I’m back from a brief but busy trip to Syracuse, where I hung out with co-blogger Mark and gave a talk or two. No time for any substantive blogging, which is just as well, as the rest of the crew has been discussing the Katrina fiasco better than I could have.
In fact, had I been stuck in front of the computer with nothing to do but blog, I would likely have posted something early on about how this is no time for partisan political sniping — it’s a massive human disaster, you can’t blame the President for the weather, and there will be plenty of time for sorting out responsibility later.
What a mistake that would have been. Sure, you can’t blame Bush for the hurricane, but the tragedy has been needlessly magnified by massive incompetence at all levels, foremost at the very top. The extent to which things have been screwed up is only gradually becoming clear, but we already know that the response strategy included funneling large numbers of poor people into the convention center and locking them in, while refusing help from other countries and cities, and keeping out the Red Cross on the theory that the refugees wouldn’t leave the city if there were food and water and medicine there.
The incompetence is staggering. If nothing else, the one thing that should have been figured out after September 11 is how to coordinate a response to a large-scale disaster. Don’t you think they’ve had time to settle on a plan? Of course they have, but perhaps the decision to gut FEMA rather than strengthen it was a little shortsighted. And perhaps political hack Michael Brown’s job experience as commissioner of the International Arabian Horse Association — from which he was fired for incompetence — didn’t really prepare him for the realities of being Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Oh yes, and perhaps it would have been good if more of the National Guard were here guarding the nation, rather than somewhere else.
Yes, there will be time for recriminations later. (And for gathering more synonyms for “incompetence,” I’m running low.) But as James Wolcott stresses, later never comes for these people. Right now, when the stupidity and mendacity of the administration is visible in sharp relief, is the best time to hold them responsible for their mistakes. I’m sure there is plenty of blame to go around, and I’m sure a lot of it will deservedly fall on state and local officials, and I’m sure many of them will be Democrats; it doesn’t matter, anyone who failed in their job in this time of crisis deserves to be held accountable. And it starts at the top.