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(DV) Whitney: Brownie's Comic Opera







Brownie’s Comic Opera    
by Mike Whitney
September 29, 2005

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“I'm extremely concerned that the ability of our nation to prepare for and respond to disasters has been sharply eroded… It's like a stake has been driven in the heart of the emergency management of this nation.”

-- James Lee Witt, former FEMA Director

Michael Brown’s B-rated performance before a congressional investigative committee provided some welcome relief from an otherwise depressing week of bad news. It was like watching Suzanne Sommers play Lady Macbeth; poor Brownie was in way over his head. The ex-FEMA chief stuck close to his Karl Rove script and didn’t give an inch to the blustery congressmen. He growled and snapped at the questions, bristling with indignation one minute and then faking compassion the next. All the while, he kept passing the buck to everyone within a 200-mile radius. It was a pitiable presentation with Brown refusing to answer even the easiest questions without first consulting his army of lawyers.

While Brown was testifying, the new casualty figures from Hurricane Katrina were pouring into the various news outlets, pushing the death toll upwards towards the 1,000 mark.

“You killed a heck of a lot of people, Brownie!” That should be worth something to the folks in the administration who value such achievements.

What’s striking about Brown is his total inability to “give a damn” about the people who died because of his incompetence. His deadpan testimony was an example of “the banality of evil,” just another callous defense for criminal negligence and bungling.

“You’re a cold fish, Brownie.”

The congressional inquiry followed the predictable lines of a Washington whitewash: “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Brown, of course, was fitted with the leper’s rattle as expected, but in many ways he defended himself quite admirably. He cleverly shifted the blame to Governor Kathleen Blanco and Mayor Ray Nagin for allegedly obstructing the relief effort and delaying the delivery of food and water to traumatized victims. In fact, the record shows that the administration intentionally withheld aid to coerce the Governor to surrender control of New Orleans to the Feds. Brown, however, like Bush, doesn’t mind fudging the truth if it saves his own hide.

Brown’s most revealing remarks came in response to questions about, “what would you have done differently?” Ironically, his biggest regret was not the loss of life or his failure to provide assistance to the people in his charge but, rather, that he “failed to set up media briefings.”

That’s right, media briefings!!

Brown figures that if he’d taken control of the media storyline, he would have been in a better position to manage public perceptions.  In the Orwellian world of the Bush administration, shaping public opinion is the paramount duty of leadership. Even the blue-faced corpses stuck in the New Orleans muck can be breezily disregarded if they don’t appear on the TV or in the newspapers. As it happens, the media got carried away and actually printed the news for once. Will wonders never cease? No wonder Brownie was so distraught.

The larger issues in Brown’s testimony won’t be explored by the mainstream media. In truth, FEMA is a phantom, a public relations hologram that conceals an empty shell of an agency. It was dismantled under the Homeland Security Bill so that the money could be diverted into projects for spying on American citizens and filling the pockets of Bush constituents. Nothing exists of FEMA except the name and a clever PR scheme to hide the facts from the American people. A careful look at what has taken place in the aftermath of Hurricane Rita proves that this is true.

As for Brownie, his career prospects have never looked better. The invitations are pouring in from Larry King, Jay Leno and countless other TV talk shows. There are even rumors of him leading the upcoming Mardis Gras parade as the Grandmaster. Just picture pasty-faced Brownie strapped to a float comprised of human excrement scraped from the floor of the Superdome winding his way down Bourbon Street, blowing kisses to his adoring fans.

In Bush’s topsy-turvy America even failure looks like triumph.

Mike Whitney lives in Washington state, and can be reached at:

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