Thursday, September 15, 2005
Why Katrina continues to hurt Bush
It's true that the Bush Administration has repeatedly proposed cutting the budget of the Army Corps of Engineers, and that for years there has been a list of widely agreed-upon hurricane-protection measures that the federal government has chosen not to fund, with now horrific consequences. But it's also true that, after the levees broke, we watched every single system associated with the life of a city fail: the electric grid, the water system, the sewer system, the transportation system, the telephone system, the police force, the fire department, the hospitals, even the system for disposing of corpses. Perhaps it is all the fault of the force of the storm; I suspect that, as we move into the yearned-for realm of reliable information, we will find out that society and nature were co-conspirators in the tragedy. And the societal fault won't all have been the federal government's.
It seems like a million years ago that President Bush had admirers who saw in him a Churchillian ability to rally a nation in crisis; last week, as both the President and Michael Brown, the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, offered bland, undignified, and ill-timed restatements of the obvious about the direness of the situation, you could practically see them thinking, I'm not getting blamed for this! But they were positively helpful next to Louisiana's governor, who cried and said that we should all pray, and New Orleans' mayor, who told citizens they should evacuate but didn't say how, predicted a second major flood, which didn't materialize, sniped at the federal authorities, and kept reminding everyone that the situation was desperate.
Even to have a person who could project calm and hope, and who could offer useful, reliable counsel would have been a gift from above, but that the emergence of such a person seemed so completely out of the question demonstrates an unimaginable failure at all levels. If national officials are incapable of rising to the occasion, the responsibility and duty of local officials goes beyond simply pointing that out.
While the right has accurately pointed out Blanco & Nagin's failures, most of the country knows that Louisiana's failures are their own, but the national failures affect every other citizen's survival. Residents of other states have to be thinking "what if that was a hurricane in Florida? or an earthquake in Los Angeles? Or a follow up terrorist attack to September 11th. In 4 years, the Department of Homeland Security still hasn't worked out electronic communications amongst first responders?!? Would I feel safe for my family if Brown & Chertoff were in power as responders of the last resort?" Even with Brown deservedly dumped, that thought has to be in the back of every citizen's mind now.
Of all the errors that have come to light, that one surprised me the most is the inability to communicate by the first responders. To add to my surprise, I haven't even heard of a plan to solve that technical issue and that's what we Americans do solve technical problems. In the weeks after Katrina, I haven't heard 1 word mentioned that a plan was in the works for emergency communications, but some SNAFU or pissing match delayed it, but this tragedy will break down the remaining walls & the new system will be implemented by the end of the year. Thatdisappointingappointing by itself, but to hear nothing means that there's been no serious work on the most basic technical issue brought to light by September 11th which is sad, though too numbing to be frightening today.
Moral of the story? Time to purchase MRE's.