Hurricane Katrina created titanic misery and suffering for hundreds of thousands of Americans, and destruction of property which may never be fully restored. The response from the mightiest nation on earth was in pace and content, disgraceful. When Bush declared a national emergency the day before the storm hit and asked FEMA to become involved, the federal government was in charge.
For anyone trying to renew a driver’s license, resolve a cell phone billing discrepancy or find a real person to speak to in a medical office, the pitfalls of bureaucracy and red-tape are all too obvious. Directory assistance for Grand Rapids, Michigan is handled from Mobile, Alabama, and the helpdesk for a new Dell laptop somewhere in rural India, in both cases very little, if any, real assistance.
It is just four years since the horrors of 9/11 – the establishment of the Patriot Act, and the Department of Homeland Security. It became evident after 9/11 that the bureaucracy at the federal level was so entrenched, that the FBI didn’t speak to the CIA, the CIA to the Justice Department, congressmen to senators, the National Guard to the military, the Army to the Navy. How else to explain one branch of government recognizing the potential for terrorists to use hijacked planes as weapons, another to note the unusual activity of Saudi aliens enrolled in a school designed to explain the controls of a 737 and not sharing and acting upon what is in retrospect an alarming coincidence.
While Cherthoff and his Homeland Security team exist to provide one centralized communications hub of information for all constituencies involved in preventing terror, and responding to emergencies and natural disasters, the handling of the Gulf Coast catastrophe is proof positive that we have done little more for billions of taxpayer dollars than centralize, not eliminate, the ponderous egocentric bureaucracy that characterizes government at all levels.
We went to war in Iraq because our president wanted to go to war and was able to manipulate the intelligence community, an oxymoron in the extreme, to establish the presence of weapons of mass destruction and a link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaida, which did not exist. As the North Koreans and Iranians continue to build the capability for nuclear weapons, Bush babbles on about striking the terrorists where they live to keep them from our doorstep. If anyone believes that 150,000 U.S. troops, at a cost of $300 billion dollars, is a deterrent to Islamic terrorism, they believe in the tooth fairy.
The U.S. military from day one has been able to provide food, water, shelter and fuel to all of our personnel in the Middle East. How to explain 100,000 Americans in New Orleans for nearly a week without food, water, sanitation and medical care with no immediate massive federal emergency rescue plan. A huge hospital ship moored in the Gulf Coast doesn’t move for three days after the city floods because no one asked them. Local police don’t talk to state police, mayors and governors don’t talk to the Defense Department and Bush frets about federalizing the National Guard. It is not until the stench from the sewage and cadavers in the convention center and the appalling misery of those housed in the Superdome without air conditioning, toilets and clean water, dominated the media, that suddenly the politicians sensed political disaster.
It’s not newborn babies separated from their parents, truck loads of ice and water held up by FEMA for security concerns they didn’t know had already been provided by out-of-state police, but because politicians on both sides of the aisle began to worry about their jobs.
No one seemed to be incensed that FEMA, and its hack director Mike Brown, appeared brain dead – immobilized – unable to take the initiative and organize thousands of willing and able volunteers, totally lacking the leadership skills required to manage the effort. Brown’s editorials on FEMA’s success during the first days of the crisis were ludicrous, only surpassed by denials from the leaders of the administration trying desperately to practice damage control. It wasn’t until Bush and Cheney finally took a belated look that comparisons between our Gulf Coast and a third-world country began to ring true.
Tom DeLay, poster boy for candor and intellectual honesty, accepted the assignment of deflecting the blame from the Bush team for inaction, by pointing out that the responsibility starts at the bottom and works its way up – local, state and finally federal. This is an absurd rationale for allowing huge numbers of largely poor and underprivileged people to suffer for days, but the same excuse given for organized prisoner abuse in Abu Grabe which successfully shielded Rumsfeld and all the top brass from any direct responsibility.
Only vocal and sustained outrage from Republican congressional leaders and a free fall in Bush’s approval rating forced Chertoff to recall Brown to Washington and replace him on the ground with an experienced and capable leader. As of this writing Brown is still in charge of FEMA and Bush is unable to admit any of his choices are poor – joining Bolton, Ashcroft, Rumsfeld and a host of other mediocre appointments.
It appears that the cost of rebuilding New Orleans and restoring the Gulf Coast infrastructure and economy will increase the budget deficit to an extent that jeopardizes all other administration priorities. Bush has remained intractable on the need to make inappropriate tax cuts permanent in the face of the Iraqi quagmire. Only lunatics will conclude we can add to the burden of the war another $200 billion we don’t have without increasing revenues.
It’s ironic that our leaders chose to believe highly questionable intelligence that pointed to weapons of mass destruction in Iraq as a justification for going to war, but ignored credible reports developed by the Army Corps of Engineers that predicted a category 4 hurricane would destroy the levees and all but annihilate a major U.S. city.
It is too early to evaluate the long range impact of the clusterfuck in New Orleans or the ongoing misery of the Iraqi people as our young American service men and women continue to die in support of the Bush Doctrine of Preemption. Preemption might well have been the proper course of action for any of our leaders who were watching CNN as the levees broke and swallowed up most of the city. Women’s rights, education, health care, affordable housing doesn’t seem to stimulate the juices of bureaucrats, talking heads or God fearing fundamentalists that form the “CORE” of the team too preoccupied to respond decisively to a disaster on their own soil.