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Thursday, September 15, 2005

Compare and Contrast

Though Governor Haley Barbour seems quite happy with the Federal response in this state, and though both people and the press are talking about how he received preferential treatment from the president in the immediate aftermath of Katrina, the whole thing is a sham.

The real truth is simply that Barbour is, of course, a GOP Uber Alles type of hack; always has been, always will. That it becomes so plainly relevant and clear in the aftermath of this disaster is worst of all. The other day, USA Today examined the two different experiences --obviously partisan driven-- of the governors of Louisiana and Mississippi with regards to the federal response to FEMA. Whereas Gov. Blanco was in a never ending runaround and game of phone tag, trying desperately to reach the president while New Orleans filled with water, Barbour, my own unfortunate Governor--because of his tight bond with the administration--claims a much different state of affairs for him:

Barbour hasn't had to wait hours to talk to Bush. In fact, Barbour said in an interview with USA TODAY, the president called him three to four times in the wake of Katrina. "I never called him. He always called me," he said.
Wow, Gub'ner, aren't you so cool and special....Why, look, even your longtime partner in crime thinks you're the man:
Ed Rogers, Barbour's longtime friend and business partner, says Barbour "has a very sophisticated working knowledge of this administration and this city (Washington).

He knows what people can do and what they can't do. He knows who to call, and they know him."
Hey Ed, how's that war profiteering working out for ya? Bet you'd hate to see anyone do something as cowardly as set a timetable for withdrawl.

Anyway, we're to equate the Federal response to Katrina in Mississippi being what it is because of Haley's "in" with the current administration. We're so lucky. He's one of the boys., Why, he's a former RNC chairman and high-powered fat-cat lobbyist. And to hear him tell it, the Feds are doing a bang up job:
The onetime party leader declined to comment on Republican plans to push for tax cuts despite mounting federal deficits driven by Katrina and the Iraq war.

"I just haven't got anything to do with it," he says of the national agenda. "I got a full-time job down here."

Upbeat and good-natured, Barbour also has refused to express much frustration with a federal relief operation even Bush acknowledged was flawed. He repeatedly says the federal government has been "a good partner."

Bush offered Mississippi as well as Louisiana a federal takeover of relief efforts. "I told him we didn't need it," Barbour says, "that we were doing well."
I've noted earlier Barbour's satisfaction with the federal relief efforts on the coast, and he's the first one to applaud their efforts as thorough and satisfactory. It's 'cause he and the Pres are such close buds, y'see.

Meanwhile, back in the Reality Based Community, people are screwed. We keep reading first-hand accounts that clash wildly with Haley's assertions, such as this piece by Karen Lash, an attorney who went down to the Mississippi Coast to offer free legal assistance to hurricane victims, writing in Salon yesterday:
[...] when I arrived in Gulfport on Saturday, I was simply not prepared for what I saw. Chaos, devastation and an apparent inability to deliver the most basic help to so many people in so much despair. It was day 13 after Katrina struck, and no one was coordinating the relief effort in one of the poorest communities along the coast.

We never found a resident who had ever seen even one FEMA official. No one had been able to successfully complete "Registration Intake" via the talebearer number. Most people we met still didn't have electricity or phone service. We finally heard of one man who got through to FEMA -- at 2:30 a.m. But when asked for insurance information he didn't have and didn't know how he could get since he'd lost everything and had no place else to turn, he just broke down and cried. The bureaucracy was killing him.

FEMA and signs of the federal response Haley crows about are still nowhere to be found for a great many Mississippians. People are scrounging for the most basic life-sustaining supplies. The "faith-based administration" has left it to the churches to pick up their slack. And party hack Barbour is only too willing to play along. Far be it from him to cast aspersions on Bush. No, there's too much at stake here.

The fate of his fellow Mississippians? Well, not exactly:
Barbour, 57, took a 20-year detour to Washington, where he developed close ties to President Bush and other important Republicans as a White House political director, national party chairman and high-powered lobbyist.

He's said and done nothing in the past two weeks that stands to damage a career that could be headed for a White House bid. "He's managing to at least look authoritative," says Marty Wiseman, executive director of the Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University. "So far, he gets a passing grade from most people."

New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani set the standard for disaster management after 9/11, projecting a compelling mix of command and vulnerability. Some analysts liken Barbour to Giuliani.

Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, calls Barbour "the only political figure to gain" from the Katrina fiasco. "A Giuliani-Barbour ticket in 2008? Or is it Barbour-Giuliani?" he wondered.
As if. We have a strong sense of memory in the South. It's inherent, nearly genetic. More from Lash:
We stopped first at the Good Deeds Community Center, which was serving hot meals and distributing donated goods to hundreds of North Gulfport and Turkey Creek residents. Red Cross volunteers told us the Florida church that had been feeding more than 600 residents two hot meals a day was leaving on Sunday and asked if we could track down another mobile kitchen. Without a second thought, we set out to help. But this was crucial stuff. Why were we doing it? Where was FEMA?

That effort had us going to area churches -- where we found similar stories. Arkansas church members set up at the Grace Memorial Baptist Church had been serving up hundreds of hot meals since Thursday. They were almost out of food, leaving on Monday, but offered us their several hundred peanut butter and jelly sandwich surplus. We gratefully took it.

Another church in Ocean Springs didn't have a kitchen or cleaning supplies but could send new clothes and canned goods in a truck returning to Kentucky. Everywhere we went people asked for bleach -- both to kill the bacteria from raw sewage so they could safely take a bath, and also to stop the spread of black mold that was swallowing the walls of those fortunate enough to still have a home.

The sympathetic workers in the county courthouse had few ideas for us. When asked where FEMA was, one responded, "Your guess is as good as mine."

Yeah. Your guess is as good as mine. But all is fine with the Governor. God forbid he should try to leverage that smarmy influence for the betterment of those who are supposedly his people.

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