Monday, April 25, 2011

Give credit where credit is due

With John McCain and his death mask cavorting cluelessly around the Middle East as if he thinks he’s still relevant—telling us with a straight face on “Meet the Press” how “proud” he is of his former (and perhaps future, wink-wink) running mate Sarah Palin, you get the impression that the Obama administration is as ripe for the picking as Fox News and CNN make it out to be. The Obama administration has had some notable accomplishments, and not just the first administration to successfully push through something that kind of looks like real health care reform. It was a courageous thing to do, and it cost the Democrats dearly in 2010; it just goes to show you that despite the fact that Americans demand “change,” a majority really are frighten of it. All the budget deficit talk now is mostly bluster; the idea of reducing the deficit is one thing—how to accomplish it in a way that doesn’t “hurt” is another matter.

Obama just can’t “win” with people equating him with the antichrist (hardly a useful comparison, since Obama’s current approval ratings are under 50 percent); the other day I walked into the middle of a lecture by some immigrant proprietor of an ARCO gas station, fulminating about how we can’t allow “him” to have another term, because China will certainly take over the country. He must have seen that creepy political ad on television I talked about before. Such talk tends to raise the level of bile in me; I called out “Is someone blaming THAT on Obama?” after which the place went silent. Right-wing talk, as I’ve discovered, wilts when it is confronted, or resorts to violence (physical or verbal) rather than attempt rational discussion. It also amazes me how non-Anglo immigrants try to “prove” their Americanism by imitating the worst in white American racism.

Lost is all the media myopia is what the Obama administration can rightly call a “win,” at least in comparison to another recent example by the previous administration. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently announced that all federal coastal waters effected by last year’s BP oil disaster are now open for public and commercial use. Despite environmentalists protesting the Obama administration for not going beyond toughening-up regulations for drilling safety rules and standards, and coastal residents complaining about how they don’t trust “the government,” the government—unless you count prime culprit Halliburton’s cozy relationship with the Bush administration (i.e. Dick Cheney)—wasn’t responsible for the spill, but private industry and the “drill baby drill” side of the political spectrum was. BP was allowed, like many corporations, to evade U.S. oversight by operating the Deepwater Horizon oil platform under a “flag of convenience”—meaning operating under the regulations of another sovereign “state,” this time the Marshall Islands. More significantly, BP’s low-rent well design and the shoddy quality of Halliburton’s contract work, and the ignoring of internal warnings of the potential for disaster were the principle reasons for the spill, not “the government” which had to rely first on deliberate misinformation put out by BP, and then on private industry’s so-called “expertise” on stopping the oil leak. Once the oil spill was eventually contained and stopped, “the government’s” overseeing of the clean-up was effective despite the bellyaching of red state residents, with testing done by NOAA, the FDA, the states effected and even an “independent” test done on water and wildlife samples commissioned by ABC News declaring the coastal waters to be essentially cleansed of oil, although the long-term effects of the spill have yet to be fully understood. An HBO special on the rescue efforts of Brown Pelicans also notes that birds released back into the environment after capture and recovery seem to be doing “well” in the former “disaster area.”

Now let’s compare this effort to a disaster that actually had a more human impact—Hurricane Katrina. City and State agencies were not entirely blameless, particularly concerning New Orleans, but the impoverished areas involved clearly did not have the resources to deal with the disaster. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) basically sat around (maybe deliberately, considering HUD director Alphonso Jackson waxing gleeful over the “probability” that New Orleans would become majority white from majority black) for days, apparently expecting the local officials to “ask” for help first. Michael Brown, a political appointee with no experience that qualified him to be director of FEMA, was accused of providing excessive assistance in Florida in response to Hurricane Frances the year before—apparently because Gov. Jeb Bush was the president’s brother—but responded in the opposite direction during Katrina. FEMA “underestimated” the potential impact of the storm, even though it was known that after decades of various disputes, the levee system was not just incomplete but below originally intended structural standards. Even when it was clear that the disaster was beyond local resources, federal authorities seemed to react with all due “deliberateness” rather than with speed. Although FEMA patted itself on the back concerning all the people they allegedly “saved,” more telling was the number of people who died because of FEMA’s lackluster performance in providing aid. While volunteer efforts to deliver food and water were delayed or blocked by FEMA’s insistence on “proper paperwork,” and The New York Times reporting that FEMA ignored warnings that Katrina could cause "human suffering incredible by modern standards," and did not send a single urban search and rescue team to New Orleans until after the storm past, the final death toll in the city would be 1,464 people. Failure to react quickly to contain the situation also led to widespread looting and violence in the 20 percent of the city that was not flooded. The Bush administration’s pouring money and resources into terrorist “disasters” also was to blame for the failure to react with either efficiency or speed in a natural disaster. The Bush legacy: New Orleans still has only 70 percent of its pre-Katrina population, and remains one of the poorest cities in the country.

Except for the men who died on the Deepwater Horizon rig, there were no reported deaths as a direct result of the BP oil spill, and in time livelihoods and wildlife should recover; that is a much better prognosis than expected considering the anti-government hysteria and reports of doom-and-gloom on Fox News and CNN. The same positive outlook cannot necessarily be said the Bush administration’s handling of Hurricane Katrina, when “the government” had fair warning that a disaster was about to occur. I give the Obama administration an overall thumbs up, the Bush administration a thumbs down. It’s remarkable how those Louisiana residents attacking “the government”—i.e. the Obama administration—have forgotten so soon what a bad government response is really like.

No comments:

Post a Comment