“We will stay until the job is done,” President Bush said today about the Gulf Coast, which is the same thing he said earlier this week about Iraq. But isn’t it odd that he speaks about a region of the U.S. the same way he speaks about a foreign country? “We” will “stay” in the Gulf Coast until the job is done? The Gulf Coast is home; it’s us. We’re staying whether the “job” gets done or not.
[Update: Josh Marshall noticed the same thing —
Commenting on Katrina recovery Saturday in his weekly radio address, the President sounded as if he were reading from one of his Iraq speeches by mistake: “We will stay until the job is done.” Well, it’s not as if the federal government can hightail it out of Louisiana or Mississippi. Where would it go exactly?
The further implication of the President’s remarks is that the federal government was not present before Katrina struck, an absurd and offensive suggestion. New Orleans would not have existed as a modern city if not for the Army Corps of Engineers. The President would have us believe that the federal government came to the rescue after this natural disaster, albeit a bit late. In fact, the Corps and decades of federal flood control policy played a pivotal role in what was a manmade disaster in New Orleans–the failure of the levee system. (No one has done a better job of banging this drum than Harry Shearer, the actor, comedian, author, media critic, and sometime journalist.)
It was a really weird thing to say, even for Bush.]
Frank Rich, behind the New York Times subscription firewall [Update: Here’s the column outside the firewall.]
The ineptitude bared by the storm â€” no planning for a widely predicted catastrophe, no attempt to secure a city besieged by looting, no strategy for anything except spin â€” is indelible. New Orleans was Iraq redux with an all-American cast. The discrepancy between Mr. Bushâ€™s â€œheckuva jobâ€ shtick and the reality on the ground induced a Cronkite-in-Vietnam epiphany for news anchors. At long last they and the country demanded answers to the questions about the administrationâ€™s competence that had been soft-pedaled two years earlier when the war first went south.
And the same federal contractors that soaked up billions in tax dollars to not reconstruct Iraq are getting more billions to not reconstruct the Gulf Coast.
A year after the storm, the reconstruction of New Orleans echoes our reconstruction of Baghdad. A â€œtruth squadâ€ of House Democrats has cataloged the â€œwaste, fraud, abuse or mismanagementâ€ in $8.75 billion worth of contracts, most of which were awarded noncompetitively. Only 60 percent of the city has electricity. Half of the hospitals and three-quarters of the child-care centers remain closed. Violent crime is on the rise. Less than half of the population has returned.
Let the cameras roll:
Whatâ€™s amazing on Katrinaâ€™s first anniversary is how little Mr. Bush seems aware of this change in the political weather. Heâ€™s still in a bubble. At last weekâ€™s White House press conference, he sounded as petulant as Tom Cruise on the â€œTodayâ€ show when Matt Lauer challenged him about his boorish criticism of Brooke Shields. Asked what Iraq had to do with the attack on the World Trade Center, Mr. Bush testily responded, â€œNothing,â€ adding that â€œnobody has ever suggested in this administration that Saddam Hussein ordered the attacks.â€ Like the emasculated movie star, the president is still so infatuated with his own myth that he believes the public will buy such nonsense. …
… with no plan for salvaging either of the catastrophes on his watch, this president can no sooner recover his credibility by putting on an elaborate show of sermonizing and spin this week than Mr. Cruise could levitate his image by jumping up and down on Oprahâ€™s couch. While the White Houseâ€™s latest screenplay may have been conceived as â€œMission Accomplished II,â€ what weâ€™re likely to see play out in New Orleans wonâ€™t even be a patch on â€œMission: Impossible III.â€
Ann M. Simmons, Richard Fausset and Stephen Braun write for the Los Angeles Times that the Katrina disaster isn’t something that happened a year ago; it is ongoing.
Despite four emergency spending bills passed by Congress to provide more than $110 billion in aid, federal agencies have spent only $44 billion. Even as President Bush insisted last week that “$110 billion is a strong commitment,” he conceded that the recovery effort was plagued with “bureaucratic hurdles.”
The scale of the catastrophe continues to overwhelm the government’s capacity to respond. Aid agencies only now are contending with the long-term needs of hundreds of thousands of evacuees and with the landscape of shattered houses and public infrastructure that will take years to restore.
Many homeowners and business owners have waited impatiently for promised grants and loans as federal and state officials have spent months dickering over how much and where to spend aid — and officials remain at odds over who bears the blame for the inconsistent flow of Katrina aid. …
… But after a year of fielding constituents’ pleas for help, U.S. Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., said, “We’re seeing the same thing going on with the recovery as we did with the immediate response. We’re going through another unfolding disaster.”
Until last week, when the White House Office of Management and Budget released an agencywide breakdown of recovery spending, the administration had not provided a clear overview of how the money was being doled out. For much of the year, elected officials, government auditors and outside experts had to rely on fragmentary indicators of the pace of recovery spending, which handicapped efforts to monitor the process.
“It’s not only that we don’t know what’s been spent. We haven’t even had an accurate description of what ‘spent’ means,” said Rob Nabors, Democratic staff director for the House Appropriations Committee. “They talk about ‘commitments’ and ‘obligations’ — they’ve invented new terms for not spending money.”
Somebody better watch ’em to be sure Katrina money isn’t ending up in the Middle East somewhere.