Republicans will privatize, even if it kills you
According to the Republican Playbook, the first step in privatizing is you always to underfund and trash a government agency. Then, you can privatize the agency—and hand out the contracts to your contributors! Nice work if you can get it...
But you'd think the Republicans would have some stopping points; some ethical constraints; some limit where they'd say, "We can't do this, it's just not decent. Money's one thing, but people's lives could depend on this!"
After Katrina—or Andrew, for that matter—you'd think the Republicans, as the
governing ruling party, would be doing their best to defend American citizens at risk from hurricanes. Think again:
While hurricanes relentlessly pound America's coastlines, breakdowns in crucial weather-observing equipment are thwarting forecasters at the National Hurricane Center ... a Miami Herald Investigation has found.
''It's almost like we're forecasting blind,'' said Pablo Santos, who has pressed for years for more buoys as science officer at the National Weather Service's Miami office, which supports the Hurricane Center during storms.
During Katrina, a smoking gun:
NOAA's high-flying Gulfstream jet is ... important because it swiftly relays information to forecasters about weather conditions in the environment around hurricanes. During Hurricane Isabel in 2003, forecasters used the jet to resolve a complex steering flow pattern, and with dead-on precision, predicted Isabel's North Carolina landfall. The Gulfstream is so effective that NOAA scientists say it has improved storm-track prediction in the computer models as much as 25 percent.
But the jet is budgeted to fly only 250 hours this season, not nearly enough to get a continuous read on shifty storms. In fact, as Katrina bore down on Florida on Aug. 25, researchers were riled over the Hurricane Center's decision not to fly the jet in the hours before landfall.
''I didn't want to break the bank,'' [Hurricane Center Director Max] Mayfield, said.
Researcher Black said the reluctance to fly likely weakened the forecast. ''The jet,'' he said, ``might have made a difference.''
Beyond the Florida forecast, Mayfield acknowledges he may have been able to give New Orleans greater advance warning had the [Gulfstream] been flown more than once in the early stages of Katrina to detect steering currents.
It wasn't until Aug. 26 -- about 2 Â½ days before the storm's landfall -- that New Orleans was included in the potential strike zone.
But how could this be? How could it be that nobody has brought this state of affairs to Dear Leader's attention?
Going public with such problems would have consequences, said former Hurricane Center Director Neil Frank. ''Woe be to me if I phoned a senator,'' said Frank, now a television meteorologist in Houston. 'There was all this internal pressure. I wasn't free to call and say, `We need more money down here.' ''
A 2004 agency memo drives the point home: NOAA chief Conrad Lautenbacher told employees not to talk with lawmakers about budget issues without explicit approval, saying the agency must provide ``a unified message.''
Mayfield, a 33-year NOAA employee, said he has been told repeatedly to work within the bureaucracy's budget process. He's chosen his words carefully, at times drawing criticism from some who say he should have been more outspoken.
''I could be fired,'' Mayfield said.
And, as the Republicans like to remind us ad nauseum, actions have consequences:
''They didn't have a chance with those bad forecasts,'' said former Hurricane Center Director Jerry Jarrell, who retired in 2000. ``It's frustrating. You're seeing people die because what you did was not good.''
Assuming The Clenis—isn't to blame... Who could be?
Next summer in the height of hurricane season, one of NOAA's hurricane hunter planes heads to Texas -- to study air pollution.
And who's at the forefront of the effort to privatize the National Weather Service? Why, our own Rick "Man on Dog" Santorum, of course! Small world....