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Archives for Katrina

Disaster Styles


Comparisons are odious. – John Fortescue, De Laudibus Legum Angliae (1471)

It would be unfair to compare Myanmar Junta leader, Than Shwe’s response to Cyclone Nargis to George Bush’s response to Hurricane Katrina. For one thing, the two disasters were separated by thousands of miles. Furthermore, Burma initially rejected all foreign aid. Mr. Bush only rejected aid from Cuba.

Of course, both Mr. Bush and Mr. Than knew in advance of the approaching disasters. On May 6, 2008, a spokesman for the Indian Meteorological Department said Burmese agencies had been given 48 hours’ notice of the cyclone’s advent, including its point of crossing, its severity and all related issues. There was no acknowledgement of the warning from the Myanmar government.

Mr. Bush was told the Sunday before Katrina struck that the city’s flood defenses could fail in such a storm. The National Weather Service issued a special hurricane warning saying most of New Orleans would be uninhabitable for weeks and “water shortages will make human suffering incredible by modern standards.” Unlike Mr. Than, Mr. Bush acknowledged these warnings. He said the government was fully prepared to help.

He was wrong, of course – but not on purpose.

Monday morning Mr. Bush was again warned about the potential devastation of Katrina and was told the government might lack the capacity to deal with it. He did not let that interfere with the day’s planned activities. Mr. Bush talked about immigration issues with the head of the Department of Homeland Security. He then shared a birthday cake photo-op with his old friend, Senator John McCain, and, after learning that the 17th Street canal levee in New Orleans had breached, went off to Arizona to promote Medicare Drug benefits. By late afternoon he was at a California senior center where he again discussed the Medicare drug benefit. At 8 p.m. that night the governor of Louisiana told the president she needed everything Mr. Bush could provide to deal with the emergency. Mr. Bush said nothing. He went to bed.

Tuesday afternoon Mr. Bush joined country singer, Mark Willis, for a photo-op, Mr. Bush holding a guitar and the singer smiling at the playful president. Mr. Bush then returned to Texas to finish up his vacation. He let it be known that he would begin work the following day with a task force to coordinate relief efforts.

It took Mr. Than two weeks to meet victims and see the destruction for himself. As soon as Mr. Bush finished his vacation Wednesday, he flew back to Washington, making a detour, however, to fly over New Orleans so he could see for himself how bad things were. A picture was taken of him looking out the airplane window at the devastation below. It’s the sort of picture that could not be published of Mr. Than since he hasn’t surveyed Nargis’ damage to the Irrawaddy Delta.

As different as the responses of the two leaders to their respective disasters were, there is one sad similarity. Many Burmese will die or permanently suffer the effects of the government’s unwillingness to permit foreign aid to enter the country until long after the disaster had struck.

By contrast, within days after Katrina struck, FEMA ordered $2.7 billion worth of trailers and mobile homes to house those left homeless. The descriptions used to order those trailers were neatly compiled on a single page of specifications. Joseph Hagerman, a Federation of American Scientists expert who is helping develop new emergency housing is quoted in the Washington Post as saying: “I can’t believe that we bought a billion dollars’ worth of product with a 25-line spec. There’s not much you can do in 25 lines to protect life safety.”

He is right. There is now a health catastrophe among the 300,000 people living in those homes.

The problems first surfaced in 2006. Scott Needle, a pediatrician in Bay St. Louis, La., told MSNBC that children living in the trailers were coming in to see him with respiratory complaints that occurred repeatedly. The Sierra Club tested the air in 44 trailers and in 40 of them the concentration of formaldehyde was more than .1 parts per million. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health says workers should not be exposed to that level of concentration for more than 15 minutes at a time. Responding to the initial complaints about trailers safety, FEMA spokesman, Aaron Walker told the network there had then been about 20 complaints in the 115,000 trailers being used and they could easily be resolved by increasing ventilation in the trailers.

Since Mr. Walker spoke, the number of complainants about the trailers has increased. According to the Post, 17,000 residents of the trailers have joined in a class action lawsuit against the U.S. government and the trailer manufacturers alleging health consequences from living in the trailers that include respiratory illnesses and cancer.

Only time will tell if the illnesses affecting the families and the presence of formaldehyde in the trailers furnished by the government is anything more than coincidental. But here is one thing that is definitely coincidental: any similarity between George Bush’s response to Katrina and Than Shwe’s response to Cyclone Nargis.

Posted by Christopher Brauchli at 8:38 AM | Permalink

New Orleans Envies Iraq


And be those juggling fiends no more believe’d,
That palter with us in a double sense;
That keep the word of promise to our ear
And break it to our hope.
— Shakespeare, Macbeth

If people in New Orleans and environs are feeling depressed at the pace of reconstruction they should take heart from Iraq. Unlike New Orleans, Iraq has not dropped off George Bush’s radar screen and nonetheless things continue to go badly on the reconstruction front.

According to the most recent quarterly report by Stuart Bowen Jr., the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, there is precious little to show for the $21 billion Congress put into the Iraq Relief and Reconstruction fund created in 2003. Eighty percent of the money has been paid out. Seventy-five million has been spent to rebuild the pipelines crossing the Tigris River at the Fatah pipeline crossing and not one pipeline has made it across. Parsons Corporation was paid $243 million for construction of 150 medical clinics. It completed 20 of the clinics. It received $72 million for construction of a police college in Baghdad that had to be closed because of sewage leaking from the ceiling.

A recent report describes a camp for housing police trainers that has never been used by anyone but has an Olympic-size swimming pool. DynCorp International was paid $43.8 million for the construction. The Iraqi Ministry of Interior ordered not only the swimming pool but also 20 VIP trailers. In response to this and other reports of poor oversight, the State Department said it is working to improve controls. It is sort of too bad that the controls are being imposed when there’s only 20 percent of the money left to spend. As soon as the committed funds have been spent, Mr. Bowen can leave his post. That would please Duncan Hunter, the California Republican who chairs the House Armed Services Committee.

Mr. Duncan tried to get rid of Mr. Bowen in 2006. He did it by inserting a provision in the military authorization bill that Mr. Bush signed in mid-October 2006 eliminating the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction effective October 1, 2007. According to Josh Holly, the spokesman for the committee (who is also on Mr. Hunter’s staff), the only reason for adding that provision to the bill was to return to a non-wartime footing in Iraq and let the inspector generals in other agencies handle the investigations being conducted by Mr. Bowen. Mr. Holly didn’t notice that Iraq was a dollar shy of being on what one would describe as a “non-wartime” footing.

When asked about the attempts to close the office none of the members of Congress who commented knew why the provision had been inserted. Congress has taken steps to resuscitate Mr. Bowen’s mandate.

Katrina’s victims are probably thinking the Iraqis don’t have much to complain about. (And Iraqis might take heart from New Orleans’ complaints, my colleague Scott Olin Schmidt writes ironically.) Although $110 billion was appropriated to help rebuild in hurricane-damaged areas, it is not being disbursed any more effectively in that part of the world than the $21 billion is being dispensed in Iraq. Tale after tale describes problems affecting New Orleans and other areas devastated by Katrina. The most recent is the news about 34 water pumps installed in New Orleans by Moving Water Industries Corp of Deerfield Beach, Fl.

Moving Water Industries supplies flood-control equipment all over the world. The pumps it supplied New Orleans were defective. Maria Garzino, a Corps mechanical engineer, sent a 72-page memorandum to Col. Lewis Setliff III, who is in charge of rebuilding flood protection. Her memorandum detailed mechanical problems with the pumps and criticized the testing procedures used. She said the pumps would break down “should they be tasked to run, under normal use, as would be required in the event of a hurricane.” The memorandum was sent when only 12 of the 34 pumps contracted for were in place. The last 22 were installed after her memorandum was sent because, as a Corps spokesperson explained, some pumping capacity is better than none. Time will tell if he’s right.

When Mr. Bush addressed the nation on the anniversary of his war he told the Iraqis and his domestic subjects to be patient. When Mr. Bush visited New Orleans in August 2006 he said of the lackluster reconstruction: “There will be momentum, momentum will be gathered. Houses will begat jobs, jobs will begat houses.” They didn’t. When Mr. Bush returned to the area in March he said one of the purposes of the trip was to tell “the people here in the Gulf Coast that we still think about them in Washington” and to show taxpayers “what their money has done to help revitalize” the region, even though that’s precious little. It’s a sad day for the country when the most assistance the inarticulate Mr. Bush can offer hurricane victims and Iraqis comes from his least powerful friends, words.

Posted by Christopher Brauchli at 3:34 AM | Permalink

Yelling Fire, Crying Wolf?


“I know how you start a fire-how do you start a flood?” – Conversation between the owner of a burned-out lumber yard talking with the owner of flooded furniture store – both heavily insured.

It’s all becoming clear – not that Mr. Bush has any responsibility for starting Hurricane Katrina. His responsibility began where the hurricane left off. And it proved as much of a windfall for his friends as the war in Iraq. But Katrina is old news. Next on the agenda? A fence for the Mexican border.

One of the hallmarks of the George W. Bush administration has been the creation of situations in which the assistance of large contractors is required to fix whatever Bush broke. Once hired they are left to do their work without interference from the meddlesome oversight of the federal government, which Republican lore has it, wouldn’t know how to supervise even if given the opportunity. The stories of big business doing well by doing worse under this White House are legend – beginning in Iraq, traveling through New Orleans and now ending up at with the planned construction of a fence along the Mexcan border. Of course the incompetence and over-billing of those constructing the fence cannot yet be known since as of this writing the work has scarce begun. It can only be anticipated.

But there’s plenty of reason to be cynical. Just look at the numbers. Incompetence and fraudulent billing first came to light in Iraq when the antics of Dick Cheney’s friends and former colleagues at Halliburton’s subsidiary Kellogg Brown and Root, now called KBR, ripped off the American taxpayer. Among its myriad ruses were overcharging by $27.4 million for food served U.S. troops in Iraq and the receipt of kickbacks by two KBR employees from a Kuwaiti subcontractor who was permitted to provide services to U.S. troops.

On April 30, the New York Times reported that the United States Army Corps of Engineers had been responsible for supervising a $243 million program to build 150 health care clinics in Iraq. The contractor for that project was a Texas-based company named Parsons.

This program began in 2004 but as of the date of the report none of the five clinics that was to have been built in Kirkuk had actually been built. Only 20 out of a planned 150 clinics across Iraq had been built. In his report, Stuart Bowen, the The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, focuses much of the blame on lack of oversight by the Corps of Engineers. He also faults the contractor. He said that the Corps didn’t realize until a year after the project started that Parson and its subcontractors had serious problems with completing the project. In response Brig. Gen. William H. McCoy Jr. of the Corps of Engineers said the fault lay with Parsons which had assured him, in the fall of 2005, that 114 of the centers would be completed by December.

Another New York Times tale from Iraq concerns a $2.4 billion no-bid contract KBR won for Iraqi reconstruction efforts. That bid included $75.7 million for rebuilding the Fatah pipeline crossing, the point at which 15 pipelines cross the Tigris river – the main link between the oil fields and points of distribution. KBR had a geology report warning that extensive underground testing would be required before doing any drilling required for rebuilding the pipelines. A geologist who saw the report said: “No driller in his right mind would have gone ahead” without the testing. Well, KBR is not in its right mind. It’s in the taxpayers’ pockets. It drilled without testing and because of soil conditions of which it was unaware (because it hadn’t tested) it spent $75.7 million had been spent without building one pipeline across the Tigris. Explaining its failure to heed the geologic report a Corps spokesman said it was too general to serve as a warning.

