If you cut off your leg using a chainsaw in front of a bureaucrat, he would run around in a panic, yelling, "Which form do I use, the blue form or the pink form."
And that in a nutshell is why the relief effort was such a disaster in the wake of America's most deadly and costly hurricane.
Yes, heads should roll. Yes, America should hold these pointy-headed bureaucrats responsible for the deaths and misery as Mother Nature and bureaucratic nightmares converted a premier fun and party city into what resembled a Third World famine.
What would my suggestion be for the future disasters? Simple. Put a newsman or newswoman in charge of the relief effort. News people have deadlines. We set goals. We sit around and plan how to cover and deal with tragedies and surprises.
Did you notice that the federal government couldn't get any food and water in to the survivors of Katrina for days, but that very night of the hurricane the news people were covering it and all the aftermath. Somehow they were able to get around, get the stories and pictures and flash them back to the world.
How were they able to do this? They planned on it. They had experience doing it. They had the technology to do it. And most of all, they had bosses back in newsrooms who said simply: "Don't tell me why you can't get the story. Don't even tell me the obstacles to getting the story. Tell me the story will be coming in on time." And when the tragedy is lost past, let's sit around and then you can tell me about the obstacles and why we almost didn't get the story.
I don't think I am giving away any trade secrets if I tell you something about covering big events. If you read 20 election stories the next morning, don't think that reporters waited for the results to come in and then sat down and started planning the stories. They found out where the winners and losers would be celebrating or commiserating. They took earlier stories and wrote a lot of background information. They saw big trends in which one candidate had a commanding lead and call that number to where he or she is and gets the quotes out of the way.
If it is a natural disaster you have a plan that answers questions. How do we get in there? How do we get around? How do we get our stories and pictures out to the world in time to make deadline?
At some point halfway through this process, some organized editor or producer in the case of television news assesses how it is going and then starts frantically shifting resources around to make the deadline. Not making the deadline is not an option.
Resources are shifted, plans are altered to deal with the circumstances. I am not saying every individual comes out of college an organized, writing and reporting machine. I am saying the system is organized, the demand is that you get organized or find another profession and you have to adapt to the requirements. And the system builds in safeguards so if you fall short someone is there to help keep everything together.
In the recent natural disaster, everyone of those rules was broken. They had days to know the hurricane had a good chance of hitting New Orleans. But because for four decades it aimed in that direction and then veered, they thought it would happen again. And it didn't. Then they thought that even if lots of rain fall on that area, the levees would hold and things would be fine. The levees broke and everything was a mess.
Now a news editor or reporter would deal with that reality. This is the hand dealt, the devastation. Now deal with it.
There is no excuse for the days of delay. There is certainly no excuse for human beings dying and their corpses being covered with sheets and allowed to decay.
Of all the thousands of bureaucrats, you think one would say: "Get me an Army helicopter and a dozen body bags. I'm not turning on the nightly news or picking up the morning paper and seeing one more American rotting in the world's richest nation." But bureaucrats don't think like that. He requisitions a form that can be put in a file that covers himself in case a bigger bureaucrat has to explain to his even bigger bureaucrat boss why these people were able to decay in front of the horrified American public.
Listen up. There are 47 states that were unaffected by Katrina. Those states have natural guards, electric companies, helicopters, planes, water, food, medical supplies.
You can fly from Atlanta to New Orleans on a Delta jet in 59 minutes. You can fly from California to New Orleans in four or five hours.
So don't tell me we can't help people for days.
I decry everyone who tried to twist this natural disaster to fit their own whims and agendas while people are hungry and dying. I decry the Bush haters for taking a bite at him. I decry the African-American leaders who played the race card. I decry those who hate the war in Iraq for bringing up that issue. I despise the gougers who skyrocketed gas prices and the prices of other things using the disaster as their excuse. I have no respect for the right-wing preachers who said that New Orleans go what it deserved because of the carefree lifestyle. The God I worship does not strike down thousands of innocent people to please these pea-brained hate-mongers who disguise themselves as God's spokesmen on Earth. God did not hate the federal building in Oklahoma City. God did not hate the state of Florida last year after hurricane after hurricane killed people. God did not hate the World Trade Center and the thousands who perished or the others who perished on the hijacked planes.
So all of those who spent their time spinning this disaster to suit their own agenda, I say: Get off your butt and write a check to the relief effort, roll up your sleeves and help.
Americans are doing what its bureaucrats were not able to do. They are bringing hope and comfort to replace the despair.
Bob Paslay is editor of the News Daily and Daily Herald. He can be reached at (770) 478-5753 Ext. 257 or at firstname.lastname@example.org .