AMERICAN PROGRESS ACTION FUND
The Progress Report
by Judd Legum, Faiz Shakir, Nico Pitney, and Christy Harvey
For news and updates throughout the day, check out our new blog at ThinkProgress.org.
HOW TO HELP: If you would like to donate and/or volunteer to help victims of Hurricane Katrina, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has suggested a list of charities you should contact.
Bush Asks Not
Speaking to a nation that was in the midst of confronting monumental challenges such as poverty and war, President John F. Kennedy said in his 1961 inaugural address, "My fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country ... ask of us here the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you." Speaking from the Rose Garden to a nation that is simultaneously fighting a war and dealing with perhaps the greatest natural disaster in U.S. history, President George W. Bush failed to issue any such call for sacrifice. The New York Times writes in an editorial, "Sacrifices may be necessary to make sure that all these things happen in an orderly, efficient way. But this administration has never been one to counsel sacrifice."
BUSH COULD SACRIFICE TAX CUTS FOR THE WEALTHY: Marshall Loeb, editor of Money and Fortune magazines, writes, "The President could show that he, too, is prepared to sacrifice for Katrina's victims, perhaps by rolling back some of his planned tax cuts. The nation can ill afford to pay for a war, tax reductions and this disaster recovery at the same time." But Bush has given no indications he will back off his ideological agenda of more tax cuts which primarily benefit the wealthy. Pete Peterson, former secretary of Commerce under Nixon, wrote, "After 9/11, [the administration] faced a choice between tax cuts and getting serious about the extensive measures needed to protect this nation against further terrorist attacks. They chose tax cuts." And again, as the Iraq war commenced, Bush faced a similar choice. But catering to the arguments of conservative ideologues like Tom DeLay, who argued, "Nothing is more important in the face of a war than cutting taxes," Bush again failed to call for sacrifice and instead chose tax cuts. Despite the devastating economic impact of Katrina, conservatives are already positioning themselves for a vote next Tuesday on the next priority item: repealing the estate tax -- a tax paid by the wealthiest one percent of Americans who inherit at least $1.5 million.
BUSH COULD CALL FOR CONSERVATION: The president of American Petroleum Institute, Red Cavaney, said, "The impact of this devastating storm on oil and natural gas operations will be significant and protracted.... Let us understand: This is not an easy thing." His solution? "Right now would be a good time for everybody to sort of ramp up your energy conservation," Cavaney said, even offering energy-saving tips which could help increase fuel efficiency. AAA is also urging motorists to drive less and conserve fuel. President Bush had an opportunity yesterday to publicly elevate the need for energy conservation, but failed to make the call for sacrifice. Bush implored citizens to "understand this storm has disrupted the capacity to make gasoline and distribute gasoline" but offered no suggestions as to how Americans should cope with the crisis. He should take his cue from Gov. Mike Easley of North Carolina, who said recently, "I am asking all North Carolinians to conserve gas."
IF YOU ASK, THEY WILL RESPOND: Shortly after the attacks of 9/11, Sen. John McCain complained, "After 9/11, people wanted to serve and they were told to go shopping or get on an airplane.... That's not the answer they wanted to hear. This is an opportunity to serve." Americans have demonstrated time and again that, in the face of tragedy, they will respond with true compassion. Already, the Red Cross has announced that it has collected $21 million in donations for the victims of Katrina, "a figure comparable to the response for tsunami victims following the devastation in Asia earlier this year." "The outpouring of support has been amazing," said Kara Bunte, a spokeswoman for the Red Cross. "People are now starting to see the images on TV and want to help." Americans also responded with amazing compassion in the two months following 9/11, providing approximately 1.6 million blood donations and contributing over $1.3 million to charities and relief agencies. Americans can and will do more to sacrifice; they simply need a president who will ask.
