Monday, September 12, 2005

The Bunker Mentality

This article in the upcoming Newsweek gives the required overview of what went wrong in disaster response to Hurricane Katrina. But the part I found most interesting was in the beginning of the article. Sheds a lot of light on what passes for the decision-making process around there.

It's a standing joke among the president's top aides: who gets to deliver the bad news? Warm and hearty in public, Bush can be cold and snappish in private, and aides sometimes cringe before the displeasure of the president of the United States, or, as he is known in West Wing jargon, POTUS.


The president did not growl this time. He had already decided to return to Washington and hold a meeting of his top advisers on the following day, Wednesday. This would give them a day to get back from their vacations and their staffs to work up some ideas about what to do in the aftermath of the storm. President Bush knew the storm and its consequences had been bad; but he didn't quite realize how bad.

The reality, say several aides who did not wish to be quoted because it might displease the president, did not really sink in until Thursday night.


President George W. Bush has always trusted his gut. He prides himself in ignoring the distracting chatter, the caterwauling of the media elites, the Washington political buzz machine. He has boasted that he doesn't read the papers. His doggedness is often admirable. It is easy for presidents to overreact to the noise around them.

But it is not clear what President Bush does read or watch, aside from the occasional biography and an hour or two of ESPN here and there. Bush can be petulant about dissent; he equates disagreement with disloyalty. After five years in office, he is surrounded largely by people who agree with him. Bush can ask tough questions, but it's mostly a one-way street. Most presidents keep a devil's advocate around. Lyndon Johnson had George Ball on Vietnam; President Ronald Reagan and Bush's father, George H.W. Bush, grudgingly listened to the arguments of Budget Director Richard Darman, who told them what they didn't wish to hear: that they would have to raise taxes. When Hurricane Katrina struck, it appears there was no one to tell President Bush the plain truth: that the state and local governments had been overwhelmed, that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was not up to the job and that the military, the only institution with the resources to cope, couldn't act without a declaration from the president overriding all other authority.


Late last week, Bush was, by some accounts, down and angry. But another Bush aide described the atmosphere inside the White House as 'strangely surreal and almost detached.' At one meeting described by this insider, officials were oddly self-congratulatory, perhaps in an effort to buck each other up. Life inside a bunker can be strange, especially in defeat.

Perfect. Just what you expect from the supposedly supple, corporate efficiency that we were all promised this administration would be run with. Jesus, what is he, five years old? After 9/11, Bush got his wish, and his mandate. He had free rein to do what he wanted to truly reform the security structure of this country, and he chose to fold FEMA into a much larger clusterfuck bureaucracy, and then stock it with his useless toadies.

Then when things go south, he doesn't wanna hear about it. Tough shit, Hopalong.

Dan Froomkin has more:

Mike Allen writes in Time: "Longtime Bush watchers say they are not shocked that he missed his moment -- one of his most trusted confidants calls him 'a better third- and fourth-quarter player,' who focuses and delivers when he sees the stakes. What surprised them was that he still appeared to be stutter-stepping in the second week of the crisis, struggling to make up for past lapses instead of taking control with a grand gesture. Just as Katrina exposed the lurking problems of race and poverty, it also revealed the limitations of Bush's rigid, top-down approach to the presidency. . . .

"Bush's bubble has grown more hermetic in the second term, they say, with fewer people willing or able to bring him bad news -- or tell him when he's wrong. Bush has never been adroit about this. A youngish aide who is a Bush favorite described the perils of correcting the boss. 'The first time I told him he was wrong, he started yelling at me,' the aide recalled about a session during the first term. 'Then I showed him where he was wrong, and he said, "All right. I understand. Good job." He patted me on the shoulder. I went and had dry heaves in the bathroom.' . . .

"The result is a kind of echo chamber in which good news can prevail over bad -- even when there is a surfeit of evidence to the contrary. For example, a source tells Time that four days after Katrina struck, Bush himself briefed his father and former President Clinton in a way that left too rosy an impression of the progress made. 'It bore no resemblance to what was actually happening,' said someone familiar with the presentation."

