Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda Dept.:
True to the current spirit of American politics (which is to say, like a bitter "us vs. them" football rivalry these days), pundits assumed their predictable partyline kneejerking, namecalling and fingerpointing. Now the mediocrats are settling back and talking about the "blame game"and the "politicizing" of this disaster. Yes, Hurricane Katrina was a force of nature that could not be stopped. However, measures could have been taken to prevent the disastrous damage and loss of life it has caused, and it also demonstrates the very situation that tests the idea of what the role and scope of federal government should be assuming. Although after perusing the muck of information, it's making me wish we could elect someone other than politicians to run this country.
Before Katrina's landfall, FEMA allegedly estimated 10,000 dead -- nearly three times that of the number of Americans killed on Sept. 11. The National Hurricane Center(see link in previous post) gave an estimate of 50,000 dead for a Cat 5 hurricane. Yet the politicians apparently weren't as concerned with that possible scenario despite the warnings from the experts; despite a record hurricane season last year and a projected record hurricane season for this year.
Certainly, President Bush made some stupid statements (and backed up by Bill Clinton!) claiming that such a disaster was unforseeable when there HAD been prior warnings. This is inexcusable -- or at the very least, an insult to the intelligence of anyone who's been halfway informed. But stupid statements aren't in themselvess an indicator of blame.
It also didn't help Mr. Bush's case to stage photo ops in which, apparently, work that was apparently being done to repair the levees had been faked just for the televised visit. (Click the link to read Senator Mary Landrieu's account.)
Nor has it helped that under the Bush administration, "...FEMA [had] gone from being a model agency to being one where funds are being misspent, employee morale has fallen, and our nation's emergency management capability is being eroded."
And it certainly didn't help FEMA's case for the sluggish response and preventing of other groups to come through with aid.
Even those who normally back Bush pointed to the incredibly inept handling of the disaster by FEMA head Michael Brown who was either totally clueless or lying (read the link in my previous post that suggested that, prior to landfall, FEMA WAS aware of the situation and the potential number of lives lost (which, it seems, is turning out to possibly exceed their expectations).
The President may have not been *directly* responsible, but as Christopher Hitchens pointed out, the voters are going to remember this. Where, after all, do we perceive the "buck" usually stopping? They're going to associate the tepid federal response with a disaster that dwarfs 9/11 in terms of destruction.
Others have preferred to criticize the local politicians for not doing more to prepare for such a disaster. Certainly, they share some of the blame. On the other hand, are inept local governments a reason for a more solid national infrastructure? Consider that some measures (such as installing regionwide sirens and mass education programs) might have required greater funding than a city of poor folks could come up with.
And then there's the fact that some victims stubbornly chose to stay behind. Obviously, the difference between the NOLA victims and the WTC victims is that there was advance warning of impending disaster. However, as one can see from the video, "picking up and evacuating" wasn't as simple an option as it might sound to some: where would they go? It was probably even less of an option for the elderly and infirm.
Of course, what should have been done in the first place -- probably years ago, mind you -- is to ensure that such a disaster would have been minimal in impact. For example, no residential zoning in potential flood areas. Actually, the whole city had been a disaster waiting to happen for the fact that it had been built on the delta of the Mississippi river, which carries enormous amounts of sediment runoff. A normal, unobstructed river delta would be constantly changing course as sediments are deposited along the banks; if you look at a map of the Mississippi, you can see the former courses it took in the form of bayous. When "walled in" with levees, the river can't change course and the sediment can't be deposited to ensure that the land will stay above sea level. Since the sediment has nowhere to go, it will sink to the bottom and actually make the river level *rise* while the built-on land sinks on the other side of the levee ...So in other words, it's pretty stupid to build a city on a river delta at all, although that's probably a moot point since New Orleans was founded over 200 years ago when people probably didn't know any better.
What matters now, of course, are the plans to rebuild the city. But is the city worth rebuilding, given its literal lack of solid foundation? (At least in its old location?) It would certainly present an engineering/insurance challenge. Rebuilding is probably going to be inevitable, though, given we're talking about one of the biggest port towns in the world.
To put a cynical evolutionary spin on all of this: those who are informed, worry, anticipate and act upon their best judgment are more likely to survive than those who are ignorant or possess a devil-may-care attitude. ...Politically and otherwise. As The Questionable Authority put it, "People are dead because scientific advice was not followed, and people are dead because they did not know enough science to recognize the danger that they were in."
[One last thing I'd like to know: would someone please explain why it's considered "conservative" to spend billions of federal funds on a war* to supposedly to prevent hypothetical loss of American lives while it's considered "liberal" to spend billions of same on the domestic front to prevent hypothetical loss of American lives? The goals are very similar. What's the difference?]