Friday, September 09, 2005

The Disaster Response Disaster

It's been remiss of me not to say something about Katrina. It's not that it hasn't been on my mind, but so much has already been adequately covered and said elsewhere (Andrew Sullivan, for example, has been on Katrina 24x7) that for me to add anything of significance (and properly researched and sourced, as I try to do on this blog) is beyond the small amount of time I've had to devote to it (this blog thing is only a part-time job after all, which comes after working 10-hour days, cooking dinner for my husband, and doing household chores). Looking back on my blog though, I admit it gives an unduly cavalier impression for me to have been writing about restaurant and film reviews, or even gay marriage, this past week while so many fellow Americans are displaced, distressed, or dead. On the other hand, it's hard for me to seem more cavalier than President Bush, playing golf the day after the hurricane struck and only reluctantly cutting short his 5-week vacation days later to go strum a guitar and cheer up Trent Lott who lost his coastal home but by golly will build a better one with a new and improved sea-front view. Or Secretary of State Rice, who was shopping for boots in Manhattan, while generous offers of help from around the world went unanswered for days. Or Vice-President Cheney, also on vacation, in Wyoming and then scouting out multi-million dollar Chesapeake Bay vacation homes. (I wonder if his vacation included another duck hunt with Justice Scalia, who could have been lobbying for the Chief post before the late Chief Justice's body is even cold. The two old boys could have shared some reminiscences of last year's trip to Louisiana. What a shame if that good duck-hunting ground was damaged in the storm.)

As with most disasters, this brings out the best and the worst in people. The best: the amazing professionals and volunteers who have plunged into the muck and chaos to help; the generosity of people around the country and around the world who have offered money, supplies, help, homes. The worst: idiots shooting at hospitals and rescue helicopters; looters (those stealing TVs and camcorders and such, not to be confused with those legitimately appropriating necessities); scammers setting up fraudulent web sites to steal money under the con of Katrina aid.

But it's just impossible to ignore the appalling incompetence of the government in responding to the disaster. While the government gave excuses about the ciy being inaccessible due to roads and communication lines being down, and needing more time to mobilize, news organizations like CNN had people on the ground and communications set up almost immediately. Companies with a large commercial presence in the affected area were quickly mobilized to get help to their employees, and get their business operations resumed. Walmart was expeditious (as well as quite generous) in getting truckloads of essential supplies into places where it was needed. In battered St. Bernard Parish, the first rescuers they saw were the Vancouver Urban Search & Rescue Team that had come down from Canada. All those good people rolled up their shirtsleeves, got organized, and got to work, while President Bush and Governor Blanco were the first to start the "blame game" pointing fingers at each other, reporters were having to explain to a clueless FEMA Director where the Morial Convention Center was, and the FEMA "leadership" was sending trucks and planes to the wrong places and being nearly as much a hindrance as a help. Some people are speculating that FEMA Director Michael Brown ought to be fired, just because he is political patronage hack lacking any substantive qualifications for the job he was appointed to, may have falsified his resume, and bungled the most important task in his organization's charter. Remember, however, that this is the Bush Administration. Accountability means nothing. Brown may be angling for a Medal of Freedom.

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