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“An Unreliable Partner”: Romney Struggles For Relevance While Sandy Blows Away Political Pretense And Ideological Nonsense

While the president canceled his campaign schedule and flew northward to join the relief effort, Romney struggled for relevance. Presumably with the best intentions, he tried to transform an Ohio rally into a charitable gathering, where his campaign would collect canned food and bottled water for hurricane victims. But then his campaign workers were caught purchasing cases of food and water at a local Walmart, evidently planning to stage fake giving if necessary.

As he played his role in this flummery, Romney repeatedly refused to answer questions from reporters about his vow to dismantle FEMA as a cost-cutting measure. It would be “immoral” to spend money on federal disaster relief, as he told a debate audience in 2011, when the government is running a substantial deficit. And it is true that the budget and tax policies promoted by Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan, would require such significant cuts in domestic spending as to decimate disaster relief.

Disbanding FEMA and discarding its skilled personnel apparently would be fine with Romney, who said “absolutely” when asked by CNN’s John King whether he would consign disaster relief to the states rather than the federal government. For that matter he would go still further, said the former Massachusetts governor; best of all would be to let the private sector assume FEMA’s responsibilities.

Nobody asked Romney how a privatized FEMA would function, but it is interesting to imagine the private-equity version of disaster management—and how that entity might squeeze profit from tragedy. Under present circumstances, the Romney campaign denies any plan to abolish FEMA, but who really knows?

In this awful moment Christie, Cuomo, Bloomberg — and every other official watching them — must have realized that should cataclysm strike their city or state, they have a reliable partner in President Obama. The Romney Republicans inspire no such confidence.


By: Joe Conason, The National Memo, November 21, 2012

November 2, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Heckuva Job, Barry”: Disasters Offer A Visible Opportunity For A President To Either Succeed Or Fail

Although some may find it crass to speculate on the political impact of The Storm, I’m going to go ahead and do it, for two reasons. First, I’ve earned the right, and second, because complaints that things are “politicized” are almost always misconceived. Politics is important. It concerns choices that affect all our lives. And campaigns ought to be connected to the actual business of governing, so when an event occurs that implicates our government, it should be talked about. Problems sometimes arise not from the fact that something is politicized, but the way it’s politicized. For instance, when in the 2002 election, Republicans charged that Democrats were on the side of al Qaeda because those Democrats favored a different bill establishing the Department of Homeland Security than the bill Republicans favored, it was despicable not because September 11 had been “politicized,” but because of the manner in which it was politicized.

Anyhow, back to the storm. This morning, an editor at the Prospect suggested to me that if Romney loses, Republicans will say bitterly for some time to come that had it not been for the storm, his momentum would have carried him to victory. I don’t doubt they will say that (although I think that will be what the sober Republicans will say; the others will find voting conspiracies to convince them that he didn’t legitimately win). But the question is, even if they were right, what’s wrong with that?

You can look at this just as a campaign issue—perhaps the fact that Romney is losing a couple of days in which the campaign, and his persuasive arguments, would have been on the front pages instead of storm cleanup, and that might make some tiny difference in the outcome of the race. But there’s a substantive issue here too. Natural disasters offer a visible opportunity for a president to either succeed or fail, and it’s appropriate to judge Barack Obama on how this one is handled. That’s true on the level of his performance at the moment, and when it comes to the personnel and systems he put in place in preparation for this kind of event.

One also can’t help thinking back to what happened seven years ago when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, and there’s nothing wrong with that either. When George W. Bush took office, he gave the FEMA directorship to his campaign manager, Joe Allbaugh, who hadn’t had that kind of experience before. Allbaugh was succeeded by “Heckuva Job” Michael Brown, who came from the nationally vital position of judging commissioner of the International Arabian Horse Association. Point is, I doubt President Bush much cared who was in charge of FEMA, and when Americans needed it, it wasn’t up to the job. When Barack Obama took office, he appointed Craig Fugate, whose last job was running Florida’s emergency management agency. Obama obviously didn’t want to repeat Bush’s mistake, and by all accounts FEMA is working far better than it did during the Bush years.

Republicans may be frustrated by the fact that just before the election, we get an event that reminds people that there are some things we need government for. And it’s more bad luck for them that this particular event will also remind people of what happened seven years ago when they were in charge. But there’s nothing unfair about it. If Mitt Romney has a case to make as to why his small-government philosophy would produce better disaster response than what we’re seeing now, let him go ahead and make it.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, November 11, 2012

November 2, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Glib Ideological Purity”: Mitt Romney Would Pass The Buck On Disasters

Back when he was being “severely conservative,” Mitt Romney suggested that responsibility for disaster relief should be taken from the big, bad federal government and given to the states, or perhaps even privatized. Hurricane Sandy would like to know if he’d care to reconsider.

