Morning Report 9/13/05
Lifeless Body Removed from FEMA HQ
Brown's stench was detected long before Katrina, but it was ignored
The Bush regime has apparently knocked us senseless. Most of the country ignored a highly publicized scandal last year in Florida that should have cost Mike Brown his FEMA job before Hurricane Katrina hit.
Now, as the bloated corpses of more than 40 elderly people were finally being taken out of a New Orleans hospital that had been abandoned by authorities during the hapless initial federal response to the disaster, Brown has finally resigned.
Brown should have been evacuated from FEMA headquarters long before now. And it's not as though we didn't know what occurred after Hurricane Frances hit South Florida during last year's Labor Day weekend.
The Sun-Sentinel wound up doing a major exposé, "Cashing In on Disaster," revealing that FEMA needlessly poured money into the key battleground state during the presidential campaign. There were calls from major Florida newspapers months ago for Brown's immediate resignation.
But judging from some of Brown's speeches, transcripts of which still adorn the FEMA website, the guy was just another one of those clean-cut, brown-haired, God-squad types — like Mike Farris (left) — whom George W. Bush loves so much. Praise the lord and pass the money out just before the election. Heck of a job, Brownie.
- I've spent most of my entire life in public service. I sincerely believe that it is one of the greatest callings — the ministry is probably the highest calling.
He calls his career "public service"? He must be on crack. And speaking of religion, here's another hint from Brown's speech:
This politically correct world that we live in often prohibits a speaker from saying certain things. I am a public servant and this makes it even harder for me because I really want to encourage each of you to keep faith and hope in your hearts. Anytime you get remotely close to spirituality, someone gets nervous. I am not a minister nor do I profess to know all that there is to know about religion, but I do believe that you have to believe in some type of higher power.
President George W. Bush is a man of great faith. He doesn't wear it on his sleeve; he simply carries it in his heart. The President's decisions are guided by his faith. As all of you know, President Bush has had to make some tough decisions because of the unwarranted acts of others.
Further, I have seen firsthand how communities have overcome the effects of tornadoes, wildfires and hurricanes in 2003 and 2004 to rebuild and rejoin this nation. It takes faith and a belief that you can move forward. I don't believe that you can rebuild a town without a firm focus and strong faith that it can be done.
Stirring words from this bozo. Before you start swooning, remember this clown's inaction and neglect during Hurricane Katrina, which occurred in a non-battleground state during a non-election year. And let me refer you back to the Sun-Sentinel's masterful series of stories about the election-year Hurricane Frances. Some highlights:
"The Federal Emergency Management Agency paid for new cars, dental bills and a funeral even though the Medical Examiner recorded no deaths from Frances."
"FEMA gave $21 million in Miami-Dade, where storms were 'like a severe thunderstorm.' " The four hurricanes that pummeled the rest of Florida hardly brushed Miami-Dade County. Only Hurricane Frances was a factor there — packing the punch of a bad thunderstorm."
"FEMA inspectors were given only cursory training and attributed damage to tornadoes — there were none recorded in the county — and in six instances listed "ice/snow" as the cause."
Understand that FEMA is usually criticized for paying too little aid after disasters. But Hurricane Frances hit during an election year, Florida was likely to be a key state, as it was in 2000, Jeb Bush is the governor there — well, you can connect the dolts yourself. The stories prompted investigations and several calls for Brown's resignation.
That's because FEMA's HQ in D.C. was intimately involved in the scandal by specifically violating a formal directive to require documentation of damage before cutting checks.
After the newspaper's revelations, Democratic congressman Robert Wexler asked Bush to oust Brown. Yeah, right, like Bush was going to listen to a Democrat complain about the college roommate of the "disaster pimp," as Slate calls Joe Allbaugh, Bush's campaign manager in 2000 and Brown's equally unqualified predecessor as FEMA director.
Wexler pointed out that FEMA's HQ crew lied about weather maps it claimed that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration gave it and admitted only to "mistakenly" doling out $12 million because of a "computer glitch" — another lie. Wexler wrote:
- Rather than taking responsibility for FEMA's mishaps and moving expeditiously to correct the problems, Under Secretary Brown has further undermined his agency's reputation by stymied investigations and inquiries into fraud allegations. FEMA's massive misallocation of recovery aid is a gross waste of taxpayer monies, which must be immediately addressed by the Bush Administration.
Florida's big newspapers called on Brown to stand up and explain things. On January 4, 2005, the St. Petersburg Times opined in "Fraud Financed by FEMA":
- This is what happens when the leadership in an agency decides that responsible stewardship should take a backseat to spending taxpayers' money. FEMA director Michael Brown has some explaining to do and members of Congress should start asking questions. If Washington bureaucrats want to know why American taxpayers are sometimes grudging about trusting them to spend their money, here is a good example. Congress appropriated $8.5-billion to FEMA for hurricane relief after Florida's terrible summer. But when Americans hear that tens of millions of dollars went to areas that barely experienced a stiff breeze, they have reason to feel duped.
