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Progressive Politics in Minnesota, the Nation, and the World

FEMA's Failure

Category: US Politics
Posted: 09/10/05 14:03, Edited: 09/10/05 14:07

by Dave Mindeman

It has been a little bit surreal to read the side stories coming out of New Orleans. I'm referring to the Duke University students who swiped press passes and cruised on down to the supposedly "unreachable" convention center... or Al Gore evacuating 200+ people with medical needs, by-passing red tape with ease... or Sean Penn taking a boat down the watery streets picking up people and getting them medical help and his own cash....

It emphasizes the frustration we have all felt at the inadequacy of our government's responsiveness to disaster. Whether this disaster simply overwhelmed our capability or we just blew it, will be the subject of a very long term debate. However, it is clear that the changes made to FEMA, when it folded into the Dept. of Homeland Security, were an abject failure.

I don't question the good intentions of the 9/11 Commission or Congress' sincere wish to upgrade preparedness, but paper ideas don't always translate into solutions. Going forward, we will have more disasters -- there are just too many dangers out there, both man-made and natural. And since we are in total denial about Global Warming, we are daring Mother Nature to respond. Each time we try to address one of these calamities, we should learn more of the practical needs for our preparation.

With regards to FEMA, some things seem self-evident:

1) FEMA needs to be a full cabinet or cabinet level position.

2) The director must have Senate confirmation approval.

Other points are reasonably clear but need a defined structure:

3) Once a disaster has been declared by the President, on the Federal level, FEMA must be given a very high level of appropriation authority, that initiates without Congressional approval.

4) Conversely, Congressional oversight must be maintained and appropriations can be cut off if Congress has evidence of problems.

How money would be spent should have a direct link to the FEMA director and his or her Congressional liason. There would be direct accountability this way and the red tape would be minimized.

When discussing preparedness, the FEMA department should be locating the potential areas in our country where natural disasters could pose extra risk. Then it should work with the local authorities to draft realistic plans that can be implemented efficiently and with proper coordination, in the event of a devastating event. Local authorities must have the final say on any approved plan but Federal involvement must be clearly defined with immediate availability once activated.

The Department of Homeland Security has been a total failure in my view. It hasn't contributed much, and its involvement with the agencies now under its control has hampered their effectiveness. It doesn't have a clearly defined role and no accountability structure. It appears to have been slapped together too quickly and with little chain of command definition.

One of its main reasons to exist was to clear up the communication problems between the agencies that need to work together. During the Katrina crisis, that problem was worse than ever.

We have got to get the politics out of this. The protection of our citizens can't be a political football. The role of government can be debated philosophically all you want, but our Constitution clearly defines one item as having paramount importance.... "provide for the common defense and promote the general welfare... to ourselves and our posterity".

To that end, we have failed miserably.
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Katrina Culpability

Posted: 09/04/05 21:50

by Paul Bartlett

The Bush Administration is criminally culpable for its negligence in the lead-up and aftermath of Katrina. Consider two facts:

First, climatologists have been warning us since the 1960's that global warming would result in catastrophic weather events. Rather than joining other nations to turn the tide, Bush refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol. To this day, he mocks and ridicules environmentalists.

Second, we have pumped billions of dollars into the homeland security boondoggle. While reducing FEMA to a skeletal department, Bush rolled it into his pet big brother agency. For nearly a week before Katrina landed, meteorologists warned that she would hit the gulf coast and would likely be a class five storm.

If his homeland security keystone cops can't prepare for a known event, how could they possibly prevent a terrorist act?
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DeFacto Corporate Government

Posted: 09/04/05 20:59

by Paul Bartlett

Since the founding days of the John Birch Society, paranoid right-wingers have fretted about "world government". Their hatred of the United Nations is rooted in their fear that the UN may morph into the planet's sole governing authority (a job that Bush longs for).

With the recent approval of CAFTA, modern day robber barons have
taken us one step closer to a self-fulfilling prophecy. Not in the form of civil, secular government, but by the emergence of international behemoth corporations. Look around; Exxon, Halliburton, GM, WalMart ... they portend the future. These corporate monsters are loyal only to themselves and are concerned with only one thing: profit.

Our federal government has ceded much of its authority in the areas of environmental protection, workplace safety, fair wages, decent working conditions, etc. to the biggest bullies on the block. By allowing corporations to export their abusive behavior, in the name of trade, we are all diminished. Every outsourced job and shuttered plant is symbolic of the new world order, and it's not the UN. The "free trade" movement has given rise to mega-corporations, to de facto parallel governments.

The right-wing is correct, we should fear world government. But it's here, now. Just flip through the Wall Street Journal to locate your "representative". You'll quickly realize that real authority now
rests in corporate board rooms, not in legislative chambers. What a sad and tragic irony.
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