by Molly Ivins
George W. Bush has come up with his worst idea since he decided to have the military investigate torture by the military at Abu Ghraib prison. He, George W. personally, plans to investigate to "find out what went right and what went wrong" in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
It's hard to guess where Bush will look first, but maybe he should start with the appointment of "Brownie" to head FEMA, the federal disaster relief agency. "Brownie" is Michael Brown, who was appointed by some president.
At the time, Brownie was deputy director of the agency under Joe Allbaugh -- because he was Joe Allbaugh's college roommate, you see, and Allbaugh was Bush's campaign manager in 2000, you see, which made both of them qualified to manage disasters.
The FEMA press release announcing Brownie's appointment started with his other obvious qualification, "From 1991 to 2001, Brown was the commissioner of the International Arabian Horse Association." It's unclear whether "Brownie" was fired or resigned from the organization in the wake of financial mismanagement and lawsuits.
Hours after Hurricane Katrina made landfall, Brown wrote his boss, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, to ask permission to send 1,000 FEMA employees to the scene to support rescuers and to "convey a positive image" about the government's response. Brownie said he expected the workers to be there two days later. This apparently inspired Bush's comment, "Brownie, you're doing a heckuva job."
Brownie is ably assisted by two top aides, one a former Bush campaign advanceman and the other a former Bush campaign public relations guy.
FEMA was once considered one of our better federal agencies (those in the government-is-the-enemy camp may not believe this, but some government agencies are actually known for effective performance.) Exactly why the right-wing Republicans chose to make FEMA a political football was never clear -- unless you subscribe to the theory that they particularly dislike any government agency that helps people, since that makes government popular and they are bent on making government unpopular.
At any rate, going back to the Reagan administration, conservatives have been hacking away at FEMA -- they mostly just under-funded it, one of their favorite tactics, unless a hurricane hit Florida just before an election. Sorry to sound boringly partisan, but that is the record, and the Clinton administration did work hard at rebuilding the agency.
So now those on the liberal side are saying: "See, that's what happens when you starve government in order to give rich folks tax cuts. Government agencies can't do the jobs they were set up to do."
Silly liberals see this as vindication that they have been right all along. But the Bush administration officials are in full blame-shifting mode: First, they announced repeatedly they don't want to "play the blame game." Then, they start blaming everybody else.
According to The New York Times, Karl Rove and Dan Bartlett, White House communications director, began a campaign this weekend to blame local and state officials. The "woefully inadequate response," said "sources close to the White House," was the fault of "bureaucratic obstacles from state and local officials."
The bottom line is they're playing the race card. As many of you have noted, it IS a racial issue that poor people suffer most in any natural or economic disaster. Because Katrina hit the Deep South, a great many of the poor people affected are black, especially in New Orleans -- both hit hardest and majority black to begin with.
I'm not sure what to say about a cable news station that plays a "loop" of black looters over and over -- about 20 seconds of actual footage, replayed for four minutes, while the voiceover dwells on the looting problem. Obviously, there are some looters in New Orleans and elsewhere, and equally obviously, there are lots of people who were without food or water for days.
The exhausted and desperate black mayor of New Orleans begged for help in an interview late last week. "They're feeding the public a line of bull and they're spinning, and people are dying down here," Mayor Ray Nagin said, talking about the feds. "It's politics, man, and they are playing games. ... They're out there spinning for the cameras. ... I don't want to see anybody do any more goddamned press conferences. ... Excuse my French, everybody in America, but I am pissed. ...
"Don't tell me 40,000 people are coming here! They're not here! It's too doggone late. Now get off your asses and do something, and let's fix the biggest goddamned crisis in the history of this country. People are dying."
The mayor was in tears. I heard two nice, white American "ladies" deploring this interview. "Well! He should remember there might be children listening!" Children still without food and water. What happens to people when they talk about race? Of course, most of us don't actually talk about race any more, we refer to it only indirectly, we talk "those people."
Watch carefully, listen carefully -- minority groups have always been blamed after natural disasters, since the days when the Hungarians were supposed to have cut the fingers off bodies to get the gold rings in the wake of the Johnstown Flood. Dirty Bohunks.
September 8, 2005 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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