A Failure of Unimaginable Consequences

The nightmare in New Orleans continues, while the Nero of Crawford seems to be playing his fiddle. The news reports today are full of tales of a lack of leadership, slow responses by the federal government, misplaced priorities, and an almost total lack of coordination. All this following the massive restructuring of the government’s response capacity following 9/11. And where is the President? Making vague promises of assistance while babies are dying of dehydration, criminals are controlling the streets of New Orleans, and the water continues to rise. Where is the leader that President Bush claims to be? Where is the massive deployment of National Guard and regular military? Where was the leadership in the days before the storm–and the hours following that could have saved lives? Absolutely lacking.

The Washington Post describes the situation, from the perspective of a local official on the scene:

Terry Ebbert, head of New Orleans’s emergency operations, said the response from the Federal Emergency Management Agency was inadequate and that Louisiana officials have been overwhelmed.

“This is a national disgrace. FEMA has been here three days, yet there is no command and control,” Ebbert told the Associated Press as he watched refugees evacuate the Superdome yesterday. “We can send massive amounts of aid to tsunami victims, but we can’t bail out the city of New Orleans. We have got a mayor who has been pushing and asking, but we’re not getting supplies.”

What’s more, the Bush Administration is even more accountable because they may well be responsible for the level of devastation that New Orleans has seen. Seth Borenstein, from Knight Ridder, writes:

The federal government so far has bungled the job of quickly helping the multitudes of hungry, thirsty and desperate victims of Hurricane Katrina, former top federal, state and local disaster chiefs said Wednesday.

The experts, including a former Bush administration disaster response manager, told Knight Ridder that the government wasn’t prepared, scrimped on storm spending and shifted its attention from dealing with natural disasters to fighting the global war on terrorism.

Worse yet, the Bush Administration cut the funding for plans to deal with this exact issue in New Orleans, and cut the funding for flood control for Southeast Louisiana so drastically that the Army Corp of Engineers basically stopped working on the levees–for the first time in 37 years!

Federal flood control spending for southeastern Louisiana has been chopped from $69 million in 2001 to $36.5 million in 2005, according to budget documents. Federal hurricane protection for the Lake Pontchartrain vicinity in the Army Corps of Engineers’ budget dropped from $14.25 million in 2002 to $5.7 million this year. Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu requested $27 million this year


This is a failure of policy, human decency, and preparation on a massive scale. What confidence can the American people have that the Bush Administration could ever hope to deal with a terrorist attack on the United States? In a European governmental system, the failures of the Bush Administration in two Gulfs would likely lead to a vote of no-confidence and a collapse of the government. In our system, it will lead to meaningless photo ops and the tragic deaths of innocents.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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