Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Should Have Been A Short Debate

From today's Washington Post:
The TSA has been reviewing its list of prohibited items since last summer and has debated whether throwing stars (a martial-arts weapon), ice picks and knives should be allowed back on board, according to TSA documents.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

T.S. Σ

On the day before the official hurricane season comes to a welcome close, we have -- Σ.

Tropical Storm Epsilon is the 26th named storm of 2005. About 750 miles east of Bermuda, the latest tropical storm presents little danger to the East Coast. National Hurricane Center experts are forecasting it is likely to dissipate within the next few days.

There are 31 days in December and only 19 letters left in the Greek alphabet, so it's possible we won't might not need to use the Cyrillic alphabet before the end of the year.



If we're really lucky.

Disillusioned Billmon

The incomparable Billmon: "What? Those TV reality shows are scripted?"

Alternative Endings: Good Night and Good Luck

George Clooney's elegant film, "Good Night and Good Luck," playing locally at the Gulf Breeze Cinema 4, frames itself with a notable speech Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn) delivered from a brightly lit elevated lecturn at the National Radio and Television News Directors Assocation convention in 1958. The speech was delivered near the end of Murrow's career as a CBS journalist, just seven years before he died of brain cancer at age 57.

In the opening scene, the stylishly-dressed audience smiles up at Murrow with good humored expectation, much as any audience might show eager anticipation at the start of a new show. By the end of the speech, to which we return as the film concludes, the audience has fallen silent. It is in shadows. Is the audience stunned by what has been said? Angry? Bored?

We can only guess what the people are thinking -- if they are thinking at all.

Inside this frame, Clooney (who co-wrote, directed, and plays the role of Fred Friendly) tells the story in lush black and white cinema photography of Murrow's dramatic exposure of the witch-hunting tactics of Senator Joseph R. McCarthy. In Clooney's hands, as a number of reviewers take the trouble to explain for the many readers who do not know of it, this is a tale of individual journalistic courage during a very dark time in our nation's history.

Our former wartime ally, the Soviet Union, had become a Cold War adversary. Nuclear war seemed imminent. Propaganda films taught us to "duck and cover" in school when the bombs start falling. Neighbors shrouded their homes in canvas, vainly trying to hide the bomb shelters they were building for personal use. School teachers, employees of private companies, journalists, and millions of others were forced to sign loyalty oaths on pain of losing their livelihoods.

Heroic generals, university professors, opera stars and Hollywood film makers alike were humiliated, jailed, or blacklisted, often for no better reason than they claimed the First Amendment protected them against being forced to name supposed "communist synmpathizers" before grandstanding politicians in Washington.

As books like Black Struggle, Red Scare: Segregation and Anti-Communism in the South, 1948-1968 remind us, the public fear was so palpable that other regressive forces, like Southern segregationists, exploited it to thwart social movements they had always disliked, such as racial integration, labor unions, and even the fledgling environmental movement. (Some of us are old enough to remember how even proponents of the then-novel idea of standardizing daylight savings time across the U.S. were accused by some politicians of hatching a "communist plot" to tire our children, and how those who argued for flouridating city water supplies were accused of being communist dupes.)

The mere accusation of disloyalty ruined lives. Nearly everyone was afraid -- of everyone else.

It is against this backdrop, and the wonderful soundtrack of Dianne Reeves' smoky phrasing of Sarah Vaughn's repertoire, that Goodnight and Good Luck tells the story of how Murrow, Friendly, and the CBS See It Now team decided to take on McCarthy and expose his vile, guilt-by-assocation tactics.

It is true that Murrow, himself, did not bring down McCarthy. If any single person can be said to have done it, that distinction probably belongs to the genteel Boston lawyer, Joseph Welch, during the Army-McCarthy Hearings which were broadcast nationally by rival network ABC just a few months after Murrow's exposé.

But Clooney has made a film about the news media, not McCarthy. As Stephanie Zacharek writes in (subscription required), "This is a picture about a turning point in the media that also helped force a turning point in history." [emphasis added]
What's exceptional about 'Good Night, and Good Luck' ... is that it doesn't sacrifice craftsmanship and elegance at the altar of its strong convictions. This is serious grown-up entertainment with a sense of history and a sense of style, the kind of picture almost no one knows how to -- or, perhaps more accurately, can find the means to -- make anymore.
In fact, Good Night and Good Luck cost only $8 million to make. To an industry that forks out $200 million to make Spiderman-2 and $170 million to film and distribute Terminator-3, that's barely a pittance. As with the deplorable state of television news programming today, it's neither a lack of knowledge nor a lack of means that explains why superior films like Good Night and Good Luck are made so rarely. It's more likely a lack of will on the part of someone or something.

Who is to blame? The film certainly presents, front-and-center, a tale of journalistic courage in confronting the evil of Joe McCarthy. Not just the courage of Murrow, either, or of his See It Now team of journalists and producers. There were others whose names are now all but lost to history, like Elmer Davis, I.F. Stone, George Seldes, Herb Block, Bill Mauldin, to name just a few.

Standing in for all of them in Clooney's movie is the tragic figure of Don Hollenbeck. Hollenbeck was the Walter Cronkite of his day -- a voice as recognizable and trusted by Americans as any in the history of electronic journalism. As Zacharek describes the plot in her Salon review:
The chief action in "Good Night, and Good Luck" is decision making: Basically, we're watching a bunch of white guys getting together in a room, talking (and smoking) a lot, and then one of them, Murrow, writes something and goes before the camera. But the picture isn't boring for an instant: Clooney finds shorthand ways to clue us in to the personalities of these men, so they come off as real people rather than as symbols. (And there is one woman, Shirley Wershba, played with delightful sharpness by Patricia Clarkson -- one of the movie's most intriguing sub-threads concerns her marriage to Joe Wershba, which had to be kept secret because of network regulations.) Ray Wise, as news anchor Don Hollenbeck -- who committed suicide as a result of the attacks Hearst columnist and McCarthy flunky Jack O'Brian made against him in print -- gives a beautifully shaped performance in a small role that's nonetheless essential to the movie.

And Strathairn makes a terrific Murrow, showing us a man of intensity and intelligence but also one with a sly, slow-burning sense of humor. (When one of the crew praises an interview he's just completed with Liberace on his other CBS show, the far more lightweight "Person to Person," he gives the guy a sidelong glance like a death ray.) Strathairn's voice has just the right tone and timber -- it does complete justice to Murrow's eloquence. And you need a great voice to carry words like these, from a 1954 "See It Now" broadcast: "We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine; and remember that we are not descended from fearful men. Not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate, and to defend causes that were for the moment unpopular.
With a film message like that, most professional reviewers of Good Night and Good Luck have been unable to resist commenting on the contemporary political parallels raised by this historically grounded story. Examples:
  • Dan Loughry (In L.A. Magazine ): "The film doesn't make us wonder how this ugly part of our history could have happened. Instead, it wonders: Where are the American journalists willing to take on the received wisdom of the day? It's terrifying to think they might also be part of our past."

  • Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun Times):"Clooney's message is clear: Character assassination is wrong, McCarthy was a bully and a liar, and we must be vigilant when the emperor has no clothes and wraps himself in the flag."

  • Steve Persall (St. Petersburg Times): "The Cold War had Murrow, Vietnam had Walter Cronkite and now Iraq, Afghanistan and wherever's next have Fox News Channel and Jon Stewart. Something is wrong with this picture. Good Night, and Good Luck is Clooney's passionate, possibly vain attempt to make it right."

  • David Denby ( The New Yorker Magazine)): "There’s little gravy in attacking Joe McCarthy in 2005, and that’s only a small part of what Clooney is up to. His real intention appears to be to deliver a blow to the patella of a conglomerate-controlled press corps that, until recently, has indulged the Bush Administration’s most extravagant smears and lies. He has completely succeeded."
Other than Denby, few reviewers go beyond the main drama of Murrow's personal heroism to suggest, as honestly as Clooney's film does in its sub-plot with the character of Bill Paley (Frank Langella), what the root cause may be for our modern media's malaise. But Ben Bagdikian and Robert W. McChesney put it forthrightly in their latest books, The New Media Monopoly and The Problem of of the Media: U.S. Communication Politics in the 21st Century.

Owing to a series of new laws and FCC regulations beginning in the late Reagan era and a dramatically changed legal environment that now endorses monopolies rather than prosecuting them, today, as Bagdikian documents, "five global-dimension firms, operating with many of the characteristics of a cartel, own most of the newspapers, magazines, book publishers, motion picture studios, and radio and television stations in the United States."
Each medium they own, whether magazines or broadcast stations, covers the entire country, and the owners prefer stories and programs that can be used everywhere and anywhere. Their media products reflect this.

* * *
These five conglomerates are Time Warner, by 2003 the largest media firm in the world; The Walt Disney Company; Murdoch's News Corporation, based in Australia; Viacom; and Bertelsmann, based in Germany. Today, none of the dominant media companies bother with dominance merely in a single medium. Their strategy has been to have major holdings in all the media, from newspapers to movie studios. This gives each of the five corporations and their leaders more communications power than was exercised by any despot or dictatorship in history.
As McChesney writes, this monopolization creates a "crucial tension... between the role of the media as profit-maximizing commercial organizations and the need for the media to provide the basis for informed self-government."
The United States has not satisfactorily addressed the problem of the media in recent generations. As a result, the media system has been set up to serve the interests of those who make the policies behind closed doors -- large profit-driven media corporations -- while the broad and vital interests of the population have been largely neglected.

