The Low Flying Minds in The White House

The Low Flying Minds in The White House

By Jack Kelly - April 29, 2009

Little better illustrates that this administration has pretty much forgotten what happened on Sept. 11, 2001, than the idiotic publicity stunt it attempted in New York City Monday.

Someone at the White House -- Louis Caldera, director of the White House Military Office, has accepted responsibility -- thought it would be a swell idea to get a publicity photo of Air Force One flying low around the Statue of Liberty. The New York City police, and the guy in the mayor's office who authorizes street fairs were informed of this, but were ordered to keep mum about it.

It's bizarre enough that an administration which thinks nothing of making public explicit details of CIA interrogation techniques would deem it necessary to keep this publicity stunt secret. It's more bizarre that it occurred to no one that the sight of a 747 flying low and close, apparently being pursued by an F-16 fighter, might be unnerving to people who work in high rise buildings in lower Manhattan.

"Fearing the worst, thousands of people streamed out of the skyscrapers and into the streets," reported the Wall Street Journal.

"I would call this felony stupidity," Fran Townsend, who the White House adviser on homeland security during the Bush administration, told CNN Tuesday.

Mr. Caldera -- who was a member of the California legislature before President Clinton picked him to be Secretary of the Army in 1998 -- is quite stupid enough to have made this blunder on his own. He was vice chancellor of the California State University system from 2003 to 2006, a time when its academic standards were plunging. He served on the board of IndyMac bank -- one of the worst offenders in the subprime mortgage crisis, from 2002 until the bank's seizure by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. in July 2008. But while I would be very surprised if the president were aware in advance of this publicity stunt, I also doubt that the buck stopped with Mr. Caldera.

But if the decision were Mr. Caldera's alone, it's hard to disagree with Ms. Townsend that: "this office is too important to have somebody who doesn't have the judgment to understand the impact of this."

The response of New Yorkers should remind the White House Americans are not as complacent as the Obama team apparently is about the prospect of another terror attack. A Gallup poll released Monday indicated 55 percent of Americans think the use of harsh interrogation techniques was justified, with only 36 percent saying they were not. This suggests it would be politically unwise for the administation to pursue show trials of the Justice department lawyers who said those techniques were legal.

No lasting harm has been done by Mr. Caldera's blunder, if indeed the boo boo was his alone. There could be consequences to the administration's tepid response to the swine flu epidemic.

The epidemic apparently caught the Obama administration by surprise.

"U.S. public health officials did not know about a growing outbreak of swine flu in Mexico until nearly a week after that country started invoking protective measures, and didn't learn that the deaths were caused by a rare strain of the influenza until after Canadian officials did," the Washington Post reported.

This is perhaps because the top 19 jobs in the department of Health and Human Services are vacant. The Center for Disease Control has an acting director, Richard Besser, but he's an expert on terrorism, not infectious diseases.

European and Asian governments are carefully screening all persons entering from Mexico, but in the U.S., it's business as usual. Ann Curry of NBC's Today show Tuesday asked Janet Napolitano, head of the Department of Homeland Security, "Why is it not smart to do more to prevent new cases from arriving from Mexico?"

"That's something that always can be considered," Ms. Napolitano said, "but you have to look at what the costs are. We have literally thousands of trucks and lots of commerce that cross that border."

If the epidemic spreads, Ms. Napolitano may come to regret her passivity. But so, too, will thousands of Americans.

Jack Kelly is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio.

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