Monday, September 05, 2005

Katrina and government incompetence

The government incompetence in responding to this disaster has reached new heights. From the Washington Post this morning:
"The way these catastrophes unfolded was unprecedented," Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told reporters at a Washington briefing. The Bush administration has been roundly criticized by Gulf Coast politicians, Democrats and Republicans for what is being viewed as a slow and inadequate early response to the disaster.

Chertoff called Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent flooding of the city of New Orleans an "ultra-catastrophe" that was "breathtaking in its surprise." He said the back-to-back occurrences "exceeded anybody's foresight."
Complete hogwash. The New Orleans Times-Picayune predicted exactly such an ultra-catastrophe three years ago. Aaron Brown of CNN said yesterday the series "read like a playbook" for what is unfolding now. When asked why, the editor of the series said in an interview said there was little "political will" to prepare the city for such a disaster. FEMA had listed a hurricane strike on New Orleans as one of three most likely catastrophic disasters to happen in America. All the while, FEMA is being being weakened and compromising the country's ability to respond to such disasters as Katrina. In addition, President Bush has been under renewed criticism for his failure to request enough money to help build the infrastructure needed to help protect New Orleans from such a disaster, instead using funds for tax cuts to the rich and the war in Iraq. Granted, even if Bush has requested the money that was needed, the flood control projects would not have been completed by this point and would not have prevented the flooding of New Orleans now. However, for Mr. Chertoff to state that the disaster "exceeded anybody's foresight" insults our intelligence and does little to restore anyone's confidence in our country's leaders -- all it does is confirm that the Bush Administration is more interested in covering their collective behind rather than take responsibility.

What does it say about our government when it is more interested in rebuilding the infrastructure in Iraq than in a major American city? What does it say when our government is more interested in tax cuts to the wealthiest 1% than in helping protect the people of New Orleans, 3/4 of whom are black and 21% earning less than $10,000 a year?

President Bush said he is "satisfied with the response", but finally admitted that the "results are not acceptable". Duh. What he might want to talk about at his next press conference is how his administration has consistently failed to adequately prepare and deal with crisis, whether it be 9/11, Iraq, or major natural disasters. What will it be next?

Then Dennis Hastert, the Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, suggested that much of New Orleans should be "bulldozed" and that it "didn't make sense" to him to rebuild the city. Later he decided to attend an Indiana fundraiser instead of being at the House to sign a $10.5 billion relief plan for the victims of Katrina. That's the kind of leadership we have coming from both the executive and legislative branches of government now.

What is most troubling, however, is that an overwhelming amount of victims left behind in New Orleans are poor and black. As Aaron Brown pointed out last night, even people with a beat-up Chevy and a little money in their pocket were able to get out of the city and survive. However, those with no car and no money had no means to get out, and are now the ones stuck with no food, no water, with corpses laying around them, looting and shooting around them. The mythical notion of America as a land of equality has been ripped off, exposing all the dirt that has been continually swept beneath it, exposing for the nation and the entire world the very deep socioeconomic equities that exist in this country and how, despite its mythology, is very much a nation of haves and have-nots. What I fear is that as the months pass, the rug will quickly be thrown back on and people will continue to go blithely on their way, with no real discussion or change occurring about the blatant inequities in race and social class that exist in America, and how they can lead literally to a situation of life or death. What I fear is that the government and the media will say they did their best, continue with the hogwash that this was unforeseen and that they did what they could, that the President will continue with the photo ops of the tearful meetings with the victims, and that the administration will continue to avoid being held accountable for its mismanagement and its policies that have done significant and lasting damage to this country.