* * *
On balance, the media system has become -- ironically, in the view of the press clause in the First Amendment -- a significantly antidemocratic force. It is a political problem that requires a political solution.
For Roger Ebert, who liked it very much, Clooney's film "is like a morality play, from which we learn how journalists should behave."

One suspects Murrow would have disagreed. Twice during the film -- once, just as he did on the air when confronting McCarthy -- Murrow quotes Shakespeare's famous line, "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves."

If Good Night and Good Luck is a morality play, it's not just about how journalists should behave. It's about what kind of media policies we, the public, should be demanding at the ballot box as well as in our homes.

A clue to this lies in the darkly amusing anecdote Clooney shared with Cole Smithey of Arriviste Press shortly after the film opened. Asked if he had given any thought to an alternative ending, instead of closing with Murrow's parting words from the 1958 speech, Clooney said they actually filmed one:
We had basically made a montage of the greatest hits of television moments, and then as they rapidly decline it was down to the O.J. chase and then the piece, done in L.A., where there was a car chase and the guy sets his truck on fire, and he takes off all of his clothes, and he blows his head off on live television. And you could hear the people in the background, in the newsroom, laughing and the guy says, "There's your lead news story."
That's the lead story today's television producers think we want to see. If it bleeds, it leads," goes the modern, post-Murrow mantra. Or, as Chicago TV news anchor and Sun-Times columnist Carol Marin once said of her colleagues:
We're more and more uncomfortable with challenging power. We're afraid of being unpopular, we are afraid of shrinking markets. We have forgotten to say the words "public trust." And the worst corruption of all is the creeping commercialism.
It doesn't have to be that way. But it's up to each of us to write an alternative ending.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Little Matchstick Girls

"This is business as usual for the insurance companies, only it has come to Pensacola in a very big way. It may not be you today, but it could be you tomorrow."
-- Attorney Matt Schultz, Pensacola News Journal
November 27, 2005

A major portion of the news section in yesterday's Pensacola News Journal was devoted to the travails and tragedies of "hundreds of Escambia and Santa Rosa homeowners whose hurricane recovery is on hold while they sue their insurance companies over disputed settlements."

Lesley Conn provided the centerpiece: "Burden of Proof: The future for many homeowners hinges on a 2004 court ruling". Around Conn's article, sidebars in the print edition and on the web tell the true-life stories of local residents like Patty and Frank Liberato (Grande Lagoon), Gaynelle and Dan Brannon (also Grande Lagoon), Lillie Johnson (Montclair), and Christina and Patrick Monahan (Gulf Breeze).

It's a timely update about the human misery and still-visible property wreckage brought about by obdurate insurance companies -- and aggravated by the most recent change in state law which the insurance industry bought from our legislators in Tallahassee by a combination of lobbying and campaign contributions.

Many insurance companies still are trying to avoid paying fair compensation to area customers who, uncontestably, suffered substantial losses in last year's Hurricane Ivan. The insurance companies singled out by name for criticism by Conn's informants are Citizens Property, Allstate, Universal Property & Casualty, and Lloyd's of London.

From what we hear locally, several others could have been named as well. On Pensacola Beach, Perdido Key, Grande Lagoon, Villa Venice, Oriole Beach, Tiger Point, and other near-coast neighborhoods the homes and businesses of many people remain exactly as Hurricane Ivan left them fourteen months ago.

Conn grabbed two quotes yesterday that particularly stand out. In the first one, local attorney Matt Schultz told her that seeing insurance companies try to avoid paying benefits is "business as usual." He adds --
"Only it has come to Pensacola in a very big way. It may not be you today, but it could be you tomorrow."
The second quote comes from the narration of a 4-minute videotape showing the cement slab that once was the home of Gaynelle and Dan Brannon. In the video, which is available on the PNJ web site, the narrator gives vent to his emotions after more than a year of negotiations with his insurance companies:
"Our governor, Bush, and Gallagher, which [sic] is in charge of Financial Services for the state, and the insurance commissioner is under him, is also violating the law by not asking for and calling -- and demanding -- an indictment of these people for criminal wrong doing, criminal charges. So I just think that... I hope people from Katrina hear about this and read this response, because they're in for a really big, eye-opening experience. It hasn't hit yet, it's too early. They're still under the stall tactics and so forth. But they need to wake up and realize -- they need to be paid promptly for their claims."
It is something of a newspaper tradition to run stories around the holiday season that describe the desperate circumstances of the poor, the sick, the homeless, orphans, and others. Such 'Little Matchstick Girl' stories, as an editor of the Toledo Blade we know used to call them, are very much in the true spirit of Christmas. Yet, one suspects that the eyes of a lot of readers just skim over those headlines and quickly turn to the glitzy department store ads.

Deep down, too many of us suppose that the poor and dispossessed really aren't our brothers -- and that we aren't their keepers. Their poverty makes us feel uncomfortable. Their illnesses disgust us. The apparent hopelessness of their lives scares us. And, perhaps most of all, we are affronted by the implication that the economic, political, and legal systems we helped to create somehow contribute to and prolong their misery.

As Leslie Conn's article, attorney Schultz's words, and the videotape narration of the Brannon's home site remind us, they can become us. If not this year, then next -- or the year after.

So, we should all be paying close attention to what our elected officials are doing with the insurance mess they created. Because we are all Little Matchstick Girls now.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Niceville in War, Insurance News

Niceville, Florida, is all over the news this Thanksgiving weekend. The panhandle town with the over-the-top saccharine name is "where Okaloosa and Walton counties align," as John Vinocour charitably phrased it in yesterday's International Herald Tribune.

Vinocour's column, titled "Niceville U.S.A.," reports that even in Niceville -- the reddest of red state country -- public and military support for Bush's Iraq war policy is seriously eroding. Having visited the area during the 2004 presidential campaign, Vinocour writes:
A little more than a year ago, Niceville, its cheery Welcome Wagon of a name, its air force base, its colony of retired colonels, and its locals' strong ties to the Christian right wing, all made the town an early campaign stop for Bush on his way to re-election.
But today, Vinocour heard on a revisit "confusion" and support for John Murtha's proposal for a rapid withdrawal of our troops from Iraq, and outright dissent over the Bush administration's Iraq war policy.

Vinocour's article is hidden behind the Times Select subscription page but you can see a teaser here. Even better, for free, you can read an eerie Ohio echo of the very same phenomenon by reading Kate Zernike's piece in today's New York Times, titled "Even Supporters Doubt President As Issues Pile Up."

Ms. Zernike doesn't mention Niceville, but the people in Ohio seem to be thinking and saying the same things as the people in Niceville. If this keeps up, Mr. Bush will have to confine his carefully choreographed public appearances to the campus of Bob Jones University.

But there's more! Niceville also looms large in a highly critical article about hurricane claims adjusting practices in Louisiana written by the Washington Post's Dean Starkman: "Same Insurance Claims, Different Results in La. Town."

Among others, Starkman tells the tale of two neighbbors in the small town of Gretna, La. (pre-Katrina pop. 17,208). One of them, Melmary Matheny, "has already received partial payment on her flood claim and has been told to expect another check soon." The other, Silvia I. Cosenza, "says she's been caught in an insurance nightmare: Her flood claim denied because an insurance adjuster ruled that her neighborhood was not flooded."

"For sure, she flooded as much as we did," says the lucky insurance claimant about the unlucky one. "Our whole entire neighborhood flooded."

So, what accounts for the different treatment? Different insurance companies and different adjusters, it seems. And it turns out the offending claims adjusting firm is located in Niceville, Florida:
Cosenza said she first contacted a unit of American National Insurance Co., the Galveston, Tex., company that sold her the flood policy. Representatives at American National referred her to National Flood Services Inc., based in Kalispell, Mont., which referred her to a claims-handling contractor, Simsol Insurance Services Inc., based in Niceville, Fla.

In calls to Simsol and National Flood Services, Cosenza said, she received different answers regarding her claim. One person told her it had been denied Oct. 5 and closed; a second person said it had never been closed; and a third person told her that it had been closed but reopened.

Cosenza said an adjuster from Simsol inspected the property on Oct. 1, but she did not hear back from him for weeks -- though she did reach his wife, who works in the office and assured her he was still working on the claim.
Reporter Starkman also puts a finger on one common curse of dealing with adjusters that few outside America's hurricane zone can appreciate: the tremendously time consuming, enervating and expensive process of responding to every demand the adjuster can think to pile on a homeowner.
The battle over her family's flood claim became so time-consuming that Cosenza said she had to turn down a new job as a government biologist. Her husband, who works for an oil-drilling company, was out of work for a month after the storm. The family is struggling to pay both the mortgage on the Gretna house and rent on their Houston apartment, Cosenza said.

"I'm already past the point of being upset and depressed, and it's a laughable matter now," she said.
Bitterly laughable, one supposes.
To support her claim, Cosenza said, she sent Simsol photos of water damage, statements from neighbors and news accounts of flooding in the area. She also obtained a letter dated Nov. 8 from the Jefferson Parish flood plain coordinator, Tom Rodrigue, who attested to the flooding in the neighborhood.

Cosenza said a Simsol executive who reviewed the documentation told her that the area had not been flooded and insisted that she retrieve photos of the area taken by a neighbor who rode out the storm.

"It would be great if you sent the photos you claim to have which show the floodwaters in the home, rather than having several individuals send letters on your behalf -- none of which conclusively support your contention that the property flooded," the executive, Don Roberts, wrote, according to an e-mail provided to The Washington Post by Cosenza.

Cosenza said she drove several hours from Houston to Gretna to retrieve the photos and sent them to Simsol.
What Cosenza doesn't know, but local insurance defense lawyers have verified to us, is that in many cases after Hurricane Ivan devastated the Pensacola area, when defense lawyers finally got to see an adjusting company's operations they often discovered "a lot" of the documents, photos, and other proofs homeowners transmitted were lost or mislaid in the chaotic mess of adjusting files stacked on the floor. As we wrote a month ago:
In a recent private conversation, one lawyer from a locally prominent insurance defense firm said at least 50 percent of the cases coming in the door should have been paid policy limits a year ago.

Why weren't they? Topping his list were poorly trained adjusters, break-downs in claims file management at the office level ("a lot of the paperwork was lost in stacks on the floor"), and deliberate delays due to adjuster or company policies.
Possibly this is the explanation for this:
Roberts did not return messages left at his office. A woman answering the phone at Simsol said Roberts was busy and might not be able to respond to questions for "another couple of months."
A 'couple of months'?? Someone in Niceville, it would seem, is being... well, not all that nice.

Gulf Coast Hell-a-Days

""FEMA continues to be able to mess up a one-car funeral... The federal response, from highways to housing to trailers, is completely unacceptable."
-- Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Ms)
We saw it in Pensacola a year ago during the holiday season. Now it's happening immediately to our west.

Complete devastation. Thousands of displaced families. A sea of blue roofs stretched across any structures that remain standing. Families sheltered from the cold in tents or, for the lucky ones, trailers. Inexplicably cruel or incompetent insurance adjusting. Mass depression across the entire population. Widespread suicidal ideation. And, that omnipresent feeling that the world has forgotten all about you.

Three months after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, hundreds of thousands of storm refugees remain sheltered by nothing more substantial than tents. New Orleans, habitable only on the highest ground mainly in the French Quarter, is said to be "more like a village" than a city. As Ernie the Attorney says, "Things are very strange in New Orleans right now."

Highway 90 bridges in Biloxi are still out, and may not be rebuilt for as long as two years. Communications are so bad in his town, the mayor of Bay St. Louis has called for a "meeting on the lawn" today for those locals who can get there to discuss what's to be done with a city that Katrina virtually obliterated.

Perhaps the most gripping look at these hell-a-days along the Gulf Coast appeared in the Washington Post the day after Thanksgiving. Reporter Michael Powell filed a riveting dispatch from Pass Christian, Mississippi. Excerpts:
Three months ago, Katrina all but scoured this old beach town of 8,000 off the face of the Earth. To walk its streets today is to see acres of wreckage almost as untouched as the day the hurricane passed.

* * *
Like New Orleans to the west, hundreds of square miles of Mississippi coastland look little better than they did in early September, and many people here harbor anger that the federal government has fallen short and that the nation's attention has turned away. At least 200,000 Mississippians remain displaced, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency is short at least 13,000 trailers to house them.

Fifty thousand homeowners lack federal flood insurance and cannot rebuild. The casinos, which employed 17,000 people, won't begin to reopen until next year, and the unemployment rate has quadrupled, now topping 23 percent in the coastal counties.

Half a dozen towns, Pass Christian among them, are borrowing millions of dollars to pay bills, and some officials are talking about surrendering charters and becoming wards of the state.

"FEMA continues to be able to mess up a one-car funeral -- we don't begin to have enough money for major reconstruction," said Rep. Gene Taylor (D), who lost his own home in Bay St. Louis. "We're going to have a lot of defaults and bankruptcies.

"The federal response, from highways to housing to trailers, is completely unacceptable."

The personal shock of it all hasn't subsided. Locals say it's not uncommon to hear perfectly rational people talk of suicide.

* * *
The hurricane pushed tens of thousands of coastal residents north and west, spreading over four states. The longer it takes to rebuild houses and businesses, the more officials worry that the dispossessed, particularly the working class, may never return.

"The response of the federal government is bewildering and deplorable," said Bruce Katz, director of metropolitan policy at the Brookings Institution, who has written two studies of the Katrina response. "We know how to deliver quality affordable housing in the United States -- we just need the will and leadership to do it."

Public housing authorities along the Mississippi coast lost 2,000 apartments and suffered $155 million in damages. But the federal government, which expects to spend close to $2 billion on temporary trailers, has not offered a dime to rebuild public housing. A spokeswoman with the Department of Housing and Urban Development said the agency's budget could remain just as tight next year.

Roy Necaise, chief operating officer of a regional Mississippi housing authority, said: "We have no federal funds, absolutely none, to rebuild. There's absolutely nothing standing on the coast right now, and it's going to be a long time before we're able to bring folks home.

"Washington has totally let us down, and it's a disgrace."

The lack of federal flood insurance is an even greater problem. When 30-foot walls of water crashed into coastal towns, thousands who lived outside official flood zones lost their homes.

* * *
Two weeks ago, FEMA officials began releasing guidelines that will require most coastal houses to be built on stilts. That is perhaps advisable in a hurricane zone, but it will add tens of thousands of dollars per house to construction costs.
To be sure, Mississippi voters brought some of this pain on themselves every time they went to the ballot box and voted for politicians who promised to tighten 'welfare' rules, elect 'strict' judges, and punish the unemployed. Now, those chickens are coming home to roost:
[T]his politically conservative state has a threadbare safety net. Two weeks ago, county officials lifted an informal moratorium on evictions. Tenants cannot claim rent breaks for water-damaged apartments. One can sit now in housing courts in Gulfport and Biloxi and watch judges order the evictions of hundreds of tenants, often with a speed that startles the tenants.

"There's a hanging judge mentality and, my God, it's going to create a social crisis," said John C. Jopling, a lawyer with the Mississippi Center for Justice, which represented a few tenants.

* * *
Rosie Alexander, a woman around age 50 with a fast smile, grew up in Point Cadet and lives in a nearby apartment. She has a master's degree in nursing and worked in a casino. She's out of work, and this state pays the lowest unemployment premium in the nation. Her old casino sent a letter stating that if she's rehired, she must accept an entry-level wage.
Even so, it's impossible not to empathize with storm victims who continue to be overwhelmed by the crisis:
The anxiety about what was lost and what might come exacts a psychological toll. Before Katrina, county officials said ambulances made about eight calls per month on mental health emergencies. In October, ambulances transported 167 people for psychiatric treatment, many suffering from post-traumatic stress and some talking of suicide.
Ms. Alexander's home, we are told, "stinks of mold." A promised trailer hasn't been delivered by FEMA. She's still struggling to rescue what possessions she can. In an act even she recognizes was "foolishness" she wrote to Oprah Winfrey asking for help. Not necessarily for herself:
In her darkest moments, she worries that bridges will be repaired and freight trains will rumble through Biloxi again -- and too many desperate people will seek their end on those tracks.

"I have nightmares, I have flashbacks." She shakes her head; she has talked for an hour with many tears. "I get so upset with all these rich people who say Biloxi will come back bigger and better. Not for us. No, no, no. Nobody I know is getting better."
We know something of that feeling. Northwest Florida , although much smaller in area and population, remained damaged to a similar extent one year ago at this time. The people here were living through the same dark days. Feelings of hopelessness, rage, and abandonment were common.

Too many are here still are feeling the effects of Hurricane Ivan and the shocking aftermath of loss of lvoed ones, homelessness, adversarial insurance companies, Fema incompetence, widespread job loss, financial desperation, increased sickness, and mass depression. But our own experience is instructive.

Don't give up, Gulf Coast. Life will get better, eventually.

And we're with you. We won't let the rest of the nation forget you.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Thanksgiving Beach Read

For your Thanksgiving weekend reading pleasure we aren't recommending a pot-boiling beach book, but the verbatim transcript of the October 3, 2005 meeting of the "SRIA Committee to Redefine Pensacola Beach."

The meeting took place six weeks ago but the transcript (in Adobe Acrobat's pdf format) was not posted on the Santa Rosa Island Authority web site until November 9.

It's an interesting read for anyone who would like to eavesdrop on Pensacola Beach developers delicately dancing around each other's economic self-interests. Not exactly Agatha Christy material; more like Sir Julian Huxley, who once described the practice of the praying mantis to devour her mate after sex as both "attractive" and "aesthetically... repulsive."

The central points of committee discussion were (1) Whether the residential cap on Pensacola Beach should be raised; and (2) Is it desirable to lighten county land use restrictions for beach hotels?

Presently, no more than 4,128 residential units -- single family homes or condo units -- are allowed on Pensacola Beach. For hotel units there is no limit. Nomenclature can be slippery, however, especially when a "hotel" can be financed like a "condo" by selling individual rooms, as was the case with the Clarion Suites Resort and may be at least partly the case with Julian MacQueen's new structure, now going up near the Hilton Garden Inn.

To prevent "hotels" from transmogrifying into residential "condo" units, Escambia County regulations, adopted under the enlightened leadership of retired county administrator Barry R. Evans, stipulate that at least 90 percent of all new hotel rooms must be no larger than 500 sq. feet; any rooms that may be owned individually cannot be occupied by the owner more than two weeks a year; and room amenities cannot be much more elaborate than your average mini-bar 'fridge.

