided the Washington press largely grants them the presumption that their beliefs are driven by deep and earnest heartland principles. Liberal positions, by contrast, are more often portrayed as a crude collection of special interests and cynical political calculations.

That's hardly the whole story, but it's a big part of it. And I'm not sure what the answer is. The noise machine, even against the backdrop of humiliating failure over the past decade, remains an overwhelming presence. For more, see Paul Krugman today.