Friday, September 02, 2005

Sen. Obama: Emergency Response … Entirely Unacceptable

Partial transcript supplemented and revised on Saturday at 1:00 am

Senator Barack Obama [D-Illinois]: …Now is not the time for blame games or politics, but I think that I speak for every single person that I have spoken to about this issue in the recognition that the rescue efforts and relief efforts, the emergency response has been entirely inadequate and unacceptable. It is hard to imagine that as the wealthiest, most powerful country on earth—that we could not respond more quickly and effectively to this natural disaster, particularly given that it was a natural disaster that was predictable and that had been known as a potential threat for decades. Honestly, I think that there is a lot of blame that can be spread around…my expectation would be that we have hearings in Washington to figure out what exactly went wrong and how we are going to do better next time…it appears that we have not done the kind of planning that is necessary and in particular we have not planned for people who may not have a car to get out; [who] may not be able to buy a plane ticket and stay with relatives—who don’t have resources to fall back on, and that is something that is going to have to be addressed at the federal level and not simply at the local level…
Scott Fornek [Chicago Sun-Times Political Reporter]: I know you don’t want to fix blame but you mentioned the president a few times here, are you suggesting he is ultimately- the buck stops there and he is—

Senator Barack Obama: The buck always stops with the President and I would assume that the President will not argue with that…but all of us have responsibilities. Congress has important responsibilities in oversight and in making sure that the plans that are in place actually work. I think that federal, state and local governments have a responsibility to coordinate effectively. We have to make sure that we are not just leaving people to their own devices in these kinds of circumstances and that we are able to anticipate the worst case scenario and have plans in place and not [just] hope that somehow the worst case scenario does not come to pass.

Jeff Berkowitz: Dan Henninger, in the Wall St. Journal this morning [See here; “We fail to use well what we know [about disasters] because we rely too much on large public bureaucracies."], suggests that we need to have more involvement of the private sector, and perhaps more out-sourcing, especially in [dealing] with disasters of this magnitude. He also cites to the 9/11 report for saying, “Bureaucracies are not known for their imagination.” Do you agree—do you think there needs to be more private sector and perhaps more outsourcing involvement, including [in] the planning [and dealing with such disasters]?

Senator Obama: I think that’s something that should be part of the overall evaluation. Jeff, I don’t know for certain whether in these kinds of circumstances private entities would in fact do any better. We’ve had a lot of privatization in Iraq and the reconstruction process there doesn’t seem to have gone smoother as a consequence of that privatization. So, I think that that should be part of the conversation, but ultimately part of what a crisis like this underscores is that the federal government has to have capacity—you know, FEMA, the National Guard, all of our various federal agencies that we pay taxes to put in place count in difficult circumstances like this because the private sector can be overwhelmed. You look at the infrastructure in New Orleans: oil dereks that have been blown miles off course-- with casinos that have been tumbled over, communications systems that have been completely ripped apart. That’s where you want the federal government stepping in-- which doesn’t exclude the need for private relief efforts, the wonderful work that has been done by the Red Cross. But, it does mean that this is one of the central functions of governments-- helping people re-build after major crises like this. That’s part of the reason that we support federal government with our tax dollars.
Francesca Maher: … The American Red Cross has been meeting the needs of thousands of New Orleans residents in some ninety shelters throughout the state of Louisiana and elsewhere since before landfall of the hurricane. All told, the Red Cross today is operating one hundred forty nine shelters for almost ninety-three thousand residents. The Red Cross relief effort in Louisiana has been unable to access the city of New Orleans with services until the military, state and local authorities deem it safe for us to begin feeding and sheltering…This afternoon, the American Red Cross, with the support of the worldwide Red Cross and Red Crescent movement is launching a web site to assist family members anxious for news of loved ones living in the path of Hurricane Katrina. Everyone wishing to inform loved ones of their location can register their names by clicking on the Family Links registry [See here] on [See here]. Concerned loved ones can register the names of their loved ones and view the list of those already posted…
Senator Barack Obama, speaking at a press conference to urge Illinoisans to aid Hurricane Katrina relief efforts, and answering questions about the Government’s handling of the preparation for and aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Kluczynski Federal Building, Chicago, IL, Sep. 2, 2005. Francesca Maher, CEO, American Red Cross of Greater Chicago since the beginning of the year and previously the General Counsel for United Air Lines, also made a statement and answered questions at the press conference.
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