Friday, September 02, 2005

Where were all the first responders? How about the second responders? Third?

Watching the events as they unfold in New Orleans and many other parts of the Gulf Coast of the United States is horrifying. I am glad I waited a few days to right this because I have allowed my anger and outrage subside a bit. As such there will be far less blood-spitting vitriolic language in this post then there likely should be.

I am on a weekly e-mail group where a friend of mine from college sends out an e-mail with a question for everyone to ponder. We do and then some people each week reply to all with their opinions on the question. Today my friend wrote her weekly question asking what people could do to help from far away. I responded by saying that it is difficult for people in far off States to be of much help. And speaking as someone in the far off State of Hawaii that is very frustrating. I guess I moved here for that remote, detached feeling, but at times it can make you feel isolated in a bad way.

What the people in the Southeast need is money, money and more money. People who want to help should donate to the United Way, Red Cross, or other reputable charities (this is not the time to try out a new charity).

We also need to pressure our government to put more money into our own country and less into others (namely Iraq). This is not George W. Bush's fault, or Congresses for that matter, but it is a fact that our infrastructure is neglected. Bridges, roads, railroads, harbors and transit systems, sewers, water mains, landfills and power lines, our country neglects the details because it is the stuff that no one thinks about until something major happens, and then a policy window opens, as my old public policy Professor Juliet Musso might say.

More money to the Army Corp of Engineers would not have stopped the levees from breaking, those levees were built to withstand a tidal surge of 15 feet maximum, and by all accounts the surge from Hurricane Katrina was 20-25 feet. More money for Homeland Security (and not for searching backpacks in Grand Central Station, and other important anti-terrorist measures, I mean more money for HOMELAND security) would have gotten Federal boots on the ground faster. It is unbearable to watch as people wait for help that simply isn’t coming. I was glad to see that the Tulane University football team arrived safely in Houston last night, but what about the 30% of the population of New Orleans that lives in abject poverty? What about them? We need to get money on the ground faster.

In the days after the disaster I was really angry that people were looting and taking "advantage" of the situation, but I have reversed myself. It is clear now that in the absence of outside help, people have to help themselves. I don't blame the looters, most are just trying to survive. There are reports that some parts of the disaster areas have not even been visited be relief officials. These people have lost everything that they have spent a lifetime building. They need help and our government is FAILING them.

We need to get money to aid organizations to get them on the ground pronto. Why were we so fast in Banda Aceh and Phuket but so slow in Shreveport and Biloxi? It is outrageous. This is the reason we have a Federal government. All the other stuff is icing on the cake, this is why we have a Federal government. And Homeland Security is failing its first test miserably. I am afraid for the next terrorist attack.

Of course, the reason we got money to Banda Aceh and Phuket and other tsunami stricken areas so quickly was because it was clear who was in charge and who was running the show. In the United States, when it comes to delivering public policies efficiently and quickly, we have way too many levels of Government. In the immediate aftermath it was clear that nobody in Government knew who should be doing what. There were individual city and State efforts being undertaken along with federal efforts, but no one was talking to anyone else. We have too much government (never thought you’d hear the freak blogger say that, did you?). We needed the federal government to come in, federalize the Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama (as well as the Florida and Texas) National Guards, they needed to take control on the ground. But our Homeland Security Department, brand new and touted as a rapid response ready department, failed to take clear and decisive action either before or after this event. It should not have been a surprise; the Army Corp of Engineers has gamed out this scenario years ago.

Homeland Security are not to blame for what happened, but they are to blame for react so poorly to it. They should have been prepared in advance. If there are not enough National Guards personnel to handle this, then some need to be pulled out of Iraq to deal with it. That is, after all, why we have a “National” Guard in the first place.

Our President’s Press Secretary tells us it is not time to politicize this event and point fingers. He is half right, we shouldn’t politicize it. The President should steer clear of this area and let his federal government handle to situation on the ground. But Scott McClellan is also half wrong. We should point fingers. We should be trying to figure out how we were so completely ill-prepared to deal with this situation. It is the only way we will ever be ready next time.

So the synopsis answer to my friend’s question: Send money! Oh, and voting next time would be a good idea too. Not for any particular Party, but voting for candidates who think we should invest as much in the real American democracy as we do in fictitious Iraqi democracy.


Anonymous said...

Exactly! Fed govt needs to step it up a big notch. And I agree with the freak blogger, send money. Here's a couple of website to help you find the right charity:

Katrina (that is in fact my name - unfortunate at the moment) said...

Your commentary matches quiet well what the media here in Europe are discussing in Katrina's aftermath: How can such a powerful country be so caught off guard and so incapable of dealing with this disaster? The answer may lie in the way Americans help others versus the way Europeans do. While Europeans help those less fortunate through high taxes and charity on the government level, Americans help eachother through charity donations and other private organizations (i.e. church, etc.). But private organizations (except the very largest) are incapable of dealing with a tragedy of this capacity. For that, we need government.

Eric the Papa said...

Good piece.
Read today's (9/5/05) Krugman op-ed in the NY Times. His point is very similar to Katrina's.

Anonymous said...

You know the situation in Gulf Coast is what it is. It's unfortunate that people with wealth such as our president are unable to relate to these people. like his quote about Trent Lott's house being leveled and that he would rebuild and be able to sit on his porch, yah gee you think he'll have a problem rebuilding. I mean honestly I can't even relate to the poverty level these people live in. It really is sad when one thinks well maybe this is God's way of saying survival of the fittest.