I’m fuming after listening to various newscasters, commentators, and others trying to nail the blame for the response to Hurricane Katrina on somebody.
It is extremely early—less than 100 hours—in the relief process. We’re just beginning. We’re a rich, powerful country and, of course, we could have done better. The breast-beating that I’ve been seeing is unwarranted but, still, there’s plenty of blame to go around.
There’s one group that is completely and utterly blameless: the poorest of the poor in New Orleans, the sick, and the elderly who didn’t have cars to flee, couldn’t get buses to flee, and didn’t have any place to go or the money to stay there. These people put their reliance on city authorities and, obviously, that trust was misplaced. You might ask why these people were in a city with an economy that provided no jobs and no hope of doing so at all but that’s a much, much larger question.
The thugs, criminals, and animals who’ve been preying off the unfortunates stranded by the storm deserve blame. Deserve worse than blame. These weren’t people who were starving or desparate. Reports of looting began less than 24 hours after the hurricane struck. Look up starvation. It takes weeks or months to starve. If feeling a mite peckish is considered justification for looting, there isn’t a 7/11 in the country that’ll be left standing. These people just saw an opportunity and seized it. Don’t justify their actions.
The government of the city of New Orleans has been corrupt, incompetent, and criminal for as long as I can remember. I’ve read valiant defenses of Mayor Nagin as being the exception. Maybe so but very obviously he didn’t do enough. Anybody who thinks you can shut up the poor, weak, sick, and elderly up with a bunch of criminals in an athletic stadium for days on end without something going very seriously wrong needs to have their heads examined. I don’t care whether the stadium is in New Orleans or Houston. Most of the blame belongs to the officials of the city of New Orleans. They should have gotten the people out. Commandeered buses. Used city trucks. Used their personal cars. Figured out where to go and what to do later.
The government of the State of Louisiana has been corrupt and incompetent for as long as I can remember. After the officials of the city of New Orleans I blame the officials of the State of Louisiana. Louisiana continues to be one of the poorest, worst educated states in the Union and now without New Orleans the state is losing revenue at an incredible level. They knew there were problems. The inevitability of a major hurricane didn’t come as a surprise and the state’s efforts were, obviously, inadequate. Obviously, they thought they could do well enough without New Orleans and they’ll have to learn how now. Hindsight? Heck, yes. But there was an enormous amount of foresight that told them exactly what was was likely to happen.
I blame the media. In this country nearly everybody has a TV set. 80% of poor people have TV sets. The private media are the principle means of the public dissemination of information. They didn’t get the word out. They didn’t do enough to make the people take the danger of the situation with the seriousness it deserved. And I blame the media for the misdirection of blame from where it mostly belongs—individuals, local, and state officials—to the federal government and the President.
I blame the federal government. Either FEMA needs to behave as though they were dealing with emergencies or it should be abolished. We need to know whether FEMA is worthy of our trust. We don’t need an enormous federal bureaucracy to handle emergencies when they get around to it.
The Army Corps of Engineers says that they did their job and what they were authorized to do. I blame Congress for authorizing funds to build interstate highways in states like Hawaii with no interstate land traffic and boondoggles like the Big Dig in Massachusetts but won’t authorize the engineering and building to keep the Port of New Orleans in operation. They knew. They could have done something. It was their responsibility. They didn’t give a damn.
I blame the President. When the hurricane struck he should have dropped everything, gotten his best speechwriters, made a strong statement, and gone back to Washington. I’ve never known a politician with such a tin ear.
I blame the system. I blame all of us. From the cries of the people stranded in New Orleans you can tell they expected to be taken care of. I think that that belief was ill-founded but they clearly have it. Either we need to live up to those expectations a helluva lot better or we have to ensure that people know that when disaster strikes, they’re on their own.
Technorati tag: Hurricane Katrina