Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Stormy Weather

Here's a dire prediction from Max Mayfield of the federal National Hurricane Center, which predicts that this year we may be in for even more hurricanes and that active hurricane seasons can be expected to last for the next 10 to 20 years.

Mayfield, testifying before Congress, shrugged off claims that global warming might be the cause of the hyperactive hurricane seasons we've been experiencing since the 1990s. In fact, Mayfield told the Senate Commerce subcommittee that active Atlantic storm seasons run in cycles, the last one ranging from the 1940s to the 60s.

It's true that during the 80s, when I lived in Fort Lauderdale, hurricane seasons tended to be mild and to not produce many storms. However, Hurricane David, which did little damage in the U.S., was a huge killer storm that claimed thousands of lives in the Carribbean before it made landfall in Palm Beach on Labor Day weekend of 1979.

I remember David. I spent a scared night in Fort Lauderdale while we all waited out the once ferocious storm (and David packed power before reaching U.S. shores - we just got lucky). Although David didn't live up to his reputation, the Keys were evacuated and my cousin's long planned wedding was cancelled (it was the reason we were all in South Florida).

Then, in the 80s, when I had moved there, myself, we braced for several storms that threatened destruction and then either turned in a different direction, sparing us, or fizzling out. Again, we were lucky. But a pall of doom hung over the air of South Florida as most long term residents muttered direly to newcomers, "we're due for one."

Back then, Ft. Lauderdale had a schizophrenic attitude about hurricanes. We all thought we were due for "the big one." And yet, when actually threatened, we usually made fun of the hurricane. In fact, the night before David hit, I had been out at a Las Olas Avenue nightclub called Mame's. The female impersonators at Mame's all did skits, jokes, quips and songs that had a spit in the Devil's face kind of derring do. No hurricane was going to scare them out of a good party.

I was charmed by that attitude. But then I went home, listened to the weather forecasts, found out about the wedding cancellation and read a CS Lewis book, Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer. Mostly, these were erudite and inspirational letters between the famous Christian apologist and his friend Malcolm about the topic of prayer, just as the title suggests. However, this night, the letter I read was Lewis' explanation of why some prayers are not answered. It's the letter with his famous line, "every deathbed is a testament to a prayer not answered."

So killer storm David was bearing down and Lewis was expounding on when God says no. Thanks a lot. Probably why I'm still losing my religion.

Anyway, I didn't pray that night; I just read. And David missed us, making landfall up in Palm Beach rather than Fort Lauderdale. I woke up to calm, balmy and clear skies that were a gorgeous blue and to soft warm ocean breezes. That's when I learned another truth: After hurricanes make land and bring their destruction elsewhere, sometimes the weather turns heartbreakingly beautiful.

Palm Beach took the hit, but even then, compared to the thousands of lives lost in the small, poor islands in the Carribbean, the damage was minimal. And although David was downgraded, it was a powerful storm that held together and made it all the way up to New York, where it caused flooding and wind damage in Westchester and upstate and then cut a swath of destruction all the way to New England. Oh yeah, I experienced David - now a storm but still powerful - back in New York City too, after a bumpy flight over David in Savannah. So much for the joys of modern transportation. We can fly over some powerful storms, which are sometimes low to the ground, and we can even beat them to their next target of destruction.

I won't even talk about living through Hurricane Juan, Hurricane Hugo, and others whose names I've forgotten. They were also near misses for Florida back in the 80s when the U.S. coasts were luckier.

But for all the times I've waited out anxiously while hurricanes howled their threats in my direction, I have never seen a season with 17 named storms. The record supposedly is 21 hurricanes or storms back in the 30s.

But even in the active Atlantic seasons of the 50s and early 60s, which produced the killers Camille and Donna, never were there 17 named storms. In fact, the killers, which came in September, were only in the C's and D's, not in the R's and possibly S's.

Mayfield may dismiss the threat of global warming and blame it on a natural cycle. But lots of other reputable scientists don't agree with him. In fact, not only are we having more active hurricane seasons that produce more intense storms, but even in the winter, the East Coast has been experiencing an increase in severe and crippling blizzards like the ones in 1996, 2003 and 2004. All of those were dubbed "storms of the century" as they dumped 2 feet of snow over Washington, DC and crippled that city and closed down the federal government for days at a time.

