|The new buzzword in Washington and beyond is responsibility.
Everyone’s taking it these days. Despite an initial attempt to deflect criticism, all those involved in the atrocious response to Hurricane Katrina implored everyone else not to play blame games or engage in pointing fingers.
As people still search for remnants of lives and loves lost in the toxic sludge that still submerges as much as 40 percent of New Orleans, they can at least do so happy in the knowledge that brave people have stepped up to acknowledge their mistakes – even if the consequences are designed simply to improve their standings in the polls.
It’s going to take a lot more this time.
As much as the broken levees brought to the surface a reality that illuminated the vast disparities of class and race in America, the patrician roots of President Bush, that he tirelessly sought to conceal with a dumbed-down vernacular, and weeks-on-end, meaningless schlepping of tree trunks on his ranch in Crawford, (or by twanging callously on an equally insensitive jerk’s guitar while people were starving and drowning), inadvertently rose like scum as well.
It began with a quick, furtive glance at the devastation from the luxury of Air Force One en route to the White House from his Texas ranch, where he spent a five week vacation raising cash occasionally, and stubbornly refusing to meet with Cindy Sheehan, the grieving mother of a dead soldier killed in Iraq.
“People came up to me all day long and said 'God bless your son,' people of different races and it was very, very moving and touching, and they felt like when he flew over that it made all the difference in their lives, so I just don't hear that,” menacing matriarch, Barbara Bush, told Larry King when asked about people accusing her son of “not caring” about blacks.
People came up to me all day long and said 'God bless your son,' people of different races and it was very, very moving and touching...
After rapper Kanye West, to the horror of comedian Mike Myers, excoriated President Bush on a live NBC broadcast to raise funds for Katrina victims, icily announcing: “President Bush hates black people,” the White House mobilized old faithful, Laura, who chided her husband’s critics, characterizing their accusations of racism as “ disgusting.” She may have had more resonance had she popped one less anti-depressant, or referred to the Hurricane using its real name rather than Corina – a faux pas she slurred thrice according to the bored but usually fastidious blogging community.
Not to be outdone, Barbara Bush reemerged, with a comment worthy of Marie Antoinette at her finest hour. Her voice dripping with xenophobic concern, she remarked: “What I’m hearing which is sort of scary is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality,” then proceeded to chuckle at how well the evacuees in Astrodome were fairing. “And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this--this is working very well for them.”
Scarier for Texans actually, might be spoiled, obnoxious, white drunks from outside states, diverting resources in Austin. On Friday, September 16, John Ellis Bush, the youngest son of Florida’s governor, Jeb Bush, nephew of President George W, and grandchild of the compassionate Barbara, was arrested and charged with public intoxication and resisting arrest. For a $2, 500 bond -- just slightly over the $2,000 amount allocated to victims of Hurricane Katrina in the form of FEMA-issued debit cards -- John Ellis Bush was released for resisting arrest and on a personal recognizance for the public intoxication.
Scarier for Texans actually, might be spoiled, obnoxious, white drunks from outside states, diverting resources in Austin.
Forced to resign after an embarrassing recall, (despite being told: “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job,” by President Bush days earlier) the only real disaster experience disgraced FEMA chief, Michael Brown, had encountered, was his tenure as an official with International Arabian Horse Association.
He was tapped to head FEMA owing to his pedigree qualifications as former FEMA chief, Joe Allbaugh’s, college roommate. Prior to his resignation he was recalled to Washington by his boss, the head of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, post haste (although a little too post and not nearly enough haste), and unceremoniously replaced by R. David Paulison. Coast Guard Vice Admiral, Thad Allen, was dispatched to head the federal disaster relief effort.
Memos at the most critical junctures, however, reveal that Chertoff, perhaps even more than Brown, shoulders an enormous role in FEMA’s debacle of a response, with his inexperience and failure to lead under pressure visible to the entire world, genuinely shocked and awed.
Amidst an escalating crisis, and hard, devastating evidence of gross incompetence, if not criminal negligence, Michael Chertoff emerged, looking like a Dungeon Daddy stepping out of a gay bathhouse after a torrid weekend on crystal meth, and unconvincingly attempted to defend FEMA.
