Topic: New Orleans — I was just listening to Tim Russert interview Department of Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff on television. Russert was challenging the administration’s assertion that “noone anticipated that the levees would break”, by reading to him from various reports, models and scenarios that predicted just that. Chertoff said that he hadn’t said that he was surprised the levees broke, but rather was surprised that they broke after the storm had passed. Um, ok. Then he made an incredible assertion. The only way, he said, to protect the people of New Orleans from a major hurricane and a levee break, is to evacuate the city before the storm. “The people who left are fine.” Russert, a usually rare (but increasingly common in the coverage of this tragedy) display of integrity in the American press, informed Chertoff that the people who could afford to leave, with SUVs or airfare, did, and that the poor who depend on public transportation were left behind. If evacuation is the only way to protect people, how come the government didn’t provide buses, trains, cruise ships, etc. to bring people who couldn’t afford to evaculate to safety. That’s the job of local and state officials Chertoff said.

What is the point of a federal Homeland Security department if they refuse to take responsibility for national crises before they happen, or to provide resources to local officials so that they can do something? As Frank Rich said in his op ed the other day, these are people who are deeply uninterested in providing the services that people expect from government. I’d go farther and say there’s a lot less glory helping poor people in a storm than battling terrorists on behalf of the American way of life. Some people get into law enforcement to help people, but some people get into law enforcement to get the bad guys. There weren’t any bad guys here, so I guess Chertoff didn’t think it was his job to do anything. This administration needs to learn that promoting homeland security, both domestically and abroad, requires a lot more than swaggering about catching the bad guys.

Soon after this interview, we saw the president of Jefferson Parish, a 60 something year old man who looks like a sea captain, break down and cry. In the paper, he was quoted as saying, “I’m not telling people that help is on the way anymore. Noone’s coming to help us.” Today on the TV, he said to stop having press conferences, shut up and send us some help. Reporters going to that Parish on helicopters, then boats, then four wheel drive vehicles are finding 20 drowned people, tied together with a rope, probably in an effort to stay together in the storm.