Inside the Capitol

Saturday, September 03, 2005

9-9 Hurricane Katrina

By JAY MILLER
Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- "Don't politicize the hurricane disaster." How many times have we heard that admonishment in recent days?
What that means is don't say anything bad about people on my side of the political fence, but I have a right to criticize people on your side because they deserve it.
Relax folks. No one is going to completely avoid assessing blame for such a horrible tragedy. Someone had to be responsible. In reality, many, many were responsible in one way or another at all levels of government. And add to that individuals who made bad decisions about evacuating.
Another reason for the rush to blame is that so many public officials deserve so much blame that they are trying to deflect as much as possible to others.
The fact is that Congress had many opportunities to provide money to strengthen the levees that broke but there were higher priorities, even for the Louisiana delegation. If strengthening those levees was so important, the state or local government could have done it.
The disaster occurred not just because of the levees, but because of over a hundred years of poor planning, loss of marshlands due to upstream diversions, damage to barrier islands, and unrestrained industrial development. All of these combined to diminish the coastal features that could have reduced the damage.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert has received much grief for a suggestion that these factors make it unwise to spend billions in federal money to rebuild a city that sits seven feet below sea level. He has been asked to apologize for destroying the hope of a city that is down.
But Hastert makes a valid point. Sure, almost everyone wants to go back to where they lived. But do the taxpayers of the nation owe them that when the likelihood of another disaster is high?
The people of New Orleans we heard on television almost all sang the same refrain. Where is the government? It should be here taking care of my problem.
Obviously disaster relief is a government responsibility and the people we saw on TV were the most needy of our society acting in a desperate situation. But the expectation of entitlement seemed to be in all their minds, with no spirit of independence, self-sufficiency or willingness to help their neighbors.
A jolting revelation of unwillingness to help neighbors occurred across the street from a shelter in Biloxi, Miss. Reporters, listening to horrific stories of death and survival, looked out to see Air Force personnel playing basketball and performing calisthenics.
When they went across the street to ask why the airmen weren't getting their exercise helping with rescue efforts, the base spokesman explained that the military has better things to do than pick up trash on the beach.
As for government officials, everyone seemed to be asleep at the switch. There was no local or state mobilization plan for New Orleans. The National Guard was not put on alert status as the storm approached. No one seemed to know that Homeland Security had to be asked to come help.
So in the mightiest nation in the world, rescue and recovery efforts were delayed longer than in a third world nation.
President Bush came in for a great amount of criticism. His supporters protested that criticizing the president was playing politics. Meanwhile the president lavished praise on two governors of states affected and had severe criticism for the other. It wasn't necessary to pull out my political almanac to figure out which parties they represented.
In New Mexico, our fast-forward governor leapt into action, deploying National Guard troops; organizing professional health volunteers; collecting diapers, baby food and formula; preparing for the arrival of refugees; collecting money and setting up an assistance hotline.
That toll-free number for New Mexicans who want to give or volunteer to help hurricane victims is 1-866-638-6819.
FRI, 9-09-05

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail) insidethecapitol@hotmail.com

 

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