The blame game: Lots of hype, no results

    As always, Congress is focusing on the sins of the past and not the present.

    From that standpoint, the current investigations into the Katrina
    disaster are a familiar repeat of the blame game that can serve little
    useful purpose because the chances are good the errors will be repeated.

    Who cares whether the White House knew on Monday or a day later that
    the New Orleans dam had burst? Should the president have dispatched
    someone to put his finger in the dike? Perhaps he should have really
    shown compassion by doing so himself. A lot of his enemies would have
    loved that. The fact is irrefutable that it was too late by the time
    anyone, including those in the path of the flood, knew it was happening.

    Anyone who wasn’t in a coma _ or maybe in Congress _ at the time of
    this disaster knows by now why it occurred. It is the result of decades
    of talking about a potential problem, of diverting funds to other
    projects and believing that the inevitable will never happen. It is
    sort of like the fellow who fell from the 10-story building and, as he
    passed every floor, was heard to say, “Well, so far so good.” The
    litany of mistakes will be flooding forth all over Capitol Hill soon.

    So here we are, almost six months afterward, wasting time and money
    looking backward at the obvious rather than addressing the fact that
    huge parts of what used to be the most intriguing city in America still
    look like the hurricane and flood hit just yesterday. Here we are with
    the fired FEMA director, Michael Brown, the onetime Arabian horse
    breeder and official Katrina scapegoat, talking about how he called
    this White House aide or that in the early hours and got no response,
    while thousands of displaced persons are still strewn across the South
    and elsewhere like flotsam.

    Where has all the money gone? You know, the billions and billions
    pledged from private and government sources. Where are the thousands of
    trailers to provide temporary housing while the permanent homes are
    being rebuilt? Where are the bulldozers, carpenters, electricians,
    plumbers and others necessary to put right the blighted neighborhoods
    the president promised would be flowering again in no time? Those are
    the questions Congress needs to be asking _ not who called whom in
    Crawford, Texas, when nature’s mighty force was kicking the stuffing
    out of the Gulf Coast.

    It is the nature of Congress that it always refuses to accept any
    blame, ignoring the fact that the lack of preparedness and slow
    response to Katrina stemmed largely from its own panic-stricken
    actions. Everyone told lawmakers, even in the atmosphere of 9/11, that
    the Department of Homeland Security was a mistake of giant proportions;
    that it was a blueprint for a dysfunctional agency. Need we look any
    farther than the Ninth Ward of New Orleans for proof of that? This
    unwieldy blunderbuss would test the managerial skills of Gen. George
    Marshall, a logistical genius, let alone one of far lesser stature like
    Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who probably should
    resign in the wake of disclosures that his level of incompetence was
    the same as Brown’s.

    The truly scary thought is what happens in the case of a nuclear
    explosion or detonation of a radiological “dirty” bomb? Brown said that
    everything in Homeland Security, including his former agency, has been
    aimed at responding to or heading off a possible terrorist attack, not
    a natural disaster. What is the difference? If you can’t respond
    properly to one, chances are you can’t to the other.

    That leaves us with some horrendous prospects. Try evacuating this
    city and its environs on a moment’s notice, let alone the behemoths of
    New York or Chicago or Los Angeles. Americans should be demanding to
    know whether their government can protect them from a repeat of the
    current chaos or whether they should begin building those silly
    shelters of the ’50s and stocking up on supplies.

    In the meantime, Congress, as it approaches its midterm elections,
    will go on looking backward and trying for political gain by fixing
    blame while the good folks of the Gulf, particularly the poor ones of
    New Orleans, face another rapidly approaching hurricane season while
    still trying to recover from the last.

    (Dan K. Thomasson is former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.)