Friday, June 25, 2010

Which is the Greater Menace?

If Rolling Stone was instrumental in ending the career of General Stanley McChrystal as head of the President’s occupation of Afghanistan, can it be equally effective in bringing down hostile governors? Tim Dickinson has decided to pursue this question as it pertains to whether or not "everything is being done" to deal with the catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico. One of the recurring themes that on-site reporters keep playing is the question of why more qualified people have not been mobilized. As Dickinson reported last night on the Rolling Stone Web site, it is not because such people are not available:

Nearly 16,000 highly trained, well-equipped war fighters are sitting on the sidelines in the battle for the Gulf Coast — and the fault lies not with the federal government but with the governors of the affected states.

Bobby Jindal, Haley Barbour, Bob Riley and Charlie Crist are respectively the commanders in chief for the National Guard in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. It is their responsibility to direct the troops at their disposal. And quite an army it is: As of May 3rd, the Pentagon has authorized 17,500 guardsmen to respond to the BP spill — free of charge to the states. The federal government will front the costs, which will ultimately be passed on to the oil giant.

But more than six weeks later, the region's governors have deployed just 1,585 guardsmen — less than ten percent of this oil-fighting force — to the frontlines. And they are sorely needed: More than 160 miles of coastline in these four states are currently inundated with BP crude. If all of these soldiers were deployed, it would represent a nearly 50 percent surge over the 35,000 disaster responders currently in the Gulf.

As far as Dickinson is concerned, the problem is not one of resources but one of raw politics being played in the worst possible way. As they say, "Context is everything;" and in Jindal's case the context is that he is "a likely contender for the GOP's 2012 presidential nomination who has emerged as one of the most strident critics of the Obama administration's cleanup response." In other words it is more important for Jindal's political career for him to make Barack Obama look bad than it is for him to alleviate the punishing conditions that his current electorate must endure. Thus, Dickinson reports:

But as commander in chief of Louisiana, Jindal has only himself to blame for leaving more than 80 percent of the troops available to the state idle. As of June 23rd, only 1,045 Louisiana guardsmen out of an authorized force of 6,000 had been activated, according to data provided to Rolling Stone by the Department of Homeland Security.

Dickinson then adds irony to this insult:

Perhaps more shocking, Jindal's record is actually the best in the region. In Alabama, where Riley recently called on his state's residents to join him in a Day of Prayer for a solution to the Gulf disaster, the GOP governor has activated just 439 of the 3,000 National Guard troops authorized to assist in the cleanup effort. In Mississippi, where Republican Haley Barbour has repeatedly downplayed the scope of the disaster — calling the presence of tar balls on the state's beaches "no big deal" — the governor has deployed just 64 out of 6,000 troops at his disposal. In Florida, meanwhile, independent governor Crist has 2,500 troops available. He's activated only 37.

Thus, as a quartet operating as if with a single mind (or perhaps under the instruction of some other single mind?), these governors have managed to turn the "War to Save the Environment" into the "War against Obama," presumably under the assumption that the President is a greater menace to the United States than even the most massive oil spill.

This raises an important question: If the mainstream media were so eager to pick up on Michael Hastings' "Runaway General" report, will they do the same with this dispatch from Dickinson? Is this about helping the Gulf Coast states to recover, or is it about choosing sides for the next round of national elections? Enquiring minds want to know!

No comments: