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Daily Howler: How fast does FEMA normally act? Oddly, we tried to check facts
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KATRINA CREEP (PART 1)! How fast does FEMA normally act? Oddly, we tried to check facts: // link // print // previous // next //

THE WEEK’S WORST IN SHOW: The powdered poodles we call a press corps were clearly at their worst last week. As Eric Boehlert noted, David Broder seemed to be typing from Mars in a ludicrous Sunday column (more details below). And then we had George Stephanopoulos on This Week, riding around in a chopper with the hapless Mary Landrieu. Believe it or not, the perfumed pair knew where to go to survey Katrina’s devastation. Incredibly, they choppered straight to Landrieu’s “camp”—to her waterfront (summer?) home, located somewhere outside the city. Try to believe that this powdered pair really hold such high positions:
STEPHANOPOULOS (9/4/05): As Bob [Woodruff] says, the situation on the ground in New Orleans does seem to be slowly improving. But as I discovered yesterday, there is still a lot of devastation around the city that has not even been addressed yet. Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu and I went up into a helicopter to tour some of the parishes surrounding New Orleans. Many of them are still underwater too and no one knows how many people were trapped beneath the water. As we saw, Senator Landrieu's own camp on the coast was completely blown away. We headed to that site from Baton Rouge.

LANDRIEU (videotape): And can you go to the left? Take the chopper to the left?

PILOT: Yes, ma'am. Are you looking for your residence?

LANDRIEU: I'm looking for my camp.

PILOT: It's right on the point there, ma'am.

LANDRIEU: This is where I was. It's right on the point. That's what I thought. Okay. Follow the point all the way around if you can. 'Cause I want to show exactly where my camp was, and it's interesting how some blew down and some didn't. That's quite a little one.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't understand it.

LANDRIEU: Yeah, some blew down and some didn't. Now, a lot of people live in these camps. When I say “camps,” some people—these are their main homes.

STEPHANOPOULOS: These lots we're looking at—people have to understand there was a whole house there.

LANDRIEU: A whole house. Okay, see that white camp, this is the [unintelligible]. See that blue camp?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Yeah, I see the blue one.

LANDRIEU: Okay. There was green one next to it, it's gone, and ours is the next one to it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So you're gone. Your house is gone.

LANDRIEU: Totally gone. That's where I was and all the ones next to me are gone.

What a couple of total idiots! In best upper-class tradition, no one ever bothered explaining what a “camp” is; as noted, we seemed to be looking at semi-lavish, waterfront homes, and Landrieu’s comments seemed to suggest that this wasn’t her primary residence. But even after Bush was mocked for zeroing in on Trent Lott’s destroyed home, what did Stephanopoulos do with this segment? Of course! The public was asked to sit and watch as he ran to check on Landrieu’s palace! If you didn’t see such self-involved people in action, it would be hard to believe they existed. But so it goes—when multi-millionaires with Millionaire Pundit Values control a nation’s discourse.

Which brings us to NBC’s Tim Russert, the kind of guy who flies to Nantucket to write fake books about being from Buffalo. If anything, Arianna Huffington was slightly too kind in her right-on assessment of Russert’s session with Haley Barbour this Sunday. Barbour is the GOP’s biggest Katrina shill (see this report in today’s Times), and Russert’s questions were totally softball. Earlier, Tim had pretended to go after Michael Chertoff, but the big, snarling bulldog lost his teeth when he dealt with the highly-placed Barbour. Go ahead—read his three questions to Barbour. See how the game of softball is played.

Final note on that Broder column: Writing from Neptune, he scolded Reps and Dems alike for the lack of oversight hearings about White House blunders. Try to believe—just try to believe—that he really said it:

BRODER (9/4/05): The decline of oversight hearings on Capitol Hill reflects what many of the commentators called a loss of institutional pride in Congress. Majority Republicans see themselves first and foremost as members of the Bush team—and do not want to make trouble by asking hard questions. Democrats find it more rewarding to raise campaign funds and cultivate their own constituencies.

The result is that a system of government in which Congress was supposed to be "the first branch" is—as this week once again has demonstrated—one in which the lawmakers are thoroughly overshadowed by the magnified figure of the president.

