Katrina: She raised some serious questions
Why did New Orleans’ Mayor C. Ray Nagin and Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco turn deaf ears to the pleadings of National Hurricane Center Director, Dr. Max Mayfield, to evacuate New Orleans on the Friday before Katrina hit on Sunday? On that same night, why did Governor Blanco and Mayor Nagin refuse the pleas of President Bush to evacuate New Orleans immediately and to sign the documents clearing the way for federal intervention, to include federalization of the Louisiana National Guard and for the deployment of federal troops?
Well, we now know the Mayor of New Orleans, C. Ray Nagin, is incompetent. Not because he is an African-American, but because he is incompetent. We now know Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco is incompetent. Not because she is White and wanted Blacks to drown, but because she is incompetent.
We now know the federal government – especially, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) -- cannot assume that local and state officials are competent to recognize the need for federal assistance and call for it on a timely basis. Nor can DHS and FEMA assume that local and state officials actually spend the federal money they are granted for emergency planning and execution. And, while FEMA is not a first-responder, it needs to be faster.
So, here’s at least a partial answer: Federal grants for emergency planning represent a pool of monetary largesse that gives mayors and governors a lot of political clout. Money is a fungible community that corrupt politicians can make flow into pet projects such as floating casinos and luxury marinas for New Orleans or to reward those who support a governor’s pet projects and to punish those who do not.
Moreover, once federal disaster money is spent, it then becomes subject to federal audit to see how it was spent. Ergo: Congress has set up a system of perverse incentives that cause corrupt local and state officials to husband their federal disaster dollars rather than spend them for their intended purposes.
But we must be careful to not learn the wrong lessons from Katrina. Not all cities and no all states have histories of corruption on a scale to match that of New Orleans and Louisiana. For example, Kansas, Nebraska and, especially, Oklahoma are models of how to administer disaster grants.
We now know the extreme environmentalists prevented the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from getting needed funding for a series of flood gates that could have prevented the New Orleans disaster.
But the bottom line of the New Orleans and coastal Mississippi and Alabama disasters is that we, as a nation, are not as ready as we should be to deal with an attack by the Islamo-fascists using Weapons of Mass Destruction. Congress needs to change the laws so a President can do what needs to be done without waiting on local and state officials to sort through their political priorities and respond. We might consider the repeal of the Posse Comitatus Act so Presidents can use our military to enforce local criminal aw. Localities must make and practice mass evacuation plans like those practiced by our military in Europe.
But, for those of us who marched for Dr. King in the 1960s, the most painful lesson of Katrina is that our dreams of integrated and upwardly mobile minorities achieving the American Dream obviously did not come true in the poor areas of New Orleans. Maybe, that was just our dream? Or, maybe minorities had the same dream but it was hi-jacked by President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society that gave them a hand-out instead of a hand-up? Thirty-percent of New Orleans households were headed by women with children. The more children, the larger the welfare checks.
We can fix the levees and drain the swamp of New Orleans. But how do we fix human beings dependent on welfare programs and refusing evacuation lest they miss their next welfare check? That is the larger question raised by Hurricane Katrina.
William Hamilton, a syndicated columnist, a featured commentator for USA Today and self-described “recovering lawyer and philosopher,” is the co-author of The Grand Conspiracy and The Panama Conspiracy – two thrillers about terrorism directed against the United States.
©2005. William Hamilton.