Questions of Preparedness
Hurricane Katrina will likely be the worst natural disaster in our nation's history. If indeed thousands have perished, as New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin predicted yesterday, it will also be the deadliest natural disaster in the United States in at least a century, since the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. And as one Louisiana paper put it, "No one can say they didn't see it coming." There have been "decades of repeated warnings about a breach of levees or failure of drainage systems that protect New Orleans from the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain." It's "inappropriate to 'blame' anyone for a natural disaster," the Washington Post rightly observes. "But given how frequently the impact of this one was predicted, and given the scale of the economic and human catastrophe that has resulted, it is certainly fair to ask questions about disaster preparations." Below, a few of those questions:
WHERE WERE THE PLANS FOR EMERGENCY DISASTER RELIEF?: The response to Hurricane Katrina "is exposing serious failures by government leaders and crisis planners before Katrina's arrival and flawed execution by relief agencies as the disaster unfolded," the Wall Street Journal reports this morning. Communication failures have been widespread, local officials "found they lacked critical equipment and materials to use in repairs if levees breached," and even "basic emergency management" has been lacking. For instance, former FEMA chief James Lee Witt told reporters yesterday that "in the 1990s, in planning for a New Orleans nightmare scenario, the federal government figured it would pre-deploy nearby ships with pumps to remove water from the below-sea-level city and have hospital ships nearby." Now federal officials say a hospital ship won't leave its port in Baltimore until tomorrow, and isn't expected to arrive for seven days. "These things need to be planned and prepared for; it just doesn't look like it was," Witt said. Other reporters offered a chilling, first-hand perspective: "[A] striking feature of the situation there was the scant presence of civil authority. We did see police controlling some intersections but we saw no military authority and no Red Cross or other health authority. It did not appear that any disaster center had been established by the authorities to communicate with the public. There appeared to be very little, if any, response yet to the enormous challenge of housing, feeding and supporting a devastated population."
WHY WAS GULF COAST DISASTER PREPARATION SUCH A LOW PRIORITY?: The planning failures were not limited to the short-term emergency response. As Louisiana Rep. Bobby Jindal (R), one of three members of Congress whose homes were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, said yesterday: "If we had been investing resources in restoring our coast, it wouldn't have prevented the storm but the barrier islands would have absorbed some of the tidal surge." Unfortunately, the resources were not invested -- either in coastal restoration or the levees -- despite years of pleas. On June 8, 2004, the emergency management chief for Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, complained about a lack of funding for the levees, a long stretch of which had sunk by four feet: "It appears that the money has been moved in the president's budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that's the price we pay. Nobody locally is happy that the levees can't be finished, and we are doing everything we can to make the case that this is a security issue for us." The money never came through, and last year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers "essentially stopped major work" on the levee system that has now been breached. "It was the first such stoppage in 37 years." Additionally, federal flood control spending for southeastern Louisiana was "chopped from $69 million in 2001 to $36.5 million in 2005," Knight-Ridder reports, even as "federal hurricane protection for the Lake Pontchartrain vicinity in the Army Corps of Engineers' budget dropped from $14.25 million in 2002 to $5.7 million this year." The cuts were strenuously opposed by Louisiana representatives, who "urged Congress earlier this year to dedicate a stream of federal money to Louisiana's coast, only to be opposed by the White House."
WHY WERE FEMA'S PREPAREDNESS MISSIONS DISMANTLED?: "The advent of the Bush administration in January 2001 signaled the beginning of the end for FEMA," one expert writes. In particular, the White House targeted the agency's "mitigation" programs -- "the measures taken in advance to minimize the damage caused by natural disasters" -- which emergency specialists consider "a crucial part of the strategy to save lives and cut recovery costs." Shortly after coming into office, "key federal disaster mitigation programs, developed over many years, [were] slashed and tossed aside." FEMA's Project Impact, "a model mitigation program created by the Clinton administration," was canceled outright by the Bush administration on February 28, 2001 -- ironically, the very same day of the 6.8 magnitude Nisqually earthquake in Washington state, which provided one of the "best examples of the impact the program had" in protecting people. Indeed, FEMA employees were officially "directed not to become involved in disaster preparedness functions, since a new directorate (yet to be established) will have that mission."
