Watching New York Times columnist Paul Krugman plumb the depths of depraved Bush bashing is getting close to becoming something of a guilty pleasure; sort of like viewing pornography but without the edifying inclusion of the undraped model’s vital statistics to offset the charge of prurient behavior. After all if, as Justice Potter Stewart famously said of it, pornography is something I recognize when I see it, then certainly the former Enron consultant Krugman’s scribblings will be immediately identifiable as the product of a smutty and lascivious mind, the likes of which haven’t been seen since the Marquis de Sade was writing his paeans to the grotesque and unnatural.
Krugman is the best fulminator in the business. No other columnist seethes with as much irrational spite. No other liberal commentator can work himself into such hysterical paroxysms of revulsion over his ideological opponents. He has accused conservatives of wanting to kill liberals. He has just recently been taken to task for blatantly lying about the results of the 2000 Presidential recount by a consortium of media outlets, saying falsely that the study – in which his own paper participated – showed Al Gore winning the election.
And now, Krugman has written a column so chock full of omissions, falsehoods, and outright lies that I’m going to break my promise made just three days ago not to play “the blame game” and give some well deserved rhetorical slaps to The Fulminater’s gigantic ego and minuscule wit.
The title alone should warn the reader off. “Killed by Contempt” is an interesting concept but one that belongs in the realm of exaggeration rather than serious thought. This is par for the course for surely, Mr. Krugman wasn’t being serious when he wrote this:
Each day since Katrina brings more evidence of the lethal ineptitude of federal officials. I’m not letting state and local officials off the hook, but federal officials had access to resources that could have made all the difference, but were never mobilized.
Never mobilized? A partial listing of federal resources not only mobilized but in place less than 24 hours after the hurricane hit make Krugman out to be either a sloppy, ignorant journalist with no business writing for a major newspaper (even if it is th New York Times) or a prevaricator of monstrous proportions.
Federal assistance in place by Tuesday afternoon:
FEMA deployed 23 Disaster Medical Assistance Teams, seven search and rescue task forces, and several hundred tons of supplies for stricken residents.
Department of Transportation had 390 trucks full of millions of MRE’s, millions of gallons of water, millions of pounds of ice, as well as millions of pounds of other disaster supplies.
The Coast Guard had 30 ships and 40 aircraft carrying out operations the minute that Katrina’s fury had passed.
There were 4,000 National Guardsmen assembled and deployed in Louisiana alone.
This doesn’t include assistance mobilized from other agencies such as the Department of Agriculture, Department of Labor, Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Defense and government coordination with the American Red Cross. And most of those listed assets were in place before Katrina even hit.
Then, just to prove he likes to kill his readers with contempt for their intelligence, Krugman contradicts himself:
Here’s one of many examples: The Chicago Tribune reports that the U.S.S. Bataan, equipped with six operating rooms, hundreds of hospital beds and the ability to produce 100,000 gallons of fresh water a day, has been sitting off the Gulf Coast since last Monday – without patients.
Experts say that the first 72 hours after a natural disaster are the crucial window during which prompt action can save many lives. Yet action after Katrina was anything but prompt. Newsweek reports that a “strange paralysis” set in among Bush administration officials, who debated lines of authority while thousands died.
I can’t be the only one who sees the total disconnect between his charge of the feds not mobilizing resources and his depiction of a fully staffed hospital ship off the coast on the day of the storm. The fact that it stood empty was the result of necessity. A trip to the ship by helicopter would take nearly 1/2 an hour from the Superdome. A trip to the airport (where medical cases were brought) took 10 minutes. Perhaps we should ask Mr. Krugman if it was his life at stake where minutes counted, would he like to take a nice, relaxing half hour trip to a hospital ship or have the helo make a mad dash for the airport where medical assistance available. And relying on Newsweek for a characterization of an attitude regarding how the Bush Administration reacted (“strange” paralysis? Is there any other kind?) is just plain batty.
Here’s where Krugman deserves to be cast into the outer darkness:
What caused that paralysis? President Bush certainly failed his test. After 9/11, all the country really needed from him was a speech. This time it needed action – and he didn’t deliver.
It would be interesting indeed to know what Dr. Krugman’s prescription for America would have been following 9/11. Alas, given the shallowness of his critique of what the President did in the days and weeks following the attack, we’ll never know. Krugman’s diagnoses since that awful day have usually been so far off the mark that if he was a doctor he would have been jailed for negligence and run out of the medical profession for incompetence.
But the federal government’s lethal ineptitude wasn’t just a consequence of Mr. Bush’s personal inadequacy; it was a consequence of ideological hostility to the very idea of using government to serve the public good. For 25 years the right has been denigrating the public sector, telling us that government is always the problem, not the solution. Why should we be surprised that when we needed a government solution, it wasn’t forthcoming?
