Tuesday, September 06, 2005

“Ongoing” Problems

“There are ongoing problems that need to be addressed. We’ve got to keep our energies focused on the task at hand.”Scott McClellan, in response to questions on Hurricane Katrina relief efforts

In his role as spokesman for President Bush, Scott McClellan’s primary task is answering reporters’ questions. Is he not up to it? Will storm victims have to wait longer for food or even die if he doesn’t answer questions about the administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina? Not likely.

Echoing his stance on Karl Rove’s recent troubles, McClellan says that hurricane relief efforts are “ongoing” and, essentially, “we’ll talk about it (poor planning/response) later.” But like the absentee father Harry Chapin sang of in “Cat’s in the Cradle,” it doesn’t appear that any time is ever a good time for those in charge to tend to those who they’re supposed to be looking after.

My question is, can this administration not talk and chew gum at the same time? Why won’t they deal with anything NOW? Maybe they just have too many disasters on their plate at the moment?

The war in Iraq, one of those disasters, diverted funds away from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ work on the levees that normally keep New Orleans high and dry – the ones which broke open and delivered the coup de grace to the city after Hurricane Katrina had already ravaged it. But this was no sucker punch.


The president and his head of homeland security, among others, insist no one could have foreseen the failure of New Orleans’ levees and the resultant flooding. Yet, Michael Brown, the head of FEMA, says his agency had anticipated this kind of calamity at least two years ago. Lt. General Carl Strock of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also says his team was aware of the potential damage to the area from a powerful storm. And, way back in 2002, a New Orleans newspaper published this article:


U.S. Army Corps of Engineers funding notwithstanding, it took five days to get any federal help to New Orleans after Katrina hit. This despite the fact that we all saw this storm coming for days in advance. True, the “when” and “where” can never quite be ascertained before a hurricane actually hits. But why weren’t relief efforts organized in the days before and sent out immediately after the storm? It doesn’t take five days to drive to Louisiana from any point in the contiguous United States.

Like many others watching the Katrina disaster unfold on TV, I quickly noticed the throngs of refugees crowding the Superdome in the storm’s aftermath were overwhelmingly African American. And I remember thinking that it was only a matter of time before Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and other activists pointed this out, and tied the slow response to it. They did, and rightfully so. Does anyone believe that it would have taken so long to get help to Minneapolis or Denver after such a natural disaster?

The mostly white “haves,” including members of my family, got out of New Orleans while the getting was good. No one can hold that against them. The rest – including many with no transportation of their own, who rely on mass transportation to get from place to place – were left to fend for themselves. For this, many at the top levels of government share the blame, whether or not the White House wants to talk about it.

The powers that be ignored the warnings of the experts, didn’t take this storm’s threat seriously, got caught with their pants down, kept them down, and are still standing with their cheeks and other unsightly attributes exposed to the world. In more than one respect Hurricane Katrina is the 9/11 of New Orleans, but likely with a much higher death toll.

No wonder New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin has been cursing so much.

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