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Monday, July 30, 2007

Bush Administration Turned Away Foreign Aid After Katrina

It was a defining moment in George W. Bush's presidency. Hurricane Katrina exposed him for what he really is -- an incompetent boob, more concerned with spin than with real world events. As the flood waters rose and people drowned, Bush told us that Brownie was doing a heckuva job and everything was going fan-freakin'-tastic. It quickly became apparent that this wasn't the case.

It took days to respond to a storm we knew was coming nearly a week in advance. News networks seemed to have no problem getting to the affected areas right away, but the National Guard seemed to find getting there impossible -- incredibly, equipment that would've helped in flooding had been sent to the desert in Iraq.

New York Times, via AMERICAblog:

Pentagon officials asserted that deployment of thousands of National Guard members from the gulf states to Iraq and Afghanistan had not affected relief efforts. But on Tuesday the two hardest-hit states, Louisiana and Mississippi, which each have more than 3,000 National Guard troops in Iraq, requested military specialists and equipment from other states, ranging from military police and engineers to helicopters and five-ton, high-wheeled trucks that can traverse the flood waters.

Hospitals were cut off, police were non-existent, mass panic took hold, and many people wondered how an administration that talked a good game about being ready for a major terrorist attack could be so unprepared for an event with the same consequences of a such an attack. Exposed as a major league BSer, Bush's long slide in the polls began.

We thought we knew everything about the response to Katrina. The total lack of advanced planning, the slowness of FEMA to act, the inability of the Bush administration to take it's responsibilities seriously. But it turns out that things were worse. When other nations offered help, Bush turned them away.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethic in Washington (CREW) has come out with a report showing that the administration was so busy covering up their own incompetence that they turned away foreign aid, maybe because they thought it would look bad. Although my take -- which we'll get to an a moment -- is more sinister.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington:

...Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) released the most comprehensive matrix available to date detailing all offers of assistance from around the world in the wake of the Hurricane Katrina disaster.

CREW's matrix is based on 25,000 Department of State (DOS) documents it received as a result of a lawsuit filed under the Freedom of Information Act in December 2005 for records relating to the federal government’s handling and acceptance of international offers of aid after Hurricane Katrina.

The matrix includes all international offers, whether they were rejected or accepted and the reasons why, if available. The documents reveal a number of disturbing responses to offers from 145 countries and 12 international organizations from around the world.

The documents show that:

-A September 9 memo states that doctors of any kind are in the "forget about it" category.

-A September 6 memo indicated that no medical offers (personnel or drugs) were being accepted with the exception of forensices. It mentions licensure as an issue and that it would be beneficial to know if any of the offered medical teams had been US trained.

-A memo dated September 13 indicated that medicines and medical related offers are not to be accepted due to "sensitivities about state licensing."

None of these concerns are valid in an emergency situation. Remember the old disaster movie Airport? This is like telling Karen Black to get the hell out of the cockpit because she's not a licensed pilot. Citing similar bureaucratic BS, food, water pumps, and portable generators were also turned away.

How much of this was just bad decision-making in a crunch and how much of this was deliberate? We know that the Bush administration took FEMA and put it under Homeland Security -- basically demoting the agency. We also know that FEMA, having lost any independence it once had, was now subject to the Bush ideology of 'government sucks.' Since much of the relief effort -- shipping in medical supplies, food, generators, blankets, etc -- had been privatized, how much of this was just a way of eliminating competition in the free market paradise that was now the disaster relief business?

According to an In These Times piece in September 2005:

In June 2004, FEMA privatized its hurricane disaster plan for New Orleans, contracting the work to the Baton Rouge, La., firm Innovative Emergency Management (IEM) whose motto is "Managing Risk in a Complex World."

IEM announced the contract on its Web site on June 3, 2004, trumpeting that the company "will lead the development of a catastrophic hurricane disaster plan for Southeast Louisiana and the City of New Orleans under a more than half a million dollar contract with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security/Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)." But in the days after Katrina hit, the press release was removed from the company's online press release archives, as China Mieville noted on the blog Lenin's Tomb.

For this whole privatized relief experiment to work, companies would have to provide all relief. And, for an administration that seems to think that 'free' and 'evil' are synonyms, accepting relief supplies from private governments would only eliminate opportunities for private companies to bill these supplies to the government. In the screwed up, 'capitalism and markets are the answer to every damned problem' mindset of the Bush administration, accepting foreign aid would be immoral and akin to socialism.

According to the ITT article, Joe Allbaugh -- the first head of FEMA under Bush -- told Congress in 2004, "Many are concerned that federal disaster assistance may have evolved into both an oversized entitlement program and a disincentive to effective state and local risk management."

We all know what 'entitlement program' means when a right winger says it -- a government handout. Never mind that FEMA has more in common with the fire department than the welfare office, disaster relief apparently creates welfare queens. And welfare is for corporations, not people.

What all of this shows is that no one in the Bush administration gives a good goddam about you. You don't have lobbyists and you don't give hundreds of thousands to candidates, so when the choice is between bailing out a corporation or bailing out your living room, the corporations get the bucket and you get the shaft. If you have to die because some private company can't get you fresh water, then die you will. You're not allowed to take water from Canada or Mexico. People in corporate boardrooms have marketing staffs to feed.

The response to Katrina is the conservative approach to government's responsibilities taken to its logical -- and ridiculous -- extreme. The Bush administration's vision of the government's role in the world can be summed up in a single sentence -- if a buck can be made, a buck must be made.

Anything else is socialism and would make Reagan's ghost cry.


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