Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Beating the Bushes

...after the hurricane

George W. Bush has a good heart. He doesn't hate anyone. He doesn't callously watch disasters on the horizon and consign thousands of people to death, evacuation, separation, starvation. When he flies into a disaster area and hugs a survivor, he means it sincerely. Unfortunately, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. In the case of George W. Bush, the good intentions are utterly disconnected from the real world. His entire presidency has resembled a child locked overnight in a candy store, or a teen-ager playing with a video game. He hasn't a clue why bad things happen to good people. He has even less clue what he should do about it. But he wants to always look like a man of action, whether he's doing any good for anyone or not.

He has always down-played obstacles and difficulties. That can be a valuable attribute of a commander, but only when the commander has the strategic skill to win, the persistence to make any effort required, never asking anyone to perform any job they would not or could not do themselves. Most of all, a successful commander in the face of daunting obstacles must know that the obstacles are REAL, and know HOW to remove them. That is what justifies confidence. That kind of commander is justified by their success, not by their breezy optimism. Commanders who know the price that must be paid, and pay it, are winners. George W. Bush is a very consistent loser. He never expects to pay any price for any reason.

He was raised on movies, and he appears to honestly believe that a good one-liner is as good as getting the job done. That is why he thought it was OK to put political cronies in charge of FEMA. Real life is not a movie. He promised Iraq would be quick and painless. Now that he has been proven wrong, he talks of making sacrifices and staying the course for a long, hard struggle. Nobody who cheered our initial incursion even thought about a long hard struggle. They cheered because it seemed cheap and easy. Because George W. Bush honestly believed it would be cheap and easy, he made no preparation for obvious military contingencies.

When asked later why he didn't commit the forces necessary to crush the possibility of an insurgency, he whined "I thought they would stand up and fight." He never considered they might run away, to fight another day. That's not how it was in the movies. Veterans return from rotation in reserve units have expressed great frustration with American civilian life. Soldiers are fighting and dying and suffering, but we haven't missed a cup of designer coffee. Our troops are committed to a seemingly endless struggle, but the civilians are deciding which expensive new form of TV to buy this year. That is precisely the war our president promised our civilians, and committed our troops to.

When it came to preparations for Katrina, George W. Bush's entire administration was ready to do everything on the cheap. First, don't pay for preventive measures to strengthen levees and prevent disaster – it is more important to cut taxes. Second, don't pay for preventive measures to strengthen levees and prevent disaster – it is more important to keep fighting in Iraq. Third, be optimistic that the damage from this hurricane won't be too bad – because we don't want to spend money. Fourth, don't rush supplies and trained personnel into the area, because we don't want to spend money.

Millions for spin control, but not one cent for security...

Now that the resulting mess has been thoroughly displayed to the entire population of America, the president did two things right. He admitted that the federal response was unacceptable, and he openly acknowledged that the buck stops at his desk. Then he proceeded to demonstrate the financial acumen that required his daddy's friends to save him from bankruptcy every time he went into any kind of business. We didn't spend $14 billion for flood control between 2000 and 2005. Now we are going to spend over $200 billion for clean-up and restoration. Where will that money come from? The president has no clue, no clue at all. He hasn't given it any thought. He just knows that he must write a blank check in order to restore some credibility to this pathetic administration.

Should we raise taxes? Or rather, should we temporarily roll back some of the tax cuts he put in four years ago, long enough to pay for the recovery? Oh no, those tax cuts were a signature of his administration. They were his biggest pay back to the cabal that turned this incompetent fool into "the front-runner" for the Republican nomination for president. He can't touch the tax cuts. So where will the money come from? "We'll have to cut other programs." Why didn't he mention which programs? Probably because he has no clue where any of the money for any program is going now. Also because he hadn't given any thought to making cuts anywhere to pay for the recovery. Also because any program he might put on the line would ignite loud protests. His real policy, as always, is to do nothing and hope it will somehow all work out in the end.

