In a Washington briefing, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said one reason federal assets were not used more quickly was "because our constitutional system really places the primary authority in each state with the governor."
This from a man who on NPR last Wednesday stated that he had no reports of people living without food and water or being stranded in New Orleans. This same man went on to blame the victims, stating that if they went to proper distribution centers, then they would get food and water. Perhaps someone should remind Chertoff of the interview? Perhaps someone should remind him of his duties as DHS director:
In the event of a terrorist attack, natural disaster or other large-scale emergency, the Department of Homeland Security will assume primary responsibility on March 1st for ensuring that emergency response professionals are prepared for any situation. This will entail providing a coordinated, comprehensive federal response to any large-scale crisis and mounting a swift and effective recovery effort. The new Department will also prioritize the important issue of citizen preparedness. Educating America's families on how best to prepare their homes for a disaster and tips for citizens on how to respond in a crisis will be given special attention at DHS.
That's not to let local officials off of the hook. This needs to be investigated and people need to be held accountable at all levels of government. Still, given Mayor Daley's report yesterday, and his is one of many, it is clear that DHS and FEMA failed as well. They need to stop trying to shift responsibility and take their lumps.
To be sure, the task presented these folks was daunting. An area of the country approximately the size of England was affected. Hundreds of thousands of people have suffered losses. Relief in earnest now seems to be getting through, though it has been and continues to be delayed. Still, this sort of thing is just one of the major reasons that these people have jobs in the first place. Protecting our citizens should always be the highest priority. DHS seems to acknowledge thus in the statement above, even if the director now finds it inconvenient to do so now.
Senator Mary Landrieu (D - Louisiana) has stepped up to the plate to criticize the President's photo op:
But perhaps the greatest disappointment stands at the breached 17th Street levee. Touring this critical site yesterday with the President, I saw what I believed to be a real and significant effort to get a handle on a major cause of this catastrophe. Flying over this critical spot again this morning, less than 24 hours later, it became apparent that yesterday we witnessed a hastily prepared stage set for a Presidential photo opportunity; and the desperately needed resources we saw were this morning reduced to a single, lonely piece of equipment. The good and decent people of southeast Louisiana and the Gulf Coast -- black and white, rich and poor, young and old -- deserve far better from their national government.
The report seems to confirm what Laura Rozen reported on her blog as written to her by Dutch viewer Frank Tieggler:
There was a striking dicrepancy between the CNN International report on the Bush visit to the New Orleans disaster zone, yesterday, and reports of the same event by German TV.
ZDF News reported that the president's visit was a completely staged event. Their crew witnessed how the open air food distribution point Bush visited in front of the cameras was torn down immediately after the president and the herd of 'news people' had left and that others which were allegedly being set up were abandoned at the same time.
The people in the area were once again left to fend for themselves, said ZDF.
And then Dana Milbeck reported this about the photo op:
From there, Bush went to tour a Biloxi, Miss., neighborhood and tried to direct victims to the Salvation Army. "Do you know where the center is down here?" he asked them.
"There's no center there, sir," a worker interjected. "It's a truck."
"A truck?" Bush continued. "Isn't there a Salvation center down here?"
"It's wiped out sir," the worker said. "Wiped out."
Clueless. Still, one must not forget that Senator Landrieu was on CNN last week praising the President's and Congress' response to the crisis and that she was chewed out by Anderson Cooper on the air for playing politics instead of seeking real assistance. (Transcript here). So, for the Senator to now criticize the President is also for her to try to shift blame for her tepid response onto the Administration and ignore her own responsibilities.
Like I said, all responsible should be held accountable regardless of level of government or party affiliation.