Saturday, September 03, 2005

Tracing Blame

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.


At 9:32 PM, Anonymous Red Dirt said...

Thank You Chase!

You managed to round it all up and speak for all of us - conservative, liberal, anywhere in between - while keeping your eye firmly planted on the real and horrific tragedy of what has just happened.

I just watched a little girl on FOX News. When Geraldo asked her how she was feeling, she said, "I feel hungry."

Not for the first time, I lost it after hearing this. The last time I really lost it was watching another story on FOX News about a young, poor, black man who commandeered a school bus and saved dozens of babies and mothers.

He didn't know how to drive a big vehicle, but he figured it out -- and took them all to Houston on that yellow bus. A photo captures him in the moment, there behind the wheel, mothers and babies crowded behind him and he's peering through the windshield ahead.

What can I say? The man is a saint, an angel, a hero of epic proportions. Poetry ought to be written about this guy. Whoever saves one life saves the world.

Thanks again for your insightful and balanced comments. Let's put the united back in the United States, and pull together.

At 5:03 PM, Blogger aka_monty said...

I'm in agreement. There is plenty of blame to go around...but lets save that until we actually get the situation dealt with. We should be pulling together instead of tearing ourselves apart.

And I stopped in to bring you a lighter note~a congratulations on your win of Best Overall Blog. :)
I'm not surprised, and I'm very excited for you. It is well deserved. :)

At 10:33 PM, Blogger Brian said...

Very well written assessment and analysis of the "blame game".

Congrats on your blogging award!

At 1:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

All very well said.
Fact is, everyone from the New Orleans dogcatcher to the President should be held accountable for a horrid response. It's not partisian, it's not racial, it's incompetence. Senators, Congressman, Mayor, Police Chief, FEMA Director, President, ALL need to be on the chopping block for review. Forgot Congressional hearings, Bush needs to appoint a bipartisan commission to review every bit of it. Congress sticks their nose into it and it becomes nothing more than a circus. Find a handful of people with the cred to dig in and figure out what broke down... and LISTEN to them. I think we will find that a key reason for a poor federal response was the fact that FEMA was lumped in with DHS. Bad idea from the start. God help us if the terrorists stop laughing long enough to try something.

At 1:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

pretty dramatic stuff from Geraldo and Shep Smith... Geraldo was a little off on his numbers, saying it had been six days.. when it had only been three... but pretty dramatic nonetheless. Neither ever said ( at least in that clip) WHO was not allowing people to go across the bridge away from NO? Feds, State, City?

At 10:02 AM, Blogger Chase McInerney said...

Anon - by the time of Rivera's report, I think it had been five days since people began gathering at the convention center (his report was Thursday, I am pretty sure). As far as orders not to leave the area, that would obviously be a fed directive. Federals take over in a disaster of national magnitude, which is why, I suspect, FEMA will ultimately receive the brunt of culpability in this.

At 1:22 PM, Blogger Chai-rista said...

Yeah - it was either the Feds or the National Guard who would not let people leave. They do/did this because they don't want a huge army of homeless ravaging the country-side like the Union army scavenging for supplies in the South. There was no water station set up for them. No food dropped, so they'd be essentially looters on the move - through no fault of their own.

Not saying it's right. Just pointing out that it was "stabilization's" attempt to contain lawlessness until the refugees could be moved to a supplied station.


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