Tuesday, September 06, 2005

news worth watching

One reason why Countdown with Keith Olbermann is a news show worth watching

. September 5, 2005 | 8:58 p.m. ET

The "city" of Louisiana (Keith Olbermann)

SECAUCUS -- Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff said it all,
starting his news briefing Saturday afternoon: "Louisiana is a city that
is largely underwater..."

Well there's your problem right there.

If ever a slip-of-the-tongue defined a government's response to a
crisis, this was it.

The seeming definition of our time and our leaders had been their
insistence on slashing federal budgets for projects that might've saved
New Orleans. The seeming characterization of our government that it was
on vacation when the city was lost, and could barely tear itself away
from commemorating V.J. Day and watching Monty Python's Flying Circus,
to at least pretend to get back to work. The seeming identification of
these hapless bureaucrats: their pathetic use of the future tense in
terms of relief they could've brought last Monday and Tuesday -- like
the President, whose statements have looked like they're being
transmitted to us by some kind of four-day tape-delay.

But no. The incompetence and the ludicrous prioritization will forever
be symbolized by one gaffe by of the head of what is ironically called
"The Department of Homeland Security": "Louisiana is a city..."

Politician after politician -- Republican and Democrat alike -- has
paraded before us, unwilling or unable to shut off the "I-Me" switch in
their heads, condescendingly telling us about how moved they were or how
devastated they were -- congenitally incapable of telling the difference
between the destruction of a city and the opening of a supermarket.

And as that sorry recital of self-absorption dragged on, I have resisted
editorial comment. The focus needed to be on the efforts to save the
stranded -- even the internet's meager powers were correctly devoted to
telling the stories of the twin disasters, natural... and government-made.

But now, at least, it is has stopped getting exponentially worse in
Mississippi and Alabama and New Orleans and Louisiana (the state, not
the city). And, having given our leaders what we know now is the week or
so they need to get their act together, that period of editorial silence
I mentioned, should come to an end.

No one is suggesting that mayors or governors in the afflicted areas,
nor the federal government, should be able to stop hurricanes. Lord
knows, no one is suggesting that we should ever prioritize levee
improvement for a below-sea-level city, ahead of $454 million worth of
trophy bridges for the politicians of Alaska.

But, nationally, these are leaders who won re-election last year largely
by portraying their opponents as incapable of keeping the country safe.
These are leaders who regularly pressure the news media in this country
to report the reopening of a school or a power station in Iraq, and
defies its citizens not to stand up and cheer. Yet they couldn't even
keep one school or power station from being devastated by infrastructure
collapse in New Orleans -- even though the government had heard all the
"chatter" from the scientists and city planners and hurricane centers
and some group whose purposes the government couldn't quite discern... a
group called The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

And most chillingly of all, this is the Law and Order and Terror
government. It promised protection -- or at least amelioration --
against all threats: conventional, radiological, or biological.

It has just proved that it cannot save its citizens from a biological
weapon called standing water.

Mr. Bush has now twice insisted that, "we are not satisfied," with the
response to the manifold tragedies along the Gulf Coast. I wonder which
"we" he thinks he's speaking for on this point. Perhaps it's the
administration, although we still don't know where some of them are.
Anybody seen the Vice President lately? The man whose message this time
last year was, 'I'll Protect You, The Other Guy Will Let You Die'?

I don't know which 'we' Mr. Bush meant.

For many of this country's citizens, the mantra has been -- as we were
taught in Social Studies it should always be -- whether or not I voted
for this President -- he is still my President. I suspect anybody who
had to give him that benefit of the doubt stopped doing so last week. I
suspect a lot of his supporters, looking ahead to '08, are wondering how
they can distance themselves from the two words which will define his
government -- our government -- "New Orleans."

For him, it is a shame -- in all senses of the word. A few changes of
pronouns in there, and he might not have looked so much like a 21st
Century Marie Antoinette. All that was needed was just a quick "I'm not
satisfied with my government's response." Instead of hiding behind
phrases like "no one could have foreseen," had he only remembered
Winston Churchill's quote from the 1930's. "The responsibility," of
government, Churchill told the British Parliament "for the public safety
is absolute and requires no mandate. It is in fact, the prime object for
which governments come into existence."

In forgetting that, the current administration did not merely damage
itself -- it damaged our confidence in our ability to rely on whoever is
in the White House.

As we emphasized to you here all last week, the realities of the region
are such that New Orleans is going to be largely uninhabitable for a lot
longer <http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/9173582/> than anybody is yet
willing to recognize. Lord knows when the last body will be found, or
the last artifact of the levee break, dug up. Could be next March. Could
be 2100. By then, in the muck and toxic mire of New Orleans, they may
even find our government's credibility.

Somewhere, in the City of Louisiana.

E-mail: KOlbermann@msnbc.com <mailto:KOlbermann@msnbc.com>

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