The foregoing is exemplary – not comprehensive. There are weekly reports of fraud and incompetence by President Bush’s friends in Iraq. Most of them get paid anyway.

Now Mr. Bush has come up with another way to benefit his friends. It’s called a fence. It will be built along our Southern border with Mexico

No sooner did Mr. Bush announce fence plans than it was announced that major military contractors, many of whom have covered themselves in glory and money in Iraq and Louisiana, will get the contracts to build the fence and provide the equipment to do the monitoring. As of this writing it is not known who among them will get the contracts. I can guess. Stay tuned.

Posted by Christopher Brauchli at 9:31 AM | Permalink

Bush’s Peter Principle


Good now, play one scene of excellent dissembling, and let it look like perfect honor. – Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra

The more one learns about the sophomores in charge of the country’s affairs the more one marvels. In addition to ineptitude, at least two of them share one other quality – lying to enhance their resumes thus endearing themselves to George Bush who admires nothing so much as a good liar, being a poster child for the successes achieved by the well constructed lie.

Until mid-February the most famous and successful liar in an influential position was Michael Brown, former FEMA head. Although he will always be remembered for his ineptitude following Katrina, his pre-FEMA background should not be forgotten. When he applied for the job he misrepresented his qualifications. Misrepresentations were the horse he rode into the office of Director of FEMA. He was told by the Senators confirming his appointment that he was well qualified for his position because of his extensive management experience. Their praise found its source in the statement on his resume that he had been the assistant city manager in Edmund, Oklahoma. He was in fact an assistant to the city manager, a position that the public relations head for Edmund said was like being an intern.

Mr. Brown also described himself as having been designated “Outstanding Political Science Professor, Central State University” when in fact he’d not been on the faculty. There were other lies but they were justifiable since they got him what he wanted and that is often the purpose of lying.

Now we have learned of another extraordinary Bush appointee.

As we recently discussed, one of the stars of NASA is James Hansen, its top climate specialist and one of the leading experts on global warming. He has been warning of the dangers of global warming for 18 years although without any perceivable effect on George Bush who remains cool to the concept.

In December of 2005 Dr. Hansen gave a speech of which the administration disapproved. Thereafter he was notified that the institute’s public affairs staff would be required to review his work. Recently, we have come to know who was behind the censorship: George Deutsch.

At 24, Deutsch is a younger version of Mr. Brown. Like Brown, he found it useful to lie about his background. To obtain a position where he could censor scientists with PhDs, he said he had graduated from college. That, in George Bush’s eyes was good enough to put him in a position where he can decide what scientists should and should not say. After all, much of what George Bush believes about science does not require an education, it makes perfect sense that he would put in charge of scientists someone without an education.

Mr. Deutsch said he had received a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Texas A&M in 2003. When asked, the university said he had attended the school but had not gotten a degree since he never completed the required course work. Mr. Deutsch got the job at NASA said he, because he was an intern in the ‘war room’ of the 2004 re-election campaign.

His lack of learning was no impediment to issuing orders about scientific matters. In that respect he was like Mr. Bush.

Having studied journalism at Texas A&M he wrote in an e mail to Flint Wild, a NASA contractor preparing a web presentation about Einstein for middle schoolers that each time the word “big bang” was used in the presentation it should be followed by the word “theory.” He explained why saying: “The theory that the universe was created by a ‘big bang’ is just that-a theory. It is not proven fact; it is opinion. Yes, the scientific community by and large may share this opinion, but that doesn’t make it correct. It is not NASA’s place, nor should it be, to make a declaration such as this about the existence of the universe that discounts intelligent design by a creator – the other half of the argument.”

Deutsch no longer works at NASA. He resigned the same day it was disclosed he was a liar. Dean Acosta is NASA’s spokesman. When Dr. Hansen first disclosed the agency’s effort to censor him, Acosta, the deputy assistant administrator for public affairs said there was no effort to silence him saying the agency promotes openness. Commenting on Mr. Deutsch’s resignation Mr. Acosta said it had been accepted and the agency was committed to “open and full communications”. That will come as a welcome news to its scientists.