WHY WERE INEXPERIENCED POLITICAL APPOINTEES PICKED TO HEAD FEMA?: Since taking office, President Bush "has appointed, in succession, his 2000 campaign manager and an Oklahoma lawyer whose only emergency management experience prior to joining FEMA was as an assistant city manager." According to one emergency expert, these officials "showed little interest in its work or in the missions pursued by the departed [former FEMA chief James Lee Witt]," who led emergency management in Arkansas and "reoriented FEMA from civil defense preparations to a focus on natural disaster preparedness and disaster mitigation." Indeed, Washington Monthly editor Daniel Franklin yesterday noted, "The difficulties of coordination seem to indicate we've returned to the bad old days where the FEMA administrator position is given away on the basis of political favor, rather than hard experience."
UNDER THE RADAR
IRAQ -- 1000 DIE IN STAMPEDE: According to government officials, "Up to 1,000 Iraqi Shi'ites might have died in a stampede on a Tigris River bridge in Baghdad on Wednesday, panicked by rumors a suicide bomber was about to blow himself up." The majority of the victims "were women and children who 'died by drowning or being trampled' after panic swept a throng of thousands as they headed to a religious ceremony." The tragic deaths come at a time when "[t]ensions are high among Iraq's rival religious and ethnic communities ahead of a referendum on a new constitution for the post-Saddam Hussein era."
PUBLIC HEALTH -- OFFICIAL QUITS IN PROTEST OF PLAN B DELAY: The Washington Post reports that Susan Wood, assistant FDA commissioner for women's health, "resigned yesterday in protest against the agency's decision to further delay a final ruling on whether the 'morning-after pill' should be made more easily accessible." In an e-mail, Wood said, "I can no longer serve as staff when scientific and clinical evidence, fully evaluated and recommended for approval by the professional staff here, has been overruled." Agency experts believe that making the morning-after pill available over the counter would "significantly cut the number of abortions and unintended pregnancies."
PUBLIC OPINION -- NEW POLL FINDS APPROVAL FOR BUSH AT NEW LOW: A new ABC/Washington Post poll "found Bush's job approval rating at 45 percent, down seven points since January and the lowest ever recorded for the president in Post-ABC surveys." According to the poll, "Fifty-three percent disapproved of the job Bush is doing." Displeasure with the Iraq war and high gas prices have dragged down the president's approval rating.
UNITED NATIONS -- REST ASSURED, BOLTON HAS HIS PEN IN HIS POCKET: Bolton has come under a flurry of criticism for voicing opposing "objectives covering poverty, hunger, education, health, the environment and humanitarian intervention" in an important U.N. document called the "millennium development goals." Jeffrey D. Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, said, "[t]he United States came in a few days ago essentially to try to gut this document. Their purpose is clear: to try to eliminate the momentum behind the millennium development goals and to wriggle free of the commitments they have made." Bolton, displaying his usual bravado, disputed that assessment: "we are going to rock and roll for a couple weeks and see how it goes. I've got my pen in my pocket and I'm ready to go, and I'll be ready tonight and I'll be ready over the weekend. We can make this deadline, and we can get a strong outcome document."
SUPREME COURT: Roberts and the court-stripping movement.
KATRINA: Seven questions from the WashingtonPost.com's Dan Froomkin.
GAS PRICES: The state response.
"I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees." - George W. Bush, Good Morning America, 9/1/05
"It appears that the money has been moved in the president's budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that's the price we pay. Nobody locally is happy that the levees can't be finished, and we are doing everything we can to make the case that this is a security issue for us." -- Walter Maestri, emergency management chief for Jefferson Parish, LA, 6/8/04
The Heritage Foundation argues that increasing poverty means we need more tax cuts for the wealthy.