My question is how many times can you call a storm "the storm of century" before the very term ceases to be meaningful? And how many of nature's warnings can you ignore?

This strange and stormy weather may not be caused by global warming. But maybe it is. Reputable scientists on both sides of the issue disagree. Perhaps, erring on the side of caution and making some modest changes to protect the environment, just in case it really is global warming, might not be the worst idea in the world. Because who knows what the storm next time might bring?

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Louisiana, They Tried To Wash Us Away

When Aaron Neville sang the chilling Randy Newman song Louisiana Flood, 1927 on the telethon to raise money for Hurricane Katrina victims, it was generally believed to be a protest against the institutional racism that America was watching unfold before our eyes. We were all eyewitness to the scenes of horror as victims struggled against the rising floodwaters and catastrophic winds that destroyed their homes and took their lives. And it escaped nobody's notice that most of those trapped in New Orleans were the poor and the black.Those with the means to leave had fled the city or were on higher ground in places like the French Quarter or the wealthier and older sections of The Garden District.

Newman's song recounts the devastating flood of 1927, when armed Louisiana National Guardsman forced the black populace, at gunpoint, to act as human dykes to protect the property of the wealthy. As they drowned in the deluge, pleasure boats filled with wealthy whites sailed out of New Orleans' harbor, while jazz bands played "Bye Bye Black Bird."

While the racism this time wasn't as blatant, it turns out that the song was somewhat more than just a metaphor.

I stumbled across this story in the most recent Washington City Paper. It's an account by two medical emergency workers, Lori Beth Slonsky and Larry Bradshaw, which appeared on the website of the Socialist Workers Party.

Now, I normally would take anything reported by so highly partisan and ideological a socialist website as the one run by the Socialist Workers Party with a healthy grain of salt, just as I would something I found on a far rightwing website. However, this story has been verified by the major media including ABC's Nightline and The New York Times, which ran this account last Saturday.

Here's the basic story:

Lori Beth Slonksy and Larry Bradshaw, who were in New Orleans to attend a convention for medical emergency workers, were trapped in a hotel when Hurricane Katrina hit. When the hotel ran out of food and water and lost its electricity, they and other guests were forced to leave. At first, they tried to get to the Superdome or the Convention Center. But when they heard the dire reports of the chaotic conditions at both places, they attempted to leave New Orleans for higher ground. New Orleans police suggested they walk across one of the bridges to get to a suburb south of New Orleans, Gretna. Buses were supposed to be waiting there to take them out of New Orleans.

However, incredibly, they were turned back by armed Gretna police officers and Sheriff's guards from Jefferson Parrish.

Those who were trapped in New Orleans and who were attempting to flee the flooding, privation and devastation were being forcibly prevented from leaving because, and this is a quote from one of the Sheriff's guards, "We won't allow a Superdome in Gretna."

Blacks were being prevented from going to higher ground and safety just outside New Orleans city limits. Sadly, people in Texas, Washington, DC and throughout the South were giving these evacuees a warmer welcome than their fellow Louisianans.

All that was missing was the jazz band.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Okay, I Still Don't Get It...

But whoever just commented on my last post, which essentially was a blast at people who come to my site to post meaningless, insincere flattery as a ploy to simply link to their commerical sites, obviously has a fine sense of irony.

It is sort of funny.

Here I'm publicly airing my dilemna: Do I allow people to exploit my blog site by posting their commercial ventures just because they are writing all kinds of kudos like "great site" or "very creative, I'm bookmarking it" or do I simply delete them?

After yesterday's post, the response I got was not what I expected. You'd think at least one of those people who had posted (and they might actually be the same person with lots of sites) would have gotten angry and posted a criticism. I truly expected an offended comment calling me a bitch for nailing them with my critical comments about their posts. Approbation was not exactly the response I thought I'd get after I had basically insulted them.

At any rate, to the degree that I'm able to monitor it, from now on, I'll probably delete the spammers, which is how I think of them.

Again, to repeat, I do not mind real commentators leaving their remarks and their views and linking me to their sites. In fact, I encourage it. Just as I encourage and welcome all sincere discussion. Please, disagree with me if you'd like. Controversy is a good think in the blogosphere.

And that's the other thing. Although, a lot of these scammers call their sites blogs, they are, in fact, no such thing. They are not weblogs. They are simply websites set up to sell you something.

So, once again, Caveat Emptor!

