John Leo

New Orleans is responsible for the primary failure and the social breakdown that occurred. The state performed miserably, too. Though politicians have complained about budget cuts for the Army Corps of Engineers and state projects in particular, the Washington Post reported that Louisiana has received $1.9 billion for Corps civil works over the past five years, far more than any other state. But hundreds of millions of that went for pork-barrel projects, some highly questionable, having nothing to do with protecting New Orleans. Still, state and city foul-ups don’t get President Bush and the Federal Emergency Management Agency off the hook. In a strong piece in the New York Press, Tim Marchman laid out the details of the city’s poverty, corruption, historically crooked police force, and long record of refusing to confront its vulnerability to a massive hurricane. Marchman wrote: “This is the city federal officials now claim they thought would take care of itself if it were struck by a hurricane carrying the force of a full-scale nuclear attack.”

“Brownie’s” job.  President Bush arrived late, apparently without any general storehouse of knowledge about the culture of the city and the small likelihood that it would be able to cope on its own. The lack of attention to visual communication was excruciating in Louisiana and Mississippi, including the guitar-playing and the long on-camera briefing of Bush standing mute as an official explained things to him. Americans don’t need to see Bush being briefed, said William Schneider, the CNN commentator. They want leadership. It was a chance for Bush to issue convincing Rudy Giuliani-like assurances and exhortations. What we got was an embarrassing pleasantry about rebuilding Trent Lott’s house, a who-would-have-known excuse, and a claim that “Brownie” was doing a good job.

 But “Brownie,” FEMA director Michael Brown, was doing a poor job. Partisan Democrats laid the criticism on thick, but even Republicans and conservatives are dismayed or simply terrified that so limited a man is in charge of dealing with the aftermath of a major terrorist attack. The decision to relieve Brown as head of the federal Katrina relief effort is one of those dismaying halfway measures that doesn’t work. If Brown’s failure to cope with the current disaster is reason to remove him from his Gulf Coast duties, why isn’t it cause to cashier him outright?  Brown is not up to handling a terrorist attack. Bush should just replace him and take a good long look at the way FEMA is run.

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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