It’s a couple weeks before Halloween, but if you’re looking for a nice horror story, try the LA Times piece on post-Katrina reconstruction. You know how sometimes President Bush makes big, rousing speeches full of earnest declarations, with his chest all puffed out, making that one annoying hand gesture, and then in subsequent weeks adds several carefully staged photo-ops, and then his administration doesn’t follow up on anything and whatever the subject of the speech was descends into chaotic factionalism and incompetence because, really, what Bush likes is feeling like he’s being Historical and he doesn’t care for the nuts and bolts of governing at all?

Yeah, this is one of those times.

Basically, he’s refused to appoint any kind of governing authority ("czar," gov’t agency, or otherwise) to be in charge of reconstruction. He seems vaguely to be expecting state and local authorities to decide what to do, and do it, but even his Republican friends in the federal government think that’s insane. He won’t actually make the budget cuts the far right is calling for to pay for reconstruction, but he’s afraid of offending them, so he’s more or less doing nothing.

Bush aides dispatched Budget Director Joshua B. Bolten to strike a deal that included an administration promise to seek offsets for most new spending. That has given the White House Office of Management and Budget power to shape rebuilding that it did not have in the early going.

"It’s put OMB in the driver’s seat, and OMB is running a budget process, not trying to come up with a unified response to a national crisis," said one senior House Appropriations Committee staff member, who like most Capitol Hill staffers asked not to be identified.

As a result, things are stumbling forward completely uncoordinated and unplanned:

Without clear signals from Washington, some reconstruction decisions are essentially being made on autopilot, raising the risk that the region and the nation will repeat past mistakes.

In New Orleans, for example, the Army Corps of Engineers last week put an estimated $400 million of work out to bid to bring the area’s levee and canal system back to its pre-Katrina condition. Corps officials said the work was necessary to secure the city while more extensive protections were designed.

The corps’ plans include reviving a large, and largely unused, canal known as "Mr. Go" — the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet — that environmentalists and many local officials say funneled storm surge from Katrina into neighborhoods, increasing rather than reducing the devastation.

"The White House has studiously avoided making any choices about what should be rebuilt, and the corps has taken that to mean rebuild everything," said David R. Conrad, a senior water resources specialist with the National Wildlife Federation and a veteran corps watcher.

Great. It all worked so well the first time.

The administration has "bought into the idea this should be a bottom-up thing," [Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.)] said. "The danger is confusion, inefficiency and huge bureaucratic frustration."

You think?

Meanwhile, residents have no idea what the hell is going on, what the hell they’re supposed to do, or who the hell they’re supposed to ask.

The administration hasn’t even been able to spend the majority of the money appropriated after the disaster, and what it has spent, it can’t much account for.

FEMA, which received almost $60 billion of the $62 billion in emergency funds, had "obligated" or assigned only $15.6 billion as of last Wednesday — less than a third of the money available — according to a weekly report the agency sends Congress.

"The president put out some very large ideas, but the administration isn’t leading on them in any very public way," said Stuart M. Butler, vice president of domestic and economic policy at the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank. "There’s been a general hands-off approach, which is disturbing."

A second disaster, victimizing poor residents all over again, setting the region up for more pain down the road, happening in slow motion before our very eyes. Disturbing indeed.