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.)