Thursday, September 08, 2005

INEPTITUDE OR MALICE AFORETHOUGHT?

Editor's note.

When I suggested the idea for the following article Brandon informed me that he had been thinking along the same lines but was a little reluctant to write a post about it. After a little coaxing, my stunningly handsome fiance finally came around to my way of thinking and agreed to help me with the post. For that, and for being the fine future husband that I know he will be, I am very grateful.

Thank you, Brandon. Love and kisses.

Kelli
8 September 2005




INEPTITUDE OR MALICE AFORETHOUGHT?

THOUGHTS ON FEDERAL RELIEF, FEMA AND THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION

by Kelli

and

Brandon

A quarter century of deepening and expanding conservatism; twenty-five years of I-hate-the federal-government fanaticism: thatĺs what it takes to breed to kind of apathetic ineptitude like the kind that we have seen in Washington DC during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Throughout the campaign season of 2004, George W. Bush claimed that he could prevent the kind of terrorism that we saw on 911. In a similar vein he also said that he could provide the kind of "strong leadership" (yeah, right) that would be required in the event of another terrorist attack. Well, here we are a few months later. We're facing a national disaster which has created the same kind of results that we might expect from a terrorist attack, and now it seems as if we have a "leader" who needs the political equivalent of a seeing eye dog.

When the National Weather Service announced that Hurricane Katrina had been upgraded to a Category 5 Storm, and then informed us that she was heading straight for the Gulf States, I turned to my fiance,, Brandon and his best friend, Jeff, and I said "this is going to be a disaster." Unfortunately, this is one of those times when I really, (really!) hate to be right. Granted, Katrina had been downgraded to a Category 4 by the time she hit New Orleans, but that proved to be irrelevant. What was relevant, however, was the fact that after 911 the big government-hating Neocons, in their infinite wisdom, decided it would be a neat idea to take a number of smaller bureaucracies and to merge them into an even bigger and even more inefficient super bureaucracy, the Department of Homeland Security. Of course, their reasoning went something likes this: If we get all of these agencies and programs under some kind of centralized control we should be able to respond more efficiently to a terrorist attack and the kind of damage that such an attack would leave in its aftermath. Or so we've been told. I on the other hand have had serious doubts about their motives--as you shall soon see.

We haven't suffered another terrorist attack, but we have certainly suffered a national disaster; and while it wasn't a terrorist attack per se, the kind of damage that it created was (and is) highly analogous to the kind of destruction that one might expect after an attack. Translated into modern English, Katrina was the test, and the Bush Administration's performance gets an F--or should I say an incomplete?

First and foremost, you really have to ask yourself why the Republican Neocons melted FEMA into the Department of Homeland Security. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the history of FEMA, it was created in 1979 during the Carter Administration. Its primary purpose was to help and assist during times of national disasters: not only during terrorist attacks as the Bush Administration seems to believe), but during times of national disasters. To be specific, I am talking about tornadoes, floods, earthquakes, chemical spills etc. For many years FEMA became a dumping ground for political appointments. I suppose, presidents Reagen and Bush 1 assumed that national disasters weren't all that common so they could get away with appointing political cronies to head up a federal agency that they assumed would never be used with any great frequency. But that changed when William Jefferson Clinton (of all people!) appointed James Lee Witt (see
http://www.fema.gov/about/bios/witt.shtm ). Note also that Clinton had the intelligence to elevate FEMA to a cabinet position. Unlike past (and present) directors, Witt actually had a background in emergency management which allowed him to whip the agency into an effective organization.

But that changed when the Bush neocons came into power and decided that we would fare better under a system of free market fundamentalism. Under the new director (Joe M. Allbaugh) Witt's reforms were abandoned and the Bush administration subjected FEMA to a foolish regiment of privatization. It didn't get any better in 2003, when FEMA was stripped of its cabinet position and bled into the Department of Homeland Security along with 22 other federal programs, agencies, and offices, thereby reducing contact between the FEMA director and the President of the United States. Moreover, FEMA's disaster functions were sharply curtailed; three quarters of its functions and activities were stripped, and, perhaps worst of all, little (if any) thought was given to possible consequences as FEMA was transformed into a quasi law enforcement entity. In its new and devolved form, FEMA lost the capacity to manage. Coordination, cooperation, and communication broke down. Under Witt, representatives from FEMA actually met with local officials in the same room and coordinated responses. But that didn't happen under Allbough and his successor, Michael Brown. Instead there was very little contact between FEMA and local officials. And the results were predictable, if not inevitable. Suddenly we were exposed to horrific stories about FEMA rejecting help from fire fighters, the Red Cross, medical experts, even water bearing trucks from Wal-Mart. Under Bush and the Neocons, FEMA lost the ability to manage disaster situations.

Part of me would love to believe that Free Market Fundamentalists were merely foolish. I really want to believe that my elected officials were merely naive, that they didn't fully understand the repercussions of their policies and actions. But there is another part of me that is beginning to wonder if the woefully, inadequate (read negligent) response that we saw in New Orleans might not have been deliberate. That's right; I said deliberate, as in on purpose.

Whether you want to admit it or not, the knee jerk drive to privatize anything and everything in sight, regardless as to consequences, has clearly had an effect on the effectiveness of our Federal government.

For a quarter of a century we have been inundated with speeches, doubletalk, and out right prevarications about the evils of the dreaded Federal government, and now the results of this right wing rhetoric have come back to haunt us. We now have a Federal government in which the appointed and elected officials are dedicated to making their (self-fulfilling) prophecies come true.

