In 2005, as Hurricane Katrina swamped the entire city of New Orleans, Pres. George W. Bush remained out of sight and clueless, until he was prodded to go through the motions of concern. His "Katrina moment' was later regarded as the turning point, to get-the-bum-out-of-office.
Today, Obama was caught out in his own Katrina Moment of non-response to the vast extent of the wildland fires throughout the West, in particular, Colorado. It all came out at this morning's daily White House press briefing, when Press Secretary Jay Carney tried, but failed, to cover for Obama's disdain.
Colorado is very hard hit by a monster fire in Waldo Canyon, menacing Colorado Springs. As of mid-day, 34,000 people in the state had been evacuated. Half of all Federal-related firefighting capacity is now in Colorado. Gov. John Hickenlooper had already declared a state emergency last month. Western Congressmen and governors have been screaming for aid. All the while the Obama Administration has been on a denial, or go-slow policy.
The way it blew up against Obama yesterday, was in the following exchange between a reporter and Jay Carney (from the transcript):
REPORTER: ...I have not heard you read out in the last couple of days, a phone call between the President and the Colorado governor....It seems like the situation is getting pretty desperate. Has he spoken to officials there?
CARNEY: Well, I think the President did speak with the Colorado governor a while ago. The President is being updated regularly. I will read out to you further communications that he has on this matter. [Carney then reads details about firefighting and support from FEMA, U.S. Forestry Service, etc.] In answer to your question — well, go ahead [to reporter, wanting a follow-up question].
REPORTER: Well, it's just that the phone call was on June 12th. That's 15 days ago. And it's been getting worse and worse. I just wondered why the President hasn't had another phone call with the governor.
CARNEY: The president has been updated regularly on these wildfires...
Soon after the press briefing ended, Obama then phoned Hickenlooper, and Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach, to express concern. Then the White House announced that Obama will tour the Colorado fire zone this Friday, June 29.
- Media Vultures Circling -
The media vultures are circling the dead meat on this one. Within hours, dozens of items panning Obama have appeared. For example, this item from Washington, D.C., June 27:
"Obama's Distance from Colorado Fires Recalls 'hands off' BP Oil Spill Response," is the headline on an article running quote of James Carville, "critizing Obama for 'political stupidity' in 2010. 'It just looks like he's not involved in this. Man, you got to get down here and take control of this, put somebody in charge of this thing and get this moving. We're about to die down here..."
What Obama has been doing since June 12, is attending "21 campaign events — including 18 fundraisers, since making that phone call... He made the call [to Hickenlooper] while heading to Baltimore for the first of six fundraisers that day (three of the fundraisers were in Philadelphia)", and held another 12 fundraisers between that call, and this afternoon's call to Hickenlooper. —The Washington Examiner, Joel Gehrke
- The Fires; the Lack of Resources -
There are 33 "active large fires" nationally, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho. This week, 15 new large fires were reported: four in Montana, and one each in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming; as well as three in Alaska and Alabama.
There are about eight large fires burning in Colorado, where the fast-moving Waldo Canyon fire on Tuesday, doubled in size and jumped through a perimeter set by firefighters. This caused road closures, evacuations, and shut down of parts of the U.S. Air Force Academy. In the northern part of the state, the High Park Fire is the second-largest in Colorado's history. Fires have caused four deaths in the state so far.
The record-high temperatures and high winds in the state (Denver hit 105 F. last week) are part of the immediate causes of the fires, but the vulnerability comes from the lack of NAWAPA and a worsening bio-regime of aridity and drought. Then comes Obama. The Administration has cut resources and prevaricated on wildlands management and firefighting since day one. A few points:
* The Wildland Fire Management budget line has been cut, from $2.168 billion enacted for FY 2011, down to $1.975 billion enacted for FY 2012, down to $1.972 billion proposed by the White House for FY 2013. (In the U.S. Forestry Service, Agriculture Department).
* The National Forest Service has only 11 air tankers, plus two on loan from Canada, for only 13 nationwide. Ten years ago, the Forest Service had 44 air tankers.
* Only on June 11 did the Forest Service announce that they would contract for more aerial force, including likely four more air tankers from Canada and one from Alaska. Finally, on June 13, Obama signed a bill to add seven large tanker planes. But the earliest any of these are expected is MID-AUGUST.
* Only this week were the military resources called up to help. On Monday, four C-130 aircraft tankers were deployed.
* Obama Administration officials in charge held a nationwide conference call April 26, on this year's wildfire prospects, admitting the worsening situation, but downplaying the lack of resources. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack acknowledged at the time that the Forest Service air tanker fleet is "aged and few."
Calling the fleet "Korea War-era" aircraft, a reporter from the Missoulian (Missoula, Mont.) asked why this inadequacy is allowed to continue. Forest Service Chief Tidwell defensively responded that he has put out requests for proposals to contractors, to bid on supplying newer craft. There is an intent to acquire ten additional craft NEXT YEAR.