This morning I watched, speechless with rage, as Campbell Brown asked the mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, if New Orleans were not somewhat to blame for the catastrophe now befalling it. He answered back, with great dignity, “there is plenty of blame to go around but the important thing now is to help those folks.”
Later, as if right on cue, Tim Russert reduced an official of Jefferson Parish to tears with the same question. Trying to keep control, the man answered that his own mother waited days for promised help from the federal government and finally drowned before aid reached her.
As this article in today’s Washington Post points out, the official Bush Administration line is now to shift blame for the disaster in New Orleans onto Louisiana officials for not being prepared to ride out Katrina and rescue their people on their own. At first glance, there is logic in their argument.
The Louisiana coast is flood prone and vulnerable, and local officials have known for years that a storm of Katrina’s magnitude could hit. So, why weren’t there better evacuation plans? Why wasn’t there an adequate food supply and other resources for those who couldn’t or wouldn’t’ evacuate? And finally, why weren’t local officials better able to cope with the levees and pumps themselves?
For the very same reason that Florida, after Andrew in the 90s and then again after four hurricanes last year, also needed help from the federal government. And for the same reason that the Gulf towns of Gulfport and Biloxi also will need federal aid. And if New Orleans appears to be more hard hit and more incapable of handling it, that’s because it was not a small town beach community but a large major city with much more complex needs.
However, blaming the victims rather than helping them is an unspeakably craven and selfish act. Whether it’s the President or his NBC shills, it’s just plain wrong.
Here’s the logical and pragmatic reason why New Orleans, and many areas along the hard hit Gulf Coast, can’t just pull themselves up by their own boot straps to rescue their own citizens.
Because the same civic leaders, whether it’s the mayor, the sheriff, or the other local officials, are also victims who have been overwhelmed with personal loss in this tragedy. While working overtime, often 24/7, to keep their emergency services functioning as best they could in this tragedy, they too have lost their homes, their worldly goods, and their family members to Katrina. While devoting all their waking moments to directing whatever rescue efforts they could mount for other people, they too were coping – perhaps not perfectly – but coping nonetheless with their personal loss, tragedy and grief. So, for a perfectly made up and coiffed reporter to hit them with a question like that of Campbell Brown or Tim Russert is nothing less than obscene.
Russert, Brown, and whoever else at NBC wants to is certainly entitled to spout whatever they wish in defense of this incompetent administration. But they ought to be honest and go on the White House payroll rather than shilling for the Bush Administration from a major news agency to do it. And I don’t want to tell NBC how to do their jobs – I just want to beg them to do it. Do your job and report the truth. Stop your shilling for the White House now. Every other news agency, including your rival stations, is doing a better, fairer and more objective job in covering this than you are. And you should be ashamed of yourselves for this morning.
As to the White House Administration and their concerted effort to deflect the blame from themselves for this bungling travesty of a rescue effort, they may think it makes good politics to try to shift the blame, but their public relations juggernaut is finally failing them.
This Administration has, in fact, failed at every major crisis since it’s been in office. After Sept 11, they took billions of taxpayer dollars to create a Department of Homeland Security that was supposed to make the U.S safer from threats – not only terrorist threats but also threats from natural disasters precisely like this one.
Instead, through poor planning and the wrong focus, agencies that used to be effective were gutted and rendered unable to respond this time. As this piece, also in The Washington Post, documents, the perfect example was FEMA. After FEMA was criticized for two high profile failures, Hurricane Hugo and Hurricane Andrew, in the early 90s, it was re-organized and strengthened. Ironically, both those failures occurred under the first Bush Administration. Indeed, it was FEMA’s awful handling of Hurricane Andrew in Miami that helped lead to the first President Bush’s defeat as angry Floridians delivered that crucial swing state to Clinton.
And when Clinton came into office, he appointed the very capable James Lee Witt to head FEMA and made it a cabinet level agency. FEMA was widely praised for its handling of natural disasters all through the rest of the 90s under the Clinton Administration.
But after 9/11, when the Department of Homeland Security was created, FEMA was downgraded and shoved under that umbrella with other agencies. Much of its funding was diverted from its mission of aiding natural disaster recovery efforts to defending against terrorist threats. As The Post points out, the entire focus went to defending the infrastructure from outside threat, but no attention was paid to the actual infrastructure itself to make sure that it was still strong and intact.
Just as the Bush Administration took its eye off the ball in Afghanistan, where the true al Qeda attackers were located, and invaded Iraq, which had never attacked us and wasn’t a threat, so they spent millions to protect us from the possible threat of another terrorist attack and totally ignored the real peril of other possible disaster scenarios. I am not going to suggest that there is no real terrorist threat. Of course there is and some of the Administration's focus on outside terrorism is very justified – they just took their focus to an absurd length and ended up with deadly tunnel vision that prevented them from effectively addressing other threats to the homeland.
Everybody knew a hurricane of the magnitude of Katrina was not only possible, but was some day probable. Just as everybody knew that New Orleans was particularly vulnerable. Indeed, while watching the television news last Sunday with friends who were from New Orleans, one of those friends just shook his head and stated, “those levees won’t hold.” Every New Orleanean knew that. And so should the federal authorities that were tasked with disaster aid.
In addition, in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane, the Administration failed to mobilize the National Guard, failed to order in the military help keep order, and failed to aid in evacuation efforts as the situation on the ground grew more dire by the hour.
Nobody could have entirely prevented the devastation caused by Katrina’s initial hit. But a lot of the damage we are witnessing along the Gulf Coast, and especially in New Orleans, was man made and could have been prevented or ameliorated.
For years, safety officials knew about the levees’ vulnerability, yet nothing was done to strengthen them. Or to improve the pumping stations so necessary to get floodwaters out of the below sea level city. In fact, funding for just such flood control projects has been cut time and again to pay for the Bush tax cuts and the Bush War for Oil in Iraq.
And where the federal, state and local governments all truly share culpability was allowing industrial and commercial interests to dredge the coasts. And the levees themselves contributed to the erosion that made New Orleans sink still further below sea level. Also, commercial development destroyed barrier islands that used to act as a firebreak to slow down storm surges.
And, finally, there is the big accusation that every environmentalist and most nations outside of our own are leveling at us with a degree of truth: Our refusal to sign the Kyoto Accords and to begin addressing the issue of global warming is a problem that will ensure still another “storm of the century” that will imperil our Southeastern coast.
Indeed, the Bushies are still in denial that global warming even exists. But every year there seems to be another “storm of the century.” Even Washington, DC has been hit with major freak “blizzards of the century” with an alarming frequency that renders the term “of the century” rather silly. After all, how can you have three “storms of the century” in three consecutive years?
It’s apparent that the effects of global warming are beginning to be felt. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be 90 degrees year round (every time we get a cold winter, I meet some clown in a supermarket check out lane who yucks it up about global warming being a non-existent threat). Global warming means abnormal weather patterns and stronger more powerful storms. This is because hurricanes (and coastal blizzards caused by Nor’easters) draw their energy over warm waters. If the waters heat up even a few degrees, as they measurably have, it will continue to produce “storm of the century” killer hurricanes in the summer and devastating blizzards in the winter in states further south than normal.
It’s here, it’s real, it’s happening. And the Bush folks don’t have a clue. And even worse, they don’t have a plan.