Columns » Bob McCord

Witt to the rescue

by and

comment
Do you know where that ex-Arkansas county judge from Dardanelle is today who helped restore 370 cities in 50 states struck by catastrophes? He’s in Baton Rouge, where the governor of Louisiana has hired him to bring New Orleans back to life. Gov. Kathleen Blanco was really smart to hire James Lee Witt. He was praised after President Clinton pulled him out of Arkansas in 1993 and made him the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). He was the first director to ever be a member of a president’s cabinet. Witt was acclaimed all over the country by cities he helped recover from disasters, especially the floods in the Midwest and the earthquake in Los Angeles. After Clinton left office, Witt formed a crisis and emergency management consulting firm in Washington. Witt isn’t a disparager so his friends weren’t surprised that he didn’t criticize President Bush’s FEMA director, Mike Brown, on TV Sunday. “I think they [the government] worked as fast as they could to do whatever they could,” Witt said. In fact, Brown told the Louisiana governor that hiring Witt was “absolutely the right thing to do.” That may be the smartest thing Brown has said since he took the job, which he got through one of the president’s old buddies who had been his aide when he was governor of Texas. Now there was a FEMA office in New Orleans when the hurricane struck Monday, and thousands were taken to the convention center when there were no doctors, food, water, beds or toilets. On Friday, CNN’s Paula Zahn interviewed Brown, and said she couldn’t believe him when he denied knowing about that place. “Paula,” he said, “the federal government did not even know about the convention center people until today.” Well, when the president finally went to New Orleans he said that Brown and everyone else in the government were doing a good job. I guess it would have been unfair for him to say anything else since he was a bit slow in dealing with what may be the United States’ worst disaster. Last week President Bush was winding up his month-long vacation riding his bicycle in his country home in Crawford, Texas. (Incidentally, he has taken more vacations than any president since we’ve had electric lights.) On Saturday, he was warned about a hurricane headed for New Orleans so he declared a state of emergency for the city. It was in the path of a very powerful hurricane that the city has dreaded for 200 years. It struck at about 7 a.m. Monday. That morning President Bush flew not to Louisiana or Washington but to Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., to talk to a select group about his Medicare prescription drug program. He also flew to San Diego to make a speech to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II. Then he dropped off at El Mirage, Ariz., to comfort some big shots that he was trying to stop illegals crossing the border. On Tuesday he also went to Coronado, Calif., to make a speech about his Iraq war, and after that he flew back to Crawford. On Wednesday, he boarded Air Force One to go to Washington and he ordered the plane to drop to 5,000 feet so he could at least see the horrors that New Orleans had been experiencing for three days. On Friday; five days after the city had been devastated, the president finally flew to New Orleans and walked a few parts of the city. Then he flew briefly to Mississippi and Alabama to see more horrors. Before he left Washington he had told reporters, “The results are not acceptable,” but in Biloxi he said, “I am satisfied with the response, but I’m not satisfied with all the results.” Eighty percent of New Orleans was under water. Eighty-five percent of the white people had cars so they could get out, but 35 percent of the blacks had no cars and couldn’t leave for four scary, sleepless, hungry days until buses finally came. No one yet knows how many are dead because of Katrina, but many say thousands. What about the town itself? New Orleans is the biggest port in the U.S., coming and going. Arkansas farmers and many more will be hurt until the harbor reopens. The price of gasoline will keep rising until the refineries are able to function again. Fifteen percent of U.S-produced petroleum comes from Louisiana. Some of the oil platforms in the Gulf are damaged, and no one knows when they will be back in service. New Orleans is one of the four most popular cities for conventions and vacations, which for years will have to go elsewhere until Big Easy comes alive again. Many of the hurricane victims coming to Arkansas and Texas are saying they are looking for jobs there and don’t intend to return to home because they no longer have one. Try to get the Bush administration to furnish the money New Orleans asked for and was denied two years ago to protect it from hurricanes. Good luck, Mr. Witt. Gov. Kathleen Blanco was really smart to hire James Lee Witt. He was praised after President Clinton pulled him out of Arkansas in 1993 and made him the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). He was the first director to ever be a member of a president’s cabinet. Witt was acclaimed all over the country by cities he helped recover from disasters, especially the floods in the Midwest and the earthquake in Los Angeles. After Clinton left office, Witt formed a crisis and emergency management consulting firm in Washington. Witt isn’t a disparager so his friends weren’t surprised that he didn’t criticize President Bush’s FEMA director, Mike Brown, on TV Sunday. “I think they [the government] worked as fast as they could to do whatever they could,” Witt said. In fact, Brown told the Louisiana governor that hiring Witt was “absolutely the right thing to do.” That may be the smartest thing Brown has said since he took the job, which he got through one of the president’s old buddies who had been his aide when he was governor of Texas. Now there was a FEMA office in New Orleans when the hurricane struck Monday, and thousands were taken to the convention center when there were no doctors, food, water, beds or toilets. On Friday, CNN’s Paula Zahn interviewed Brown, and said she couldn’t believe him when he denied knowing about that place. “Paula,” he said, “the federal government did not even know about the convention center people until today.” Well, when the president finally went to New Orleans he said that Brown and everyone else in the government were doing a good job. I guess it would have been unfair for him to say anything else since he was a bit slow in dealing with what may be the United States’ worst disaster. Last week President Bush was winding up his month-long vacation riding his bicycle in his country home in Crawford, Texas. (Incidentally, he has taken more vacations than any president since we’ve had electric lights.) On Saturday, he was warned about a hurricane headed for New Orleans so he declared a state of emergency for the city. It was in the path of a very powerful hurricane that the city has dreaded for 200 years. It struck at about 7 a.m. Monday. That morning President Bush flew not to Louisiana or Washington but to Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., to talk to a select group about his Medicare prescription drug program. He also flew to San Diego to make a speech to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II. Then he dropped off at El Mirage, Ariz., to comfort some big shots that he was trying to stop illegals crossing the border. On Tuesday he also went to Coronado, Calif., to make a speech about his Iraq war, and after that he flew back to Crawford. On Wednesday, he boarded Air Force One to go to Washington and he ordered the plane to drop to 5,000 feet so he could at least see the horrors that New Orleans had been experiencing for three days. On Friday; five days after the city had been devastated, the president finally flew to New Orleans and walked a few parts of the city. Then he flew briefly to Mississippi and Alabama to see more horrors. Before he left Washington he had told reporters, “The results are not acceptable,” but in Biloxi he said, “I am satisfied with the response, but I’m not satisfied with all the results.” Eighty percent of New Orleans was under water. Eighty-five percent of the white people had cars so they could get out, but 35 percent of the blacks had no cars and couldn’t leave for four scary, sleepless, hungry days until buses finally came. No one yet knows how many are dead because of Katrina, but many say thousands. What about the town itself? New Orleans is the biggest port in the U.S., coming and going. Arkansas farmers and many more will be hurt until the harbor reopens. The price of gasoline will keep rising until the refineries are able to function again. Fifteen percent of U.S-produced petroleum comes from Louisiana. Some of the oil platforms in the Gulf are damaged, and no one knows when they will be back in service. New Orleans is one of the four most popular cities for conventions and vacations, which for years will have to go elsewhere until Big Easy comes alive again. Many of the hurricane victims coming to Arkansas and Texas are saying they are looking for jobs there and don’t intend to return to home because they no longer have one. Try to get the Bush administration to furnish the money New Orleans asked for and was denied two years ago to protect it from hurricanes. Good luck, Mr. Witt.

Add a comment

Clicky