Buyer beware.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Disclaimer - Biting The Hand

Some of my posts have been receiving "rave reviews." That is, some people, writing anonymously, have been leaving little statements like, "creative blog," or "keep up the good work." While I'm not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, and I certainly don't want to seem unappreciative of sincere praise - heck I'd even take an insincere compliment once in a while - I suspect that some of these exclamations of approval are more attempts by their authors to link their commercial websites to my blog than they are actual expressions of praise for a job well done.

I am struggling with this because I don't want to accuse anybody of phony flattery. Also, I'm not so insecure that I can't believe that somebody would actually want to simply compliment my posts. I think they're pretty good or I wouldn't keep posting. But I also know I'm no genius either.

Also, I do not ever resent a sincere poster who comments on my opinions and also links to his or her own blog. Indeed, I do the same on other blogs, myself. When I post comments to Daily Kos or even the Democratic Party's blog, I sign myself as AnonymousIsaWoman and link it back here.

So, when Unlawfl Combatant, The Fool, or Sage, or anybody else with a blog comes here to comment on what I've written, I appreciate it and I'm glad to have them link back to their own blogs. Indeed, I've added them to my list of links. None of us are the big fish in the pond, so if we can help each other out, so much the better.

My blog, however, carries no advertisements, except for the little site counter, which is sponsored by the Mesothelioma Society and so links to their site. I support cancer research in any form, so I'm happy both to provide them with the opportunity to advertise and link. In return, they give me the guest counter. And they provide valuable information on lung cancer and asbestos related lung diseases. Other than that, however, my site is advertisement free for a reason. I'm an amateur.

I also don't resent others who have made a different decision. Folks like Daily Kos, Andrew Sullivan, and other bloggers who do it professionally provide an important service. They are trying to make a living at blogging so they can continue bringing all of us the news and opinions that the major media no longer provide. But to do it, they need to have something to live on. You can't do what they do full time and not get some compensation. I couldn't. Kos, Sullivan, Slate, etc, are my sources just as much as the New York Times, Washington Post, and other major newspapers are. I don't have the resources to go out and investigate stories. I am not that kind of professional reporter. And I have another full time job that I like and want to keep. So, the folks who run the above mentioned blogs do the leg work and generate the investigative stuff that people like me can't or choose not to provide on our blogs. And to do that, they must work at it full time and be compensated for it. This is their day job.

However, I am not particularly happy about people who come to my Comments section to post a quick blurb that is only an excuse for free advertising. Again, I don't want to sound ungrateful about sincere praise. But I don't think that's what this is.

I am much happier when people comment thoughtfully on what exactly they liked, what they agreed with, or even what they disagreed with. I know I'm no genius and not everything I believe or assert is the last word on a subject. I would be happier with a thoughtful discussion pro and con than I am with somebody simply writing in "great little blog..." and then posting their Adware ad.

At this point, I am not sure whether I will remove these posts. I am ambivalent about it. I will monitor the situation. But please, readers, be warned that I don't know the people who are posting, so if you go to their sites and do business with them, you do so at your own risk.

Buyer beware!

Monday, September 12, 2005

Be Very Afraid

Yesterday, I made the claim that the top tier of career feds are leaving the executive branch of the federal government rather than continue to see their work bowderlized and misrepresented by the political hacks that the Bush Administration has appointed to head their agencies. Scientists, economists, technical specialists, researchers, intelligence analysts, and even counter terrorism experts are among those who have searched their consciences and can no longer put up with seeing political ideology being put before solid research and analysis in their fields of expertise. They're voting with their feet. And because of the contempt with which these dedicated public servants have been held by the political hacks and cronies loyal to Bush, how many FEMAs are waiting to happen? How much more will our nation's security and public safety be compromised by an Administration that places personal loyalty to the President and political correctness above competence?

Paul Krugman, in this New York Times column asks the same question that those of us in the federal community have been asking, with a great deal of concern, for a long time now.

Be afraid. Be very afraid for America.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Hail To The Chief Crony In Charge

On Friday, Andrew Sullivan seemed relieved that Brown was being replaced by the Coast Guard's Vice Admiral Thad W. Allen. As much as I admire Andrew Sullivan, I definitely disagree with him on his call – he was too easily satisfied with far too little.

Brown was not fired. He was removed from the Gulf Region’s emergency operations. He is still the Director of FEMA. And presumably, he simply headed home to go to that Mexican restaurant and get his “stiff Margarita,” as has been widely quoted as saying.

Gee, you gotta wonder why he didn’t just go to Disney World.

He wasn't punished, he's been protected, taken out of harm's way and the media's way to hide out and lick his wounds. Meanwhile, he still gets the salary, the perks, and the authority of a director of major federal agency.

Unlike Sullivan, I’ve been a federal employee. So maybe that's why I view Brown's treatment very differently from the way Sullivan does.

I’ve seen the hammering my fellow feds have been taking for many years by this Administration – the color-coded scorecards on how well various agencies were meeting their missions (yup, security threats aren’t the only thing that comes color coded in this Administration – maybe they didn’t get enough crayons when they were young).

The President’s Management Agenda (PMA), as this color coded rating system is called, is a thinly disguised attempt to smear the federal government as inefficient and unresponsive to the public. By extension, it also implied that federal employees were lazy, incompetent, and unwilling to do their jobs effectively. All the better to reorganize the agencies and replace the workers with a top level of appointees politically loyal to Bush and to compete out the jobs of federal employees to private contractors who, it is claimed, can do everything so much better than the feds do it.

Oh, how this crew hates the bureaucracy – the Beast, as Grover Norquist calls it.

But a funny thing happened on the way to FEMA’s first disaster since 9/11.

It’s chief – a Bush political crony – failed miserably to help the people of the entire Gulf Coast.

In fact, after the major reorganization of the federal government, with FEMA losing its cabinet level status and coming under the new Department of Homeland Security, many of the most experienced top career officials departed for other jobs, leaving the less experienced to replace them and the political hacks at the top to flounder in a real-time disaster. This Washington Post article describes in frightening detail the lack of disaster planning experience the top ten FEMA executive level managers, all political cronies of the the Administration, had.

The sad thing is that FEMA is not the only federal agency to lose its best and brightest career professionals because of mismanagement and arrogance by the top level of political appointees. It’s happened throughout the federal government, especially in agencies that depend the most on well-educated and highly skilled professionals. Indeed, in everything from fudging reports on the true dangers of global warning to denying women adequate birth control protection (as recently happened with the FDA denying over the counter status to the “morning after” birth control pill for emergencies) the top tier of respected professional scientists, engineeers, and technical specialists have been departing the federal goverment in droves rather than see their reputations impugned by remaining silent as the Administration practices junk science, junk economics, and junk intelligence.

And Katrina finally ripped the façade off this Administration's pretensions. Their house of cards is being blown apart and torn to splinters like a Gulf Coast fishing shack by this hurricane.

One thing that is certain is that the removal of Michael Brown from all authority for the disaster recovery effort is no victory for those who demand good government and accountability at all levels of government, as Andrew Sullivan seemed to think that it was on Friday

In fact, it’s a defeat for those who actually want good government and true accountability from government employees from the top to the bottom, and for those who care deeply about the security of our nation in a real terrorist attack or natural disaster.

Accountability starts at the top. And the very best way to get good morale and improved performance from those at the lowest levels is to lead by example. But if you are dissatisfied with the government bureaucracy, ask yourself this question: with the examples of leaders like Bush and Brownie, do you really expect it to get better any time soon?

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, Michael Brown's Gotta Go

Ultimately, he's a presidential appointee and so President Bush still bears responsibility for appointing so thoroughly an unprepared and inexperienced official to head FEMA. What makes it all the more egregious is that right now every federal employee is being hammered to take personal responsibility for how he or she performs on the job.

Indeed, personal responsibility is a Republican and a Bush mantra. Whether you're a poor person in an inner city with a drug problem and a lousy education, or a displaced worker whose job has gone to Bangalore, or a federal employee who is constantly recompeting with a private contractor to keep your job, the refrain is always one of personal accountability.

The government has performance measures, metrics to measure that performance and A-76 competitions to hold government employees responsible for performing their jobs efficiently and to bring down the cost to the public.

In addition, the Bush Administration has been pushing for major overhaul of the civil service system. They want to streamline the appeals process for disciplinary actions so that managers have more flexibility to hire and fire federal workers. And they are proposing a pay banding system that would abolish the old General Schedule that rewards employees for longetivity rather than performance. In its place, the Administration has proposed a system, linked to the performance measures discussed above, that would reward top performers and punish underachievers.

With all this emphasis on personal responsibility and accountability - all of which I support as improvements to the old system - where does Michael Brown fit in? He's a failed lawyer who was forced out of his job at the International Arabian Horse Association before being hired by his old college roomate, Joe Allbaugh, to work for FEMA as Deputy Director. And as director, after Allbaugh's departure, he screwed up last year in Florida by giving money for hurricane relief to people in Dade County, where no hurricane even hit. He was widely criticized by the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel for that and they urged Bush to fire him back then.

And where does the President himself fit? He's a man notoriously incapable of ever admitting to a mistake.

But being George Bush means never having to say you're sorry for anything. And if you're a Bush crony, you never have to worry about personal accountability. To date, none of Bush's glorious failures in the Administration - from Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Bremer (glorious failures in Iraq) to FEMA's director have been held accountable.

I guess responsibility, accountability, and performance measures are for the ordinary chumps like you and me, not the cronies in charge. Unfortunately, there also used to be a concept of leading by example.

God forbid we all follow the Bush-Brown example of personal responsibility. That would be lethal for the rest of America, just as it has been for New Orleans.

So, I want to add my voice to the growing chorus: Fire Michael Brown. Hold this Administration to it's own standard. Demand accountability from them. Demand that they take responsibility for their on-the-job performance. Hell, demand that they apologize to the citizens of the Gulf Coast and to the American public. Demand that they act like grown ups for a change.

Also, here's some great links to other's on the blogosphere, especially my personal hero (although he's to the right of me) Andrew Sullivan, who has covered the devastation in the aftermath of Katrina in incredible depth. And also, a wonderful take on Bush's immaturity from Bull Moose

And this just in. I swear, even as I was finishing off this post, my husband walked in and announced, "Barbara has infected Laura."

Apparently, he heard on NBC News this quote from Laura, "the video that we've seen over and over again is not indicative of what's really been happening."

What is it indicative of? Is the video lying? And are all those eyewitnesses and reporters lying? Or is it just that those underprivileged people aren't as appreciative as they should be?

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Starving the Beast

As usual, The New York Times' Paul Krugman gets it right. In his column yesterday, he hit the nail on the head as to why FEMA failed so miserably to respond to Hurricane Katrina within the first 72 hours after that catastrophe, when aid is at its most critical to save lives.

According to Krugman - and I think he's spot on in his analysis - the Bush Administration, and its rightwing cronies, have long held a hostility to the federal government. As Krugman points out, they don't regard the government as an instrument of the public good, regardless of the circumstances.

Here's the money quote:

"But the federal government's lethal ineptitude wasn't just a consequence of Mr. Bush's personal inadequacy; it was a consequence of ideological hostility to the very idea of using government to serve the public good. For 25 years the right has been denigrating the public sector, telling us that government is always the problem, not the solution. Why should we be surprised that when we needed a government solution, it wasn't forthcoming?"

Indeed, as Krugman also reminds us, after 9/11, these same people stubbornly resisted federalizing airport security. Incredibly, after four airplanes from three different airports had all been hijacked, largely due to egregious security lapses that allowed terrorists to get past the gates and the metal dectators with their metal box cutters and other weapons, the major private contractor responsible for providing the security to all the involved airports, Argenbright, had been allowed to continue providing airport security, while a debate was waged in Congress and the Administration as to whether airport security might be an inherently governmental function after all. It was only after Argenbright employees continued to fail to maintain security for months after 9/11 that Bush reluctantly created the Federal Transportation Security Administration with trained professional security inspectors.

Likewise, from almost the beginning of his administration, Bush has been downgrading FEMA's resources. He appointed a Texas political crony, Joseph Allbaugh, as its head. And Allbaugh appointed Michael Brown, his old college roomate, as his deputy. Neither Allbaugh nor Brown had any discernible qualifications to head a disaster recovery agency. And Brown, who turned out to be lethally incompetent, was the director that proved so unpreprepared to lead the FEMA rescue effort.

Indeed, not only did FEMA fail to provide critical aid. In some cases, it actually hindered relief efforts, as this other New York Times article points out. FEMA's top officials got so mired in red tape and in poring over organizational charts and engaging in turf wars with Louisiana's local authorities that it slowed down the rescue efforts.

