Looking to Trump’s Katrina

There’s so much nonsense going on it’s hard to focus on any of it, but I will try.  Today I want to bring up something I read in the Guardian that I’m not seeing elsewhere: “The White House is struggling to prevent a crippling exodus of foreign policy staffers eager to leave before the arrival of the Trump administration, according to current and former officials,” the Guardian says.

The top level officials in the National Security Council (NSC) are political appointees who have to submit resignations and leave in a normal transition. The rest of the 400 NSC staff are career civil servants on secondment from other departments. An unusual number of these more junior officials are now looking to depart. …

… “Career people are looking get out and go back to their agencies and pressure is being put on them to get them to stay. There is concern there will be a half-empty NSC by the time the new administration arrives, which no one wants,” said one official.

The NSC staffers want to get out before Michael Flynn takes over, and I can’t say I blame them.

Reports from the state department suggest most of its staff are taking a wait-and-see to the prospect of having the ExxonMobil oil executive, Rex Tillerson, at the helm. On Thursday, most of the Democrats on the House foreign affairs committee wrote to the current secretary of state, John Kerry, offering his staff protection against a “witch-hunt” by the new administration against civil servants who worked on Obama policies Trump wants to reverse. The letter was sent after the energy department refused to hand over to the Trump transition team a list of names of staffers who had worked on climate change.

I don’t know how those staffers are going to be protected once the Trump appointees take over. There will be witch hunts. The “old hands” will continue to leave.

Two words come to mind: Institutional memory. You might remember the wonder that was FEMA after Hurricane Katrina. It came to be realized that the massive incompetence that marked the response to Katrina was a combination of bad management and loss of institutional memory. So many old FEMA hands had left in disgust during Bush’s first term that the agency literally was staffed by people who didn’t know what they were doing. Not enough people remained who knew established procedures, what worked and what didn’t.

In the case of foreign policy, though, there’s another precedent that comes to mind. The McCarthy witch hunts in the 1950s were especially  hard on the State Department. People with expertise in Asia were targeted in particular after Mao Zedong gained control of China. I have read that the loss of the old China hands in State left the U.S. largely blind when dealing with subsequent events in Asia, and this fed into the decisions that eventually got us more and more entangled in Vietnam. Loss of a critical number of professionals in any agency could have disastrous consequence long after Trump is gone.

So climate scientists may yet be purged, and foreign policy personnel, and I hate to think what’s going to happen to the Justice Department. It’s going to be very, very bad. And Trump may have a lot of Katrinas on his hands.

14 thoughts on “Looking to Trump’s Katrina

  1. Do you remember the source about the McCarthy-era State Dept? I’m sure I could google something, but I’m just curious.

  2. Trump voters will view this as a feature – those old hands and institutional memory are part of the swamp and must be purged.

  3. I recall an ancient print editorial from the Nixon era. After Nixon won re-election people in the know wanted no part of his administration and as I recall it, more than a few years later, Kissinger was begging qualified people to work for the <i?presidency if they could not stomach working for this president. (Nixon)

    In a kinda-sorta related theme – I saw that Reich is trying to organize a celebration on the day of Trump’s inauguration including the top-tier entertainers who would have nothing to do with the inauguration events. I think it’s a brilliant idea to take the spotlight from Trump in his victory and provide real entertainment with a side of snark.

    If only Baldwin would MC in character. I’d die laughing.

  4. I call it ‘entropy as policy’, or ‘management by damage’. Normal policies can be reversed, but entropy can’t be reversed, only excreted. Trump’s nihilist plan is to leave behind wreckage.

  5. FWIW, I regarded the failure of FEMA in response to Katrina more like sabotage than anything else, as a result of the anti-government position that a number of Republicans have held, going back at least to the 1920s. It was no accident that FEMA was weakened by the Bush/Cheney administration. The Federal government’s response to the 1906 San Francisco earthquake was stellar by comparison.

  6. “And Trump may have a lot of Katrinas on his hands.”

    Already got at least one. Detroit. Of course no one on either side of the aisle really wants to talk about that. And by the way, scientists are still trying to assess how much damage was done by the BP oil spill of 2010. That also didn’t just go away because nobody wants to talk about it. The bar Trump has to clear has already been set pretty low.

