My wife remarked recently that this blog has a marked absence of commentary on Hurricane Katrina and its tragic aftermath. She is right, but it is hardly because I don't care. To be honest, it has been a pretty exhausting time for me, much of it connected to the hurricane -- and for reasons I will not get into here -- and for most of my non-working hours this week, I have been glued, like so many Americans, to the horrific TV images broadcast from New Orleans, Biloxi and elsewhere in the Gulfport region.
There really isn't much to say that has not already been said, and by far more articulate and insightful people. The story of what has transpired since Katrina is mind-numbing, heartbreaking and -- in the case of such horrors as what happened in that city's convention center -- just surreal.
The blame game is in full swing (anyone notice lately how American victimization has been commandeered by American finger-pointing?), and while much of it is unseemly and unfair, a share of armchair quarterbacking is certainly justified. Why would it take days and days for the National Guard or federal authorities to bring food and water to the more than 15,000 people stranded at the New Orleans convention center? Why would the Guard block efforts of people to leave the convention center or Superdome? Why would so many survivors in Biloxi say they went some five days without seeing a single Guardsman? There are a lot of questions.
And there is undoubtedly a lot of blame to go around. I have liberal-minded friends who place the late, haphazard relief effort squarely at the feet of the White House and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. I have conservative-minded friends who place it squarely at the feet of New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco. I think they're all right -- and all wrong, too.
There were breakdowns all along the way, a litany of deadly missteps that apparently began with a biblical-sized breakdown last Sunday in which God decided to slam the monster hurricane into the Gulf region.
And there was a breakdown when federal and state authorities, despite experts having anticipated this calamity for years, opted to ignore longterm fixes.
And there was a breakdown when those who could afford to evacuate booked it out of New Orleans, leaving those who couldn't -- the sick, the elderly, the infirm, the poor -- with no recourse but to ride out the storm. (what strikes me as a bit of a chicken-or-egg argument is the issue surrounding the socioeconomic class of the majority of storm victims: Were Louisiana and Mississippi governments initially weak in responding because they are generally poverty-stricken states? Or was the federal government initially weak in responding because Louisiana and Mississippi are generally poverty-stricken states? Whatever the answer, the hardest-hit states had the bad sense to be poor).
And there was a breakdown when Louisiana did not immediately declare martial law as soon as violent crimes began to spiral out of control (notice I didn't say the looting, which seems to be a mighty flexible word when you're talking about people who have lost everything).
And there was a breakdown when the head of FEMA says the rescue effort had "no idea" about the throngs left to suffer at the city convention center until more than five days after the fact.
And there was a breakdown when so many New Orleans police officers abandoned their jobs, some to actually take part in the looting, some because they, too, were victims who had just lost everything.
This is beyond tragic. And the media coverage, for the most part, has been mesmerizing ... even, or perhaps particularly, FOX News (courtesy Crooks and Liars).
What is important now, even more important than tracing the line of blame, is to give. Emergency officials caution against donating items, which too often means that people end up cleaning junk out of their closets and pantries and dumping it on to relief organizations that, in turn, must ultimately chunk it. What the American Red Cross, Salvation Army and every other relief organizations needs, above all else, is money.