On August 29, 2005, just as Hurricane Katrina was inundating New Orleans and much more of a 3- state area of the American South, President George Bush was in Arizona celebrating Senator John McCain's 69th birthday with a large cake. The President then took off for Crawford, Texas and his annual Labor Day respite. En route back to Washington, DC a few days later, Bush asked the Air Force One crew to fly him over New Orleans so he could view the damage from 30,000 feet.
What followed would have been a comedy if it wasn't so serious.
FEMA was run by the ex-Director of the Arabian Horse Association, the infamous "Heck-Of-A-Job Brownie," and a bevy of political hacks put there in lieu of giving them jobs in other government agencies. FEMA's inability to manage a mass disaster quickly became apparent and what followed has been well chronicled. Three years later, little has changed in New Orleans Lower Ninth Ward. One third of New Orleans' pre-Katrina population has not come back; two-thirds of its health professionals have not come back.
More interestingly, the Iraq War's domestic effects quickly became apparent in Katrina's wake. It had drained manpower and equipment from both state National Guard Units and US military bases all through the South.
What has not been reported thus far was the fact that the US government was forced to call in a German Army logistics unit assigned to NATO to help local military and National Guard units cope with the need for a professionally run logistics operation. The Mexican Army also came North to the Astrodome in Houston to cook for thousands of evacuees--which was well-reported at the time. But the NATO unit from Germany escaped notice and its presence was far more telling.
Gustav -- as of Thursday August 28 -- is still on a course which may take it towards New Orleans and the same areas of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama which was struck by Katrina and Rita. It may cause catastrophic damage if it ramps up to a category 2, 3 or 4 hurricane. Even without such intensity and damage it has, because of its timing, refocused attention on the failings of government at the national, state and local levels. Everyone is now acting properly concerned -- Gov. Pioush "Bobby" Jindal of Louisiana, is skipping the GOP nominating convention in Minneapolis; star-crossed New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin is heading home from Denver as is Sen. Mary Landrieu.
Political conventions have a long list of things each party is concerned with, but the aftermath of Katrina and the pendancy of Gustav deserve top billing this week because they are emblematic of what needs to be done domestically in many areas beyond disaster relief.