The politics of flooding

I am a news junkie. I will admit it. I live in a fairly liberal country (Canada), and I get my news from many sources. In the 400 channel universe, I have access to reputable (or not) news sources such as the major american networks, BBC, CBC, CTV… english, french, and even chinese and german (translated with subtitles) – plus all the sources on the internet you can choose. I don’t let any one of those sources pollute my views or cloud the subject. By listening and reading various sources, I feel that I end up with a pretty good idea of what is what.

Hurricane Katrina also brought something to Canada – Fox News Channel. This network has been added to Canadian DTV systems over the last week or so, available for free to all subscribers. As a new junkie, I am grateful for a new source of information, especially one which has become the most watched new channel in the US. The addition of this channel and especially it’s most opinionated host, Bill O’Reilly. His talking point memo (read it here) for September 5th just blows my mind.

In the middle of a catastophy that makes 9/11 look small, this guy is more interested in covering the president’s back and blaming everyone else than he is about the facts of what is going on in New Orleans and other affected areas.

The federal response to this situation has been slow or worse. They started about 4 or 5 days late, and they have only just really started to take control of the situation. The number of troops on the ground has only made it to reasonable numbers in the last 48 hours – one full week after the start of the whole ordeal. Remember, this storm was coming and they knew it. They didn’t know exactly where it was going to hit, but on Friday last week (28th of August) even FEMA knew that there was going to be a problem.

Why wasn’t Fema loading up the trucks and getting people ready to go at that point?

My opinion: Nobody took charge, it was summer vacation for just about everyone in the chain of command (from the President on down), and nobody really seemed to give a damn what happened until AFTER it happened.

I know. Nobody could forecast that the levees would break and the city would flood. But they did know that millions of people would be without water, electricity, and that transport would likely be disturbed. Many buildings would be damaged or destroyed, and so on. They also know that New Orleans is a “rough” city with a high crime rate, and that without enough security, the city could turn to crap fast.

The flooding just made it all that much worse. It would have been bad enough without the flooding, and still would have required security, FEMA, evacuations, assistances, and so on. It is unavoidable.

Still, nothing happened.

Then the hurricane came. Nothing happened.

Then the floods came, and FEMA basically said “oh my god, we need to do something”.

2 days later, they got to it.

O’Reilly and his conservative cronies can attempt to re-write history all they like, but the commander in chief was on vacation through the whole process. The VP is still on vacation at this point. The guys who are suppose to say “the buck stops here” instead said “the buck is on vacation, call me next week”. There was a huge vacuum of responsilibity, and they guys at the top of the ladder lead by example: they stayed on vacation.

President Bush has finally got on the case, making his first flyover long after the flooding, and since then making 2 on the ground visits. His photo-ops and his glad handing are nice for the cameras, but they have done little to drive the relief effort. It has taken a week for some order to come to the mess… so now they are getting things done. There are troops on the ground, the levees are getting blocked off, and the water has started to pump out. People are still in their houses, they are still hungry, and they are still being allowed to stay (which is beyond me!).

There is one guy at the top in charge of it all. The failures of others down the chain of command reflect on the guy at the top. We can try to sponge the responsilbiites off to the different players in the game, but the Federal government, FEMA, Homeland Security, and in the end the commander in chief need to accept that they dropped the ball and people suffered as a result.