Sunday, September 04, 2005

thousands dead, and what went wrong?

Thousands likely dead
For the first time, a Federal official (Health Secretary Michael Levitt) today said the death toll from Katrina would likely be in the thousands. Dysentery in Biloxi, last thing the folks down there need is an outbreak of disease.

Meanwhile, outside New Orleans...
Not getting as much attention as New Orleans or Biloxi, but St. Bernard Parish, southeast of New Orleans with a population of 68,000 is completely empty, and local officials say that hundreds of its residents are dead. A local sheriff pointed out that a team of rescuers sent by the city government of faraway Vancouver, British Columbia (as in, Canada) got to his parish quicker than anybody from the Federal government.

What went wrong?
The Washington Post today ran a long analysis of what went wrong in the run-up to and aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Read it, it is a tale of stupidity and blindness, as FEMA was downgraded from an independent Cabinet-level agency under Bill Clinton to just one small part of the colossal DHS bureaucracy, subject to plunder and theft by other elements of DHS with a higher post-9/11 profile, plus Federal officials lamely blaming the federal nature of our government in passing the buck most un-Harry-Truman-like to state and local governments. A couple of highlights...

-- A study shows the US spends $20 billion versus terrorism, and $180 million to fend off natural disasters.

-- An anonymous senior FEMA official quoted Joe Allbaugh, the guy who was Bush's campaign chairman and first FEMA chief who hired and promoted the current FEMA Chief Michael Brown, as saying "You don't get it." The official said, "If you brought up natural disasters, you were accused of being a pre-9/11 thinkers."

-- Allbaugh, contradicting what others have said this week, said "Beyond terrorism, this (a hurricane hitting New Orleans and causing flooding) was the one event I was most concerned with always." But not enough to keep him from belittling others in FEMA for pointing out that natural disasters would not take a sabbatical just because a bunch of terrorists decided to fly planes into buildings.

"How Could This Happen in the US?"

Various foreigners wonder how the world's most technologically- and militarily-advanced country could fuck up a relief and rescue operation so badly.

Believe me, we're wondering the same thing.

Frank Rich and David Brooks offer their thoughts on the botched relief. Rich compares the President's bleat of ignorance that "nobody" thought New Orleans's levees would be breached to Condi Rice's post-9/11 statement that nobody "could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center" and noted that even Fox News' Shepard Smith and others on that Republican-run news network were exasperated with the poor response. Meanwhile, Brooks wonders whether this latest in a long series of Bush/GOP failures will provoke a political reaction against the current prevailing political philosophy. I hope so.