And all of this, as Krugman so rightly points out, is part of an overarching ideology that is so anti-government that it can conceive of no good purpose for a government. Indeed, virtually all the tax cuts Bush has pushed through Congress have not been simply about rewarding America's richest one percent - although of course they did that too. But to the real ideologues, like Grover Norquist, it's also about "starving the beast." That's how they think of the federal and even state and local governments. For conservative Republicans, this is an historically unprecedented attack on government at all level because even states, cities, and small towns now have Republicans running on anti-tax platforms.

But after the disaster in New Orleans, its fair to ask: If not the federal, if not the state, if not the local government, who will rescue citizens the next time a disaster strikes someplace? And with what resources will they conduct aid efforts if the beast is starved any further?

To a certain extent, the size of government and the degree of its activisim in solving social problems is a legitimate topic for debate. Small government advocates can come up with good arguments for limiting the size and scope of government and encouraging private sector solutions to economic and other social problems. But never in our history has there been a debate about whether it is the role of government, at all levels, is to protect its citizens, and secure and defend our safety both at home and abroad. Certain functions, such as the military, the police, and emergency response forces have always been considered inherently governmental even by conservatives.

But in Iraq, as one example of their unprecendented hostility to any role for government, in any form, more of the war has been taken over by civilian contractors as Rumsfeld has sought to shrink the military. One of the reasons we are failing to secure the peace in Iraq is because we have an inadequate military force, while untrained civilians have been put in harms' way by taking on adjunct functions for the military. The "light force" that Rummy dreamed of did work in the blitzkrieg invasion of the poor and militarily inefficient Iraqi nation. But the light force is no longer effective in securing the occupation in a hostile region, just as the top military command predicted it wouldn't be. But the Pentagon's top military advisers were ignored by this arrogant civilian who sat out the war in Vietnam and cheered from the sidelines.

Just as the federal government's top career civil service experts are frequently ignored and derided by Bush's political appointees with little experience or knowledge.

But who can argue that guarding an airport's security, defending our borders, and providing efficient first response efforts aren't inherently governmental functions? Only an Administration that ignores government experts and truly believes in "starving the beast" while enriching millionaires with more and deeper tax cuts.

For ideological reasons, Bush and his allies have talked a good game of homeland security and taken billions of taxpayer dollars - much of it going to private contactors by the way - and, as Hurricane Katrina proved, left us even more vulnerable to the threat of disaster, whether natural or manmade.

That's the problem when you think of your own government as the beast. It might be a beast in a dictatorship. But ours is a democratically elected government. It reflects the wishes of its citizens. And the government has a vital role to play in truly securing the homeland from the most likely disasters, and those are going to be hurricanes, tornadoes, and blizzards even more often than they are going to be terrorist attacks.

The real beast is not the government but those now in charge who have been raiding its coffers to line the nests of their wealthy friends. But after Katrina, their scam is up. We don't have to starve the beast, but we need to throw these rats out.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

The Blame Game - Bush Style

This morning I watched, speechless with rage, as Campbell Brown asked the mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, if New Orleans were not somewhat to blame for the catastrophe now befalling it. He answered back, with great dignity, “there is plenty of blame to go around but the important thing now is to help those folks.”

Later, as if right on cue, Tim Russert reduced an official of Jefferson Parish to tears with the same question. Trying to keep control, the man answered that his own mother waited days for promised help from the federal government and finally drowned before aid reached her.

As this article in today’s Washington Post points out, the official Bush Administration line is now to shift blame for the disaster in New Orleans onto Louisiana officials for not being prepared to ride out Katrina and rescue their people on their own. At first glance, there is logic in their argument.

The Louisiana coast is flood prone and vulnerable, and local officials have known for years that a storm of Katrina’s magnitude could hit. So, why weren’t there better evacuation plans? Why wasn’t there an adequate food supply and other resources for those who couldn’t or wouldn’t’ evacuate? And finally, why weren’t local officials better able to cope with the levees and pumps themselves?

For the very same reason that Florida, after Andrew in the 90s and then again after four hurricanes last year, also needed help from the federal government. And for the same reason that the Gulf towns of Gulfport and Biloxi also will need federal aid. And if New Orleans appears to be more hard hit and more incapable of handling it, that’s because it was not a small town beach community but a large major city with much more complex needs.

However, blaming the victims rather than helping them is an unspeakably craven and selfish act. Whether it’s the President or his NBC shills, it’s just plain wrong.

