I really want to hope that a new day is dawning for our country. So many people are appalled at the way that government ineptitude at all levels has increased the human suffering brought on by Katrina that just maybe, we the people can come away from this tragedy with a renewed commitment that things must change.
None of this is the childish finger pointing that administration officials want to discredit while they have their political operatives try to point the finger at others. What seems to be happening is that people want to hold the government at all levels accountable for their mistakes. This is what good government is all about. It's doesn't focus on republican or democrat, it focuses on competence.
The sad thing is that many currently in our government got there on a platform that basically said that government is incompetent and we should replace many governmental functions with private industry. Unfortunately that has been taken as a signal for companies to line up at the public trough. I have seen much government outsourcing, some of it is good, but much of it is not more efficient than what it replaced except that now someone is making a profit on what was once a government service.
In a sense by their lack of confidence in government and their incompetent appointees they have created a self-fulfilling promise. Again this isn't a party issue, it's a system issue. At some point all of the attacking government to get into office becomes real. Government gets attacked and often is emasculated.
As government comes under siege, the best people often leave since they are unwilling to work for people who don't believe in their organization's mission. It's a classic organizational story where the people brought in to save the organization end up destroying it.
What I have seen is a reinvigorated press and a public out pouring of help. I don't know how long the press will be able to survive the professional spin control groups, but we can always hope that the US press now has an effective backbone which will serve out republic well. This morning in the Toronto Star (free registration required) in an article, "U.S. must examine its soul," had this to say.
This is not how America sees itself — on its knees, in chaos, floundering in an emergency.
This is not how Americans want the rest of the world to see them — inefficient and ignoble, unable to save the lives of children and senior citizens, barely able to control mayhem in the streets of a drowned city, cops turning tail, troops sitting on their duff because they lacked orders to intercede, the governor squabbling with Washington over who would assert authority over the National Guard, tens of thousands of impoverished blacks sleeping and defecating in the streets, reduced to feral creatures, violence and crime following in the wake of the hurricane.
So much moral authority lost in a matter of days by a superpower that aspires to such lofty ideals and a panoramic vision. How can the U.S. impose order in distant and belligerent lands when it can't contain and tidy up a big hurricane's thumping in the Mississippi delta? And, more sordidly even than the finger pointing in Katrina's wake, is the political posturing and partisanship that it has engendered.
Unfortunately the article in the Star is right. Amazingly, the National Weather Service, one of the few federal agencies to get their job done right in this tragedy has come under attack for political gain. I was dismayed by this morning's article in the Washington Post (free registration required), "Some GOP Legislators Hit Jarring Notes in Addressing Katrina."
Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania, Santorum was drawing a second round of fire, this time for saying the National Weather Service's forecasts and warnings about Katrina's path were "not sufficient." .....
In fact, many people think the Weather Service got the Katrina prediction exactly right. They include GOP Sen. Jim DeMint (S.C.), who chairs the Senate Commerce subcommittee on disaster prediction and prevention. He issued a statement headlined "DeMint Gives National Weather Service 'A' Grade for Katrina Prediction."
Santorum, long at odds with the federal agency, is pushing a bill that would require it to surrender some of its duties to private businesses, some of them located in his state.
So let's take the one of the agencies that did their job and hand their functions and dollars off to what I can only assume is a weather forecasting service in Pennsylvania.
Then there is the very distressing news that the President has enacted a special rule that will allow contractors repairing Katrina's damage to pay lower wages. The CNN Money article has this to say.
President Bush issued an executive order Thursday allowing federal contractors rebuilding in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to pay below the prevailing wage.
I'm sure Haliburton which has some contracts to clean up Katrina's damage at military bases will be pleased at the potential enhancement to the bottom line.
Then there is the very disturbing article in the Nashua Telegraph, "White House in full finger-pointing mode."
And importantly – but inaccurately – a highly placed but anonymous Bush official passed along a dollop of damage control that was published, unfiltered by fact-checking, by The Washington Post: “As of Saturday, Blanco still had not declared a state of emergency, the senior Bush official said.”...
But wait. One reason the “senior Bush official” sought anonymity was that his damage-control assertion was flat-out false.
On Aug. 26, Louisiana’s governor signed a declaration of a state of emergency.
So have we seen this pattern of behavior before. Misinformation in spades seems to be the currency of everyone in government. It seems that this tactic will only confuse the uninformed. You have to wonder if this group will ever figure out that that our government isn't exactly their friend and vote for competence instead of vague "values."
Former FEMA officials flatly reject the Bush Team’s effort to shift the blame to state and local officials for the federal government’s late action and non-action in Louisiana.
“They can’t do that,” Jane Bullock, who had a 22-year career at FEMA, told the Los Angeles Times, referring to Bush administration attempts to shift responsibility to state and local officials. “The moment the president declared a federal disaster, it became a federal responsibility. ... The federal government took ownership over the response.”
That response certainly wasn't adequate by any means, and it's not like the problems at FEMA or the flooding in New Orleans should come as a surprise. According to the LA Times, Congress was warned about the FEMA problems.
More than a year before the hurricane hit New Orleans, the head of a labor union representing FEMA workers sent a letter to members of Congress charging that "emergency managers at FEMA have been supplanted on the job by politically connected contractors and by novice employees with little background or knowledge" of disaster management.
"As … professionalism diminishes, FEMA is gradually losing its ability to function and to help disaster victims," the letter said.
Last night we saw a special on NBC which pointed to plenty of warnings in official circles about the potential for disaster. There was a more general warning to the population which came in a special in the Time Picayune in 2002. It was very accurate in predicting what actually happened with Katrina.
Before the foxes in Congress start investigating the problem in the chicken coop, we all need to acknowledge that they bear much of the long term blame for this problem. If it isn't them, it's the system that has developed around their "in office for life" poltical careers. While the Corp of Engineers knew the levees needed improving, they were all too willing to accommodate the "elected" representatives who held their budget strings.
The problem is that the bulk of the Corps's budget goes for projects far less important than preventing floods in New Orleans. And if the investigators want to find who's responsible, they don't have to leave Capitol Hill.
Most of the Corps's budget consists of what are lovingly known on appropriations committees as earmarks: money allocated specifically for members' pet projects. Many of these projects flunk the Corps's own cost-benefit analysis or haven't been analyzed at all. Many are jobs that Corps officials don't even consider part of their mission, like building sewage plants, purifying drinking water or maintaining lakeside picnic tables.
As the article in the NY Times which had the above quote suggests, the findings of a Congressional investigation are pretty easy to guess.
Would Congressional investigators focus on these pork-barrel projects? I would guess not. My daring prediction is they would make two discoveries. First, that mistakes were made by many people outside Congress. Second, that more money must be spent on flood protection throughout America.
So in the end, I have to wonder if we have met the enemy and it is the government that was created by those who didn't believe in government. I'm not one to miss a great quote and this one comes from Newt Gingrich in the Financial Times.
“If we can’t respond faster than this to an event we saw coming across the gulf for days, then why do we think we’re prepared to respond to a nuclear or biological attack?”
I guess the question for us all, is will it be business and politics as usual or will Katrina mark a turning point and lead to a better country for us all, rich, middle class, and poor?
I think it is time for some accountability at all levels of government to start the ball rolling on what can be a renewed emphasis on government for the people. The revolution away from a government controlled by special interests could be just as far reaching as our original American Revolution.