Wednesday, September 14, 2005

What's the difference between Mike Brown and George Bush?

Well, Brown is not afraid of horses. And Bush, sadly, still has a job. But otherwise, not much, other than the buck having stopped, for the moment, with Brown, who, like President Incurious George, had little interest in the details of governance, preferring to leave that to the underlings who, somewhere down the line, were presumed to have the expertise and conviction to actually do their jobs. Trouble is, you had to go way down the line to find them. They had been replaced with clones of Mike Brown. After--what is it, 5 years of Bush?--the non-governance team had a deep bench.

Between Brown and the President was Mike Chertoff. Under the National Response Plan, he is the guy actually responsible, in the event of a disaster, for declaring an "incident of national significance" which is needed to activate the plan. He did so on the evening of August 30, some 36 hours after the hurricane struck, and three days after the President declared a state of emergency and four days after the governor of Louisiana did so.

The National Response Plan, which specifies that the federal government can and must take immediate emergency action with or without the permission of governors and mayors, is activated only when the secretary of Homeland Security declares an "incident of national significance." At that point, "notification and full coordination with the States will occur, but the coordination process must not delay or impede the rapid deployment and use of critical resources"

Must...not...delay...or...impede...the rapid deployment and use of critical resources. So let's say the governor and the mayor were asleep at the wheel, as the apologists for Bush wish to think. For the sake of the argument, as we say. That does not absolve Bush, Chertoff, and Brown of their responsibilities under the National Response Plan, quoted, in small part, above.

But gee, the Plan (and it's almost impossible for me to keep my fingers from putting quotes around the word) does not seem to have been set in motion until the whole world, or at least the whole world that reads newspapers or watches tv news, or even watches Fox News, knew that there had been an enormous disaster. Chertoff, the guy in charge, waited 36 hours to tell FEMA to swing into action. What was he doing? Well, he was imagining that he read headlines, which, as I have pointed out in other posts, did not exist. Headlines saying that New Orleans had dodged the bullet. Who knows what else he was doing. And what was Bush doing, the evening of August 30? He was in San Diego, declaring "mission accomplished" for World War II.

Sometime that same day, he apparently also found time to create a "task force" to take charge of what Chertoff was already, under the law, in charge of, according to yesterday's Knight-Ridder story on the mystery delay. White House officials are currently unwilling to "explain why Bush felt the need to appoint a separate task force."

I think this may be the evening when Bush's retinue of trained hamsters finally worked up the nerve to tell their boss there was a problem. "No, really, a _big_ problem, Boss." I'll have to check the timeline on that.

But it's Brown who goes to the wall, and deservedly so, given his performance after his boss told him to go to work. But Perhaps Chertoff should follow him. The procedure for firing Bush is very involved and fraught with complications, so we have to forget that, unfortunately, if only because of his designated replacement.

Interestingly, the only agency of the federal government that did its job all along seems to have acted without authorization from anyone, thank God. That was the Coast Guard, which, although folded into Homeland Security like FEMA, has not yet been staffed with people whose expertise is in draping the bunting on the Boss's podium

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