Michael Chertoff emerged, looking like a Dungeon Daddy
stepping out of a gay bathhouse after a torrid weekend on crystal meth, and unconvincingly attempted to defend FEMA.
Despite the initial attempts to avoid responsibility by branding finger pointers as blame game players, fingers were pointing fast and furiously.
Karl Rove and the White House, fresh from the latest Cindy Sheehan smear campaign, and faced with plummeting approval ratings in the polls – the lowest in his Presidency – sought immediately to blame the local officials, namely the genuinely ineffective Louisiana Governor, Democrat Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, and woefully inadequate New Orleans mayor, Ray Nagin. (Nagin’s Monday morning quarterbacking, heartfelt, dramatic theatrics, and constant flip-flopping do little to dispel the sense that he’s in above his head, pun intended.)
After blaming the state of Louisiana and city of New Orleans for their preparedness and response to Katrina, yet somehow managing to praise the efforts (disastrous as they were) of Republican Governors Bob Riley of Alabama and Haley Barbour of Mississippi, President Bush finally managed to parrot the Kerryesque phrase, “I want to know what went right and what went wrong.” Easy. Not much went right; a hell of a lot went wrong!
“Go fuck yourself,” screamed an off-camera passer by at Dick Cheney as he went through the motions of the empathetic Vice President, visiting the Gulf region for the first time in over a week since the levee broke. While the obscenity was broadcast over all three networks covering the Vice President’s trip, Mr. Cheney could hardly denounce the comment disrespectful. It was the identical utterance he had leveled at Senator Patrick Leahy on the floor of the Senate in his role as president of the Senate, after Leahy referenced Cheney’s ties to Halliburton and their no-bid contract success in Iraq.
Ironically, although hardly surprisingly, Halliburton is fairing relatively well in the wake of Katrina.
Kathleen Blanco, following President Bush’s lead (which tells you more than you need to know) also finally “took responsibility” on September 15 (a day later than he did) in an address to state legislators: In a state of the state address to a special meeting of the Louisiana Legislature, Governor Blanco said, "We all know that there were failures at every level of government: state, federal and local. At the state level, we must take a careful look at what went wrong and make sure it never happens again. The buck stops here … and, as your governor, I take full responsibility."
Which means, in today’s responsibility-taking climate, “Yes, I fucked up – so what are you going to do about it?”
Even anchors on Fox News Channel, like Shepard Smith, teared up, sneeringly spitting at host Sean Hannity exactly what perspective looked like, while CNN’s only asset left, Anderson Cooper, told Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu to take a moment from giddily back-slapping politicians to look at reality people were dealing with that simply did not equate with what she was spouting.
Even anchors on Fox News Channel, like Shepard Smith, teared up, sneeringly spitting at host Sean Hannity exactly what perspective looked like
As America mourned and fumed over the response to Katrina, just like John Ashcroft had drafted the Patriot Act within less than a week of September 11th 2001—fast-tracked without any elected members of congress actually reading it -- the Bush Administration mobilized for another power grab at the expense of fear and confusion. Sneakily exploiting the distracting spectacles of a multi-color bedecked moron, Larry King, interviewing an empathetic Céline Dion in a TV moment worthy of a Spinal Tap sequel, Sean Penn frantically using a cup to pour water out of a sinking boat and mutiny at Fox, intertwined with earnest musical telethons designed to solicit cash and engender feel-good altruism among celebrities.
Recovering from the much-publicized calamity that caused her to adjust her schedule to accommodate a meeting with the President, Blanco fawned and thanked Bush profusely, waxing therapeutic like a cheerleader at a football game, evoking warm and fuzzy visions of non-partisan “partnerships” and renewed commitments to excellence and community, as if they’d ever existed in her Louisiana. President Bush, meanwhile, sought to expand Presidential power in times of a catastrophe, including overriding what he deemed delayed or ineffective state and local authority.
