FEMA's job is to coordinate disaster relief, broken into four areas: preparedness, response, recovery and mitigation. The key word is coordinate, and Mr. Brown repeated it time and again during his hearing. "FEMA is a coordinating agency. We are not a law enforcement agency," he told lawmakers.
But according to emergency management experts across America, that is no excuse for Mr. Brown's failures. The federal role is to make things happen. That means being in the same room with state and local officials, anticipating and responding to their needs. It means making sure state and local officials get help, quickly. It means focusing on what is actually happening. Let's look at FEMA's mandate to see what should have been done differently, with an eye to doing better in the future:
Preparedness A little over a year ago, FEMA directed federal and state officials to conduct a $1 million simulation of what a Category 3 hurricane - this one was nicknamed Hurricane Pam - would do if it hit southeast Louisiana. The draft report, finished in December 2004, predicted that floodwaters would surge over levees, creating high casualties and forcing a mass evacuation. It said hundreds of thousands of homes would be destroyed, a half-million people left homeless, and "all 40 medical facilities in the impacted area isolated and useless," according to The Associated Press. Local officials, the report said, would quickly be overwhelmed.
Mr. Brown had the report for several months before Hurricane Katrina. Yet in the days before Katrina made landfall just east of New Orleans, with the National Weather Service saying it was a Category 4 storm, then a Category 5, then back to a Category 4, he decided against a wide-scale deployment of FEMA workers. He put small rescue and communications teams along the Gulf Coast. But it was not until Aug. 29, after the storm hit, that Mr. Brown asked the homeland security secretary, Michael Chertoff, to send at least 1,000 federal workers to help with the rescue.
Response At 8:14 a.m. on Aug. 29, shortly after Katrina hit land, the New Orleans office of the National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning that predicted three to eight feet of water from a levee breach along the Industrial Canal at Tennessee Street. That was the flood that quickly submerged much of the Lower Ninth Ward and nearby areas, trapping thousands of people. Shortly after, the 17th Street Canal levee also was breached.
Despite the National Weather Service report, not to mention the Hurricane Pam simulation, it was not until the next day that federal officials in charge of response noticed that levees had been breached. Mr. Chertoff suggested on NBC that news coverage misled him. "I remember on Tuesday morning picking up newspapers, and I saw headlines, 'New Orleans Dodged the Bullet,' " he said.
When the people in charge of responding to natural disasters ignore weather service bulletins, later claiming to have relied on local newspapers to tell them whether a city is flooded, bad things are going to happen. Once again, FEMA was supposed to be coordinating, but officials apparently did not even bother figuring out what they were supposed to be coordinating the response to.
Recovery No one can forget the mostly poor, mostly black refugees in New Orleans begging for help for days from the Superdome and convention center, where they ended up because many did not have the means to leave town. This is one of the points on which Mr. Brown was most eager to blame local authorities, even private citizens. "And while my heart goes out to people on fixed incomes, it is primarily a state and local responsibility. And in my opinion, it's the responsibility of faith-based organizations, of churches and charities and others to help those people," he said in one wildly cynical bit of sworn testimony before the House.
The New Orleans mayor, Ray Nagin, and the former police chief, Edwin Compass, share blame for Katrina's dreadful aftermath. But at the moment of crisis, the buck stops at FEMA. The quality of help that victims of a disaster receive cannot be determined by their location, or their incomes. If Mr. Brown was so dedicated to coordination, he should have been coordinating the effort to get those refugees to safety, not waiting for the church ladies and the Rotarians - who were also flooded out of their homes.
Mitigation It's too soon to judge FEMA on how well it helps Gulf Coast residents rebuild their lives. Its job is to pull together all the myriad elements of President Bush's program. Whether it does that satisfactorily remains to be seen.
By Sher Zieve - In a Friday televised press conference, Democrat Congressional Black Caucus leaders lined up and joined other Democrat leaders in blaming President Bush for Hurricane Katrina's devastation and what they are calling a 'slow and incomplete response' to the disaster.
Earlier Friday, President Bush had said rescue and recovery efforts were unacceptable and called for the dispatch of 10,000 National Guard troops to assist in the affected areas. It is reported that these troops are now on the ground and a large convoy is now in the process of rescuing those trapped by the New Orleans' flood waters. Roving gangs, armed with AK-47 weapons, are still reported to be in the New Orleans' area and may continue to hamper the rescue efforts.
Bush Aides Meet
with US Black Leaders on Hurricane Response
Top aides of the Bush administration have met with African American leaders amid criticism of the federal government's response to Hurricane Katrina.
The meeting, held at the White House, came a day after U.S. congressman Elijah Cummings, a Democrat from Maryland, complained about a slow response in helping residents of stricken areas, a majority of whom are black.
Mr. Cummings says he believes the meeting was to assure black leaders that any missteps in getting relief to hurricane victims would be corrected.
Among those represented at the meeting were the Congressional Black Caucus, the Urban League and the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People).
Some information for this report provided by AP.
Bush Aides Meet With Black Leaders
September 3, 2005
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., past chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said he believes the administration was partly interested in offering assurances that any missteps in getting relief to the victims -- many of them black -- would be corrected.
"I think they wanted to make sure that the leaders of the Congressional Black Caucus, the Urban League and the NAACP knew that they were very sensitive to trying to make sure that things went right from here on out. And I think they wanted to try to dispel any kind of notions that the administration did not care about African American people -- or anyone else."
But Cummings said that while the race issue was discussed, the issue consumed only about seven minutes of the two-hour meeting. "This was a where-do-we-go-from-here meeting," he said. "We were more concerned about how do we get them the resources that they need."
White House press secretary Scott McClellan said the group discussed how to evacuate, save and sustain lives, temporary housing and ways to work with community groups and faith-based groups to handle long-term needs of the displaced.
In addition to Chertoff, he said the other participants were Housing Secretary Alphonso Jackson, White House domestic policy adviser Claude Allen, NAACP President Bruce Gordon and National Urban League President Marc Morial, a former mayor of New Orleans.
The current chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., participated by phone.
Jesse Jackson and some black lawmakers have said that racial injustice was at the root of the disaster response. While agreeing that the black community had been heavily affected, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the administration's top-ranking black, has disputed that claim.
"Americans don't want to see Americans suffer," Rice said in an interview Friday on American Urban Radio Networks. "He (Bush) wants to do everything he can for every American. ... I just don't believe that people would somehow decide this on the basis of color. It's not who we are."