The absurd, and dangerous, policy prescription came in a GOP primary debate in June. Moderator John King said he had recently visited communities affected by severe weather and noted that the Federal Emergency Management Agency “is about to run out of money.”

“There are some people . . . who say, you know, maybe we’re learning a lesson here that the states should take on more of this role,” King said. “How do you deal with something like that?”

Romney replied: “Absolutely. Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that’s the right direction. And if you can go further and send it back to the private sector, that’s even better.”

Romney went on to express the general principle that, given the crushing national debt, “we should take all of what we’re doing at the federal level and say, ‘What are the things we’re doing that we don’t have to do?’ ”

King gave him a chance to back off: “Including disaster relief, though?”

Romney didn’t blink. “We cannot afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future for our kids,” he said, adding that “it is simply immoral . . . to rack up larger and larger debts and pass them on to our kids.”

Now, with an unprecedented and monstrous storm bashing the East Coast, this glib exercise in ideological purity is newly relevant. Was Romney really saying that the federal government should abdicate the task of responding to natural disasters such as the one now taking place? Yes, he was. Did he really mean it? Well, with Romney, that’s always another question.

As the legendary Watergate source Deep Throat never actually said: “Follow the money.”

The dishonest “solution” proposed by Romney and running mate Paul Ryan for the federal government’s budget woes relies largely on a shell game: Transfer unfunded liabilities to the states.

Most disastrously, this is what Romney and Ryan propose for Medicaid, the health-care program for the poor. The GOP plan would give the states block grants that would not begin to cover Medicaid’s rising costs. Governors and legislatures would be forced to impose draconian cuts, with potentially catastrophic impact for millions of Americans.

Medicaid’s most expensive role — and thus, under Romney, the most imperiled — is to fund nursing-home care for seniors who classify as “poor” only because they have exhausted their life savings. Transferring the onus of Medicaid and other programs to the states would save money only by making it impossible to provide services at current levels.

For the hard-right ideologues who control the Republican Party, this would be a good thing. Our society has become too dependent on government, they believe, too “entitled” to benefits; we are unwilling to “take personal responsibility and care for” our lives, as Romney said in his secretly recorded “47 percent” speech.

Romney’s budget proposals would end all this coddling — except for the Pentagon and its contractors, who would get a big boost in federal largess, and of course, the wealthy, who would get a huge tax cut.

So-called “discretionary” federal spending would be sharply reduced. This would include spending for such agencies as FEMA. So yes, even if Romney was just pandering to the right-wing base at that June debate, one consequence of his policies would be to squeeze funding for federal emergency relief.

I guess having to survive a few hurricanes, tornados and earthquakes on our own would certainly foster personal responsibility.

And by the way, why is it that we’re having such a huge hurricane make landfall in such an unusual place at such a late date in the season? Is this another of those freakish once-in-a-century weather events that seem to be happening so often these days?

I know it’s impossible to definitively blame any one storm on human-induced atmospheric warming. But I’m sorry, these off-the-charts phenomena are becoming awfully commonplace. By the time scientists definitively establish what’s happening, it will be too late.

As has been noted, the words “climate change” were not spoken during the presidential debates. Hurricane Sandy wants to know why.

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, October 29, 2012

October 31, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Mark Halperin, Amateur Meterologist”: Not Even Hurricanes Can Stop Dumb Punditry

Will Hurricane Sandy cause an Electoral College tie and turn Ohio into this year’s Florida 2000? PROBABLY. At least, something along those lines is what political pundits are hoping for today.

The two most important events in the world right now are the presidential campaign and a major East Coast weather event, so obviously “politicos” are trying to figure out how to combine the two things into one convenient and snappy cable television hit.

Mark Halperin, MSNBC political talking guy, Time political writing guy, blogger and amateur meteorologist, has multiple competing opinions about what this storm that actually threatens to destroy much of the East Coast and kill and displace thousands of people means for the president’s reelection bid.

On “The Morning Joe Show” this morning, Halperin said White House adviser David Plouffe was clever to convince the president to cancel his campaign event in Florida today and go to Washington to be the president of hurricane response.

I think the most important person in this election right now is not the candidates, for today at least, it’s David Plouffe, senior White House adviser, ran the President’s campaign last time. Brilliant at understanding the intersection between the campaign and the government. Lots of control over both, and, obviously, was central to the decision to say the President shouldn’t do this event in Florida today, should come back to Washington. And I think you will see David Plouffe doing a couple things. One, the symbolism of the office, making sure they don’t mess up.

