09/03/2008 09:26 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

FEMA and the Election

As the GOP meets in the Twin Cities and hides terrified behind a hurricane, let us remember:

In early January 2001, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) warned the incoming Bush administration that the three biggest threats the country faced were a terrorist attack on New York City, a hurricane flooding New Orleans, and an earthquake in San Francisco.

The Bush administration should have immediately started programs to avoid these disasters. It did not, ignoring every warning about the 9/11 attackers until after 9/11, and not rebuilding the levees in New Orleans.

We know the results. The twin destructions of the Twin Towers and New Orleans.

FEMA was founded under Jimmy Carter. Under Reagan and Bush 41, it became a black hole of inefficiency and patronage.

Clinton/Gore refashioned it as a first-class agency able to respond to emergencies.

Bush 43 wrecked it and almost everything else.

I take you back now to the CNN transcript of the first presidential debate of 2000. Al Gore was making a substantive point:

"GORE: First I want to compliment the governor [Bush] on his response to those fires and floods in Texas. I accompanied [FEMA head] James Lee Witt down to Texas when those fires broke out. And FEMA has been a major flagship project of our reinventing government efforts. And I agree, it works extremely well now."

After the debate, the Republican noise machine put it out that Gore had lied. Gore and Witt had gone on many trips together to make sure FEMA was working, but on this occasion, Witt had gone alone. Gore had mistakenly conflated that trip with the many that he and Witt had taken. The right-wing and then the mainstream media kept the story alive: Gore was lying again.

I urge everyone to act more seriously in 2008 than they did in 2000. Many of us knew that the choice between Gore and Bush in 2000 was immense because of the likely consequences. Ralph Nader said that there was not enough difference between Gore and Bush to merit supporting Gore.

But because of fifty years of life under the military-industrial complex, everything the United States does has consequences disproportionate to its relatively small population or even its landmass.

The U.S. military budget is now more than the half the total of the world military budget. That is, we spend more than all other nations combined on the weapons of war, violence, torture, death, and destruction.

Thus what might seem a small step by America in the wrong direction will have disastrous consequences for the rest of the world.

When America sneezes, pandemics are unleashed upon the world.

Today, September 3, two news programs illustrated our dilemma.

Laura Flanders on GritTV had a long segment on the crackdown on the civil liberties of journalists in the Twin Cities surrounding the Republican National Convention. Amy Goodman is only the best-known of the journalists harassed and arrested on trumped-up charges.

On Morning Joe, Joe Scarborough contended that there was almost no difference between the Republicans and Democrats on foreign policy. It is the same argument made by the Naderites in 2000.

Most of the rest of the show was spent noisily defending the honor of Sarah Palin. Nary a word about the arrest of journalists.

Did you know in 2000 that there was a difference between Gore and Bush? Did you understand that a small step by us in the wrong direction can have such immensely tragic consequences? War after war, accelerated global warming, increased concentration of wealth by the few, the collapse of the middle class.

Did you act responsibly in 2000? Will you in 2008?