Reps and Dems are scolded alike for “the decline of oversight hearings.” But are we missing something here? Under our system, only the majority can conduct such hearings (as Broder knows and his readers do not). But so what? Presumably, Broder would rather eat live worms than single out the GOP. It’s the law—you have to pretend that the Dems did it too! Broder typed that remarkable passage, then nodded off, straight back to sleep.

SOME FACTS ABOUT NAGIN: For the life of us, we can’t grasp our pal Armando’s reaction to today’s John Tierney column. If Tierney is right, Virginia Beach is prepared for disaster in a way that New Orleans quite plainly was not. As liberals, do we really have to call loud names at the presentation of facts? If Tierney’s facts are right, his piece is important. As recently as the year 2000, New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin was a millionaire, Bush-donating cable executive. Are we now required to pretend that he’s somehow God’s vicar on earth?

Our newest hero can do no wrong—because we have to trash Bush alone, and pretend that all who oppose him are martyrs. From Frank Donze, New Orleans Times Picayune:

DONZE (3/3/02): Since taking over the company, now known as Cox Communications of Louisiana, in 1989, Nagin has helped boost profits, expand the customer base and improve employee retention, a measure of work force morale. And the company has almost a decade to go on a 15-year franchise extension, a political victory that it won from the City Council in 1995.

As mayor, Nagin, a millionaire, will take a steep pay cut. His income tax returns from the years 1997 to 1999 indicated he averaged nearly $400,000 in salary and bonuses annually. As mayor, he will be paid $110,000.

In 2000, Nagin gave $1000 to Bush—and nothing, zero, to Bush’s opponent. As progressives, must we pretend that this far-seeing man had a brilliant disaster plan? Would we have to stage such a silly charade if he had given money to Gore?

PENDING: Yes, we will complete our reports on urban schools and the John Harris book. But Katrina blew many themes away; we’ll deal with her aftermath first.

Special report—Katrina creep!

PART 1—IN SEARCH OF SOME FACTS: Because we’re part of the alleged “reality-based community,” we decided we’d actually check! We’d heard anguished liberals complain about FEMA’s slow response to Katrina. But how fast have federal agencies responded in prior hurricanes? What are the actual facts about this? We took a cursory look at the facts. And what we found seemed bad for presidents named Bush—and good for a president named Clinton.

First, a return to Bush 41. This past Sunday night, NBC re-aired a three-year old Dateline about 1992's Hurricane Andrew, a Category 5 storm. “It still stands as the costliest natural disaster ever in this country,” host Stone Phillips said in his introduction. “Hurricane Andrew slammed into Southern Florida 13 years ago this week, leaving behind more than $30 million in damage, 100,000 people homeless, and more than a dozen dead.” With numbers like those, Hurricane Andrew was a pimple compared to Katrina. (“Andrew was an extremely small hurricane, physically, extraordinarily intense, very much like a strong tornado over about a 25-mile to 30-mile swath,” one expert says in the Dateline report.) Andrew flattened large parts of Florida south of Miami. But how did Bush’s 41's FEMA respond? Parts of Dennis Murphy’s Dateline report sounded familiar by last Sunday, when the program re-aired:

MURPHY (8/23/02): Perhaps most surprisingly, in the first three days after Andrew, there was little outside help coming into South Florida, no federal cavalry riding over the hill. Local governments and charities were scrambling to do what they could.

UNIDENTIFIED SOLDIER: (videotape) No pushing, no shoving, please!

MURPHY: Food and drug stores gave necessities away, but the effort was overwhelmed by the sheer number of needy...TV weatherman Bryan Norcross says that because the heart of Miami had dodged the bullet, federal emergency officials seemed to think all of the communities to the south of the city had dodged Andrew as well.

Huh! For three days after Hurricane Andrew, the “federal cavalry” didn’t appear. Murphy described extensive looting of private homes as south Floridians fought for their lives. On Day 4, the feds finally showed:
MURPHY: In those first days after Hurricane Andrew, South Florida itself was fighting for survival. But on Day 4, August 28th, outside help finally arrived: federal troops. Twenty thousand National Guard, Army and Marine Corps troops poured into South Florida. They restored order, set up field kitchens to feed the hungry, built tent cities to house the homeless, and helicoptered supplies to victims in remote areas. They also helped bring back a feeling among the people here that had been missing for days: a sense of hope. South Florida was taking its first steps back.
The feds didn’t show until Day 4 in this, a much smaller storm than Katrina. In fairness, if this were the only precedent, the federal response to Katrina wouldn’t seem all that unusual.

