Sunday, February 12, 2006

Congressional Muck

A few interesting Katrina related items came up late last week, the most high-profile being the bi-partisan hearings on response that put Michael Brown back on the hot seat. There is no question that the hearings revealed the existence of some new information that highlights old news: that the response was an utter failure on all levels. One can however make an argument (one I tend to buy) that the federal response or lack of should be considered the most egregious because only the federal government would have the resources to respond to a disaster the scale of Katrina, and also because the federal government, under Homeland Security, has been pushing nothing but preparedness preparedness preparedness for the past 5 years now, and was anything but prepared when it came to the hurricane.

I have no sympathy for Brown. At the same time, the hearings seem a bit off-center. Not that I don’t think that congress has an important role in investigating what went wrong and why, but because of the rotten feeling I, and no doubt many others, has that scapegoating Brown as public enemy #1 obfuscates congressional responsibility for the larger structural issues that characterize the disaster and its aftermath. Sure, no one really expects self-aggrandizing senators like Norm Coleman (R-MN) – former democratic mayor of St. Paul and my opinion one of the most politically expedient of the lot - or Joe Lieberman (D-CT) to suddenly go hell-bent in confronting manifest social inequality in this country. But there’s got to be more to the process than Coleman and Lieberman verbally burning Mike Brown to clear the congressional conscience of responsibility for Katrina and its aftermath. One small start might be for our elected representatives to leave DC for a few days and visit the devastation of the Gulf. This is exactly what an organization called Women of The Storm have been pushing for. So far, its been reported that two members of the House are taking them up on their offer: Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA) and Scott Garrett (R-NJ). Kudos to both Westmoreland and Garrett for getting off their duffs and out of the beltway. More of our officials should follow their example. I find it strange that foreign dignitaries like King Abdullah of Jordan has visited the Gulf, but the majority of the US Congress hasn't.

In another interesting news item about scapegoating, this weekend the Times-Picayune has a good story on evacuees who have relocated to Houston, TX. The “word” is that two particular populations were evacuated specifically to Houston because of proximity and resources, the very sick and the very dangerous. The Times-Picayune article examines some of the blame flowing for the upsurge in violent crimes in Houston, and relates how a significant portion of evacuees have relocated to some of the poorest neighborhoods in town. One wonders how tomorrow’s deadline for ceasing hotel payments will have any influence on swelling the numbers of homeless in states across the union and contributing to more human misery. Just in time for Valentine’s Day. The only good news is that on Wednesday the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced (with two confusing and ass-kissing references to the Bush administration) that about $500 million will be given to the states for relief. Our state has received a small chunk, although it is not yet decided whether they will use those funds to reimburse agency expenditures, fund future programs, or both. Much more is needed, but it’s a start.

Last but not least, it was nice to read The Washington Post’s Thursday article in its special reports series on the Vietnamese-American victims of Katrina, who make up a sizeable community in the Gulf. Kudos to the Post on this article about an often forgotten population of the Gulf who have been largely maligned for competing with white fishermen. The article is a reminder that, yes, Vietnamese-Americans are still Americans.
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