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A Can't-Do Government

A Can't-Do Government
Published: September 2, 2005

Before 9/11 the Federal Emergency Management Agency listed the three most likely catastrophic disasters facing America: a terrorist attack on New York, a major earthquake in San Francisco and a hurricane strike on New Orleans. "The New Orleans hurricane scenario," The Houston Chronicle wrote in December 2001, "may be the deadliest of all." It described a potential catastrophe very much like the one now happening.
So why were New Orleans and the nation so unprepared? After 9/11, hard questions were deferred in the name of national unity, then buried under a thick coat of whitewash. This time, we need accountability.

First question: Why have aid and security taken so long to arrive? Katrina hit five days ago - and it was already clear by last Friday that Katrina could do immense damage along the Gulf Coast. Yet the response you'd expect from an advanced country never happened. Thousands of Americans are dead or dying, not because they refused to evacuate, but because they were too poor or too sick to get out without help - and help wasn't provided. Many have yet to receive any help at all.

There will and should be many questions about the response of state and local governments; in particular, couldn't they have done more to help the poor and sick escape? But the evidence points, above all, to a stunning lack of both preparation and urgency in the federal government's response.

Even military resources in the right place weren't ordered into action. "On Wednesday," said an editorial in The Sun Herald in Biloxi, Miss., "reporters listening to horrific stories of death and survival at the Biloxi Junior High School shelter looked north across Irish Hill Road and saw Air Force personnel playing basketball and performing calisthenics. Playing basketball and performing calisthenics!"

Maybe administration officials believed that the local National Guard could keep order and deliver relief. But many members of the National Guard and much of its equipment - including high-water vehicles - are in Iraq. "The National Guard needs that equipment back home to support the homeland security mission," a Louisiana Guard officer told reporters several weeks ago.

Second question: Why wasn't more preventive action taken? After 2003 the Army Corps of Engineers sharply slowed its flood-control work, including work on sinking levees. "The corps," an Editor and Publisher article says, citing a series of articles in The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, "never tried to hide the fact that the spending pressures of the war in Iraq, as well as homeland security - coming at the same time as federal tax cuts - was the reason for the strain."

In 2002 the corps' chief resigned, reportedly under threat of being fired, after he criticized the administration's proposed cuts in the corps' budget, including flood-control spending.

Third question: Did the Bush administration destroy FEMA's effectiveness? The administration has, by all accounts, treated the emergency management agency like an unwanted stepchild, leading to a mass exodus of experienced professionals.

Last year James Lee Witt, who won bipartisan praise for his leadership of the agency during the Clinton years, said at a Congressional hearing: "I am extremely concerned that the ability of our nation to prepare for and respond to disasters has been sharply eroded. I hear from emergency managers, local and state leaders, and first responders nearly every day that the FEMA they knew and worked well with has now disappeared."

I don't think this is a simple tale of incompetence. The reason the military wasn't rushed in to help along the Gulf Coast is, I believe, the same reason nothing was done to stop looting after the fall of Baghdad. Flood control was neglected for the same reason our troops in Iraq didn't get adequate armor.

At a fundamental level, I'd argue, our current leaders just aren't serious about some of the essential functions of government. They like waging war, but they don't like providing security, rescuing those in need or spending on preventive measures. And they never, ever ask for shared sacrifice.

Yesterday Mr. Bush made an utterly fantastic claim: that nobody expected the breach of the levees. In fact, there had been repeated warnings about exactly that risk.

So America, once famous for its can-do attitude, now has a can't-do government that makes excuses instead of doing its job. And while it makes those excuses, Americans are dying.


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They were not prepared because Bush was too busy using all or our resources to kill innocent people in the country of Iraq who posed absolutely no threat to the US. (2 more US soldiers killed on 9/1, )

Congress---get to work now and impeach Bush.

You are so correct. What a world...

Or maybe it was because he was too busy golfing or something. He cannot forget his priorities, after all.

The fundamental flaw in Krugman's criticism/analysis is his implicit belief that the role of government is to help the citizens. Our government ceased operating like that a long time ago. Even before the b*sh-neocon cabal came to power, the government functioned mainly to serve the interests of the affluent, the congresscritters and their corporate sponsors.