But this isn’t the only precedent. In 1995 and 1996, the U.S. was hit by an unusual number of storms. As we reviewed USA Today’s coverage, we began to notice differences with the Katrina experience. In July 1996, Steve Marshall described preparations for Hurricane Bertha:

MARSHALL (7/11/96): A s Hurricane Bertha churned toward the Southeast coast Wednesday, a massive exodus of tourist havens began.

Officials urged at least 1 million people to leave as Bertha took aim with 100-mph winds.

An estimated 500,000 people were ordered to evacuate six north Florida counties. About 50,000 were asked to get off Hatteras and Ocracoke islands on North Carolina's Outer Banks. And officials urged the evacuation of parts of two South Carolina counties with 380,000 residents...

Bertha's immediate effects:

—NASA moved the shuttle Atlantis off its Cape Canaveral launch pad to a hangar.

—Olympic officials in Georgia moved yachts inland.

—Navy officials ordered 54 ships out to sea to avoid being battered against the docks.

President Clinton canceled appearances set for today in Orlando and Tampa.

Witt was upbeat about his agency's plans for the storm. "Everyoneis ready and on alert," he said. "I think as far as our planning efforts, we're in good shape. We have a lot of resources available.”

Hurricane Bertha was no Katrina. But President Clinton “canceled appearances” as Bertha approached the U.S. mainland, and James Lee Witt boasted of FEMA’s preparation. In the aftermath of 1999's Hurricane Floyd, we noticed a similar theme in Lawrence McQuillan’s reporting:
MCQUILLAN (9/20/99): President Clinton, who has picked up the moniker "comforter in chief," visits North Carolina today to meet with victims of Hurricane Floyd and confer with state and local officials to coordinate federal relief efforts.

Clinton will go to Raleigh and then take a helicopter to Tarboro, where torrential rains created massive flooding. "We are on the threshold of a crisis," Edgecombe County Manager Joe Durham said...

In fact, Clinton was unwilling to be away from Washington when the storm struck the East Coast last week. He called off plans to golf in Hawaii after a five-day trip to New Zealand and returned to the nation's capital.

Aides say Clinton's 12 years as governor of Arkansas made him particularly sensitive to the need for swift federal action to help communities cope with natural disasters, and to the political benefits derived from meeting the needs of victims.

Clinton took the highly unusual step of issuing disaster declarations for North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida even before the hurricane's high winds and rains hit the states.

No, Hurricane Floyd was no Katrina. But like Bush 43 in the case of Katrina, Clinton made disaster declarations even before the hurricane hit. And oh yes, he did something else: He cancelled pleasing vacation plans so he could be at his desk when the hurricane hit. Last week, of course, Bush 43 still lounged in Crawford as Katrina bore down on the U.S. coast; on Day 2, he flew off to make a speech in San Diego even after New Orleans’ levees had breached. (The levees gave way on Monday; Bush flew to San Diego on Tuesday.) No, our cursory review doesn’t make us experts in federal reaction time. But we thought we saw a difference in the way these presidents acted. And we thought it would serve the interests of liberals and Dems if facts like these were developed.

But alas! We learned a sad fact from Katrina last week. Despite all the excited talk about the way we’re “reality based,” our liberal elites are increasingly vacuous—empty, stupid, dim and shrill, committed to loud, self-satisfied ranting and too inept—too self-involved—to traffic in trivial things like facts. What are the facts about last week’s reaction? Was FEMA’s reaction historically slow? We would guess that review of these facts would tend to promote progressive interests. But we’ve yet to see any real attempt to review past federal reaction to storms. Loud-mouthed liberals are calling folk names, something we simply love to do (it feels very good). But the facts are hard to find, about this and many other topics.

But then, all across the landscape last week, we saw the dank waters of freeper creep invading the once-pristine liberal web. Progressives and liberals name-called freely and bungled facts—helping to doom progressive interests. We can be just as dumb as they have long been, our excited liberal leaders seemed to cry. Why have progressive interests foundered? Why do the poor just keep getting poorer? We thought we got a good idea as we saw these dank waters spread left.

TOMORROW! PART 2—THE JOYS OF PSEUDO-LIBERALISM: The pseudo-liberal’s greatest pleasure is calling the other guy racist.