Here’s the logical and pragmatic reason why New Orleans, and many areas along the hard hit Gulf Coast, can’t just pull themselves up by their own boot straps to rescue their own citizens.

Because the same civic leaders, whether it’s the mayor, the sheriff, or the other local officials, are also victims who have been overwhelmed with personal loss in this tragedy. While working overtime, often 24/7, to keep their emergency services functioning as best they could in this tragedy, they too have lost their homes, their worldly goods, and their family members to Katrina. While devoting all their waking moments to directing whatever rescue efforts they could mount for other people, they too were coping – perhaps not perfectly – but coping nonetheless with their personal loss, tragedy and grief. So, for a perfectly made up and coiffed reporter to hit them with a question like that of Campbell Brown or Tim Russert is nothing less than obscene.

Russert, Brown, and whoever else at NBC wants to is certainly entitled to spout whatever they wish in defense of this incompetent administration. But they ought to be honest and go on the White House payroll rather than shilling for the Bush Administration from a major news agency to do it. And I don’t want to tell NBC how to do their jobs – I just want to beg them to do it. Do your job and report the truth. Stop your shilling for the White House now. Every other news agency, including your rival stations, is doing a better, fairer and more objective job in covering this than you are. And you should be ashamed of yourselves for this morning.

As to the White House Administration and their concerted effort to deflect the blame from themselves for this bungling travesty of a rescue effort, they may think it makes good politics to try to shift the blame, but their public relations juggernaut is finally failing them.

This Administration has, in fact, failed at every major crisis since it’s been in office. After Sept 11, they took billions of taxpayer dollars to create a Department of Homeland Security that was supposed to make the U.S safer from threats – not only terrorist threats but also threats from natural disasters precisely like this one.

Instead, through poor planning and the wrong focus, agencies that used to be effective were gutted and rendered unable to respond this time. As this piece, also in The Washington Post, documents, the perfect example was FEMA. After FEMA was criticized for two high profile failures, Hurricane Hugo and Hurricane Andrew, in the early 90s, it was re-organized and strengthened. Ironically, both those failures occurred under the first Bush Administration. Indeed, it was FEMA’s awful handling of Hurricane Andrew in Miami that helped lead to the first President Bush’s defeat as angry Floridians delivered that crucial swing state to Clinton.

And when Clinton came into office, he appointed the very capable James Lee Witt to head FEMA and made it a cabinet level agency. FEMA was widely praised for its handling of natural disasters all through the rest of the 90s under the Clinton Administration.

But after 9/11, when the Department of Homeland Security was created, FEMA was downgraded and shoved under that umbrella with other agencies. Much of its funding was diverted from its mission of aiding natural disaster recovery efforts to defending against terrorist threats. As The Post points out, the entire focus went to defending the infrastructure from outside threat, but no attention was paid to the actual infrastructure itself to make sure that it was still strong and intact.

Just as the Bush Administration took its eye off the ball in Afghanistan, where the true al Qeda attackers were located, and invaded Iraq, which had never attacked us and wasn’t a threat, so they spent millions to protect us from the possible threat of another terrorist attack and totally ignored the real peril of other possible disaster scenarios. I am not going to suggest that there is no real terrorist threat. Of course there is and some of the Administration's focus on outside terrorism is very justified – they just took their focus to an absurd length and ended up with deadly tunnel vision that prevented them from effectively addressing other threats to the homeland.

Everybody knew a hurricane of the magnitude of Katrina was not only possible, but was some day probable. Just as everybody knew that New Orleans was particularly vulnerable. Indeed, while watching the television news last Sunday with friends who were from New Orleans, one of those friends just shook his head and stated, “those levees won’t hold.” Every New Orleanean knew that. And so should the federal authorities that were tasked with disaster aid.

In addition, in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane, the Administration failed to mobilize the National Guard, failed to order in the military help keep order, and failed to aid in evacuation efforts as the situation on the ground grew more dire by the hour.

Nobody could have entirely prevented the devastation caused by Katrina’s initial hit. But a lot of the damage we are witnessing along the Gulf Coast, and especially in New Orleans, was man made and could have been prevented or ameliorated.

For years, safety officials knew about the levees’ vulnerability, yet nothing was done to strengthen them. Or to improve the pumping stations so necessary to get floodwaters out of the below sea level city. In fact, funding for just such flood control projects has been cut time and again to pay for the Bush tax cuts and the Bush War for Oil in Iraq.