The b*sh team took this to ridiculous new levels. What we have left is a bunch of excessively greedy corporations and individuals who are frantically trying to pillage as much as they can before the system collapses completely.

Come on now, how could you prepare for something like this?

Do you read anything informative at all? Try Google. Here's a freebie to get you started.

Find me an unbiased media news source that leans neither to the left nor right, and does not engage in sensationalism, and only provides scientific fact, and I will show you a monkey doing a headstand with an elephant resting on top of his feet while eating icecream.

"President Bush repeatedly requested less money for programs to guard against catastrophic storms in New Orleans"

People have to stop being so foolish as to think that they are bigger than motehr nature. We will never be able to guard a city that is shaped like a bowl and below sea level against a friggin Category 5 Hurricane. There are just too many factors involved.

"...than many federal and state officials requested, decisions that are triggering a partisan debate over administration priorities at a time when the budget is strained by the Iraq war."


"The complaints showed how the Hurricane Katrina disaster is prompting the same recriminations that surround nearly all subjects in the capital's current angry mood."

Ugh, here come the political parties and leftists and rightist throwing stones at each other again.... sigh

"Democrats yesterday acknowledged. But they said Bush's decision to hold down spending on fortifying levees around New Orleans reflected a broader shuffling of resources"

Why is this even a decision that Bush and the federal government should have to make? This should be a state issue!! You choose to live in a soup bowl, you should fund the infrastructure to keep it free of soup.

" Army Corps of Engineers' funding requests to improve the levees holding back Lake Pontchartrain"

Maybe if the Army Corp of engineers would stop spending their time filling in wetlands to provide greedy real estate developers with land to build on in Florida along other areas of the coast, they'd have more money for more critical needs for this.

"As recently as July, the White House lobbied unsuccessfully against a plan to spend $1 billion over four years to rebuild coastlines and wetlands, which serve as buffers against hurricanes."

The only reason to restore beaches is to protect the condos of wealthy snobs who live on the beach. Wetlands and beaches that are impacted by hurricanes were impacted by mother nature, and if mother nature wants them to return, they will. I dont agree with funding greedy developers and real estate greed.

Overall, the money just discusses political mudslinging and money. There is no scientific or engineering discussion about how this could really have been prevented.

Darn typos...

I meant to say:

Overall, the ARTICLE just discusses political mudslinging and money. There is no scientific or engineering discussion about how this could really have been prevented.

Find it for yourself. The Internet is replete with all kinds of information. You wouldn't be satisfied with anything that I (or anyone else) might point to that doesn't conform to your own criteria and preconceived notions.

You asked how anyone could prepare. Evidently, there were projects under way and planned to do exactly that. If you think that shifting funds away from such projects improved preparedness, YOU get the "scientific" evidence for your propagation of such a ridiculous position.

You're either lazy or just a gadfly. I'm inclined to think the latter.


Although I am a professional, I find your contributions simply pathetic. The quickest approach to take would be to ignore you, but I feel you need to be at least informed of your myopia.

So, concerning this and other FACTS related to President Bush and his Dick, please refer to any media outlet beyond those you normally consider. For example, do a Google search for '' or '' and take a gander at the content on these sites. Suppose Reuters might help you out too! Inasmuch that I recognize you might find it hard to admit the fellow you voted for in 2000 and 2004 is a liar... you could just stay the course, as ignorance is bliss!

Hope you have a fine weekend. However, as you drink your light beer, please remember that President George contributed to the situation in New Orleans. How did he do this? Simply by diverting funds away from preventive maintenance on structures that hold back flood waters (that were sinking in the mud) to wage war in Iraq.

Why isnt anybody asking why the Louisiana state government did not put more funding into the reinforcement of THEIR levees to keep THEIR city safeR?

I have to admit that you're correct on the desire not to fund greedy real estate developers. For once you make some sense.