Touring New Orleans, yet again, Bush told Reuters: “It’s really important that as we take a step back and learn lessons — that we are in a position to adequately answer the question: ‘Are we prepared for major catastrophes?”’ when asked whether the federal government needed broader authority to “come in earlier or even in advance of a storm that (is) threatening?” Bush added: “I think that’s one of the interesting issues that Congress needs to take a look at.”
What’s really interesting is that The Homeland Security Department already had the power to bypass many bureaucratic obstacles in response to Hurricane Katrina, but under Michael Chertoff’s brilliant leadership, did not.
Back in Washington, Senator John Warner, head of the Senate Armed Services Committee, in a frightening letter to Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, sought to render toothless the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act, which prohibits troops from engaging in domestic law enforcement in most cases, as well as laws that require the federal government to pay for National Guard deployments, even while they remain under the command and control of the states.
Against a dazzling, White House produced backdrop in Jackson Square on Thursday, President Bush promised to rebuild New Orleans without raising taxes.
Against a dazzling, White House produced backdrop in Jackson Square on Thursday, President Bush promised to rebuild New Orleans without raising taxes, pleasing some conservatives, whilst causing most conservatives to wonder how the out-of-control hemorrhaging of billions of federal dollars will contain a deficit (even though, according to Dick Cheney, deficits matter as much as transparency in energy policy.)
To demonstrate his compassion for the displaced and recognition of what taking responsibility actually means, President Bush showed his real colors, which are becoming increasingly difficult to conceal.
“Workers have already begun to repair damage to highways and bridges, and airports in New Orleans and Gulfport have already re-opened. All major gasoline pipelines are operating, and we have not seen the supply disruptions that many feared. The breaks in the levees have been closed, the pumps are running, and the water in New Orleans is now receding,” said the President, also expressing a “duty to confront this poverty with bold action,” referencing the “deep, persistent poverty” we all witnessed on television.
What he didn’t say was that by executive order, he suspended the Davis-Bacon Act in areas of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi, allowing federal contractors to pay less than the local "prevailing wage" on construction projects. Rebuild the poverty stricken areas by paying unemployed, homeless and devastated workers even less than they would have been paid. Representative George Miller of California, a senior Democrat overseeing labor law commented, “The administration is using the devastation of Hurricane Katrina to cut the wages of people desperately trying to rebuild their lives…At under $9 an hour, workers certainly won't be able to rebuild their livelihoods.” It would take John Ellis Bush more than 8 weeks to pay the bond for resisting arrest in Austin at these rates.
"...At under $9 an hour, workers certainly won't be able to rebuild their livelihoods." It would take John Ellis Bush more than 8 weeks to pay the bond for resisting arrest in Austin at these rates.
“Environmental officials are on the ground taking water samples and working to get drinking water and waste water treatment systems operating again,” President Bush also stated in his speech.
Yet the corrupt former rodent exterminator, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas, saw an opportunity to push for a new energy bill as a result of the hurricane. “When one hurricane, as massive as it was, can knock out about 20 percent of our (oil and natural gas) facilities, it shows how vulnerable we are,” he said.
DeLay wants to eliminate a federal moratorium on parts of the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts that are currently off-limits to oil and gas drilling until the year 2012. Seemingly unaware that Louisiana's coastal marshes and barrier islands, ravaged by the Corps levees that contain the Mississippi River, used to provide natural hurricane protection that helped prevent New Orleans from sinking into the ocean.
"New Orleans won't be safe from another storm like Katrina until we restore this hurricane buffer," Robert Twilley, a professor of wetland science at Louisiana State University told San Francisco Chronicle’s Glen Martin. The consequences of wetland and barrier island loss have been clear to scientists for years, although warnings went unheeded. To ignore science, again, in the interest of promoting short-term economic growth is not only dangerously misguided, but borders on the idiotic.
“Professionals are carrying out the sad duties of gathering the dead, treating them with respect, and preparing them for their rest,” droned on President Bush.
Though, like the 8 000 people who were killed in the Galveston Hurricane of 1900, their bodies thrown into the sea only to wash ashore bloated to then be piled on to mass pyres by whiskey numbed workers, the victims of Katrina are in for about as dignified a denouement as a child in Kabul mistakenly picking up a bomb, colored in the same way as a U.S. dropped food package.