The plain fact was Florida was hit by four big hurricanes last year, but Frances didn't bash Dade County with hurricane force, and the millions of dollars FEMA handed out there were unjustified even by the standards of Bush's formal disaster declaration.
The scandal and Brown's vehement denials of wrongdoing were even too much for some Republicans. As The Hill reported on February 17:
Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.), whose district suffered landfall by three of the four hurricanes, told The Hill that he was disappointed with how Brown "vehemently defended the management of funds, as if nothing is wrong. Either Brown is wrong or the Sun-Sentinel is completely wrong, and I find [the latter] hard to believe."
While he said that calling for Brown's resignation at this point is premature, Foley said he doesn't rule it out, along with other personnel shake-ups, if waste is confirmed and findings are met with "benign neglect."
"I want to make certain someone is accountable," Foley said.
Turns out that the Sun-Sentinel was right. In May — before this year's hurricane season started — the Department of Homeland Security's own inspector general, Richard Skinner, released an audit that confirmed the validity of the paper's mammoth investigation. Remember, this audit was by the DHS itself and was highly critical of FEMA's HQ crew.
Once again, the wake was barely felt up north. The Washington Post's John Mintz wrote an excellent story on May 19 about the DHS audit, but his editors buried it on page 25. Too bad, because Mintz had it all, including the political context:
Skinner's office started investigating the matter last year after the Sun-Sentinel newspaper in Fort Lauderdale published articles alleging that FEMA massively overpaid many Miami-Dade residents after Frances. The IG said one case of overpayment involved $10 million that was used to replace household items in Miami-Dade partly because of a nationwide FEMA policy requiring that the replacement cost of a large bedroom suite be paid even though only a bed is damaged.
Homeland Security sources said FEMA's efforts to distribute funds quickly after Frances and three other hurricanes that hit the key political battleground state of Florida in a six-week period last fall were undertaken with a keen awareness of the coming presidential election. They also noted that politics has had a role in disaster relief activities in various administrations.
J. Robert Hunter, director of insurance for the Consumer Federation of America who was a top federal flood-insurance official in the 1970s and 1980s, said that in the vast majority of hurricanes other than those in Florida in 2004, complaints are rife that FEMA vastly underpays hurricane victims.
The Frances overpayments "are questionable given the timing of the election and Florida's importance" as a battleground state, said Hunter, who was Texas insurance commissioner in the 1990s under then-Gov. Ann W. Richards (D).
Wait, it gets worse. As Mintz noted:
Homeland Security sources said after the hurricanes that Brown and his allies promoted him as a successor to Tom Ridge as Homeland Security secretary because of their contention that he helped deliver Florida to President Bush by efficiently responding to the Florida hurricanes.
FEMA spokesman Natalie Rule said yesterday that there is "no truth" to the assertion that Brown angled to be secretary by citing his hurricane record. She denied that political considerations played a role in FEMA's Florida actions.
The cleanup of this clown's reign continues. His vita are having the life scrubbed out of them — he wasn't an assistant city manager in Oklahoma, he was an assistant to the city manager, and so on.
But there's still some work left to do. Brown's other bios have been sanitized, but not the one on the White House's website. Almost exactly a year ago, on September 16, 2004, Brown was the host of the Bush regime's online "Ask the White House."
He managed to get Bush's name in there quite a bit when responding to questions.
Digression: I think the questions on "Ask the White House" are made up, but I can't prove it, and the White House won't return my e-mails. End digression.
Anyway, in answer to this supposed question during the online session, "Is the government providing funds for all the destruction in Florida?" Brown replied:
- President Bush has asked Congress for the resources we need to respond to these hurricanes and has successfully got that money from Congress.
And more, apparently. Naturally, Brown's bio for "Ask the White House" is also padded. It still carries the canard that this Barney Fife was "an assistant city manager," instead of an assistant to the city manager.
This bio also lays out some of Brown's other duties for Bush that ought to make us feel a whole lot less safe right now:
- Shortly after the September 11th terrorist attacks, Mr. Brown served on the President's Consequence Management Principal's Committee, which acted as the White House's policy coordination group for the federal domestic response to the attacks. Later, the President asked him to head the Consequence Management Working Group to identify and resolve key issues regarding the federal response plan. In August 2002, President Bush appointed him to the Transition Planning Office for the new Department of Homeland Security, serving as the transition leader for the EP&R Division. Mr. Brown currently chairs the National Citizen Corps Council, part of the President's USA Freedom Corps volunteer initiative.
I hope Brown made up that stuff too.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Village Voice's biggest stories.