Katrina’s Bandwagon of Blame

I’ve been holding off the temptation to jump into the bandwagon of blame for what seems like an eternity, though Hurricane Katrina didn’t happen that long ago. Partly it has been out of a sense of misplaced priorities in this country: all that effort on the part of politicians and (mainly) east- and west-coast journalists on assigning blame when there still are thousands of people missing, unaccounted for or in lingering danger of injury and death. Partly is has been out of a noble desire to stay above it all, to concentrate more on the recovery efforts, the need to donate to relief for the displaced (not “refugees” — we’re not talking foreigners here). Well, so far, I have succeeded and stayed above the fray. But now…

My chivalry on this matter has run out. The gloves are off.

Yes, there’s plenty of blame to go around, but it’s better to ask questions first and learn why the failures occurred where they did. Not one, but all, links in the chain were weak and broke — federal, state and local.

It seems a disproportionate share of the criticism has been leveled at the Feds who, for the record, responded to this event faster with Katrina than in Hurricanes Camille, Hugo and Andrew! And for the failures which did happen at the FEMA level, that agency’s director, Mike Brown, has been forced out and replaced by a bonafide firefighter — R. David Paulison, head of FEMA’s emergency preparedness force, former Metro-Dade fire chief and first responder to both Hurricane Andrew and the ValuJet crash in the Everglades. A wrong has been righted there and others (e.g., Michael Chertoff’s inexcusable cluelessness about the long foretold New Orleans scenario now playing out) still need to be addressed.

We must remember, however, that the local, county (parish) and state emergency officials, in that order, are supposed to be those most prepared for local disaster scenarios and the first to execute what should be well developed plans. Elke, who has worked front-line on some of the biggest wildfires in Western history, offers these insights:

The response at the local level is first in the order – this was certainly true of my experiences with the very large wildfires I worked on in Colorado. I never saw any fire go Federal sooner than 4 days after the incident started. No one working the incident expected they would either, not inside of 3 days minimum. However, the media ALWAYS seem to be confused about the distinction between levels of response. They seem unable to differentiate the local and federal. Maybe they should educate themselves better.

At High Meadows 2000, we had “local” companies of firefighters drive in from dozens of counties on the front range and eastern Colorado by day 2. By day 3 companies from Wyoming, Kansas, and New Mexico were rolling in. They came on their own initiative. When the fire became federal on Day 4 (I think), they were incorporated. They knew this would happen, and counted on it. The mobilization of federal resources is a juggernaut that apparently takes this amount of time to set into motion. I’m not necessarily endorsing the practice, but it IS the practice. It has to build momentum, I guess. Once it’s rolling, things get done exceedingly well. Meanwhile emergency response is up to the local governments, beginning at the county level.

Not enough attention has been given to the questions that must be asked at the local level. For example, why are hundreds of New Orleans school buses and city transit buses festering underwater, unused and useless, instead of being on the road transporting evacuees and the displaced, both before and since Katrina? That such foresight didn’t exist at all, in the face of years and years of storm surge scenarios showing exactly what has happened, is a horrible disgrace to the city of New Orleans’ so-called leaders.

What was the reason that the state of Louisiana had no coherent, precise evacuation plan for the residents of Orleans, St. Bernard, Plaquemines, St. Charles and Jefferson Parishes, stating where folks from each town and neighborhood are to be relocated in this well known and long foretold eventuality? That such foresight didn’t exist at all, in the face of years and years of storm surge scenarios showing exactly what has happened, is a horrible disgrace to the state of Louisiana and its so-called leaders.

Mississippi got caught with its pants down too; otherwise thousands of folks in its three coastal counties wouldn’t have been enveloped in the record storm surge which mowed down mile after mile of homes and businesses, rendered over 100 dead, and left hundreds clinging to trees and debris rafts in the stinging wind and tides, just to survive. A column in the Palm Beach Post elucidates well the lessons Florida learned that were readily available in Mississippi, but unheeded — and even refused! [I’ll save a copy for anyone who wants to see it after the link expires.] Why didn’t Mississippi county and state officials learn from both their nearby colleagues in Florida and from Hurricane Camille of 1969, accept their expertise borne of experience, and have a rock solid communications and disaster mitigation infrastructure in place, years and years ago? That such foresight didn’t exist at all, in the face of years and years of storm surge scenarios showing exactly what has happened, is a horrible disgrace to the state of Mississippi, its coastal counties and their so-called leaders.

Thousands of individual people who did have the means to leave didn’t. What has been said about personal responsibility in any of this? Scores of what had been working automobiles now lie underwater in New Orleans or in the sands of the Mississippi coast, wasted by owners who should have used them to leave. No, instead, people will claim they “didn’t know” it could be that bad. Well, folks, if you live on the coast, it’s your responsibility to learn. Simple as that.