The Governor's office is coordinating a Louisiana volunteer effort to get aid to New Orleans. My husband called and offered to do whatever was needed, from patrolling streets to changing diapers, and to bring in what supplies he could. He found out that he's not alone. The residents of Louisiana are furious. The governor's office has our contact information and will be calling us back with a list and a meeting-place/staging area. For those intertested in helping with this effort, go to Kathleen Blanco's website. There are several numbers there that you can call to see what you can do.

These free-lance Darwinists in our Federal Government are (in my opinion) indulging in a bit of social engineering. Mayor Ray Nagin in New Orleans and Governor Kathleen Blanco in Baton Rouge are both saying they haven't seen much of FEMA or the Red Cross. The group in the White House is right at the top of one of the biggest Good Ole Boy's networks going. It's time to stop them and help in the relief efforts. Please lend your support by calling to find out what you can do. I would suggest that you find out from Gov. Blanco's office the most effective way to get food, water, gasoline, money, etc. to this relief effort instead of depending on FEMA to do anything.

As much disdain as I have for the MSM, Thursday broadcasts from ABC news and Nightline concerning the government's response to the hurricane were accurate and honest. Ted Koppel would not accept the normal B.S. from the FEMA director, and interupted him several times to inform him he was lying. Elizabeth Vargas seized on the comment that the Fedederal Government's lack of action were a national disgrace. It's a start.

The man in the Oval Office is fond of condemning killers. But his administration continues to kill with impunity.

"They can go into Iraq and do this and do that, but they can't drop some food on Canal Street in New Orleans, Louisiana, right now? It's just mind-boggling." -- Martha Madden, former secretary of the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality

Just think of the logistics involved with such a large scale rescue operation. Money has to be channeled, supplies moved, schedules made, documents signed, rescure groups organized, infrastructure put in place. It's a heck of a lot of work. Especially for only a couple of days. You think all of our troops and equipment got to the middle east overnight? Even if every single piece of military equipment was in the US and not overseas, I'm sure we'd still be in this mess.

I'm not debating whether or not this war is just because I doubt it would have made the past couple of days any different. What would had made them different would have been people listening to FEMA when they ordered an evacuation in the first place, and people working together instead of shooting each other and looting.

Also, people are being hard on FEMA for saying that the victims that did not listen to their warnings share some of the responsibility for this situation. I dont believe he said it to be a jerk. I believe he said it to use these people as an example. When FEMA says get out, they really mean get out. They arent just saying it for fun. Yes, people in the city are poor and cant get out as easily, but getting out and figuring out a plan once you are out of the danger zone is much better than staying and ending up dead. If you live in a bowl-shaped geographic location on a coast, you have to use some common sense and realize that a Category 5 storm doesnt care what your finanical or social status is.

In four days FEMA can't airlift in pallets of bottled water, small trailers towed behind trucks with water, port-a-johns, food? This is why this agency exists, to help in disasters. The people are there, and dying.

Hey, if you think you could do better, why arent you in New Orleans organizing it? Everybody seems to be an expert on emergency management of large scale natural diasters, yet I dont see a flood of civilan cars and airplanes headed towards New Orleans.


Given your persistence to offer diatribes and irrelevant details on this matter, I can guess whom you voted for in 2000 and 2004. I do not buy the moniker 'independent' either. To counter the ridiculous comment you offered specifically, I have a mental exercise for you to complete. Please work with me here, and think back to just last year: do you recall when Jeb's state was hit by multiple hurricanes? Now, use your potent persistence to contrast FEMA's response last year in Jeb's state, prior to an election mind you, and compare it with the response this time around. Got that? Go for it. See what you get, and how different the two are? Golly, if you cannot see a difference between these two situations and the response by the government (including FEMA), then there truly is no hope for you. The only bright spot, from my narrow experience with you, is that you do take the time to read the posts at this site. Finally, I do feel for you and any progeny you have or will produce.

I certainly am not a Bush supporter. I take a Repulican stance on some things, and a Democrat's stance on others. Sometimes liberal, sometimes conservative, sometimes moderate. I think revealing who you voted for in a election clouds peoples thoughts. Most people on this board are either a mindless republican or democrat. So, if they assume somebody is of the opposite party, they are automatically inclined to disagree and debate with them. Why? Because they are of the opposing party, and both sides have been brainwashed and assimilated by the respective political parties.