Not surprisingly, in the clinches of committee comments, it's plain to see that hotel developers wanted to blur the difference between residential condos and hotels by lifting the county restrictions while developers who dominate the residential condominium market don't. A few excerpts:
Robert Rinke (condo developer): "So I wouldn't be in favor of that [lifting hotel regulations], because I think that would change -- you'd have a lot larger buiildngs in the core, they would turn into condos, and I think you would lose a a substantial amount of tourism." (pp. 7-8)

* * *
"I just think they need to -- I've had some people tell me we should change that and leave it at 500 square feet and waive the two-week stay, but put in there that you cannot put in anything but the small hotel refrigerators and microwaves to make sure they don't creep into kitchens and lose our hotel." (p. 100)

Joseph Endry (hotel developer): "... you see people going to suites because tht's what people want." (p.11)

* * *
[The current 2-week residence rule is] "unenforceable. I mean, how would the county ever know if an owner at the Clarion uses the unit more than two weeks? There's no way to tell." (p. 12)

* * * "So the idea is to allow a longer period of time, you know, whether it's 30 days or whatever it might be, and allow the size of the rooms on average bigger, bit not 2,000 square feet. * * * A hotel developer is not going to build 1,200 and 1,300 square foot because they're not going to do it because they're too expensive."
For all of the thinly-camouflaged self interests flying around, though, it's a tribute to everyone on the committee that in the end they did not recommend devouring the beach like some sated mantis. Instead, the committee sent to the Santa Rosa Island Authority what seems, on balance, to be a sensible series of recommendations.

The two-page committee report distributed at the most recent SRIA meeting concludes with this succinct summary:
Pensacola Beach currently has a residential building cap of 4,128 units. If a policy of "concurrency" were to be adopted (as was recently recommended for Perdido Key), up to an additional 2,100 additional residential units could be built. The Committee recommends that that building cap be retained. This is an arbitrary limit, and might be changed as a result of the upcoming planning process, but it has served to limit the rampant growth that has occurred in other Gulf Coast communities Pensacola Beach is all the better for it.

Several residential developments have been developed as low density when the existing zoning would have allowed for more residential units. These include Deluna Point, Tristan Villas, Lafitte Cove II, La Caribe, Lakeside Townhouses, Seashore Village, and Santa Rosa Villas Estates. The Committee recommends that the zoning for these parcels be changed to reflect the lower density development and to be consistent with the leases. (These sites represent about half of the 2,100 unit difference between the current building cap and "concurrency" limits.)

Hotel development is not limited by the residential building cap, only by current zoning and by the economics of the hotel industry. The Committee discussed the Clarion request for a zoning variance and could not reach a consensus recommendation for the SRIA. With respect to other hotel sites, the Committee recommends that the SRIA not grant blanket changes in zoning (e.g. from medium density to high density) for hotel sites. However, the Committee recommends that the SRIA give consideration to requests for "special exemptions" to increase the number of units allowed to the maximum permissible within the current zoning classification (e.g. up to 20 units per acre for medium and up to 50 units per acre for high density sites). If variances are granted to change density limits or to change zoning of a parcel, the Committee recommends that impact fees be assessed to the leasehold developer.

The committee also recommends that the SRIA encourage the development of hotels with substantial convention/meeting facilities. These hotels attract business outside of the busy summer months and will help sustain a better year-around economic base for all island businesses.
As of yesterday, SRIA sources say, the recommendation has been received but no immediate action is scheduled.

That's not a surprise. Talk about encouraging the construction of more hotels seems a little other-worldly at the moment. Fourteen months after Hurricane Ivan, only half of the 12 existing hotels on Pensacola Beach have managed to become at least partly habitable.

In the longer term, weather permitting, it seems clear that powerful economic forces are aiming to emphasize hotel development on Pensacola Beach. As long as it's confined to the core commercial area, this trend probably will not meet with much resistance from residents or visitors who value the "quaintness" of Pensacola Beach.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Delta Develops

From the NHC: "The 2005 Atlantic Tropical Cyclone season refuses to end as moderate to deep convection has persisted for more than 12 hours and has wrapped about 75 percent of the way around the circulation center of the large non-tropical low pressure system located about 1,000 nmi southwest of the Azores islands."

Welcome to the 25th named tropical storm of the record-breaking 2005 season: Delta.

Grand Jury Probes Citizens

Star reporter Paige St. John is reporting in Florida Today and other Gannett newspapers that a federal grand jury in Tallahassee has commenced a criminal investigation into Citizens Property Insurance and its officials.

Citizens is the state-owned property insurance company. It sells or oversees privatized insurance policies for windstorm coverage of structures in higher risk Florida areas, including Pensacola Beach.

Although the feds are mum about it, two claims adjusting firms told the reporter they have been subpoened to testify. St. John explains: "One of them alleges the state-run insurer allowed millions of dollars in adjusting work to be handed out by consultants, who steered the work to their own companies."

The whistle-blower is said to be Gary Perna, president of B & H Claims. Beginning in December, 2004, he apparently started sending e-mails to a growing list of just about everybody with any power over Citizens. The list is a Who's Who of Florida insurance regulators. It includes --
  • Citizens Executive Director Bob Ricker
  • Citizens corporate counsel Susanne Murphy
  • State Financial CEO Tom Gallagher, who is also running for governor
  • Florida's Insurance Consumer Advocate Steve Burgess, and
  • Gallagher's former top aide and legal counsel, Pete Dunbar.
So far as it appears, all of them ignored Perna. At least some responded with what might charitably be called dissembling answers.

"Management personnel working for Citizens have been hiring adjusters through their personal companies to work as claims adjusters for Citizens. This conflict of interest is overlooked by Citizens," Perna wrote in an e-mail to Hulsebusch that was forwarded to Ricker and Murphy.

When Perna turned down an invitation by Murphy to meet in person "to resolve any misunderstanding," Murphy responded in writing, telling him, "No Citizens employee owns an adjusting company."

By that time, Citizens officials had already told Hulsebusch, at the time a consultant put in charge of Citizens' floundering claims operation, to shed his ownership of a company that was also doing work for Citizens.

Invoice records show those employees, including a family member, stayed on with Citizens but under Quantum Claim Services, a Texas firm whose owner Hulsebusch put in charge of assigning hurricane claims.
Perna's warning messages were flowing freely a year ago when all the public knew was that their hurricane claims were being mishandled. Gallagher busied himself stroking upset hurricane victims but did nothing about the mess. Ricker was writing pompous and misleading op-ed articles for newspapers like the Pensacola News Journal while promoting Hulsebusch and showering him with salary raises.

"Someone really has to look at the management of Citizens," a January message from Perna pleads. "We have some compelling information."

Someone finally has: a federal prosecutor and grand jury.

Related Blog Articles

Citizens Exec Resigns Amid Corruption Allegations

Ethics Lesson - Updated

Independent Investigation Is Needed

Slapped In The Face -- Again

Tough Talk

Bull From the Pulpit

Ground Hog Day

Show Us Some Warmth

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Marley's Ghost Visits FEMA

The Ghost of Jacob Marley apparently visited FEMA recently and scared the Scrooge out of it:
Stung by charges it is pushing hurricane victims out before the holidays, FEMA extended its hotel housing program Tuesday by a month in 10 states that have received victims of Katrina and Rita.

Evacuees in those states -- Texas, Louisiana, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, California, Tennessee, Arkansas and Nevada -- now have until Jan. 7 before the Federal Emergency Management Agency stops paying their hotel bills. The deadline is shorter, Dec. 15 , for victims in all other states, said FEMA acting director R. David Paulison.

Can anyone doubt that finding alternate living quarters gets harder, rather than easier, in the weeks surrounding the holiday season?

The Real Enemy of Truth

"The greatest enemy of the truth is very often not the lie -- deliberate, contrived, and dishonest, but the myth persistent, peruasive, and unrealistic. Belief in myths allows the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought."

-- John F. Kennedy (May 29, 1917 - Nov. 22, 1963)

On this forty-second commemorative date of the assassination of John Kennedy, Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post makes exactly the same point the former president did. The real enemy of truth is not an outright lie but misjudgments that rest on ill-considered myths.

"Even if you give the administration the benefit of the doubt and assume that the prewar intelligence failures stemmed from incompetence, not dishonesty, there's still no defense for the mistakes that were made in the conduct of the war."
As Arthur Silber reminds us at his new blog, Once Upon A Time, the late Senator William Fulbright, a widely acknowleged expert in foreign policy in his day, made much the same point in the wake of the Vietnam War:
"Acquiescence in Executive war, [Fulbright] wrote, comes from the belief that the government possesses secret information that gives it special insight in determining policy. Not only [is] this questionable, but major policy decisions turn "not upon available facts but upon judgment," with which policy-makers are no better endowed than the intelligent citizen. Congress and citizens can judge "whether the massive deployment and destruction of their men and wealth seem to serve the overall interests as a nation."
The list of Bush administration lies is long and growing longer by the day. But even those who can't bring themselves to accept the notion that our leaders lie to us can see that serial misjudgments and miscalculations about our national interests have led us to this egregious point: Now, even the people we claim to be helping, both Shia and Sunni, want us gone.

Bush Signs Borrowing Bill

Courtesy of The Diablogue Sept. 12, 2005

Reuters News Service reported late last night that George W. Bush signed the congressional authorization for FEMA to borrow more money to fund the National Flood Insurance Program. The wire service report added, "A Senate aide said the $18.5 billion Congress approved on Friday should sustain the program through February."

On a related subject, over $221 billion has been spent to date on the Iraq War -- up from The Diablogue's early September comparison of nearly $194 billion. Yet, not one day has gone by when we had to stop writing Iraq checks.

Related Articles

Flood Insurance Payments to Resume - Nov. 21

Flood Insurance Payments Halted; FEMA Tapped Out - Nov. 17

Monday, November 21, 2005

Flood Insurance Payments To Resume

The U.S. Congress Friday "approved by voice vote legislation that raises to $18.5 billion the amount the National Flood Insurance Program can borrow from the Treasury every year." The Washington Post has the story.

Earlier, the House of Representatives proposed increased borrowing authority of only $8.5 billion, but the Senate increased that to $18.5 billion. The House finally found time to concur after spending Thursday embarrassing itself with a raucus debate over Mr. Bush's failed Iraq war policies.

Last week, orders went out to some 96 insurance corporations through whom FEMA provides national flood insurance to cease paying NFIP benefits because the program had run out of money. As WaPo reports:
Butch Kinerney, spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the NFIP's parent agency, said insurers have been told to stop paying claims because the program has run out of money. "We are in a holding pattern to see what happens next," he said.

House Financial Services Committee Chairman Mike Oxley, R-Ohio, cautioned that claimants could "initiate legal actions against FEMA and the United States government if we do not act now."
In some cases over the past few days, flood insurance companies are known to have cancelled payment on checks already in the mail to Gulf Coast policy holders because of the funding shortfall. Some insurance companies said last week that they had sufficient unspent NFIP reserves to carry policy payments for a few days.

Technically, after escaping from his disastrous Asian tour, the president still must sign the borrowing bill before FEMA has increased borrowing authority for the NFIP program.

The National Flood Insurance Program covers approximately 4.5 million households in more than 20,000 communities with flood plains and low-lying areas.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Island Lease Extensions - Redux

In the bad old 'frontier' days of island development... many believed the good ol' boys got the 99-year leases with automatic renewal clauses while outsiders, Yankees, and other riff-raff got the shaft. Island residents should know that the same thing may be happening to them once again.
Hardly anyone on Pensacola Beach is paying attention to this, but the recurrent problem of a lease extension policy for Pensacola Beach businesses is back on the SRIA stove -- if not the front burner. The issue has importance for every property owner on Pensacola Beach, not just the few businesses that may be most immediately affected.

Julie B. Connerley has the latest news story in this week's issue of the Gulf Breeze News. Under the terms of the federal land transfer of Santa Rose Island to Escambia County, no one but the state or county government can hold title to Pensacola Beach property. Instead, it is leased for durational terms up to 99 years.

Differing Business Lease Structures

Beach commercial lease contracts cover a diverse range of businesses from Portofino Towers to seasonal watercraft rental services like Radical Rides; from Hemingway's restaurant to those coin operated telescopes along the fishing pier (if any survived Ivan). All island commercial leases require that business tenants pay either the "monthly minimum" or a percentage between two and five percent of monthly average sales, whichever is greater.

About half of all existing commercial leases have a termination date which conceivably could come to pass in this lifetime. The other half were initially let to larger, wealthier, politically well-connected businesses who had the good sense to lawyer-up before signing on the dotted line. These properties are covered by what appear to be iron-clad renewal clauses that grant a 99-year lease term with an additional 99-year extension on the same terms.

So, any commercial lease policy the SRIA adopts is likely to immediately affect only short-term leases held by smaller beach businesses. From time to time the owners of one of these less favorable leases becomes aware that the remaining lease period is too short to inspire confidence in its lending bank. Even worse, on occasion the lease expires before anyone notices.

Almost no one seems to care what the SRIA does about this, other than the business owner himself. But the deeper reality is that the agency's actions set a precedent, of sorts, for every leaseholder on the beach.

Ad Hoc Policy at the SRIA

In the past, when faced with such a circumstance the business has applied to the SRIA for a lease extension. Unguided by any island-wide governmental policy, the SRIA inevitably winds up fashioning an ad hoc solution.

In some cases, the tenant business has promised to pay any lease increase when-and-if the SRIA ever gets around to determining what it should be. In other instances, the business has been awarded a renewal in exchange for agreeing to pay a substantial one-time-only renewal fee -- after which, it immediately sold out to someone else.

In a nation that demands its governmental officials observe due process and equal protection of the law, ad hoc governance is a prescription for disaster. In fact, it's what got the SRIA into this jam to begin with.

In the bad old "frontier" days of island development, from the 1950's into the 1990s, the SRIA was accused not infrequently of playing favorites. Many believed local good ol' boys got the 99-year leases with automatic renewal clauses while outsiders, Yankees, and other riff-raff got the shaft. Island residents should know the same thing may be happening to them once again.

Two Proposals for a Renewal Policy

To bring due process into the picture, as Connerley now is reporting:
"[T]he SRIA has been trying to adopt a policy, unsuccessfully, since 1994 to determine the parameters of renewal once a commercial lease has run its course. Since then, two different advisory committees have worked several months each to produce two completely separate draft policies. The matter has been tabled twice ... ."
The earlier advisory committee came up with a formula for charging a lease renewal fee based on the actual market value of each expiring business lease. It was an elegant solution, and eminently defensible in a rapidly rising real estate market where businesses often changed hands at great profit. But it would have resulted in such a tremendous increase in business lease expenses that it was deemed politically unpalatable.

Smaller businesses, it was feared, as they neared the end of their lease period would let their properties deteriorate, the businesses would go to hell, and others would suffer the consequence of a decaying beach image. Other business owners, who professed no intention of selling and feared greatly increased renewal lease fees, threatened to revolt. (It's hard to imagine what form such a revolt would take, but apparently the threat was enough.)

More recently, a second advisory committee recommended a policy that deliberately ignored market value. Instead, the policy it proposed would substantially hike the "minimum" monthly fee in exchange for a like-term extension. The thinking is that this would create an incentive for short-term leaseholders to continue making capital improvements to their businesses because they would have some assurance the expense could be financed, and eventually recovered, over the renewal period.

Normally, all but a handful of island businesses pay far more based on the sales percentage lease fee component than the monthly minimum amounts to. While the Island Authority would not directly reap any financial advantage from increased market value under this proposal, the second advisory committee subscribed to the economic reasoning that the agency would see higher revenues based on the percentage lease fee income because the policy encourages owners to reinvest, expand, and improve their businesses even if they hold only short term leases.

Another Ivan Casualty

The recommendation was still pending when Hurricane Ivan came along and exposed what might be a fatal flaw in that thinking. Beach businesses rarely pay the "minimum fee" because in "normal" times the so-called "SRIA perentage lease fee" is far higher than the stated minimum. But Hurricane Ivan -- and widespread predictions of increased hurricane activity over the next decade or more -- raise the question, "just what are normal times?"

In the aftermath of Ivan, a very large majority of beach businesses simply could not reopen. Some failed, others remained closed for many months. In more than a few cases, they're still closed. Unless they had truly superior business interuption insurance, nearly all of the smaller island businesses are struggling to pay even the monthly minimum.

Even insurance benefits can run out before rebuilding is finished when multiple storms, such as we've had over the past year and a half, delay or prevent a business reopening. And, as everyone in the universe knows by now, hurricane experts are predicting increased tropical storm activity for at least the next ten to fifteen years.

The Residential Elephant in the Room

As politically difficult as the business lease extension issue has been for the SRIA, there's a very large elephant living inside the room that everyone has been ignoring: whatever policy the agency adopts governing business leases is also likely to influence renewal policy for residential leases.

As with business leases, not all island leases are the same. Over the decades, potentially troublesome variations have been introduced among residential house, condo, and townhouse leases. Most older leases were written for a 99 year term and a majority of them initially had a generous renewal clause. But from time to time small changes with large potential consequences were made in the lease forms the SRIA used.

Further complicating things, misguided SRIA actions in the 1990's forced some changes in lease language on properties that were being sold to buyers who financed the purchase with a conventional mortage. Moreover, some of the newer residential leaseholds, for example in the vicinity of LaFitte Cove, among others, are known to have initial durational terms as short as 30 years or even less.

The oldest residential leases, originally sold in the earliest years of Island development, have a diminishing number of years remaining. A few are barely longer, now, than a standard 30 year mortgage. Other residential lease contracts have murkier renewal terms written into them. Still others were designed to expire in just a few more years.

The Residents' Stake in Business Lease Policies

Historically, business leases have been structured in distinctly different ways than residential leases on Pensacola Beach. The business lease has a two-tiered fee system, as explained earlier: a set monthly minimum or a percentage of sales, whichever is higher. By contrast, residential lease fees have been calculated strictly according to the set monthly fee described in the lease contract.

That difference has been used in past years to assure residents that they are unaffected by whatever business lease extension policy the SRIA may adopt. That is a false assurance. Yet, it has been successful in deluding residents into supposing that they have no personal stake in the SRIA business lease extension decisions.

In all of the half dozen or so meetings of the second advisory committee the year before Hurricane Ivan struck, apart from one token resident representative from the Pensacola Beach Residents & Leaseholders Assn. not one resident showed up to take part in the discussions.

Given the new imposition of county ad valorem taxes on island residences as well as business leaseholds, it seems inevitable that whatever lease extension policy the SRIA adopts for commercial leases will inform, even if it does not directly govern, residential lease renewal policies. Questions will be raised such as --
  • If a capital market value approach (such as the first advisory committee relied upon) is used for business lease extensions and renewals, why should it not apply to residential leases as well?

  • Isn't the value of a residential lease determined by the same economic forces in the same market? If a substantial hike in the minimum monthly fee is imposed as the cost for extending business leases, then why not apply it to expiring residential leases, too?
The above questions and arguments almost certainly will arise once the SRIA adopts a business lease extension policy. If those who own residential property continue to slumber through the current debate, they risk having the answers to those questions already answered by the time they awaken.

Gamma Weakens

Tropical Storm Gamma has weakened, drifted south, and no longer is likely to threaten Florida. The early morning National Hurricane Center discussion concludes, "Additional strengthening appears unlikely due to increasing vertical shear and dry air entrainment from the South."

Next lesson in Greek (sigh): Delta. We hope not.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

The Tipping Point Is Here

"Known as a friend and champion of officers at the Pentagon and in the war zone, it is widely believed in Congress that Murtha often speaks for those in uniform and could be echoing what U.S. commanders in the field and in the Pentagon are saying privately about the conflict."

Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa) has just become the instrument of a sea-change in the debate over the Iraq war. The "tipping point" so many have expected is here.

It is not because a Democrat at long last suddenly found his backbone, as a lot of liberal bloggers are pleased to believe. And it's certainly not because Murtha is a traitor, as several moronic Republican congressmen argued during a deplorably raucous debate on the House floor late yesterday. John Murtha is a highly decorated veteran of the Vietnam war, a career Marine who retired as a colonel, and a widely-recognized expert in military affairs.

The tipping point has arrived because Rep. Murtha is known to speak for our military leaders when they can't speak for themselves. They are using him to signal that the time has come to withdraw our troops from Iraq.

As Tom Oliphant said on News Hour Friday evening:

The judgment that Americans are magnets for insurgency and for violence in Iraq is something one hears in the political debate more and more from military people themselves. Even Rumsfeld from time to time will say he's concerned about the size, because he's worried about this.

Since Murtha's now-famous Thursday press statement was a watershed event, and it is truly mesmerizing in its own right, the video or audio is worth hearing on a web re-broadcast available here and here.

For a couple of days, the New York Times had a printed transcript of Murtha's press statement but that now works only intermittently. It won't last long. For convenience, the statement and following Questions & Answers are reproduced here, along with the actual resolution that Murtha introduced:

REP. MURTHA: I just spoke to the Democratic Caucus and told them my feelings about the war. And I started out by saying the war in Iraq is not going as advertised. It's a flawed policy wrapped in illusion. The American public is way ahead of the members of Congress.

The United States and coalition troops have done all they can in Iraq. But it's time for a change in direction. Our military is suffering. The future of our country is at risk. We cannot continue on the present course. It is evident that continued military action in Iraq is not in the best interest of the United States of America, the Iraqi people or the Persian Gulf Region.

General Casey said, in a September 2005 hearing, the perception of occupation in Iraq is a major driving force behind the insurgency. General Abizaid said, on the same date, reducing the size of visibility of the coalition forces in Iraq is a part of our counterinsurgency strategy.

For two and a half years, I've been concerned about U.S. policy and the plan in Iraq. I've addressed my concerns with the administration and the Pentagon, and I've spoken out in public about my concerns. The main reason for going to war has been discredited. A few days before the start of the war I was in Kuwait - the military drew a red line around Baghdad and said when U.S. forces cross that line they will be attacked by the Iraqis with Weapons of Mass Destruction - but the US forces said they were prepared. They had well trained forces with the appropriate protective gear.

Now, let me tell you we've spent more money on intelligence than any -- than all the countries in the world put together and more on intelligence than most countries' GDP. And when they said it's a world intelligence failure, it's a U.S. intelligence failure. It's a U.S. failure, and it's a failure in the way the intelligence was used.

I've been visiting our wounded troops at Bethesda and Walter Reed, as some of you know, almost every week since the beginning of the war. And what demoralizes them is not the criticism; what demoralizes them is going to war with not enough troops and equipment to make the transition to peace. The devastation caused by IEDs is what they're concerned about, being deployed to Iraq when their homes have been ravaged by hurricanes -- and you've seen these stories about some of the people's whose homes were destroyed, and they were deployed to Iraq after it -- being on their second or third deployment, leaving their families behind without a network of support.

The threat by terrorism is real, but we have other threats that cannot be ignored. We must prepare to face all these threats. The future of our military is at risk. Our military and their families are stretched thin. Many say the Army's broken. Some of our troops are on their third deployment. Recruitment is down even as the military's lowered its standards. They expect to take 20 percent Category 4, which is the lowest category, which they said they'd never take, but they've been forced to do that, to try to meet a reduced quota. Defense budgets are being cut. Personnel costs are skyrocketing, particularly in health care. Choices will have to be made, and we cannot allow promises we have made to our military families in terms of service benefits, in terms of their health care, to be negotiated away. Procurement programs that ensure our military dominance cannot be negotiated away.

We must be prepared. The war in Iraq has caused huge shortfalls in our bases at home. I've been to three bases in the United States, and each one of them were short of things they need to train the people going to Iraq. Much of our ground equipment is worn out. And I've told the COs -- (inaudible) -- you better get in the business of rehabilitating equipment because we're not going to be able to buy any new equipment because the money's not going to be there.

George Washington said to be prepared for war is one of the most effective means of preserving peace. We don't want somebody to miscalculate down the road. It takes us 18 years to put a weapon system in the arsenal. And I don't know what the threat is, nobody knows what the threat is, but we better make sure we have what's necessary to preserve our peace. We must rebuild our Army.

Our deficit is growing out of control. The director of the Congressional Budget Office recently admitted to being terrified about the deficit in the coming decades. In other words, where's the money going to come from for defense?

I voted against every tax cut -- every tax cut I voted against. My wife says, "You shouldn't say that." I believe that when we voted for these tax cuts, yyou can't have a war, you can't have a tragedy like we had, the hurricanes, and then not have a huge deficit, which is going to increase interest rates and could cause real problems. This is the first prolonged war we've ever fought with three years of tax cuts without full mobilization of American industry and without a draft. On the college campuses they always ask me about a draft: You're for a draft. I say yeah, there's only two of us voted for it, so you don't have to worry too much about it.

The burden of this war has not been shared equally. The military and their families are shouldering the burden. Our military has been fighting this war in Iraq for over two and a half years. Our military has accomplished its mission and done its duty.

Our military captured Saddam Hussein, captured or killed his closest associates. But the war continues to intensify. Deaths and injuries are growing, and over 2,079 in confirmed American deaths, over 15,500 have been seriously injured -- half of them returned to duty, and it's estimated over 50,000 will suffer from what I call battle fatigue. And there have been reports that at least 30,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed.

I just recently visited Anbar province in Iraq in order to assess the conditions on the ground. And last May -- last May -- we put in the emergency supplemental spending bill -- Moran amendment -- which was accepted in conference, which required the secretary of Defense to submit a quarterly report about the -- and accurately measure the stability and security in Iraq. Now -- we've now received two reports. So I've just come back from Iraq, and I looked at the next report. I'm disturbed by the findings in the key indicator areas.

Oil production and energy production are below prewar level. You remember they said that was going to pay for the war, and it's proved to (be) below prewar level. Our reconstruction efforts have been crippled by security situations. Only $9 billion of $18 billion appropriated for reconstruction has been spent. And I said on the floor of the House, when they passed the $87 billion, the $18 billion was the most important part of it because you got to get people back to work, you got to get electricity, you got to get water! Unemployment is 60 percent. Now, they tell you in the United States it's less than that, so it may be 40 percent. But in Iraq, they told me it's 60 percent when I was there. Clean water is scarce, and they only spent $500 million of the $2.2 billion appropriated for water projects.

And most importantly -- this is the most important point -- incidents have increased from 150 to a week to over 700 in the last year. Instead of attacks going down over a time when addition of more troops -- when we had addition of more troops, attacks have grown dramatically. Since the revelation of Abu Ghraib, American casualties have doubled. You look at the timeline. You'll see one per day average before Abu Ghraib. After Abu Ghraib, you'll see two a day -- two killed per day because of the dramatic impact that Abu Ghraib had on what we were doing in -- and the department -- the State Department reported in 2004, right before they quit putting the reports out, that -- they indicated a sharp increase in global terrorism.

I said over a year ago now, the military and the administration agrees now that Iraq cannot be won militarily.

I said two years ago, the key to progress in Iraq is Iraqitize, internationalize and energize.

Now, we have a packet for you where I sent a letter to the president in September, and I got an answer back from assistant secretary of Defense five months later. I believe the same today. They don't want input. They only want to criticize. They -- Bush One was the opposite; Bush One might not like the criticism and constructive suggestions, but he listened to what we had to say.

I believe that and I have concluded the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq is impeding this progress. Our troops have become the primary target of the insurgency. They are united against U.S. forces, and we have become a catalyst for violence. U.S. troops are the common enemy of the Sunnis, the Saddamists and the foreign jihadists. And let me tell you, they haven't captured any in this latest activity, so this idea that they're coming in from outside, we still think there's only 7 percent.

I believe with the U.S. troop redeployment the Iraqi security forces will be incentivized to take control. A poll recently conducted -- this is a British poll reported in The Washington Times -- over 80 percent of Iraqis are strongly opposed to the presence of coalition forces, and about 45 percent of Iraqi population believe attacks against American troops are justified. I believe we need to turn Iraq over to the Iraqis. I believe before the Iraqi elections, scheduled for mid-December, the Iraqi people and the emerging government must be put on notice. The United States will immediately redeploy -- immediately redeploy. No schedule which can be changed, nothing that's controlled by the Iraqis, this is an immediate redeployment of our American forces because they have become the target.

All of Iraq must know that Iraq is free -- free from a United States occupation, and I believe this will send a signal to the Sunnis to join the political process. My experience in a guerrilla war says that until you find out where they are, until the public is willing to tell you where the insurgent is, you're not going to win this war, and Vietnam was the same way. If you have an operation -- a military operation and you tell the Sunnis because the families are in jeopardy, they -- or you tell the Iraqis, then they are going to tell the insurgents, because they're worried about their families.

My plan calls for immediate redeployment of U.S. troops consistent with the safety of U.S. forces, to create a quick reaction force in the region, to create an over-the-horizon presence of Marines, and to diplomatically pursue security and stability in Iraq.

Now let me personalize this thing for you. I go out to the hospitals every week. One of my first visits, two young women. One was 22 or 23, had two children, lost her husband. One was 19. And they both went out to the hospitals to tell the people out there how happy they were -- or how happy they should be to be alive. In other words, they were reaching out because they felt their husbands had done their duty, but they wanted to tell them that they were so fortunate, even though they were wounded, to be alive.

I have a young fellow in my district who was blinded and he lost his foot. They did everything they could for him at Walter Reed, then they sent him home. His father was in jail. He had nobody at home. Imagine this. A young kid that age, 22, 23 years old, goes home to nobody. VA did everything they could do to help him. He was reaching out.

So they sent him -- to make sure that he was a blind, they sent him to Johns Hopkins. Johns Hopkins started sending bills. Then the collection agency started sending bills. Well, when I found out about it, you could imagine they stopped the collection agency and Walter Reed finally paid the bill. But imagine, a young person being blinded, without a foot, and he's getting bills from a collection agency.

I saw a young soldier who lost two legs and an arm, and his dad was pushing him around.

I go to the mental ward; you know what they say to me? They got battle fatigue. You know what they say? "We don't get nothing. We get nothing. We're just as bruised, just as injured as everybody else, but we don't even get a Purple Heart. We get nothing. We get shunted aside. We get looked at as if there's something wrong with us."

Saw a young woman from Notre Dame. Basketball player, right- handed, lost her right hand. You know what she's worried about? She's worried about her husband because he lost weight worrying about her. These are great people. These soldiers and people who are serving, they're marvelous people.

I saw a Seabee lying there with three children. His mother and his wife were there. He was paralyzed from the neck down. There were 18 of them killed in this one mortar attack. And they were all crying because they knew what it would be like in the future.

I saw a Marine rubbing his boy's hand. He was a Marine in Vietnam, and his son had just come back from Iraq. And he said he wanted his brother to come home. That's what the father said, because the kid couldn't speak. He was in a coma.

He kept rubbing his hand.

He didn't want to come home. I told him the Marine Corps would get him home.

I had one other kid, lost both his hands. Blinded. I was praising him, saying how proud we were of him and how much we appreciate his service to the country. "Anything I can do for you?" His mother said get me a -- "Get him a Purple Heart." I said, "What do you mean, get him a Purple Heart?"

He had been wounded in taking care of bomblets, these bomblets that they drop that they have to dismantle. He had been wounded and lost both his hands. The kid behind him was killed.

His mother said, "Because they're friendly bomblets, they wouldn't give him a Purple Heart."

I met with the commandant. I said, "If you don't give him a Purple Heart, I'll give him one of mine." And they gave him a Purple Heart.

Let me tell you something. We're charged -- Congress is charged with sending our sons and daughters into battle, and it's our responsibility, our obligation to speak out for them. That's why I'm speaking out.

Our military's done everything that has been asked of them. U.S. cannot accomplish anything further in Iraq militarily; it's time to bring the troops home.

Yes, ma'am?

Q Congressman, Republicans say that Democrats are calling for withdrawal, are advocating a cut-and-run strategy. What do you say to that criticism?

REP. MURTHA: It's time to bring them home. They've done everything they can do. The military's done everything they can do. This war has been so mishandled from the very start. Not only was the intelligence bad, the way they disbanded the troops, there's all kinds of mistakes that have been made. They don't deserve to continue to suffer. They're the targets. They have become the enemy! Eighty percent of the Iraqis want us out of there. The public wants us out of there.

Yes, ma'am?

Q Democrats have called for an exit strategy in the past, but Republicans have said that it's a non-starter. Is there anything -- do you think that the climate has changed in Congress that would give your legislation a chance?

REP. MURTHA: I don't know whether the climate's changed or not. But I know one thing: It's the right thing to do. And setting an exit strategy with some kind of event-driven plan doesn't work because they always find an excuse not to get them out. There's times you just got to -- you got to change your mind about this thing, you got to change your direction.

There's times when you just got to say what's the right thing to do? The right thing to do -- our troops are the enemy, they're the targets. When I went to Anbar province, General Huck said to me, you know, the thing that's so discouraging, we got all this armor and everything, and the snipers are shooting right below the helmets. They're blowing the turrets off tanks, no matter how much armor that we put out there. We're the targets. We're uniting the enemy against us! And there's terrorism all over the world that there wasn't before we went into Iraq.

Yes, sir?

Q Mr. Murtha, you say -- your first point about bringing them home consistent with the safety of U.S. forces. You know about these matters; what is your sense as to how long that would be?

REP. MURTHA: Well, I think they can get them out of there in six months. I think that we could do it -- you know, you have to do it in a very consistent way. But I think six months would be a reasonable time to get them out of there.

Q And could you tell us also --

REP. MURTHA: See, one of the -- let me add something else. Let's say you wanted to go the other way, you wanted to put 500,000 troops over there. Now, we can't even meet the goals of 512,000; we're going to be 10,000 short in recruitment right now. Unless you have a draft, there's no way that you can have more troops. And where are most of the attacks coming? On the roads, on the roads to logistics. General Huck said every convoy is attacked. I had a young Marine that -- I went to a young group that just came back, and he said he'd been hit five times. Now, he wasn't wounded five times, but his vehicle was hit five times, and people all around him were killed.

And -- but what was the question?

Q My other question. What do you mean exactly by a Quick Reaction Force in the region?

REP. MURTHA: Yeah. Well, the Marines in Okinawa -- you remember in Somalia, we came back from Somalia and then we went back in. It only took us a couple of days to take care of the Iraqi army, and now we're not talking about an army. What I'm talking about is a terrorist camp that may affect our national security or the security in the region, we could go back in. But not a civil war or something like that, I mean, you know, that's up to the Iraqis to settle that. So I think the Marine force could be in there momentarily, within a couple of days, within 48 hours they could be in there. And if the Kuwaitis would agree and they wanted to put a force in Kuwait, that would be a good place to have them. They could go right down the road.

Yes, ma'am?

Q Mr. Murtha, what about the goal of having an oasis of democracy in the Middle East and the idea that leaving now would leave a breeding ground for terrorists right in the middle of the least stable parts of the --

REP. MURTHA: Let's talk about terrorism. What the State Department said; there's more terrorism now than there ever was, and it's because of what? Is it because of our policy? I would say it's a big part. We have become the enemy there. We have united them against us. So when they say that they want democracy, what was the first goal? The first goal was to get rid of weapons of mass destruction. The second goal was to get rid of Saddam Hussein. Well, they did that. And the third was to -- well, I guess the third was destroy the enemy and then get rid of Saddam Hussein. We've done our job militarily. It's time for us to get out.

Q You said that you had spoken with the caucus earlier today. What was their reaction, and are they willing to stand with you on this, specifically the leader?

REP. MURTHA: Well, you'll have to -- you'll have to talk to them about that. I got a standing ovation. But you'll have to talk to them. (Laughter.)

Q The president and the vice president are both saying it is now irresponsible for Democrats to criticize the war and to criticize the intelligence going into the war because everybody was looking at the same intelligence.

REP. MURTHA: I like guys who've never been there to criticize us who've been there. I like that. I like guys who got five deferments and never been there, and send people to war, and then don't like to hear suggestions about what need(s) to be done. I resent the fact on Veterans Day he criticized Democrats for criticizing them.

This is a flawed policy wrapped in illusion! The American public knows it. And lashing out at critics doesn't help a bit. You got to change the policy. That's what's going to help with the American people. We need to change direction. The troops -- what hurts the troops are the things that I listed before.

Yes, ma'am?

Q How did you come to this decision now? Obviously it's something you've been thinking a lot about, but could you just talk us through a little bit --


Q -- how you got here?

REP. MURTHA: I'll tell you, I supported -- I led the fight to go to war in '91. I was one of the few people that believed that Bush -- Bush One was absolutely right about not going into Iraq. You know why he didn't go into Iraq? He said I don't want to rebuild it, and I don't want to occupy it. That's why he didn't go to Iraq -- into Iraq after the '91 war.

I supported Reagan all through the Central American thing.

This was a decision that came because the troops and the target -- they become the target, and the lack of progress that I see. When I go over there I see commanders that are discouraged; even though they say what they're supposed to say, you can tell the difference.

And when I come back here and look at what's called the criteria for success -- and the incidents have increased, even though we've increased the number of troops -- when the unemployment is 60 percent, and we're the target, and our kids are being killed because of that, it's time to redeploy them from Iraq.

Q Mr. Murtha, based on your meeting this morning, I assume you have Ms. Pelosi's endorsement of this --

REP. MURTHA: You have to talk to her. You know, I was very careful not to say this was a caucus position. I -- a lot of people suggested it should be, but I was very careful about this. This is my own position, my own conclusion that I've reached.

My long years in the Marine Corps, my long years in defense, in reading -- I'm frustrated because in the first war President Bush -- we made some suggestions to him. What did he do? He collected $60 billion -- and I was chairman of the committee at the time -- $60 billion from all the world in order to fight the war. We paid about $60 billion. There were coalition troops, a legitimate coalition.

And I remember calling General Scowcroft, saying, "Get these things moving! Get this war over with! There's 250,000 troops out there." He said, "We will not move until we got whatever Schwarzkopf wants."

And that's what they did. And they followed the U.N. resolution to a T. He didn't want a resolution, you remember. This was a very controversial thing, the '91 thing. People forget how controversial it was. And it only passed the Senate by two votes. And -- but he listened to us. He had a meeting every week and listened to what we had to say. And sometimes he took the advice. Sometimes he didn't.

This outfit doesn't want to hear any suggestions. It's frustrating, and the troops are paying the price for it. Yes, ma'am?

