After the flood

We are on the heels of a week of embarrassing debates regarding blame in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. Embarrassing because the government, FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security are trying to pass the buck to state and local officials, while urging the country not to play “the blame game.”

This week’s episode of This American Life called After the flood, resolves the issue of blame — it does lie heavily with the federal government. “Remember, you heard it here first,” says host Ira Glass before pointing out why there is plenty of passivity to be accountable for:

1. FEMA and its parent, DHS had “all the authority in the world” (quote from William Nicholson, a policy expert who spoke on the show) to step in after Bush declared a state of emergency the Saturday before the hurricane — they didn’t need any permission from state and local officials.

2. Even if Bush hadn’t declared an emergency, DHS — according to its statute – could have done it themselves and could have taken charge of the situation.

“[The federal authorities] did not need to wait for the state,” concluded Nicholson, an expert on homeland security policy.

There you go, This American Life is playing the blame game and play it well they do.

Listen to this episode because it includes some gutwrenching accounts from New Orleans residents and evacues. These are stories of people who were shot at by police, people who were mistreated and humiliated by authorities, people who were not allowed to leave the city and people who owe their life to unseemly Robin Hoods — those we called “looters,” those that officials wanted to “shoot to kill.”

“Our government betrayed us,” one woman says, and her story supports her conclusion.

Romania’s anthem is called “Wake up, Romanian.” We might be slow at getting out our post-communist beds, but it seems most Americans are sound asleep while the poor and underprivileged get trampled and abused by authorities who just don’t like to play “the blame game.”

What’s sad is that I am not making this up. Take a listen. There will be free audio of the episode on Monday. Until then you can catch re-runs on dozens of stations across the country.

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