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15.12.05

Stuck on stupid XI: Blanco tries to catch flies with vinegar

Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin’s testimonies in front of the House committee investigating the hurricane Katrina disaster and the aftermath featured a tug of war of sorts, where the testifiers seemed to have one agenda, while the questioners had another. While some may call it political posturing, that misses the point that its leaders living in denial makes the state a poor risk in the investment in its recovery.

Testimony from Blanco and Nagin, both Democrats in front of a committee on which the House Democrat leadership has prohibited its members to serve (but permitting them to make kooky inquiries or grandstanding requests), primarily sought to put their governments’ behavior in the best light possible as a prerequisite to being given funding by the federal government, while simultaneously shifting blame to the federal government. Their Republican questioners stuck more closely to the committee’s actual purpose, which is to study the development, coordination, and execution by local, state, and federal authorities of emergency response plans and other activities in preparation for Hurricane Katrina; and the local, state, and federal government response to Hurricane Katrina.

In particular, Blanco’s testimony (her actual testimony differed in small but significant ways from her pre-hearing published remarks, such as with her lie about not taking “executive privilege”) should be reviewed relative to that of Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour’s the week before. The Republican Barbour made hardly any mention of justifying his state’s response to the storm largely because he didn’t need to. By contrast, Blanco came off as very defensive, and especially in her answering of questions petulant and demanding.

So when Barbour asked the federal government to do more and more quickly for Mississippi, he got a largely favorable response from the committee. By contrast, both Blanco and Nagin received withering questions and comments. Blanco in particular seemed convinced that one can catch more flies with vinegar than with honey, by the pugnacious tone and words of her responses to queries about evacuation plans not followed, communications breakdowns, and failures to act in a timely fashion, bringing in partisan political attacks (such concerning the war in Iraq) at times.

(Nagin, now widely seen as an eccentric with no chance of reelection, further cemented that reputation by indulging racist conspiracy nut Rep. Cynthia McKinney’s fantasies about racial discrimination in response. The condemned enjoy special dispensation to say or do whatever they can get away with.)

But Blanco’s intemperance didn’t stop there. She also found openings with which to whine about having to pay Louisiana’s relatively small share of reconstruction costs (and managed to tell another lie in the process). And she’s doing it outside of the committee was well, such as in today’s letter to Sen. David Vitter where she complains of a double standard between treatment for Louisiana and Mississippi.

Clearly, Blanco neither is informed of the Golden Rule, nor does she begin to grasp that Congress has legitimate concerns about handing over huge sums to money to a political administration and legislative majority whose past record more often promotes politics rather than performance. She cannot understand this because she is so thoroughly part of that ethos. And if nothing else, the tone of the hearings should serve as another wake-up call that “donor fatigue” is present precisely because a growing segment of the country understands this fundamental dysfunction of Louisiana’s noxious mix of liberalism and populism that infuses its government at all levels – a notion she did nothing to dispel, by her words or demeanor, during her appearance.

Given the state’s ills of political patronage to ill-advised spending priorities and everything in between, the last thing Blanco needs to be doing is casting critical and misleading stones at her presumed benefactors when she lives in such a thoroughly glass house to begin with. It shows a desire to continue to live in denial, to stay stuck on stupid, and does not exactly build confidence in the state with the rest of the country.

It’s been a bad week for Blanco, who looked partisan in accepting the recommendation to push back elections in Orleans Parish (even as they will be held on time in even more-devastated St. Bernard Parish), like an opportunist with her watered-down version of levee governance reform, and ineffective in front of the committee in both coping with Katrina and in encouraging federal government assistance after the storm. I’m afraid it’ll be up to more capable folks outside of the Blanco Administration to provide the leadership to help Louisiana recover.

14.12.05

Blanco's confused, mendacious testimony serves Louisiana poorly

In the grand scheme of things, Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s confusion and mendacity in her testimony to the U.S. House’s committee investigating the Hurricane Katrina disaster will serve the state poorly in its quest for federal help to rebuild.

