Friday, September 02, 2005

All Things Considered and Chertoff

Last night, I listened to NPR to hear how they were reporting on the hurricane disaster. The World program was on when I tuned in. A Dutch reporter relayed his views on New Orleans which pretty much were in line with what I've been hearing on radio and reading on the web (blogs as well as news sources). What surprised me, however, was the reporter's absolute astonishment that there were no, as in zero, federal officials that he could find on the ground there. He described a situation that was in disarray.

Needless to say, this was disconcerting. One area about a Federal government that most people can agree is a legitimate purpose is disaster relief. In fact, the current administration, in running for re-election in 2004, touted it's preparedness programs as a shining example of their capabilities. In the wake of the World Trade Center attacks, the Bush administration noted that they had made significant progress in preparing communities for the worst.Here we have a disaster whose effects have been predicted for years, including a report produced by FEMA in 2001. This was a disaster that forecasters were able to predict with such accuracy that tens of thousands were able to flee the area in advance. And yet, many are dying, dehydrated, suffering, and desperate several days after the initial disaster and no federal officials are in site. Is this an example of the response we can expect from a terrorist attack? How about an earthquake (equally unpredictable)?

After listening to The World, I tuned into NPR's All Things Considered. It was not particularly uplifting. The head of FEMA, Chertoff, was interviewed on the program. When confronted with some of the information that an NPR reporter had gathered in New Orleans, Chertoff dismissed reports of lack of supplies and miserable conditions as "hearsay". He stated that he could "not argue" with what the reporter had said, but that he had received no such reports about these things himself. Perhaps Chertoff has been too busy to turn on the news, read a paper or an internet blog such as this one by Michael Barnett (from New Orleans)? This would be understandable, but to declare you have not seen any reports about this is to either lie or demonstrate your agency's incompetence. Furthermore, Chertoff went on to claim that the victims were at fault for not reporting to designated centers for supplies, but as the Barnett link above notes, people in the Superdome waited three days to have supplies dropped to them and many of those supplies were destroyed because they were literally dropped. After Chertoff went off of the air, the NPR reporter was brought in for a second interview. I could hear the outrage in his voice as he described conditions in the Superdome. His voice quivered with anger and disgust and, based on what he said, rightfully so.

Where is the leadership? Where are the government officials? Why is the response taking so long and is lacking so greatly? As noted below (in the Schiavo case), this government can act swiftly when it wants to do so. This is shameful. I encourage readers to listen to the programs linked to above, but be prepared for a disheartening feeling once you've finished.

1 comment:

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