In some cases I suspect (or at least hope) that we may actually have well-intentioned individuals who simply don't know what to do, who find themselves faced with both, a supposedly bloated federal bureaucracy, and an inept administration which truly believes that the best way to insure privatization is to guarantee failure by the federal government. But in other cases, I suspect that the Department Heads themselves (think Michael Brown) are hell bent on watching their own offices or agencies fail, simply so that they and the Neocon politicians who confirmed them can go to the American people and tell them that "big government is ineffective, we need to privatize this mess for the people who funded Republican campaign chests." Or, to be succinct, I do not entirely believe that the failures, the ineptitude, we saw in New Orleans was fully accidental. Part of me is beginning to question the underlying assumptions and motivations that were at play here.

So I am asking the questions that very few have dared to ask: Could it be that the Bush Administration, in its privatization zeal, deliberately messed up in New Orleans so that it could write home about the ineffectiveness of the federal government in Washington? Might not the Neocons have decided that the poor, black, and elderly population of New Orleans was expendable?

When you think about it, there is certain logic to this. The Presidency, the federal legislature, and the federal judiciary are predominantly Republican, so the Republicans probably won't be too inclined to launch an independent investigation into the matter. Granted, Bush has announced that he will investigate himself, and Senator Frist has made off the cuff remarks about a bipartisan investigation, but with one party in complete control the odds are that you will not get a very thorough investigation. And it isn't as if the lower income population of a racially and culturally mixed city is going to have the same political clout as the people in Lower Manhattan. In other words, we had investigations after 911 because the victims' families were predominantly upper middle or upper class and had political/economic clout. They were able to both force and shame the Bush Administration into holding hearings that it did not initially want to hold.

Somehow, I don't think the same thing can be said about New Orleans. The survivors, the victims' families, are not going to have the same political and economic clout as the people in Lower Manhattan. In other words, the Bush Administration, in its free market fanaticism might well done a precursory analysis of the situation, decided (foolishly) that the risks were minimal, and allowed the situation to reel out of control in the hope that the American people would wake up and turn on the idea "big government.ö"


Well, if that was the plan it failed miserably--rather like every other plan that this crew has concocted. The general response has been a demand for more in the way of emergency assistance from the Federal Government, not less. And to make matters even worse, the same free market fundamentalists who so frequently tout the ideas of personal opportunity and personal responsibility are now doing their utmost best to distance themselves from any thing that even resembles personal responsibility. Certainly there were failures at every level of government, but by the same token we need to remember that this was a horrific event. And as my fellow team mates have suggested, there is only one city which could have made the federal government look good during a national crisis--Lower Manhattan, which has the manpower and financial power to virtually match governmental services. If a similar event were to happen in another American city I think you would see news reports of thousands dead and ineffective local and state government. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, the purpose of the federal government is to do for the American people what the American people cannot do for themselves. Or, if you prefer Harry Truman, "the buck stops here." Unless, of course, youĺre a team player in the Bush Administration, in which case it seems to stop over there, or yonder, wherever, or anywhere except on the chief executiveĺs desk top.

George W. Bush claimed that he was the only individual who could lead America during these troubled times. The governmental and structural reforms which the Neocons implemented after 911 were supposed to prevent terrorist attacks and improve our response in the event that another attack took place. Hurricane Katrina has proven conclusively that this Administration's ideas (or lack thereof) are actually more destructive than productive.

After twenty-five years of deepening conservatism, the far right has finally succeeded in its lifelong dream,the destruction of the Federal Government's ability to lend a helping hand during a national catastrophe. And now thousands of people are dead, either because of gross ineptitude or because of political malice aforethought.


4 comments:

Daniel Gallagher said...

I think what you're trying to get at here is the idea of demoralization. When you meanmouth your federal government long enough and severely enough you end up with demoralized institutions which are incapable of doing anything right. You can't crticize the federal government for the sake of criticizing and expect your elected and appointed officials to feel good about what they're doing. I guess what I'm trying to say is that the I-hate-the-federal-government people have set low standards and now the elected and appointed officials are beginning to live up to those standards.

On the other hand, I will admit that the people at the top need to step up and take a share of the blame here. The Neocons have been talking about states rights for nearly five years now, but when it comes to actually giving the states the required finances to gurantee those rights and to provide services, the federal government under Bush Incorporated has been busy shifting tax payer dollars to Iraq and to wealthy corporations and individuals. It makes me wonder how they can talk about states rights when the only state right they seem to support is the right for states to sink into deeper debt and poverty.

I'm even more pissed off by the fact that Bush and the Neocons have made this cuntry a poorer and weaker nation than when they took office. They really believe that we can fight three wars (Iraq, Afghanistan, On Terrorism), handle a major disaster, and still give tax cuts to the entities which need it the least.

I am totally disgusted with these people. They are destroying this country from the inside out, and so many Americans just don't seem to give a damn.

Kyle said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Kyle said...

Try this again. I wouldn't be at all surprised if Bush Incorporated were to rob local people of employment opportunities during the reconstruction phase by dragging in the likes of Haliburton, Bechtel, or other large corporations. Mark my words. Those entities which or who made heavy donations to Bush campaigns in the past will be offered opportunities to profit off of this disaster with little regard for the local unemployed.

CJWilliams said...

Republicans don't hate big government. Big government is just a convenient campaign slogan. Offer Republicans the power that comes with Big Government and they'll grab it before you can say "holy shit." especially if they can impose fundamentalism and bash homosexuals.