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August 29, 2007

Posted by Moira Whelan

We’re once again at an anniversary of Katrina hitting the Gulf Coast, and the subsequent devastation that occurred due to human failure. I’m still looking for something to say that moves beyond outrage.

It’s hard to believe that the President has been down there 15 times now, and can still look himself in the mirror every day, knowing that his government has failed to do all it can to help rebuild these American towns and cities. I know many, many dedicated public servants who’ve worked hard over the past years to help, but they’re working in a system that fundamentally doesn’t care. This is a government in which this devastation didn’t warrant a mention in the State of the Union Address.

I’d urge everyone to do something today. Pray, read a book, donate money. But whatever you do, don’t forget. The worst thing you can do is think it doesn’t impact you because of where you live, or the issues you care about. The worst thing you can ever do is nothing.

I consider the best book on the subject to be "Disaster." Bobby Block was all over the problems with FEMA long before the storm hit. Chris Cooper was a local, and was able to sort through the Louisiana politics for those unfamiliar.

There’s no shortage of problems and things to fix, and one site has done an amazing job inventorying all of the recommendations from the countless reports, and calls for citizen action to fix them.

The fact is, those of us who work on any political issue are going to have a hard time getting people who are left stranded on roofs, under houses, or in shelters to care about anything else that's critical in this country. How do you get someone to care about the trade relationship with China when they literally cannot find their house, and the government is of little help? We want Americans to trust their government, but most of us are a long way from that right now.


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OIG for DHS must be the busiest job in the federal bureaucracy.

So, Moira, what should DHS be? FEMA under Clinton famously -- and effectively -- was a check-writing (and press release-faxing) clearinghouse. Do we want it to be more, to be a 9-1-1 hotline service of three hots and a cot?


To me, this has been where some adult leadership by the Congressional Democrats really could make a difference, because right now DHS is a byzantine maze of regulations, redundancies and unreachable expectations.

Our country's response to Katrina was an national embarrassment. Given the circumstances of the tragedy, yes, even "a check-writing (and press release-faxing) clearinghouse" would be preferable to what little was done. Over responding to this crisis was far preferable to what little was done then up until today.

Although I am an Independent, I am fairly confident that were Democrats in control of government when Katrina occurred, a much more humane response would have been undertaken. Let's not forget that Bush plays a huge role in this situation and for what does and does not happen. Unfortunately, this country has been heavily burdened by an inept, careless and uncaring president even though he characterizes himself as a "compassionate conservative."

Under Bill Clinton FEMA was an highly effective and effecient organization, but was ruined when Bush combined it with DHS. For FEMA to be effective again it needs to regain its independence, be fully funded, and not be run by hacks like Michael Brown.

According to this fact sheet, "The Federal Government Has Provided More Than $114 Billion In Resources – $127 Billion Including Tax Relief – To The Gulf Region."

The fact sheet lists billions that have been spent on levee upgrades, education, and housing.

Can you substantiate this statement: "It’s hard to believe that the President has been down there 15 times now, and can still look himself in the mirror every day, knowing that his government has failed to do all it can to help rebuild these American towns and cities. I know many, many dedicated public servants who’ve worked hard over the past years to help, but they’re working in a system that fundamentally doesn’t care."?

Please! Why would anyone in their right mind go to the White House website to find factual information about anything, particularly about a huge fiasco such as Katrina? I think the White House's version of Katrina just might be a little overembelished, don't you? I actually prefer a more independent evaluation of the situation. How about this article from NPR and the Washington Post instead:

The quote, "knowing that his government has failed to do all it can to help rebuild these American towns and cities" is damning but accurate. The country would expect him (i.e. Bush) to pull out all the stops to help those adversely affected by Katrina but such was not the case. Any and all aid offerred should be accepted and used. If there are problems in administering aid it should be addressed promptly. I hardly sense that Bush loses sleep over the Katrina disaster.....he's caught up in the other disaster, Iraq.


The Washington Post article talks about offers of foreign aid that were not taken advantage of; it states that the disaster has cost U.S. taxpayers $125 billion so far. The first sentence of the NPR article says the federal government has provided more than $114 billion in aid.

