Balkinization  

Friday, September 02, 2005

Clueless

Marty Lederman

Remember the incident where the President's father was amazed by that breathtaking invention of the future, the supermarket checkout scanner? By all accounts, his son's Administration has assiduously avoided falling into that sort of trap. And, until now, it's been successful: The Administration might be accused of many things, but tone-deafness has rarely if ever been one of them. Particularly in times of crisis, the White House has been very careful to ensure that the President's demeanor, staging, and comments put him in the best possible light.

Until today. At the very moment when the President seemed as oblivious to the needs of the American people as he has ever been, and in the midst of his eleventh-hour efforts to erase that impression, this was what the President had to say:

"We've got a lot of rebuilding to do. First, we're going to save lives and stabilize the situation. And then we're going to help these communities rebuild. The good news is -- and it's hard for some to see it now -- that out of this chaos is going to come a fantastic Gulf Coast, like it was before. Out of the rubbles of Trent Lott's house -- he's lost his entire house -- there's going to be a fantastic house. And I'm looking forward to sitting on the porch. (Laughter.)"

No, this is not a story from the Onion. Not even the Onion, I suspect, would have the gumption to invent something like that in such a time of crisis and tragedy. The link -- parenthetical note about laughter and all -- is to an honest-to-goodness page on the White House web site. Staggering, no? For five days and nights, the Nation has been witness to devastation among a population that is predominantly poor and African-American. And the singular example of loss on which the President chooses to focus is an oceanfront property of none other than Trent Lott! Well, I don't doubt that the President will, in fact, one day sit on the grand porch of the rebuilt Lott oceanfront (second) home, sipping an iced tea and reminiscing about the good ol' days. But isn't this an especially inauspicious moment to be calling that image to mind? Andrew Sullivan's short take pretty much sums it up:

"Just think of that quote for a minute; and the laughter that followed. The poor and the black are dying, dead, drowned and desperate in New Orleans and elsewhere. But the president manages to talk about the future 'fantastic' porch of a rich, powerful white man who only recently resigned his position because he regretted the failure of Strom Thurmond to hold back the tide of racial desegregation."

As it turns out, Bush 41's scanner incident apparently was, at least in large part, an urban legend. 43's much more disturbing gaffe may, too, become legendary -- but it's all-too-true, and it speaks volumes.

UPDATE: It turns out that's not the only example this week of otherworldly comments by the President. The previous day, the President said this on Good Morning America, in explanation of the slow and inadequate federal response: "I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees." To the extent this was intended -- as appears likely -- to convey the notion that the government was taken unawares of the likely damage resulting from this hurricane, it is the furthest thing from the truth. As Mark Kleiman exhaustively demonstrates in this post, it has been known with certainty, for years, that a hurricane such as this could and would leave New Orleans under water and without power, water, or other services for weeks or months: "Every study of this issue for at least two decades has drawn this conclusion, and there are no engineering or official studies known to me -- none -- arguing that the flooding we have observed would not occur, or that it was so unlikely that disaster planning should ignore it." And more than a week ago, it was clear to all who looked that there was a very good chance Katrina would be the source of such a disaster. That serious relief should only be arriving now, almost a week after landfall, therefore is, in Kleiman's words, "an historic conjunction of incompetence, unconcern, malfeasance, ignorance, and/or stupidity. Period."

Comments:

I believe that the story of Bush 41 being amazed by the electronic supermarket scanner has been debunked as an MSM myth. As for the present story, I suppose anyone can spin it any way they like depending on their political affiliation. It truly amazes me that we do not have a loyal opposition but only virulent, irredeemably polarized hatred for the President. If President Bush were to invent a cure for cancer, the left would criticize him for putting oncological surgeons out of work.
 

Hmm. I thought I had read your post all the way to the end(?)
 

Okay, it speaks volumes.

But what does it say?

That's what I can't quite figure out. I mean, he didn't leave the Trent Lott reference hanging out there alone. No, he followed it by saying: "Out of New Orleans is going to come that great city again. That's what's going to happen. But now we're in the darkest days, and so we got a lot of work to do."

Is the attempt at humor inappropriate? I don't see why it would be. I recall a fair amount of laughter--and catcalls and cheers--when Bush spoke in NY after 9/11. Why not here?

Is there something wrong with mentioning that the powerful too have been hurt by the storm, even if not in the same way that those we've seen in New Orleans (and those we haven't seen, in the places the cameras haven't bothered to go, or can't go)? It seems entirely appropriate to me, as a rhetorical strategy, to emphasize the common straits those in the region find themselves in.
 

Say, Marty, are you B. Leiter's correspondent?