You know, we keep referring to this useless asshole as "Dear Cheerleader", but the more we find out about how things get done around there, the less such an appellation looks like mere snarky polemic, and more like the cold hard truth.

So what's the big fourth-quarter comeback plan for the strutting, stammering cowboy quarterback?

Allen has an exclusive look at the administration's "three-part comeback plan."

Part one: "Spend freely, and worry about the tab and the consequences later."

Part two: "Don't look back."

Part three: "Develop a new set of goals to announce after Katrina fades. Advisers are proceeding with plans to gin up base-conservative voters for next year's congressional midterm elections with a platform that probably will be focused around tax reform."

Nice, huh? Just throw money at the rubes -- money we don't have anymore because somebody flushed the fuckin' surplus we had just five years back -- and they'll forget and forgive. It may even work -- the red states just seem temperamentally inclined to let this moron run wild with their lives.

New Orleans will rise again; Halliburton will see to it. Oh, it'll be a Disneyfied, gentrified shell of itself; the mostly black and poor hurricane diaspora simply won't have enough money to return. They might be better off not returning. It looks like it's going to be a toxic mess for some time:

Toxic chemicals in the New Orleans flood waters will make the city unsafe for full human habitation for a decade, a US government official has told The Independent on Sunday. And, he added, the Bush administration is covering up the danger.

In an exclusive interview, Hugh Kaufman, an expert on toxic waste and responses to environmental disasters at the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), said the way the polluted water was being pumped out was increasing the danger to health.

The pollution was far worse than had been admitted, he said, because his agency was failing to take enough samples and was refusing to make public the results of those it had analysed. "Inept political hacks" running the clean-up will imperil the health of low-income migrant workers by getting them to do the work.


Few people are better qualified to judge the extent of the problem. Mr Kaufman, who has been with the EPA since it was founded 35 years ago, helped to set up its hazardous waste programme. After serving as chief investigator to the EPA's ombudsman, he is now senior policy analyst in its Office of Solid Wastes and Emergency Response. He said the clean-up needed to be "the most massive public works exercise ever done", adding: "It will take 10 years to get everything up and running and safe."

Mr Kaufman claimed the Bush administration was playing down the need for a clean-up: the EPA has not been included in the core White House group tackling the crisis. "Its budget has been cut and inept political hacks have been put in key positions," Mr Kaufman said. "All the money for emergency response has gone to buy guns and cowboys - which don't do anything when a hurricane hits. We were less prepared for this than we would have been on 10 September 2001."

He said the water being pumped out of the city was not being tested for pollution and would damage Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi river, and endanger people using it downstream.

Huh. And yet all we see and hear from this simpering ninny zipping around acting preznitential is what a great multi-tasker/problem solver he really is:

QUESTION: Mr. President, does the federal government need the authority to come in earlier, or even in advance of a storm that threatening?

PRESIDENT BUSH: I think that's one of the interesting issues that Congress needs to take a look at. And 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, that the system is such that we're able to work closely together and that --

QUESTION: Do you recommend that Congress consider allowing the federal government to act more quickly?

PRESIDENT BUSH: I think it's very important for Congress to take a good, close look at what went on, what didn't go on, and come up with a series of recommendations. And my attitude is, is that we need to learn everything we possibly can; we need to make sure that this country is knitted up as well as it can be, in order to deal with significant problems and disasters. Meantime, we've got to keep moving forward.

And I know there's been a lot of second-guessing. I can assure you I'm not interested in that. What I'm interested in is solving problems. And there will be time to take a step back and to take a sober look at what went right and what didn't go right. There's a lot of information floating around that will be analyzed in an objective way, and that's important. And it's important for the people of this country to understand that all of us want to learn lessons. If there were to be a biological attack of some kind, we've got to make sure we understand the lessons learned to be able to deal with catastrophe.

You know, Harvard, "I don't know" takes much less time to say. I realize it's tough to think and speak extemporaneously when you just want shake hands and look like you're doin' somethin', but shit.

