Robert Scheer in a powerful op-ed in the Los Angeles Times makes an excellent argument when he points out that much of the debacle of the Katrina rescue effort was made possible by people, who, hating big government, have castrated its role of being the only agency capable of responding properly and effectively to truly major disasters.
In their rush to deconstruct Big Government, Republicans, in concert with big business, have will-nilly shredded agencies that require size to be even minimally effective, FEMA being in the forefront of those so targeted.
To add insult to injury, the blogosphere’s right wing has spent no small amount of words castigating people at the bottom tier of those responsible for responding to disasters as well as the disaster victims themselves. Apparently, it’s NO Mayor Fagin’s fault that he didn’t personally shore up the levees against the flooding, Louisiana Governor Blanco is to blame for not filling out the proper paperwork to formally request the assistance of FEMA or call out the National Guard (in reality, she did declare an emergency and she did request FEMA assistance, and she did it early), and the tens of thousands of New Orleans’ poor were solely to blame for being so poor that they couldn’t afford bus fare to leave the city, et cetera, et cetera, ad nauseum.
But, folks, what’s a federal government for, if not to pick up the slack when a municipality or state can’t mobilize enough resources to respond to Nature’s own version of WWIII, especially a dirt poor state like Louisiana?
In point of fact, New Orleans did have a disaster plan in place, which relied on its effectiveness in large part on the integrity of the poorly maintained levees, the maintenance of which is the responsibility of the Corps of Engineers, a federal agency under President Bush’s authoprity. Evacuation is a resort of last measure, but, given the threat of a Force 5 hurricane, Mayor Fagin ordered it and hoped like hell the levees would hold. As for the evac itself, its effectiveness was greatly dependent on the assistance of large numbers of the National Guard, who were not available. Who’s fault is that?
In all deference to Mr. Scheer, this debacle is not the result so much of a downsized government as it is the result of plain incompetence on the part of under qualified government officials who were placed in their offices by the President. Had there been some degree of professionalism in the response to the Mayor’s and Governor’s cry for help, FEMA could have responded much more effectively, even with its mission compromised by its lack of proper funding and personnel. George Bush also has to share a large part of the blame by his seeming indifference to the slow response of the disaster relief efforts, as well as his overseeing the slashing of the budget of the Corps of Engineers and the reduction of FEMA’s role as first responder. As Chief Executive of this country, he should have taken over command when it became apparent to all that speed was of the essence.
In his croynism in appointing a non-professional to the head of FEMA, his lingering over ending his vacation, his seeming indifference to the lethargic response to the disaster, as well as his failure to take decisive action himself, he has shown himself to be incompetent to be President of the United States.
For a real timeline of the whole schmeer, go to Think Progress (includes links to major government responses).