It’s time for a little perspective…by Greg O’Keefe


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For a little while now I have been hearing from people that President Bush is somehow culpable for the devastation of Katrina. Not so much that he is responsible for the size and intensity of it, although some environmentalists have argued that his—and yet strangely not Congress’—failure to sign Kyoto has wrought this calamity. What has been argued is that Bush failed to provide timely leadership, the kind he provided on 9/11. A hurricane with a week’s worth of warning, 24 hour news coverage and a call for a city wide evacuation is not the same as 19 terrorists hijacking planes and inside of four hours bringing down WTC 1 & 2, crashing into the Pentagon and crashing in Pennsylvania. Katrina was not a surprise.

For an excellent piece on the administrative problems regarding the handling of Katrina and its aftermath read this article in the Wall Street Journal:

Many in the media are turning their eyes toward the federal government, rather than considering the culpability of city and state officials. I am fully aware of the challenges of having a quick and responsive emergency response to a major disaster. And there is definitely a time for accountability; but what isn’t fair is to dump on the federal officials and avoid those most responsible — local and state officials who failed to do their job as the first responders. The plain fact is, lives were needlessly lost in New Orleans due to the failure of Louisiana’s governor, Kathleen Blanco, and the city’s mayor, Ray Nagin.

The primary responsibility for dealing with emergencies does not belong to the federal government. It belongs to local and state officials who are charged by law with the management of the crucial first response to disasters. First response should be carried out by local and state emergency personnel under the supervision of the state governor and his/her emergency operations center.

The actions and inactions of Gov. Blanco and Mayor Nagin are a national disgrace due to their failure to implement the previously established evacuation plans of the state and city. Gov. Blanco and Mayor Nagin cannot claim that they were surprised by the extent of the damage and the need to evacuate so many people. Detailed written plans were already in place to evacuate more than a million people. The plans projected that 300,000 people would need transportation in the event of a hurricane like Katrina. If the plans had been implemented, thousands of lives would likely have been saved.

In addition to the plans, local, state and federal officials held a simulated hurricane drill 13 months ago, in which widespread flooding supposedly trapped 300,000 people inside New Orleans. The exercise simulated the evacuation of more than a million residents. The problems identified in the simulation apparently were not solved.

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Stephen Elliott-Buckley

Post-partisan eco-socialist. at Politics, Re-Spun
Stephen Elliott-Buckley is a husband, father, professor, speaker, consultant, former suburban Vancouver high school English and Social Studies teacher who changed careers because the BC Liberal Party has been working hard to ruin public education. He has various English and Political Science degrees and has been writing political, social and economic editorials since November 2002. Stephen is in Twitter, Miro and iTunes, and the email thing, and at his website, dgiVista.org.

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One thought on “It’s time for a little perspective…by Greg O’Keefe”

  1. firstly, this early on, i completely reject any blame-related argument that seeks to defend anyone in authority, like anyone in any bureaucratic body of the federal government. while it is debatable who is responsible for what, an argument that one person/group/body is not responsible for some specific thing or some broad group of things is totally inappropriate right now and frankly, offensive to me.

    no one should be positing that someone should be off the hook–any hook–for any reason right now.

    the phrase ‘those most responsible” is a premise that i will not accept right now: simply that this person’s judgement of “most” is valid. “most” is precisely one of the key issues that will be debated about this whole thing. regardless of his comments in the full article about who must initiate requests for federal help, it’s freakishly frightening to think someone at a federal level would argue that they were content to do nothing because the governor didn’t pick up the phone. and if this does come out as an argument, i can’t accept its validity and i certainly don’t respect that kind of absurd procedure as valuable.

    secondly, the vaccuum logic in this article really sets up a binary situation where state and municipal governments are so incredibly the primary bodies responsible that it goes out of its way to remove the relevance of FEMA and Homeland [in]Security. that too i reject.

    while the city and state may have dropped many balls, a vacationing, state-hopping president deserves at some point to be held accountable for all federal agencies that did or did not do useful things to help in a timely manner.

    ultimately, it’s sad that at the end of the article, not completely quoted here, he accuses state and municipal officials of “passing the emergency buck.” while minutely acknowledging the necessity of analyzing FEMA’s role, this WSJ writer from a free market public policy research organization seems to have worked hard to strap a kevlar jacket around anyone federal, thereby trying to keep any “emergency buck” from landing on the Crawford Cowboy.

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