Anyway, Harvard's final sentence there ought to give one pause. What happened along the Gulf Coast could be considered to have been a very generous rehearsal for disaster preparedness.

Ask yourself two very simple questions:
  1. Do you think it is likely or very likely that the U.S. will experience another terrorist attack some time in the next three years?

  2. Based on the actions and responses from the Bush administration to the predictable destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina, how do you feel about this team's capabilities in the field of disaster preparation and emergency management?

Keep in mind that Bush clearly doesn't even know what the federal government's powers are to supersede state and local authorities in the event of a catastrophe. (I don't know either, but I'm guessing that the point of federalizing these things is to have someone at the top who can delegate to everyone else.)

Here's more of Mister Man smacking his spoon on the high chair and kicking his feet when someone asks him a question he don't wike:

QUESTION: Mr. President, there is a belief that we've been hearing for two weeks now on the ground that FEMA let the people here on the ground down. And perhaps, in turn, if you look at the evidence of what it's done to your popularity, FEMA let you down. Do you think that your management style of sort of relying on the advice that you got in this particular scenario let you down? And do you think that plays at all ...

PRESIDENT BUSH: Look, there will be plenty of time to play the blame game. That's what you're trying to do.

QUESTION: No, I'm trying to ...

PRESIDENT BUSH: You're trying to say somebody is at fault. Look -- and I want to know. I want to know exactly what went on and how it went on. And we'll continually assess inside my administration. I sent Mike Chertoff down here to make an assessment of how best to do the job. He made a decision; I accepted his decision. But we're moving on. We're going to solve these problems. And there will be ample time for people to look back and see the facts.

Hee hee. Bush doesn't seem to realize that the media really have treated his gang with kid gloves, even in the midst of all the mal-fee-ance. Consider some of the rotten things this gang has gotten away with, relatively unscathed, where Clinton nearly got thrown out of office for getting his pole smoked a few times.

As NBC's Brian Williams acknowledged the other day, it's been because the media had collectively, consciously or not, decided to go easy on these guys for the sake of the country's ability to get going again after 9/11. This is understandable, though they let it go on for far too long, and I think they're finally starting to get that.

But regardless, Bush again does not seem to get just how much of a pass he's gotten from them. They have cheerfully regurgitated his babbling nonsense as if it were rhetorical genius, reported uncritically his factually false talking points, and let his minions get away with all sorts of anonymous falsehoods, without ever burning a source, no matter how treacherous. They've even put up with his stupid demeaning frat-boy nicknames as if they were some sort of badge of honor.

But the American corporate media are a herd, to say the least, and the momentum has shifted. They seem to be deciding that they've hit a wall with the fake hickisms and forced jocularity. Juxtaposing floating corpses and slumped-over grannies with a know-nothing buffoon dicking around while a city goes under can do that to you.

Every one of Bush's boilerplate responses demonstrates more and more that he's not only not worthy of their adulation, he's not even worthy of their (or our) respect:

QUESTION: Did they misinform you when you said that no one anticipated the breach of the levees?

PRESIDENT BUSH: No, what I was referring to is this. When that storm came by, a lot of people said we dodged a bullet. When that storm came through at first, people said, whew. There was a sense of relaxation, and that's what I was referring to. And I, myself, thought we had dodged a bullet. You know why? Because I was listening to people, probably over the airways, say, the bullet has been dodged. And that was what I was referring to.

Of course, there were plans in case the levee had been breached. There was a sense of relaxation in the moment, a critical moment. And thank you for giving me a chance to clarify that.

QUESTION: Mr. President, where were you when you realized the severity of the storm?

PRESIDENT BUSH: I was -- I knew that a big storm was coming on Monday, so I spoke to the country on Monday* morning about it. I said, there's a big storm coming. I had pre-signed emergency declarations in anticipation of a big storm coming.

QUESTION: Mr. President ...