Q Sir, so you're effectively saying that this war should end, beginning as soon as possible, and that all these troops can be brought home within six months. So that's your hope.

REP. MURTHA: It's what -- I say they could be brought back. I'm saying within the safety of the troops -- but I project it could be six months.

Q Six months to start or six months to have them all back?

REP. MURTHA: I think in six months you could have them all back.

Q Also, on a related subject, what's your plan for the Defense conference coming and the anti-torture and --

REP. MURTHA: Well, we thought it was going to be today, but it doesn't look like it.

Q But do you intend to fight to keep the anti-torture language that the Senate passed in the bill?

REP. MURTHA: Absolutely.

Q (Off mike) --

REP. MURTHA: I think you'll see a big vote. Republicans -- many Republicans come to me -- nobody's for torture, you know. And for us to send the signal to the world that we're for torture -- I mean, this is what caused a major part of the change in minds in Iraq and the United States, is Abu Ghraib. And some of those are my constituents that were at Abu Ghraib.

One young fellow, who was the ringleader, at least they said he was a ringleader, this guy was under a court order not to be allowed to see his family because he abused his family. He couldn't carry a gun in the United States, yet they put him in charge of this group that got out of hand. He told them, and they still -- they were so short-handed. No supervision. No training.

You need strict -- Captain Fishback came to see me five, six months ago. He said, "We don't know what to do. We don't know what the guidelines are. I'd ask a lawyer and he'd say one thing; I'd ask the commanding officer, he'd say something else. Were you guys complicit in this? Were you guys in Congress part of this? Did you wink and say, Yeah, go ahead and torture these people.`?" He said, "They're not following the Geneva Convention."

We need to clarify exactly what the standards are. We need to make sure that the world knows we do not treat prisoners inhumanely or detainees inhumanely. We can't -- Fishback said, I'd rather die than lower the moral standards of the United States. He said that in the letter to John McCain. And I believe that. I believe this is the thing that we have going for us in this country.

Q Do you believe that any House Republicans support your position on the torture amendment?


Q (Off mike) -- keep it in?

REP. MURTHA: I do. He's not going to veto that bill over torture, I'll tell you that, not a defense bill, when we got troops in the war.

Q Mr. Murtha, could you respond directly to what Mr. Bush and Mr. Rumsfeld say, that saying that we're going to get out in six months is giving the insurgents exactly what they want in Iraq; they just can outlast us?

REP. MURTHA: I can only tell you this: Incidents have increased, and there's no economic progress. And we have become the enemy. And 80 percent of the Iraqis want us out of there. Saying it -- you know, the president said it's tough to win a war. You know, it's tough to wage a war. That's where the fallacy's been. To WAGE this war is where the problem's been.

Yes, ma'am?

Q Do you have any co-sponsors or congressmen --

REP. MURTHA: I didn't ask for any. I'm not sure that -- I think I'll just sponsor it myself. I feel very strongly about this thing, and I'm not sure whether I'll ask for co-sponsors.

Yes, ma'am?

Q What's your political strategy, though, going forward? Because you would have to convince some Republicans to get on your side, and there doesn't seem to be any that are wiling to go out on a limb on this and buck the leadership. Do you have private conversations with any Republicans who have conveyed to you quietly, "I'm behind this"?

REP. MURTHA: I have not yet, because obviously, anything I said before this time would have leaked out.

You folks are so hard-working, so dedicated, so -- have such an ability to get words out of people that I knew better than to say anything.

Q Do you have a political strategy now moving forward to try to get more support on this? REP. MURTHA: Well, I'm just -- I'm just starting to think about that.

Q Will you introduce your bill today?


STAFF: Okay, folks, one more question.

Q Have you had any discussions with anyone in the administration prior to coming out with this, the idea that you were coming all the way around to having troops come back immediately? Have you had any discussions prior to coming out --

REP. MURTHA: My experience goes back to the letter I sent to them as the former chairman, as the ranking member of the Defense Subcommittee. Five months later, I get a letter from the assistant secretary. So I didn't have much chance to speak to the administration about it. And I don't -- I don't know -- I know it wouldn't have made any difference. I mean, what they're saying is rhetoric. It's easy to sit in these air-conditioned offices and talk about what the troops are doing, send the troops to war.

Let me tell you, these young folks are under intense activity over there, I mean much more intense than Vietnam. You never know when it's going to happen.

One young commanding officer -- I just met with him the other day, went out to the hospital to see him; he's from Johnstown. He actually was a commanding officer unit in Johnstown. Three days before he's supposed to go home, he walked up to this IED and it blew up and blew him apart. Luckily, he had the glasses on that we have provided for them and it didn't blind him, or he'd have been blinded.

And I remember one young fellow -- and this is the last story I'll tell -- is -- he had pock marks all over his face, shrapnel all in his face, all over his body, arms, everyplace. But he wasn't blinded. And I was so pleased because he had glasses on that we had made sure he'd got, and I patted him on the hand and the vibration was so severe, he almost screamed. And he turned his arm over and it was split the whole way up and his nerves were showing.

It's -- it's -- we've got to address -- and these are long-term problems. This is not something you just put them out of the hospital. You've got long-term problems with these guys and the intensity that they have been through.

Thank you very -- Q Senators Warner and Stevens just talked with reporters on the other side of the Capitol, and they said that they had yet to meet a single soldier in Iraq or at the hospitals here who thought it was time to pull out of Iraq --

REP. MURTHA: Is that right?

Q -- and that --

REP. MURTHA: What do you think they're going to tell you? We're here to talk for them. We're here to measure the success. The soldiers aren't going to tell you that. I told you what the soldiers say. They're proud of their service. They're looking at their friends.

You folks are so hard-working, so dedicated, so -- have such an ability to get words out of people that I knew better than to say anything.

Q Do you have a political strategy now moving forward to try to get more support on this?

REP. MURTHA: Well, I'm just -- I'm just starting to think about that.

Q Will you introduce your bill today?


STAFF: Okay, folks, one more question.

Q Have you had any discussions with anyone in the administration prior to coming out with this, the idea that you were coming all the way around to having troops come back immediately? Have you had any discussions prior to coming out --

REP. MURTHA: My experience goes back to the letter I sent to them as the former chairman, as the ranking member of the Defense Subcommittee. Five months later, I get a letter from the assistant secretary. So I didn't have much chance to speak to the administration about it. And I don't -- I don't know -- I know it wouldn't have made any difference. I mean, what they're saying is rhetoric. It's easy to sit in these air-conditioned offices and talk about what the troops are doing, send the troops to war.

Let me tell you, these young folks are under intense activity over there, I mean much more intense than Vietnam. You never know when it's going to happen.

One young commanding officer -- I just met with him the other day, went out to the hospital to see him; he's from Johnstown. He actually was a commanding officer unit in Johnstown. Three days before he's supposed to go home, he walked up to this IED and it blew up and blew him apart. Luckily, he had the glasses on that we have provided for them and it didn't blind him, or he'd have been blinded.

And I remember one young fellow -- and this is the last story I'll tell -- is -- he had pock marks all over his face, shrapnel all in his face, all over his body, arms, everyplace. But he wasn't blinded. And I was so pleased because he had glasses on that we had made sure he'd got, and I patted him on the hand and the vibration was so severe, he almost screamed. And he turned his arm over and it was split the whole way up and his nerves were showing.

It's -- it's -- we've got to address -- and these are long-term problems. This is not something you just put them out of the hospital. You've got long-term problems with these guys and the intensity that they have been through.

Thank you very --

Q Senators Warner and Stevens just talked with reporters on the other side of the Capitol, and they said that they had yet to meet a single soldier in Iraq or at the hospitals here who thought it was time to pull out of Iraq --

REP. MURTHA: Is that right?

Q -- and that --

REP. MURTHA: What do you think they're going to tell you? We're here to talk for them. We're here to measure the success. The soldiers aren't going to tell you that. I told you what the soldiers say. They're proud of their service. They're looking at their friends. We are here -- we have an obligation to speak for them.

Thank you very much.


Murtha Resolution to Redeploy U.S. Forces from Iraq

November 17, 2005

MR. MURTHA introduced the following joint resolution, which was referred to the Committee on _____________________

Whereas Congress and the American People have not been shown clear, measurable progress toward establishment of stable and improving security in Iraq or of a stable and improving economy in Iraq, both of which are essential to "promote the emergence of a democratic government";
Whereas additional stabilization in Iraq by U, S. military forces cannot be achieved without the deployment of hundreds of thousands of additional U S. troops, which in turn cannot be achieved without a military draft;
Whereas more than $277 billion has been appropriated by the United States Congress to prosecute U.S. military action in Iraq and Afghanistan;
Whereas, as of the drafting of this resolution, 2,079 U.S. troops have been killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom;

Whereas U.S. forces have become the target of the insurgency,

Whereas, according to recent polls, over 80% of the Iraqi people want U.S. forces out of Iraq;

Whereas polls also indicate that 45% of the Iraqi people feel that the attacks on U.S. forces are justified;

Whereas, due to the foregoing, Congress finds it evident that continuing U.S. military action in Iraq is not in the best interests of the United States of America, the people of Iraq, or the Persian Gulf Region, which were cited in Public Law 107-243 as justification for undertaking such action;

Therefore be it Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, that:

Section 1. The deployment of United States forces in Iraq, by direction of Congress, is hereby terminated and the forces involved are to be redeployed at the earliest practicable date.

Section 2. A quick-reaction U.S. force and an over-the-horizon presence of U.S Marines shall be deployed in the region.

Section 3. The United States of America shall pursue security and stability in Iraq through diplomacy.