Column: Pointing my finger

By Eric Naing

Thousands of lives were ruined or lost because of the astonishing incompetence of our elected leaders. Our government failed us on every single level, and now White House representatives have the audacity to say things such as “this is not the time for finger pointing.” There is a hell of a lot of blame to go around, and we owe it to the victims of Hurricane Katrina and to ourselves to hold our leaders responsible for what they did and did not do.

Where was our government during this time of crisis? After a state of emergency was declared in Louisiana, after an evacuation order was made for New Orleans, after tens of thousands had flocked to the Superdome with extremely limited supplies, after Hurricane Katrina made landfall and the levee was breached, where were our leaders?

President Bush was at a photo-op playing guitar with a country singer. Vice President Cheney was in some “undisclosed location” in Wyoming. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld attended a San Diego Padres baseball game and Secretary of State Rice found the time to see a Broadway play, do a little shoe shopping and attend the U.S. Open, according to thinkprogress.org.

When in New Orleans, repair on the broken levee was delayed so that President Bush could construct a stage for a photo-op, according to a statement released by U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La. He also diverted Coast Guard helicopters, crew and 50 firefighters to stand by him for yet another photo-op. This is disgusting. This President truly seems to care more about his poll numbers than the victims of the hurricane.

Like the President, the heads of both the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency waited well after Katrina’s landfall to take action. They neglected to keep the peace in New Orleans, dragged their feet while evacuating the victims and mismanaged and turned away much needed troops and resources.

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    Our leaders have known for a decade or more that a hurricane would decimate New Orleans, that the levees needed to be repaired and that an adequate evacuation plan for Louisiana’s poor was needed, and yet they did nothing. Nobody is blaming the government for the hurricane, but it’s painfully obvious that much of this pain and disaster could have been averted with better leadership.

    Starting in 2003, Bush diverted funding for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and from flood control projects in Louisiana so that he could pay for his “war on terror” and for Iraq, according to editorandpublisher.com.

    Starting in 2001, FEMA was systematically gutted and downsized by President Bush who also installed Michael Brown as the agency’s director. Brown was previously fired by the International Arabian Horses Association for incompetence, according to The Boston Herald. Unbelievably, Brown’s sorry performance during Katrina evoked not scorn, but praise from the President as he told the FEMA head “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job,” according to The Associated Press.

    And of course Bush’s foray into Iraq strained the Army and National Guard, practically ensuring that we would be shorthanded.

    Bush once again is dodging responsibility. Whether he is blaming his opponents for questioning his actions overseas or blaming local officials in Louisiana, Bush’s refusal to accept responsibility for his actions has cost lives. The only difference now is that the lives lost are of Americans here at home and not faceless troops or citizens in a far-away land.

    Since Sept. 11, this government has spent billions reorganizing and preparing for the worst. They said they would protect us; they said they were ready. The tragedy of all this is not that they lied, but that we believed them. All that time, all that money, all that talk was nothing but hollow grandstanding and broken promises.

    Our trust has been deeply compromised. Every single action of this administration, whether in Iraq or in Louisiana, now must be called into question. Incompetence is synonymous with this government. Not only does this emperor have no clothes, but neither does anyone around him. This is not a matter of Democrat versus Republican; it is a matter of us versus them.

    Eric Naing is a senior in LAS. His column normally appears every Monday. He can be reached at [email protected].