May 10, 2007

Bitter Lessons

Q&A: Gov. Sebelius on Disaster Relief - Newsweek Politics -

Gov. Sebelius of Kansas touched off a small firestorm with her comments regarding Guard equipment shortages in the aftermath of the Greensburg tornado disaster. She expanded on her point in a Newsweek interview:

NEWSWEEK: You and other governors have been warning for the past couple of years that your National Guard troops are stretched too thin. Was this tragedy in Greensburg your nightmare come true?

Kathleen Sebelius:
It is in some sense. We have the assets we need to deal with this situation here on Day 5.

And then she goes on to say later:

NEWSWEEK: There was some pretty strong language from the White House this week. At one point, spokesman Tony Snow seemed to chide you for not asking for the right equipment from the federal government. “If you don’t request it, you’re not going to get it,” he said. How would you grade the federal response to the Greensburg disaster?

Kathleen Sebelius:
We are thankful for the prompt federal response, we are thankful for the assets. This is Day 5 and we have what we need. The White House has taken lessons of previous disasters seriously and heard the outcry about timely response. This FEMA response has been terrific. We had the FEMA director, we had a disaster declaration. It’s a different situation than what we’ve seen in other cases.

My reaction: I have two main ones. 1. I'm confused. Is there an equipment problem or isn't there? All of the heavy equipment they wanted was not immediately on hand, but she says not once but twice, that its Day 5 and they have all the assets they need, a disaster declaration, FEMA director on site, the president on site, and the federal disaster response has been right on top of this thing. So is there a problem or isn't there? I dislike mealy mouthness. If you are going to pick a political fight, don't abandon it in the middle of the action. The governor of Kansas starts this little sideshow, but now she's backing off and making nice with the White House. Never mind that I can't think of a good reason to pick a fight with the White House on day two of a disaster like that. Let's leave the wisdom of picking that fight in the first instance aside for the moment. Once you've picked it, then at least be a woman about it and don't back off. If the equipment issue is true and its a problem in the Greensburg disaster response, then say so and then stick to your damn guns. Because when you back off your statements as she does here, then I have to believe you're just taken the opportunity to score some political points on the back of a media grabbing disaster. But considering that the President's approval ratings are at 28%, that is pretty much kicking a dog when its down. I guess it plays to the choir.

2. I've heard on numerous occasions right wing commentators (who I like) opine about the shameful lack of initiative, common sense and do it yourself spirit amongst the blacks of New Orleans trapped in the dome. I've heard several stories where the character of this town is praised for how people are coming together and helping each other, putting their lives back together. I expect to hear my favorite right wing commentators compare and contrast the do it yourself spirit of this town with the slacker, lazy character of blacks in New Orleans. However, while the situations have a similar scope, the response is completely different. Its Day 5 and the governor says they have all the assets they need. And why is that? Because FEMA learned how to do its frikking job on the backs of the misery of a whole bunch of black folks in New Orleans. The litany of idiotcy in the Katrina response was immense at the state level and the federal. The Mayor and Governor down there deserve a lot of blame. But you know what? When a disaster like that strikes, I expect the gorram President of the United States to get in Air Force One, show up on the scene and light a fire under everybody's rear until the situation is handled. Not do a flyby and head for the ranch. It was Bush's Guiliani moment and he blew it.

But when disaster strikes now, we've got a lightning fast, well organizaed disaster relief system that springs into action. That system was nowhere to be found for the poor black and white alike of New Orleans, but I guess I'm glad it seems to work for everyone else.