People have asked me, “Why are you so consumed with hatred for the Bush administration? Surely this is not moderate, or even healthy?”
And yeah, a more well-tempered Tom Chappell would laugh these things off. But let me tell you: it’s Sunday night, and right now, I’m thinking that there are going to be 10,000 dead in Louisiana from Katrina.
Let me start with a quick history, and then finish with what I found to be an absolutely riveting interview in today’s Meet the Press. First, the history:
When Bush was appointed President by the Supreme Court, he in turn appointed Joseph Allbaugh (“a campaign hack without any emergency magnagment experience”) as the head of FEMA. Mr. Allbaugh appointed his old college crony, Michael Brown, as his deputy. Mr. Brown, a lawyer, had most recently worked (full-time, for eleven years!) as the Commissioner of Judges and Stewards of the International Arabian Horse Registry, from which he had been asked to resign, and so was luckily available.
This pair got right to work reducing the scope and capability of FEMA, which they regarded as just another “oversized entitlement program.” According to a terrific column by Michael Hiltzik in The Los Angeles Times tomorrow, Mr. Allbaugh actually said as much in testimony before Congress in 2001, going on to recommend that sticken communities rely for help on “faith-based organizations…like the Salvation Army…”
When Mr. Allbaugh left government in 2003 to return to work for W.’s reelection campaign, and then to peddle influence in the Iraqi reconstruction, Mr. Brown was elevated to the head of FEMA, where he remains.
Admittedly, this was no longer the important position that it had been: President Clinton had made the head of FEMA a Cabinet-level position, but the W. administration’s guiding principle was that anything that Clinton was for, they were against, so they moved FEMA to be a subsidiary of the Department of Homeland Security, and moved the “prevention” aspect of FEMA to another DHS department, and privatized it, leaving FEMA responsible only for “emergency response.” (So, response, but not prevention; awesome).
Now, just the idea of putting FEMA under DHS is retarded on the face of it: anyone can see that faced with a choice of either paying attention to “Fighting Terrorists” or to “Preparing for Possible Hurricanes Someday”, you’d tend to do the former, and indeed, vital funds, such as for repairing levees, were transferred to Terrorist Central starting in 2003, essentially defunding SELA, a 10-year levee repair program that had been started in 1995.
On THURSDAY, Directory of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff gave an interview on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, where, in response to questions, he revealed that he was unaware that there were thousands of people massed at the New Orleans Convention Center without food and water in unbelievable misery. As an incredulous Robert Siegel repeatedly tried to tell him that this wasn’t a rumor, that they had an NPR reporter actually on the other line who was live at the scene, and who could confirm that there were two thousand people with zero food and water, Chertoff, who is apparently not only ill-informed, but also an unbelievable prick, dismissed the reports as rumors and anecdotes, saying, “I can’t argue with you about what your reporter tells you.”
An informal poll of my walking partners showed that all four of us, and at least two of our wives, had already been aware of the Convention Center situation for quite some time. But the fricking head of DHS didn’t know?
The Bush administration has been working overtime to try and find something else that the story could be about, rather than their own incompetence. They tried to make it about the looters and the violence, but you know, refugees can only live without water for about 3 days, and start getting pretty crazy when they’re running out. So now they’re trying to making it about how the local city and state guys were inept, even telling easily-disproved lies that the locals didn’t ask for federal help in time.
And here we are, up to date. All of today’s episode of NBC NEWS’ “MEET THE PRESS” was great, and if you TiVo’d it, I urge you to watch it. But if you missed it, you can always listen to a clip, or read the transcript; see the links below.
Here’s the most powerful excerpt — be sure to read it all the way through to the end:
MR. RUSSERT: Jefferson Parish President Broussard, let me start with you. You just heard the director of Homeland Security’s explanation of what has happened this last week. What is your reaction?
MR. AARON BROUSSARD: We have been abandoned by our own country. Hurricane Katrina will go down in history as one of the worst storms ever to hit an American coast, but the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina will go down as one of the worst abandonments of Americans on American soil ever in U.S. history. I am personally asking our bipartisan congressional delegation here in Louisiana to immediately begin congressional hearings to find out just what happened here. Why did it happen? Who needs to be fired? And believe me, they need to be fired right away, because we still have weeks to go in this tragedy. We have months to go. We have years to go. And whoever is at the top of this totem pole, that totem pole needs to be chain-sawed off and we’ve got to start with some new leadership.
It’s not just Katrina that caused all these deaths in New Orleans here. Bureaucracy has committed murder here in the greater New Orleans area, and bureaucracy has to stand trial before Congress now. It’s so obvious. FEMA needs more congressional funding. It needs more presidential support. It needs to be a Cabinet-level director. It needs to be an independent agency that will be able to fulfill its mission to work in partnership with state and local governments around America. FEMA needs to be empowered to do the things it was created to do. It needs to come somewhere, like New Orleans, with all of its force immediately, without red tape, without bureaucracy, act immediately with common sense and leadership, and save lives. Forget about the property. We can rebuild the property. It’s got to be able to come in and save lives.
We need strong leadership at the top of America right now in order to accomplish this and to– reconstructing FEMA.
MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Broussard, let me ask–I want to ask–should…
MR. BROUSSARD: You know, just some quick examples…
MR. RUSSERT: Hold on. Hold on, sir. Shouldn’t the mayor of New Orleans and the governor of New Orleans bear some responsibility? Couldn’t they have been much more forceful, much more effective and much more organized in evacuating the area?
MR. BROUSSARD: Sir, they were told like me, every single day, “The cavalry’s coming,” on a federal level, “The cavalry’s coming, the cavalry’s coming, the cavalry’s coming.” I have just begun to hear the hoofs of the cavalry. The cavalry’s still not here yet, but I’ve begun to hear the hoofs, and we’re almost a week out.
Let me give you just three quick examples. We had Wal-Mart deliver three trucks of water, trailer trucks of water. FEMA turned them back. They said we didn’t need them. This was a week ago. FEMA–we had 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel on a Coast Guard vessel docked in my parish. The Coast Guard said, “Come get the fuel right away.” When we got there with our trucks, they got a word. “FEMA says don’t give you the fuel.” Yesterday–yesterday–FEMA comes in and cuts all of our emergency communication lines. They cut them without notice. Our sheriff, Harry Lee, goes back in, he reconnects the line. He posts armed guards on our line and says, “No one is getting near these lines.” Sheriff Harry Lee said that if America–American government would have responded like Wal-Mart has responded, we wouldn’t be in this crisis.
But I want to thank Governor Blanco for all she’s done and all her leadership. She sent in the National Guard. I just repaired a breach on my side of the 17th Street canal that the secretary didn’t foresee, a 300-foot breach. I just completed it yesterday with convoys of National Guard and local parish workers and levee board people. It took us two and a half days working 24/7. I just closed it.
MR. RUSSERT: All right.
MR. BROUSSARD: I’m telling you most importantly I want to thank my public employees…
MR. RUSSERT: All right.
MR. BROUSSARD: …that have worked 24/7. They’re burned out, the doctors, the nurses. And I want to give you one last story and I’ll shut up and let you tell me whatever you want to tell me. The guy who runs this building I’m in, emergency management, he’s responsible for everything. His mother was trapped in St. Bernard nursing home [VOICE STARTS TO BREAK] and every day she called him and said, “Are you coming, son? Is somebody coming?” And he said, “Yeah, Mama, somebody’s coming to get you. Somebody’s coming to get you on Tuesday. Somebody’s coming to get you on Wednesday. Somebody’s coming to get you on Thursday. Somebody’s coming to get you on Friday.” [CRYING] And she drowned Friday night. She drowned Friday night.
MR. RUSSERT: Mr. President…
MR. BROUSSARD: [CRYING] Nobody’s coming to get us. Nobody’s coming to get us. The secretary has promised. Everybody’s promised. They’ve had press conferences. I’m sick of the press conferences. For God sakes, shut up and send us somebody.
So, to return to the question posed in the first paragraph, that’s why.
Listen to Aaron Broussard on Meet The Press (clip: starts 11:14 minutes in)
September 4, 2005
Read the Full Transcript of today’s Meet The Press
September 4, 2005
Listen to the NPR interview with Unbelievable Prick Michael Chertoff
September 1, 2005
Read Michael Hiltzik’s column in The Los Angeles Times
“Bush’s Hurricane Response a Disaster”
September 5, 2005
Read Josh Mashall’s column in The Hill about the dismantling of FEMA:
“Bush Tore Down the FEMA That Clinton Built Up”
September 8, 2005