Thoughts on Hurricane Katrina and it's aftermath.
There is a lot of blame to go around for the mishandling of this great disaster. With the concentration on the inadequate Federal government response right now, some of the other culprits--many of whom are the Fed's greatest critics--are escaping their share. First off, let's look at the local authorities--mayor and governor--who saw fit to order a "mandatory" evacuation of the City of New Orleans, and then totally failed to provide any transport for the thousands of people who had no cars, or money for, or access to, public transportation. It is now evident that shelter planning for those that had to stay behind was totally inadequate. Why was the Louisiana National Guard not called out and prepositioned?
In the aftermath, it is easy to say these things could have been done. As foresight, honestly, not so easy. It must be said that we have gotten somewhat complacent about hurricanes, considering the major storms that have hit Florida this year and last, with considerable destruction of property, but little if any loss of life or long-term disruption of services. One might reasonably have expected that Katrina might blow over with a similar range of effects.
Indeed, had not the levees broken, New Orleans might be in not too bad shape. As it was however, when water floods in that has no natural exit, the recovery and clean up becomes a long, dirty, difficult job, with every passing day adding to the damage.
That said, it is clear that the Director of FEMA, Michael Brown, is an incompetent asshole. His appointment was pure political cronyism and based on no qualifications whatsoever. He was quoted as saying: "Unfortunately, (the death toll) that's going to be attributable a lot to people who did not heed the advance warnings. I don't make judgments about why people chose not to leave but, you know, there was a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans. And to find people still there is just heart-wrenching to me because, you know, the mayor did everything he could to get them out of there. So, we've got to figure out some way to convince people that whenever warnings go out it's for their own good. Now, I don't want to second guess why they did that." Totally ignoring the many who had no choice.
The administration is much to blame in allowing FEMA to be absorbed by the Department of Homeland Security, which has cut off most all its funding and thrown away its expertise in disaster management.
However, in my opinion one of the chief villains of this piece, is a man named Grover Norquist. Norquist is the head of Americans for Tax Reform, a powerful lobbyist. Americans for Tax Reform (ATR),is a coalition of taxpayer groups, individuals and businesses opposed to higher taxes at the federal, state and local levels. ATR organizes the TAXPAYER PROTECTION PLEDGE, which asks all candidates for federal and state office to commit themselves in writing to oppose all tax increases. To date, President George W. Bush, 222 House members, and 46 Senators have taken the pledge. On the state level, 6 governors and 1247 state legislators have taken the pledge. Basically, Norquist presents candidates with this pledge and demamds that they sign on to it, or his group will campaign against them alleging that they are wild-eyed tax-and-spenders. Norquist has avowed that the purpose of his organization is to get government down to the "size where you could drown it in the bathtub." Unfortunately, there are a lot of things that only government can really do, and major disaster management is one of them. So is building and maintaining levees, and funds for that kind of work have been cut due to tax cuts, while the money we do have goes to support war in Iraq. In my opinion, Norquist is the stalking horse for greed-ridden moneyed interests intent on cutting their own taxes and to the devil with whatever happens to the rest of the nation. I believe that this man and his organization have done more and more lasting damage to out country than Bin Laden and Al Quaida will ever manage to do. The disaster of New Orleans is only a localized accute outbreak, and I very much fear that there is more to come.