Preparing for the unprecedented (Dan Abrams)
I‘ve said in previous blogs and shows that we need to figure out who is to blame for the response to Katrina. Not just to ensure we learn lessons but so that we can get rid of the incompetence. Now, it appears it‘s not going to be an easy task.
We‘ve seen former FEMA Director Michael Brown blaming local officials. Local officials have generally blamed the feds. So you get so political that we may not get the answers we need and, as I‘ve said before, to blame everyone is to effectively blame no one. But the blame game is only part of the solution. The other perhaps more important part is taking steps now to prepare.
Are there new plans in place in the event another hurricane strikes the region? Weeks after Katrina, the Texas Department of Transportation spokesperson said on this show that Hurricane Rita was “unprecedented” and that explained why there were not better able to prevent the 100-mile long traffic jams outside of Houston. Unprecedented? How could that possibly be the explanation weeks after Katrina?
From now on, no government official should be defending inaction or poor planning by saying a hurricane is unprecedented. Massive hurricanes will hit the area again, period. New buildings near the coast should be built to withstand major winds. Evacuation plans should be in place to effectively move hundreds of thousands of people. Contracts should be signed well ahead of time for companies to engage in the clean up.
That will keep the prices down and prevent politically connected companies from getting sweetheart deals as may have been the case in Mississippi. We need solutions to the problems of communication in the aftermath of disaster, solutions as to how to better coordinate the response.
As everyone points at everyone else, I’m afraid that few are going to make concrete changes, and that when the next major hurricane hits, we‘ll hear again that it was unprecedented. Then we‘ll have nothing more than a card in the blame game, which says go back to start.
"Media" scapegoating begins on hurricane coverage (Dan Abrams)
Once again, let the media scapegoating begin. This time it’s about the hurricane coverage. The allegation? That the “media” is responsible for overstating the death count in New Orleans.
The latest so-called controversy comes now that the superdome and convention center have finally been cleared out. Officials say only 10 bodies were found — far fewer than many expected. This after the total death toll in New Orleans was far lower than the 10,000 some had predicted.
Rather than celebrating the news, some officials are trying to justify their inaction by pinning the blame on the never quite defined "media." It is particularly ironic when some of the same people who should have acted earlier — response teams, local and federal officials — are saying, "They reported rumors and exaggeration," "They failed to confirm reports etc."
The pictures speak for themselves. Are they suggesting this was somehow not a humanitarian disaster? The FEMA director found out about the lack of food and water from the media! But for the media and the public outcry, those numbers would have been higher. Without broadcasting those devastating photos from the superdome and the convention center, it's unclear how long it would have taken before someone in a position of authority actually responded. Yet today I heard one Congressman complain about the “hysteria of the media coverage”?
Were some apocryphal stories reported? I am sure. But the far more important question is, were the conditions in the convention center nearly inhuman? Yes. Was there lawlessness at times? Absolutely.
Who knows how many died later as a result of the conditions there, or how many took bodies out? That’s not really the point. It’s great news that the numbers were lower than predicted. That means we should be grateful for those who spoke out about the horrors.
As for the total death toll, the inflated numbers came from local officials. It was the mayor of New Orleans who predicted 10,000 dead. It was the state of Louisiana that ordered 25,000 body bags for Katrina victims and built a temporary morgue for 2,000. So the “media” is to blame for providing those numbers? For not trying to verify the unverifiable?
This is one of those rare stories where reporters were present as it happened; they reported what they saw with their own eyes, not relying on accounts or sources. I guess for some, even that is not good enough. Or maybe it’s too good, too true and the effect too significant. Do me a favor, don't try to shift the blame on this one.
FBI makes porn new priority? (Dan Abrams)
It sure seems like Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is campaigning for a job on the U.S. Supreme Court. You see many on the far right have already announced they won't support him for fear he is not conservative enough on abortion and affirmative action.
Well surprise, surprise. In Tuesday's Washington Post we learn that Gonzales has decided the FBI will make pornography one of its top federal priorities — not child pornography, not violent pornography, just regular smut.
The justification? Pornography, even when viewed by mature, consenting adults, threatens families and children. Okay, maybe.
But that means the precious resources of the FBI are going to this instead of recruiting for, let’s say, the terror task force.
No one is saying that terrorism isn't going to remain the FBI's top priority or that Gonzales considers combating pornography on par with combating al Qaeda. But what about other national crime concerns like cyber-crime, identity theft and corruption? I would rather expand other units rather than add 10 agents to make sure Ron Jeremy can't do anything else arguably inhuman.