Critics Fear Trailer 'Ghettos'
Right, Left Target FEMA Initiative
By Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 16, 2005; A18
On the sprawling, dusty grounds of Lone Star Army Ammunition Plant and Red River Army Depot in Texarkana, Tex., the recreational vehicles and mobile homes are arriving at a rate of 100 a day before being shipped out to the fringes of Hurricane Katrina's disaster zone.
Those trailers, among 300,000 to be purchased with nearly $5 billion of federal money, have become a focal point of criticism of the Bush administration's early rebuilding efforts. Some conservatives blanch at the cost. And many critics fret that mobile homes will hardly protect their residents from the next storm.
But most of all, housing experts -- conservatives and liberals alike -- worry that Federal Emergency Management Agency encampments will quickly become what former House Speaker Newt Gingrich called "ghettos of despair." Rental vouchers in a market with plenty of available housing would be cheaper and faster and provide better accommodations, they say.
"Three hundred thousand manufactured homes? People are screaming about that," fumed Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.). "I tell you, FEMA is a disaster."
Beleaguered FEMA officials yesterday counseled patience. When Katrina struck, they were criticized for moving too slowly, they said. Now, they are being second-guessed for moving too quickly.
"The governors and their local officials are looking at all these issues. They're working with all the evacuees in these communities to ensure they are incorporated into the community, they're given job assistance and the help they need," said FEMA spokesman James McIntyre. "We have more than 300,000 displaced households, and they have to live somewhere."
Besides, said Brian Sullivan, a spokesman for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, mobile homes are not the entire response. HUD will expand rental assistance, open federally insured foreclosed homes and offer up vacant public housing units to get Katrina's survivors into shelter. "The initial response now is: Get your hands on anything you can," he said.
When Katrina struck, FEMA did what it has always done in the wake of a major hurricane: turned to its standing list of contractors, including several mobile home manufacturers. Within days, the agency began discussions with the Manufactured Housing Institute, and then purchased 20,000 fully furnished mobile homes and began shipping them to staging areas in Texarkana; Purvis, Miss.; Selma, Ala.; and Baton Rouge, La.
State government then began scouring parks, government land and private sites to establish communities of evacuees. Just as quickly, housing experts of all political stripes began to howl in protest.
"If they simply put poor people in mobile homes, they would be re-creating the same troubled neighborhoods that were destroyed," said Susan J. Popkin, a housing expert at the Urban Institute. "And we know how to do this better."
Bruce Katz, a liberal housing policy expert at the Brookings Institution, rushed to draft an opinion article, urging the administration to learn from the experience of the 1994 Northridge, Calif., earthquake. Within a week of the quake, the first of 22,000 low-income displaced families were moving into new apartments with expanded HUD housing vouchers. Within a month, a major landlord-recruitment effort was pushing low-income Angelenos into higher-income neighborhoods.
"It's not rocket science," said Katz, a HUD chief of staff in the Clinton administration. "If you turned on the voucher faucet, you'd have people in apartments in a week."
Edgar O. Olsen, a conservative housing economist at the University of Virginia, said he pestered the Federal Housing Administration and HUD with faxes, imploring them to scrap the mobile home contracts for rental vouchers.
After all, he noted, rental occupancy rates are at historic lows, as are rents. There are more than 1.1 million available units in the South, with an average rent of less than $700 a month. Houston's vacancy rate stands at 15.6 percent. But Olsen said he has received no response.
The problem, he said, may lie with HUD's organizational chart. Like many other agencies, it has been hollowed out: assistant secretary for public and Indian housing, assistant secretary for policy development and research, general deputy assistant secretary for policy, assistant secretary for fair housing, general counsel, chief financial officer and assistant secretary for administration, all vacant.
Now, HUD will be in the spotlight, Katz predicted. In his 2006 budget, the president had proposed stripping the department of virtually all of its community development functions. The White House has tried to eliminate HOPE VI, the primary housing program designed to raze and rebuild failed public housing complexes. And the administration has de-emphasized the Section 8 housing voucher program.
"The administration has spent the past five years trying to ratchet back the Section 8 voucher program," Katz said. "It's going to be fairly hard for them to turn on a dime and say, 'Oh, we were just kidding.' "
But now, they may have to do just that, housing experts and politicians say. "The whole relief effort was such an incredible screw-up that they felt they just had to throw money at the program," Olsen said, referring to buying the army of trailers. "They had to do it fast. Now, the question is whether they can undo it."
Gingrich agreed: "A key test of the administration right now is to refuse to spend one more penny on such a disastrous policy."
Staff writer Krissah Williams contributed to this report.
After Katrina: A chance to heal America
By Carol Moseley Braun
International Herald Tribune
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 14, 2005
My own family had long ago left the city and taken the fabled ride on the train they called the City of New Orleans, arriving in Chicago at the turn of the last century, determined to escape the crushing racism that even the gaiety of the French Quarter could not disguise.
The Rhodes' family businesses started even earlier, during the backlash against Reconstruction, when rampaging whites pillaged, lynched and raped any unfortunate black they might encounter. The history books are vague about how many people died, but the riots were of such ferocity that blacks from the surrounding parishes fled for safety to New Orleans. Bodies of the victims piled up, and as there had been no mortuary service for blacks, the first DuPlain Rhodes collected them in his buggy and gave them a proper burial - no small feat in a city built below sea level. And so began the Rhodes Funeral Company that is still in business today.
The Rhodes' business has to operate at capacity now, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the stunning failure of government to provide for the welfare of the people. No one knows yet how many people have died in Louisiana or Mississippi, but everyone knows that the death toll is tragic and horrendous. Those who survive will have stories no less chilling than the stories passed down the generations from survivors who fled the night riders in the late 1800s. The failure this time of the government to respond will be seen as symptomatic of the same kind of fatal neglect that made post-Reconstruction a time of infamy in U.S. history.
The common denominator between tragedies may almost certainly be found in the nuances and realities of race, class and poverty. Assumptions were made in government that can only be explained in context of the demographics most affected by the hurricane. No rational person sincerely believes our government would have had such a laissez-faire attitude if the majority of the population had not been poor and black. No provisions were made to avert disaster. No thought was given to how people without cars or money could leave.
Ironically, race, racism and racial attitudes will also figure prominently in what happens now. The Republican speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, suggests that New Orleans should not be rebuilt and that a new city be put in a location less vulnerable to the elements. In spite of the howls about the obvious insensitivity of his remarks, he has expressed a view held by many, from architects to environmentalists. Those of us who cherish the romance and history of New Orleans will fight to rebuild it where it was, only better, and will work to assure that the destitute who are now homeless will have a chance to save their communities and own their own homes.
