Thursday, September 08, 2005

Incompetence is bad enough; not taking responsibility for it is shameful. Blaming it on others is a national disgrace.

From the Star Tribune:

If the human misery that followed Hurricane Katrina has been shocking and painful, the federal government's shifting explanations for its needless severity have been utterly shameful.

That assessment is not part of some political, postdisaster "blame game," but an insistence that accountability for preparing for and responding to a major U.S. disaster be placed squarely where it belongs: the federal government and its emergency-response program, FEMA.

The Bush administration's attempts to shift accountability elsewhere -- first to the victims stuck in New Orleans for not leaving, later to Louisiana officials and "bureaucrats" -- are an appalling use of political tactics in the highly inappropriate realm of human suffering and pain, of lives saved and lives lost.

That realm requires that officials accept responsibility, express true and deep understanding of the dislocation and misery being experienced, and redouble efforts to make up for a sickeningly bungled start.

While efforts have been redoubled, effectiveness is still in question; genuine, deep understanding hasn't been apparent despite two presidential visits to the area. And accountability? Accepting it would involve, at the least, making clear that critical changes will be made, and rolling appropriate heads at FEMA and its umbrella, the Department of Homeland Security.

Instead, the White House organized a PR effort directed by political adviser Karl Rove, master of political attack-machine tactics. The New York Times reported Monday that the administration, alarmed at the potential political fallout of its poor performance, regrouped over the weekend and mapped out its strategy. The plan has rolled out exactly as the Times' report said it would:

Administration officials appearing in public have downplayed the need to quickly assess failures, and have tried instead to discuss what's being done now. To the extent that they -- and allies who appear or write in their stead -- do discuss failures, it is to point the finger at local and state officials or "bureaucrats." Officials doing just that include Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff, whose accountability is right up there with FEMA director Michael Brown's.

These tactics are beyond outrageous. No state, no locality can take the lead in dealing with an emergency like Katrina. That's why FEMA was created. That is why Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco declared a state of emergency on Friday, Aug. 26, when Katrina was a Category 2 hurricane. It is why the Gulf Coast states requested help from the Pentagon that same day.

It is why the next day, as Katrina was upgraded to Category 3, Blanco asked President Bush to declare a federal state of emergency in Louisiana. It was declared. Thus FEMA had full authority and responsibility from the White House "to identify, mobilize, and provide at its discretion, equipment and resources necessary to alleviate the impacts of the emergency."

Over the following week the world watched as an even more powerful Katrina hit on Monday and victims pitifully waited for help without adequate (or often any) food, health care or water. Meager boats rescued a few as doctors pleaded for aid, as newscasters struggled to share the story -- and as ships, trucks and outside aid waited, and waited, for approval to help, frequently thwarted, incredibly, by FEMA.

Exactly what went wrong, in both the planning and the response, must be assessed in short order. The ability of the United States to prepare for and respond to disaster -- whatever the origin -- is vital to its security. No less, it is critical to America's ability to honor its shared values, which include attending to the poor, the sick, the vulnerable -- the very people who suffered most from the government's incompetence last week. Yet the White House delays the reckoning while pointing fingers at others.

Incompetence is bad enough; not taking responsibility for it is shameful. Blaming it on others is a national disgrace.

edited to add: Carla has blogged the same article, and then she writes today:
"While you and other Americans are taking money out of your pockets to help the Katrina-area people recover, the Republicans want to effectively negate everyone's efforts by forcing a wage cut on people who might actually get jobs--to replace those they lost because of the hurricane--in the reconstruction efforts."
Go read, they have no shame.

Christine posted a katrina's timeline that will make you cry (she adapted it from Think Progress).

And no, not even the new Knitty can take my mind off all this.