Even worse, many able-bodied men stayed behind to loot stores of TVs, DVD players, and other now useless electronics, or to shoot at rescue choppers. [Being from the inner city myself, I’ve known some examples of human sewage just like that — addicts, ex-cons, petty thieves. They’re a familiar breed of lowlife, black or white, doesn’t matter. Without their guns, they are weaklings, cowards, pansies. Give me five minutes in a locked room with any single one of those larcenous parasites with no weapons, and immunity from prosecution for whatever happens. Right or wrong, admittedly, it wouldn’t be hard in that situation to revert to those street punk days and have some skull-crackin’ fun for awhile. >:-)]

For all the potential targets of blame in this, though, none match the media itself — particularly the national media, frenzied in their hell-bent zeal both to incite public rage and to topple this Administration in any way possible. Either that, or (as Elke alluded) they are so ignorant and confused as to simply fire away at the biggest and slowest (and therefore easiest to hit) target — the Feds. Leave it to Big Media to take the easy way out.

What if all the media effort expended to assign blame instead were put into reporting the facts and both sides, equally, of controversy, and getting the word out about what’s needed and where, specifically? Or is the role of the editorial and production elites now to send their attack dogs afield to stir the flames and create news by inventing nonexistent problems?

“Race as a factor in relief” is one especially galling, acute example of the utterly baseless and unfounded mythology. This nonsense was begun and perpetuated by hateful, incitement minded demagogues who, to paraphrase one columnist whose name I can’t recall, are long on opinions but short on knowledge. Yes, there are many of people whose fame, livelihoods and financial well being benefit hugely from perpetuating bad race relations (such as Jesse Jackson, Howard Dean, Kanye West and many media pundits and producers), who have gone to great lengths to leverage this tragedy in favor of their extremist fringe causes, to score political points for hateful and incendiary ideologies.

The coastal media conglomerates and their subsidiary puppets, in a zeal to invent news, boost ratings and incite rage unnecessarily, pile onto this and other shelves in the bandwagon of blame. They are not, as Elke requested, interested in “educating themselves,” but instead, in causing the most commotion possible to, in turn, foment more tumult on which to report, thereby justifying their efforts in an insidious little circle of self-perpetuated and overblown mayhem. Consider this example courtesy of the Drudge Report:

After weeks of intense Katrina coverage from the main press, LA TIMES guru and former CNN host Michael Kinsley divulges that CNN was coaching guests to artificially enhance emotions!

Kinsley writes:

“The TV news networks, which only a few months ago were piously suppressing emotional fireworks by their pundits, are now piously encouraging their news anchors to break out of the emotional straitjackets and express outrage. A Los Angeles Times colleague of mine, appearing on CNN last week to talk about Katrina, was told by a producer to ‘get angry.'”

Ludicrous! Are these supposed to be impartial, fair minded reporters or dramatic actors? Apparently, the latter.

Imagine, if you will, the likely reaction of Walter Cronkite, or Edward R. Murrow, or Eric Sevareid, or even the late Peter Jennings, if some bonehead producer had told him to “get angry” and play-act in their reporting. Those guys had too much dignity and honor for any producer to even dare try such shenanigans with them; but you can bet that behind the scenes, each of them would have told that producer — with no uncertainty — exactly where to stick his “anger.”

Now I won’t paint all of Big Media with the ugly brush of ignorance, naivete and zealotry. In fairness, there is some common sense out there, albeit hard to find at times. For example, the columnists of the Wall Street Journal often are a solitary island of temperate, middle American sensibility in the shark-infested sea of radical East Coast media. Here is a Bob Williams column from WSJ which, as vividly and plainly as any, casts due weight of responsibility at the state and local level.

The bandwagon will not lighten up anytime soon. Elite media drives it, and profits and ratings are at stake. This, truly and instead, is a time for helping those in need and for planning better ways to handle coastal storm surge intrusions in the future. Those are the proper aims of emphasis from here on. But you can bet that, instead, far to much attention will be given to the shrill rantings of the race baiters, Bush haters, Hollywood egomaniacs, and buck-passing by head-in-the-sand bureaucrats at all levels of response.

Having written my piece, I’m now off the bandwagon of blame, and back to concentrating on more important matters. Over, done, finished, gone from that wagon…easy as that. I wish it were so easy for know-it-all-but-never-actually-ran-a-SLOSH-model politicians and editorialists to jump off as well.


One Response to “Katrina’s Bandwagon of Blame”

  1. M. Buler on September 16th, 2005 9:39 pm

    Having been denied the military disaster that they had so avidly hoped for for the past 2 years, the elites finally were able to display wholesale human suffering and blame it on the the Bush administration. I wonder if they really gave a damn about the people on the ground as they made political hay? Did you expect anything less from them? Now the important issues concerning the over development of coastal areas and their vulnerability to storm surges are being fogged by crap like “Global Warming” or “a lack of Federalism”. A call to discourage building in dangerous areas like these would be more helpful. Unfortunately, very few seem to be doing it.

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