And so, once again, we are presented with a chance to tackle America's original sin - racism - in the aftermath of what can only be either stunning governmental incompetence or shocking discrimination. The difference, this time, is that the heart of the people has been touched by this tragedy in ways unknown a century ago. Not even the most rabid right-wing talk show hosts dare express anything other than sympathy for the suffering, the dead and dying. This generation of Americans is ashamed of racism, and in this we are of one mind: The people of New Orleans are Americans who deserved better.
The whole country is invested in creating a new New Orleans. It will
never be the same again, but neither will we.
Our response to this tragedy could herald the healing of the racial divide, the ending of homelessness and the beginning of a genuine effort to eradicate poverty in this country, the richest in the world.
The neglect of our homeland, the pandering to selfishness, the antipathy toward community that has dominated our national conversation has just given us a harvest no one wants to claim.
America need not have the poverty, the slums, the disease, the desperation that we have allowed to fester. Out of this tragedy could come policy initiatives to give the working poor a stake in the economy, and housing assistance that will give families a chance to own a home. The physical reconstruction can give the children schools with electrical systems that will support computer technology, with roofs and windows that are up to the challenge of the southern climate. New Orleans, one of our country's oldest cities, can be the city on a hill that invigorates the rebuilding of America.
The breakdown of government in the face of this disaster has given us all a glimpse of what could happen any where in America. The people in New Orleans' backyard pray for its speedy recovery, but also for the rest of our country. May we never again suffer so ugly a tear in our national fabric.
(Carol Moseley Braun is a former U.S. ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa and a former senator from Illinois.)
By Michael A. Fletcher
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 12, 2005
Hurricane Katrina has thrust the twin issues of race and poverty at President Bush, who faces steep challenges in dealing with both because of a domestic agenda that envisions deep cuts in long-standing anti-poverty programs and relationships with many black leaders frayed by years of mutual suspicion.
In the storm's aftermath, the White House has been scrambling to quell perceptions that race was a factor in the slow federal response to Katrina and that its policies have contributed to the festering poverty propelled into public view by the disaster.
Last week, Bush summoned faith-based relief organizations and religious leaders -- many of them African American -- to a White House meeting to discuss his vision for providing long-term help for impoverished people displaced by the storm.
He dispatched Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to her home state of Alabama. He also has had his political surrogates reach out to civil rights groups that previously felt ignored by the White House.
"Katrina has been an attention-getting experience for this administration," said Bruce S. Gordon, president and chief executive officer of the NAACP. "It's clear that the administration has not had [black and poor people] as high on their priority list as they should have."
Angry about how an affiliate of the NAACP portrayed him in a 2000 political ad, Bush has rejected invitations to speak at the organization's past five conventions, making him the first sitting president in more than 80 years not to address the group. NAACP Chairman Julian Bond has excoriated Bush as a reactionary conservative. In the past week, however, Gordon has had multiple conversations with top administration officials and fielded calls from aides to White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove.
"They wanted to be sure they knew what we were thinking," Gordon said.
Bush also has resolved to tackle the poverty that ensnared 28 percent of New Orleans residents and many others on the Gulf Coast. Many of those poor people were unable to heed warnings to evacuate as the storm approached, compounding the disaster as tens of thousands of mostly black residents overwhelmed sparse government provisions when they sought shelter at the Superdome and convention center in New Orleans.
"Sometimes it takes a natural disaster to reveal a social disaster," said Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourner's, a liberal evangelical journal.
During Tuesday's White House meeting with 20 religious leaders and representatives from relief groups, Bush vowed to provide job programs, health care, life-skills training and housing aid to those displaced by the storm. Echoing a position taken by some civil rights leaders, he asserted that it was insensitive to refer to the poor people fleeing New Orleans as "refugees," a term that for some evokes people fleeing their native country.
When some people at the meeting said that New Orleans residents and local businesses should reap much of the economic benefit from the huge investment that will be required to rebuild the city, Bush readily agreed, according to one participant.
"He didn't receive many of these concerns as some kind of 'race' issue," said C. Jay Matthews, a Cleveland minister who attended the meeting. "There was a feeling that maybe what we have been doing up to now to fight poverty maybe hasn't been effective and we need to move toward long-term solutions."
But some skeptics fear these reassuring words are a disguise for pursuing long-held conservative goals that are viewed with hostility by many black leaders. Congressional Republicans, for example, have voiced opposition to federal programs that set aside government contracts for minorities. And Bush has already moved to suspend the law requiring federal contractors to pay workers the average wage in the region, holding down salaries for many minority laborers.
In the place of traditional poverty programs, Bush has touted faith-based social service programs, calling them more efficient and effective than those run by the government. Many programs of an earlier generation, he says, have served only to perpetuate the plight of the poor.
Overcoming mistrust of blacks compounded by Katrina is an important hurdle in one of Bush's political goals -- making the GOP more competitive with traditionally Democratic African Americans.
"What we've been trying to do is what we believe will help us close the gap we see in America in terms of education, health care, home ownership and wealth," said Ken Mehlman, chairman of the Republican National Committee. "We have policies that will actually achieve those goals."
To underscore his outreach efforts, when the president toured a hurricane evacuee shelter near Baton Rouge last week, he was accompanied by the Rev. T.D. Jakes, a prominent black evangelist who has known Bush for years. He also went to New Orleans yesterday. Those trips came after Bush was criticized for having little contract with poor, black victims during an earlier visit.
"I mean, it's puzzling, given his immediate response during 9/11, that he did not feel a greater sense of empathy towards the folks that were experiencing this enormous disaster," Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) said yesterday on ABC's "This Week."
Whatever approach the administration takes as it moves forward, any Katrina-inspired increase in federal outlays to alleviate poverty would represent a sharp turn for an administration that has moved to reshape government by reducing outlays for social programs by encouraging individual ownership of -- and responsibility for -- everything from housing to health care and retirement accounts. Meanwhile, White House budget makers have projected deep cuts in traditional poverty programs, including food stamps and public housing.
But the calamity spawned by New Orleans has placed Bush under new pressure. A poll last week by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that two-thirds of African Americans believe the government's response to the storm would have been faster if most of the victims had been white. Also, 71 percent of blacks agree that the disaster revealed that racial inequality remains a major problem in the country -- a sentiment shared by 32 percent of whites.
A prominent Louisiana politician called this perception unfair. "The two parishes south of New Orleans, St. Bernard and Plaquemines, are mostly white. They are devastated and they arguably got a lot less attention than New Orleans," said former Louisiana senator John Breaux (D), who has worked closely with Bush. "A lot of people didn't get out because they didn't have a car. This is more a problem of poverty, rather than race."
Rep. Barbara T. Lee (D-Calif.), however, accused Bush of being indifferent to the poor. "If anyone ever doubted that there are two Americas, this disaster and our government's shameful response to it have made the division clear for all to see."
Addressing a meeting of black Baptists in Miami last Wednesday, Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean said the government's slow response revealed "the ugly truth that skin color, age and economics played a significant role in who survived and who did not."
Michael L. Williams, the only black member of the elected Railroad Commission of Texas and a longtime Bush friend, said the racial and class divisions pushed into the national debate by Katrina present a formidable test for Bush. The answers, he said, will come with how Bush addresses the underlying issues.
"It isn't surprising that African Americans across the country feel pain for the victims of this disaster," Williams said. "When people feel pain, they want to find someone to blame. There is no doubt that it adds to the challenge facing us. But the real story is going to be what it always is: What is really being done about education? About jobs? About housing?"
George F. Will | Katrina has led liberals to rediscover poverty, as Iraq is teaching would-be "nation builders" the conservative truth that there are limits to government's abilities to know and control things.
A Poverty of Thought
By George F. Will September 13, 2005
America's always fast-flowing river of race-obsessing has overflowed its banks, and last Sunday on ABC's "This Week," Sen. Barack Obama, Illinois's freshman Democrat, applied to the expression of old banalities a fluency that would be beguiling were it without content. Unfortunately, it included the requisite lament about the president's inadequate "empathy" and an amazing criticism of the government's "historic indifference" and its "passive indifference" that "is as bad as active malice." The senator, 44, is just 30 months older than the "war on poverty" that President Johnson declared in January 1964. Since then the indifference that is as bad as active malice has been expressed in more than $6.6 trillion of anti-poverty spending, strictly defined.
Katrina's Silver Lining
That's because Katrina was a natural disaster that interrupted a social disaster. It separated tens of thousands of poor people from the run-down, isolated neighborhoods in which they were trapped. It disrupted the patterns that have led one generation to follow another into poverty.
It has created as close to a blank slate as we get in human affairs, and given us a chance to rebuild a city that wasn't working. We need to be realistic about how much we can actually change human behavior, but it would be a double tragedy if we didn't take advantage of these unique circumstances to do something that could serve as a spur to antipoverty programs nationwide.
The first rule of the rebuilding effort should be: Nothing Like Before. Most of the ambitious and organized people abandoned the inner-city areas of New Orleans long ago, leaving neighborhoods where roughly three-quarters of the people were poor.
In those cultural zones, many people dropped out of high school, so it seemed normal to drop out of high school. Many teenage girls had babies, so it seemed normal to become a teenage mother. It was hard for men to get stable jobs, so it was not abnormal for them to commit crimes and hop from one relationship to another. Many people lacked marketable social skills, so it was hard for young people to learn these skills from parents, neighbors and peers.
If we just put up new buildings and allow the same people to move back into their old neighborhoods, then urban New Orleans will become just as rundown and dysfunctional as before.
That's why the second rule of rebuilding should be: Culturally Integrate. Culturally Integrate. Culturally Integrate. The only chance we have to break the cycle of poverty is to integrate people who lack middle-class skills into neighborhoods with people who possess these skills and who insist on certain standards of behavior.
The most famous example of cultural integration is the Gautreaux program, in which poor families from Chicago were given the chance to move into suburban middle-class areas. The adults in these families did only slightly better than the adults left behind, but the children in the relocated families did much better.
These kids suddenly found themselves surrounded by peers who expected to graduate from high school and go to college. After the shock of adapting to the more demanding suburban schools, they were more likely to go to college, too.
The Clinton administration built on Gautreaux by creating the Moving to Opportunity program, dispersing poor families to middle-class neighborhoods in five other metropolitan areas. This time the results weren't as striking, but were still generally positive. The relocated parents weren't more likely to have jobs or increase their earnings (being close to job opportunities is not enough - you need the skills and habits to get the jobs and do the work), but their children did better, especially the girls.
The lesson is that you can't expect miracles, but if you break up zones of concentrated poverty, you can see progress over time.
In the post-Katrina world, that means we ought to give people who don't want to move back to New Orleans the means to disperse into middle-class areas nationwide. (That's the kind of thing Houston is beginning to do right now.)
There may be local resistance to the new arrivals - in Baton Rouge there were three-hour lines at gun shops as locals armed themselves against the hurricane victims moving to their area - but if there has ever been a moment when people may open their hearts, this is it.
For New Orleans, the key will be luring middle-class families into the rebuilt city, making it so attractive to them that they will move in, even knowing that their blocks will include a certain number of poor people.
As people move in, the rebuilding effort could provide jobs for those able to work. Churches, the police, charter schools and social welfare agencies could be mobilized to weave the social networks vital to resurgent communities. The feds could increase earned-income tax credits so people who are working can rise out of poverty. Tax laws could encourage business development.
We can't win a grandiose war on poverty. But after the tragedy comes the opportunity. This is the post-Katrina moment. Let's not blow it.
From Margins of Society to Center of the Tragedy
The victims, they note, were largely black and poor, those who toiled in the background of the tourist havens, living in tumbledown neighborhoods that were long known to be vulnerable to disaster if the levees failed. Without so much as a car or bus fare to escape ahead of time, they found themselves left behind by a failure to plan for their rescue should the dreaded day ever arrive.
"If you know that terror is approaching in terms of hurricanes, and you've already seen the damage they've done in Florida and elsewhere, what in God's name were you thinking?" said the Rev. Calvin O. Butts III, pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. "I think a lot of it has to do with race and class. The people affected were largely poor people. Poor, black people."
In the days since neighborhoods and towns along the Gulf Coast were wiped out by the winds and water, there has been a growing sense that race and class are the unspoken markers of who got out and who got stuck. Just as in developing countries where the failures of rural development policies become glaringly clear at times of natural disasters like floods or drought, many national leaders said, some of the United States' poorest cities have been left vulnerable by federal policies.
"No one would have checked on a lot of the black people in these parishes while the sun shined," said Mayor Milton D. Tutwiler of Winstonville, Miss. "So am I surprised that no one has come to help us now? No."
The subject is roiling black-oriented Web sites and message boards, and many black officials say it is a prime subject of conversation around the country. Some African-Americans have described the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina as "our tsunami," while noting that there has yet to be a response equal to that which followed the Asian tragedy.
Roosevelt F. Dorn, the mayor of Inglewood, Calif., and the president of the National Association of Black Mayors, said relief and rescue officials needed to act faster.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson said cities had been dismissed by the Bush administration because Mr. Bush received few urban votes.