    The degradation of governmental capabilities has been in full swing at least since Reagan, uninterrupted by the Dems’ turns at the wheel. Clinton and Gore carried on the good work with their “reinventing government” scams. Public/private, Faith-based, and full bore Privatisation are still the watchwords of the day.

  7. And let’s not forget what I call either “Newt’s Lobotomy,” or “The Great Brain-Drain of the 90’s” – something which we’re still suffering from today, and will be for some time.

    Newt, in order to cut the budget, decided to cut out the govenment baby’s brain before drowning it in the bathtub, and throwing the whole mess out with the bathwater.

    In Newt’s opinion, Senate and House members had WAAAAAAY TOO MAMY staffers for Newt’s liking! Why hire and pay Congressional staffers who were SME’s (Subject Matter Experts) on specific subjects liable to come up in our Congress?
    Lobbyist’s could fill the void!
    And so, OUT went people who knew how to do the following:
    -First, analyze any possible coming legislative attempts, coming from both parties and both Houses.
    -Second, figure out the budgetary consequences in the near and the long terms.
    -Third, help shape and move any legislative attempts through the processes necessary, before coming up for a vote.
    -Fourth, being SME’s, they could figure out what had to be kept because it was critical to make the potential law work, and what could be jettisoned after some good ol’ “give-and-take” haggling.

    Why pay for that, when every lobbying group – from the ones good for the public, to the worst of the worst for public interests (aka: What the conservatives really want!) – had SME’s they pay, and could take the place of the SME’s on the government’s dime?
    And so, Newt enhanced his reputation as ‘the thinking man’s Republican politician” – in other words, someone who really stupid people think is smart.

    And thus, ALEC was born.
    ALEC and lobbying groups (not all, but most, let’s not kid ourselves) are like that most aggresive cancer or disease which eventually kills the host – aka: our government.

    t-RUMP, with Ryan’s and McConnell’s encouragement and prodding, will help to finish the job that Goldwater, Buckley, Nixon, Reagan, Newt, W, and every conservative in this country has dreamed of for years/decades:
    Kill every government function except the military, law enforcement, and whatever remnant’s that are needed for their corporate pals to pluck to the bone, before ulitimately killing the host.

    I remember going to a sushi restaurant with a woman I deeply loved – and still do to this day (but things didn’t work out like I’d hoped) – and we sat at the sushi bar, to enjoy our meal.
    The restaurant promised that it had the freshest seafod in NYC to use in their sushi and sashimi dishes.
    Well, every once in a while, after making and giving us our orders, the main sushi chef went up to this fish that was on the counter, and sliced-off a piece. At this point, the fish had almost no “meat” left, only bones.
    Right as we finished our meals, I asked for the check, and I looked at that poor fish. And as I did, it tried to breathe and move! IT WAS STILL ALIVE!
    Yup, “freshest seafood in town!
    Luckily, I made it to the bathroom before I threw-up!
    I didn’t tell my girlfriend until later, in her apartment when she asked me where I went to after dinner, that that fish was still alive while it was being carved/TORTURED!
    At which point, she went to her bathroom to throw-up. *
    And there, down two toilets, went a very, very expensive dinner! :’-(

    That fish, my friends, is the metaphor for our government.
    And the Republicans will keep carving on that ever-dimishing carcass, until/unless we can manage to end the consevatlves last attempts to take America with them, before suffering their own death throes, due to changing demographics (this, presumes, that the conservatives won’t be completely able to suppress the votes of every non-white conservate).

    *Do I still eat sushi/sashimi?
    HELL YES! It’s my favorite food – I just can’t afford it anymore.
    But, since then, and as best I can, I go to restaurants which don’t torture live fish to death, to make sure their seafood is fresh.
    I’ll take my chances with an upset stomach, rather than get the freshest seafood in town, thank you very much.

  8. David Frum tweeted this earlier today:

    “Worse, Trump will surround himself by people who repeat his lies back to him: either a) abject creatives or b) sinister manipulators”

    What’s scary is, what will Trump’s Katrina be? An event that is of a nature requiring a response from FEMA was bad enough, but imagine one that requires the involvement and/or response of a NSC or State Department staffed with sycophants like this?

