Monday, September 05, 2005

Bush-League Behavior

[[D I S A S T E R S]] * Editor & Publisher reports that First Mother Barbara Bush, after touring the gigantic Astrodome in Houston, Texas, where thousands of Hurricane Katrina evacuees are being housed temporarily, told an interviewer with National Public Radio’s “Marketplace” program, “What I’m hearing is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this--this is working very well for them.” E&P adds that she uttered this incredibly stupid and insensitive statement with a chuckle. Marie Antoinette had nothing on “Babs.”

And the Lone Star State isn’t looking all that hospitable anymore. Republican Governor Rick Perry seems ready to take down the “Welcome” signs from Texas’ border with Louisiana, after a quarter of a million survivors have poured in, looking for sustenance and housing. “There are shelters set up in other states that are sitting empty while thousands arrive in Texas by the day, if not the hour,” the guv groused. The Associated Press reports that 100,000 Louisianans are currently residing in Texas hotels and motels, while another 139,000 have found safety in 137 shelters scattered about the state.

* * *
So why was the government’s hurricane response so chaotic? The Bush administration is hoping to push blame off on state and local officials, including Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco, a Democrat, who, conservatives have alleged, failed to declare a state of emergency when it became obvious that the effects of Katrina would be widespread and devastating. (As it turns out, according to The Washington Post’s printed correction of a story in which it reported that very information, Blanco actually declared a state of emergency on August 26--while George W. Bush was still on his summer vacation.)

However, state emergency management experts tell Knight-Ridder newspapers that the delays were actually “the inevitable result of federal policies emphasizing protection from terrorist attacks at the expense of preparing for far more common natural disasters.” Reporters Alison Young and Seth Borenstein explain that the Department of Homeland Security, of which the once-powerful Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been a component since 2003, “sends $1.1 billion each year to states to combat terrorism, but just $180 million to help prepare for disasters such as Katrina. Much of the terrorism grant money is given under conditions that specifically exclude spending it on items or personnel that would be used in responding to hazards other than terrorism.”

By the way, guess which high-level operative has been placed in charge of a new scheme to control the escalating political damage the White House has been suffering for its Katrina bungling over the last week. That’s right: presidential adviser Karl “Turd Blossom” Rove, who’s still under investigation for the CIA leak scandal. The New York Times explains that, along with communications director Dan Bartlett, Rove has instructed administration officials to “avoid getting drawn into exchanges about the problems of the past week, and to turn the discussion to what the government is doing now.”

* * *
Finally, in a short interview published today, Jim Amoss, editor of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, lays the blame for the federal government’s dawdling response to his city’s post-hurricane needs firmly at Bush’s clay feet. It “is ultimately his failure, and it is a colossal one that may have cost lives, and certainly much physical damage to our community,” he told the Portland Oregonian. This criticism follows his newspaper’s “open letter to the president,” published on Sunday, which called on Bush to fire “every official at the Federal Emergency Management Agency,” beginning with its embattled director, Michael Brown. Amoss contends that the delays and disorganization Americans have learned about through the media were brought on by “a failure at the core of the agency’s mission.” He adds: “If any of us had experienced anything like that [level of failure] in our own companies, it would mean instant termination. The government ought to be held accountable in the same way.”

Don’t hold your breath.
READ MORE: In a long and dramatic story, The New York Times looks at the difficulties the Times-Picayune faced in reporting news from the very center of the New Orleans hurricane tragedy.

No comments: