Down in the flood

The disaster in New Orleans and along the Mississippi coast has revealed a level of governmental incompetence that will generate years of finger pointing and fault finding. From President Bush on down, the relief effort proved inadequate and slow in coming. People died because of that delay and, though certain aspects of the calamity were beyond human control or intervention, there was much that might have been done if we had a government that believed in governing for the good of the people it is meant to serve.

Instead, however, we have a government that looks more and more like those systems so prevalent in the Third World—an oligarchy run by and for the favored few, a system that rides on the backs of the people living under it. As an example, one need only look at the two men who have served as directors of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) during the Bush administration. The first guy Bush put in this important post was Joe Allbaugh, a Texas crony who had no experience in the field of managing emergencies. Allbaugh served just long enough at FEMA to cash in his creds by setting himself up as a consultant advising private companies on how best to weasel government contracts in Iraq. In other words, he sold his administration connections because, in a word, connections are the best way to weasel government contracts in Iraq. Before he left FEMA, however, Allbaugh’s sole and only contribution to the agency he headed was to recommend that it be downsized and privatized. He described this most important first responder agency as “an oversized entitlement program.”

The kind of mentality that believes in privatizing a government emergency relief agency is a throwback to the days when fire companies were for-profit enterprises that would let your home burn to the ground if you failed to pay their fees.

But Allbaugh’s replacement was no improvement. Michael D. Brown, an estate planning lawyer from Colorado with an equally blank ràsumà when it came to managing emergencies, took over from Allbaugh, and last week, Brown distinguished himself by being the most clueless of all the bureaucrats and politicians who were more engaged in public relations damage control than in hurricane damage control.

By treating posts that are vital to the needs of the nation as simply part of the political spoils system is to play fast and loose with the nation’s safety and well-being. But it gets worse. In addition to the practice of placing cronies in vital and highly paid public posts, the Bush administration has also been busy trimming budgets to the very agencies that protect the public. Last year, Bush cut the Army Corps of Engineers’ budget for levee construction in New Orleans by a record $71.2 million. Jefferson Parish emergency management Chief Walter Maestri said at the time, “It appears that the money has been moved in the president’s budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that’s the price we pay.”

That’s the price we pay, indeed.

How you can help:

Donate Cash

American Red Cross 1-800-HELP NOW (435-7669); America’s Second Harves1-800-344-8070; 1-800-436-6348; Humane Society of the United States 1-888-259-5431; 12 836-1880

Donate Cash and/or Volunteer

Adventist Community Services 1-800-381-7171; B’nai B’rith International 1-888-388-4224; Catholic Charities, USA1-800-919-9338; Christian Disaster Response 941-956-5183 or 941-551-9554; Christian Reformed World Relief Committee 1-800-848-5818; Church World Service 1-800-297-1516; Convoy of Hope 417-823-8998; Corporation for National and Community Service Disaster Relief Fund (202) 606-6718; Feed the Children 1-800-525-7575; Lutheran Disaster Response 800-638-3522; Mennonite Disaster Service 717-859-2210; Nazarene Disaster Response 888-256-5886; Presbyterian Disaster Assistance 800-872-3283; Salvation Army 1-800-SAL-ARMY (725-2769); Southern Baptist Convention—Disaster Relief 1-800-462-8657, ext. 6440; United Jewish Communities 1-877-277-2477; Union for Reform Judaism United Methodist Committee on Relief 1-800-554-8583