Elephant Tours, Straight Ahead, Turn Left at the Sign

November 4, 2012

By Nancy Thorner and Edward Ingold –

It wasn’t too many years ago when FEMA, under President George W. Bush, was criticized for incompetence in handling of Katrina. The following statement submerged Bush in hot water for weeks: “You are doing a great job Brownie.”

FEMA has a long and somewhat tarnished history. It officially began in 1979 under President Carter as an extension of the largely obsolete Civil Defense System. It rose to a cabinet level position under Bill Clinton and as quickly submerged under various bureaucracies, ultimately in the Department of Homeland Security, in 2003, where it remains today. Envisioned as a a rapid response team to assist state emergency response teams with resources only the Federal Government could provide, that role is largely wishful thinking. We can see FEMA as the organizer of elephant rides in the Grand Canyon.

This is not entirely the fault of the Federal Government. FEMA, by law, awaits the formal request of the state governor before it can enter the scene. Politicians struggle, it would seem, to be as close as possible to the photographers, and as far as possible from reporters with embarrassing questions. Beware of “leaders” who stand up to take credit rather than give it, or assign blame rather than accept it!

Perhaps Mitt Romney was correct in stating he would end FEMA by putting it out of existence because of its incompetence, irrespective of the President. An article by Michael Tanner in the Wall Street Journal of Saturday 3, expressed how in disaster relief bigger government isn’t always better. After Hurricane Katrina FEMA spent $878 million on prefabricated homes. Thousands were left to rot.

Tanner went on to characterize FEMA as a centralized “command and control” approach to disaster relief it presumes. It presumes that only the experts in Washington, D.C., not state and local officials, and certainly not private charities — know best how to respond to local need and conditions. The bottom line is that big government is seldom the same as effective government. This applies to all areas of government.

That’s a lot to ask of President Obama, whose solution to every problem is more government, more regulations and more spending. Yet waiting in the wings is Obamacare which will take over 1/5 of this nation’s economy. What lies ahead promises to be a nightmare of bureaucracy inefficiency in which doctors, hospitals and health will suffer.

Now enters ‘Sandy’ whose fury packed a powerful and devastating punch on the state of New Jersey and in New York city where millions of Americans make their homes.

Initially all went well. President Obama staged photo ops with Chris Christie to advance his presidential image. Skipping town Obama was only too eager to continue what has been an endless campaign from the time he took office. Obama likewise declared that FEMA was ready. Governor Christie was quick to praise Obama’s storm efforts as being terrific.

But time does have a way of changing what first seemed to note only positive feedback for President Obama in handling the aftermath of Sandy. Reality is beginning to sink in. As of Saturday, November 3, fuel lines were long, tempers were short, and the NYC marathon had to be called off despite the Mayor’s protestations that the Marathon should go as a symbol of resolve.

Was the Mayor unaware that the tents for the runners would have to have generators for electricity and areas that were dry for camping? And what about hotel room for out-of-town visitors that are now filled with displaced residents. It’s also not clear how the runners would have gotten to the starting line unless they walked or swim. A little recreation will take people’s minds off of their tribulations. The Romans had their Circuses, the Parisians had to eat cake, and Mayor Bloomberg craved his New York marathon!

On November 3rd the death count had risen to 200 with nearly 4 million homes and businesses still without power. It was predicted that in some areas in New York’s immediate suburbs residents would possibly be facing another week of darkness and cold. Then there was the lack of food and water and living without the basics, often with little communication from the outside world.

According to an article by Michael Patrick Leahy on November 3rd, FEMA, with its “lean forward” strategy that called for advanced staging of supplies for emergency distribution, failed to live up to its billing in the aftermath of Sandy. Instead the agency appears to have been completely unprepared to distribute bottled water to Hurricane Sandy victims when the storm hit on Monday, October 29th. In contrast to its stated policy, FEMA “failed to have any meaningful supplies of bottled water — or many other supplies, for that matter — stored in nearby facilities as it had proclaimed it would on its website.”

To make matters worse, FEMA only put a bid out for water this past Friday, November 3rd, which might arrive by early next week. Evidently no one told the brain trust to go out and buy some water or other supplies. And, by the way, FEMA did have warning that a storm was coming to New York and New Jersey. Do you suppose we will have some trailers built for the cliff dwellers in Manhattan for temporary housing.

There are reports that utility trucks from Alabama, heading to New Jersey to assist in disaster relief, were turned away because they were non-union.Three companies were involved: Decatur Utilities, Huntsville Utilities and Joe Wheeler Cooperative.

All three companies deny they were turned away, and the IBEW in New Jersey says they welcome all outside assistance. However, the IBEW required non-union workers to sign some sort of agreement with the union before they would be allowed to work. While they were not, strictly speaking, turned away, the crews were unwilling to sign the union agreements, and returned to Alabama without rendering aid.

In a similar vein, foreign-made vessel, ships with foreign registry or foreign crews are not allowed to transport materials, including fuel, between ports of the United States. Ships can’t even be refurbished nor receive major repairs outside of the United States. This is in accordance with the Maritime Act of 1920, known as the “Jones Act.” Ostensibly to protect national security, it is mainly considered protection for maritime and longshoreman unions.

It is good fortune for storm-ravished residents that Jones Act requirement has been temporarily waived by the Federal Government due to the fuel shortage in the Northeast. It only took a week. Now if we could find electricity to pump the fuel, life would be good.

Mayor Bloomberg capped his performance when he denied a request from Brooklyn Borough President Markowitz for armed National Guard troops to patrol his streets to prevent widespread looting. The reason for the denial was Mayor Bloomberg’s ideological position on guns, except in the hands of his overworked, overstressed NYPD.

At a second FEMA photo op event on Saturday, November 3rd, as a demonstration of his “johnny on the spot” commitment to aggrieved hurricane victims, Obama refused to answer a reporter’s question about the mounting frustrations. Having some concern about the cries of help issuing form the storm victims, pausing to answer a question would have spoiled Obama’s photo op before quickly heading back out to campaign.

It is perhaps “Pollyanna” to hope that a synergy would develop between enduring joblessness, questions about Benghazi, and the struggle of the storm victims to convince those in denial that this country is really in bad shape. How can we be “moving in the right direction” when there are only a few thousand more people employed than in 2008, while nearly 11.2 million more potential workers have come of age. Is it the “right direction” when 171,000 jobs are created while 369,000 people file for unemployment for the first time each week? Our great quarterback, Obama, is facing the right goal post but walking backwards.

How much more evidence do the American people need to be party to before realizing that Government is not up to any task, save the military, and how our Commander in Chief is incompetent and over his head, with disdain for the military that reared its ugly head in the still unfolding Benghazi Consulate terrorist attack on 9/11.

The tail is wagging the dog. We are left to debate which is the dog and which is the tail. For now, this is the end of the tale.

Published at Illinois Review on Sunday, November 4, 2012.


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