Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Has The Cavalry Arrived?

Better late than never, one would hope. James Lee Witt (Arkansas pride wells up in me--he's a homeboy) has been contracted by the state of Louisiana to coordinate state and federal response in Katrina's aftermath. Witt ran FEMA back when FEMA was a smart, versatile, and effective organization. Let's see...when was that? Oh, yeah--that would have been during the (gasp) Clinton administration.

From FEMA's website: In 1993, President Clinton nominated James L. Witt as the new FEMA director. Witt became the first agency director with experience as a state emergency manager. He initiated sweeping reforms that streamlined disaster relief and recovery operations, insisted on a new emphasis regarding preparedness and mitigation, and focused agency employees on customer service. The end of the Cold War also allowed Witt to redirect more of FEMA's limited resources from civil defense into disaster relief, recovery and mitigation programs.

Witt doesn't come in uninformed about the way FEMA's been run since his departure, either, as evidenced by this eerily prophetic article from "USA Today" in March, which begins:

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Putting the Federal Emergency Management Agency under the Department of Homeland Security has hampered its ability to deal with hurricanes and other disasters, former FEMA Director James Lee Witt said Friday. The rest of the article is a must-read, if you can keep from choking on the deadly irony of the current administration's response toward the end.

You can also (and please do) read an excellent article about the current hopeful takeover of authority in Louisiana at the website of "THE HILL--The Newspaper for and about the U.S. Congress." My favorite passages from the article are these:

"Witt told [acting FEMA Director] Brown, 'Mike, you’re going to do your job, and I’m going to make you do your job. And I’m going to show you how to do your job.' "

and this one...

" 'James Lee Witt was an outstanding director of FEMA and is a good choice by the governor, regardless of the activities of FEMA,' said former Rep. Bob Livingston (R-La.), who is now a top lobbyist."

and, well, this one, from Witt's spokeswoman:

“Witt is going to be the Bush administration’s knight in shining armor.”

I'm filled with glee by that last one.

Witt is also an accomplished author, of a book that perhaps should have been required reading for Mike Brown while he was busy running the International Arabian Horse Association into the ground--to the point that it NO LONGER EXISTS (I might be slightly biased as a longtime Arabian horse enthusiast and erstwhile IAHA member):
"Stronger In The Broken Places"

Go get 'em, James.

And hey, I'm no fool. I'm not a "Bush-blamer" who's bitter from the election. I am fully aware that there is cronyism (the thing that got Mike Brown his job, and Bolton his, and get the idea) in every administration. The thing is, though, that at least Clinton's cronies were, well... competent. Abundantly so.

Moving on...
And from the New Orleans blog (thanks Sue), another edition of "How To Maintain Your Faith In Humanity":

2:25 P.M. - WASHINGTON (AP): The anonymous donor turned up at a U.S. diplomatic office and presented an envelope with 1,000 euros (about $1,240) for Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.

It was a way of repaying a debt to the United States for being liberated by American soldiers from a concentration camp and treated more than 60 years ago, Sean McCormack, the State Department spokesman, said Wednesday in relating the incident.

The donor was 90 years old, but that is all McCormack would say by way of identification. "This is a person who is not seeking any publicity for this act -- which in the time we live makes it even more extraordinary," he said.

"This is a selfless act by somebody who is repaying what they felt was a deeply felt debt of gratitude to the United States," the spokesman said.

This is one of many stories from around the world of individuals being very generous with the American people at a time of need, McCormack said.

"It's extraordinary," he said.


  1. Props to Witt for his no nonsense "suggestion" to Mike Brown, that's for sure. It's about time SOMEONE took the reins... lord knows, Shrub and his buddies sure ain't.

    Great post! :-)

  2. Did anyone else watch the last season of "24"? I was loving the part where the cabinet realizes that the VP who's been pressed into service as Pres. is just totally incompetent, and they bring in the former, 2-term GOOD president to run things....if only. *sigh* Anyway, that's what this whole Witt thing reminded me of. I watch too much television.