It gets even worse. When pressed on how to pay for the recovery, the president actually said "We'll have to cut unnecessary spending." A cute phrase. What unnecessary spending would that be? Why has he been spending our money unnecessarily in the first place? Last year, he was cutting money to prepare for natural disasters from the FEMA budget as "unnecessary spending." A fiscally prudent policy would be to spend what is necessary, no more and no less, in good times. In times of disaster, or war, we would of course need to increase taxes temporarily to pay for the urgently necessary additional spending. Or, a fiscally prudent government might set aside reserves for emergencies. George W. Bush has done none of the above. He doesn't believe in reserves. Every time he sees one, he gives it away to his friends. Save for a rainy day? It's always sunny at the Crawford Ranch! He is demonstrating once again that he is not in charge of anything. His evident thinking comes down to What, me worry?

In the meantime, we are mortgaging the credit of the United States of America to the banks of China, Korea, Japan, and anyone else thrifty enough to collect interest on our profligate fiscal policy. Does anyone catch the irony? For years, Republicans have been charging Democrats with "tax and spend." As soon as the Republican Party gets control of the White House and both houses of congress at the same time, they borrow our nation into the biggest annual deficits, the largest national debt, in our entire history. At the end of Bill Clinton's administration, we were on the verge of paying off the national debt for the first time in living memory. George W. Bush has treated the U.S. Treasury like a credit card to be maxed out, with no thought of how to earn the money to repay it.

The administration of George W. Bush did not create Hurricane Katrina. They may actually have turned it from a Category 1 into a Category 5 by ignoring global warming. The data on climate is too complex to ever tell for sure. It would have been a good idea to be cautious, to take preventive measures, rather than laugh it off until the evidence becomes overwhelming. The waters of the Gulf of Mexico were 2-3 degrees above normal last month. That is enough of a difference to fuel a powerful hurricane.

The administration of George W. Bush did create the horrendous aftermath of the hurricane, by every policy it has put into place, or allowed to wither away, in the past five years. Hmmm... that sounds almost Marxist. George W. Bush tried to usher in the withering away of the state... and when we needed our government to come through for us, and lead in a program only a federal-sized government can fully and rapidly handle, it wasn't there.

What are we doing now? FEMA orders truckloads of ice, in order to appear to be doing something right, sends trucks all over the country because FEMA doesn't know where to unload it. The cost for three days of this is running $9000 per truck. FEMA says in the rush to meet needs, it ordered too much ice, and now it is going to store it for future disasters??? Store ICE for future disasters? Then FEMA orders more ice, to be trucked to Louisiana and out to Maryland by way of Georgia. No doubt those responsible will be angrily denounced by the president. But if he were doing his job with any competence, they would have been doing theirs.

Well, they are spending money, and they are making speeches, but they are not doing the hard work we pay them to do. They are not getting our money's worth TO the people who need help. Neither are they sorting out HOW to pay for what everyone agrees we MUST do, if only our government were DOING what we know they must. But their priority is not to help. Their priority is to make themselves look good. They need to be able to talk about what they are doing, or at least how much they are spending. Throwing money at problems? Is this a REPUBLICAN administration?

Was government policy after Katrina racist? Not directly. George W. Bush would not go out of his way to consign people to hell on earth just because they have dark complexions. He really appreciates Condoleeza Rice and Clarence Thomas. He genuinely wants the praise of those black preachers who find homosexuality and abortion more pressing concerns than homelessness and hunger. On the other hand, George W. Bush's administration is completely callous about people who don't have money. (Most of the black preachers singing the praises of Bush DO have money, as well as palatial homes and luxury cars). For many reasons, some of them historical, others more recent, people with dark complexions make up an overwhelming portion of the people in New Orleans who had little or no money, even before the hurricane. The effect is exactly the same as if the administration intended to be racist. But the key is not, play the race card. The key is, FOLLOW THE MONEY.

George W. Bush has never successfully administered a business, he has never accomplished anything in public office worth talking about. He has a gift for gab and a sincere belief that everything is going fine, regardless of the facts. The initial and ongoing response to Hurricane Katrina are just one more symptom. True, the suffering of a million of our fellow citizens should not be used for partisan political advantage. But our suffering fellow citizens are doing to get darn little benefit, for the $200 billion our president plans to spend, if we don't fix the political atmosphere that has gripped Washington for the past five years.

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