"Many black people feel that their race, their property conditions and their voting patterns have been a factor in the response," Mr. Jackson said, after meeting with Louisiana officials yesterday. "I'm not saying that myself, but what's self-evident is that you have many poor people without a way out."
In New Orleans, the disaster's impact underscores the intersection of race and class in a city where fully two-thirds of its residents are black and more than a quarter of the city lives in poverty. In the Lower Ninth Ward neighborhood, which was inundated by the floodwaters, more than 98 percent of the residents are black and more than a third live in poverty.
Spencer R. Crew, president and chief executive officer of the national Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, said the aftermath of the hurricane would force people to confront inequality.
"Most cities have a hidden or not always talked about poor population, black and white, and most of the time we look past them," Dr. Crew said. "This is a moment in time when we can't look past them. Their plight is coming to the forefront now. They were the ones less able to hop in a car and less able to drive off."
That disparity has been criticized as a "disgrace" by Charles B. Rangel, the senior Democratic congressman from New York City, who said it was made all the worse by the failure of government officials to have planned.
"I assume the president's going to say he got bad intelligence, Mr. Rangel said, adding that the danger to the levees was clear.
"I think that wherever you see poverty, whether it's in the white rural community or the black urban community, you see that the resources have been sucked up into the war and tax cuts for the rich," he said.
Outside Brooklyn Law School yesterday, a man selling recordings of famous African-Americans was upset at the failure to have prepared for the worst. The man, who said his name was Muhammad Ali, drew a damning conclusion about the failure to protect New Orleans.
"Blacks ain't worth it," he said. "New Orleans is a hopeless case."
Among the messages and essays circulating in cyberspace that lament the lost lives and missed opportunities is one by Mark Naison, a white professor of African-American Studies at Fordham University in the Bronx.
"Is this what the pioneers of the civil rights movement fought to achieve, a society where many black people are as trapped and isolated by their poverty as they were by segregation laws?" Mr. Naison wrote. "If Sept. 11 showed the power of a nation united in response to a devastating attack, Hurricane Katrina reveals the fault lines of a region and a nation, rent by profound social divisions."
That sentiment was shared by members of other minority groups who understand the bizarre equality of poverty.
"We tend to think of natural disasters as somehow even-handed, as somehow random," said Martín Espada, an English professor at the University of Massachusetts and poet of a decidedly leftist political bent who is Puerto Rican. "Yet it has always been thus: poor people are in danger. That is what it means to be poor. It's dangerous to be poor. It's dangerous to be black. It's dangerous to be Latino."
This Sunday there will be prayers. In pews from the Gulf Coast to the Northeast, the faithful will come together and pray for those who lived and those who died. They will seek to understand something that has yet to be fully comprehended.
Some may talk of a divine hand behind all of this. But others have already noted the absence of a human one.
"Everything is God's will," said Charles Steele Jr., the president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Atlanta. "But there's a certain amount of common sense that God gives to individuals to prepare for certain things."
That means, Mr. Steele said, not waiting until the eve of crisis.
"Most of the people that live in the neighborhoods that were most vulnerable are black and poor," he said. "So it comes down to a lack of sensitivity on the part of people in Washington that you need to help poor folks. It's as simple as that."
Washington Sept 4: The victims of Hurricane Katrina and the floods that followed are exhausted, hungry, dirty and angry. And, in New Orleans, they are predominantly black.The small boy in a red T-shirt with a tear welling in an eye, the overweight woman with a desperate look in her face sitting with a small child on a dry rooftop, or the man with unkempt hair waving a fist at the cameras at New Orleans’s conference centre were all African-American.
Most of the looters who emptied stores in New Orleans and trashcans in Biloxi in search of food were African-Americans. ‘Like animals’ were the words used by one television commentator to describe them.
Reaction to the statement was swift. “Would he have used the same phrase if they had been white?” a black radio talk show host asked indignantly.
Congressman, Mr Elijah Cummings of Maryland, a former head of the Congressional Black Caucus, complained about the use of the term refugee in connection with the people of Louisiana and Mississippi, who were made homeless by the catastrophe. “It is as if we are talking about Sri Lanka. They are fellow citizens, taxpayers, hard working people,” he said.
Two photographs published in the US press, showing people weighed down with full plastic bags, underlined the racial perspective on the crisis. The caption under the photo showing white people described them as having found food, while the caption under a photo with black people described them as looters.
“If that is not racist, then I don’t know what is,” an African-American commentator told CNN. Black or white, rich or poor, after days of harrowing images and growing criticism of Washington’s response to the disaster, a new element has crept into the public debate: issues of race and class.
Jackson criticizes hurricane response
September 3, 2005
BY ANNA JOHNSON ASSOCIATED PRESS
The Rev. Jesse Jackson on Saturday blasted the Bush administration, news media and the American Red Cross for hampering rescue and relief efforts in the deadly aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Jackson said the federal government failed to put together a coordinated effort to address the crisis in the flood-and-hurricane-ravaged New Orleans and should be held accountable.
"There was no national emergency evacuation plan for Americans in the line of danger," Jackson said at his Rainbow/PUSH Coalition headquarters on Chicago's South Side.
Jackson criticized the Federal Emergency Management Agency, calling its rescue efforts a "colossal disaster." He also called on the government to allow those stranded to seek relief on military bases in the region.
Some Illinois politicians also have condemned the government's effort.
"The response was simply too slow," U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill., said Saturday. "We will do all we can to bring pressure on this government to help our fellow American citizens."
In his Saturday radio address, President Bush said it is "unacceptable" that many people especially in New Orleans were not getting the help they need. The president also ordered more than 7,000 active duty forces to the Gulf Coast as his administration intensified efforts to rescue survivors and send aid.
Jackson made his comments in Chicago a day after he took part in a project using a caravan of buses to pick up people stranded in New Orleans and transport them out. During a news conference in Baton Rouge, La., Friday Jackson said racism was partly to blame for the slow and inadequate response.
Jackson said Saturday the news media were partly to blame because journalists have focused on violence in New Orleans. He particularly criticized two wire service photos and their captions: one photo of a black man described as having "looted" items from a store and another photo of white or light-skinned people described as "finding" the items they carry through deep water.
The photos were from two different news agencies, The Associated Press and AFP/Getty Images.
AFP has withdrawn its photo. The Associated Press has said that when a photographer sees people entering businesses and coming out with goods, the word "looting" is appropriate.
But Jackson said the images have hindered efforts to help people.
"The images of blacks as refugees, images of blacks as thugs ... have complicated the relief effort," he said.
Jackson also took issue with the Red Cross Saturday, saying the agency did not enter New Orleans to deliver aid out of fear.
But the Red Cross could not enter the city on orders from the National Guard and local authorities, said agency spokeswoman Cat Langel.
The Red Cross is operating about 90 shelters throughout Louisiana and 350 in the Gulf Coast region, helping about 96,000 evacuees, Langel said.
Also on Saturday, Gov. Rod Blagojevich announced that the state has set up a toll-free number-- 1-800-843-6154
Chonna Varnado said 24 relatives ranging in age from 4 to 85 who left the hurricane-ravaged region are staying in her three-bedroom home in Chicago. Though it's cramped in her home, she said, she could not imagine not helping them.
"It's love and patience and compassion," Varnado said Saturday. "It's what you do because you do it. Mothers and father have been doing it forever."
About 130 law enforcement officers from Illinois, including weapons of mass destruction teams and underwater dive teams, also were sent to Louisiana Saturday, Blagojevich's office said.
Specialists with expertise in sewage, drinking water and food salvage also were sent to Louisiana Saturday from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and the Illinois Department of Public Health, the governor's office said.
Amid Criticism of Federal Efforts, Charges of Racism Are Lodged
Many blacks voiced suspicions that thousands of people were left to suffer and die in the floodwaters because they were, for the most part, poor and black.
"Are you telling me we can coordinate a relief effort on the other side of the world and we can't do it here?" I. V. Hilliard, pastor of the New Light Christian Center Church in northern Houston, thundered from the pulpit of his megachurch on Sunday morning. "I'm not saying they didn't care. I'm saying they didn't care enough!"
"I can't help but think that race has something to do with it," he added to a chorus of amens. Mr. Hilliard's church is the largest predominantly black congregation in Houston, with 20,000 members, four locations and a broadcast ministry.
Mr. Hilliard's comments were echoed throughout the country over the weekend, as the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Representative Maxine Waters of California made a trip to the convention center in New Orleans and the president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People met with the governor of Louisiana and visited the emergency operations center in Baton Rouge.
Interviews with African-American church leaders, local politicians and residents here made clear the damage that the faltering relief effort has had on their perceptions of the Bush administration. Mr. Bush and his chief political advisers have mounted an effort to try to court more conservative black voters, particularly since the 2004 election, by encouraging black Republican candidacies and reaching out to black churches.
But their outreach efforts appear to have been significantly set back. Criticism of the response is coming not only from black members of Congress and national civil rights leaders, but also from prominent local officials and ordinary residents here.
"There is a lot of anger here in Texas," said the Rev. William A. Lawson, retired pastor of the Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church in Houston. "Even a lot of conservative whites are angry. This was not the reaction people expect to a disaster of this magnitude. We wanted to see them get off their butts and get over there."
Rodney Ellis, an African-American Democratic state senator who represents a district in Houston, said he was trying to focus on the needs of the evacuees, thousands of whom are in Houston. Mr. Ellis said that the initial federal response was clearly inadequate and that many in the administration bore responsibility, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is black and from Alabama.
"This problem is so mammoth it's not going to go away any time soon," Mr. Ellis said. "There will be ample time for Condi Rice and others in the federal government to redeem themselves. And I'm hoping they do that."
Administration officials have tried over the last two days to repair the damage. Michael Chertoff, the homeland security secretary, met with civil rights leaders and members of the Congressional Black Caucus at the White House on Saturday to discuss aid efforts and accusations of racial indifference.
Mr. Bush held a live news conference in Washington on Saturday to announce that he was sending additional troops to the Gulf Coast and to defend the government's response to the storm. The size of the disaster area, he said, "has created tremendous problems that have strained state and local capabilities."
"The result is that many of our citizens simply are not getting the help they need, especially in New Orleans," he said. "And that is unacceptable."
Ms. Rice visited the Gulf Coast on Sunday, flying to Mobile, Ala., to attend a church service and meet with storm victims.
On the plane trip from Washington, Ms. Rice challenged accusations that the government had responded slowly because many of the victims were black.
"How can that be the case?" Ms. Rice said, according to The Associated Press. "Americans don't want to see Americans suffer."
She added, "Nobody, especially the president, would have left people unattended on the basis of race."
Later, at Pilgrim Rest A.M.E. Zion Church in Whistler, Ala., the Rev. Malone Smith Jr. invited Ms. Rice to say a few words.
"The Lord Jesus Christ is going to come on time," she said, "if we just wait."
Outside the squalid convention center in New Orleans yesterday, Mr. Jackson and Ms. Waters, a California Democrat, offered bitter criticism of those who, they said, had failed them.
"This looks like the hull of a slave ship," Mr. Jackson said as he reviewed the packed sidewalk where families had gathered, their belongings in torn trash bags.
Ms. Waters said she had traveled throughout Africa and never seen anything quite like that scene. "This looks like an undeveloped country," she said. "No time did I think in America we would see this kind of homelessness, this kind of displacement. This is the worst thing I have ever seen."
In Baton Rouge, Bruce S. Gordon, president of the N.A.A.C.P., said federal aid for victims should be commensurate to what was given to those who lost relatives in the Sept. 11 attacks, adding that "the benchmark for recovery should be 9/11."
"Ask yourself," Mr. Gordon said, "have we put the investments, have we put the assets, have we put the resources that we put into 9/11?"
There was also abundant criticism of the news media over the weekend. The Rev. Al Sharpton, after visiting the encampment of displaced Louisianans in the Houston Astrodome on Saturday, objected to the use of the word "refugees" for the people who fled the hurricane.
"These are not refugees," he said. "They are citizens of Louisiana and Mississippi, tax-paying citizens. They are not refugees wandering somewhere looking for charity. They are victims of neglect and a situation they should have never been put in in the first place."
Many also took the news media to task for seeming to single out black people as looters in lawless New Orleans last week.
Kanye West, the rap star, dropped his prepared script at a televised benefit for storm victims on Friday night to say: "I hate the way they portray us in the media. If you see a black family, it says they're looting. See a white family, it says they're looking for food."
Mr. West also said, "George Bush doesn't care about black people."
Ronald Joubert, 41, a member of the New Light congregation in Houston, was a bit more charitable to the president, though not much.
"The people are saying that that's why the people in New Orleans didn't get a more direct response, because they're all black," Mr. Joubert said. "Me, I don't blame Bush personally. I blame the whole government. But 10 or 15 or 20 years from now, people are still going to be blaming Bush."
The Race Pimps Turn-Out Katrina
This nation's race-mafia will never pass up a chance to place blame for all of life's hardships upon white people. Apparently, even the horrible tragedy of Hurricane Katrina is our fault.
The race-based Congressional Black Caucus and the NAACP held a press conference on Friday, in which they asserted that the relief effort was slow because most of the victims were black. No mention was made of the storm's unusual ferocity, nor that Americans in all 50 states are donating time and money to aid Katrina victims. We were simply treated to the same old race-baiting and blame game.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) insisted: "We have reached the point that whether or not you live or die is determined by the color of your skin." Let's examine that statement for a moment. Who do you think would stand a better chance right now on the streets of New Orleans--a black man or a white man?...Perhaps without knowing, Congressman Cummings made a valid point.
Corporate blackmailer Jesse Jackson would not be denied his time in the blazing sun. Jackson visited with refugees (with camera crew in-tow) and attempted to stir-up some hatred of his own. Jackson indicted the entire country by saying: "There's a historical indifference to the pain of poor people and black people."
I predict that Jackson's words will ring hollow (as they always do), as unprecedented donations roll in from private citizens as well as corporations.
Rev. Jackson also complained that the news media had "criminalized the people of New Orleans," by reporting on the widespread looting and violence. While I am no fan of the American news media--Jackson is attempting yet again to shoot the messenger. Unfortunately for the race-pimps...video tape does not lie.
One of the reasons the relief was slow to begin in earnest was due to the violence occurring within New Orleans. Stores and private homes were looted, women and children were raped, even hospitals were raided. Never before have rescue helicopters been fired upon over an American city. New Orleans has been transformed into Mogadishu.
Everyone knows that New Orleans is a dysfunctional city. The murder rate is ten times that of the national average, nearly a third of its citizenry receive public assistance, it also has a long history of corruption. These problems were not created by Hurricane Katrina, nor were they unknown by the local and state governments. Throw in a major natural disaster and a complete breakdown of society could have easily been predicted.
Over the next several months and years, you will see Americans of all backgrounds come to the aid of Katrina's victims. You will also see endless finger-pointing. The one thing that you will not see is any admission of personal responsibility...Business as usual.
Ed: Views are those of individual authors and not necessarily those of American Daily.
Saturday, September 3, 2005 www.sfchronicle.com
Many black leaders, including members of the Congressional Black Caucus and the head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, have condemned the pace and scope of the government's rescue effort. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., told a news conference Friday, "To the president of the United States, I simply say: God cannot be pleased with our response."
Two African American professors contend that racism was a factor in the government's slow response and in the conditions that put so many blacks in harm's way. Black leaders complain the media have focused disproportionately on African American looters in New Orleans, but a conservative African American pundit says the looters themselves are guilty not just of stealing but of shaming all blacks by their criminal behavior.
The issue of race and racism, blacks say, has always swirled around New Orleans, a racially divided city that is almost 70 percent African American. The deadly waters that followed Hurricane Katrina have brought the issue to the surface for a worldwide audience watching the tragedy unfold on television, they say.
New Orleans' most vulnerable neighborhoods -- the ones most susceptible to flooding and infrastructure problems -- have long been populated by poor African Americans. Authorities planning for Hurricane Katrina did not consider the poverty of these neighborhoods when they ordered the evacuation of New Orleans, and this mind-set, whether it was conscious or not, doomed many of New Orleans' black residents, says Robert D. Bullard, a professor of sociology at Clark Atlanta University and the author of such books as "Dumping in Dixie: Race, Class and Environmental Quality," and "Unequal Protection: Environmental Justice and Communities of Color."
"The disaster isn't Katrina -- the disaster is the response," said Bullard in a phone interview. Authorities, he said, didn't "plan for people who don't have resources, who are poor, who don't have credit cards, who don't have driver's licenses, who don't have cars and the means to evacuate. It's hard not to see race when you see who's been plucked from the rooftops and who's been quartered in the squalid, health-threatening conditions of the (New Orleans) Superdome. Race, class and vulnerability operate to really create an unfair situation in terms of the response. This is not to say that people who are doing the response are racist and are doing something to hurt black people. "
Like Bullard, Vernellia R. Randall, an African American law professor at the University of Dayton, uses the term "environment racism" to describe the conditions that prompted New Orleans' poorest blacks to reside in areas with unstable levees and other infrastructure problems.
"Black people live in the worst, most vulnerable parts of a physical location, because that's the land that people allow them to live on," Randall says. "The Environmental Protection Agency has done studies in the past that have shown that the No. 1 factor related to whether or not a dump would be located in or near a community is the race of the community -- black being that race. Poor whites had dumps put in their communities less often than poor blacks."
Frank Pinkard, the pastor at Evergreen Missionary Baptist Church in Oakland, has contacted TV news shows and other media to complain they're over- emphasizing images showing black looters in New Orleans.
"They're promoting racism and bitterness because the only people being portrayed as looters are black folk," he says. "Human nature tells me that more than just black folk are looters, but you haven't seen anyone else other than black folks. The way they're portraying this, they're driving a wedge between any kind of goodwill that exists between African American and non- African Americans."
But Bob Parks, a Massachusetts cable TV producer and former Republican congressional candidate who writes a regular blog called "Black & Right," says the looters themselves are to blame. He also takes issue with New Orleans residents using guns and other weapons.
"The majority of refugees in the Superdome are black, and there were helicopters bringing in supplies to these black people," he said in a phone interview. "They weren't looking to see what color they were bringing this food and water to. They were bringing to people. And then, somebody started shooting at the helicopters, which stopped going in there. What element of racism are we going to blame that on?
"At some point," he says, "black people have got to stop breaking the law. You have people all over the world who are more than willing to donate money to help black people suffering in New Orleans. But when you have these video depictions of black people taking all this stuff, you're going to have people with second thoughts. The people who are shooting at the National Guard are making it bad for everybody. You can't keep excusing that."
Parks' Web essay on the subject generated heated e-mails from black readers, some of whom accused him of insensitivity, others of whom told him they shared his views. Parks says the debate is crucial if blacks are to come to terms with issues of race.
Like Parks, Randall says Hurricane Katrina has forced the debate into the open, where she hopes it will stay. "I'm glad to see people looking at the race issue," Randall says, "because it really is so obvious."
President attacked over 'bias on race'
September 05, 2005 - AP
JACKSON, Mississippi: President George W. Bush's
top advisers met yesterday with African American leaders concerned about
the administration's slow response to blacks caught up in Hurricane
The meeting followed civil rights leader Reverend Jesse Jackson firing off a fierce attack on Mr Bush, saying racial injustice was at the root of the federal Government's disaster response.
