Friday, September 16, 2005

Government's response to Katrina

Check out this Newsweek article about the government's response to Katrina. There is much more to be written on the topic, but it's an interesting if very preliminary first draft of history. Credit to The Daily Howler for providing the link.

I was a bit slow to appreciate the magnitude of hurricane Katrina--due to the tendency of television news to hype every minor hurricane I ignored the early TV coverage--but no slower than the White House. On September 1, when I was composing a blog entry titled, "A Failure of Leadership," Dan Bartlett was making a DVD of TV coverage of the event for Bush to watch. The next day there was a meeting on Air Force One:

As the president's plane sat on the tarmac at New Orleans airport, a confrontation occurred that was described by one participant as "as blunt as you can get without the Secret Service getting involved." Governor Blanco was there, along with various congressmen and senators and Mayor Nagin (who took advantage of the opportunity to take a shower aboard the plane). One by one, the lawmakers listed their grievances as Bush listened. Rep. Bobby Jindal, whose district encompasses New Orleans, told of a sheriff who had called FEMA for assistance. According to Jindal, the sheriff was told to e-mail his request, "and the guy was sitting in a district underwater and with no electricity," Jindal said, incredulously. "How does that make any sense?" Jindal later told NEWSWEEK that "almost everybody" around the conference table had a similar story about how the federal response "just wasn't working." With each tale, "the president just shook his head, as if he couldn't believe what he was hearing," says Jindal, a conservative Republican and Bush appointee who lost a close race to Blanco. Repeatedly, the president turned to his aides and said, "Fix it."

"The president just shook his head, as if he couldn't believe what he was hearing." That's been my response to just about everything the Bush Administration has done over the past five years.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Bush's Hurricane Speech

Bush did one thing really well in tonight's speech: while acknowledging the problems in America's response to the hurricane, he evoked the courage and heroism of many of the people dealing with the tragedy. It was appropriate, and important, for the president to do that.

Having said that, I should acknowledge that I have never actually been to any of the places devastated by the hurricane. In the case of the 9/11 attacks, the shoe was on the other foot. Living in New Jersey, I was not personally affected by the attacks, but I know people who were. I was shocked when I realized through online discussions with Bush supporters that some of them didn't really want a president who would effectively address the terrorist threat. They wanted a president who would feel their pain. Thus they didn't really care whether Bush bombed al Qaeda or Iraq; the important thing was that America was inflicting damage rather than being the target of it.

This actually makes some sense when you consider that for most people in the red states, the 9/11 attacks were something rather distant events that filled their television screens with disturbing images. Although people in the red states would presumably agree in the abstract that the Unites States needs to address the threat of terrorism, it's pictures of heroic American soldiers toppline the statute of Saddam Hussein which address the problem that is most immediately bothering them: that they don't like images of America being attacked to dominate their TV news coverage.

Thinking about it, I expect that people directly affected by the hurricane weren't impressed by Bush's references to American heroism. They aren't concerned about the image of American incompetence created by the ineffectual response to the hurricane; they are concerned about food, housing, jobs, and the other necessities of life.

Bob Herbert's column in today's New York Times [link requries registration] points out that FEMA seized supplies being shipped to Methodist Hospital in New Orleans:

Everybody's suffering would have been eased if the emergency relief effort mounted by the hospital's owner, Universal Health Services in King of Prussia, Pa., had not been interfered with by FEMA. Company officials sent desperately needed water, food, diesel fuel to power the hospital's generators and helicopters to ferry in the supplies and evacuate the most vulnerable individuals.

Bruce Gilbert, Universal's general counsel, told me yesterday, "Those supplies were in fact taken from us by FEMA, and we were unable to get them to the hospital. We then determined that it would be better to send our supplies, food and water to Lafayette [130 miles from New Orleans] and have our helicopters fly them from Lafayette to the hospital."

Significant relief began to reach the hospital on Thursday, and by Friday evening everyone had been removed from the ruined premises. They had endured the agonies of the damned, and for all practical purposes had been abandoned by government at all levels.

When you consider that the Methodist Hospital experience was just one small part of the New Orleans catastrophe, you get a sense of the size of the societal failure that we allowed to happen.

Welcome to the United States in 2005.

Bush's speech includes some excellent writing, but some of the patients at Methodist Hospital died. Bush's speech won't bring them back to life.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Time for Leadership

I haven't been blogging for a while because thinking about the current state of American politics every day starts to get depressing. I do try to be an informed citizen, but to read the news and then sit down and write about it, rather than moving onto something more positive, gets wearing after a while.

As we entered the 21st century, the big question for me was how the Unites States should build on its successes and good fortune. A tough question to answer, but it was inspiring to try. Now the big question is how to survive another three years of Bush mismanagement and incompetence.

Tonight I caught a portion of the News Hour, with the head of FEMA talking in an upbeat fashion about how they were providing food to the people in the Superdome and bussing them out. Later I watched the footage from the convention center on MSNBC. The reporter practically begged the government to send in busses for these people. Three days and no one waiting at the convention center has been evactuated.

I try to be cautious in my writing, argue from facts, and not underestimate the complexity of the real world. But I have a hard time accepting that we are doing the best we can do. There are going to be mistakes and confusion in the wake of a catastrophe like this one. But we should be getting beyond that. Round up food, commandeer busses, do whatever it takes to get the people waiting at the convention center fed and evacuated.