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the war in Iraq, you would think Congress would have other priorities for our already-strained budget.
The Supreme Court recognizes it’s often tough to distinguish legal pornography from obscenity. So making that distinction will now be a national priority? Come on. American families deserve better.
Time to play blame game (Dan Abrams)
For the two weeks after Hurricane Katrina, I agreed that it was not productive to focus on the so-called blame game. With so many people in need of immediate help and support, I felt assessing blame was a nice political exercise but was not the most productive use of the limited time and resources.
Well the time has come. Not just so we can learn lessons but in order to help solve problems that exist down there today. We need to figure out exactly who is supposed to be doing what after this type of event.
The mayor of New Orleans exchanged jabs today on national television with the Coastguard vice admiral running the federal relief effort about whether some residents should be returning to the city now. Vice Admiral Allen said no. But the mayor said yes for parts of the city — until late today, when tropical storm Rita approached the area.
The back-and-forth doesn't help. But if we had a sense of who exactly was supposed to do what and when, it might help the residents better assess what to do now.
For example, who is responsible for assessing whether the water is drinkable for the people returning? Who is best suited to determine which neighborhoods will be rebuilt versus which are beyond repair. And who will make the all-important decisions about the levees?
Do we really want to trust some of the people who made such bad decisions three weeks ago to be in charge now? We need to assess blame to clean house, especially as millions of dollars funnel into the region, accountability will be crucial in assuring the right people get what they need.
The Florida Sun-Sentinel this week examined 20 natural disasters over the past five years and found that FEMA awarded more than $330 million to areas that weren't even impacted by storms. A lot of that money was either irresponsibly allocated or taken by fraud. The paper reports FEMA ended up footing the bill for funerals of people not even killed by hurricanes or for brand new home appliances for some who hadn't lost anything in storms, that sort of information may help determine where the precious resources go this time around. We need answers.
Look, blame game is a loaded term. But, I'm ready to play it if it means that we can better allocate money and resources today, supervised by people we can count on. It may also help prevent this mess from ever happening again.
Your rebuttal (Dan Abrams)
Ralph Hill from Arizona: “The sheriff showed no humanity, showed heartlessness, cold hearted selfishness in stealing these evacuees‘ food, water, then denies it all and claims it is some kind of mistaken identity issue.”
Eileen Hinds writes: “After seeing the sheriff on ‘The Abrams Report’ I hope the appropriate officials take action and remove him from office. Any sheriff that blocks off the roadway owned by all to 90 people trying to escape the floods is criminal.”
J.W. McClellan points something out that‘s important. “You interviewed the couple that told you the sheriff of Gretna was the one that stopped them from crossing the bridge by firing shots into the air. Then the sheriff of Gretna was the one that stole the couple‘s food and water out of the truck of the car. The person that you interviewed after that was the police chief of Gretna.”
Now that is true, but remember that the couple claims that it was the police and the sheriff‘s department who was there. And that the police chief admits his people were there at the bridge stopping people from going over. So he has to answer some of those questions. Not about specifically stealing the food, but about preventing people from moving.
Judy Blackwelder from Statesville, North Carolina takes a slightly different view of the news. “Please tell us some news like the update on the Holloway case and Olivia Newton-John‘s boyfriend, et cetera. We need fresh news along with Katrina news.”
I think a lot of people might disagree with you on that, but in the days to come, we will incorporate other important stories in the program.
Katrina aftermath: Law and order breakdown (Cory Gnazzo, Abrams Report staff)
We are going to show some very dramatic videotape taken at the New Orleans Convention Center where thousands of hurricane victims are waiting for help. They say they were told to go there but that there are very few facilities for them. We are going to talk with the former Chief of Police in New Orleans, Richard Pennington, who is now the chief of police in Atlanta.
We'll also talk to Miami Police chief John Timoney and the former director of FEMA southern region. We'll ask them how you restore order at a time like this and why more federal help is not getting through.
We're also going to talk with the chief of engineering and construction for the Army Corp of Engineers about when those levees in New Orleans will be fixed.
We'll have live reports from the region, we'll talk with a doctor at hard hit Charity Hospital in New Orleans where they are trying to evacuate patients but there are now reports of snipers firing on the hospital. We're going to deal with the psychological issues facing the children living through this nightmare, and we're going to talk with a New Orleans native who know lives in Houston who's taken in eight families who have nowhere else to go.
I hope we can fit it all in. And please keep your emails coming. We may not be reading them on the air during this busy time but they do help us consider what topics to cover. I promise you Dan and the entire staff will read them.
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