When the New York Times asked why someone with Mr. Deutsch’s credentials would be put in a position of supervising scientists the paper was told by Donald Tighe of the White House Office of Science and Technology that: “Science is respected and protected and highly valued by the administration.” He didn’t say by whom in the administration it is valued. That may be another lie.

Posted by Christopher Brauchli at 9:16 PM | Permalink

A Funny Kind of Thanks


Compassion is not weakness, and concern for the unfortunate is not socialism. – Hubert Humphrey

Again we have been treated to the workings of a truly compassionate administration. In one case it took two tries, in the other it was doing what comes naturally and got it right the first time. FEMA is the teacher.

The first try came slightly more than one week before the day when all Americans join together to give thanks for the many good things that have happened to them during the year. A number of former residents of New Orleans had planned to give thanks for George W. Bush. It was he who, standing in the Rose Garden on September 3 after Katrina struck New Orleans said: “I know that those of you who have been hit hard by Katrina are suffering. Many are angry and desperate for help. The tasks before us are enormous, but so is the heart of America. In America, we do not abandon our fellow citizens in their hour of need. And the federal government will do its part . . .. We have a responsibility to our brothers and sisters all along the Gulf Coast and we will not rest until we get this right and the job is done.” Who wouldn’t be thankful for such promises? But then, sad to say, something happened that changed the victims’ plans to give thanks.

FEMA slipped notices under the doors of Katrina victims who were staying in hotels at FEMA’s expense. The notices were notices of eviction. The 50,000 families staying in hotels around the United States were told to get out by December 1 except for those in Mississippi and Louisiana who were given until January 7, 2006.

FEMA said it was acting out of a sense of compassion. Its spokesperson, Nicol Andrews explained: “We want to help people to get back on their feet to become self-sustaining and to have some control over their destiny. It is just inhumane to leave a family stuck in a hotel room and not offer them an option that exists to move beyond that.” Don Jacks, another spokesman for FEMA said: “We’re not forcing anyone out of hotels. Yes we will stop paying for hotel rooms the night of Nov. 30 and on Dec. 1 these people will need to be ready to move.”

Commenting on the original FEMA news, Texas Governor Rick Perry said: “[M]y great concern is that there is still no long-term housing plan for the hundreds of thousands of Katrina victims who lost everything and . . . many of them may find themselves with no long-term housing options.” Commentators and the homeless quietly pointed out that this action, though undeniably helpful for enabling the victims to be more self-sufficient, seemed a bit harsh.

Sensitive to the charge, FEMA gave them a reprieve. It said they did not have to leave until the week before Christmas and, in addition, in some communities they may stay until January 7. The agency chair also said the agency would continue to pay for alternative housing for those being evicted, something he forgot to mention when he initially said everyone had to leave. But that was probably just an oversight.

There has been no such oversight with respect to Northrop Grumman.

According to the New York Times, the U.S. Navy has asked FEMA to give it $2 billion to restore Northrop’s Gulfport facilities to their pre-Katrina “capacity and profit opportunities.” According to the Times that would “shift the full burden of hurricane-related cost overruns and ship-building delays from Northrop to the government.” That amount is in addition to the $500 million Northrop has already gotten from its insurers and the additional $500 billion it believes its insurers owe it. According to one watchdog group, the $2 billion is almost as much as the government plans to spend on repairing housing. The reason why those funds are available for FEMA to give to Northrop. instead of Katrina’s non-corporate victims takes us back to October 28.

On that date Mr. Bush asked that $17.1 billion of FEMA funds be reallocated. He said he wanted the Pentagon to get $6.6 billion (a sum that includes the Northrop money). The rest is to go to the National Guard reservists and for repairs to military installations damaged by Katrina. He didn’t leave out the human victims. He said $2.2 billion should be used for housing recovery.

