Monday, January 18, 2010

Leftists Who Exploit Haiti Tragedy to Take Cheap Shots at the President Are no Better Than Limbaugh

The right wing attacks on President Obama and the U.S. govenment’s Haiti relief effort from GOP Boss Rush Limbaugh, Telefascist Pat Robertson, and Ann Coulter --“the shame and embarrassment” of Bill Clinton in Haiti, the “horny hick” who’s “leaving his essence in Kleenex” -- among other wingnuts are despicable and racist but totally predictable.

Set aside Coulter's hedonistic garbage and Robertson’s brain-addled devil nonsense. Limbaugh’s hideous racism is worse. Here's a sampler: The Democrats are good at “meals on wheels”; we’re already donating to Haiti relief, “it’s called the income tax”; President Obama wants to use the epic tragedy in Haiti to “burnish” his standing and credibility in both the “light-skinned and dark-skinned” black community in this country; “It's made-to-order for 'em; that's why he couldn't wait to get out there. Could not wait to get out there.”

Forget all that. Incredibly, the Obama-bashing isn’t confined to the right. So-called “investigative journalist” Greg Palast, darling of the leftist fringe, said these things on his website:
“Bless the President for having rescue teams in the air almost immediately.” That was President Olafur Grimsson of Iceland. On Wednesday, the AP reported that the President of the United States promised, "The initial contingent of 2,000 Marines could be deployed to the quake-ravaged country within the next few days." “In a few days,” Mr. Obama?
Yes, Mr. Palast. The President was true to his word. The first contingent of U.S. troops arrived in Haiti “a few days” after the earthquake. What you neglect to say is that immediately after the earthquake struck USAID deployed and airlifted to Haiti search and rescue teams with professionally trained sniffer search dogs, as well as Coast Guard cutters carrying food, water, and medical supplies.
“China deployed rescuers with sniffer dogs within 48 hours. China, Mr. President. China: 8,000 miles distant. Miami: 700 miles close. US bases in Puerto Rico: right there.”
If you had bothered to cross-check your sources, Mr. Palast, you would have discovered that on Wednesday, one day into the catastrophe, at least two U.S. Coast Guard ships and two U.S. Air Force transport planes delivered generators, fuel, food, water, communications equipment, medical teams, and medical supplies to Haiti. China’s official news agency reported their team arrived on Thursday: “China's rescue team arrived in Haiti on Thursday, two days after the Latin American country was devastated by a major earthquake measuring 7.3 magnitude.”

The Christian Science Monitor got it wrong when it reported China arrived in Haiti before the U.S. The President stressed that their first priority in those initial hours was to save lives, search and rescue. U.S. search and rescue teams arrived Wednesday and set up operations in the airport to coordinate search and rescue for units from around the world, in addition to tirelessly working their shifts, night and day.

Forty hours into the crisis the U.S. Air Force reopened the airport and brought it up to 24/7 operations, substituting for the collapsed air traffic control tower so that relief supplies from around the world could land safely. It remains a logistical nightmare, with one runway for the massive logjam of relief flights.

It should be noted that cash-rich China so far has pledged only $1 million to Haitian reconstruction compared to the U.S. initial pledge of $100 million, the most among donating countries. To keep things in perspective, here are a few facts and figures from USAID:
  • To date in FY 2010, USAID has provided nearly $111.3 million in humanitarian assistance for the Haiti earthquake, including a USAID/OFDA contribution of approximately $63.3 million and USAID/FFP food assistance valued at an estimated $48 million.
  • On January 12, USAID/OFDA activated a Washington D.C.-based Response Management Team (RMT) to support the USAID/DART that deployed to Haiti early on January 13 to assess humanitarian conditions and coordinate activities with the humanitarian community.
  • DoD has authorized $20 million in overseas humanitarian and disaster assistance appropriations in support of the Haiti earthquake relief effort. DoD has been supporting the humanitarian response through transportation of emergency relief personnel and commodities into Haiti. In addition, several U.S. military ships are currently positioned near Haiti to provide tactical and operational support to the emergency response operation.
Palast sneers: “Obama's Defense Secretary Robert Gates said, “I don't know how this government could have responded faster or more comprehensively than it has.” We know Gates doesn't know.”

