Partisan politics storms in wake of Katrina's fury

October 04, 2005|By TIM ROWLAND


Once in a blue moon - make that a paisley moon - it pays to take a sunny afternoon and sit down with C-SPAN, which, as excitement goes, is generally the Paul Sarbanes of cable television.

I do know this: From now on, anytime I get wind that former FEMA chief Michael Brown is appearing on any television show, I am so there.

What a piece of work. Who does no work. Whose arguments need work.

Here's why Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans so much harder than it did Mississippi and Alabama: New Orleans' state of Louisiana has a Democratic governor, while Mississippi and Alabama have Republican governors. At least that's the deal according to Brownie.


Not that New Orleans was built in a sink. Not that New Orleans has more people. Not that New Orleans was directly in the path of the storm. No, New Orleans had more refugees because of a Democratic governor.

Wow. Who knew Katrina was a Republican? Houston better hope the South Atlantic doesn't elect any Democratic hurricanes.

Appearing before Congress last week, Brown was happy to sell out everybody, including the media, the military and the White House. Wasn't his fault, though. Oh, no.

Oops, wait a sec. According to the Washington Post, he does admit to two teeny, personal failures: 1.) He says he should have held regular media briefings instead of doing television appearances and 2.) he regrets he wasn't able to make the Louisiana politicians see that they were total morons.

Now that's being a man. If you are big enough and have broad enough shoulders to step forward and say "Yes, Congress, the buck stops here. I take full and complete responsibility for the fact that people who are of a different party than me are brain damaged," well, that to me is the definition of honor.

Brown, incidentally, punctuated his remarks by clenching his hand and poking a finger at the congressional panel.

Let's see, the last person who jabbed a finger at a congressional inquiry was Rafael Palmeiro. How'd that work out? All fine and dandy, I presume?

Of course, the former Arabian Horse Commissioner is probably right on this point: Once FEMA got swallowed up by the Department of Homeland Security, that effectively ended its effectiveness. Homeland Security, whose great accomplishment to date has been to get everyone to take their shoes off at the airport, seems to turn everything it touches into worms.

Speaking of Katrina, did I mention that I'm starting a pool? Out of the $250 billion or so that the feds will commit to rebuilding the area, how much of that will actually end up in the hands of the people, and how much will end up in the hands of special interests, real estate moguls, lawyers, mortgage companies, insurance companies, sham contractors, kickback artists and any other various and sundry political cronies who smell that sweet scent of easy government cash and line up for their piece of the pie?

Frankly, I would be stunned if the victims - the people you saw sitting on their roofs - get more than 20 percent. The government will be too busy helping the poor casino industry get back on its feet and shelling out tax breaks to any politically connected corporation that has ever set foot south of Arkansas.

I mean, the track record of effectiveness isn't good. When the government was trying to find spots for evacuees to stay, for example, the Post reports that FEMA (and I want to stress that this was not Michael Brown's fault) put together a $236 million agreement with Carnival Cruise Lines "for three ships that now bob half empty in the Mississippi River and Mobile Bay," where they are contracted to stay for six months.

Even at capacity (which they are nowhere near) this represents a per-evacuee price of $1,275 a week. If the government had simply gone ahead and booked a full-service, luxury, Western Caribbean cruise out of Galveston, it would only have cost us $599 per evacuee for seven days. And, as the Post dryly notes, "that would include entertainment and the cost of actually making the ship move."

Carnival, for its part, wants you to know that it is not profiteering from this arrangement, and the burden of having to accept a huge sum of money comes at a considerable risk, because for a moment there it looked as if the Miami-based Carnival might actually have to pay U.S. income taxes.

Understand, they were willing to help flood victims and all, but not if getting too close to the U.S. shores meant they would lose the illusion of operating solely on the high seas and thus their tax exemption. We can't pay taxes; who do you think we are, individual, working American citizens? A big corporation paying its fair share of taxes? Imagine.

Fortunately, Congress and the Bush administration are on the same side on this one. They'd never allow it to happen.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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