"Untold thousands are starving and sick, the entire region is in a state of violent anarchy, and the dead are being consumed by rats and alligators. Yet our president chooses to focus on the kick-ass porch his redneck buddy Trent Lott is gonna have when this is all over?! I've long felt that Bush is a sociopath, but this suggests a different breed of mental illness altogether."

Always interesting how we talk when we're amongst friends.
 

George W instead of focusing on Trent Lott, a "pillar" of the deep south, should perhaps have thought of the Biblical Lots and their travails and the resulting pillar of salt conversion. George W might also have focused upon the Biblical Job to perhaps understand the refugees lot. No, George W focused on Trent, who may just be able to rebuild his waterfront home perhaps with federal aid.
 

shaq, If he'd used those references those on the left, deranged and twisted as they are by their hatred of all things Bush, would have accused him of using divisive religious rhetoric at a time when we should all be coming together.
 

These were the people who were swept under the rug. The rug was ripped off by a hurricane, and the despair of the honest poor revealed in a way that doesn't permit market arguments or veiled accusations of moral turpitude to rationalize their day to day existence or treatment. This is America, and it's not just a shame that these people suffer in times of calamity -- it's a shame that they live so close to the line, period. There are many nice voters who went into the voting booth last time without a clear and present sense that there were so many poor and that so little was being done on their behalf.

So many poor in just one city.
 

Various observers are chastising government at all levels for a lack of leadership and poor response to Hurricane Katrina. It’s worth taking a moment to state the obvious: when disaster strikes, a very large number of Americans expect public officials to take the lead in spreading information, organizing rescue efforts, and coordinating relief.

I say this because there is a school of business ethics that emphasizes the extent to which large corporations are now held accountable for ensuring the public’s welfare. Thus, Peter Schwartz and Bobb Gibb write in When Good Companies Do Bad Things, companies must no longer merely behave in an “honest, upright, ethical” manner, but “must anticipate and respond directly to the demands of public opinion rather than waiting for government intervention, mediation, and regulation,” lest they be “blindsided” by accusations regarding human rights, environmental stewardship, etc.

According to the US Chamber of Commerce web site, “[r]eports of business contributions to disaster response indicate the initial outpouring could surpass $100 million in the first few days alone.” Whether the business community is just fulfilling expectations or going beyond the call of duty, I applaud companies--large and small, American and international--for their contributions. But by the same token, I have not seen or heard discussion of whether national employers had an obligation to evacuate their New Orleans employees, or whether common carriers should have diverted vehicles to provide transportation to low income individuals before the storm.

I am EMPHATICALLY NOT proposing that for-profit firms were the most appropriate entities to initiate regional hurricane preparations. I do want to note, however, that at this historical moment, our notions of corporate responsibility remain sufficiently circumscribed that we are not indignantly asking, “How could the Fortune 500 have let this happen?” And our confidence in government is not so low that we are ready to let public officials off the hook. There will, of course, be plenty of time to ask who should have done what differently in the months ahead. And of course, countless individuals, organizations, and public officials will no doubt contribute to the reconstruction.

- Jed Adam Gross
 

The update is interesting, in the same fashion as the wrongheaded-but-passionately-deranged initial post. That is, this goes to show--in case there was any doubt--that it's Marty that we can't trust, not the government. (I think people may want to re-read Marty's "terror memo" analysis a bit more closely now; after all, Marty's revealed himself a bit.)

Marty, I know you're a super-smart lawyer and all, but you're not, so far as we can tell, an actual engineer, are you? You don't actually know anything about anything, do you?

Here's what someone who does know a bit about NOLA had to say on the subject:


FEDERAL RESPONSE The government saw a flood risk, but not the levee failure.

Army Corps personnel, in charge of maintaining the levees in New Orleans, started to secure the locks, floodgates and other equipment, said Greg Breerwood, deputy district engineer for project management at the Army Corps of Engineers.

"We knew if it was going to be a Category 5, some levees and some flood walls would be overtopped," he said. "We never did think they would actually be breached." The uncertainty of the storm's course affected Pentagon planning.

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/02/national/nationalspecial/02response.html?pagewanted=2&ei=5094&en=9ef3f7389573ef2a&hp&ex=1125633600&partner=homepage
____________

Now, I'm sure that Marty will dismiss this Breerwood fellow as some sort of neo-con engineer, or that engineers aren't the sort of people one should rely on in disasters (we need to defer to super-smart appellate lawyers (except at DHS) and UCLA drug policy experts). But, for silly old me, I'll take the word of an engineer with expertise on the preparations over, well, just about anything Marty has to say. Hell, at this point I wouldn't let Marty represent me in traffic court, for fear he'd use it as another occasion to bash Bush as a sociopath.
 

What's the difference between a flood and a levee failure?
 

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