Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Balanced Outcry

Give me back the mic!

In the interest of shouting down the yahoo spin machines of Michael Moore and right wing punditry, I give our viewers two very good columnists from both the left and the right and their takes on where, exactly, the buck stops for the Twin Disasters. (I've edited the best quotes for your reading pleasure, but reading the whole articles are well worth the bandwidth.)

First up, one of my favorites on the center-left, Olbermann.

The "city" of Louisiana (Keith Olbermann)

SECAUCUS — Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff said it all, starting his news briefing Saturday afternoon: "Louisiana is a city that is largely underwater..."

Well there's your problem right there.

If ever a slip-of-the-tongue defined a government's response to a crisis, this was it.
But no. The incompetence and the ludicrous prioritization will forever be symbolized by one gaffe by of the head of what is ironically called “The Department of Homeland Security”: “Louisiana is a city…”
But, nationally, these are leaders who won re-election last year largely by portraying their opponents as incapable of keeping the country safe. These are leaders who regularly pressure the news media in this country to report the reopening of a school or a power station in Iraq, and defies its citizens not to stand up and cheer. Yet they couldn't even keep one school or power station from being devastated by infrastructure collapse in New Orleans — even though the government had heard all the "chatter" from the scientists and city planners and hurricane centers and some group whose purposes the government couldn't quite discern... a group called The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
And most chillingly of all, this is the Law and Order and Terror government. It promised protection — or at least amelioration — against all threats: conventional, radiological, or biological.

It has just proved that it cannot save its citizens from a biological weapon called standing water.

Mr. Bush has now twice insisted that, "we are not satisfied," with the response to the manifold tragedies along the Gulf Coast. I wonder which "we" he thinks he's speaking for on this point.
Instead of hiding behind phrases like "no one could have foreseen," had he only remembered Winston Churchill's quote from the 1930's. "The responsibility," of government, Churchill told the British Parliament "for the public safety is absolute and requires no mandate. It is in fact, the prime object for which governments come into existence."

In forgetting that, the current administration did not merely damage itself — it damaged our confidence in our ability to rely on whoever is in the White House.
As we emphasized to you here all last week, the realities of the region are such that New Orleans is going to be largely uninhabitable for a lot longer than anybody is yet willing to recognize. Lord knows when the last body will be found, or the last artifact of the levee break, dug up. Could be next March. Could be 2100. By then, in the muck and toxic mire of New Orleans, they may even find our government's credibility.

Somewhere, in the City of Louisiana.

So Olbermann, like me, is under the impression that boneheads on all levels made this disaster worse. Olbermann, also like me, recognizes that this kind of thing is why we let ol' Dubya get together a Department of Homeland Security in the first place. That's why FEMA reports to DHS. DHS is ol' Dubya's program, run by ol' Dubya's people. Follow the chain of command all the way to the top, 'cause when the leadership vacuum hits, ol' Dubya's supposed to step up.

But, of course, any responsibility for this Gulf Storm that might land at ol' Dubya's doorstep is nothing more than the "liberal" media, spinning itself into its own tropical depression, right? That's what right of right wing punditry tells me. (I mean, how much damage can one man do, especially one man on vacation? No wonder Nagin and Bush are spending quality time together getting the alibi all cooked up...) So I went to read one of my favorite conservo-pundits, Scarborogh. I was fully expecting a heaping of "don't blame the poor overworked President, he wasn't even supposed to be here today!" But here's what I got (unedited for full force):

We deserve answers, Mr. President (Joe Scarborough)
As one who has seen these hurricanes up close as a Gulf Coast resident, news reporter and member of Congress — where I got a behind the scenes look at how to run relief operations — I have been trying to connect the dots for those of you who have not been so intimately involved in hurricane recovery efforts.

With so many trying to figure out why so few acted professionally in the first days of this epic crisis, I offer an insider's view of who is to blame for this national disgrace.

We begin with Harry Truman who famously declared that the buck always stops at the president's desk. For those who now define the term conservative as unwavering support for George W. Bush, even this suggestion is maddening.

But the bottom line is that despite the fact the president was strapped with two governors who bungled this crisis badly, in the end it is the president who sends in the National Guard and FEMA relief.

The president's suggestion that the size of this storm caught all by surprise just doesn't get it. His administration was 48 hours late sending in the National Guard and poor Americans got raped and killed because of those mistakes.

A painful assessment from a supporter of the president, but also true.

Secondly, the first responders in any hurricane are local and state officials. When Florida was struck by four hurricanes last year, Governor Jeb Bush was nothing short of spectacular. Louisiana Governor Blanco was breathtakingly clueless as were other Louisiana officials. The deaths of many lay on their doorsteps.

FEMA’s Michael Brown also shoulders the burden for the suffering in New Orleans. His claim that no one knew of the suffering on the ground until Thursday defies logic. America knew the crescent city was drifting toward chaos on well before Tuesday. Why didn't the man in charge of disaster relief know the same thing?

One state over, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour continues to claim that Katrina caught him by surprise, telling one reporter that it was after all a cat one storm after crossing Florida. That useless fact doesn't erase the fact that the entire Gulf Coast was put on alert as early as Friday that this storm would be historic.

If Barbour thought Katrina would be little more than a category one storm, then he is not to be trusted organizing his sock drawer — let alone the most tragic natural disaster to ever hit his state.

As for those politicians hell-bent on claiming all went well over the past week, don't waste your breath. People died in New Orleans because of incompetence. Not because of racism, or poverty, or any other social ill. They died because the political leaders we elected were not up to the task of protecting the innocent from the most savage among us and from dehydration, starvation and heat exhaustion. Deaths, that I learned from the Terri Schiavo death-watch, are most painful to endure. Bold added for emphasis.

Mr. President, Governor Blanco and Governor Barbour, all is not well with your relief teams. We deserve answers sooner rather than later.


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