Consider the following analogy.
My younger brother bought a house this summer. He had an inspection and bought a home warranty and insurance. But ever since he has moved in, new defects have emerged that were undiscoverable by the inspection. His plumbing has burst, requiring excavation of the front yard. His air conditioner and heating unit have died from faults that would have required disassembling the unit to discover. His basement floods in heavy rain. The home warranty company has continued to find ways to say they will avoid covering any of this, as has the home insurance. I think we can agree that my brother is as blameless as any human can be in this situation. He did everything he could to protect himself that a rational person could do.
Now consider my case. When I bought my house, the inspector told me I would need to replace the roof fairly soon, and that the HVAC could die at any time. Sure enough, the HVAC died the first summer we owned the house. So I chose to replace the HVAC and save toward a new roof.
But then a friend of mine was getting married in Israel. So I rolled the dice and put off the money for repairing the roof and took a trip to Israel.
Two years later, I'm getting the roof fixed. the guy says it really needs to be fixed right now, as it is visibly warped in some places. And turns out the contractor for the previous owner did a cheep-o job last time, simply stapling new cheap shingles on top of old shingles. I'm having the whole mess removed and replaced with 50-year shingles. About doubled my estimated cost, but worth it.
I lucked out. Nothing bad happened in the two years I waited to do the roof. And now that I am doing it, I will pay extra to make sure it gets done right.
Now imagine if, instead of getting my roof redone, I decided "hey, I've been lucky until now. I'll take that $9K replacing the roof will cost and build a swimming pool instead. It's a really hot summer, a swiming pool will be real cool, and it will ultimately improve the value of the house" (although I do not check with anyone with expertise tosee if that is really true). So I go an have a swiming pool done instead.
Then, in February, during an awful blizzard, my roof caves in. My house gets deluged on the inside with snow and all my possesions are ruined. I stand in the middle of the wreckage and cry out "Why me, Lord! Oh, if only I had known! Oh, if only there had been something I could have done!"
The defenders of the administration would like to imagine they are like my brother. But I see them more as the folks in my hypothetical. Sure, I suppose we could blame the people of New Orleans for living in a flood plain or for not being willing to make up the money for levee upkeep that got sent up river to service Trent Lott's state instead because he is a powerful Republican and LA had, until 2004, 2 Democratic Senators (Breaux and Landreau). But, frankly, I find that unpersuasive.
As we are all about to discover, New Orleans (and the other Gulf Ports) are critical intake points for the nation. From a purely enlightened self-interest perspective, federal investment was worthwhile to protect the national economy. No local city or port could begin to carry the cost necessary to protect the traffic passing through. So they could either raise rates (which the federal port authorities wouldn't want), tax locals (already taxed for other projects, and not able to make up the shortfall) or hope that nothing happened.
Like me with my bad roof, the administration decided to spend the money elsewhere and hope nothing would happen. Contrary to Bush's statement on Tuesday that no one could have predicted the levees would fail, just about anyone who seriously looked at the problem DID predict the levees would fail in precisely the way they did unless the federal government stepped in with relief. And as time went on, like my roof, the situation got potentially worse and more expensive to fix.
This administration has been "landlord" for five years now. Every year, it has heard from experts that this spot needs maintenance. It hasn't happened. They preferred to spend the money elsewhere. Having bet wrong, however, they refuse to take responsibility for betting wrong. Unlike the folks on RMF, they are not stupid or callous enough to say that the good folks of NOLA (and elsewhere) should have been smart enough to live somewhere safer and should have coughed up the money on their own. And, having discovered that -- unlike 9-11 -- this was widely predicted and that fact easily discoverable, they have shifted tactic to repeating that it is scandolous to try to hold anyone accountable for such a tragedy.
Moving on to clean up. Why did it take so damn long to set the wheels in motion. Many have observed that it was easier to get relief to less developed nations after the tsunami than to get needed food and supplies or evacuation to NOLA and other impacted areas. Why?
This administration took no steps to prepare ina dvance for a forseeable tragedy. It new on Sunday that a catagory 5 hurricane could hit New Orleans triggering a catastrophe. But it did not take any preliminary steps on Sunday or Monday -- after the hurricane hit but while the crisis was still developing. Even ignoring the possibility of a breach in New Orleans, no steps were taken to alleviate the movement of displaced persons in the zone immediately outside the impact zone. We had 100,000s struggling to get upcountry even before the levee broke, yet the administration did not coordinate with local authorities or put relief forces on alert -- let alone in position in case something happened.
Part of the problem, of course, is that much of the manpower and equipment is deployed overseas. I believe these assets are properly deployed, as I beleive our military intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq was necessary and remains necessary. But we have a regular hurricane season here in the United States. Why did we have no contingency plans? Yet again, the administration and its defenders seek to excuse this inexcusable by either claiming it was unforseeable or not their place to make such contingency plans.
I have nothing but scorn for these assertions. If the federal government had intended to abandon its traditional role in disaster coordination and relief it should have said so (and accepted the political consequences) up front. It didn't. It left everyone to believe that FEMA and the National Guard would play primary roles in hurricane relief, then failed to make arrangements for this to happen in any kind of timely way.
There is also a corrosive effect of this administration that we are seeing play out here. Every branch of the federal government has become politicized to an extent hitherto unknown. The Administration has made it clear that it will ruthelessly punish those who bring unwanted news to its attention or who take unapproved action to carry out their mission. As a consequence, FEMA has changed in five years from an agency with high esprit de corp that works to anticipate problems to one where no one will do jack without four sets of forms in triplicate. We have been working to coordinate a movement of equipment and volunteers into the region for four days, and requests need to be constantly updated and rephrased to match FEMA's formats.
Finally, the inability of the current administration to learn lessons of general applicability from specific circumstances is inexcusable. There is a wonderful series in the comci strip "Calvin and Hobbs" where Calvin lets loose an army of "snow goons" that thretaen to run amok until he freezes them. the series ends with the following dialog:
Hobbs: I hope you learned a valuable lesson from our experience with the snow goons.
Calvin: Yep. "Snow goons are bad news."
Hobbs: I continue to be impressed with how these lessons are always completely inapplicable anywhere else in life.
Calvin: Live and don't learn, that's me!
The only lesson the administration appears able to learn is "snow goons are bad news." Even now, there is no talk of how we could improve the delivery of emergency services. FEMA is doing a "wonderful job," the National Guard is "restoring order," and no doubt God is smiling down from his Heaven. The only lesson? Hurricanes hitting New Orleans are bad. i.e., Snow Goons are bad news.