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As Long as We Remember...

September 13, 2005

Blame Game

Roy Meachum

As the waters peel back from the place I grew up - Frederick has been my hometown for over 20 years - I watched, appalled, as officials point fingers at each other.

Both the current mayor of New Orleans and Louisiana's governor are neophytes: people swept into office by disgruntled voters, tired of the old ways. I come from a very corrupt state, a heritage from our southern Mediterranean origins.

Neither Kathleen Blanco nor Ray Nagin had been in office long enough to know where the public toilets were when the hurricane hit. She had served in the state legislature; he hadn't a clue, coming from the telecommunications industry.

Both were thrust into a dazed condition when Lake Ponchartrain hit in the after wake of the hurricane; they simply didn't know what to say or to do. They fumbled around on television, spewing emotionalism. But they are not professionals.

Meanwhile, back in Washington's southwest federal conglomerate, the people who do know, who had experience dealing with national disasters found themselves hopelessly overruled and dismissed by political appointees. Three of the five FEMA department heads and the secretary of Homeland Security had no qualifications to handle the problem. I'm not surprised.

During the Reagan administration I was engaged to do films/tapes at the National Emergency Training Center, in Emmitsburg. The FEMA head was a retired military cop; so were his subordinates, to a man. Having ex-MP's in charge scarcely bothered me. The point was they knew how to make decisions. But they were all, to a man, political appointees. That's how government goes.

A fatal coincidence occurred when Louisiana's amateurs collided with those dudes in Washington, chosen chiefly because they were politically loyal to the White House.

The Homeland Security department is top-heavy with lawyers, which is why we have the illogical stories about willing volunteers with their supplies turned back because they had not completed paperwork. In one instance a convoy loaded with food was told it could not come into Louisiana because it lacked a "tasker number." Get real.

We have heard of processions of vehicles, including a multi-million dollar movable hospital, shoved to the side of a road for days. Someone should hang.

At the middle of this situation is a realization our government, at all levels, has no clue. Four years after 9/11 we can at least be grateful that what occurred in my birth state, Louisiana, did not involve terrorists. God alone knows how much the disaster would have increased.

George W. Bush must answer for the nation's lack of preparation. The buck stops on the Oval Office desk, as Harry Truman said.

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