It’s great news that many of the victims won’t have to move out 6 days after Thanksgiving but can postpone the move until the Christmas season. That shows how compassionate FEMA can be. It’s also good that Northrop will get federal help to restore it to its pre-Katrina profitability. That, too, shows how compassionate FEMA can be.

Posted by Christopher Brauchli at 9:27 PM | Permalink

The Shirts Off Their Backs


A certain Samaritan. . . had compassion on him.
The Holy Bible: Luke

Even absolutely terrible events have silver linings. Hurricane Katrina is an example. It demonstrated, to the surprise of at least this writer, that George W. Bush and Republicans in Congress not only have hearts – they have compassion.
Their compassion was demonstrated in two completely unexpected but nonetheless, welcome ways. The first was Mr. Bush’s courageous proclamation that, while not the equivalent of Mr. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, was nonetheless significant and, like the Emancipation Proclamation, addressed the status of the less privileged members of society. He suspended provisions of the Davis-Bacon Act.

The Davis-Bacon Act mandates, among other things, that employers working working in a locale pay all their employees working on federally financed construction projects the locally prevailing wage. As a result of President Bush’s generous proclamation, those persons living in New Orleans who may have lost all their worldly possessions as a result of Katrina’s devastation will now be able to participate in federally funded reconstruction projects and earn considerably less than would have been the case had Davis-Bacon not been suspended.
That seems harsh but there is, of course, an upside: They will get some income. Mr. Bush no doubt believed that unless he issued the proclamation New Orleans would never be rebuilt since no contractor in his or her right mind would want to pay the substantial prevailing wage to workers who had just lost all their worldly possessions and were, among other things, not in a position to bargain since they desperately needed the jobs.

Workers are not the only ones who benefit from the proclamation. The proclamation will save us all money. Reducing the wages of those wiped out by the flood means the work will cost less. Here’s why:

Halliburton, (among other Bush-friendly companies) has reportedly received a no-bid contract worth $30 million to help rebuild New Orleans. By not paying prevailing wages Halliburton can do more work for less cost and pass along the savings to taxpayers. The fact that Pentagon audits say Halliburton still has $1.03 billion in “questioned” costs and $422 million in “unsupported” costs for its work in Iraq is no reason to think it won’t do better in New Orleans. Surely, it has learned from its mistakes and, being anxious to make a good impression on taxpayers, will almost certainly pass along the savings to taxpayers in reduced costs rather than to its stockholders in increased dividends.

Mr. Bush is not the only one taking steps to help out the flood victims. Republican members of Congress have stepped up to the plate with proposals to ease the pain of those devastated by the flood. One of their most creative addresses the burden of the federal estate tax.

The federal estate tax stated is imposed on the estates of individuals who die owning assets valued at more than $1.5 million. (There are ways around that but for our purposes they are unimportant.) A 40-member Republican study group is circulating proposals it hopes will help flood victims. Among them is the proposal that the estate tax not be imposed on the estates of those who died in states affected by the storm. The sigh of relief that will be heard if this proposal becomes law will be audible even to those living in far off places. Here’s why.

The families of those whose corpses were seen floating around in New Orleans or propped up against fences for days after the flood or who were found in houses unable to escape the water will be spared paying estate tax on the millions they left to their heirs. It is, of course, possible, that some of those who died in the floodwaters in New Orleans and elsewhere did not, for whatever reason, have $1.5 million in assets. They will, therefore, not benefit from this particular proposal should it become law. For the others who were unable to leave the flooded area because lacking a car or bus fare (their $1.5 million being in a bank or stock account not readily accessible over the weekend before the hurricane struck) their families will have to pay no estate tax thus placing them on a par with the families who drowned leaving behind no assets for their families.

These proposals, two among many, will improve the lives of Hurricane Katrina’s victims and demonstrate to all but the most skeptical that the Republicans are not only compassionate but capable of responding to the needs of hurricane victims in ways that are nothing if not creative. Of course, some might call them nothing. They may be right.

