Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Has Obama Met His Katrina?

      Many people are calling the BP oil spill Obama’s Katrina. The reference, of course, is to the inefficient response of the Federal government to the catastrophe incurred when hurricane Katrina came ashore along the Louisiana coastline in 2005. So how do the two events compare?
      As a result of Katrina, at least 1,836 people lost their lives, and an estimated 1,000,000 people were redistributed from the gulf coast states to other areas. As of July 1, 2006 it was estimated New Orleans had lost almost 220,000 residents. On March 30, 2010, 260 families were still living in trailers provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
      The government has been criticized for its slow response to Katrina, but under the National Response Plan, the responsibility for the management of such disasters lies with local authorities until they ask for help. New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin had ordered an involuntary evacuation the day before the storm hit, but there were problems arranging for the necessary transportation.
      Although Governor Blanco of Louisiana was sure that her national guard troops could handle the situation, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security decided to take over the relief operations the day after the hurricane came ashore.
      An additional factor was the breaching of the levees which had been built to protect the city from high water. A 1986 study pointed out design flaws that were never addressed by the Army Corps of Engineers, which is responsible for the design, construction and maintenance of the levees.
      In any event, the government - local, state and national - all had to shoulder some of the blame for the destruction caused by Katrina. Protection and evacuation of the city, temporary shelter, medical and food supplies, and looting control all fall under the mandates of one level or another of government. One of the primary reasons for having a government is to direct resources into these areas when necessary. The problem was a lack of leadership; it was not there when needed. No one took responsibility for coordinating the various agencies involved.
      The BP oil leak is a considerably different situation. The Federal Government is not in the oil business, nor should it be. Petroleum engineers, exploration and drilling equipment, etc. are the responsibility of the private sector; the government payroll does not include any of them.
      At the present time it is fashionable to castigate the government for not doing something to cap the flow of oil. The question is: what? Who has the experts in the field? The oil company - certainly not the government. Who has the most to lose as the incessant leak goes on? The oil company. Would replacing BP as primary contractor serve any purpose? No, but it would certainly waste a lot of time.
      With the exception of the eleven men who were killed in the initial explosion, no lives have been lost. No one has had to be relocated or supplied with housing, food or medical supplies.
      I am not saying the government has no responsibility to respond to the catastrophe. Certainly the government is in a position to supply manpower where needed, e.g., helping stop the spread of the oil slick, cleaning the coastline, rescuing wildlife, etc. Temporary assistance must also be given to people and businesses who have suffered loss of income as a result of the disaster.
      As for the occurrence of the event itself, the long time cozy cuddling up of the oil industry with the regulatory oversight agencies has been exposed. For this, the federal government is to blame.
      But the horse is gone, and the barn door may or may not be locked in the future. For now, the government can do nothing but see that the control attempts continue and manpower is available. It can also determine how to avoid such accidents in the future, and of course, it can correct its lackadaisical attitude toward enforcing safety and environmental regulations.
      I am sure that those who are asking Obama to plug the hole realize they are asking for something he cannot do. Perhaps we all need to get used to the idea that some things are beyond the reach of government control.
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      Eventually man discovered that in addition to naming and classifying objects, he could impart some information about their activity. What was the lion doing? “Lion hunting” or “lion sleeping” conveys substantially more important information to the listener than just pointing the finger while saying “lion.”
      The Growth Of Language – The Spirit Runs Through It.

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