Early indictments

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 suffered and many 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. Before he left FEMA, Allbaugh recommended that it be downsized and privatized. He described this most important first-responder agency as “an oversized entitlement program.”

Allbaugh’s replacement was no improvement. Michael Brown, an estate-planning lawyer from Colorado with an equally blank résumé when it came to managing emergencies, took over, and last week, Brown distinguished himself by being more engaged in public-relations damage control than in hurricane relief.

It gets worse. The Bush administration also has been busy trimming budgets for 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.

You can help

Be part of a second wave of assistance desperately needed by victims of this tragedy. Here are three good groups you can donate to:

Habitat for Humanity International
121 Habitat Street
Americus, GA 31709-3498

American Red Cross, Sacramento Sierra Chapter
8928 Volunteer Lane, No. 100
Sacramento, CA 95826

America’s Second Harvest
35 E. Wacker Drive, No. 2000
Chicago, IL 60601