Posted by Christopher Brauchli at 10:06 PM | Permalink

From the Government, and Having Harmed, Here to Help


Tax credits for rebuilding is okay. Urban homesteading is okay. The rest of the President’s address from New Orleans? Everything one has come to fear within the past five years.
What, then, did we learn from President Bush this evening?


Posted by Josh Trevino at 3:22 AM | Permalink

Paper-thin Trail


And whoever walks a furlong without sympathy
Walks to his own funeral drest in his shroud. – Walt Whitman, Song of Myself

Golly. All people are thinking about are the hurricane victims. No one is thinking about poor Michael Brown who is now unemployed. It’s not the first time.

Stephen Jones, the lawyer who defended Timothy McVeigh, hired Mr. Brown fresh out of law school. Explaining his decision to let Mr. Brown go during a firm reorganization he said to a reporter for the St. Petersburg Times: “He did not develop the way we wanted. He was average.” If Mr. Brown had heard that it would have saddened him. After all, when he looked at the resume he’d created he could tell he was anything but average. It described lots of good things he’d done in his relatively short life.

As he was getting on an airplane to fly home from New Orleans to his wife and children he said he was anxious “to get back to D.C. to correct all the inaccuracies and lies.” He didn’t say what “inaccuracies and lies” he was thinking of although he was critical of journalists whom he accused of rushing to judgment about him. He might have been critical of his resume that seemed intent on embarrassing him. What’s more he probably can’t get out of his mind all the nice things the senators said about him during his confirmation hearing to become the deputy director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The fact that they were inspired by his mischievous resume didn’t make them any less nice. And once they were on his resume, Mr. Brown himself understandably started to believe them. Here are two nice things that were said about him during the hearing.

Former Colorado Senator Ben “Nighthorse” Campbell said: “He is dedicated, tenacious, and he is exactly the type of individual who has given up probably a better lifestyle to be in public service and we certainly appreciate all of that.” Sen. Campbell was probably not aware that Mr. Brown had been asked to leave his position at the Arabian Horse Association. His dismissal from that post had nothing to do with disasters although according to a report in the St. Petersburg Times, Mary Anne Grimmell, former association president, and Karl Hart, a former board member said a number of suits had been filed against the association and Mr. Brown during Mr. Brown’s tenure. None was successful and the organization agreed to pay for the defense of those suits. Nonetheless, Mr. Brown raised $50,000 for his own defense from friends and supporters and pocketed the money. When that was discovered he was asked to leave the organization and that’s when he joined FEMA. Not everyone would consider his experience a “better lifestyle” or the kind of disaster with which FEMA is expected to cope.

Senator Joe Lieberman said: “Mr. Brown, you have extensive management experience. For this job you will need it.” Mr. Brown had no management experience. His resume said he had been the Assistant City Manager in Edmund, Oklahoma. What it should have said was that Mr. Brown had been an assistant TO the city manager in which capacity he had no oversight over employees. According to reporters for Time magazine who investigated his background, Claudia Deakins who is public relations head for Edmond said: “The assistant is more like an intern.”

The resume said he was the “Outstanding Political Science Professor, Central State University.” The Time reporters learned that he was never on the faculty at that institution. The school did confirm he had been a student at that institution but not that he was the “Outstanding Political Science Senior” as his resume revised on September 8, 2005, stated.

In announcing his nomination the White House said Mr. Brown had been the “Executive Director of the Independent Electrical Contractors”, a trade group in Alexandria, Va. That was wrong, too, although it is unclear whether that was something he told the White House or that his resume mischievously said. According to Newsday, two officials from the organization said he’d never held that post but was executive director of a regional chapter in Oklahoma. That chapter’s director said Mr. Brown held that post for less than 6 weeks.

