Talking Points for a City of Corpses

Horrific. An American city descends into chaos and humanitarian tragedy. Let the finger pointing begin.

Special condemnation is reserved for every elected official or spokesperson — trained by media professionals — who stands before a television camera and fails to answer direct questions from reporters.

Next in line: every reporter who allows an elected official or spokesperson or agency official to get away with evasion, coached by media professionals. The relentless redirecting of questions by interviewers back to talking points, unchallenged in many cases by television personalities, is unacceptable.

And shouldn’t there be a law to ban television “news” channels that collaborate with interviewees — lines of questioning, talking points, and leading questions that default to pre-arranged answers?

That propaganda passes for news in the United States is a national disgrace, in and of itself.

There may be a hundred explanations why this is so. But if I could single out one interest group to step forward to explain itself in light of the New Orleans tragedy, it would be the architects of the dominant political class who came to power on the persuasive arguments that it is necessary to “starve the beast of government” and in doing so, fundamentally threatened our safety.

Starving the federal budget and draining the Treasury deserves full explanation now that we are witnessing, in exquisite detail, what can happen.

America deserves answers because the human tragedy of New Orleans — most visibly stamped on the weak and powerless– is unacceptable. The failure of taxpayer investment, planning, and protection of citizens’ public health and safety and welfare is unacceptable.

Americans are outraged by the descent of New Orleans into chaos and hopelessness, and graphic demonstrations how the neediest suffer the most. The single lesson to take from Hurricane Katrina, however, is how little separates civilized society from lawlessness when large-scale systems fail.

In the face of terrorists determined to attack the Western world’s large-scale infrastructure systems, we have failed to adapt. Katrina disclosed the weakness in failing to account adequately for backup systems to ensure the supply chain for products we need to survive — from energy, to food, to transportation.

A natural disaster has shaken the large-scale systems we depend on to the core.

Now, all of our large-scale systems deserve scrutiny, especially those that serve the electric utility and power needs of the U.S. economy. The need to fundamentally reform energy supply and consumption has been ignored by the Bush White House. It represents, in fact, the outmoded large-scale systems that are putting Americans at enormous risk.

Will it take power outages and gasoline shortages to push decision makers finally to understand the need for the massive application of small-scale and innovative solutions, or, will this crisis only push legislators to do more of the same: lessen pollution rules and build liquefied natural-gas terminals to replicate the large-scale dependencies we find ourselves and our society glued to?

Familiar with chaos and violence, our enemies are nodding with recognition how the worst of human behavior sprang up within 48 hours in New Orleans with the disappearance of the key requirement for survival: clean drinking water and electricity.

America has learned about its vulnerabilities to the whim of nature in a most troubling way. Now is the time to recognize how scenes from New Orleans could spread across the entire nation in the event of the worst possible human calamity: a flu pandemic that the world has not experienced since 1918.

The lack of planning and investment to protect one city, by the federal government, shows how poorly prepared we are for a full-scale assault by avian flu, which could render many large-scale production and delivery systems inoperable.

What people can do is simply throw out of office every elected official who refuses to answer to the need to protect human health, welfare and safety. It is time to fund and implement back-up systems to provide our energy and food production and distribution needs when large-scale infrastructure fails.

Whether voters can rise to this fundamental level of awareness before tragedy strikes again, and chaos is imposed on us all, is a question to ask from every street corner of America, now.

ALAN FARAGO, a writer on the environment and politics, can be reached at



Alan Farago is president of Friends of the Everglades and can be reached at