Tough talk: Sen. John Kerry delivered the following address at Brown University yesterday. It’s long, but it’s well worth reading. One wonders if Kerry could have communicated this level of passion and tough-talking rhetoric during the campaign, if he would have been the one to deal with Katrina — and wonder how well he would have done.
I want to thank you for what the Brown community has done to help and comfort the many victims of Hurricane Katrina. This horrifying disaster has shown Americans at their best — and their government at its worst.
And that’s what I’ve come to talk with you about today. The incompetence of Katrina’s response is not reserved to a hurricane. There’s an enormous gap between Americans’ daily expectations and government’s daily performance. And the gap is growing between the enduring strength of the American people — their values, their spirit, their imagination, their ingenuity, and their willingness to serve and sacrifice — and the shocking weakness of the American government in contending with our country’s urgent challenges. On the Gulf Coast during the last two weeks, the depth and breadth of that gap has been exposed for all to see and we have to address it now before it’s obscured again by hurricane force spin and deception.
Katrina stripped away any image of competence and exposed to all the true heart and nature of this administration. The truth is that for four and a half years, real life choices have been replaced by ideological agenda, substance replaced by spin, governance second place always to politics. Yes, they can run a good campaign — I can attest to that — but America needs more than a campaign. If 12 year-old Boy Scouts can be prepared, Americans have a right to expect the same from their 59 year-old President of the United States.
Katrina reminds us that too often the political contests of our time have been described like football games with color commentary: one team of consultants against another, red states against blue states, Democratic money against Republican money; a contest of height versus hair – sometimes. But the truth is democracy is not a game; we are living precious time each day in a different America than the one we can inhabit if we make different choices.
Conducted over the weekend, the latest CNN/Gallup/USA Today poll shows George Bush’s poll numbers continuing their precipitous slide toward infamy.
Asked how the prez is handling his job as leader of the free world, 40% approved of his performance while 58% said he sucks. OK, not in so many words, but that’s what they meant. Here are all the other ways respondents said Bush is doing a suck-ass job (all disapproval ratings): economy 63%, foreign affais 58%, Iraq 67%, Katrina 57%.
Then the poll gets personal. About whether Bush is honest and trustworthy, 47% said yes, 50% said no. Asked if he is a strong and decisive leader, 49% said yes and 51% said no (note: no No Opinions — decisive Americans!). Asked whether Bush “cares about people like you,” 56% said nope to 46% who said yup.
In other views, 81% said they want to see an independent panel investigate the Katrina mess and 56% said Bush was only out to help the hurricane victims for political reasons. Regarding Iraq, 56% said we shouldn’t have gone in, but 60% say the Senate should confirm John Roberts as Chief Wingnut of the Supreme Court.
Coctails in Kennebunkport? Are George and Barbara Bush getting ready to throw some sort of disaster celebration party at their second home on the coast of Maine?
Word comes from Portland, Maine, that FEMA has sent “hundreds of big rigs, loaded with tons of ice and water meant for hurricane Katrina victims” to Portland, which is the largest town near the Bush second home in Kennebunkport.
In the coming days, the city is expecting 200 to 300 trucks filled with ice and water. For now, the ice and water will be kept at a cold storage warehouse in Portland. Portland Transportation Director, Jeff Monroe says he believes storage facilities South of here are full. That’s why it came to Portland. It’s unclear if or when the supplies will make it to the gulf coast.
One of the truck drivers involved complained that moving the ice was a waste of time and money:
“The $9,000 they’re paying me to move this load should have gone to some family down there,” said Loren Reeves, who hauled his load of ice from Long Island, N.Y., to Alabama before being sent to Maine. “There is definitely millions being wasted that could go to people who need it.”
FEMA spokesperson Kathy Cable explained:
“It’s more economical to store them and be able to use them right away. When we need it, we need all of it and we need it now. It’s better to have it stored than to go out and buy it.”
This is questionable. Temperatures around New Orleans in September are generally in the 90’s, with humidity to match. Seems like somebody down there could use some ice at some point soon. You don’t have to be an efficiency expert to see that it won’t be too helpful to have the ice stored 1,500 miles away.
Hat tip to Marshall
Admin Brain Drain: The American Spectator examines the degree of lameness of Bush’s lame-duck administration and the unlikelihood of the prez achieving either of his pet proposals: reforming Social Security and making the tax cuts for the rich permament.
“You run down the list of things we thought we could accomplish and you have to wonder what we thought we were thinking,” says a Bush Administration member who joined on in 2001. “You get the impression that we’re more than listless. We’re sunk.”