And on Saturday, rapper Kanye West declared in a televised fundraiser that the US was set up "to help the poor, the black people, the less well-off as slow as possible". In the Concert for Hurricane Relief, he also accused the media of racial bias.
"I hate the way they portray us in the media. If you see a black family, it says they're looting. See a white family, it says they're looking for food," he said.
However, the head of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People said yesterday it was not time for "finger-pointing".
NAACP president Bruce Gordon said that any recriminations over how the Government treated Gulf Coast residents could wait until the mostly poor and black victims were given the care they desperately needed.
"Right now, the NAACP is in what I call a life-saving mode. We are not in a finger-pointing mode, and until every life has been stabilised and every life has been saved, we will devote all of our energies for that purpose," Mr Gordon said.
Mr Gordon and Mississippi NAACP officials spoke at a news conference in Jackson hours after the Bush administration officials, including Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, met black leaders in Washington about allegations that indifference to black suffering slowed the response.
White House press secretary Scott McClellan said the group discussed how to evacuate, save and sustain lives, create temporary housing and ways to work with community and faith-based groups to handle the long-term needs of the displaced.
Elijah E. Cummings, Democrat of Maryland and past chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said he believed the administration was partly interested in offering assurances that any missteps in getting relief to the victims would be corrected.
"I think a lot of people in the African American community and others, by the way, share Bush's view that the results of his efforts have been unacceptable," Mr Cummings said after the White House meeting.
Mr Gordon said the NAACP would monitor how federal officials provided relief in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast while offering assistance to displaced residents and those in need.
"Once we are satisfied that some level of stabilisation has occurred, then we are going to figure out what happened," Mr Gordon said.
Terry M. Neal Washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Thursday, September 8, 2005
Cadavers have a way of raising questions.
When people see them, they wonder, how did they get dead?
When a lot of people see a lot of dead bodies, politicians begin thinking of damage control.
Echoing a Defense Department policy banning the photographing of flag-draped coffins of American troops, representatives from the much-maligned Federal Emergency Management Agency said on Tuesday that it didn't want journalists to accompany rescue boats as they went out to search for storm victims, because "the recovery of the victims is being treated with dignity and the utmost respect." An agency spokeswoman told Reuters, "We have requested that no photographs of the deceased be made by the media."
Whatever the objective, those pesky questions about accountability are not going away. And a full-scale political storm over the federal government's response to Hurricane Katrina continued to rage around the White House this week, despite the best efforts of the president's supporters to deflect criticism by tagging it as partisan--even though many of the critics are themselves Republicans.
"There were two disasters last week: first, the natural disaster, and second, the man-made disaster, the disaster made by mistakes made by FEMA," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters this week.
And her Senate counterpart, Harry Reid (D-Nev.) raised the question, "How much time did the president spend dealing with this emerging crisis while he was on vacation?"
Both have demanded a wide-ranging investigation of the response to Katrina.
"While countless Americans are pulling together to lend a helping hand, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are pointing fingers in a shameless effort to tear us apart," Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman said in a statement on Wednesday.
But Mehlman had no admonitions for the many Republicans who've urged accountability and demanded answers for the slow response to Katrina.
The president's defenders have now perfected their public relations talking points: The public doesn't blame Bush. Any journalist, pundit or politician who criticizes the president is out of touch with the mainstream. Anyone who has the audacity to demand accountability is just a big old partisan meannie.
Making the rounds on the morning news shows, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), a presumptive candidate for president in 2008, repeatedly made the point that "the buck stops at the federal government." In another breath, she insisted, "I'm not interested in pointing fingers; I'm interesting in getting answers."
Clinton is pushing legislation to remove FEMA from under the Department of Homeland Security. Whether this idea goes anywhere, is it not worth at least debating?
And if that's worth debating, why isn't it worth debating whether the administration has -- particularly in the wake of 9/11 -- treated FEMA as a critically important agency.
In one of the few compliments Bush gave the previous administration during the 2000 campaign, he praised President Clinton's FEMA director, James Lee Witt, as a "guy who has done a really good job of working with governors during times of crisis."
Yet after his election in 2000, Bush quickly replaced Witt with Joseph Allbaugh, his former campaign manager, and a man who had little experience in disaster relief. At a Senate subcommittee hearing on May 15, 2001, he called the agency "an oversized entitlement program" and warned that "expectations of when the federal government should be involved, and the degree of involvement, may have ballooned beyond what is an appropriate level."
If the person at the top doesn't demand answers and assign blame when necessary, how can he send the message to bureaucrats that they will be held responsible for their actions?
"Only 13 percent blame Bush?" blared a headline on the Drudge Report yesterday.
Other supporters focused on the 55 percent who said in a Washington Post-ABC News poll that Bush should get only some (33 percent) or none of the blame (22 percent) for the response to Katrina.
But as is often the case, it's not that simple.
Drudge refers to a new CNN-Gallup-USA Today poll. And sure enough, there is one question that asks, "Who do you think is most responsible for the problems in New Orleans after the hurricane?" Indeed, 13 percent answered Bush. (Another 18 percent answered "federal agencies" -- which the last time I checked, answer to Bush.)
But in the same poll, people were asked a separate question -- judge how the president did in responding to the hurricane. And 42 percent said "bad" or "terrible" compared to 35 percent who said "great" or "good."
The boosterism also ignores anything else in the polls that doesn't fit public relations talking points, including the fact that majorities of people believe (according to the Washington Post/ABC poll) that the Bush administration does not have a clear plan for dealing with the post-Katrina situation, and that majorities of people believe Katrina has exposed major problems with the federal government's emergency preparedness.
What the aforementioned polls demonstrate is that people are reasonable. Almost no one thinks Bush deserves all the blame for the post-Katrina fiasco. But they are clearly not comfortable that he did everything he could to minimize the damage to humanity and ease the suffering of the victims of the historic storm. And people are also concerned that he has not done enough to prepare the nation for the catastrophic.
Polls show that the public is already increasingly weary of the president's character, largely because of the dubious claims he made in the march to war in Iraq and probably because of his failure to hold anyone accountable for the mistake made in selling the war as well as fighting it. But they won't soon forget the images coming out of New Orleans and elsewhere on the Gulf Coast.
In responding to public will, there is risk, and possibly reward if he demonstrates leadership and character in coming months. The public has a large capacity to forgive leaders who come clean about their mistakes and make an effort to fix them. But the issue will not go away.
So FEMA can try to hide the bodies from the public's view. But the public will not forget.