If you care to open your mind to another perspective on Bush's culpability, you could do worse than read the following:

I read your recommended article by Commentary Magazine, a conservative publication. For a moment after reading that article and, "having opened my mind to another perspective," I thought to myself, I now see the light and the error of my ways! How could I have been so misled and so uninformed? President Bush actually handled the Katrina disaster brilliantly. It was not his fault that three different levees failed thereby flooding the entire city. That was actually the fault of the Army Corps of Engineers, not President Bush. In fact, New Orleans was lucky, Katrina was only a Category 3 hurricane and not a Category 4 or 5 where even more damage would have been inflicted. And besides, New Orleans before the storm was a poor, crime ridden, corrupt location that (can we even think it?) should not even be rebuilt. I mean, who needs it anyway, right? We are probably better off without it perhaps. And the press reporting of the Katrina tragedy was....terrible...lies, lies, all lies!

Then I sat back and concluded, another piece of conservative cr*p that continues their perpetual state of denial. Has a Republican in this administration EVER made a mistake that they are willing to take responsibility for?

"Under Bill Clinton FEMA was an highly effective and effecient organization, but was ruined when Bush combined it with DHS."

The OIG might not share such heady estimations. FEMA has worked best in a very limited role -- declare every untawdry event an "emergency," pledge grants to the states, await the insurance and reinsurance blitz, then become a backstop for the most impoverished citizens and the most tax-deficient governmental entities.

If that's what we want FEMA to be -- and that's what it was during the Clinton years -- then so be it. If we ask for it to be something else, we should ask ourselves why this is so, and perhaps make it thus with the appropriate funding, personnel and oversight.

This isn't simply a "Bush" issue, especially since the Democrats were in charge of the Senate during its creation, and Sen Lieberman alone has as much claim to the genesis of the animal as former "Terrorism Czar" Ridge and his coterie in the bowels of the White House.

Dear M.:

The human animal has a peculiar tendency which is utterly anti-survival. That tendency is to put off dealing with inconvenient problems until and unless they ripen up into a crisis. Of course the Army Corps report on the need to upgrade the dikes should have been acted upon, and of course the mayor should not have left fleets of school buses unused as poor people with no personal transportation out of the disaster area languished.

But that wisdom cuts both ways. As a nation, we decided we had more pressing needs than upgrading dikes in a Gulf Coast city. A list of some of those needs would enrage conservative and liberal alike, but the fact is, we spent our money on those needs because they were politically sexier and more likely to garner media attention and votes in the next election.

Also, on the issue of the school buses, many poor people refused to accept transportation when it was offered, because they'd been through hurricanes before and expected this one to be no worse than the others.

So Mayor Nagin and the federal government made their choices, the people made theirs, and all hell broke loose.

The problem with government is not our elected representatives. They are sent to the halls of power with wildly conflicting agendas determined by we the people. I think it's a miracle they get anything useful done, under the circumstances.

"We have met the problem, and it is us."

Mark Dorroh, Richmond, VA

Dear Mark,

I can accept that government doesn't run like like a well calibrated machine, government is an imperfect apparatus to be sure. However, I take issue with your comment that, "The problem with government is not our elected representatives." Actually, our elected representatives are the catalyst for action taken by our government, are they not? Elected representatives are the vital ingredient that brings the potential of government to act in all manner of instances. Otherwise, why go through all the trouble and expense to elect them in the first place? Therefore, it follows that when a tragedy such as Katrina hits this country I would expect elected officials at all levels of government to wisely use the powers they are vested with to help the citizenry. Your observation that "We have met the problem, and it is us," is true but primarily as it relates to whom we elected, hmm?

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Great info.I would say the USA Today had reported Monday that Webb is going to bring up the issue of Katrina while issuing a rebuttal of Bush’s SOTU speech tonight. I only hope that Webb also decides to announce that the Democrats will demand that Bush should return the troops to this country as soon as possible while announcing that Congress will hold hearings on making sure that the funds are cut off for this most unnecessary occupation in Iraq. But that would assume that the Democrats have developed a spine to demonstrate that they actually care and support the troops by removing them from that abattoir in Iraq. Bring them home- safely-now...

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