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The Federal Government's 'Strange Paralysis'

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The Federal Government's 'Strange Paralysis'

The Federal Government's 'Strange Paralysis'

The Federal Government's 'Strange Paralysis'

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NPR senior news analyst Daniel Schorr says that the government's "strange paralysis" after Hurricane Katrina has resulted in a widespread loss of confidence in government agencies and officials — and more significantly, with the whole concept of the role of the federal government.

DANIEL SCHORR reporting:

Former Defense Secretary and Senator William Cohen is credited with the quip `Government is the enemy until you need a friend.'

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

News analyst Daniel Schorr.

SCHORR: In the wake of Katrina, that may have to be amended `and then your friend may turn out to be dysfunctional.' We are learning the hard way about the costs of stinting on infrastructure to pay for tax cuts and the war in Iraq, and we are learning the hard way about the cost of entrusting emergency response to the political cronies and contributors who people this administration; this despite many warnings, notably from The New Orleans Times-Picayune three years ago that the levees and the flood walls were `fragile.

Michael Brown, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, has been spending a lot of time on television explaining to aroused interlocutors why he was about the last to know of the thousands of citizens languishing in the convention center. In a job that calls for a high degree of professionalism, Brown's previous experience was in overseeing horse shows. He got the FEMA job on the recommendation of his old college chum Joseph Allbaugh, who had been the president's national campaign manager and who left FEMA to create a lobbying firm. So what happens when decision-making in a dire emergency is left to political amateurs? First, an argument about division of authority while people are dying. Meanwhile, as the Chicago Tribune reports, the USS Bataan, a well-equipped support ship with water, medicine and operating rooms, lay for several days anchored off the Gulf Coast without orders.

What happens is that Wal-Mart tries to deliver three truckloads of water to Jefferson Parish and is turned away by FEMA. On NBC television, Aaron Broussard, the president of the parish, dissolves in sobs as he accuses the federal government of the worst abandonment of Americans. Newsweek describes a strange paralysis as Bush officials try to define who is responsible for what. This has become a crisis of confidence not only in agencies and officials but in the whole concept of national government. This is Daniel Schorr.

BLOCK: Complete NPR coverage of Katrina's aftermath is at our Web site, npr.org.

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