I really only comment on an article on this board when I see an article that I dont agree with. Notice that I do not make comment on the majority of the articles on here.

Now, the people on this board are so fired up about ending the war and ousting Bush, that anytime somebody disagrees with a particular article or issue, they are automatically assumed to be a ProWar Bush Supporter, and that is simply wrong.


I am a citizen of another country, and do not hold personal support for any American political party. I am here in this country temporality and am contributing in a very specific way to resolving problems that concern large numbers of people. Because I cannot at times understand how these problems happened so quickly under President George (and developed since President Clinton left), I have decided to take the time to find out what the story is exactly. Suffice it to say I have been educated, particularly in the last month from this site, about how this country seems to currently operate. For example, why would the 'No Child Left Behind Act' have a provision for transmitting names of potential military recruits to the government? Similarly, why would President George appoint successive Directors of FEMA from Texas whom hold no good experience for the position?

So, because I am impartial, I feel I can offer a somewhat extraneous view to various matters from science to social contstructs in scope. And when it seems relevant for me to contribute such views to this site, I do so on a very select basis. I also offer such views because I do like this country and most people whom call this place home (beyond my extended family here).

Why do you post under "anonymous". What good does posting your views do, if we dont know which posts belong specifically to you?

I hope you dont just get your news and views from just this website. This website is like placing a black hole on one side of the scale, and a feather on the other. It's so unbalanced.

If it's so unbalanced and the perception is you tend to discount this website, then why are you here? Scared perhaps? Tell me, how many funerals has Bush attended for the Fallen? Why did he cut the spending to shore up the levee's in LA? Why is Rove still in his position while being federally investigated?
Go away, you are too lame to be here.

"Go away, you are too lame to be here."

Hey, I never personally attacked you. That's uncalled for. People are allowed to express their opinion. I have not ever personally attacked anybody on here, including you. Dont read my posts as angry replies, but rather as friendly debate.

You post your contact details and all anonymous's will post theirs. My point is... your question is fundamentally stupid. All you need do is focus on the content.

Also, the Hurricanes in Florida were not of the magnitude of this one. They also did not cause as much destruction. There was also not as nearly as much flooding. They did not destroy as large of an area all at once.

The people in Florida did not run around shooting at rescue crews.

Keep in mind, the National Guard was deployed to Iraq during last years hurricanes too!

Never claimed to be an expert. Common sense tells you that FEMA and Homeland Security were woefully unprepared. Why you are defending them, and blaming the people who didn't or couldn't evacuate, I cannot understand.

If organizign a rescue operation was common sense, New Orleans would not be in such a state of chaos right now.

How can you say that organizing an effort to save thousands of people across thousands of square miles of devestated land and water is common sense? It is a very large and complicated undertaking!

By saying it's common sense, you contradict the arguement by anti-FEMA folks that the FEMA leadership is unqualified and inexperienced.

When tens of thousands of people have nothing left, you begin with food, water, basic medical supplies, and portable bathrooms. Is that is beyond your comprehension?


Your vacuous apologetics for every failure of this criminally incompetent adminstration are really getting very dull and monotonous. Even Bush himself has said that the response was "unacceptable".

For four (4) days, not one FEMA or National Guard or Military shipment came to the rescue of thousands of people at the New Orleans Convention Center, where some died of thirst and lack of medical attention. Not one helicopter, not one truckload of food, not one medic. The head of FEMA also said that he didn't know there were people stranded at the Superdome until Thursday, even though this was broadcast widely and covered in the newspapers all week.

Read more and learn something about the government you're so eager to defend.

Let me point out a key word at the top of the article:


Do you see it? "Editorial". This means it's not factual news. It's somebody's biased opinion. I hope you dont rely on editorials to get your news.


In case you haven't noticed, one of the main points of this board and Buzzflash and others, is that the MSM reports the editorial diatribe of the Neo-con right on a daily basis. I hope you don't watch FOX and think it's an un biased media. If the revelation of their lies is too much truth for you to handle, go back to the MSM, they'll pacify your fear.

No, I dont watch Fox news. I only watch the local news media, and I watch every station to keep it as balanced as possible.

... crapping yourself.

Haliburtan has been given the bid to rebuild the hurricane ravaged gulf.

Does this include the white people in Florida that continue to ignore the warnings hurricane after hurricane?

Most definately yes!

Perhaps they are transplants from YOUR state...

So just what is it that we spent untold billions of dollars on Fema for?

Their job is to plan and prepare for these catastrophic events and be able to mobilize quickly. Even according to FEMA, supply lines were setup everywhere - why did they wait so long to get desperately needed food and water to the victims? New Orleans was a disaster waiting to happen and this was well known - there is NO excuse.

A second 911 to boost ratings for the "War President". Haarp and it's weather control abilities make me highly suspect.

I agree, this is in bad taste. But then again, arguing about a Hurricane to enforce your point about whether president Bush and the Republican Part is bad OR good is also in bad taste.

That thought crossed my mind as well. I don't hear anyone talking about Haarp, probably because even progressives feel that the possibility is over the top. And it likely is, but then again, maybe not. It would no doubt be an interesting discussion at the very least.

Why isn't the Bush Administration treating this situation with the appropriate urgency? Because they look at the television images of the refugees and see poor people, black people, and Democrats! They have contempt for all three.

There will be no consequences for this irresponsible behavior because the Republicans control all three branches of government and the corporate media. The thugs in suits that have taken over our government don't care about the well-being of non-wealthy citizens. We've seen this in their rejection of a national healthcare system, and the passage of the bankruptcy bill, that eliminates bankruptcy protection for poor people. It's just a little more obvious during a crisis like this.

I am outraged that we have an administration in Washington who are so into themselves that they cannot see beyond their nose that people needed help from the get go of this horrific disaster in LA. Bush and company ought to be in there with rolled up sleeves helping out so that they would really know what it is like then just maybe they could say in all honesty, "I feel for the victims".



Chris, reading your posts about personal responsibility in this time of crisis deeply saddens me. Even if you're right about that -- which you're not -- what kind of person are you when your first instinct is to blame, not to offer comfort and support? "They had it coming," is basically what you're saying. "They live in a basin below sea level. It's only to be expected. They should have known better." I suppose the Jews should have known better when the Nazis came to power, right? I suppose the gays should have known better when they were born in the Bible Belt. Every person is on his or her own in your world, aren't they, Chris? May I never have you for a neighbor.

The people drowning, starving, and dehydrating in front of you on television have no resources. They have no cars. They have nothing. They are the sick and the poor. Do you actually think they wanted to stay? Or are they just "too stupid?"

The rest of the world knows what's going on here. I'd wager that 65-75% of this country knows what's going on here. As for you and those like you, heaven help you.

I am not apathetic. It is a tragedy. These people do need to be helped regardless of the fact that they did not heed the warnings. However:

1) I believe that FEMA has an incredibly hard job to do, and people should cut them some slack. If people are unhappy with the response, they need to pitch in and help. You do not need permission to go to New Orleans with a truck and boat to help people.

2) Most of this people on this message board are using the victims of this Hurricane situation as an attack agains the Bush administration, and that just isnt right. Save the politics for after this is over. Note: My saying this does not mean I support Bush or the war.

3) Your comments about the Jews and Nazis makes absolutely no sense at all. There were Jews in Europe long before Hitler was there. Besides, that is comparing apples and oranges.

4) Comparing gays livinging the bible belt with a natural disaster is like comparing apples with oranges.

I dont believe I ever said "Oh, well they should have known better, so we shouldnt give them any aid." No. I said that the state should fund the infrastructure to keep the place dry, and that people should cut FEMA some slack and use the people in New Orleans as an example that when FEMA says to evacuate, you better do so. Even if it has to be on foot.

And go where, exactly?

I understand the apples and oranges argument, but I don't agree with it. In all three cases -- living in a hurricane zone, being Jewish in a hostile anti-Jewish climate, and being gay in a hostile anti-gay climate -- there is a larger context to consider beyond simple personal responsibility.

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