Look at Florida last fall, where FEMA laid on the hurricane aid with a trowel, giving out millions in Miami-Dade County even though Hurricane Frances had done its brunting elsewhere. Money earmarked for temporary housing was instead buying folks new TVs and bedroom sets, with no oversight. Unlike Katrina, FEMA did a lot of advance work on Frances, as evidenced by the scads of memos flying between Bush's re-election team, FEMA execs and Gov. Jeb Bush, who all seemed concerned that a poor response might hurt Bush at the polls. Now, when the non-election Katrina tore through Miami-Dade on its way to the Gulf, FEMA refused emergency assistance.
It's too bad that California's out of the largesse loop, since a catastrophic earthquake here was deemed one of the three likeliest disasters by FEMA back when it managed emergencies, and the other two disasters (terrorist attack in New York, hurricane in the Deep South) have now happened. Did you know we've got 1,100 miles of crumbling levees of our own? The levees protect areas in the Central Valley through which the California Aqueduct flows. A breach would flood that with saltwater, meaning something like 21 million Southern Californians would suddenly be without water, for years. If you think the looting in New Orleans was bad, wait until you see the Newport crowd fighting over that last sip of water in the Shark Club fish tank—and then the rage when they discover the fish tank is saltwater.
While Bush's Team America was busy typing "How to manage flud" on askjeeves.com, John Bolton caused a ruckus at the UN, showing up with a list of hundreds of last-minute demands for changes to the long-crafted UN reform plan. Among the demands was the jettisoning of programs to alleviate poverty or hunger. Instead, the U.S. is insisting that the UN promote free-market policies as the remedy to all problems.
And now they have FEMA's great example of how well limited government works. Come on in, the water's fine—if you're a bacterium.
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One criticism and/or excuse of FEMA's feeble response is that Bush shifted its response priorities to terrorism instead of national disasters. He did, but it's no excuse. As former Defense Secretary William S. Cohen (one of several Republicans in Clinton's administration—because Clinton appointed people based on competence) noted on CNN, the response to either should have been the same. If al Qaeda had blown holes in the levees, would FEMA have been there any quicker? The fact is, no matter the disaster, we're screwed.
Having slumbered through the emergency's initial days, Bush says his administration won't rest until New Orleans and the Gulf Coast are better than ever. This from the guy who said he wouldn't rest until Osama bin Laden was brought to justice, give or take 300 days of vacation.
Have you been to New Orleans? Unless you're a total brick, the place changes you. It's America's fertile crescent, the cradle of improvisation. Give them castoff instruments, and they invent jazz. Give them table scraps, and they make gumbo. The town will nurture you; maybe it'll murder you, but it'll sure let you know you're alive, and that everyone around you is as well.
The youthful George W. Bush evidently never saw past the beads, tits and vodka vomit—otherwise he would have left New Orleans with humanity.