Like most, I’ve been transfixed watching the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
And, like many, I’m astounded at the response of government at all levels. Most of the criticism leveled has rightly been focused on the Bush Administration’s monumental, yet predictable and easily fathomable incompetence.
But, ineptitude is on display at all levels of bureaucracy. I can’t look at those pictures of hundreds of school busses flooded in their parking lots and wonder how they could not have been used to evacuate those without an automobile before the storm made landfall? Surely, someone had a plan to use them. A heroic seventeen-year-old understood and commandeered one of the busses and picked up desperate refugees and drove them to Houston. He was accused of theft!
And, just who came up with an evacuation plan that relied on private vehicle ownership in the first place? It’s not as if no one knew of the threat. Just last October, National Geographic ran an in-depth piece on the threat , quoting Joe Suhayda, a retired coastal engineer at Louisiana State University who spent 30 years studying the coast; “The killer for Louisiana is a Category Three storm at 72 hours before landfall that becomes a Category Four at 48 hours and a Category Five at 24 hours-coming from the worst direction. I don’t think people realize how precarious we are.”
Scientific American in October of 2001 laid it all out in an article titled “Drowning New Orleans” by Mark Fischetti.
Some obviously knew of the danger. It doesn’t take Cassandra’s prophetic gift to predict the fact that New Orleans other coastal cities will always be in danger of being clobbered by Nature. (Mike Roselle’s “al Gaia” indeed bats last and she’s been taking some immense warm-up swings lately.) Billions have been spent on preventing unpredictable attacks, yet with plenty of advance warning, this was the best we could do? Count on the bumbling Army Corps of Engineers to design a better river than Gaia? And, then, if that fails, rely on an evacuation plan based solely upon having an automobile, ready cash and/or credit cards? Real Preparedness was woefully lacking.
Which brings us back to the Bush Maladministration. Like Apollo assuring Cassandra would never be heard, Bush and Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour made sure that any attempts to link climate change to the mix were nixed. The two oilmen combined to force removal from the Energy Bill any language suggesting atmospheric carbon buildup should be addressed. Mind you, that’s just language proposing that maybe it should be looked at, not anything actually doing something about it! The 92 degree waters of the Gulf that supercharged Katrina just had nothing to do with anything.
The denial did not stop there. Funds for levee enhancements were cut in favor of war funding and tax cuts for the wealthy. And, everyone other than Bush it seems can see the impact of having 35% of Louisiana’s National Guard on Imperial occupation duty, rather than at home providing relief for the citizenry.
Budgets for protection of natural barrier islands were eliminated. Barrier islands lost to oil production continued unabated. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the agency set up to deal with domestic catastrophes, was subsumed and neutered by the Homeland Security behemoth. As a result of FEMA’s absorption into Homeland Security, the agency’s budget was cut 18% and staff was reduced by 500 positions. Seventy-five percent of FEMA funds now go to terrorism-related preparedness.
FEMA is headed by Undersecretary Michael D. Brown, a Bush clone who was born to wealth and had absolutely no credentials for the job; other than he was the college roommate of his predecessor; other than like Bush, he failed spectacularly in his original jobthat of overseeing Arabian horse shows. Also, like the failed oil exec, Brown drove under the horse show group he headed.
Clueless George, in “Mission Accomplished” mode, slapped Brown on the back five days after Katrina made landfall and said, “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job,” as thousands remained stranded and hundreds were dying. Brown concedes he didn’t even know there were over 15,000 stranded without food, water or sanitation at the city’s convention center until the day just before Bush’s accolade.
FEMA had yet to save a single soul. At the time, FEMA agents were busy throwing refugees out of motel rooms and interfering with communications links.
A group of refugees who had made it out of Plaquemine Parish at the (former) mouth of the Mississippi Delta, including a 90-year-old woman in a wheelchair, were ousted from their motel room by FEMA officials who commandeered the accommodations for themselves. The Orleans Parish sheriff had to waste significant resources as he famously took back the critical communications link and posted armed guards to defend it from FEMA!
FEMA’s arrogant, if not criminal, incompetence caused Slidell, LA mayor Ben Morris to note: “We are still hampered by some of the most stupid, idiotic regulations by FEMA. They have turned away generators, we’ve heard that they’ve gone around seizing equipment from our contractors. If they do so, they’d better be armed because I’ll be damned if I’m going to let them deprive our citizens. I’m pissed off, and tired of this horseshit.”
Eerily similar to his MIA act during 9/11, Bush remained on vacation and at fundraisers for two days before he had Air Force One drop to 2500 feet so he could pose for that ubiquitous photo of him surveying the scene out his window as he returned to Washington. It was not at all similar to how the “pro-life” phony dropped everything to race back to DC to sign the cynical Terry Schiavo legislation. With the opportunity and, more importantly, the responsibility to actually save lives, Bush was a no show.
Another Schiavo grandstander, House Speaker Dennis Hastert couldn’t even be bothered to return to DC to vote on aid for the hurricane victims. He was too busy with a fundraiser back in Illinois. But, he graciously offered his distant opinion “That doesn’t make sense to me,” when asked about rebuilding New Orleans. Granted that’s a reasonable issue to debate — AFTER everyone has been accounted for.
Waiting on J. C.?
But Bush’s vacuous “it’ll all work out,” “our hearts and prayers are with our fellow citizens” tone-deaf, tepid boilerplate and Hastert’s insensitivity weren’t the worst to come from this confederacy of dunces.
Secretary of State Condi Rice was asked by the Rev. Malone Smith, Jr. of the Pilgrim Rest A.M.E. Zion Church in Whistler, Alabama, to say a few words about the crisis. She inexplicably stated, “The Lord Jesus Christ is going to come on time, if we just wait.”
This was after she said, despite the very visual evidence to the contrary; “Nobody, especially the president, would have left people unattended on the basis of race.”
Ya think? If a hurricane hit Maine, how long would folks be on the roofs of Kennebunkport?
A Tale of Two Houstons
While watching coverage, I saw a piece where a Houston resident went to the Astrodome and just adopted an extended family of ten displaced citizens; one pregnant. This young woman and her obliging husband have four small children of their own. Yet, they found it in their hearts to open their home to ethnically and culturally quite different refugees.
Contrast this with the response of the Red Queen of Compassionate Conservatism. Barbara Bush once and for all proved where George, Jr. misplaced his heart when she went to the same Astrodome, witnessed the same shell-shocked fellow Americans and stated on NPR’s Marketplace, “And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this–this (she chuckles slightly) is working very well for them.”
As the White Queen said of the Red Queen, “She’s in that state of mind that she wants to deny something–only she doesn’t know what to deny!”
MICHAEL DONNELLY writes from the safety of Salem, OR. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org