Actually, the government response to the disaster somewhat proves conservative’s point about bureaucratic incapacity. But Krugman’s laughable summation of conservative attitude toward government reveals an unseriousness of thought when it comes to the conservative ideal of federalism. It’s not government conservatives hate. It’s government held hostage by do gooding lickspittles like Krugman who wish to use it’s power as a club to affect behavior and foist a stultifying sameness on the rest of us. It’s bad government conservatives hate. It’s incompetent government conservatives criticize. And for Krugman to say that conservatives hate all government is worse than simplistic; it’s moronic.
Mr. Krugman then turns his less than insightful gaze on one of the most useless Federal agencies around; the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Several recent news analyses on FEMA’s sorry state have attributed the agency’s decline to its inclusion in the Department of Homeland Security, whose prime concern is terrorism, not natural disasters. But that supposed change in focus misses a crucial part of the story.
For one thing, the undermining of FEMA began as soon as President Bush took office. Instead of choosing a professional with expertise in responses to disaster to head the agency, Mr. Bush appointed Joseph Allbaugh, a close political confidant. Mr. Allbaugh quickly began trying to scale back some of FEMA’s preparedness programs.
You might have expected the administration to reconsider its hostility to emergency preparedness after 9/11 – after all, emergency management is as important in the aftermath of a terrorist attack as it is following a natural disaster. As many people have noticed, the failed response to Katrina shows that we are less ready to cope with a terrorist attack today than we were four years ago.
But the downgrading of FEMA continued, with the appointment of Michael Brown as Mr. Allbaugh’s successor.
There is not one shred of evidence that the establishment of FEMA in 1979 has led to the saving of a single additional human life. Prior to the creation of this monster in 1979, each state was responsible for disaster response, a job they were well suited for given their proximity to the tragedy. If the state emergency managers needed help, they called on the Federal government to supply it. The thing is, they didn’t always call on the feds for help in the immediate aftermath of a disaster. And for really big cataclysms like devastating earthquakes or hurricanes, the governors and local officials on the scene knew best what they needed and either placed a call to Washington where the resources were then dispatched, or for longer term help, got their Washington representatives to pump the federal spigot for funds.
FEMA was originally seen as a paper shuffling agency. FEMA reps would show up after a disaster with federal forms for the stunned and reeling survivors to fill out in triplicate and a check would then be forthcoming; a redundant but relatively harmless activity for which they were perfectly suited.
What happened in the intervening years has been a textbook case of bureaucratic turf building. From a budget of $250 million in 1979 to its current bloat of nearly $6 billion, FEMA has taken upon itself the role of disaster nanny, horning in on local and state control of disaster resources until disaster management itself has now been pretty much placed in their hands. By duplicating many of the resources that states utilize in the management of natural calamities, FEMA sows confusion and the kind of turf wars mentioned by Governor Blanco.
FEMA has since been moved into the Department of Homeland Security where the President hoped to scale back its disaster management efforts in favor of local DHS officials who would be better positioned to get what they need from Washington. Since one of the first rules of bureaucracy is all good deeds – such as trying to reduce a layer of unnecessary government control – are punished severely, it appears to me anyway that some of the problems associated with this disaster can be attributed to a system in transition.
All that said, even if Mr. Krugman’s criticism of management were valid, he inadvertently makes the point that local and state officials usually know what they need and should be trusted with asking for it without having to fight the Michael Browns of this world who today probably wishes he was back running horse shows.
Finally, Krugman reveals a childlike faith in government that is so misplaced as to put his entire critique in the realm of fantasy:
That contempt, as I’ve said, reflects a general hostility to the role of government as a force for good. And Americans living along the Gulf Coast have now reaped the consequences of that hostility.
The administration has always tried to treat 9/11 purely as a lesson about good versus evil. But disasters must be coped with, even if they aren’t caused by evildoers. Now we have another deadly lesson in why we need an effective government, and why dedicated public servants deserve our respect. Will we listen?
Of course! Government as a force for “good.” Jeez…I thought that went out with the 1960’s. Government, of course, is neither good nor evil. It just is. It’s as close as you can get to being a man made force of nature.
And the “lesson” we might learn from this tragedy isn’t that we need effective government but rather effective local government. While Krugman dreams the dream of all good government liberals, the truly insidious nature of government is revealed. Just because good people want good things doesn’t mean that government will deliver them. The law of unintended consequences – as we’ve seen over the 25 year history of FEMA - knows no morality other than it’s own, relentless logic when it comes to bureaucracy.