Perhaps more significant are rumors of longtime Bushies who are looking to jump ship, but are finding few opportunities in the private sector. Probably because their predecessors got the good jobs:
“What happened was that some of the best people who were working in the Administration during the first term, but who weren’t necessarily Bush campaign members or weren’t particularly close to the White House, jumped when they saw opportunities being filled by under-qualified but more politically connected people,” says a current Administration senior staffer in a Cabinet department. “In this department we lost three quarters of the people who should have been encouraged to stay, and most of them left simply because they had received no indication they would be considered for better or different opportunities. And many of these folks would have stayed.”
Looks like Bush’s team is suffering the same problem as his political vision — no depth.
Media matters: Finally, federal agencies have gotten their act together and have established a wireless command center brimming with laptops, cell phones and public information officers ready to meet the needs of the press. Now we’ll get some fair and balanced news for a change.
Ordinarily, following a natural disaster the Federal Emergency Management Agency sets up a shared command center with other federal agencies as a clearinghouse for disseminating information to the media. In the case of Katrina, the devastation was so vast that the feds couldn’t get it together for almost three weeks — after most of the reputation damage has been done.
“Although we are concerned about our image and want to give people information, we are really here to help people,” said Dean Cushman, an official with FEMA, an agency that has received the brunt of criticism. “Our image comes second.”
Uh-huh. What is that warm liquid running down my leg? Oh, it’s raining, is it?
Here’s what’s happening at the command center:
At the joint information center, which is housed at an old department store in Baton Rouge, La., officials have laptop computers with wireless Internet connections and cellular telephones to “rapidly respond” to media questions. In the media monitoring section, eight officials watch the news constantly and track stories online. Another group churns out press releases on the agencies’ efforts, while colleagues respond to inquiries from the media hotline.
Everyone is working 12 hour days, seven days a week, Cushman said.
FEMA has 2,000 laptops in the region, along with 1,000 cell phones and 1,000 land lines and another 2,000 laptops in transit. Let the spin begin!
No answer: James Kitfield, writing in the “National Journal,” makes some interesting observations in the course of examining why the military response was so slow in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
What follows are some of the juicier excerpts. Read the whole article here.
- “My biggest mistake is having a fundamental assumption that … in the country of the United States, that can move whole fleets of aircraft carriers across the globe in 24 hours — that my fundamental assumption was to get as many people to safety as possible, and that the cavalry would be coming within two to three days,” New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said on NBC’s Meet the Press. “And they didn’t come.”
- The conclusion of the many post-Katrina investigations now under way is likely to be that in a time of mass chaos — just as Iraqis found in the spring and summer of 2003 — even the world’s best military cannot instantly and simultaneously stop the looting, restore order, transport mountains of supplies, and repair badly damaged infrastructure in a place approximating a war zone.
- “Given that the tsunami killed 150,000 people [in Southeast Asia], I frankly think we responded pretty well to a storm that might have done the same, given the density of the population in the area where it hit,” said James Carafano, a homeland-security expert at the Heritage Foundation in Washington. “Essentially, Katrina was a nuclear bomb without a mushroom cloud or radiation.”
- “People may want to simplify the chain of command and make one person accountable, but under our federal system,” said Frank Cilluffo, director of the Homeland Security Policy Institute at George Washington University, “responsibility starts at the local level and works its way up from the bottom. And unless you are willing to quickly federalize police, firefighters, and other first responders in a crisis, and re-examine the Constitution and the federalist system that has been embedded in our ethos since 1776, we may have to live with that fact. In the meantime, the sad truth is that the terrorists are likely looking at our response to Katrina and taking notes. As bad as Mother Nature is, she doesn’t intentionally plan to kill people.”
The great downfall of America is not some sort of precipitous moral decline … but rather that the “theatrical presidency” has been uncoupled from any accountability.
How Bush “performs” on television is the criterion by which the media judges him, not how he performs for the people of America. Word and deed have taken two separate paths — and the media may cover deed for a day or two, but is always diverted back to writing reviews about Bush’s dramatic reading of scripts written by Rove and Hughes — or airing visuals of carefully orchestrated photo-ops…
The manner in which the media gobbled up the stage-managed speech from Jackson Square — in which tremendous resources, including emergency generators to light the cathedral, were brought into a city that had no electricity — was as reprehensible as it was revealing about how political “reporters” have now pretty much become theatrical reviewers.
You could have two theories about the disintegration of the ability of the government to protect us and provide us with basic survival services under Bush.
One is that the Bush administration is full of total incompetents — and is such a “spin” operation depending upon the press buying the latest photo-op of Bush and speech written for him — that they simply have no idea nor do they care how they are weakening America.
The other theory is that Rove, Cheney and Rumsfeld are geniuses. This theory holds that they know exactly what they are doing by making government the scapegoat for being ineffective, because that helps them to further privatize services — such as protecting people, rescuing people, policing, health care, social security, etc — that should be efficiently offered by the national government.
— Buzzflash editorial, Sept. 19, 2005