Drowning our sorrows


The tragic and avoidable loss of life wrought by Katrina brings into sharp focus the failures of this administration. Our government doesn't give a shit about we, the people.

Over the last five years the Bush administration has put incompetent political cronies into key positions in charge of homeland security and disaster preparedness, dismantled the former Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and slashed funding for levee improvements around Lake Pontchartrain.

We've spent $200 billion on a pointless, misbegotten, illegal, and immoral war halfway around the world. We're building infrastructure that's desperately needed right here at home. The National Guard of Louisiana and Mississippi are over there while their homes were destroyed and their families riven apart.

Are we safer today? Ask the bodies floating in the fetid water of New Orleans.

Bush has the audacity to tell Diane Sawyer on Good Morning America on 9/1, "I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees."

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff repeated the lie on CNN two days later. Prior to joining Homeland Security, Chertoff was a private practice attorney specializing in estate planning.

Everybody anticipated the breach of the levees except, apparently, the people in charge of responding to the disaster.

The scenario was the subject of a five-part series published in July 2002 in the Times-Picayune, an October 2001 article in Scientific American, and a disaster response exercise with participants from FEMA and other federal agencies, as well as state and local officials, held in July 2004.

No, this one was right out of the playbook. As an intelligence failure, it ranks up there with "Bin Laden Determined to Strike Within the U.S."

Nobody holds Bush responsible for the weather. But he certainly is accountable for the response to Katrina. To be sure, there is enough blame to go around. There were failures at all levels of government. But when it the scale of the catastrophe became apparent and that the states were unable to cope, the failure to timely provide such basic lifesaving needs as water is simply inexcusable.

On NPR's All Things Considered of 9/1, Chertoff insisted to host Robert Siegel, "I have not heard reports of thousands of people in the convention center who do not have food and water."

Ferchristsake, Chertoff. We'd been seeing these desperate people at the convention center on television. We watched people die. How can you be so incredibly out of touch?

Yes, Katrina affected a wide area. That doesn't excuse doing nothing. Yes, it was an overwhelming worst-case scenario. That doesn't excuse doing nothing. Perhaps local and state officials could have done some things differently. That doesn't excuse doing nothing.

True to form, the Bush administration jumped into swift action to shift blame onto others, with FEMA director Michael Brown on 9/1 referring on CNN to "...those who are stranded, who chose not to evacuate, who chose not to leave the city..."

Many people remained because they lacked money or transportation, or to stay with an elderly or disabled family member, or to keep watch on their property. But many of those who chose to remain are doctors, nurses, firefighters, and cops. These are the ordinary heroes who -- had they died -- would be memorialized with misty-eyed sentiment and magnetic ribbons. But while they're in the throes of saving lives, bagging patients by hand for hours in the darkness, risking a stand against anarchy, going without food and water? Screw 'em, it's their own fault for staying. Is that right, Mr. Brown?

Under Bush's leadership, the mission and focus of FEMA has changed dramatically. The agency was subsumed under the Department of Homeland Security. Its focus has shifted from disaster preparedness, response, and coordination to terrorism.

Bush's first FEMA director was Joe Allbaugh, who was national campaign manager for Bush-Cheney 2000 and campaign manager for Bush's first run for Texas governor. Brown had been Allbaugh's college roommate. Prior to heading FEMA, Brown had been fired from the International Arabian Horse Association, where a colleague described his performance as "a fucking disaster."

Five years and tens of billions of dollars spent for homeland security, and what do we get?

As New Orleans, so goes the rest of the nation. There are 15,000 miles of levee protecting communities throughout the nation. According to Jeff Mount, flood control expert at University of California , Davis, there are two kinds of levees -- those that have breached and those that will breach.

Whether we're talking about the New Madrid fault or the San Andreas fault, or the volcanic caudera beneath Yellowstone, or tornadoes, or some godawful unthinkable event like the ones we've had to think about in recent years, we need an effective federal disaster agency. Natural disasters are a fact of life. And now we have to think about bioterror or a repeat of 9/11.

We have been lulled into a false sense of security. The world has seen how vulnerable we truly are, unable to mount an effective response.

It will happen, whatever it is. Will that be you or me holding up a "HELP ME" sign or pushing a dying relative in a shopping cart?

Michael Brown is a tool who should be held accountable for his incompetence, as should Chertoff and Bush. When we have recovered somewhat, and the shock has worn off, and the dead have been counted, the tragedy of Katrina will be remembered as one of this nation's most appalling failures.

New Orleans will be back. I was just there a couple of months ago, spending several days at the convention center. Had I known it would be my last time in a while, I would have paid more attention.


Blogger Miss Cellania said...

Well written post. Thanks.

Blogger Motherdear said...

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