Katrina Lessons

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(HOST) Commentator Bill Seamans is hopeful that the massive disaster management failure on the Gulf Coast will have a positive influence on future American domestic policies.

(SEAMANS) The Bush administration gave us “Shock and Awe”
in Iraq and now we have “Shock and Shame” along the Gulf Coast. We are shocked by the realization that what happened to New Orleans could have been the result of terrorists blowing up the levees. We also are shocked by the incompetent direction of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (which we call FEMA) and its parent organization the Department of Homeland Security which was set up after 9/11 to respond to terrorism and domestic disasters. It failed its first test.

Katrina tells us that political cronyism reached the point of tragic ineptitude with the appointment of Michael Brown to head FEMA. As we now know, he had no prior disaster experience and appar- ently got his job because he was the college roommate and long- time pal of his predecessor. Brown was invited to resign even after praise from President Bush who said, “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.”

At first it looked like a familiar scenario with those at the top of the chain of responsibility laying the blame on the spear bearers down below as the Bush administration did with the Abu Graib torture scandal. But this time, President Bush says he takes responsi- bility for the federal government’s inadequate response so we now wait to see what that means and whether, along with his TV address tonight, it will boost his approval rating which polls say has reached a new low.

Meanwhile, we are shamed by the picture that Katrina gave us of how big the gap has become between the poverty stricken and the wealthy which has been veiled by claims of how well the economy is doing because of the tax cut favoring the rich. Our great Ameri- can idea is shamed both in our hearts and before the world where our image already has been shattered by Bush’s petroleum war.

Katrina tells us that, yes, we the people of the wealthiest nation in modern history have our own Third World enclaves that have been hidden from us by Potemkin politics and our own state of denial. Let’s hope that Katrina has opened our eyes to see the political invisibles who are the slaves of poverty with no chance of breaking free to seek good health care for their children and the social mobility of an education.

The eternal hope is that out of painful adversity some good might emerge. Let’s hope that Katrina has shocked and shamed and spurred the American public to demand that our national security apparatus is no longer compromised by incompetent cronyism, the absence of accountability and the lack of leadership at the highest level. Belated photo-op trips to the scene by President Bush are not enough. I hope that he noticed that the people he intended to inspire have all been taken away.

This is Bill Seamans.

Bill Seamans is a former correspondent and bureau chief for ABC News in the Middle East. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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