September 6, 2005


By William Rivers Pitt*

The responsibility of ministers for the public safety is absolute,
and requires no mandate. It is in fact the prime object for which
governments come into existence.

-- Winston Churchill

Somewhere, at this moment, a neoconservative is seething.

It isn't fair, he rages within. We had it wired. The House is ours,
the Senate is ours, the Supreme Court is ours, the Justice Department
is ours, the television news media is bought and paid for. We could
act with impunity, say whatever we needed to say to get what we want,
do whatever wanted, and no one could touch us. We could refashion the
nation as we saw fit, whether people wanted to come along with us or
not, because we know better.

We followed Leo Strauss's edicts to the letter, growls the seething
neoconservative. Strauss, our neoconservative godfather, told us that
this nation is best run by an elite that does not have to bother with
the will or desires of the populace. Strauss told us we didn't even
have to bother with the truth while pursuing our agenda. We are the
elite, and we know best.

Somewhere, at this moment, a neoconservative is seething because his
entire belief structure regarding government has been laid waste by a
storm of singular ferocity. Hurricane Katrina has destroyed lives,
ravaged a city, damaged our all-important petroleum infrastructure,
and left every American with scenes of chaos and horror seared
forever into their minds. Simultaneously, Hurricane Katrina has
annihilated the fundamental underpinnings of conservative
governmental philosophy.

What we are seeing in New Orleans is the end result of what can be
best described as extended Reaganomics. Small government, budget cuts
across the board, tax cuts meant to financially strangle the ability
of federal agencies to function, the diversion of billions of what is
left in the budget into military spending: This has been the aim and
desire of the conservative movement for decades now, and they have
been largely successful in their efforts.

Combine this with a wildly expensive and unnecessary war, rampant
cronyism that replaces professionals with unqualified hacks at nearly
every level of government, and the basic neoconservative/Straussian
premise that the truth is not important and that the so-called elite
know best, and you have this catastrophe laid out on a platter. The
conservative and neoconservative plan for the way this country should
be run has been blasted to matchsticks, their choice of priorities
exposed as lacking, to say the very least.

The Katrina disaster in a nutshell: A storm that had been listed for
years as #3 on America's list of "Worst Possible Things That Could
Happen" arrives in New Orleans to find levees unprepared because
massive budget cuts stripped away any ability to repair and augment
them. The storm finds FEMA, the national agency tasked to deal with
the aftermath of natural disasters, run by Bush friend Michael Brown,
a guy who got fired from his last job representing the rights of
Arabian horse owners. The storm finds a goodly chunk of the Louisiana
National Guard sitting in a desert 7,000 miles away with their high-
water Humvees parked beside them. The storm finds that our
institutional decades-old unwillingness to address poverty issues
left tens of thousands of people unable to get out of the way of the

Grover Norquist, one of the ideological leaders of our current
administration, once said he wanted to shrink the federal government
until it was small enough to be drowned in a bathtub. Well, those who
believe in his view of things have worked very hard to accomplish
this, and we see now what happens when you do that. In this case, the
government did not drown. An American city did.

Early estimates of the costs to repair the damage to New Orleans are
rolling above $100 billion. The invasion and occupation of Iraq has
cost many times more than that. The gigantic tax cuts of a few years
ago further denuded the federal budget. Conservative and
neoconservative dogma required this, and has left us singularly
vulnerable. They have always wanted a weakened federal government,
and now we have one, and a lot of people are dead because of it. The
cost of this storm, plus the cost of the tax cuts, plus the cost of
the Iraq war, plus the long-term damage to our economy caused by high
gasoline prices, is going to kick the guts out of our government for
a very long time to come.

In so many ultimately dangerous ways, their exposure is complete. For
the last four years, we have been inundated with the claim that only
Bush and the neocons can protect us from terrorism. The justification
and shield for every action taken, no matter how absurd, has been
that it is for our own good and defense. That's all dust now. "This
is the Law and Order and Terror government," writes MSNBC newsman
Keith Olbermann in his blog. "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."

Above and beyond the fact that the levees have broken all around the
governmental philosophies of the conservative/neoconservative crew is
the question of whether this could have been avoided with a little
bit of personal responsibility. There is a lot of finger- pointing
going on at the highest levels right now; at one point over the
weekend, Bush defenders absurdly attempted to blame the Mayor of New
Orleans for what happened. One boggles when trying to determine how
the mayor of one city bears the responsibility for the damage and
lack of rescue response that took place in Mississippi, Alabama and
outside the realm of his parishes. This was a nicely Straussian twist
on the truth, straight out of the playbook.

