Don’t expect anybody to throw a tea party, but Big Government finally got one right.
On Monday, six years to the day after Hurricane Katrina destroyed New Orleans and obliterated the notion of a competent federal government, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Craig Fugate offered an anecdote that showed just how different things were with Hurricane Irene.
On the podium in the White House briefing room, he recalled the satellite images of Irene’s path. “Do you remember seeing the satellite, how big that storm was and how close it was to the state of Florida?” he asked. Fugate, the former emergency management chief in Florida, said that a decade or so ago, “Florida would have had to evacuate based upon this track.”
Instead, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s improved models predicted landfall in North Carolina, and, in fact, “the track was only about 10 miles off of where they actually thought it was going to come ashore.”
This was just one piece of the overall anticipation of Irene and response to the storm that has earned high marks for FEMA and NOAA. Like the killing of Osama bin Laden, it was a rare reminder that the federal government can still do great things, after all other possibilities have been exhausted.
Such successes might provide an antidote to the souring of the public’s confidence in government. By coincidence, a Gallup poll released Monday showed that only 17 percent of Americans have a favorable view of the federal government, a new low.
More likely, however, Americans won’t have long to savor this new competence in government. NOAA has already been hit with budget cuts that will diminish its ability to track storms, and FEMA, like much of the federal government, will lose about a third of its funding over the next decade if Tea Party Republicans have their way.
In the spending compromise for this year worked out between congressional Republicans and the White House, NOAA’s budget was cut by about $140 million (House Republicans had sought much larger cuts) and money for new satellites was cut by more than $500 million from President Obama’s request. NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco warned in May, “we are likely looking at a period of time a few years down the road where we will not be able to do the severe storm warnings . . . that people have come to expect today.”
Congressional Democrats and the White House were somewhat more successful this year in resisting cuts to FEMA that Republicans had proposed. But under the House Republicans’ plan to freeze discretionary spending at 2008 levels over a decade, FEMA cuts are inevitable. According to an analysis by the Center for American Progress’s Scott Lilly that takes into account inflation and population, this amounts to a 31 percent cut in real per capita spending on discretionary functions such as FEMA.
Tea Partyers who denounce Big Government seem to have an abstract notion that government spending means welfare programs and bloated bureaucracies. Almost certainly they aren’t thinking about hurricane tracking and pre-positioning of FEMA supplies. But if they succeed in paring the government, some of these Tea Partyers (particularly those on the coasts or on the tornadic plains) may be surprised to discover that they have turned a Hurricane Irene government back into a Katrina government.
The Irene government would seem to have its benefits. Before the storm struck, 18 FEMA teams deployed from Florida to Maine, repositioning as the emphasis moved to New England. Food, water, generators and tarps were in place along the storm’s path. In Vermont, when the storm forced evacuation of the state emergency operations center, the workers relocated to a FEMA facility. In North Carolina, FEMA provided in-the-dark local authorities with generator power. And everywhere, FEMA, given new authority by Congress after Katrina, didn’t have to wait for states to request help.
“We have to go fast; we have to base it upon the potential impacts,” Fugate said Monday, describing the Irene response. “That’s why we look at these forecasts we get from the hurricane center, and we make the decisions based upon what the potential impacts could be. If you wait till you know how bad it is, it becomes harder to change the outcome.”
That’s one model. The other model is to have a weak federal government, without the funds to forecast storms or to launch a robust emergency response in time to do any good.
You might call that the Tea Party model.
By: Dana Milbank, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, August 29, 2011
Self-reflection is not something we have come to expect in elected officials, particularly those who have left office fairly recently. But could former Vice President Dick Cheney have not even made the slightest effort to convince people he didn’t deserve the “Darth Vader” moniker assigned by his foes?
Cheney’s memoir, written with his daughter, Liz Cheney, is so unapologetic as to be a caricature. One could hardly imagine that Cheney—or even anyone from the recently-departed Bush administration—would suddenly decide that the war in Iraq had been a mistake, based on lies. But he might have acknowledged that the basis for going to war—even if one believes that it was an honest misunderstanding, instead of a craven lie—turned out to be (oops!) not true. He chides the nation for failing to live within its means, but fails to consider the fiscal impact of two wars, massive tax cuts and a huge Medicare drug entitlement program. And his no-apology book tour confirms the theme; Cheney told the Today show that he thinks waterboarding is an acceptable way for the United States to get information out of suspected terrorists, but says he’d object if another nation did it to a U.S. citizens.
Former President George Bush certainly offered no apologies in his memoir, and that’s to be expected. But Bush wasn’t mean or angry in his book. He even told a rather charming story of how an African-American staffer had brought his two young boys to the White House during the waning days of the presidency, and that one of the boys had asked, “Where’s Barack Obama?” There is characteristically nothing kind or charming or insightful to be found in Cheney’s tome. Even the cover is daunting—a grimacing Cheney inside the White House, looking like he’s deliberately trying to scare away the tourists.
The shot against former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is inexcusable: Cheney tells a story about how Rice had “tearfully” admitted to him that she was wrong to tell Bush that he should have apologized for misleading the American public about Saddam Hussein’s alleged attempt to secure yellowcake uranium from Niger. Whether Rice broke down before Cheney, we may never know. But to turn an accomplished woman like Rice into some silly, weak little girl is unforgivable. Agree with Rice or not. Slam her for misstating or misreading intelligence before and after 9-11 or not. But she is brilliant; she has dedicated her life to scholarship and public service, and she deserves to be treated better.
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell—who preceded Rice, and whom Cheney seems to believe was somehow hounded from office, although Powell said he had always intended to stay just one term—offers the best summation: Cheney took some “cheap shots” in the book. That’s not the reflective mindset necessary for a memoir.
By: Susan Milligan, U.S. News and World Report, August 30, 2011
Politico asks the question out loud.
The answer from Perry’s friends and supporters is not reassuring.
“If he should know about John Locke, he’ll know about John Locke,” said [Tex lobbyist and Perry supporter] Bill Miller. “If it’s not on his schedule, it’s irrelevant to him.”
In other words: his aides run him.
His policy focus as governor hasn’t been complex – it’s almost entirely jobs and business-focused – but that’s not where Perry’s mind is, say those who know him.
He’s a power politician and very canny one. And what seems to animate him is competition.
Whether it is winning elections, beating out other states in attracting jobs or besting them for college football recruits, Perry is ferociously single-minded.
In other words: he is keenly political, but has little policy focus – which will be some handicap for a president who will face after 2013 the toughest economic policy challenges since the 1930s.
“There were some guys we always thought were the brainiacs, the ones who got into the minutiae of legislation,” recalled Cliff Johnson, an Austin lobbyist and close Perry friend and former roommate from their days serving together as Democratic legislators. “We sought information from trusted folks.”
In other words: lobbyists will run him.
Trained as an Air Force pilot right out of A&M, Perry was “taught to trust your information,” said Johnson.
And associates say the same lessons that Perry learned when he was flying C-130s apply now.
“Pilots execute flight plans,” said Miller. “They have a plan, they fly a certain pattern and that’s the way he’s always operated — he has a flight plan for what he’s trying to do and he executes.”
That’s quite an insult to combat pilots, who must react, respond and improvise. “Executing the flight plan” seems a terrible way to approach the presidency. It’s the president’s job to write the flight plan.
Mike Baselice, Perry’s longtime pollster, said his client is of the Ronald Reagan school of management: “Trust people and manage well.”
“His job is to go meet voters,” said Baselice. “We’ll figure out the details of the messaging.”
Voters would do well to ask: Who’s this “we” that will really be running the country during a Perry presidency?
By: David Frum, The FrumForum, August 29, 2011