  3. Just a quick lesson in tzedakah, the act of giving in Judaism.

    Giving to the poor is an obligation in Judaism, a duty that cannot be forsaken even by those who are themselves in need. Some sages have said that tzedakah is the highest of all commandments, equal to all of them combined, and that a person who does not perform tzedakah is equivalent to an idol worshipper. Tzedakah is one of the three acts that gain us forgiveness from our sins. The High Holiday liturgy states that G-d has inscribed a judgment against all who have sinned, but teshuvah (repentance), tefilah (prayer) and tzedakah can reverse the decree.

    According to Jewish law, we are required to give one-tenth of our income to the poor. This is generally interpreted as one-tenth of our net income after payment of taxes. Those who are dependent on public assistance or living on the edge of subsistence may give less; no person should give so much that he would become a public burden.

    The obligation to perform tzedakah can be fulfilled by giving money to the poor, to health care institutions, to synagogues or to educational institutions. It can also be fulfilled by supporting your children beyond the age when you are legally required to, or supporting your parents in their old age. The obligation includes giving to both Jews and gentiles; contrary to popular belief, Jews do not just "take care of our own."

    Judaism acknowledges that many people who ask for charity have no genuine need. In fact, the Talmud suggests that this is a good thing: if all people who asked for charity were in genuine need, we would be subject to punishment (from G-d) for refusing anyone who asked. The existence of frauds diminishes our liability for failing to give to all who ask, because we have some legitimate basis for doubting the beggar's sincerity. It is permissible to investigate the legitimacy of a charity before donating to it.

    We have an obligation to avoid becoming in need of tzedakah. A person should take any work that is available, even if he thinks it is beneath his dignity, to avoid becoming a public charge.

    However, if a person is truly in need and has no way to obtain money on his own he should not feel embarrassed to accept tzedakah. No person should feel too proud to take money from others. In fact, it is considered a transgression to refuse tzedakah. One source says that to make yourself suffer by refusing to accept tzedakah is equivalent to shedding your own blood.

    Certain kinds of tzedakah are considered more meritorious than others. The Talmud describes these different levels of tzedakah, and Rambam organized them into a list. The levels of charity, from the least meritorious to the most meritorious, are:

    # Giving begrudgingly
    # Giving less that you should, but giving it cheerfully.
    # Giving after being asked
    # Giving before being asked
    # Giving when you do not know the recipient's identity, but the recipient knows your identity
    # Giving when you know the recipient's identity, but the recipient doesn't know your identity
    # Giving when neither party knows the other's identity
    # Enabling the recipient to become self-reliant

    The Rambam, (Nachmanides; Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman) (1194-1270 C.E.)

    The holocaust survivor who gave money to the diplomatic office was simply performing an act of tzedakah, which in Judaism isn't even astonishing or unusual, it is an integral part of the religion.

    Back to your regularly scheduled program!

  4. VERY cool. Thank you to Margalit for taking the time to type that all out for us!

    In our faith, we know that not all who ask for charity may really have a need for it, but that is not our responsibility. We are to do what is right-help as we are able, and that satisfies *our* obligation. That the recipient may be fraudulent is not our business, and is his own responsibility to God.

    My father was just the best at this--we found out, after his death, so many stories of him helping so many people--and we had no idea. On top of his regular tithe and other commitments to the building fund of the church, etc., he'd pull money out of his pocket, give people rides, buy medicine, food, pay utility bills, etc. I hope I can half live up to his legacy.

  5. What an uplifting story about the anoymous donor in so much sorrow (even if he was doing his obligatory Zakat [as we call charity in Islam], some people don't even do that!).

  6. Last night on The Daily Show, Jon Stewart showed a clip of Mike Brown being interviewed by Ted Koppel, who asked him how he could not know that 10,000 people were at the NOLA convention center with no food or water. Koppel said "doesn't anyone at FEMA watch TV or listen to the radio?" Mr. Brown looked like a deer in the headlights. Scary, scary stuff.

  7. Darn, I missed that. I'm TiVoing right now to see if I can catch the re-run.

    And isn't it interesting how many different faiths have so many of the same tenets? We'd get so much further if we could concentrate on our sameness instead of our differences. (Although, I realize, that there are some religions that are by definition mutually exclusive of others--don't get me started on Tom Ignorant Cultist Closet Case Cruise's repeated insistence that "You can be a Catholic Scientologist, a Baptist Scientologist, a Jewish Scientologist..." LIES!!!! *panting heavily with TC blood-lust*).