PRESIDENT BUSH: -- which is, by the way, extraordinary. Most emergencies the President signs after the storm has hit. It's a rare occasion for the President to anticipate the severity of a storm and sign the documentation prior to the storm hitting. So, in other words, we anticipated a serious storm coming. But as the man's question said, basically implied, wasn't there a moment where everybody said, well, gosh, we dodged the bullet, and yet the bullet hadn't been dodged.

Yeah yeah, we get it already, chump. Blame game, dodged a bullet, blame game, dodged a bullet. We just want the facts because we're problem solvers. Blabbidy blah-blah. I keep hearing this "dodged a bullet" meme, that "lots of people said so". Okay. Name one. Then, assuming that even one name can be dug up, suppose he explains how all the Monday morning papers with banner headlines and full-page photographs proclaiming "devastation" and "catastrophe" escaped the attention of Le Dauphin and the idiots who advise him.

Suppose he explains why Condi Rice is catching Broadway shows and buying thousands of dollars worth of shoes four days after everyone knew that the "bullet" hadn't really been "dodged". Suppose he explains why Dick Cheney stayed holed up in Wyoming that entire week, cancelling his appointed trip to the Alberta oil fields only at the last minute, on Friday, to high-tail it back to Washington at long last.

This administration has a lot to answer for. Bush seems not recognize that, or understand why, which only underscores just how out-of-touch he is. Mike Brown's resignation only slows the bleeding. And if the librul media really have finally decided to stop carrying George W. Bush's water for him, he's toast. There's just too much more stuff waiting to be unearthed. He may actually know that much in the back of his mind, hence the bunker mentality.


Anonymous said...

I wish your assertions about the media were true in the least--that'd be a rare comforting thought, to think that the MSM has given these guys a four-year pass for the sake of 9/11 and getting prepared for another terrorist attack, and all that.

But I'm skeptical about the media. If the last four years have thought us anything about them, it's (1) how easy they are to break and made to bend over by a hideous bully with an Obergruppenfuhrer's name--Karl Rove; (2) how close to their darkened hearts are the heartless ideas of the intellectually impoverished "conservatism"--no need to look too far to the right, you have plenty of examples in 'respectable' publications; (3) how easily journalists abandon their first duty of critical reason--just look at the blatant lies they're reported without batting an eye; or, more ridiculously yet, look at how solemnly they've engaged into that pseudo-debate about 'intelligent' design.

No, my friend, a few swallows won't bring spring, and a few tough questions for the First Chimp of the Republic doesn not mean the media has awakened from its vile slumber. They need to shake off first their cretinous allegiance to a barren spirit of supposed "objectivity" and become politicized again (in the good sense of the word); and they need to stop spending their days on kneepads, doing to their corporate paymasters what they've learned to do best.

It's a tall order, I admit, and this is what makes me skeptical.

Anonymous said...

I believe the media has truely seen the true Bush (Regeme) and are now going to place the blame where it belongs. I rembember hearing one reporter say "I got here, where are they"?

Since Bush has placed his gippys in high places just goes to show how much he really doesn't care about the people or this county. All that is important to the Bush Administration is there little family click. We have had a big disaster now lets contract all our friends to clean up the mess and pad our bank accounts. Bush has distanced himself from the realality of how a lot of American's live and what they have to go through each day to make it through each day. Hey, how would he know the Bush's have never had to experience it.

It is to bad that this county has to put up with three more years of Bush and his gimppies. The gimppies like Karl Rove who doesn't care about the impoverished, the one who pushed religion instead of what is best for all American's.

It is sad to think that it has taken this terrible tragedy to maybe wake up the millions of Religious right that put him in office I hope they cry through their tears.

We were supposed to be preparing for another terrior attack and our goverment can't even handle one in their own back yard what a shameful thing for the country that is supposed to be the best in the world.

For the goverment officials to say they didn't know what was going on or how bad it was is really out of this world all they had to do is listen to the news like the rest of us like the reporter said "I am here where are they"! For officials to argue who is in charge instead of taking control is shameful to say the least.

I say hurrah for the media for bringing us the story, their emotions, and caring, sure more than we can say for the administration,one shopping for shoes and two on vacations without a care in the world.

"God help us"!

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