In some parts of her testimony, Blanco seemed confused. Before she made a statement about how she “would not be here today if the levees had not failed,” she said, “What happened to us this year can only be described as a catastrophe of Biblical proportions.” But those kinds of calamities to which she refers were visited upon certain persons and peoples by God because of their wickedness. Is she implying Louisiana was wicked, and how can she square that comment with hers that the catastrophe was man-made because of levee failure? (Obviously, her speechwriters need to do their homework and think more clearly through their arguments.)

Also, she mistakenly called “bold” the recent initiatives that she cultivated through the legislative special session. Finally getting a uniform hurricane-resistant building code isn’t “bold,” it’s common sense that should have prevailed long ago. Taking over failing Orleans schools is necessary, but stands independently of the disaster. Budget cuts at the margins rather than restructuring is timid. And the truly bold changes that needed to be made, such as meaningful levee governance reform, she refused to support.

She also showed just how ignorant she was concerning the entire flood control issue before the hurricane by responding to a question about whether levees were adequately maintained with “Before Katrina I would have said yes. Now, I would say no.” Blanco appointed members to levee boards; how could she not demand accountability from those people and fool her into thinking things were adequate? Maybe because, despite pious words from her about how patronage needs to be removed from levee governance, only days ago she acted as the hatchet woman for Kenner mayor Aaron Broussard over a political dispute regarding Broussard’s handling of the disaster. All of this suggests that Blanco’s “commitment” to real levee governance reform is as a result of declining poll numbers, not from genuine desire.

(And, in one question not yet picked up in the media reports, after she said Congress needed to provide more funds to coordinate emergency response communications, she had no good answer when asked about the over $100 million sent to the state in recent years to be spent for this purpose, why only a fraction has been spent on the matter.)

Blanco also managed to slip in a few outright falsehoods into her testimony:

Blanco lie: “I have sent over 100,000 documents supporting the state’s actions. I chose not to take executive privilege.”

Truth: At least in spirit, since there is no real equivalent in Louisiana to the federal government concept of “executive privilege” (the idea that separation of powers would be violated by the legislature’s ability too intrusively to request information from the president). Blanco redacted some information and refused to turn over other relevant information such as her own e-mail communications.

Blanco lie: “We had to evacuate several low-lying areas prior to Orleans. That evacuation began early Saturday. It took a lot of courage to follow that plan. [New Orleans] Mayor [Ray] Nagin followed the plan.”

Truth: Nagin most certainly did not, if anybody in New Orleans or Baton Rouge, Blanco included, even knew what the plan was given its vagueness.

Blanco lie (in response to a question “[w]hen [the] federal government offered to help, you didn't want them to”): “I never rejected federal assistance.”

Truth: Blanco rejected immediate federal troop deployment when offered because she did not want to lose control over Louisiana National Guard resources. She dallied for about a day before deciding she did not want unified command, turning down the federal government conditions (the offer itself being delayed because she was imprecise in her request and because she may have thought she had made it but no primary record of it having been made exists.)

(Blanco does give a plausible reason for resisting the idea of unified troop command under the federal government, that the Guard no longer could have performed law enforcement duties. But the reason that became necessary is that she and Nagin acted way too conciliatory towards looting in the first couple of days after the levees broke in Orleans. A tough response immediately might have negated the later need for troops for law enforcement.)

Despite what some may think, Members of Congress (particularly of the majority Republicans as demonstrated by the continued nutty comments coming from the only non-Louisiana Democrat permitted by Democrat leaders to serve on the committee, Rep. Cynthia McKinney) are not idiots and they know the facts. Unfortunately, the most looming truth of all is Blanco, given her past and present record amplified by the content of her remarks, is a bad bet to utilize well the resources to rebuild the state, and that makes Congress wary. So all her testimony really did was to more fully expose her shortcomings as a leader even as she tried to use the opportunity to revive her quickly-ebbing political power and career.

13.12.05

Blanco closes barn door, runs after levee reform horse

In a classic example of closing the barn door after the horse gets out, Gov. Kathleen Blanco over the weekend suddenly decided she was all for consolidation of powers and functions of the disparate levee boards in the state. She didn’t mention whether the fact the state had been under withering criticism since she made no effort to help support a similar measure in the last special session, state Sen. Walter Boasso’s SB 95, had anything to do with her change of heart.

Blanco even asserted she was now going one better by asking her newly created, do-little-or-nothing Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, which previously she thought was all that was needed to bring efficiency and effectiveness to the process of building and maintaining levees in the state, to reinvent the wheel by coming up with legislation to combine districts and their governance in the form of a constitutional amendment. SB 95 only intended a statutory solution which just needs a majority vote as opposed to the two-thirds in the Legislature for an amendment, the latter of which the governor crowed was better because it was harder to undo.

Given that SB 95 passed the Senate unanimously and that nothing along these lines, whether requiring a simple or two-thirds majority, would pass the House without Blanco’s active support, as long as she does give her support it doesn’t look like it would be undone anytime soon and, like all bureaucratic institutions, would be difficult to eliminate after a short period of time. This is a classic example of a straw man argument, arguing a point that doesn’t really exist. That is, whatever improvements Blanco claims to be bringing to the idea now she could have brought during the past special session.

12.12.05

Democrats, media egg on Blanco to poor storm response

Unfortunately, part of the delayed response to the Hurricane Katrina disaster came because of the need to wait out a political mating dance, one which might have been expedited had Louisiana a different governor of a different political party.

Gov. Kathleen Blanco neither is bold nor leads particularly well, qualities which served her poorly in the aftermath of the storm. But it certainly didn’t help that her administration seemed overly sensitive about the political implications and ramifications of her actions.

And two things caused her to impose an absurdly partisan lens on the entire episode, including the decisions about getting regular federal armed forces into the state that delayed such response. First, the liberal mainstream media felt moved to “tip her off” about what they saw as the Pres. George W. Bush Administration’s motive. Do we need any more proof about the motives of the media and its biases in this country than this sorry episode? Not only did media figures feel compelled to contact Democrat Blanco about what they saw as Republican Bush’s maneuvering, but does anybody seriously doubt that the media did not offer similar “aid” to the White House?

Second, the Democrat Party apparatus, both in personal contact with Blanco and in the general ethos it disseminates concerning Bush, also contributed to Blanco’s paranoia. We must recall that both Democrats and the media, most of each understanding that their liberal agendas cannot win in the marketplace of ideas among American voters, only can try to win voters’ hearts and minds by character assassination of Republicans. Thus we get the total mischaracterization of Republicans ingrained into Democrats’ psyches, aided by the media, as immoral blackguards out to wreck the country to empower themselves (when, in fact, given the intellectual bankruptcy of liberalism this more likely would apply to Democrats).

(And Blanco’s administration is obsessed with its image. One needs no more proof that its reaction to comments and reporting about her on the Internet.)

Thus, Blanco, a weak figure to begin with, was exceptionally impressionable to her allies telling her falsely that the Republican White House primarily was cruising for political points in its actions instead of its justified concern over Louisiana’s famous politicization of all things governance which it hoped to avoid through federal supremacy in troop direction. Therefore, she reacted by making suboptimal decisions about requesting federal troop aid and in how they were to be directed.

But’s let’s say that the liberal straw man of the Bush White House constructed by the Democrats and media had been true, and Blanco’s fears realized. Even so, were Blanco a real leader, she wouldn’t have cared who got the political blame or credit, and she would have written whatever and signed whatever papers were necessary to get assistance there as soon as possible.

However, we don’t have that quality in this governor, and it’s sad that needless suffering occurred because her and those around her were so invested in a false image of Republicans, egged on by their partisan cohorts and willing accomplices in the media.