[T]he victims of Katrina are in for about as dignified a denouement as a child in Kabul mistakenly picking up a bomb, colored in the same way as a U.S. dropped food package.
Surprisingly FEMA’s attempt to censor journalists and photographers from providing the public with images of the dead, much like the refusal of the Pentagon to allow images of soldiers returning in coffins from Iraq, was challenged by, of all networks, CNN.
Against the backdrop of rumors that some members of the National Guard have been pointing loaded guns at journalists brandishing notepads, coupled with the refusal of rescuers to allow journalists on boats if they plan on taking pictures, FEMA responded: “The recovery of victims is being treated with dignity and the utmost respect and we have requested that no photographs of the deceased be made by the media.”
For good reason, although not dignity and respect. The company hired to manage the dead, contractually engaged by the ray of light Governor Kathleen Blanco, is none other than Kenyon International, a wholly owned subsidiary of SCI Corporation, owned by major Bush contributor and friend Robert Waltrip. Waltrip has contributed at least 45 000 to Bush’s political campaigns and endowed George Bush Senior’s library with $100,000.
Amidst atrocious allegations and accusations about mixing up different body parts, crushing coffins to make room for more on oversold plots, and illegally dumping bodies in woods, Florida Attorney General, Bob Butterworth, in 1999, subpoenaed all of SCI’s Florida burial records dating back to 1990 as he investigated SCI’s business practices.
A whistleblower lawsuit in Texas, initiated by Eliza May alleged that Governor George W. Bush had intervened on SCI’s behalf to halt an investigation by the Texas Funeral Service Commission based on the close relationship between Governor Bush's chief of staff, Joe Allbaugh and Robert Waltrip. Yes, the same Joe Allbaugh that would precede Michael Brown at FEMA.
President Bush was ultimately cleared from having to testify, but did not shed the odor of corruption and cronyism.
President Bush was ultimately cleared from having to testify, but did not shed the odor of corruption and cronyism.
SCI has spent probably as much on lobbying politicians as it has on settling lawsuits and fighting allegations that it has “made price gouging state of the art” (Consumer advocate Karen Leonard. head of the Sebastopol, Calif.-based Redwood Funeral Society, stated: “They've been able to take the emotions that make people spend more - guilt and fear of death - and have played those like an orchestra and have made tremendous amounts of money. They are taking advantage of consumers on all fronts, by secrecy, by their ability to control regulations and their ability to give money to politicians.”)
With SCI’s reputation, and the relationships between and among SCI, the Bush family, FEMA, and Allbaugh (and this simply brushes the surface) the stench of corruption will be worse than the stench of dumped, abandoned and abused bodies, the number of which no doubt, will be as accurate as the body count of civilians killed in Iraq. As General Tommy Franks once said, “We don’t do body counts.” Nor, probably, does SCI.
As power grabs are made, and America is forced to confront its racially linked poverty, one can rest assured that blame games will continue, and responsibility sans consequence taken with a wink and a smile. The Clarion-Ledger of Jackson, Miss., has obtained a copy of an internal e-mail the U.S. Department of Justice sent out this week to various U.S. attorneys' offices in which it asked if a districts had “defended any cases on behalf of the (U.S.) Army Corps of Engineers against claims brought by environmental groups seeking to block or otherwise impede the Corps work on the levees protecting New Orleans? If so, please describe the case and the outcome of the litigation.”
As power grabs are made, and America is forced to confront its racially linked poverty, one can rest assured that blame games will continue, and responsibility sans
consequence taken with a wink and a smile.
Blame the environmentalists, seems to be the direction the Department of Justice is heading toward. Blame indeed, though all things considred, the Adminsitration's actions are more like a gamble than a game.
One thing emerging from all of this, rhetoric and pious responsibility-accepting notwithstanding, is abundantly clear. The lessons being sought and learnt are not how to prevent a catastrophe of this magnitude in the future.
Rather, how to better profit from one.
Clinton Fein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org