September 27, 2005

Brownie, You're Doing a Heck of a Job

Ex-FEMA Director Michael Brown has been testifying all day today before a special House Committee looking into the response to hurricane Katrina. Some things he has said are astounding, and provide much insight into the Bush Administration's philosophy of government:

--Brown is still on the federal payroll, as a "consultant" to FEMA. Which probably means he's making more money now, paid by you and me, than he was as head of FEMA. Weren't we told a couple of weeks ago that Brown has resigned from FEMA?

--The federal government should not be in the business of providing ice or gasoline to areas hit by disasters. Even though people died in the oppressive heat of Louisiana of dehydration and heat-related conditions after Katrina. Even though bodies were rotting in the streets and in morgues, because there was no electricity. Even though ice is needed to keep medicine from spoiling where there's no electricity and thus no refrigeration. Even though people were stuck in 100 mile traffic jams for 17 hours in Texas before hurricane Rita hit, when many cars ran out of gas and clogged the roadways as the gas stations all ran out of gas.

--The Department of Homeland Security, when it took over FEMA, eviscerated the emergency agency and did not give it the resources it needed. When FEMA submitted a budget request for newer and better communications equipment, DHS removed the request. And how many times did Brown state his concerns publicly? Zero.

Many people have said that Katrina exposed the wide racial and economic gulfs that exist in the U.S. today. That's true and a good thing, but Katrina has also exposed the huge gulf that separates Democrats and Republicans, over the very purpose of government. Republicans, especially those conservatives who have led the party since Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980, believe in cutting spending for things like health, education and welfare. Things like levees and emergency communications equipment in New Orleans. Things like college tuition loans. Things like clean air and clean water and national parks. You know, the stuff that actually helps people and improves the quality of their lives. The GOP attitude is, I got mine, you get your own. Remember when Ronald Reagan's adminstration cut school lunch programs by decreeing that ketchup is a vegetable and counted toward the 2-vegetable requirement? Remember when George W. Bush sought to allow higher arsenic levels in drinking water? Grover Norquist, President of Americans for Tax Reform (which, surprise surprise, was started inside the Reagan White House) and conservative it-man of the moment, has stated “my goal is to cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.” Given the images of New Orleans underwater, this is a most unfortunate statement. But the idea of "starving the beast" by cutting programs for poor and middle class folks, while cutting federal revenues by cutting taxes for the wealthy, is quite popular among Republicans these days, as it was in the days of Ronald Reagan. Of course, Republcans are willing to make a wee exception for war spending. I'm sure it's just a coincidence that lucrative war spending contracts go to GOP cronies, friends and supporters such as, let's all say it together, Halliburton. And, Republicans make another wee exception for pet pork projects such as the Bridge to Nowhere in Alaska that was part of the most recent pork-laden transportation bill.

The Democrats -- need it be said? -- have a different philosophy of government. Democrats believe government can and should help people, especially those on the lower half of the economic and societal ladder. Democrats believe that we're all in this together. They believe that when the least well-off do better, Americans all do better as a nation. And guess what? Under President Clinton, the rich did better financially as well. The New Deal. Social Security. Medicare. The Civil Rights Act. The Voting Rights Act. The Great Society. The Securities and Exchange Commission and other government agencies designed to police, and protect citizens from the effects of, bad behavior in the "free" market. Who envisioned and got this stuff enacted? The Democrats, of course, with, from time to time, some enlightened or embarrassed Repubicans in Congress. Who wants to dismantle these programs and oversight agencies? The Republicans, of course. When Republicans use the term "reform," as with Social Security, that's the red flag that means "destroy."

Meanwhile, ol' Brownie is collecting his consulting fees paid by the American taxpayers. I guess that's reason number 10,502 to be a Democrat.


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