Tush Spin Machine is in full force
The Whitehouse is clearly much more adept at responding to a public perception/spin crisis than to a real disaster.
Karl Rove and Dan Bartlett have been dispatched, faster than buses to a SuperDome, to quell the rising tide of public criticism by attempting to unfairly shift blame to local and state crisis responders. They've given 'anonymous' quotes to several news agencies incorrectly asserting that Louisiana failed to declare a state of emergency until days after the storm, delaying federal responses. Fortunately some publishers have corrected this lie by printing retractions and supporting facts. I really wish reporters would cease with the 'anonymous' quotes from 'senior Whitehouse officials'. Why do they wish to be kept anonymous? BECAUSE THEY'RE LYING. Plain and simple. They aren't protecting their jobs or worried about superiors finding out they spilled the beans. LIES.
Rove and Bartlett are also behind the evident decision to quickly send as many military and cabinet officials as possible to affected areas for vital photo ops with survivors, responders and big equipment. Here are some weekend articles on the subject:
From the NY Times:
WASHINGTON, Sept. 4 - Under the command of President Bush's two senior political advisers, the White House rolled out a plan this weekend to contain the political damage from the administration's response to Hurricane Katrina.
It orchestrated visits by cabinet members to the region, leading up to an extraordinary return visit by Mr. Bush planned for Monday, directed administration officials not to respond to attacks from Democrats on the relief efforts, and sought to move the blame for the slow response to Louisiana state officials, according to Republicans familiar with the White House plan.
The effort is being directed by Mr. Bush's chief political adviser, Karl Rove, and his communications director, Dan Bartlett. It began late last week after Congressional Republicans called White House officials to register alarm about what they saw as a feeble response by Mr. Bush to the hurricane, according to Republican Congressional aides.
As a result, Americans watching television coverage of the disaster this weekend began to see, amid the destruction and suffering, some of the most prominent members of the administration - Richard B. Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Donald H. Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense; and Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state - touring storm-damaged communities.
Mr. Bush is to return to Louisiana and Mississippi on Monday; his first visit, on Friday, left some Republicans cringing, in part because the president had little contact with residents left homeless.
From the Washington Post:
Late last week, Bush said he was unhappy with the overall response, but the aide made it clear he was most upset with the local plan -- not his own administration's efforts. Bush lost patience with local officials when he learned that thousands of people were sent to the New Orleans convention center for relief only to learn their was no assistance for victims there, the aide said, calling this the "tipping point." Bush infuriated Blanco and other local officials when he sought late Friday night to federalize the relief effort and seize control of National Guard and other operations. The governor refused, and tensions between the federal and local officials worsened.
Tush thinks the local plan of sending survivors to centralized locations was a problem? Really?
From the LA Times:
Under the law, Chertoff said, state and local officials must direct initial emergency operations. "The federal government comes in and supports those officials," he said.
Chertoff's remarks, which echoed earlier statements by President Bush, prompted withering rebukes both from former senior FEMA staffers and outside experts.
"They can't do that," former agency chief of staff Jane Bullock said of Bush administration efforts to shift responsibility away from Washington. "The moment the president declared a federal disaster, it became a federal responsibility…. The federal government took ownership over the response," she said. Bush declared a disaster in Louisiana and Mississippi when the storm hit a week ago.
"What's awe-inspiring here is how many federal officials didn't issue any orders," said Paul C. Light, an authority on government operations at New York University.
Evidence of confusion extended beyond FEMA and the Homeland Security Department on Sunday.
Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt said that conditions in New Orleans and elsewhere could quickly escalate into a major public health crisis. But asked whether his agency had dispatched teams in advance of the storm and flooding, Leavitt answered, "No."
"None of these teams were pre-positioned," he told CNN's "Late Edition." "We're having to organize them … as we go."
Such an ad hoc approach might not have surprised Americans until recent decades because the federal government was thought to have few responsibilities for disaster relief, and what duties it did have were mostly delegated to the American Red Cross.
Most media outlets are now downplaying the fact that Tush, Cheney, Rice and several others were on vacation before and after the first few days of the storm. They didn't hurry their plans to return to Washington until the disaster became a political one.
FEMA has taken criticisms in the past for it's poorly coordinated and slow response - especially to Hurricane Andrew in 1992. But, more recently, FEMA operated very effectively under the direction of then-director James Witt. From the Tampa Tribune, 24 August 2004:
In the coming days, thousands of state and federal emergency response workers poured into Charlotte, DeSoto and the other Florida counties Charley hit hardest as it passed through Aug. 13, a Friday. Caravans of trucks from tree-cutting services, utilities, law enforcement and the National Guard arrived all that weekend to start the recovery.
Twelve years after a frustrating and disjointed response to Hurricane Andrew, the Category 5 storm that flattened Homestead, emergency planners at the local, state and federal level all have disaster plans in place.
Although Charley exposed gaps in them, most observers and residents say they're satisfied - even impressed - by the initial response.
``We're two weeks ahead of Hurricane Andrew'' is the oft- repeated assessment by officials on the scene.
Mutual aid agreements and existing contracts with the Federal Emergency Management Agency allowed all those workers to get into position before Charley made landfall. Then it was a matter of driving to the areas hardest hit and organizing the recovery.
Truckloads of jugs of water and bags of ice were being passed out by Sunday morning. Free meals from the Red Cross and Salvation Army soon followed. Churches and civic groups streamed into town with 18-wheelers filled with more water, cleaning supplies, baby formula and diapers.
``Every street you go on you see utility trucks,'' said Betty Morrow, a research associate at Florida International University's International Hurricane Resource Center. Power was restored to two-thirds of Charlotte County in a week. In another week, the rest of the county should be reconnected, officials say.
So, Louisiana Governor Blanco has swiftly moved to hire Witt to assist with the Katrina aftermath. From Yahoo:
BATON ROUGE, La. - James Lee Witt, the former Federal Emergency Management Agency director hired to advise Louisiana's governor, described the crisis Sunday in the hurricane-ravaged state as "our worst nightmare."
Before Witt became director, FEMA was criticized for its slow response to Hurricanes Andrew and Hugo. With Witt in charge in 1993-2001, the agency won praise for its vigorous reaction to the Midwest floods and the 1994 Northridge earthquake in Los Angeles.
Witt repeated his criticism Sunday that the reorganization that put FEMA under the Department of Homeland Security had hurt the agency's ability to deal with natural disasters. He said a lot of resources also had been depleted by the war in Iraq.
Witt now heads the crisis and emergency management consulting firm James Lee Witt Associates. He said he was called by the governor Thursday and would stay in Louisiana as long as needed.
Gov. Kathleen Blanco said that when she told FEMA Director Mike Brown she was hiring Witt, "he said, `That is absolutely the right thing to do. He will make a huge difference.'"
Let's keep our fingers crossed that Witt's involvement means a turn for the better.
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