Last week I broke the story about FEMA director Mike Brown, whose ten-year tenure at the International Arabian Horse Association left him stunningly unqualified to lead national relief efforts. It has been a pleasant surprise to watch the story take flight, first on the national blogosphere, and now in the MSM. But none of the news coverage has been quite as gratifying as seeing a reference creep into a column by the New York Times’ Paul Krugman.
Mr. Brown had no obvious qualifications, other than having been Mr. Allbaugh’s college roommate. But Mr. Brown was made deputy director of FEMA; The Boston Herald reports that he was forced out of his previous job, overseeing horse shows. And when Mr. Allbaugh left, Mr. Brown became the agency’s director. The raw cronyism of that appointment showed the contempt the administration felt for the agency; one can only imagine the effects on staff morale.
That contempt, as I’ve said, reflects a general hostility to the role of government as a force for good. And Americans living along the Gulf Coast have now reaped the consequences of that hostility.
The administration has always tried to treat 9/11 purely as a lesson about good versus evil. But disasters must be coped with, even if they aren’t caused by evildoers. Now we have another deadly lesson in why we need an effective government, and why dedicated public servants deserve our respect. Will we listen?
I have received emails or comments from more than a dozen IAHA members, and while a handful have taken issue with my reporting of the circumstances surrounding Brown’s resignation, it doesn’t really matter if he was forced to resign or his departure was mutual. It doesn’t even matter if his tenure was indeed “an unmitigated, total fucking disaster” as my original source contended. What matters is that his job experience left him totally unprepared to manage our nation’s disaster relief operations… a lack of preparation clearly evidenced by FEMA’s criminally inadequate response in New Orleans.
The issue here, as Krugman and others point out, is cronyism… cronyism that in this instance, may have turned out to have fatal consequences.
The story of Brown, the horse show commissioner cum FEMA chief, adds much needed color and context to accounts of the Bush administration’s disastrous disaster relief efforts, and its haphazard approach to political appointments in general. And the story of the story — how an angry email from a longtime HA reader moved international headlines — is a vivid example of how the blogosphere can amplify the voice of the people, so that any one citizen can speak as loud or louder than the most obstreperous talking head.
Truth is, I didn’t really even know what I had. I rarely cross-post to Daily Kos, but since this was a national issue, and I was angry, I thought, what the hell. My original headline was a profane rant, and the first few comments insisted that this was too important a diary to be lost due to a non-descriptive headline. I followed their advice, changed the headline, went to bed… and awoke the next morning to find the story featured on Kos, and the traffic flooding in. Then the calls and emails from the MSM started coming, and I knew we were going to move headlines.
So if any of you out there believe that you cannot make a difference, let this be lesson to the contrary. A single email from a horse breeder to the proprietor of an oddly named local blog provided the angle the MSM needed to expose the Bush administration cronyism that doomed thousands of Katrina’s victims to a week of unimaginable — and unnecessary — suffering, and which may have condemned thousands of others to an untimely death.
This is democracy in action.