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Katrina’s Political Aftermath

Hurricane Katrina has left much in her wake, including who is to blame for the aftermath. Most are heaving their anger at the Bush administration. Much of it is deserved. But we can blame more than just Bush.

The most grotesque facets of American society have been on display for everyone to dissect. Indeed, our makeup has been smeared and our manicured blemishes exposed. Flood or no flood, we live in an unjust country that leaves its poor and minorities left to rot.

Some are holding the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) accountable for the government’s failed response to Katrina. In fact, Bush blames FEMA and has pulled director Michael Brown from heading up the Katrina relief effort only to have Brown resign hours later. The scapegoating has begun.

Who is really to blame? Bush or FEMA?

Well, FEMA has forever been a train wreck. Doomsday scenarios have propelled the agency’s crooked course for decades. The apocalypse has always been more panic provoking than a tornado in Kansas or hurricanes in the Florida Panhandle, and the majority of planning has been spent on the easing Cold War fears. Many Bush critics claim FEMA gained muscle in the 1990s under Bill Clinton but has been dismantled under Bush. But the truth is, FEMA has never been capable of dealing with enormous natural catastrophes.

In 1999 Hurricane Floyd ravaged the eastern seaboard leaving tens of thousands stranded. It took over twenty long days for ex-FEMA director James Lee Witt to get the trucks rolling in to provide assistance. “We’re starting to move the camper trailers in,” Witt told Rev. Jesse Jackson on CNN a full three weeks after Floyd hit. “It’s been so wet it’s been difficult to get things in there, but now it’s going to be moving very quickly. And I think you’re going to see a – I think the people there will see a big difference over within this next weekend.”

“It seemed there was preparation for Hurricane Floyd, but then came Flood Floyd,” said Rev. Jackson. “Bridges are overwhelmed, levees are overwhelmed, whole town’s under water . . . [it is] an awesome scene of tragedy,” Jackson espoused.

Even with a Democrat in office, FEMA was as inadequate then as it is now.

Of course, Floyd wasn’t nearly as horrific as Hurricane Katrina. At least in the 1990s we had more reserved troops ready to help out with such disasters. So we can still blame it all on Bush, right? Not exactly. That blame needs to be shared. Iraq has been a bipartisan nightmare – even presidential hopeful John Kerry wanted to send more troops over into harms way. Although Kerry acknowledged Bush’s “back-door draft”, which has stretched our troops to their max, he wasn’t about to reverse it. So you can blame both the Democrats and the Republicans for that one. In fact, it is quite likely that the Democrats would have responded (or rather, not responded) in the same fashion as the Bush administration did to Katrina.

Neither a Republican nor a Democrat in office would have done what Fidel Castro did in September 2004 when Cuba was struck by Hurricane Ivan. Castro managed to evacuate 1.6 million people as the hurricane approached. Over 20,000 homes were destroyed, yet the hurricane related deaths were few. Thousands of lives had been saved.

Cuba, despite the embargo, is still a much more equitable society than the US and Katrina’s proved it. We can go ahead and blame FEMA or Bush for all that has ensued, but the failures of Katrina go much deeper than that. Until we overcome the greater class inequalities in this country, there will always be Katrinas in the making.

JOSHUA FRANK is the author of the brand new book, Left Out!: How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush, which has just been published by Common Courage Press. You can order a copy at a discounted rate at www.brickburner.org. Joshua can be reached at Joshua@brickburner.org.