Could it have been avoided? Let's ask the National Weather Service,
which sent out this alert on Sunday, August 28th: "A hurricane
warning is in effect for the north central gulf coast from Morgan
City, Louisiana, eastward to the Alabama/Florida border, including
the city of New Orleans and Lake Pontchartrain. Maximum sustained
winds are near 160 mph with higher gusts. Katrina is a large
hurricane. Coastal storm surge flooding of 18 to 22 feet above normal
tide levels, locally as high as 28 feet, along with large and
dangerous battering waves, can be expected near and to the east of
where the center makes landfall. Some levees in the greater New
Orleans area could be overtopped."

"Some levees in the greater New Orleans area could be overtopped."
That was Sunday. Monday passed, and then Tuesday, and then Wednesday,
and then Thursday, and then Friday, and then the weekend came, before
any action of any significance whatsoever was taken to protect the
lives of the citizens of that city.

Also on Sunday the 28th, Governor Blanco of Louisiana dispatched a
letter to Bush formally requesting help for the horror she saw
rolling towards her state over the southern horizon. "Under the
provisions of Section 401 of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief
and Emergency Assistance Act, 42 USC. 5121-5206 (Stafford Act), and
implemented by 44 CFR 206.36, I request that you declare an expedited
major disaster for the state of Louisiana as Hurricane Katrina, a
Category V hurricane approaches our coast south of New Orleans;
beginning on August 28, 2005 and continuing," read the letter. She
went on in great detail over four full pages to list a series of
requests that, had they been granted, would have spared thousands of
people from death.

She was flatly ignored. Forget the fact that a hurricane hitting New
Orleans has been on the danger list for decades. The Bush folks got
the word on Sunday, not once but twice, and instead of swinging into
action, they literally ate cake.

Have they learned anything from this? Hardly. The most important bit
on this week's conservative agenda, beyond stuffing Mr. Roberts into
the Chief Justice chair, is to repeal the estate tax. Yes, that's
correct, before we do anything else, we have to make sure the rich of
this nation get an even larger slice of the pie. This caused DNC
Chairman Howard Dean to launch a singularly pointed salvo over the

"Countless thousands of our fellow Americans throughout the Gulf
Coast region continue to suffer in the aftermath of hurricane
Katrina," said Dean. "While some have begun the painful task of
rebuilding their lives and coping with the unfathomable loss, so many
still await help. And the cost of this disaster in human and material
terms remains unknown. It's simply irresponsible for Senator Frist
and Ken Mehlman to even think about spending our tax dollars on
breaks for millionaires at a time when our top priority must be to
ensure we have the resources needed to address the long and short
term costs associated with rescue, recovery, and rebuilding in the
wake of hurricane Katrina. Not to mention the vital lesson we learned
this week about the deadly cost of diverting funds at the expense of
the safety of the American people. These costs, continued Dean, "also
come at a time when our nation faces a massive deficit, and mounting
costs in the ongoing war in Iraq."

It isn't irresponsible, Chairman. It's standard operating procedure.
They've been doing it like this for so long that they've forgotten
how to do it any other way. They are such true believers that they
cannot fathom doing it any other way. Likely, they will get away with
it, and the loss of estate tax revenues will further damage our
nation's ability to care for its own.

The house of cards has fallen in. A generation of conservative
thinking, combined with five years of neoconservative thrashing, has
finally come to an unavoidable head. The agencies tasked to protect
us -- FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security to name two -- have
been proven to be utterly useless. The heads of these agencies -
Chertoff and Brown -- are the perfect avatars of Bush's way of doing
business, insofar as they have no business being in the positions
they are in. The conservative movement has failed spherically, from
all sides and in all directions.

So here's a thought: Let's repudiate these fools. When the basic
software for the operating system of a computer is proven to be
riddled with bugs and bad code, it is time to rewrite the whole
thing. We have to do that here, with our government and institutions,
and we have to do it now. Throw conservative dogma into the dustbin
of history where it belongs.

Remember that a massive, highly industrialized and infrastructured,
diverse nation requires an effective central government, funded
properly and staffed by professionals and patriots, in order to keep
the wheels on the road. Remember the words of that great Republican,
Oliver Wendell Holmes, who said, "Taxes are the price we pay to live
in a civilized society." What we are seeing in New Orleans is not
civilized society, but anarchy. The reasons for this are as clear as
the nose on your face.

They have failed us. Many people are dead because of it. It's time to
change the software. Enough of this Boo Radley leadership.

* William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally
bestselling author of two books: War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't
Want You to Know and The Greatest Sedition Is Silence.