The Common Good
December 2005

Thar They Blow...

by Ed Spivey Jr. | December 2005

FEMA has announced a bold new initiative: Third Responders.

Thar They Blow...

Is there anyone in this country who doesn’t believe the recent hurricanes were caused by the oil companies? I didn’t think so. They probably used a standard off-the-shelf Hurricane Death Ray invented by a mad scientist. (You know the guy: brilliant, eccentric, still angry about having to go to the prom with his mother. He tested out of most classes in college then got hired by Texaco to develop a secret drug that gives auto executives a rash when they hear the words “better gas mileage.”)

To be fair, it’s possible the scientist isn’t really mad. Maybe he’s just a decent man who does evil things because oil executives tied his daughter to a railroad track.

Of course, none of this is mentioned in the recent full-page newspaper ad—“Progress Report from ExxonMobil”—which stated that the company is “working hard” to get their refineries back on line after the hurricanes. Oil executives even gave a news conference and promised to “get right on it.” But when they left the podium I noticed they were taking baby steps—you know, heel-toe, heel-toe—and smiling. Definitely smiling.

For its part, petroleum giant BP (an acronym for “Better PR”) promised to continue using the color green in its ads.

In the meantime, gas is hovering around $3 a gallon, a far cry from the days when my dad, before he mowed the yard, would send me to the corner service station with a gallon gas can and a quarter. “And bring back the change,” he would add, only too aware of the mischief an 11-year-old could get into with an extra 7 cents in his pocket.

THE HURRICANES MAY have subsided, but the winds of blame still blow in the nation’s capital. And the only thing the federal government can point to with pride is FEMA’s new Third Responders program: “We don’t get there first. We don’t get there second. But right after that we get there. Usually.”

Fortunately, congressional Republicans have moved quickly and are holding hearings to determine exactly who wasn’t to blame, and to identify by name who will not be held responsible. “If this leads to a public vindication, so be it,” said one Republican lawmaker, off the record, for fear of being accused of clearing his name prematurely.

Congress was following the strong example set by President Bush who, immediately after the first hurricane, set his jaw and declared a global war on hurricanism. No stranger to courageous resolve, he then promised a rapid federal response in rebuilding the storm-ravaged areas, starting with Trent Lott’s porch and Mississippi’s casinos. Asked by reporters about the displacement of New Orleans’ poor people, Bush replied, simply, “Mission accomplished,” though panicked White House aids later explained that the president was reading from the wrong briefing book. (It was then that pundits wondered if the crisis was testing Bush’s mettle, but few could explain what a mettle actually is and, if tested, whether it would get you into a good college.)

To reassure the public, the president named Karl Rove to be White House point man for the recovery, knowing that his political adviser would aggressively tackle a tragedy that had displaced thousands of swing voters. Rove pledged to “spare no effort to clear my name.... Oops...I mean to help those who find themselves investigated by independent counsels... oops, sorry again. (This is gonna take some practice.)”

Elsewhere in Washington, D.C.:

• House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, in a welcome display of nonpartisanship, insisted that hurricane victims should receive immediate financial assistance, as soon as they filled out voter registration forms.

• Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, after viewing a video of the disaster, said he definitely thinks New Orleans is alive and well, but couldn’t be sure until he had time to get his feet on the ground and see which way the wind is blowing. A spokesperson said this is to determine whether evangelicals are for or against hurricanes, and whether any stem cells were injured in the floods.

• The State Department announced that other nations have offered aid but that hey, we don’t need anybody’s help because, in case you forgot, we’re the Number One superpower in the world! Well, except in education, health care, and pretty much any other social indicator of quality of life for the non-rich. (I meant that we’re Number One in military sales. My bad.)

• The Department of Homeland Security recommended that a czar be appointed to oversee the recovery, and President Bush said he would find the best person for the job, “someone close to me, someone I can trust.” So far, he has settled on either his longtime driver or a guy he just met in the lobby. (But this time I hope we get a real czar, you know, a guy that sits on a golden throne with a falcon on his shoulder. Now THAT’S a czar.)

Ed Spivey Jr. is art director of Sojourners.

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