Semi-firing Helluva Job Brownie

Is the Bush machine losing its grip?

Psychiatrists have a polite term for what ordinary language calls “going bonkers” or “losing it”: that process is technically called “decompensation.”

It looks to me as if the Bush Administration is decompensating.

I simply can’t construct a plausible justification for leaving Michael “Helluva Job Brownie” Brown as the head of FEMA while virtually admitting that he’s not actually capable of coordinating the federal response to Katrina by putting one of his subordinates in charge. What is the job of the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency if not to manage emergencies?

If someone — say, the still-at-large Osama bin Laden — decides to celebrate the fourth anniversary of 9/11 with some appalling atrocity, will still a third official be designated to run the necessary disaster-relief process?

Of course, the Bushites have made other decisions equally incomprehensible in policy terms, and not only gotten away with them but benefitted from them polticially. My diagnosis of decompensation is based on the fact that this choice doesn’t (seem to) make any conceivable sense in political terms.

Footnote Of course, Brown should lose his job, because losing your job is what’s supposed to happen when (1) you weren’t competent to have the job in the first place; (2) you lie about your qualifications; and (3) you utterly and completely screw up a major assignment. That’s called “accountability.” (If we truly had a President with the sensibility of a CEO rather than that of lazy, spoiled, party-hardy frat boy, he’d know that without needing to be told.)

But critics of the current ruling oligarchy shouldn’t concentrate on Brown’s deficiencies and on demands that he be replaced. He’s an important symbol of what’s wrong with FEMA, but the problems at FEMA are much deeper. And the problems at FEMA are themselves just a random sample of what’s wrong with this administration. A fish rots from the head.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: