Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Bush’s Final Presser: Redefining Success, One Rooftop Rescue at a Time

Still-President George W. Bush, looking on Monday morning like most of America now feels, stood before the White House press corps one last time to express his undying gratitude for their piss-poor performance during his eight-years in office. From groggy start to rambling finish, it was a jaw-dropping performance.

In keeping with a long-standing pattern, Bush repeatedly “admitted” that his “rhetoric” might not have been right (“Obviously, some of my rhetoric has been a mistake.”). All the deeds were fine; he just didn’t sell them well. For the Boy King, this has always been the PR presidency; he is now just more loose-lipped about it. Like with so many crappy, Peter-Principled CEO types, he has made the strategy the tactic.

In that vain vein, the most startling moment to my ear and eye was Bush’s perception of his failure to respond to Hurricane Katrina with anything resembling appropriate gravity:

Don't tell me the federal response was slow when there was 30,000 people pulled off roofs right after the storm passed.

You know, I remember going to see those helicopter drivers, Coast Guard drivers, to thank them. . .

Wait, hang on—I just have to interrupt for minute: “Helicopter drivers?” “Coast Guard Drivers?”

I think we call them “pilots.”

OK, carry on. . . .

You know, I remember going to see those helicopter drivers, Coast Guard drivers, to thank them for their courageous efforts to rescue people off roofs -- 30,000 people were pulled off roofs right after the storm moved through. That's a pretty quick response.

Could things have been done better? Absolutely. Absolutely.

But when I hear people say the federal response was slow, then what are they going to say to those chopper drivers or the 30,000 that got pulled off the roofs?

Amazing, right? It doesn’t even occur to Bush that having to pull people off of roofs is wholly emblematic of the slow response. Last time I checked, the standard advice when faced with a big hurricane is not “First, get on your roof.”

As for the levees breaking, the floods, well, “no one could have anticipated. . .” except, well, um:

In the 48 hours before Hurricane Katrina hit, the White House received detailed warnings about the storm's likely impact, including eerily prescient predictions of breached levees, massive flooding, and major losses of life and property, documents show.

A 41-page assessment by the Department of Homeland Security's National Infrastructure Simulation and Analysis Center (NISAC), was delivered by e-mail to the White House's "situation room," the nerve center where crises are handled, at 1:47 a.m. on Aug. 29, the day the storm hit, according to an e-mail cover sheet accompanying the document.

The NISAC paper warned that a storm of Katrina's size would "likely lead to severe flooding and/or levee breaching" and specifically noted the potential for levee failures along Lake Pontchartrain. . . .

In a second document. . . a computer slide presentation by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, prepared for a 9 a.m. meeting on Aug. 27, two days before Katrina made landfall, compared Katrina's likely impact to that of "Hurricane Pam," a fictional Category 3 storm used in a series of FEMA disaster-preparedness exercises simulating the effects of a major hurricane striking New Orleans. But Katrina, the report warned, could be worse.

The hurricane's Category 4 storm surge "could greatly overtop levees and protective systems" and destroy nearly 90 percent of city structures, the FEMA report said. It further predicted "incredible search and rescue needs (60,000-plus)" and the displacement of more than a million residents.

So, that’s four days notice—or six days before those helicopter drivers got to work—but the “Hurricane Pam” simulation, that was done a full year before Katrina.

But why stop there? Bush was actually warned about the problem with the New Orleans levees over four years before Katrina; his response:

Funding for flood prevention was slashed by 80 per cent, work on strengthening levees to protect the city was stopped for the first time in 37 years, and planning for housing stranded citizens and evacuating refugees from the Superdome were crippled. Yet the administration had been warned repeatedly of the dangers by its own officials.

In early 2001, at the start of Mr Bush's presidency, his Government's Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) warned that a hurricane hitting New Orleans would be the deadliest of the three most likely catastrophes facing America; the others were a massive San Francisco earthquake and, prophetically, a terrorist attack on New York.

So, I guess, in a manner of speaking, his “response” wasn’t slow at all—Bush laid the groundwork for those wonderful rooftop photo-ops four years in advance.

This sort of truth-squading could be done with just about every response Bush gave in his presser. And it should be done, not just today, but for every instance of Bush legacy burnishing we will be forced to endure, push back on, fight, and re-fight for many years to come. Though it might be rare to see the burnishing this unvarnished, it has been made apparent from these instant re-writes on current events, through the neocons’ Vietnam revisionism, to the recent attempts to trash-talk the New Deal that nothing is safe or sacred.

Certainly not the truth.

. . . .

On a related point, nothing exemplifies just what a petty, egomaniacal, vindictive jerk this president was, is, and will always be than his treatment Helen Thomas. Bush had stopped calling on Thomas long ago, the White House press office even tried to take away her front row seat—a “punishment” for asking tough questions—but to not give her the honor of the first or last question at his final presser was, to my mind, classless.

cross-posted on Firedoglake

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