Really? Palast continues:
“From my own work in the field, I know that FEMA has access to ready-to-go potable water, generators, mobile medical equipment and more for hurricane relief on the Gulf Coast. It's all still there. Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, who served as the task force commander for emergency response after Hurricane Katrina, told the Christian Science Monitor, “I thought we had learned that from Katrina, take food and water and start evacuating people.” Maybe we learned but, apparently, Gates and the Defense Department missed school that day.”
This kind of willfull ignorance of the facts, of FEMA’s immediate response to the tragedy in Haiti based on a poorly sourced account is astonishingly dishonest. It’s hardly worth a response, but anyone who cares to learn about FEMA’s actual role can click on this link and read the FEMA report of January 15. As for General Honoré, who is a paid CNN consultant, this is his salient point which Palast seems willfully to have omitted, with FOX-like surgical precision, “I was a little frustrated to hear that USAID was the lead agency. I respect them, but they're not a rapid deployment unit.” Fair point, but incongruent with Palast's bashing of the U.S. military, because General Honoré in effect argued for it taking the lead in relief efforts rather than the “bureaucratic” State Department and USAID. Palast notes with dripping sarcasm:
Send in the Marines. That's America's response. That's what we're good at. The aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson finally showed up after three days. With what? It was dramatically deployed -— without any emergency relief supplies. It has sidewinder missiles and 19 helicopters.
The purpose of the helicopters, Mr. Palast, is to provide critical vertical lift and transport capability in a country whose infrastructure, transportation system, and port are almost totally destroyed. The USS Carl Vinson, said its commander, is to function as a “floating airport for helicopters picking up supplies from other ships or from a new logistics hub at Port-au-Prince’s international airport and then flying the supplies into hard-to-reach areas of Haiti.” In addition, U.S. Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort is due to arrive off Haiti this week.

Greg Palast's parting shot:
Secretary Gates tells us, “There are just some certain facts of life that affect how quickly you can do some of these things.” The Navy's hospital boat will be there in, oh, a week or so. Heckuva job, Brownie!
How original. The fact is, sir, that the scope of Haiti's tragedy and its challenges are daunting, to say the least. It's easy to sit in your comfort zone and take cheap shots at the people who are in Haiti saving lives at this very moment. Could things have been done differently or better? Certainly. The disaster is so massive and the destruction so complete that the “bottleneck” getting relief in with one operational airstrip, no port, and bad roads is critical. And the Comfort is not a “boat” it's a ship.

Moreover, the Comfort's mission is long-term. Its first phase is expected to last 45 days, treat 40,000 patients, and could require up to 100 French and Creole translators, according to commanding officer, Capt. Jim Ware. The ship can normally accommodate 250 patients over 30 days, with up to 1,000 operations over this period. “Right now we think we're going to be surgically-intensive,” Ware said. Mr. Palast would no doubt snort that this is but a drop in the bucket. But it won't be for a lack of commitment and dedication by American medical personnel in Haiti.

Of the field hospitals established in Haiti, the best are the IDF's, which arrived with its fully functional MASH unit, including an OR, and an inflatable hospital that is up and running with ORs from the magnificent Doctors Without Borders. The Cubans administering La Paz Hospital along with medical units from other countries are doing yeoman work in one of the remaining functioning hospitals left standing in that ravaged country. (All three of MSF's hospitals collapsed in the quake.) Cuba had a headstart with hundreds of doctors and medical personnel in Haiti when the earthquake struck. In light of the unprecedented scope of the tragedy and needs of the Haitian population, the Cuban government has allowed U.S. military aircraft to fly over Cuban airspace to and from Florida and Guantanamo base. So much for the self-serving paranoia in some quarters of an imminent invasion threat from the U.S.

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