It’s been almost too hard to bear. Cathy and I sat watching the news on Friday morning barely able to speak- first and foremost because of the sheer level of human suffering and destruction we were seeing- but also because we were overwhelmed and outraged by the magnitude of this administration’s failure to meet the consequences of this tragedy with anything even remotely consonant with reality. And I’m not just talking about the utter lack of coordination, the baffling slow motion delivery of the most basic of human necessities or even the steady stream of habitual lies and distortions (“Sure, we were ready for a Hurricane," they say, " but never in our wildest nightmare scenarios did we ever imagine we’d have to deal with a Hurricane and a flood")- I’m also talking about the absence of anything even remotely smacking of leadership. This is a White House that went days before finally having their heads dislodged from their respective asses and bothering to examine a catastrophe that the rest of the nation had been watching unfold for days in horror. Still, 5 days after the greatest natural disaster this nation has ever faced I'm unaware of Bush having given a primetime national address addressing the public as to what this administration is prepared to do to help those in need. Do they have so little to offer, or are the conditions simply not politically advantagous enough to properly deal with yet?
Please check out Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu’s press release from earlier today regarding Bush’s tour on Friday of those areas devastated by Katrina. Here’s a quote to make your stomach churn:
But perhaps the greatest disappointment stands at the breached 17th Street levee. Touring this critical site yesterday with the President, I saw what I believed to be a real and significant effort to get a handle on a major cause of this catastrophe. Flying over this critical spot again this morning, less than 24 hours later, it became apparent that yesterday we witnessed a hastily prepared stage set for a Presidential photo opportunity; and the desperately needed resources we saw were this morning reduced to a single, lonely piece of equipment. The good and decent people of southeast Louisiana and the Gulf Coast -- black and white, rich and poor, young and old -- deserve far better from their national government.
It was a mother-fucking phony photo-op! Un-fucking believable. As of Saturday, unnamed New Orleans city officials were quoted in one Post article I read estimating that roughly 42,000 people were still remaining in the city. We all know what dire straits these folks are facing. Bush, justifiably I thought, had told Dianne Sawyer in his interview with her on Thursday morning (where he now infamously said, “I don’t think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees”) that the security coordination necessary for getting him into the area without disrupting rescue efforts was one of the reasons he had yet to go. Or perhaps, as truly seems the case, his staff needed a bit more time to ensure the necessary props were in place to offer the necessary can-do pomp. When reality isn’t prepared to meet this administration’s expectations, artifice always is. In the face of untold and ongoing calamity they choose political expediency. Look, behold, see George getting things done! And this parade of grotesqueries grows ever longer when you read and discover that, "Three tons of food ready for delivery by air to refugees in St. Bernard Parish and on Algiers Point sat on the Crescent City Connection bridge Friday afternoon as air traffic was halted because of President Bush’s visit to New Orleans.”
And you’ve probably seen or heard the head of FEMA, Michael Brown lately. He, like the head of Department of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, were both unaware until, what was it, Thursday? that thousands of folks had been all but abandoned in the New Orleans convention center. You have to watch Brown’s interview with Ted Koppel, where he responds to this most glaring of oversights, to believe it. Crooks and Liars has the video feed but you may have to scroll down a ways to find it.
And speaking of Brown. This guy, unsurprisingly, is just another dude on the Bush administration’s cronyism bandwagon. Here are some choice quotes from a NYT’s article about his background:
Mr. Brown, 50, is a Republican lawyer who worked for the International Arabian Horse Association before joining FEMA in 2001 as general counsel. This week he has become the public face of an agency that critics say has lost focus and clout since it was absorbed in 2003 by the new Department of Homeland Security.
Mr. Brown was brought to FEMA in 2001 by the then-director, Joe M. Allbaugh, an old friend who had run Mr. Bush's first presidential campaign. He was promoted to deputy director in 2002 and to director in 2003
Well, first thing that catches you is the International Arabian Horse Association. You can’t make this stuff up. And then there’s this:
Brown was forced out of the position after a spate of lawsuits over alleged supervision failures.
"He was asked to resign,'" Bill Pennington, president of the IAHA at the time, confirmed last night.
And you might with good reason be asking yourself, I know I am, how working for 11 years as commissioner of a breeders’ and horse show organization, an organization you were forced out of because of your incompetence, would prepare you for heading up the largest emergency management agency in the world. According to everything I’ve read, Brown has had no experience, ever, in this area. So, you know, it’s maybe not so surprising that he had no idea over 5000 people were dying in a convention center they had originally been told to take refuge in. Had they been Arabian horses on the other hand…
What’s going to be tough to see over the next few days is just how this administration goes about passing the buck. We know, from 5 excruciating years of experience, that this administration is never accountable for anything. But this time, as Andrew Sullivan wrote, “The gap between Bush rhetoric and reality in America is stunning.”
CNN has gone and collected quotes from different administration officials that really brings this disconnect home. Read it here.
And they’re already shifting tactics, lining up convenient culprits and aiming to shift the burden of blame squarely on the shoulders of local and state officials. This, from a Post article that just went up:
Behind the scenes, a power struggle emerged, as federal officials tried to wrest authority from Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D). Shortly before midnight Friday, the Bush administration sent her a proposed legal memorandum asking her to request a federal takeover of the evacuation of New Orleans, a source within the state's emergency operations center said Saturday.
The administration sought unified control over all local police and state National Guard units reporting to the governor. Louisiana officials rejected the request after talks throughout the night, concerned that such a move would be comparable to a federal declaration of martial law. Some officials in the state suspected a political motive behind the request. "Quite frankly, if they'd been able to pull off taking it away from the locals, they then could have blamed everything on the locals," said the source, who does not have the authority to speak publicly.
It’s all that woman’s fault! If only she wasn’t so stubborn. If only she put herself in our ready and willing hands instead of dragging her feet.
Later, there’s this one from Chertoff to really bring the strategy home:
In a Washington briefing, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said one reason federal assets were not used more quickly was "because our constitutional system really places the primary authority in each state with the governor."
You can see where they want to go with this. We expected the state and locals system to take care of this. Or, in the very least, to take care of the complex legalities necessary to allow for the Feds to adequately take over. We’re so sensitive to the rights of states, we always have been. So, you know, we hung back, wrung out hands, and honored the constitution while we waited for them to reach out for assistance. Dan, take it away:
The federal government stands ready to work with state and local officials to secure New Orleans and the state of Louisiana," White House spokesman Dan Bartlett said. "The president will not let any form of bureaucracy get in the way of protecting the citizens of Louisiana.