And where the federal, state and local governments all truly share culpability was allowing industrial and commercial interests to dredge the coasts. And the levees themselves contributed to the erosion that made New Orleans sink still further below sea level. Also, commercial development destroyed barrier islands that used to act as a firebreak to slow down storm surges.

And, finally, there is the big accusation that every environmentalist and most nations outside of our own are leveling at us with a degree of truth: Our refusal to sign the Kyoto Accords and to begin addressing the issue of global warming is a problem that will ensure still another “storm of the century” that will imperil our Southeastern coast.

Indeed, the Bushies are still in denial that global warming even exists. But every year there seems to be another “storm of the century.” Even Washington, DC has been hit with major freak “blizzards of the century” with an alarming frequency that renders the term “of the century” rather silly. After all, how can you have three “storms of the century” in three consecutive years?

It’s apparent that the effects of global warming are beginning to be felt. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be 90 degrees year round (every time we get a cold winter, I meet some clown in a supermarket check out lane who yucks it up about global warming being a non-existent threat). Global warming means abnormal weather patterns and stronger more powerful storms. This is because hurricanes (and coastal blizzards caused by Nor’easters) draw their energy over warm waters. If the waters heat up even a few degrees, as they measurably have, it will continue to produce “storm of the century” killer hurricanes in the summer and devastating blizzards in the winter in states further south than normal.

It’s here, it’s real, it’s happening. And the Bush folks don’t have a clue. And even worse, they don’t have a plan.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Sounds Almost Like A Liberal

This is an astounding op-ed piece from David Brooks in today’s New York Times. Brooks is a conservative Republican and usually his essays defend the interests of the upper class as he argues in support of free trade, tax cuts, limited government, deep budget cuts to social programs and Social Security reform. In fact, he often sounds almost giddy in his defense of Bush’s economic policies with no genuine awareness of what their consequences would be for ordinary middle class people in the real world. Which makes this article from him even more astonishing.

But here, Brooks’ main point is that natural disasters, like Katrina, do more than devastate cities and populations. They also expose the fault lines in inequitable societies. It’s as if the raging waters that uproot homes and flood streets also sweep away the normal hypocrisy that keeps us from realizing the genuine greed and self-interest of wealthy civic leaders who protect their own class to the detriment of those least able to cope with natural disaster. And in their wake, they bring social and political turbulence as devastating to the political status quo as the storm was to the town or city it destroyed.

He gives concrete historical examples such as the Johnstown flood of 1889, which was partly caused by an artificial pond that wealthy Pittsburgh industrialists built so they could go fishing. In a terrible storm, the pond overflowed into the town, sparking the dreadful flooding that claimed so many lives.

At first, the public’s wrath was focused on Hungarian immigrants – whom Brooks astutely likens to today’s Hispanic immigrants, who are hated because they take jobs that nobody else wants to do anyway. Various newspaper accounts accused the Hungarians of cutting off the fingers of dead women to steal their wedding rings and of singing, dancing, and fighting in the streets in disrespect of the dead. In other words foreigners, then as now, became the first scapegoats that the media lashed out at in the aftermath of disaster.

Those stories were mostly false and were spurred by the prevailing nativism of the population. However, public wrath soon focused on the wealthy industrialists thus leading to the rise of progressive politics and the anti-trust laws that reigned in the hated robber barons’ excesses.

In another bad storm, this time in1927, and ironically also in New Orleans, blacks were forced into work camps and left to die in the floods while a luxury ship filled with wealthy white civic leaders sailed out of the port playing “Bye Bye Black Bird.” And the neighborhoods of poor and middle class whites were deliberately flooded to save wealthier areas.

The rage that people felt led directly to a resurgence of populism and the rise of Huey Long.

Those are just two of the examples Brooks cites to support his argument. The rest of the article is well worth reading.

The amazing thing is that after reading his cautionary essay – which, after all, was written to warn his conservative friends – you can’t come away failing to understand that there is really a class war that has been raging for generations. Only, as I’ve long said, it’s the wealthy that are waging that war in defense of their own selfish interests, while the rest of us usually don’t even realize we’re in mortal combat.

But every once in a while, something so dreadful occurs, as it just did in New Orleans, that it rips the polite façade off the ruling class and even offends a conservative like David Brooks.