Friday, September 09, 2005

some notes on the federal response

I've done a lot of email to friends about the Katrina disaster, but it's been moving too fast for a coherent blog entry. Here's one aspect that I looked into in detail.

I remarked to my conservative pal that Bush's response to the catastrophe in New Orleans was highly reminiscent of his response to the tsunami: be dragged off the ranch to give a comically inadequate response, which is grudgingly followed by a more serious offer and then everyone pretends the first embarrassing response never even happened.

I did some digging, here's a rough chronology of December's reaction to the tsunami:

12/26 Earthquake and tsunami.
Within hours on 12/26, somebody at the WH issued a announcement of sympathy.

early 12/27: Fox News reported that the initial US response was $400,000, to be followed by a further $ 4 m, with hope of getting it to $15m. I found a blog that noted this, it's hard to find.
early 12/27 (as reported in WaPo 12/28) WH response is to explain that bush is vacationing and can’t be bothered, and gratuitously slams Clinton for sympathizing with victims. WH: “the president was confident he could monitor events effectively without returning to Washington or making public statements in Crawford, where he spent part of the day clearing brush and bicycling." Explaining the about-face, a White House official said: "The president wanted to be fully briefed on our efforts. He didn't want to make a symbolic statement about 'We feel your pain.' "

12/27 Bush cleaned up and dragged in front of camera to grudgingly announce the $15m in aid .

On 27 December UN Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland reportedly categorised charitable contributions of rich countries as "stingy", but was widely misinterpreted in the press as categorising the response to the tsunami in this manner. Speaking at a press conference later, Mr. Egeland stated, "It has nothing to do with any particular country or the response to this emergency. We are in early days and the response has so far been overwhelmingly positive".

The US government, led by President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell, reacted with annoyance to the statement and on 28 December added another USD 20 million to their original pledge of USD 15 million, bringing the total up to USD 35 million, not including direct aid to be rendered by naval vessels dispatched to the region.

By 12/29, George Bush was already lying about it: “We pledged an initial $35 million in relief assistance.” see
NO, WE DIDN'T. I heard it with my own ears: the initial offer was $15m. Bush is lying about it.

[Wiki again] On December 31 the US pledge was increased ten fold to USD 350 million ([7]), with President Bush saying that that amount will probably increase. President Bush also signed a decree ordering flags to be flown at half-mast during the first week of the new year.

Eventually, the total WAS raised to $950 million - -

but the initial offer was not the ‘$35m’ amount that’s widely quoted - the one that Bush lied about - no, the initial offer wasn't even the $15m that went down the memory hole after criticism from the UN - - no, the initial offer of aid was actually "$400,000 , with $4m to follow".

The similarity to the current situation is remarkable.

Friday 8/26: Louisiana asks for emergency ,
early hours of Sat 8/27: WH declares emergency in INLAND La. (!) Katrina deepens to Cat IV: Bush does nothing.
Sunday 8/28: Katrina reaches Cat V - NOAA is screaming "end of the world!", Bush does nothing.
Monday 8/29: Katrina hits Gulf Coast, Bush flies to California to play guitar, interrupt chemo for hospital patients, and compare himself to FDR.
later Monday: New Orleans - - levee breaks, Bush does nothing.
Wed: overflies area, goes to Rose Garden to announce truckloads of materiel are on the way. No emergency session, no orders to the Bataan, nothing. I can think of a dozen measures he should be announcing. He's calling a Cabinet meeting.
late Wed: Bush finally (3 days after the NOAA warnings of devestation) orders the U.S.S. Comfort to the Gulf Coast.
Thursday: Rice and Cheney are still on vacation, miss urgently-called Cabinet meeting.
FRIDAY 9/2: - four days later - Bush visits scene, Comfort under way. Congress votes $10 billion.

Thurday? 9/8 another $52B, mostly to Homeland Security.

The business with the Comfort bothers me, because she was under way for NYC within 36 hours of the 9/11 sneak attack when stockbrokers were attacked. It took her a week to start sailing for the Gulf Coast.

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