Cut the finger pointing

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Former president Bill Clinton is half-right in asserting that a re-evaluation of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other governmental relief groups is best done a few weeks down the road. The chaos of the Gulf Coast is still too raw, and finger pointing could only add to the confusion.

When all is said and done, the federal government’s reaction to this natural disaster might just sink this administration, or at least the way it has decided to organize itself. As Clinton pointed out, a commission may be formed, names will be named, and it’s almost a guarantee that the current head of FEMA, Mike Brown, will be fired.

But that needs to be put on hold.

Both the news media and prominent leaders from the Gulf Coast have spent too much time finger pointing as of late. People like New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin need to siphon off their anger just a tad. For the next few weeks, the mistakes of the past are only important insomuch as they help solve the problems of September. There will be time for finger pointing, I guarantee, but what people need now is strong leadership.

Out of anybody, I think Nagin has angered me the most, especially recently. All I’ve heard from him are angry radio call-ins and disgruntled press conferences where vulgarity seems to be his only form of leadership. How is that supposed to instill confidence, comfort and faith in a group of displaced and impoverished people? The only thing it does is get them riled up, and we certainly don’t need more of that.

Lt. General Russel Honore, in charge of the military part of rescue operations, has been equally spastic. As I watched a press conference led by Honore and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, I was hoping that Chertoff would jump in and cut off the spontaneously agitated Honore. He was almost as bad as Nagin.

The heavily documented pseudo-feud between President Bush and Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco is hopefully over, as that’s been just as bad as the botched Superdome evacuation. Bush has done a miserable job of handling all this, yes, but Blanco has been similarly inept.

When Blanco announced that 300 National Guard troops had arrived in New Orleans from a recent tour in Iraq, she said that they “know how to shoot and kill, and they are more than willing to do so, and I expect they will.” How’s that for keeping the situation calm for a whole bunch of threatened civilians. Bravo.

I think the people of New Orleans have a lot to be upset about, and a lot to get crazily vulgar about on national television. (I’d like to see CNN pay a little less attention to Jesse Jackson, and a little more attention to the storm victims he is trying to represent.) But we don’t need that out of the relief management. We can’t have frustration, anger, bitterness, confusion and finger pointing infecting this relief effort any further.

Putting the pieces back together after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks seemed to go smoother than this for a variety of reasons. First, the people that 9/11 directly affected were very different from those affected in New Orleans.

This is no criticism of the tragic lives that were permanently damaged by the fall of the World Trade Center, but one cannot ignore the fact that someone living in poverty cannot make the same phone calls to find his family as an investment banker.

But another reason 9/11 was less of a screw-up than this was because of New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and because of the leadership he possessed even minutes after the towers fell. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t care for Giuliani or his politics, but seeing him calmly give direction about how to evacuate the south of Manhattan as he walked toward the World Trade Center was a helluva leadership move.

Someone needs to step forward and coordinate not just the management of, but also the attitude of relief efforts on the Gulf Coast. Setting a tone is just as important as setting an agenda, and sometimes playing to the angered masses for approval is simply what people want, and not what they really need.

Ryan Denham can be reached at ryan.denham@csun.edu.