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Friday, September 30, 2005

Bush Administration's Response to Katrina Failures: Further Undermine Civilian Preparedness By Greater Reliance on the Military

What is Wrong with this Picture?

The Bush administration, in the years after 9/11, undermined FEMA's response capabilities by placing it under the Dept. of Homeland Security, and by appointing to key FEMA leadership positions people like Brown who had little experience in emergency management.

Now, after the terrible error of their ways was revealed by Katrina, the Bush administration proposes that we should put our trust in the military as the key agency of response in disasters. Is this not a formula for undermining the entire system of civilian administration and management of disaster response upon which a democracy relies for its safety and security?

Citizens of the United States! If this does not wake us up by revealing where current policy proposals by this Administration are tending to lead us, I fear for the future of democracy in the United States. So much attention has been directed to the role of the United States in building democracy in the rest of the world that we seem to be losing our grip on what is required to maintain democracy in our own country--

Effective democratic government depends on effective civilian and public control over the agencies of government. We are already close to losing the battle on public accessibility to information about what this government is doing--which is the only way we have as citizens to hold our government accountable--and now this very same administration, which has raised the art of keeping secrets from its own citizens to new heights, is proposing that we trust the military to take over key civilian responsibilities in times of emergency. Combine government secrecy with the military's ability to assert control over civilian government, and what do you get?! Is there any greater threat than this to the "security" of democracy and its citizens in this country?

Perhaps the Dept. of Homeland Security, as a CIVILIAN agency of a supposedly democratic government, ought to direct more attention to what it and this administration is responsible for doing to guarantee the strengthening of local, state and federal CIVILIAN structures of disaster preparedness, such as FEMA, so that we never need to rely on the military within this country as a primary response to disaster?!

Calls for greater reliance on the military would seem to be the perfect formula not only for undermining existing civilian infrastructures of disaster preparedness, and the rationale for funding them (which needs more, not less, emphasis and support)--but a slippery slope formula for destroying the very foundations of democratic institutions and culture in this country.

After Katrina, will we allow Congress and the governing Administration to further weaken insitutions of democracy in this country by permitting them to institute a policy that allows the military to take over local government whenever the federal government itself fails to fulfill its responsibilities to its citizens?

If this Administration really wants to take responsibility for its failures after Katrina, it must do two things:

1) Call for a fully independent investigation of governmental response failures.

2) Instead of calling for greater reliance on the military--Strengthen local, state, and federal disaster preparedness and response capabilities, including those of FEMA, so that they can accomplish all that needs to be accomplished in the event of any major disaster, without needing to rely on the military any more than it has always been relied on--as a secondary backup support for local, state and federal CIVILIAN response agencies.

If this administration does its work well, and builds up the Civilian preparedness infrastructure as it should, there will be no need for greater reliance on the military. Any call for primary reliance on the military in the event of emergency can only be read as a call to distract attention from the primary need: strengthening the civilian infrastructure of disaster and public health preparedness.

If we were not now expending so many of the nation's resources, in lives and money, on shoring up a badly conceived and terribly mismanaged policy directed at transforming the government of another country by military means, we would have more resources available for building up our infrastructure at home.

What does "homeland security" mean, after all, if it does not mean supporting and strengthening the nation's basic civilian infrastructure and its capacities to respond to human need?

It is time journalists, activists, and all concerned citizens get about the work of pointing out the fundamental contradiction of a government elected on a principle of "compassion," which seems in practice to have little regard for the suffering of the nation's poor, or its increasingly poorer middle-class citizens. In a nation where the rate of poverty has now increased 4 years in a row, how is it compassionate to continue to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on military uses while citizens in this country are suffering disasters every day, not just from hurricanes, but from the lack of access to basic health care and insurance, and from the many ravages of poverty?

If we want to support public security and preparedness, it's time to devote full attention not only to the poor and displaced of Katrina, but to the increasing poverty of a nation whose goverment has been more interested in military adventures abroad than in meeting its basic social responsibilities at home. Unless we as citizens organize to transform this nation's fundamental priorities for addressing the needs of ALL citizens, we may soon find that our citizenship has become meaningless, as we lose the capacity to change our government, and in that loss, lose democracy itself.

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