I haven't written much on Hurricane Katrina or the aftermath, although it has certainly been plastered all over the political landscape. It bothered me that the President, Vice President, and Secretary of State were all on vacation during the hurricane's immediate aftermath. That seems inexplicable to me, but so did Bush sitting in on a second grade reading class photo-op four years ago looking dumb long after he had been notified that the second World Trade Center had been hit - same sort of irresponsible and totally inexplicable behavior. I'm guessing we won't understand it this time any better than we did back then. We'll all just forget it, except for Michael Moore, that is. He won't forget it. Maybe he'll remind us a year or two down the road. I read that he is considering making a film about Katrina and New Orleans.
It's pretty obvious that some things happened before, during, and after Katrina landed that probably shouldn't have happened. FEMA's head Brown really does seem to have messed up. Then there's the fact that a contingent of Louisiana's National Guard were over in Iraq. It was in the Maine news when some of them came through Bangor International Airport last week heading home to Louisiana. Normally states rely on the National Guard in emergencies for rapid response.
I think what really stunk, other than FEMA's slow response, was the political posturing and strategizing, the Rove effect, the defense used by the White House against criticism, the "blame everyone except us" approach. That may have passed now that Bush has accepted responsibility for any federal failures, but the damages has been done. The political posturing against the state and local officials was divisive and will resonate in the conservative and liberal spin machines for a long long time. It just should never have happened.
But Bush's "blame game" snub bothers me. It is a snub. It berates the need for a timely accounting of what went wrong and why. It brushes off the obvious arrogance of top White House officials during that week when they were on vacation, and it further widens the gap between Bush and his critics. It divides us even more, just as every other display of presidential arrogance has divided us since Bush came into office. Accounting for the reasons why people died isn't a "game."
To be fair, though, Katrina was a killer. No matter what, that storm would have killed people, lots of people. Louisiana and Mississippi were not prepared for that big of a storm. Yes, stronger dikes might have saved New Orleans this time, but what about next time? And what about all the surrounding flood plains where rural people live? Katrina didn't hit New Orleans head on. What if another storm does do that five or ten or twenty years from now? And what about all the other cities that can be hit by hurricanes? Big storms like that are killers. Is it realistic to think that the federal government, FEMA or Homeland Security or the Pentagon or whoever else in Washington, can save everyone's life? Somehow I just can't imagine that it is.
Personally, I think each state should work with the National Guard on preparedness. Every locale should be prepared as best it can be. State and local governments should provide as much support as possible in a flood like this to local citizens for immediate search and rescue. No agency, local, state, or federal, should refuse to enable citizen rescue efforts. I hope they didn't after Katrina. But the role of the federal government immediately after a disaster like this should be to send in as much support as is possible as soon as possible. Food, water, gasoline, communications equipment, experienced coordinators, medical supplies and professionals, evacuation vehicles, any and every possible help. And the help should come automatically, without political posturing, without territory disputes, and without delay.
What is needed now is an accurate accounting to determine to what extent these things were not done and why they were not done. How can all the red tape that separates the federal government from the people in times of emergency be removed? Forget the political posturing. Forget the defense. Forget the "blame game." Forget manipulating the accounting to cover up mistakes. Figure out what went wrong, who hindered who and why, and start making the changes that will prevent these mistakes from being made again. Don't do what we did after 9/11. Don't cover up the truth and concoct new layers of bureaucracy. Trim the fat and empower the people themselves to save lives in their own areas. Streamline government to work with the people in emergencies.
And finally, bring the National Guard home from the war. Americans need them here at home. Stop using the Guard as if it was the regular Army and bring them home to American soil where they belong.
Anyway, that's my take on this. Maybe I'll have more thoughts on it later, but that's it for now.