Great, great insight. It took a canny political mind to decide to … go manage the storm response, and the No. 1 goal for Obama right now is “manage the storm response well and not horribly.” Incisive stuff.

Then, like an hour later, Mark Halperin decided, on Twitter, that canceling campaign events to do disaster response was a bad idea, probably.

@MarkHalperin : W/Obama nixing events, gotta ask: what happened to constant White House claim POTUS can do job equally well from anywhere?

Just gotta ask!

Will President Obama lose the election if he spends too much of this week running FEMA and not being in Florida and Ohio over and over again? Shouldn’t he take off his coat and roll up his sleeves and direct storm response from … Northern Virginia, maybe? Just one thing is “clear now,” to Mark Halperin: that people who may or may not lose elections next week will think the hurricane is responsible. Fascinating, if true.

(Actual smart people basically agree: There is no way of knowing how this storm will actually affect the election, if it does, which it might or might not.)

By: Alex Pareene, Salon, October 29, 2012

October 30, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Send Disaster Response To The States”: Mitt Romney’s Disastrous Emergency Management Plan

As 50 million East Coast residents brace for Hurricane Sandy’s impact, President Obama has already signed disaster declarations for at least a dozen states, making available the resources and unique coordinating capabilities of the federal government — specifically, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA – to assist in the response and recovery.

It’s worth noting that Mitt Romney has said he’d get rid of FEMA and leave states to fend for themselves.

At a CNN-sponsored GOP debate last June, moderator John King asked Romney what he would do to keep FEMA solvent. Romney replied that we need to cut government spending and should “send it back to the states … And if you can go even further and send it back to the private sector, that’s even better.” King looked a bit surprised and followed up to make sure Romney was saying what he appeared to be saying. “Including disaster relief, though?” King asked. Romney answered affirmatively: “We cannot — we cannot afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future for our kids. It is simply immoral, in my view, for us to continue to rack up larger and larger debts and pass them on to our kids, knowing full well that we’ll all be dead and gone before it’s paid off. It makes no sense at all.”

A Romney spokesperson, in a vague statement to the Huffington Post last night, suggested that eliminating FEMA is still Romney’s position.

“Send it back to the states” is a typical conservative talking point, of course. But the states don’t inspire much confidence when it comes to emergency management. FEMA also has a budget of about $6 billion that would disappear from the total pool of money available for disaster relief if the agency were eliminated tomorrow, unless states raised their taxes to make up for the loss, something Romney and his party seem unlikely to support.

Romney, as a former governor, ought to know better.

This is how a federal disaster area gets declared: The governor of a state submits a letter to the local FEMA branch requesting help. “In this request the Governor certifies that the combined local, county and state resources are insufficient and that the situation is beyond their recovery capabilities,” according to FEMA. So every time a governor submits a request for assistance — and there were a record 99 disaster declarations in 2011 — they have to declare they are incapable of handling the situation on their own.

And Romney does know, firsthand. For example, there was a November 2006 chemical plant explosion in Danvers, Mass. “You know, we’ll be looking at what the requirements are from a, from a national standpoint. We do have FEMA here now … The needs of the state or it should be the needs here, if they can be met by the state, they will be. If it’s beyond the needs or the capability of the state, then we’ll go to the federal government,” he said at a press conference.

Several months before that, in May, Romney requested additional money from FEMA to deal with flooding in Lowell, Mass. Before that, in October 2005, Romney requested FEMA help for several counties affected by flooding. Etc. etc.

But perhaps it isn’t fair to criticize Romney over these instances, since he was merely operating under the existing system and naturally wanted to do everything he could do to help his state.

But the idea of sending things back to the state makes little sense if you think about it for even a second. Natural disasters frequently transcend political borders, affecting multiple states simultaneously. Absent a unified chain of command coordinating the response in affected areas, you’d get a patchwork of different responses and approaches, which may be very difficult to coordinate. Poorer states with a weaker tax base may be less able to respond adequately. A national agency can pool and transfer resources across the entire county in a way that states can’t — individual state may go years without a major disaster, whereas FEMA is always busy. There are plenty of legitimate criticisms of FEMA, especially after Hurricane Katrina, but they all relate to how it needs to be more effective, not less so.

In a nutshell, disaster preparedness hits at the whole point of having a federal government and federalism. It’s a pretty good illustration of how far to the right the GOP has shifted that Romney wants to send disaster relief to states despite that being an obviously terrible idea. And privatizing disaster relief is even scarier. Who will pay for that? How will contractors be held accountable? Other cases of largely privatized disaster relief have raised serious red flags.


By: Alex Seitz-Wald, Salon, October 29, 2012

October 30, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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