Saturday, September 03, 2005

The Lame Hurricane Blame Game

Many, many blogs are covering Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath from many, many angles.

I will not try to compete, both because much of the commentary is well-done and because I do not have the time or interest to devote myself solely to blogging about disaster relief. One plug only: Avoid the middlemen; donate directly to the American Red Cross.

But there is one aspect of post-hurricane politics/pop culture that I have not seen covered to death. It needs to be addressed. And I am just the man to do it.

Just as I previously decried the growing tendency for pundits and politicians alike to call each other “liars,” so will I put to shame those who always seek to blame the federal government for everything.

In this case, according to many, it is Washington’s fault that people are dead. Washington’s fault that people are suffering. Blame a cabinet department, blame FEMA, blame Congress, blame President Bush—the higher up, the better.

I have two main objections to this.

First, blaming anyone—much less the distant federal government—for not being fully psychic is intellectual laziness. We knew a major hurricane was coming, yes, but we know much more about the storm’s fury NOW than we did before Monday, August 29.

We have been warned countless times about “dangerous” or “life-threatening” hurricanes—not to mention blizzards, thunderstorms, and killer bee swarms—that turned out to be relatively light in damage. Is it any surprise that the citizens of New Orleans, regional authorities, and federal officials all failed to anticipate the scope of the damage?

When “wolf” has been cried hundreds or thousands of times before, the rational person does not panic at an oncoming storm—even a really big one. Why should we expect bureaucrats or elected officials in Washington to be MORE attuned to local dangers than the hundreds of thousands of citizens in the Gulf region who decided not to evacuate?

Second, the government should only do for the people what they cannot do for themselves. And the higher the level of government, the more it should stay out of people’s lives.

Why is it the federal government’s responsibility to have a plan in place for evacuating the residents of a horribly located city?

Who made the President, the Congress, or anyone in Washington the ultimate authority on local safety measures and emergency plans? Hypocritically, many of the people blaming the federal government are the same ones who lambaste the feds for meddling too much in state and local affairs.

I find it disturbing that so many voices are raised against President Bush for not having troops, food, water, and shelters on the streets of New Orleans on Monday night. Where are the critics of the state and local police, fire, and other authorities in New Orleans for their pathetic lack of a presence in their own city after the storm?

The damage is horrible and I hope that the death toll is lower than some analysts are now fearing. And if communities and governments can learn lessons from this storm and react more effectively to future similar disasters, great.

There is much to blame the feds for. The tragedy in New Orleans is not at the top of the list.


At September 07, 2005 5:55 PM, Blogger Rebecca replied to my musings ...

a couple of thoughts to add to your blog which i agree with for the most part:

my dad is the head of the emergency medical preparedness and emergency shelter supervisor for the state of alabama...though you may think it is in the best interest to donate directly to the red cross, i have been enlightened on that situation...though the red cross is a WONDEFUL organization, as far as the disaster relief has been going, they have been nothing short of a headache...while local officials and agencies (like my father) have been trying to coordinate efforts to help move, treat, and assist people, the red cross tends to just show up and do "what the red cross does" with no regard to those people already in place who are trying to handle the situations...they do not ask the people already working or who are heading up efforts...they just storm in as the red cross and do their own thing...

it is actually better to listen to what your local officials are asking people to do or to help through organizations such as catholic charities and the like b/c they work directly with state efforts and have a better idea of what is helpful and what is, pretty much, the red cross has been botching up a lot of the process by moving people or rearranging shelters that have already been put in place by other officials...and, then, not letting those people know...that's why there is so much of a mess...too many chiefs and not enough indians...

i agree that everyone can't be blaming the president for all of my dad informed me, b/c it's a natural disaster (and not an attack on our country as 9/11 was), the federal agencies do NOT become invovled until the state officials declare it a disaster site...also, those federal officials do NOT go directly to the president...they try to sort out and arrange the help as much as they can on their own before they call on the pres...obviously, they waited a little too long to call bush b/c things had already become a mess before he even got there...

further more, i agree with you about the "natural disaster" end of all was a freakin' hurricane! it's no one's fault but God Almighty that it became the event and catastrophe that it is...He controls the weather, how strong it is and where it hits...not bush or the governor of LA or the Red Cross could have stopped it from happening...people just need to get over themselves and recognize the hand of God...

At September 09, 2005 7:27 PM, Blogger David Amulet replied to my musings ...

Thanks for the post, and kudos to your dad. I am sure he has lived a busy--and personally rewarding--eleven days as he helps those in dire need. I wish him and your family the best during this difficult time.

I appreciate the information about the Red Cross activity on the ground. My concern when I posted had been for the folks giving money to the myriad organizations creating "funnel funds" that they would turn over the Red Cross. To my mind, this simply delayed the process of getting money to the Red Cross--which seemed to be the best group to consolidate philanthropic efforts.

I stand corrected, and I hope you will post something on your blog about this to spread the word!

On the federal response, I will employ the passive voice--mistakes were made--but I agree with you that we should not have expected FEMA to be in there right after the storm. It is not a "first repsonder" agency, and now it is simply an easy target for frustrated people.

FEMA can and should be examined for the way it is handling the situation now, but not for "creating" the crisis.

That is the fault of Mother Nature.


At September 25, 2005 6:18 PM, Blogger Jon replied to my musings ...


I want to second the kudos for your dad that David said. I think it is wonderful what people like your dad does for people at a time of need.


I couldn't agree with you more about this being a local authorities responsibility first and foremost. Our laws are setup so the Federal Government cannot move in and take control without the expressed request from the Governor of the state in which the disaster happens. FEMA is a third responder and not a first responding agency.

The President only took responsibility for the Federal Response because he was being lambasted by all of politicians and media.


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