I’m sure Mr. Brown felt terrible that people suffered because of his ineptitude, a feeling that was almost certainly exacerbated because the whole world was aware of it. On top of that, to have everyone made aware of the fact that his resume was a fraud made him look dishonest as well as incompetent. There is nothing Mr. Brown can do about his incompetence and dishonesty. He can, however, get a new resume. He may even be able to get one off the Internet at no charge. He should do that before applying for another job.

Posted by Christopher Brauchli at 4:46 PM | Permalink

Letting Go of New Orleans.


New Orleans is gone. Do not rebuild New Orleans.
The arguments for New Orleans are self-evident, and will be repeated ad nauseum in the months to come. There are the arguments on behalf of the city itself: It is historical. It is a major port. It is an economic engine. It is the home of many people. Then there are the arguments on behalf of the rebuilding effort per se: that it is somehow a worthy act of defiance, ipso facto noble and American. There is much right with these arguments, but there is more wrong. Sane analysis is frequently absent in crises – and it is no exaggeration to state that this is America’s worst since 9/11 – but in the absence of a threatening enemy, we owe ourselves and the people of New Orleans the deliberation that was absent on the eve, and in the wake, of their catastrophe.


Posted by Josh Trevino at 1:39 AM | Permalink



It seems grotesque, in a manner, to rank and compare catastrophes, particularly when they involve the loss of human life. To do so often enough appears to buy into the sentiment of Stalin’s cruel quip that a single man dead is a tragedy, but a million dead is a statistic. Still, there are comparative scales of suffering, and it is enough to note that the suffering attendant to Katrina is immense. Even if we do not arrive at the feared toll of thousands dead, the dozens we know were drowned or crushed in the storm’s course is a heavy burden in itself.
All of this is by way of acknowledging that there are already comparisons being made between Katrina and 9/11. It is quite possible that Katrina may yet be known to exact a higher toll than that day. From this, policy conclusions are being drawn. There’s little sense in going through them, except to note that they are policy conclusions meant almost exclusively to further the loathesome and strenuous efforts to blame the Administration for this act of God. The line goes that the American political leadership chose to focus upon the actual and possible lives lost due to terrorism at the expense of the actual and possible lives lost due to natural disasters like Katrina. As has been noted elsewhere here, governance is an exercise in prioritization; those advancing the aforementioned line presumably adhere to the premise that the determinant of priorities is plain quantity of lives lost.
This is wrong.
The major killers of Americans are, of course, neither terrorism nor hurricanes. Rather, they are, in no particular order: automobiles, fat-laden burgers, the flu, other Americans, etc. We do not, as a rule, reorder life and policy for these things as we would for terrorism or hurricanes. There is a school of thought, mostly in the ranks of public health professionals, that argues we ought to do precisely that. Most people disagree, as they recognize on some level that there are differing moral qualities to deaths: every human life is equally precious, but the moral context of each life’s end varies. It is traditionally the concern of government to address only specific moral contexts of death. Murder is the primary example, and while Western governments have moved ever-further into involvement in the contexts of deaths by other means — acts of God and disease-related most notably — it remains the prime example.
This, then, is the fallacy at the heart of the emerging comparisons between 9/11 and Katrina. The Bush Administration was quite right to orient policy and priorities toward the former. The latter, too, was and remains a just concern of government (even if we have long since established that the ideal scenarios called-for by the left in the past 48 hours would not have saved New Orleans): but it is of necessity a lesser concern. We all live with acts of God and the specter of disaster. We do what we can; but some of us choose to move to major earthquake zones; some of us choose to build homes in natural lahar pathways; some of us choose to live in walled cities precariously below sea level. Government cannot protect us wholesale from that danger we court. It cannot thwart the aptly-named act of God.
It can, though, pursue a band of fanatical murderers to the ends of the earth, in implicit recognition that the deaths by their hands, unlike the deaths at the hands of the anthropomorphized Katrina, are something irretrievably foul, base, and — murderous. God save those who would have a numbers game obscure that.

Posted by Josh Trevino at 9:56 PM | Permalink

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