There is one clear lesson we can all learn from the two storms that battered Louisiana, Mississippi and East Texas: If you expect to have water to drink and food to eat after a major catastrophe, you'd better stockpile them yourself.
The aftermath of the second storm shows that the Federal Emergency Management Agency learned nothing from its first fiasco. People in Louisiana and East Texas are, as of this writing, begging for assistance, and it's not there. Oh, it'll get there eventually. After all, FEMA has awarded a whole bunch of no-bid, noncompetitive contracts. And Michael Brown, the incompetent director who was removed from his duties and resigned, is still being paid as a consultant. Only the government would pay a man let go for incompetence as a consultant.
Of course, after one of the Florida storms last year, FEMA paid out millions of dollars to people in Dade County who had suffered no losses. Just a minor accounting hitch, I suppose. They even paid to bury people who had died of natural causes. But who cares about that? It's taxpayers' money, and everybody in Washington treats taxpayer money as if it were play money.
Now, President Bush, who is the king of bad ideas, is contemplating asking Congress to change the laws so the U.S. military can step in and take charge after catastrophic events. Granted, the military is more competent than FEMA, but putting the military in charge means declaring martial law. The military doesn't want that job, and it's not really trained to do it. It has trucks and backs and bulldozers, but its primary training is in fighting a war. Besides, it's stretched thin as it is. A better idea would be to return the National Guard to state control and stop sending its members overseas.
The best performers in the second storm were the state and local officials. They got people evacuated — a great achievement despite the traffic jams. They secured the towns. Now, if FEMA would deliver food, water and fuel, they could get on with cleanup and rebuilding.
Back in the 1960s and 1970s, when liberals failed to achieve their agenda through the democratic process in state legislatures, they went to the federal courts and asked them to legislate by decree. It was at that time that liberals created the myth that federal was somehow superior to state and local. They created the impression that state and local officials were a bunch of country bumpkins, while federal officials were enlightened philosopher kings.
That's total hokum. In the first place, nearly all federal politicians and officials come from the states. In the second place, a centralized government is unavoidably more inefficient than state and local governments, which are closer to both the problems and the people. The federal government, as it has grown to gargantuan proportions, has grabbed most of the revenue sources, more or less starving the state and local governments. The answer to that problem is devolution. Give the authority and the tax sources back to the state and local governments.
If the federal government obeyed the Constitution and did only what it authorizes the federal government to do, it could get by on a comparatively small budget. Nothing in the Constitution authorizes the federal government to involve itself in education, welfare and health care. That's usurpation by the federal government of state functions, and in every case, the federal government has screwed up. Today, it can't even fight a war efficiently without massive amounts of graft and patronage favors. We ought to call the Iraq War Halliburton's War. That outfit, and Israel, are the only beneficiaries of the war.
Check out the Web site of the Center for Public Integrity and read some of its reports. That will shake your faith in the federal behemoth. What the federal government is about these days is lies, secrecy, money, propaganda and incompetence.
That's not to say you won't find some crooks and rascals in the state and local governments, too. But the whole point is that the local scamps are easier to find and get rid of. Good luck trying to find out what's going on in Washington.
October 1, 2005
Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.
© 2005 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.