Wednesday, September 07, 2005

And Now, the Katrina Rants...

Note: The first paragraph has been changed slightly to reflect the tone of the rest of the piece. Originally, I said there was plenty of blame to go around, and that is true. But that was more a device to get the links included in something other than a list fashion. James called it being "balanced". I call it "not proofreading".

The finger pointing from Katrina is now under way in earnest. Plenty of people are blaming the president, and justifiably so. The President's people are trying to shift the blame to the local goverment, which is their usual MO. There's also justified righteous indignation over some of the racism uncovered in dealing with the tragedy. Over at Legal Fiction, Publius contends that it is not so much racism, as it is post-racism, an interesting term he has coined to explain a very real phenomenon. So, what do I think? Glad you asked...

First off, I think that the Bush bashers have some legitimate points. Do I think the whole thing was his fault? Of course not. But I am tired of his faithful automatically dismissing the criticism. I think it's a little too easy to just dismiss the criticism as Monday morning quarterbacking. There were plenty of screwups along the way that did not have to presuppose a catastrophic flood on top of the hurricane. And this list does not include any of the history running up to hurricane season. All my major complaints deal with the preiod surrounding the storm itself.

Manpower - It was clear early on that the disaster was beyond the scope of the local emergency plan. Part of the problem was that they didn't have the personnel to do all that needed to be done. That is where FEMA is supposed to come in. FEMA should have sent people down there ahead of time. Had them stationed within striking distance ready to mobilize the moment the storm passed. There were buses that could have been used to evacuate, if only someone was there to drive them. Order could have been kept if there were enough uniformed personnel to stand guard and respond to crises. New Orleans already had all available police and rescue out working.

Supplies - So, we knew a Category 4 hurricane is going to hit New Orleans. We may have only known for 24 hours, but we knew. THAT was the time to start mobilizing FEMA resources. If we had supplies in place within short distances of the storm as well as the means to deliver them, help would have gotten there much more quickly. It's true that if we had done that and the storm had weakened, we would have wasted a couple million dollars. But that is a part of what risk mitigation is all about. It's like buying insurance. You buy it and are covered if something really bad happens. If it doesn't, the money is just spent.

Leadership - This is the big one. This is the one thing that a President can be personally responsible for. A strong leader inspires confidence and instills hope. While the storm raged, Bush was beating the war drum in San Diego and playing guitar while people were drenched, drowning, and desperate on the Gulf Coast. Not exactly an image that inspires conidence to the rest of the county. On his way back, he dipped below the clouds on Air Force One to survey the damage. When he finally set foot on the ground, days later, he wasn't anywhere near the most squalid conditions or the most desperate people. His "team" wasn't doing much better. Condi was shoe shopping and going to a Broadway show. Cheney was nowhere to be seen. And Mike Brown, the underqualified head of FEMA was talking on NPR, denying that the conditions being reported at the convention center were true. He actually tried to slur the credibility of the reporters circulating these rumors. It was then pointed out to him that an NPR reporter was on the scene and confirming the stories. All he could say was that he would have to look into it. After the report was over, NPR read a follow-up statement from Brown acknowledging that conditions may be worse than he was led to believe, but that they were making every effort to help the afflicted. He didn't even have the decency to come on the air and say he was wrong.

What emerged was a picture of arrogance and indifference by those in charge to the trapped, dead, and dying. At a time when people needed to know that their government was there, it wasn't.

But not everything that happened was bad. Look at the positives, ew though they may be. The American people came through in ways that put most of our leaders to shame. Texas, a state I normally have disdain for, came through in a huge way. They took on refugees. (And that is what these people are. Evacuees can go back. Most of these people can't.) They took on burdens to their infrastructure, finding jobs and education for the victims. Not long thereafter, other states followed suit. There even are refugees being housed here in an Diego. Everywhere you look, drives for supplies are being held. People are flocking to the Gulf Coast to give, not only money, but time. We are being reminded that red or blue, most of the American people are decent people who care about each other. It's just are leaders and some vocal minorities who are buttwads.