  9. Trump will welcome a Katrina.. He’s placed himself in a position of delegation, and if any of his underlings get caught in a situation like Katrina, he’ll enjoy firing them and dismissing them as incompetent. His sense of responsibility is only to find fault in others. Classic narcissistic and sociopathic behavior. The foundation of his character is built on assigning blame to others that are rightfully his own failings and shortcomings.
    I’m not a psychiatrist…but I do know that Trump is not going to deviate from his narcissism because that is his true nature. And eventually his narcissism with its attendant characteristics will become more pronounced as it is scrutinized in the public eye.
    His act is going to be on full display and he won’t be able to hide it within some non disclosure agreement.
    Sometimes you have to trust your initial instincts. I remember my reaction when I first heard about Trump’s TV show The Apprentice. I thought how sick that someone would capitalise on exploiting a deeply emotional and painful experience by judging a person as incompetent and unworthy on national TV. And then Trump placing himself as the arbiter of competence.. That’s some really sick shit when you view it through a lens of compassion and love. Who gets off on firing someone? Not somebody who cares for their fellow man. Only a sicko whose got a soul like Dorian Gray.

  10. Billikin, WMD, keep in mind that what the Republicans *say* is what they want us to hear, and may have no bearing on the truth.

    Trump voters *may* consider a weak FEMA a feature – but I doubt it. They probably think that it’s bloated and inefficient, and therefore can do just as good a job for far less money (even though they have no idea how far each dollar goes, or how many dollars go there in the first place).

    The Republican goal is to favor the wealthy; their story line is to make it seem as if this creates a rising tide to lift all boats, rather than the sort of Trumped up tinkle-down flow that it really tends to be.

    So they want tax cuts – a 1% reduction for a person getting ten million a year is a hundred grand, which isn’t chump change, even when you’re pulling down 100x as much annually.

    Why do they still want tax cuts? Duh… because the *wealthy* want tax cuts. It has nothing to do with good governance.

    To go hand-in-hand with this, they say they want “smaller government” – they have an excuse to cut *anything* that they don’t favor. What they favor is absolutely essential – can’t cut this! – but there’s so much *WASTE* in *everything* – and now that we’re spending less, we need to cut taxes!

    And they can push for deregulation – let the big money boys poison the air and water, hurt, maim, or kill their workers (accidentally, of course, and let’s not hear the words “gross negligence”), cause industrial disasters like the Deepwater Horizon debacle (which was somehow, they’re not sure how, but definitely somehow, Obama’s fault, for his poor response, which they couldn’t find actual *fault* in, but hey, it was a terrible response because otherwise there’s no reason to hate Obama over it!).

    It’s great. They give big, fat, sloppy kisses to the wealthy, and they get to claim that they’re just giving rescue breathing, with those poor guys suffocating under undue tax burdens and regulations. And people eat it up; why not? No one ever calls them on their BS.

    Um. Where was I?

    Right. I think Trump voters want a good, healthy FEMA but have been lied to so they don’t have any idea what that looks like.

  11. Sometimes you have to trust your initial instincts. I remember my reaction when I first heard about Trump’s TV show The Apprentice. I thought how sick that someone would capitalise on exploiting a deeply emotional and painful experience by judging a person as incompetent and unworthy on national TV. And then Trump placing himself as the arbiter of competence.. That’s some really sick shit when you view it through a lens of compassion and love. Who gets off on firing someone? Not somebody who cares for their fellow man. Only a sicko whose got a soul like Dorian Gray.

    I used to work next to a right winger who really liked The Apprentice for the very reason you cite. Inflicting pain on others is a joy to many of these people. I’m reminded of the saying “hurt people hurt people”.

    There will be many Katrinas as competent people retire or are driven out, as the Great Wrecking Ball starts swinging on January 20. I know several people who are leaving the country and I hope to join them.

  12. I think many Trump voters would justify away any FEMA disaster. After Katrina there were plenty of rightards mocking the victims for not getting out town earlier, and plenty of young-bucks-buying-tbone-steaks type stories of people buying TVs with their disaster relief money.
    As long as the disaster mostly affects Those People, most of them would be happy to watch the suffering.

  13. Katrina was like a national Rorschach test. First, the Bush/Cheney administration failed horribly, with plenty of warning, and after having made FEMA ineffectual some time before. Then, liberals in Blue states blamed the government for not doing more, while conservatives in Red states sent what aid they could. Much of that was clothing, which was not needed, but they did the best they could. Then, Republican politicians and pundits blamed the victims and condemned the looting of empty grocery stores by starving people. They also made it clear that they did not want any refugees from New Orleans coming to their city or state.

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